Imposters and Preposterous Offers, and What to Do About Them

graphic showing person at desk with a laptop and a hand reaching out of the laptop to pick up a credit card

A couple years ago, I attended a national conference at which a presenter asked “How many of you have received what you believe to be a scam telephone call just in the days that you’ve been at this conference?” Roughly half the people in the large conference hall raised their hands! I feel that scam calls and phishing messages (e-mails that appear to be from reputable sources intended only to get personal information such as passwords and credit card numbers) have only increased since then.

AARP Washington, national experts on consumer protection against scams and fraud, has contributed articles on these topics to this publication in recent years:

Each of the articles includes links to online resources and/or phone numbers. More valuable information is available on the AARP Washington website.

This isn’t meant to scare you; rather, I hope your awareness is increased. We continue to share information to help you remain alert to the possibility of imposters and preposterous offers, and encourage you report them.

What’s a person to do?

Whether you’ve fallen victim to a scam or other type of fraud or simply feel that you were targeted by a scam artist (most of us have been), call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. You can report scams or just get advice Monday through Friday, 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific Time. Calls and support are free of charge, for members and non-members alike.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network call center is staffed by volunteer “fraud fighters.” You may have heard of Fraud Fighters, which got its start here in 2003 as a partnership between AARP, the Office of the Washington State Attorney General, and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. The AARP Fraud Watch Network continues on in collaboration with the Federal Trade Commission, the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the Washington State Crime Prevention Association, the Better Business Bureau, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

But you don’t need to remember all that—just remember that your call to the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline gives you access to advice and resources—whatever is appropriate for the event you have experienced.

Scams come in every shape and size

AARP Fraud Watch Helpline: 877-908-3360You may have heard of the grandparents scam, in which someone pretending to be a grandchild calls and asks for bail money or travel expenses. My father fell for this one more than 20 years ago. These calls are common in the middle of the night when we are less alert to fraud. It’s important to verify—use a family code word, ask for information only a loved one would know, or call another family member, even if (perhaps especially if) the caller said they’re embarrassed and want you to keep the call confidential. Get a call-back number that you can report to authorities.

We also have COVID-19 vaccine scamsgift card scams, and tax fraud to avoid. See “COVID-19 Scams: Protect Yourself from Fraudsters,” an article by ADS Advisory Council member Diana Thompson, in the May 2020 issue of AgeWise.

In 2016, Jullie Gray from Aging Wisdom wrote “Tax Scams Targeting the Elderly.” The IRS will never call you.

Then there are the Social Security scams (“A Message from Social Security: Beware of Scammers Pretending to Be Us“) we told you about in 2019. And in January 2020, Seattle City Light contributed an article about utility scams (“Make a New Year’s Resolution to Spot Scammers”). Account past due? Verify independent of the phone call!

Have you heard about the new romance scams? Read “Romance scams take record dollars in 2020” on the Federal Trade Commission website. It’s easy to understand, given social isolation in the past year, but romance scams take a heavy toll, both financially and emotionally.

You can keep up-to-date on emerging and recurring scams by signing up for the AARP Fraud Watch Network’s Watchdog Alerts.

Scam artists are very creative and new scam strategies are developed every day. Be cautious and use this update on an adage: If a phone call or e-mail seems too good (or too bad) to be true, it probably is.

Irene Stewart

Contributor Irene Stewart manages communications for Aging and Disability Services and edits AgeWise King County on behalf of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services.

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of AgeWise King County.