There has never been a birth explosion in the United States like the ‘Baby Boom,’ a period generally identified as the years between 1946 and 1964. An estimated 78 million children were born during this period. But the baby boom is long over and many of those bracketed in these years are either retired or on the cusp. A good number have retired comfortably but a lot of this generation is barely hanging on. No one knows this quite like AARP, the nation’s largest organization fighting for the time, attention and interests of this important demographic.
But also hoping to get close to this demographic are scammers who see nothing more than an aging population of easy marks. They have no sentimental interest nor attachment in boomers beyond finding ways to steal their money, their property and anything else they can take. It’s the exact opposite approach of what groups like AARP and law enforcement operate on.
Because many seniors have made the best of their income earning years, AARP works to educate them on how to hold on to what they’ve made. “We will gather with groups around the state and talk with members and non-members to ensure they will have the money they need to retire,” said Angela Cortez, a long-time reporter now Communications Director for Colorado AARP.
When putting these seminars together, Cortez tells attendees that they should consider bringing along their children or grandchildren, people who have one another’s interests at heart. “We tell our members that this information is for everyone.” To ensure that AARP gets the word out to as many people as possible, it holds these events in local libraries or community centers. “We recently did a large program with Front Range Community College and had a Spanish-speaking financial planner.”
AARP tries to host these events on a monthly basis but has also incorporated webinars or web conferences to educate people. Information remains the same but transmitted differently. It’s a convenient and practical way to conduct these information gathering classes in a computer age. “We try and get to smaller towns,” said Cortez, “but it can be kind of hard to get to some corners of the state. That’s why we’re so excited about webinars.” AARP’s next webinar is scheduled for November.
Beyond offering primers on how to save, spend or hang on to their nest eggs, AARP also invests a lot of effort into alerting seniors on how to recognize those who want what doesn’t belong to them.
“We know there are people who are alone,” said Cortez. AARP has something called the Fraud Watch Network. Its primary goal is to shed light on many of the current scams and cons making the rounds. It explains to seniors how to protect their assets including their personal information and “what to do if you get suspicious phone calls or phish emails,” Cortez explained. A common hook to win the senior’s confidence is using the cover of a credibly sounding but non-existent charity or church group.
AARP also has something called Elder Watch. “It’s an amazing program,” said the former beat reporter. AARP, she said, “buys the same phone list that scammers can get ahold of and calls the same people.” But instead of fleecing, AARP tells them how to protect themselves from becoming a victim.
Cortez said one of the things seniors are urged to do when getting calls from numbers they don’t know or recognize is “answer the phone and remain silent.” A lot of scammers, she said, “have systems where they call and record (your voice).” If you must answer an unknown call, she recommends, “stay silent.”
A popular con making the rounds, said Cortez, is actually called the ‘Granny Scam.’ “You’ll get a call and it’ll be from your ‘grandchild.” They explain that they’re in jail, usually far away, and they need bail money wired. The ‘grandchild’ says once the money’s sent, they’ll be set free. The only thing set free, said Cortez, is the money. “People often don’t think. They react,” said Cortez. By then, it’s too late.
In an age of social media, a lot of phishing---electronic scamming---is done on things like Facebook where, too often, more information is shared than is safe---including pictures and names of friends, relatives and, yes, grandchildren. “It’s just phishing,” said Cortez. Unfortunately, sometimes you’re ‘the big one.’
Law enforcement is also on to the various cons targeting this vulnerable age group. The state attorney general and district attorney’s offices all across the state are staffed with individuals, many ex-cops, whose job it is to educate and protect seniors from this type of fraud. AARP often works with local law enforcement on educating against this kind of theft.
AARP provides free literature on protecting against door-knocking cons, phone scamming or cyber theft. Anyone interested in learning about AARP’s Fraud Watch or Elder Watch can visit the organization’s website at AARP.org/retirement. The site also has a hotline number that is accessible 24 hours a day. Cortez encourages seniors or those with senior loved ones to visit the site and find out when and where AARP’s next seminar or webinar is scheduled.