Mary Murphy moved to Seattle four years ago with dreams of a simple life in semiretirement.
Now she’s living the nightmare of depleted savings accounts, maxed-out credit cards and a balloon house payment next year. Unable to even afford heating oil, she shivered through winter with just a space heater and occasional wood fires.
“I kept thinking something was going to work out,” said the 66-year-old, who had spent 18 years in advertising. It didn’t.
With financial markets at historic lows, and with workers and retirees panicked about an uncertain future, a recent AARP survey in Washington state found that Murphy has plenty of company:
• 71 percent are worried about the safety of their retirement savings;
• 65 percent are worried about fewer and lower-quality health care services;
• 45 percent have considered delaying retirement;
• 33 percent find it hard to afford necessities;
• 18 percent of retirees plan to reenter the workforce.
That’s precisely what Murphy did. Training sessions offered through AARP Foundation’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps job seekers learn new skills, allowed her to find a temporary job at AARP’s Fraud Fighter Call Center.
“It gave me more confidence,” Murphy said.
Recognizing that there are more stories like Murphy’s, AARP Washington has teamed with corporate leaders, consumer advocates and financial experts to host a series of public seminars in the coming weeks. [See list at left for dates and times.]
The seminars are designed to help Washingtonians navigate the economic downturn, protect their savings and avoid investment scams. They will feature experts from AARP, Microsoft, the state attorney general’s office, the Federal Trade Commission, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the state Department of Financial Institutions, KCTS 9 and the Washington State Crime Prevention Association.
Although the seminars are free, space is limited and preregistration is required.
Protecting your money will be a major focus. The AARP survey revealed that many people are both scared and desperate, and therefore more susceptible to get-rich-quick schemes.
“Scam artists are emerging to take advantage of those fears, to make a bad situation even worse,” said Jason Erskine, state communications director. “At a time like this, fraud artists tend to come out of the woodwork with a whole new series of schemes and scams.”
For Mary Murphy, the temporary job at the Fraud Fighter Call Center is satisfying, even though she had hoped to be fully retired by now.
Her troubles began when she lost her job in Southern California and moved to Seattle. When the sale of her California house collapsed, she faced more than a year of double mortgages and mounting debt. She finally managed to sell the California house but, because of the steep decline in housing prices, she says her current home is worth less than what she owes on it.
Murphy knows the computer skills she’s been developing through the AARP training program are a steppingstone to a better future. She loves helping other people avoid scammers. “I never realized how blatant it is,” she said. But, on a daily basis, it is unsettling to hear desperate stories all too similar to her own. Still, she hasn’t yet found peace.
“I’m just trying to make ends meet,” she said.
Neal Thompson is an author and freelance writer living in Seattle.