By the time the local U.S. Postal Inspection Service office got wind of the scam last year, a West Tennessee woman had already lost $500,000 to the con artists. They told her that she had won the lottery but that to claim the prize money, she first had to pay taxes on it.
“She was paying taxes for 10 years so she could finally get her $50 million in lottery winnings,” says Susan Link, a postal inspector based in Memphis.
The frequency of such swindles, along with the persistence of coronavirus-pandemic-related scams, is why AARP Tennessee is making fraud prevention a top priority this year.
Roughly 79,000 fraud cases were reported in Tennessee in 2021—totaling $62.6 million in losses, according to recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data. That’s a roughly 33 percent increase from 2020, with fraud reports generally on the rise over the past five years.
And in January the Tennessee attorney general’s office reported that the number of scam complaints it received had also recently doubled, from about 300 per month to 600 per month, on average. It cited the pandemic as a contributing factor.
“AARP Tennessee is working across the state to educate residents and equip consumers with up-to-date knowledge to spot and avoid scams,” says Mia McNeil, its state director.
AARP is teaming up with the Postal Inspection Service this month for a fraud prevention telephone town hall to offer tips on avoiding scams. For a recording of this and other town hall events, go to aarp.org/TNtownhall.
Pandemic swindles popular
Officials continue to warn about COVID-19-related schemes.
Scammers have been peddling worthless vaccine passports and charging for access to vaccination shots that are already free. Nationally, the FTC has gone after more than 400 sellers and marketers who claim their products will either treat or prevent COVID-19.
While older adults are more likely to report losing money on certain types of scams, such as fake sweepstakes, more younger people report losses to fraud overall, according to the FTC.
Postal Inspector Margaret Greene in the agency’s Memphis office recalled a case in which a fraudster persuaded a 29-year-old out-of-state man to send $50,000 to an unwitting victim in Union City, Tennessee, who then forwarded the money, along with $20,000 of his own, to the scammer.
The most prevalent swindle in the state is the impostor scam, FTC data shows. This happens when a criminal pretends to be someone you trust, such as a grandchild who says they need cash. Many romance and tech-support scams also target older adults. People living alone or who are socially isolated amid the pandemic might be more vulnerable, Greene says. Here are some of her tips:
For more on avoiding cons, go to aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.
Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.
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This story is provided by AARP Tennessee. Visit the AARP Tennessee page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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