By Tim Poor
Sidney McCarther was at home in Kansas City recently when he got a call from someone who said that he was from Microsoft and that McCarther’s computer was malfunctioning. The caller needed some information in order to fix it.
McCarther was suspicious. So he told the caller he’d call him back, and then contacted Microsoft, which didn’t know anything about the situation. Later, the phony Microsoft worker called back, telling McCarther he represented a contractor for the company.
“He was really insistent,” said McCarther, AARP Missouri volunteer state president. He refused the caller’s requests for information.
Now potential scam victims can do more than just hang up on con artists. The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a way to fight back, to arm Americans with tools to protect themselves and their families. The website— aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork—provides real-time, state-by-state alerts on scams, as well as an opportunity for visitors to report their own experiences. The site includes a scam-tracking map, a quarterly newsletter, biweekly email alerts and a toll-free helpline (877-908-3360) that takes questions from the public.
AARP Missouri is getting the word out about Fraud Watch at community forums and events—including minor league baseball games in the St. Louis area.
“It really is a pocketbook issue,” said Craig Eichelman, AARP Missouri state director. “Frauds and scams mutate and change constantly. And you can be sharp as a tack and still fall victim to a sophisticated scam.” Of the website, he said, “This is a beautiful tool, because it changes as the scams do. We’re a learning organism.”
He mentioned one scam that was popular in Missouri: A caller tells the target that he or she missed jury duty and that there’s a warrant out for his or her arrest, asking the victim to pay the “fine” by credit card. “Courthouses don’t do that.”
AARP Missouri has a volunteer Speakers Bureau called “Speak Out!” One of its focuses is the Fraud Watch Network, and speakers provide materials for the audiences. “People are very interested in it,” said Diane Hall, associate state director for community outreach. “This is something people will show up for because they are concerned.”
To arrange for a Fraud Watch speaker to come to your organization, go to aarp.cvent.com/speakersrequestform.
Although anyone can be targeted for fraud, older people can be particularly vulnerable, Hall said. “Some of our older members are isolated, and when they get on the phone they will chat—and they have been raised to be polite.”
McCarther and other Fraud Watch volunteers offer this tip if you are contacted by a scammer: Don’t panic when a caller gives you what might sound like bad news. He said a caller once told him his grandson—whose name the caller used—was in jail in England and needed money.
McCarther called the boy’s father, who reported that his son was safely in bed, asleep.
“Folks really need to be alert to these scams,” he said. “There are a lot of them out there.”
AARP Missouri is hosting a Fraud Watch tele–town hall on Wednesday, Oct. 21, from 7 to 8 p.m. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) will join AARP Missouri advocacy director Jay Hardenbrook on the statewide call to selected AARP members. An audio stream will be available to the public online at vekeo.buzz/j3a.
“Unfortunately, seniors are often the target of scams because they tend to have more savings than the younger generations,” Kander said. “I encourage all Missourians to call my office before making an investment, so we can help make sure the investment is legitimate.”
You can contact the Secretary of State’s office by telephone at 800-721-7996 or by going to the website MissouriSafeSavings.com.
Nationally, AARP is working with law enforcement and with con artists who’ve been convicted and “are trying to redeem themselves by helping people outsmart bad people like them,” said Jodi Sakol, director of AARP campaign outreach. Among them Frank Abagnale, who assumed numerous false identities and who’s story was featured in the movie Catch Me If You Can.
Tim Poor is a writer living in Clayton, Mo.