BRATTLEBORO >> New frauds and scams seem to crop up daily. Identity theft, investment fraud and scams rob millions of Americans of their hard-earned money. Last year, 13 million people were the victims of identity theft alone. That's one person every two seconds.
AARP's Fraud Watch Network is arming Americans with the tools they need to spot and avoid fraud and scams so they can protect themselves and their families. The program seeks to educate the public, serve as a watchdog, and provide resources.
In the spring of 2015, AARP Vermont named Elliott Greenblott of Brattleboro, as state coordinator for its Fraud Watch Network. Greenblott, a former public school teacher and administrator, has been on the job for less than a year making presentations, staffing displays, and recruiting volunteers.
"AARP Fraud Watch Network may be one of the most significant efforts in the country at combatting victimization of the public by con artists," said Greenblott. "In Vermont alone, there has been over a 250 percent increase in the number of scams reported to the office of the Vermont Attorney General; nearly 6000 reported scams in 2015 alone — about one reported scam to every 100 residents."
Greenblott added that the number he cites is that of reported scams. Sadly, many are not reported.
"Quite often, " he continued, "victims are hesitant to report their losses. This is due to many factors. Many victims are embarrassed to admit that they have lost money to fraud. Others dismiss the loss as something that happens and a lesson for the future while still others fear retribution from the person defrauding them if the incident is reported.
"We are familiar with individuals who told us that they are in fear for their lives, the lives of family members, or their property. These threats use intimidation to exert power over their victims. In the vast majority of these cases, con artists have no practical means to carry out the threats. Often they call from across the country or from locations outside the United States."
Another major concern of the AARP Fraud Watch Network is the education of the public on the perils of identity theft.
"People unknowingly give away information about themselves without considering the ramifications." Greenblott said. "So many people use social media such as Facebook to share personal information including the names of family members, travel plans, purchases, photographs and more. Hackers have become adept at locating, copying, and selling this information to fraudsters."
In addition, many, according to Greenblott, take unnecessary risks with critical information. As a presenter, he often begins a discussion at a senior center by asking those present how many are carrying their Medicare card.
Those present are told that this is probably one of the most dangerous practices. Medicare cards display the holder's Social Security number, what Greenblott calls "the key to the kingdom."
"A Medicare card in a wallet or purse containing a drivers license, checkbook, and credit cards gives a thief all the information necessary to access bank accounts, change personal identity access, and completely steal an individual's identity," he said.
Fraud Watch Network is increasing its activities in Bennington and Windham counties.
There are presentations scheduled for Bennington, Brattleboro, Manchester, and other locations in Southern Vermont.
"Our biggest effort today is the registration of people to receive 'Fraud Watch Alerts' and to gain more volunteers for the program," said Greenblott. Registration can take place at any AARP Fraud Watch Network events and displays or by going online toaarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.
Those interested in becoming program volunteers can contact Greenblott at firstname.lastname@example.org or by contacting the AARP Vermont office at (866) 227-7451.