AARP holds 'Scam Jam' event in Kennewick

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJuly 9, 2014 

Bob Ferguson

Seniors dealing with negative events in their lives are more likely to fall victim to scams, attendees were told Wednesday at AARP's "Scam Jam" in Kennewick.

More than half of victims of scams like fraud and identity theft report they have experienced traumatic events, according to an AARP study. Twenty-three percent say they've lost a job, compared to 10 percent for non-victims. Sixty-six percent of victims feel isolated, compared to 42 percent for non-victims.

Meanwhile, 69 percent of victims were concerned about debt at the time they were taken advantage of, compared to 57 percent of non-victims, the study said.

The 240 attendees at the Three Rivers Convention Center were also warned about clicking on pop-up internet advertisements, or taking part in free trial offers.

Doug Shadel, AARP state director and author of the survey, advised people to regularly change their website passwords and read privacy policies before agreeing to them.

"If you never read the policies, don't be surprised if there is something on there you do not like," he said.

Seniors should also make sure to update their computer operating systems, said Christopher Burgess, a former CIA official and CEO of Prevendra Inc., a Woodinville security consulting firm. They should replace their operating systems should the manufacturer stop servicing them, like Microsoft has with Windows XP and Apple did with OS X Lion.

"If you are not updating your operating system as advised by the manufacturer, you are inviting this target on your back," he said.

Many are now dealing with criminals using their Social Security numbers to file false tax returns, said Chuck Harwood, the Federal Trade Commission's regional director. To avoid such theft, he advised people to file their taxes as early as possible, and also keep an eye on their accounts.

Speakers acknowledged that those attending the meeting, mostly AARP members who responded to email invitations, are not among the more likely to fall for scams. But they should tell people they know about the dangers.

"Take the information you've learned here today and share it with at least one friend, because it does make a difference," said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. "The only way we're going to get our arms around this problem is if people talk about it."

People who have been victims of scams should call the attorney general's consumer protection division at 800-551-4636. This allows the office to track what kind of scams are going on, so attorneys can determine where to focus their efforts, Ferguson said.

Only one out of 44 victims of scams reports it, Ferguson said.

"It's so underreported, it's tough to get your arms around the scope of the problem," he told the Herald.

Ferguson has appeared at AARP events in the Seattle area and plans to speak at one in Spokane this fall, he said.

Brenda Bradley of Richland said she appreciated hearing speakers discuss the "halo effect," where people are on their best behavior at first, only to turn out to be con artists. She has rented properties to people who have exhibited such behavior, she said.

"This is going to help a lot," she said of the event. "It was put together so well."

Elmer Petersen of Kennewick enjoyed the event, but said he already knows how to deal with potential scammers.

"When I get those phone calls, I pretty well shut 'em up," he said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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