AARP Fights Consumer Fraud – by Herb Weiss

Published in Pawtucket Times on November 30, 2020

Every year, fraudsters continue to operate government imposter scams falsely claim to be from federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, to get people to turn over money or personal information. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans continue to fall victim to these scams.

FTC Compiles Fraud Complaints

Last January, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its annual report detailing data from the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019, continuing to put a spotlight on the impact of imposter scams and identify fraud on consumers across the nation. Expect the FTC to release its 2020 data book early next year.

The data book, initially released in 2008, includes national statistics, as well as a state-by-state listing of top report categories in each states, and a listing of metropolitan areas that generated the most complaints per 100,000 population.

According to the FTC, its 2019 database network receives reports directly from consumers, as well as from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and a number of private partners. Last year, the network received 3.2 million reports, including nearly 1.7 million fraud reports as well as identity theft and other reports.

The researchers found that younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. But, when people age 70 and over had losses, the median loss was much higher, they say.  

Imposter scams, a subset of Fraud reports, followed closely behind with 657,472 reports from consumers of 2019. The most common type of fraud reported to the FTC last year was identified theft scams, with imposter scams following closely behind.    

Specifically, last year there were over 647,000 imposter scams reported to FTC’s database. Thirteen percent of those calling reported a dollar loss, totaling nearly $667 million lost to imposter scammers. These scams include, for example, romance scams, people falsely claiming to be the government, a relative in distress, a well-known business, or a technical support expert, to get a consumer’s money.

Of the 1.7 million fraud reports, 23 percent indicated money was lost. In 2019, people reported losing more than $1.9 billion to fraud – an increase of $293 million over what was reported in 2018.

Protecting Yourself Against Scammers

With the release of a new report, AARP continues its efforts to combat identify theft and imposter scams. The Washington, DC-based nonprofits continues to report on the latest scams, exploring its impact on U.S. adults age 55 and over and how technology may play a role in their ability to protect themselves from financial harm. The 16-page report, “Identity Fraud in Three Acts,” developed by Javelin Strategy & Research and sponsored by AARP, reveals that 26 percent of seniors have been victims of identity fraud. But researchers say that more are taking additional safeguards to prevent losses of personal information. Following an identity theft incident, 29 percent have placed credit freezes on their credit bureau information, and more than half have enrolled in identity protection or credit monitoring services.

“Older Americans are leading more digitally infused lives, with two-thirds using online banking weekly, so it’s encouraging to see that many are taking proactive steps to protect their identity following a data breach,” said Kathy Stokes, Director of AARP Fraud Prevention Programs in a statement announcing the release of the report. “Passwords still represent a security threat, however; using repeated passwords across multiple online accounts makes it easy for criminals to crack one of them so that all of your accounts – including financial accounts – become accessible,” says Stokes.

According to the AARP report, age 55 and over consumers call for banks to use stronger security authentication. About 90 percent support the use of more fingerprint scanning, and 80 percent view facial recognition capabilities as a reliable form of technology for financial transactions and private business matters. The report’s findings indicate that identity fraud victims age 65 and over do not necessarily change how they shop, bank or pay following a fraudulent event, with 70 percent exhibiting reluctance to change familiar habits.

“Criminals are regularly targeting age 55 and over Americans through a combination of sophisticated scams via computer malware and also through more traditional low-tech channels via telephone and U.S. mail,” says the AARP report’s author, John Buzzard, Lead Analyst, Fraud and Security at Javelin. “The combination of high-tech and low-tech strategies unfortunately gives the upper hand to the criminal — not the consumer,” he adds.

The AARP report provides these tips to older consumers to protect their pocketbooks. Just hang up on strangers. Independently verify everything.  Always adopt security practices that go beyond a single password.  Consider using a password manager tool or app to create and safely store complex passwords.  Always write down important numbers of companies you do business with rather than rely on a web search for a customer service number, as criminals post fake numbers online.  

The report also recommends securing your devices – mobile phones, laptops and tablets- with a complex password, preferably with screen locks that use a fingerprint or facial recognition and secure personal payments with digital wallets.

Be vigilant.  Don’t become a sucker for scams.  

To report a compliant, call the Consumer Sentinel HelpLine at 1.877.701.9595.

For a copy of Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019, go to:  https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-2019/consumer_sentinel_network_data_book_2019.pdf

For a copy of “Identity Fraud in Three Acts,” go to:  https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/home-and-family/family-and-friends/2020/10/aarp-Identity-fraud-report.pdf.

To learn more about AARP’s fraud prevention programs, visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.  

Everyone Loves a Countdown

In his own words, this writer’s top 5 commentaries of 2015

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 27, 2015

As a columnist on “the aging beat” it has been a very eventful year in covering aging, health care and medical issues. During 2015, over 47 weekly commentaries appeared in the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call. By reading my weekly commentaries readers were kept abreast on a dazzling array of aging issues including Congressional attempts to whittle away the Social Security and Medicare programs. They learned first-hand about the Rhode Island General Assembly’s move to not tax Social Security and to provide new benefits to Ocean State caregivers. Commentaries even touched on the passing away of Wayne Dwyer and Capitol TV’s Dave Barber, how to put the fire back in your relationship, and even travel tips.

Below are five article, providing you with the breadth and depth of my commentaries. Al other articles can be found on my blog, herbweiss.wordpress.com.

1. “Cicilline Spearheading Key Comeback: Rep. Wants to Reestablish House Select Committee on Aging, published in the Dec. 20 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the Dec. 21 issue of the Pawtucket Times.

After Congress eliminated the House Select Committee on Aging in 1993 to rein in costs, this commentary takes a close look at Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and 63 House colleagues efforts to urge the newly elected GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan in correspondence to bring back the Aging panel to the House Chamber. It was extremely obvious to Cicilline and his cosigners of the House Aging panel’s importance to today’s Congress, especially with efforts to put Social Security and Medicare on the budgetary chopping block. In the late 1980s as a journalist covering Capitol Hill I saw first-hand how the former Aging panel’s bipartisan approach ultimately created sound aging. Working together for the common good of older Americans is sorely needed now with a House divided. Cicilline’s legislative efforts to bring this select committee back to life, can send a powerful message that the House is ready to confront concerns of the nation’s seniors. Go to: http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/cicilline-spearingheading-key-comeback/.

2, Pausch’s The Last Lecture Is a Must Read,” published in the Jan. 30 issue of the Pawtucket Times. The 206 page book, “The Last Lecture” coauthored by Randy Pausch and Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Zaslow, published by Hyperion in 2008, is a great read for those wanting to get their life’s priorities in order. The tome is jam-packed with Pausch’s wisdom that will certainly come in handy to the reader when confront by the “brick walls” or challenges in personal and/or professional careers

This commentary details the thoughts of terminally ill Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Professor Randy Pausch, a 47-year-old father of three who had from three to six more months to live at the time he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2007. One month before his death he gave his last lecture, part of an ongoing CMU lecture series where top academics give their “final talk,” revealing what really matters to them and the insights gleaned over their life if it was their last opportunity. Sadly, Pausch literally got his last chance to give his talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Go to: http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/pauschs-the-last-lecture-is-a-must-read.

3. “You are Never Too Old for Romance,” published in the February 13 issue of the Pawtucket Times. Rekindling your relationship may be as simple as packing your bags and taking a romantic trip. In this commentary AARP’s Love and Relationships Ambassador Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist and sexologist teaching at the University of Washington in Seattle Washington, says the findings reveal a need for couples to plan romantic getaways as a way to spend quality time with their partner and bolster their relationship.

In this commentary Dr. Schwartz, co-author of the newly released book Places for Passion, says “I wish we could be as romantic at home as we can on a trip but there is something about getting away that lets us forget about our daily stuff and instead, fully concentrate on each other. When we stay at home, it’s hard not to answer the phone or try to answer one more email but in fact, we seem to need to get away to have a new stage setting’ for romance to bring out the best in us.” Couples with children can take a short trip without them to boost the romance in their relationship, she says. Readers will find the commentary chock-full of tips for heightening the romance on the trip. Go to: http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/baby-boomers-can-spice-up-valentines-day.

4. “Sensible Advice from Seasoned Folk to the Class of 2015,” published in the May 17 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the May 18 Pawtucket Times. Every year very notable and professionally successful commencement speakers gather at the nation’s Colleges and Universities to give the graduating seniors their practical tips and advice as how to have a rewarding personal and professional life. This commentary calls for the end of the practice of bringing celebrities, politicians and corporate heads to give commence speakers. Regular people will do. Thirteen Rhode Islanders, many not recognized on the street but well-known in their communities were asked to give their “pearls of wisdom” to graduating seniors if they had the opportunity. They most certainly did. Go to:  http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/sensible-advice-from-seasoned-folk-to-the-class-of-2015.

5. “Aggressive Scams Popping up All around the Ocean State,” published in the November 25 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the November 26 issue of the Pawtucket Times. Throughout the year there were several commentaries to increase the reader’s awareness of protecting themselves from financial scams. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission list of top consumer fraud complaints last year, more than 6,200 Rhode Island residents were victims of imposter scams. The commentary details one scam where the caller “Sergeant Bradley” threatens a person with a felony for not appearing in court unless they immediate make a payment on a debit card.

The commentary details AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. By registering for the free service a person can receive alerts via smart phone or your computer when a new scam surfaces. This program also allows you to report a scam going around your neighborhood that is shared across the network. For those not connected to the Internet, you can receive alerts and tips via a quarterly newsletter mailed to homes. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin calls for “constant vigilance” and gives tips also gives tips on protecting yourself against scams.

 

Aggressive Scams Popping Up All Around the Ocean State

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 25, 2015

On Thursday morning, Mary Smith (not her real name) received a phone call from Sergeant Bradley from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office claiming she had missed jury duty and because so, there was a warrant issued for her arrest. Concerned, the older woman asked the man, who identified himself Sergeant Bradley, what she needed to do to fix the problem. She was instructed to go to a local CVS, purchase a pre paid debit card in the amount of $300 and to meet him in the parking lot of the Washington County Courthouse.

Thinking quick, Mary reported the troubling call to her local police. Like many older Rhode islanders, she had been a target of an aggressive scam now sweeping through the Ocean State, called the “jury duty scam.”

According to the Attorney General’s Office, in the latest rendition of the scam, an individual is calling Rhode Islanders claiming there is a warrant out for their arrest for failure to appear for jury duty. The individual, identifying himself as “Sergeant Bradley,” from either the “Washington County Sheriff’s Office,” the “South County Sheriff’s Office,” or the “Newport County Sheriff’s Office.” The caller ID shows the individual is calling from the 401 area code.

Here’s the scam

“Sergeant Bradley” tells the people he calls that they will be charged with a felony for failure to appear for jury duty and will then be held at the ACI for 30 days, after which they will be brought before Judge Suttell.

In order to avoid being arrested the scammer urges the individual to make an immediate payment using a pre-paid debit card. Mary did not fall for this old scam. It has been reported that at least one person paid more than $900 before they realized they were tricked.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin calls on anyone receiving a similar phone call or threat to contact either the Rhode Island State Police to report the incident. Kilmartin says, “The individual making these phone calls has just enough information to make themselves sound legitimate.” This information, however, is readily available on the Internet to anyone with access to a computer, he notes.

“It is very important for anyone who receives a similar phone call to write down as much information as possible, don’t provide any personal information to the individual over the telephone, do not pay any money, hang up, and contact the State Police,” adds Kilmartin.

The state’s Office of Attorney General provides the following details about judicial process to keep Rhode Islanders from becoming a victim of the “jury duty scam.”
• Neither the Jury Commissioner nor the Rhode Island Sheriff’s Department makes telephone calls to prospective jurors threatening arrest or demanding that a fine be paid or a bond posted. If a juror who has been legitimately summoned in writing fails to appear, the Jury Commissioner will attempt to make contact and arrange to reschedule his or her service.

• Sheriffs in Rhode Island are a division of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety and primarily work with the Courts. Unlike most other states, Rhode Island does not have sheriff departments based in counties. Each city and town has its own local police department.

Constant Vigilance Key to Fighting Scams

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission list of top consumer fraud complaints last year, more than 6,200 Rhode Island residents were victims of imposter scams.

“These latest Rhode Island scams underscored the need for constant vigilance,” observed AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “We like to remind people that when people hear about a scam, the first reaction often is ‘I’d never fall for that.’ Well, maybe that’s because you just read about it in the news. People need to remember that they are most susceptible to the fresh scam no one is talking about that comes out of the blue.”

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, Connell said, is one way to keep current. If you register for the free service you can receive alerts via smart phone or your computer when a new scam surfaces. You also can report a scam going around your neighborhood that is shared across the network, she added. If you’re not connected to the Internet, you can receive alerts and tips via a quarterly newsletter mailed to homes (Lean more and sign up at http://www.fraudwatchnetwork.org).

“Identity theft and fraud costs seniors billions of dollars nationally – in most cases, money that has been set aside for retirement, “Connell noted. “Impersonating police officers, federal agents or financial service companies, scammers use their “authority” to scare a person into paying them. Or, they pretend to be a friend or loved one in trouble who needs money.

“We’re committed to fighting back,” Connell declared, noting that one recent effort was a “reverse boiler room” operation.

In September, Connell and AARP Rhode Island volunteers Alan Neville of Cumberland and Carlo Gamba of West Greenwich met up in Boston with more than 50 others. Borrowing a favorite tactic the con artists’ playbook, AARP Fraud Watch Network staff and volunteers from New England and New York operated their own telemarketing boiler room. Instead of hearing from scammers, local residents received tips and information on how to protect themselves from imposter scams.

Strong Connections Protect Seniors from Scams

“Friends and family are key partners in protecting senior citizens from financial exploitation,” remarked Elderly Affairs Director Charles Fogarty. “Isolation is a major reason that people get victimized, so ensuring that senior citizens living in the community have strong connections to family and friends helps to protect them from scams and exploitation.”

The Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA) monitors fraud and scam reports from a number of sources, and distributes those notices to a network of approximately 500 partners in the community. If the victim of a scam is referred to DEA, they immediately contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit. DEA does not investigate instances of scams perpetrated by strangers, but does investigate financial exploitation of an older adult by family or acquaintances.