AARP Eye Center
Longtime consumer protection advocate Karen Morgan says she’s driven by her outrage over people who defraud others — especially since she and her mother have both been victims of scams.
In her case, it led to bogus charges appearing on her credit card. In her mother’s, it was the shame of being victimized in a “grandparent scam.” Both episodes propelled her to her role today: helping AARP Maryland empower residents to fight back against fraud.
Maryland in 2022 saw more than 40,000 fraud reports, says the Federal Trade Commission, up from about 25,000 five years ago. Losses totaled $133 million, with a median of $742.
Along with AARP, Maryland officials are working to bring those numbers down — particularly the threat of elder fraud. Last October, the U.S. attorney’s office for the state joined the U.S. Department of Justice’s Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, which coordinates resources to target global fraud schemes. This spring, the General Assembly took up legislation to establish a task force on preventing and countering elder abuse. If the legislation passes, the task force will study laws, policies and practices related to elder abuse and associated crimes, and make recommendations for changes to help prevent them. As of press time, the bill was pending.
“Our world is only getting more and more complex, and the pitfalls to fraud and other crimes [are] just getting steeper and steeper,” says Pilar Rodarte, a Maryland assistant attorney general who deals with consumer protection issues.
‘Protect week’ set for June
Part of that is due to new forms of technology, says Jeff Karberg, director of the attorney general office’s identity theft unit. “We have people calling from all over the world now, hiding behind spoofed caller ID ... in ways that just weren’t there 20 or 30 years ago,” he says.
The attorney general’s office and AARP Maryland participate in Project SAFE, a coalition to “Stop Adult Financial Exploitation.” Several state agencies and nonprofits will participate June 12–16 in Protect Week, a series of events focusing on fraud prevention. Find details at aarp.org/md.
Morgan, a volunteer fraud speaker and member of the AARP Maryland Executive Council, will be part of those efforts. An attorney from Prince George’s County, Morgan worked 36 years for the Maryland General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services, focusing in part on consumer protection; she retired in 2019. In her volunteer role, she meets with community groups, testifies on legislation and posts interviews with fraud victims on social media.
It was more than 20 years ago that Morgan’s debit card number was stolen while she was buying doughnuts at a shop in Howard County. The episode with her mother started with a phone call from someone claiming that her grandson — Morgan’s nephew — was in trouble. The caller urged her to send money to help the college student. Telling no one about the call, Morgan’s mother sent the money — another victim of a grandparent scam.
“When she talked to my brother, she found out that her grandson was fine and that this money went to a crook,” says Morgan, 67.
Morgan says scammers’ cavalier attitude toward taking other people’s money — including her mother’s — drives her “absolutely freaking crazy.” It was years before she learned about the grandparent scam from other family members because her mother, now deceased, was too embarrassed to tell her.
“We need to shift this conversation: You didn’t bring this on yourself. You didn’t deserve it,” she says. “The criminal reached out to attack you.”
Julie Rasicot is a writer from Silver Spring, Maryland.
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