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AARP Washington Teams Up to Combat Robocalls with Tip-Offs to Rip-Offs Program

Fraud

For anybody aggravated by incessant calls from scammers trying to separate them from their money, AARP Washington has a suggestion: Listen in.

As part of new efforts to protect consumers from robocalls, AARP has teamed up with public and private entities to develop Tip-Offs to Rip-Offs, an innovative program that allows people to hear the most prevalent robocalls in their area.

It comes as AARP Washington is understanding new ways that con artists use a range of tactics to play on people’s emotions in an ever-changing game to steal their money.

“Scammers tell us, ‘Get the victim into a heightened emotional state so you can manipulate them more easily,’ ” says Doug Shadel, AARP Washington’s state director, who has studied the issue and worked with AARP on a 2021 survey to understand how people get tricked by con artists.

The effort comes as there’s been a surge in fraud reports nationwide, with a total of 77,128 in Washington in 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission, up nearly 60 percent in the past two years.

Woman Loses Thousands 

A 68-year-old Seattle-area woman knows full well how the con artists work and how they expertly play with people’s emotions.

“If you had asked if this would ever happen to me, I would have told you, ‘Absolutely not. I’m more sophisticated than that,’ ” says the woman, “R.”

Given her ongoing financial risk, AARP is not publishing her full name, although AARP Washington has reviewed her case.

The con that eventually cost R more than $100,000 began with a common tech-support scam, when a bright-red purported “Microsoft” warning appeared on her screen telling her to contact a help line. 

When she called, a man said her computer had been hacked and he needed access to fix it.

From that moment on, she says, the scammers deployed a range of tactics, using information they had gleaned from her computer about her finances to appear credible and then transferring the call to her “bank,” where a helpful-sounding man named “Adrian” said she had been the victim of identity theft. He asked for her cooperation to catch a suspected employee. He said the FBI was even involved.

For two weeks last fall, R bought thousands of dollars in gift cards and Bitcoin to deposit into the scammers’ account. They told her the different payment methods were to throw the thief off track.

Finally, R got suspicious and told her husband what was happening. They alerted the police and their banks.

“When I look back on it, I was worn out, mentally and emotionally,” she says.  

Data on Victims’ MindSet

The 2021 AARP survey on susceptibility to scams found that those able to resist fraud attempts were less likely to be emotional. “They were able to keep their thinking cap on,” says Shadel.

Victims, however, reported feeling strong emotions after an encounter. They also were more likely to have undergone a stressful life event in the previous 12 months. 

To help people fight back against fraud, AARP Washington teamed up with the state attorney general’s office; credit union BECU; and Nomorobo, a tech company that blocks robocalls, to create the new Tip-Offs to Rip-Offs program.

At aarp.org/tipoffs, you can hear recordings of the top five robocall scams circulating in various cities in the state. 

AARP Washington updates the site every month with the most common scam calls by area. Starting in May, it will also be offering a free virtual series of Tip-Offs to Rip-Offs events. 

—Chris Thomas is a writer living in Seattle

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