I have a friend who recently received a threatening phone call from someone posing as an IRS agent informing him he was delinquent with his taxes and warned that if he didn’t call back immediately to resolve the situation, it would become dire in a hurry. My friend was panicked and needed assurances from his wife and a neighbor that he was being scammed.
This story is typical of many so-called ‘impostor scams.’ What’s frightening about this incident is that my friend is a lawyer and a former high-level Microsoft employee. If anyone should have known better, he should have! If it can almost happen to him, it can certainly happen to you and me.
To protect yourself, be skeptical of all communications through your phone or your computer if you’re not certain they’re 100% valid and familiar. And if you have the slightest doubt, call AARP Fraud Fighters for help: 877.908.3360.
Whether by phone or through your computer, chances are you’ve been a target of an impostor scam or other type of scam designed to steal your money. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 347,820 imposter scam-related complaints, with the number of unreported incidents presumably much, much higher.
Leeta Scott, Program Director at our local AARP Foundation Fraud Fighters Call Center, is all too familiar with impostor scams with their countless variations. Leeta says the perpetrators are smart, successful and persistent. And, she adds, they prey on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and the isolated.
Together, the Seattle and Denver call centers receive over 20,000 calls a year asking for help. Often, it’s too late, but it’s never too late to protect yourself from further damage. The Seattle call center utilizes trained volunteers to do its work. Volunteers who interact with callers need to be comfortable on the phone, comfortable giving advice, good listeners, patient and empathetic. The overarching goal of the call center, says Leeta, is education.
Val Laidlaw found her way to the call center through RSVP. (She recently received her five-year pin.) In caring for her elderly mother, Val realized how vulnerable the elderly can be and the work at the call center sounded “interesting and a worthwhile activity to do with my time. Plus, it didn’t involve a huge time commitment.” She also found the call center work a good fit for her skills since she prides herself on her communications abilities and likes helping people.
“Helping people is a common human trait.” ~Val Laidlaw, AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center volunteer
Training to work the phones requires one-on-one observation and interaction with a seasoned volunteer, familiarizing yourself with the various types of fraud, familiarizing yourself with the library of literature and resources available to callers, and quarterly meetings and presentations identifying new types of fraud.
All calls are callbacks from victims or potential victims who have reached out to the call center. The average call takes about 20 minutes, and Val likes to do research before making a call to make sure she is as effective and efficient as possible. Val sees her role as that of a counselor. She helps victims clean up the mess they’re in, counsels them on prevention, and sends out literature that might be helpful in the future.
Val is candid about her reaction to the work. Some days, she says, are nerve-wracking, but she always goes home believing she’s been helpful. “Helping people is a common human trait,” she says. Val also values interacting with her fellow volunteers, and because the call center provides lunch, she chuckles, “Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no free lunch.”
To protect yourself, be skeptical of all communications through your phone or your computer if you’re not certain they’re 100% valid and familiar. And if you have the slightest doubt, call AARP Fraud Fighters for help (877.908.3360). Nothing is so urgent it can’t be vetted before responding. In fact, the alleged urgency of the contact is a good tipoff that something’s not right.