AARP’s ‘Fraud Watch’ program works to educate seniors about scams

By: - August 29, 2022 5:03 pm

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller told a group of 70 gathered at Franklin Public Library in Des Moines Monday, Aug. 29 about the most common scams reported in Iowa. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Older Iowans are more likely to be targeted by scams, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Iowa Insurance Division Commissioner Doug Ommen said, which is why seniors need to learn how to spot the warning signs.

Learning how to identify scams and frauds is the goal of the AARP “Fraud Watch” educational program, a statewide tour that kicked off in Des Moines Monday. The two state officials told a group of 70 about common fraud tactics and scams.

The most common scam complaint in Iowa is about imposter scams, Miller said. Scammers contact a potential victim posing as their grandchild or a loved one, seeking money to help with bail, a medical procedure, or some other great expense. Miller said there have been cases in Iowa where scammers come to victim’s houses in person to collect money, claiming to be a friend of their  family member.

Other common scams include issues like media subscriptions, where people are sent a letter that looks like a bill for a service calling for payment, and time share sales.

Ommen talked about types of investment fraud common in Iowa. He advised Iowans to take a minute to think through investment pitches from unknown sources in fields like alternative energy and cryptocurrency, and to keep an eye out for Ponzi schemes and promissory note scams. Investors can avoid scams by working with a trusted adviser who is registered with the state, he said, and making sure they understand the investment personally before putting any money toward it.

Both state offices work with Iowans who lose money to scams, but often, recovering the money is difficult. Scammers typically have victims send money in forms like cash or gift cards, so payments cannot be reversed. People who get scammed should still seek help from public officials and law enforcement, Ommen said, but he emphasized ways to avoid a scam.

“The way we can defeat fraud is to prevent fraud,” Ommen said. “… The reality is, that our best success stories are the frauds we can avoid.”

Al Perales, an investigator with the state attorney general’s office, gave tips to those gathered on how to identify scams. Scammers try to manipulate a person’s emotions, he said, to make them feel a sense of urgency. That could be anything from fear, he said, in cases where victims were told they would be arrested if they did not pay money, or excitement, when people think they won a contest they had never entered. 

Always double-check phone numbers, emails and websites when someone is asking for your personal information or money, Perales said.

Most people think they would be able to tell when they’re getting scammed, he said, but don’t realize how effective scam artists are. Older Iowans need to be especially careful, because they are preyed upon by scams more than other groups.

“It’s very, very important to know, no matter your walk of life, your cultural background, your religious background, your educational background, anyone can be a victim of fraud,” Perales said. “And again, they’re focused on you.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.