81-year-old Burien resident Faye Schwartz has been hit by credit card scammers multiple times in the past decade. Her story is not unique, and several figures have joined forces to start the Washington "Fraud Watch Network" to better inform and protect seniors from scams.
“Fraud Watch Network” launched to give Washington seniors the upper hand
AARP is teaming up with state and local officials in Washington to fight back against fraud targeting our seniors who, according to a 2011 AARP survey, are much more likely to be targets of scam artists than the rest of the population.
That poll claims 81 percent of investment fraud victims and 84 percent of lottery fraud victims that year were over the age of 55.
Unveiled at the Museum of Flight on Oct. 23, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, King County Sheriff John Urquhart, AARP officials and consumer fraud experts announced the launch of a statewide “Fraud Launch Network” to help seniors learn about the myriad ways scam artists can pillage their bank accounts, and connect them with resources to stay safe when approached by a potentially bogus offer.
“The Fraud Watch Network may be best described as something similar to ‘Block Watch’ but on a statewide scale,” AARP Washington Spokesperson Jason Erskine said. “First, people who sign up for the network will receive timely alerts about new scams as they emerge. Second, people who receive something they are unsure of - maybe a phone call, mailer or email – can contact the AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter Call Center at 1-800-646-2283 to speak with a trained volunteer fraud fighter to determine if it’s a legitimate offer or something they should be concerned about. And finally, we’ll be able to look to those reports as an early warning system for new scams as they emerge around the state.”
Over 250 seniors attended the Scam Jam event at the Museum, which included Sheriff Urquhart discussing new fraud trends and Attorney General Ferguson calling the Fraud Watch Network a step to “make Washington the hardest state in the nation to defraud consumers.”
During the event AARP set up a “reverse boiler room” where volunteers called seniors throughout the state to warn them about fraud, instead of the traditional illegal “boiler room” chock full of criminals calling to pull in victims. Ferguson even got in on the action, calling a few unsuspecting residents with quick tips and information on how to join the Fraud Watch Network.
Fraud these days can come in many forms, making an informed populace all the more important.
“Whether it’s over the phone, through the mail, online or even at your doorstep, con-artists are coming up with new and deceptive ways to scam you and your loved ones,” Ferguson said.
To sign up for the Fraud Watch Network, call 1-800-646-2283 or visit AARP online.
Local fraud victim tells her story
While visiting the event on Oct. 23 I had the opportunity to talk with 81-year-old Faye Schwartz who has lived in Burien for the past 35 years. Schwartz has been a victim of credit card fraud multiple times in the past decade, and came to learn more about how she can better protect herself.
Schwartz said the scams began in 2006 when she received a call from someone claiming to be a salesman for a local Honda dealer. Schwartz was in need of a new vehicle and went through the process of meeting the salesman at her home, giving out personal information to complete a transaction, and signing a few papers. Before completing the sale, however, she said she’d like to sleep on it and would call in the morning.
“I called in the morning and asked for him and they said, ‘He is no longer here,’ and I said, ‘Well I signed a paper, what happened to the paper I signed?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know, we’ve never even seen the paper.’”
A few months later Schwartz received a call from police in Canada who said a fraudulent boiler room (outbound call center) had been busted and her personal information was recovered.
Two years passed and Schwartz said she went to a shoe store in Renton, picked out a pair, and paid with her credit card. She paid her bill and the next month received a new bill with over $500 in fraudulent charges.
Schwartz said she was dumbfounded: “I have my charge card right here, how did she use it?”
After that incident she decided to sign up for a paid credit monitoring service. Unfortunately, it ended up being a service she would need.
Schwartz said she applied for a credit card at a Renton clothing store and the clerk repeatedly asked for her social security number, claiming she kept entering it wrong. Fed up, Schwartz told the clerk to forget it, “I’ll just pay with cash,” which she did.
A few days later her credit monitoring company called to ask if she had opened a credit card with the store. She hadn’t, but someone had.
Schwartz had two more instances just this year of people trying to open credit cards with major retailers using her information, and is she understandably fed up.
“I don’t charge anything, I’ll never get a charge card for anything,” she said. “I pay with a check at a few stores (she said she trusts), and other than that I go to the bank and pay cash.”
“Be very careful what you are doing,” Schwartz warned others, before adding with a chuckle: “I don’t have any money anyways; I don’t know why they are doing this!”
While the scammers who have somehow latched onto Schwartz have caused undue stress in her later years, she said they haven’t won.
Her husband passed away in 2001, but Schwartz said their 50 years of “good marriage” and three children produced plenty of grandkids, who have now gone on to do the same.
“I have great grandkids,” she said, “I’m happy.”
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