By Joanne Cleaver
As soon as her mother started talking about a friendly computer consultant eager to clean up a mysterious problem, Connie Dobbratz, 66, knew something wasn’t quite right.
Who was this stranger popping up on her mom’s computer screen via message box? And why was he asking for money to remove a threat only he could see?
Dobbratz, an AARP Fraud Watch Network volunteer and retired kindergarten teacher, smelled trouble and intervened before her mother could send funds to the scammer.
“ ‘But he’s so nice,’ my mom said,” recalled Dobbratz, of Rothschild. “And I said, ‘So, his strategy worked, didn’t it?’ ”
It takes only a few clicks to give away invaluable data and access to financial accounts to con artists who target older adults.
When Dobbratz and her husband, Paul, 66, host Fraud Watch Network sessions in northern Wisconsin, attendees share their own close calls with swindlers.
AARP Wisconsin is expanding its volunteer ranks and boosting outreach through community events as part of the national organization’s Fraud Watch Network.
Learning con artist tricks
Residents in small towns and rural areas are especially vulnerable to friendly-sounding criminals, because they tend to be socially isolated, said Courtney Anclam, AARP Wisconsin senior program specialist.
“Scammers are really good at manipulating people,” she said. “They threaten to arrest or physically harm you or your family. You’re not thinking logically, because you’re afraid.”
Anclam spearheads the Wisconsin fraud program, coordinating closely with the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to inform consumers about the latest con artist tactics.
Phone fraud is the leading scam in Wisconsin and nationally, said Michelle Reinen, who leads the DATCP’S Bureau of Consumer Protection. Callers claiming to be from a government agency, such as the Social Security Administration, say they need additional information about your finances, Reinen said.
They pretend to be from widely known businesses like utility companies, claiming they need to correct an account problem.
State attorneys general and federal officials are coordinating national investigations into fraud targeting older adults.
In March, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a roundup of at least 260 alleged perpetrators who had victimized more than 2 million older Americans.
At one Fraud Watch Network session led by volunteer Randy Winkler, 65, of Gillett, an attendee said he’d received a fake IRS call.
Personal experiences shared in a supportive environment are invaluable because they help erase the embarrassment many people feel when targeted, Winkler said.
Joanne Cleaver is a writer living in Manistee, Michigan.
TOP FRAUD FIGHTER
TO PROVIDE INSIGHTS
On Thursday, Sept. 12, AARP Wisconsin will host a presentation in Madison by Frank Abagnale, once a world-famous con man and impersonator, immortalized in the movie Catch Me If You Can.
Now an FBI consultant, Abagnale will share his experiences and consumer tips, as an AARP Fraud Watch Network advocate.
Check aarp.org/wi or call 866-448-3611 for details.