Illinois: On the Front Lines of Fraud

Posted on 03/31/24 by Sarah Hollander

It happens to Illinois State Police Trooper Jason Wilson, too. The phishing emails. The misleading texts.

“The sad reality is, we’re very well aware of how prevalent these scams are,” says Wilson, a Springfield–based supervisor for the agency’s safety education unit who travels the state helping Illinoisans spot fraud in its ever-evolving iterations.

Wilson participated in an AARP telephone town hall last year and regularly speaks at libraries, retirement homes and community centers.

“If I can prevent people from being victims, I’ve found that to be a whole lot more rewarding than having to try to help somebody pick up the pieces of their life after they’ve been victimized,” he says.

Wilson, AARP Illinois and other fraud fighters in the state unfortunately have plenty to keep them busy: In 2023, Federal Trade Commission data shows that Illinois consumers reported total losses from fraud of $244.7 million.

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Chart by Nicolas Rapp

To help bring those numbers down, AARP Illinois is working with law enforcement agencies, the Better Business Bureau, Area Agencies on Aging, the Illinois attorney general’s office and other organizations.

AARP is running a five-part online fraud prevention series, with presentations planned in the spring and fall.

Up in May: Former Illinois state representative and elder law attorney Steven Andersson will review signs of elder fraud. Register for sessions and watch them live at events.aarp.org/stopfraud. Or you can watch them later at facebook.com/AARPIllinois or at youtube.com/@aarpillinois9783.

Teaching ways to stop fraud

One of the more elaborate scams Wilson has come across starts with an email or robocall from a scammer pretending to be an employee of Amazon or another retail company. They thank the recipient for a purchase and advise them to click a link or call a number if they don’t recognize the charge. Then they offer to walk the person through the refund process — and, in doing so, install malicious software on their computer and gain access to their bank account.

Unfortunately, he says, scams are often launched from places that don’t have a strong law enforcement presence — and aren’t too concerned about enforcing any laws that might exist.

Education is an effective way to fight scams that are out of reach of local law enforcement, he adds. While victims may be in Illinois, many perpetrators are outside the U.S.

Wilson’s main goal is to reduce that victim pool. Here are some of his suggestions on how to do so:

  • Don’t engage. If you don’t recognize a number on caller ID, don’t answer. If you do pick up and realize it’s a scam, hang up immediately. Scammers share information, and the more you respond the higher you rank on their list of potential victims.
  • Don’t click on a hyperlink in emails or texts unless you’re confident of its source.
  • Beware of social media surveys. Answers may provide clues to breaking passwords. “You might be bored and think that might be a fun little thing to do, but just avoid those,” Wilson says.
  • Use two-factor authentication. Social media and email platforms also offer security features that notify people when changes to their accounts have been made.

Scammers are tough foes, Wilson concedes. The most sophisticated are skilled at mind games. “If this does happen to you, you are not the only one,” Wilson says. “Don’t ever let embarrassment keep you from reporting a crime.”

Society often blames fraud victims, leading to shame and underreporting, says Kathy Stokes, AARP’s director of fraud prevention programs. “But we also know that social narratives can change—and we believe this one can change for the better,” Stokes says.

The more information law enforcement receives, Wilson says, the more it can ferret out the criminals. In fact, he says, “You might be the person who gets this group to stop.”

Sarah Hollander, a writer and former newspaper reporter in Cleveland, has written for the AARP Bulletin for 15 years.

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This story is provided by AARP Illinois. Visit the AARP Illinois page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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