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Tips on Foiling Latest Scams in North Carolina

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Shortly after their 17-year-old dog died last year, Frank Todd and his wife became smitten with an adorable dachshund puppy named Pippa, whom they found online. Pippa was hundreds of miles away, but the seller said he could ship the puppy to the Todds’ home, just outside Charlotte.

Todd paid the $800 adoption fee using a payment app on his phone, but he never got the puppy. It was a scam.

“I know computers inside and out, backwards and forwards. I still got suckered,” said Todd, 53. “Those scammers are crafty.”

From phony puppy websites to fake COVID cleaning supplies to miracle cures, fraudsters have found new ways to take advantage of people during the coronavirus pandemic, said state Attorney General Josh Stein (D).

Last year, North Carolinians lodged 85,622 complaints and lost $72.1 million to fraud, according to data compiled by the Federal Trade Commission. The median loss was $285.

Older adults are prime targets because they tend to be more trusting and scammers know they often have a lifetime of savings, Stein said. Many people 65-plus have been more isolated than usual during the pandemic, making them more susceptible.

AARP North Carolina and the AARP Fraud Watch Network are dedicated to helping older adults avoid swindles. Here are a few to watch out for.

IRS impostors: The Internal Revenue Service will never ask you to pay with a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer, and it won’t threaten you with jail time. The agency usually makes contact through the mail.

Vaccine-related scams: Beware of anyone promising an extra dose of COVID-19 vaccine or a good spot on a vaccine wait list if you make a payment. Thieves use the vaccine as an excuse to get your personal information.

Romance scams: You meet someone online, build a relationship, and then the con artist devises a reason he desperately needs money. The pandemic has also given these scammers an easy excuse not to meet in person.

Text scams: A message says your account with a bank or retailer is locked or compromised or there is a problem with your order. When you click the link, you are asked to enter your name, password or other personal information.

Roger Pierce, 67, a Fraud Watch Network volunteer from Charlotte, has heard dozens of stories about these cons and others. He said he got involved to fight back against thieves who are getting more sophisticated.

“This is something that just hits everybody across the board, no matter what your education or income level is,” Pierce said.

AARP offers the following tips for avoiding scams.

Never give out personal information over the phone. If you think a call is legitimate, call the business or government agency back to verify the request.

Be skeptical. Stop and ask yourself: Is it too good to be true? Do you have to act now? Is there a threat involved? If any answer is yes, that’s a red flag.

You should not have to pay in advance of winning a prize. Another warning sign: Someone wants payment in the form of gift cards, through a wire transfer or via a mobile payment app.

AARP North Carolina offers free virtual Fraud Watch presentations, and it’s looking for volunteers to help get the word out. For more information, go to or email

Michelle Crouch is a writer living in Charlotte.

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