Just days ago, Heather Heppner, who serves as AARP Senior Regional Advisor, detailed survey findings on the AARP New Jersey website that found that a growing number of New Jerseyans have failed to take basic precautions necessary to protect themselves against identity theft. As a result of this alarming problem, AARP New Jersey and the AARP Fraud Watch Network have launched a campaign in the Garden State to ratchet up the awareness of identity theft risks and educate New Jersey consumers as to how they can better protect their personal information.
With Veteran’s Day less than a week away, AARP New Jersey plans to increase the veteran’s awareness of digital identity scams that specifically target veterans. According to AARP, veterans are twice as likely to fall for fraudulent schemes. Last year, an AARP study found that 16 percent of all veterans had lost money to scammers, compared to only 8 percent of the non-military public.
Scammers Commonly Target Veterans
Scammers often target veterans in a variety of ways, says Heppner, rattling off a number of common scams in her blog article. She says the “VA Loan Scam” occurs when an imposter claims to be from a federal agency and tries to get the veteran to give personal and financial information to update their records in order to maintain their military benefits. In the “Secret Benefit Pension Scam,” scammers also tell veterans that they qualify for “secret” government programs or benefits worth thousands of dollars, but to be eligible they must collect personal information for a fee, she says.
Anther scam, the “Pension Poaching Scam,” occurs when a scammer offers veterans a lump sum payment up front, in exchange for signing over all their future monthly pension checks, says Heppner. Finally, veterans ,can be tricked by the “Aid and Attendance Scam” where they receive an offer to move their assets to a living trust so they can quality for financial assisted living benefits, she adds.
The AARP New Jersey survey also showed that New Jersey residents, both veteran and non-military, also put themselves at high risk through “risky” internet behavior. Only 4 in 10 of the respondents say that they have online access to all of their bank accounts.
Over 52 percent of the respondents experienced fraudulent charges on their credit or debit card, but only 15 percent ordered a security freeze on their credit report, reports the AARP survey.
And, 71 percent of the respondents failed a quiz testing their “digital identify IQ.”
“Our survey results indicate that a lot of people may feel overwhelmed, and have just given up,” said Cristina Anastasio, Associate State Director of Community Outreach, AARP New Jersey in a statement announcing the survey findings. “Two-thirds of those surveyed said that given the number of data breaches that have occurred, they think it is inevitable that criminals will be able to exploit their credit at some point. But we are emphasizing that there are powerful things you can do to make sure that stolen data can’t be used against you,” says Anastasio.
Resources to Fight Scammers
Check out the AARP Fraud Watch Network launched in 2013 as a free resource for older adults. Consumers may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails about current scams, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling. The Fraud Watch Network website provides pertinent information about fraud and scams, prevention tips from experts, an interactive scam-tracking map, and video presentations featuring Fraud Watch Network Ambassador Frank Abagnale. He is a renowned fraud expert whose personal story was depicted in the hit movie “Catch Me If You Can,” and he also hosts an AARP weekly podcast series, “The Perfect Scam,” that was launched earlier this year.