Barbara Kim Stanton
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Many of us have gotten the calls from someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, or seen that pop-up message on your computer, warning you of a virus and the need to call tech support RIGHT NOW.
Maybe you’ve even gotten the call from someone who sounds familiar, saying: “Grandma, I need money for bail.”
These are imposter frauds. It’s when a scammer poses as someone he or she is not — an IRS agent or a police officer, a computer support technician or a family member — to steal your money or your identity.
Imposter scams are the most reported fraud in the United States with more than 350,000 complaints last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. One in five people who reported an imposter fraud lost money -— a total of $328 million stolen by scammers.
Who are these imposters and what can you do to protect yourself and your family?
AARP fraud expert Doug Shadel has answers and he’s coming to Hawai‘i next month to share what he knows at “Unmasking the Imposters” seminars on O‘ahu, Maui, in East Hawai‘i and Kaua‘i.
Shadel wrote the book on scammers. Actually, he’s written several books, including “Outsmarting the Scam Artists.” A former fraud investigator, Shadel is now the state director of AARP’s Washington office.
Shadel has interviewed scammers to find out what imposters do and how they take people’s money.
“I’ve met dozens of con artists over the years,” he said. “They all say the same thing: ‘Get the victim under the ether.’ What do they mean by ‘the ether?’ It’s a heightened emotional state. When you are emotional, you aren’t thinking rationally.”
Scammers use emotions like fear, panic and concern to get victims to act quickly and without thinking clearly. That’s when they send money or give up personal information.
Overconfidence is another way scammers get to their victims. A recent AARP survey found that about 85 percent of consumers felt that they could spot and avoid a fraudulent pitch.
“That illusion of invulnerability can put people in real danger,” Shadel said. “If you think you’ll never be taken, you’re likely to leave your guard down.”
The key to preventing fraud is education — learning what to watch for and what scammers do. The “Unmasking the Imposters” seminars are free and will be offered as follows:
• Tuesday, June 19, on Maui at the King Kamehameha Golf Club in Waikapu;
• Wednesday, June 20, on O‘ahu at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i in Mö‘ili‘ili;
• Thursday, June 21, in Hilo at The ARC of Hilo (1099 Waiänuenue Ave.); and
• Friday, June 22, at the Kaua‘i Community College Fine Arts Auditorium.
The seminars are free and run from 9:30 a.m. to noon, except on Kaua‘i, where it will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. To register, call 1-877-926-8300 or go to https://aarp.cvent.com/HIfraud2018.
Scammers are good at what they do. It’s up to you to arm yourself with the knowledge to fight back and protect yourself from imposters.
Barbara Kim Stanton has been the state director of AARP Hawai‘i since 2005. She writes about living a life of real possibilities, where age is not a limit and experience equals wisdom.