AARP AARP States Washington Scams & Fraud

Virtual Series Shows You How to Stop Robocall Scammers

Chone-Kasinger--DSC_9370-ss.jpg
Lieutenant Aaron Clem of the Kennewick Police, who helped a victim get her money back from a robocall scammer.
Photo by Chona Kasinger

It wasn’t the typical theft or burglary investigation for the Kennewick Police Department. No sign of forced entry, nobody sneaking through an unlocked window—but for the 75-year-old victim, the loss was just as shocking.

“She got a call from what she thought was the Social Security Administration,” said Lt. Aaron Clem. They claimed they had her Social Security number and “were able to convince her that the number had been compromised and that it would cost her $10,000 to fix the problem.” The woman was instructed to send cash to a Texas address, which she did. But the more she thought about it, the more worried she got. When she got home, she called police. 

Scammers make more than 2 billion phone calls per month, according to the robocall-blocking service YouMail. Even if the percentage of people who take the bait is minuscule, the potential haul is incredibly lucrative.

“Research shows between 10 and 15 percent of the population loses money to a scam in a given year,” noted Doug Shadel, AARP Washington state director. “Technology has allowed scammers to more easily find that 10 to 15 percent.”

But what if you knew in advance which scams were trending in your area? 

This summer, AARP is teaming up with Nomorobo, a company that specializes in blocking unwanted calls, for a series of online events to keep Washingtonians one step ahead of robocall ruses.

Knowledge is power

The interactive events, called Tip-Offs to Rip-Offs, will feature advice from AARP, Nomorobo and local law enforcement agencies and will present local data about current robocall scams in cities across the state, including Bellingham, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane and Wenatchee.

“Con artists use fear, uncertainty, familiarity—and they test their messaging all the time to see what works,” said Aaron Foss, Nomorobo founder and CEO.

At the Bellingham Police Department, Lt. Claudia Murphy cites recent scammers claiming to be police officers with arrest warrants and threatening residents that they must pay immediately to avoid jail, often by purchasing thousands of dollars’ worth of gift cards.

“Most people, under normal circumstances, would know you can’t pay bail with gift cards,” said Murphy. “But in a scam, victims are using their fight-or-flight brain. The scammer is hoping they’re too scared to think about anything except compliance.”

New federal rules require that by the end of this month, phone companies do more to prevent spoofing, or masking the true source of an incoming call. 

Having authenticated or verified caller ID should help, said Foss, who predicts we’ll soon see new products designed to make the system more effective. But, ultimately, con artists will find ways around them, and their come-ons are ever-changing.

Luckily, in the case of the woman from Kennewick, the bad guys were thwarted. Police worked with FedEx to get the money rerouted and returned to her.

“The only way this ending could be happier,” said Clem, “is if we were able to identify the suspects and put them in jail.” 

For more information about the events and to register, visit aarp .org/wa. They will be available to view afterward at facebook.com/aarpwa.

Chris Thomas is a writer living in Seattle.

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