Podcast #132 Scams and Fraud: What You Need to Know! – Amy Nofziger, AARP expert

Amy Nofziger is the Director of Victim Support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network and has nearly two decades of experience in fraud prevention and victim support. Listen to this BLBD episode to get the scoop on scams and fraud. What is it? How does it happen? Could I be a victim? What do I do if I am? As Amy says, “Know the red flags: asking for money or your personal information. End of story.” What does this have to do with my “Best Death,” you are asking? File this in the “Best Life” department!


Diane Hullet: Hi, I am Diane Hullett and welcome to the Best Life Best Death podcast. Today’s episode definitely falls under the umbrella of best life because I’m talking with Amy Knopfziger, and Amy works with the AARP in their fraud department, and I just think this is super interesting. Welcome, 

Amy Nofzinger: Amy. Thanks for having me, Diane.

Diane Hullet: Well, I, you know, I read an article that my brother sent me that had to do with frauds and scams, and this is such a huge piece for older people, aging people, and, and down to even myself at fifty-eight years old. I just, in the last three weeks since reading your article, received kind of these weird scams over email, two different types.

And I thought, wow, this is even bigger than I realized. And I have the capacity to kind of weed my way through it and figure out that it’s a scam. But what do we need to know? And maybe just start by telling us, how did you get into this field of fraud? 

Amy Nofzinger: Oh, well, it all goes back to the beginning, right? Um, you know, when I was a little girl, I mean maybe like junior high and high school, I’ll never forget.

Um, just sitting with my dad, actually just listening to the police scanner. Um, as silly as it was, I came from a divorced family. So when I was with my dad on the weekends, sometimes, I mean, that’s what we would do. We would just sit and listen. So we, we both always had this kind of. Interest in crime and, you know, justice.

And so when I went to college, I studied criminology and sociology and, and loved it. Um, and actually wanted to work in prisons and did work in prisons for, for some time. And then just realized that that necessarily wasn’t my. That wasn’t where I was gonna give my best self, um, and make the most difference.

So, you know, just like we all kind of do, I worked at the, um, well we used to call it the welfare office, now we call it, you know, human services or Employment and Family Services. And that was, you know, that was again a great insight for me to just. Um, you know, work with people from all walks of life and, and in their most vulnerable moments and, and really, um, just, you know, helped me open my eyes to a lot that was out there.

And then, you know, I moved to Colorado. That was in Ohio. I moved to Colorado and I saw this position to open at ARP. And it was a new position that was, um, a position with a Colorado attorney. General’s office at the time was Ken Salazar, and they were working with ARP to stop elder financial exploitation.

So I apply. Got the job and that was twenty-three years ago. And here we are now, we still have that project, the Elderwatch project, which is fantastic. And it’s with our current attorney General Phil Weiser. But, um, a RP, you know, since I’ve started, has just really. Grown their footprint in the fraud space because we do know that although fraud happens to every single person, regardless how old you are, it does not matter that older adults do hold the majority of wealth in the United States.

So obviously the criminals are gonna go where they are because they have the money. So even though they might not be victimized more, they’re victimized at more higher levels. Of dollars because they have more money to lose, obviously. 

Diane Hullet: Wow. And, and in twenty-three years, you must have seen, like the sophistication has gone from kind of like random phone calls.

You know, it would’ve been mostly phone calls in the older days, and now it’s so sophisticated. 

Amy Nofzinger: But also, no. Um, I will never forget my first phone call. So one of the things that we specialize in are these helplines. And so we get about 400 to 500 phone calls a day on the Fraud Watch Network helpline. Um, and we also have a helpline with our project here in Colorado with Elderwatch.

I’ll never forget my first victim on the helpline, and it was a publisher’s clearinghouse imposter scam. Well, we’ve probably gotten 10 of those today already. So, you know, the, we call ’em kind of legacy scams. They, they work. Um, so that doesn’t really need that much sophistication. Yes, there is, you know, some sophistication with, um, you know, us all being on our devices and, you know, the new modes of currency that the criminals want, like crypto and gift cards.

I mean, that has all changed in the last 23 years, but at the core. A scam is a scam is a scam. Um, they want your personal information or they want your money, and it can come in still through the phone, which we still get a lot of people who are victimized over the phone. It can still come in the mail, it can still be at your door.

Um, but the thing that really has changed is this. The devices that we carry, right? twenty-Three years ago we weren’t carrying these, what we call cell phones, but let’s be honest, when was the last time you actually made a phone call on that device? Um, if anyone calls me, I’m like, why are you calling me?

And then why are you leaving me a message? Just text me. We need to actually just kind of think of these devices as mini computers that we keep in our pockets. Twenty-four, seven. And so by that, the criminals do have access to us twenty-four, seven. 

Diane Hullet: For sure, for sure. So is it always money? Is it money or personal information or 

Amy Nofzinger: both?

It’s both. Um, it kind of depends on which. Sect of criminal you’re talking to, right? Um, more often than not, I feel like on the helpline we see probably a little bit more of the money loss and the personal information loss, but sometimes they go hand in hand, right? Like, send me a copy of your driver’s license and I need you to, um, send me a prepaid gift card.

Um, I need your Medicare number and you know, you also owe this fine. So go to the crypto ATM machine, but. At the basis of every single scam, regardless of which one it is. Um, and there’s like, I think probably like a hundred documented on AARP’s website right now is, is not so much what the nuances of each scam is.

It’s what are they asking? Are you being asked for your Medicare number? Are you being asked for your social security number? Is someone wanting to remote access into your device? Is someone directing you to go buy a prepaid gift card or directing you to go to a crypto ATM machine? If you hear any of those things, it doesn’t matter what the, the nuance of the scam is, it’s 100% a scam.

That’s so 

Diane Hullet: amazing. You know, one that came across my email inbox recently was somebody who was basically saying, I’m a friend and I can’t get into my Amazon account, and could you possibly help me buy this thing? And I was like, you’re kidding me. Right. But an older relative had that happen to her and she thought, oh dear, my friend’s in trouble.

And after kind of thinking about it, she thought, well, I’ll just call the friend. And the friend said, oh, well I’ve been scammed and so don’t do anything. But here was the weird part. The connection was that the email I got was from her friend. Mm-Hmm. So how do these things travel? Are they like worms that are buried in our inboxes 

Amy Nofzinger: and emails?

Yeah, they kind of are in a way. So that is a very, um, popular scam. And I’ll say, um, we see an increase in that, especially around the holidays, where you might get an email from someone, uh, maybe even pretending to be your boss, right? Saying, oh my gosh, I forgot to buy the, you know, supports. Staff a gift card.

I’m stuck in this meeting right now. Can you please run out and grab ’em a gift card? Make sure to, you know, send me a picture of the front and the back of the gift card for, for accounting, and then I’ll pay you back. So somehow their email gets either breached or, and, and in your case, the person’s email, they probably clicked on a link which gave them access to their address.

Book, which the scammer used to then email everyone in that address book to make it look like it was coming from the friend. But sometimes the ones we see, we see ’em with churches. Um, so people will get a email from whether the pastor or the rabbi, um, at a synagogue saying, oh my gosh, you know, I can’t tell you her name, but we have a parishioner who’s really hungry right now.

She lost her job. Can anyone please donate? Some, you know, prepaid gift cards to help her out. Well, and we, we as society, kind of make these scams easy for the criminals because we put a lot of our personal information online. So if you go to, uh, and scammers. Close your ears if you’re listening to the podcast right now.

’cause I don’t wanna give you any ideas, but if you go to like a church’s website, most of the time the membership directories on there. Um, we’ve seen these at colleges where the professor’s emails are on there. And so, so we just really also need to think when it comes to these situations is limiting the information that we put out there that criminals can use for nefarious purposes.

Diane Hullet: Right, right. Easily. Easily. I mean, there are these bigger scams going on too, right? When my daughter goes to the University of Michigan and they got shut down their first few days of classes with some huge scam where basically they froze the entire computer system so nobody could get in and see anything.

Of course, some kids had printed out their schedules, but some hadn’t, so they didn’t know what classes they had or where to go or where anything was being held, and it was a big old mess. That’s like at the biggest level. But I think what we’re primarily talking about is this like one-to-one consumer, older people being targeted for their money and their personal information.

How can people avoid this? 

Amy Nofzinger: So there’s a lot of things. Um, first and foremost what I like to say is, um, check your emotions. I know that that might, um. You know, sound kind of off topic or whatever. But one of the things that the criminals do first and foremost, is they get you under the emotional ether. So again, we talk about this is.

Really being a victim of a a scam doesn’t have anything to do with your education level, your cognitive level, your societal stance, whatever it is. It really has to do with kind of how quickly your emotions can take over your cognitive thinking. So, and people will say, well, I can’t believe that happened to them.

They’re smart. Person again, has nothing to do with that. So the criminals will get you excited. They’ll almost get you in that fight or flight mode where you’re thinking, um, like in your situation with the email, oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening. Of course I’m gonna help her. Oh, I couldn’t imagine.

Like if I was in that situation, I’d be so panic, I’d be so stressed. So of course I’m gonna do it. Where that’s your emotions thinking, but your cognitive thinking is, well, that doesn’t really make sense. Sense because if she’s locked out of that account, why doesn’t she just go to another account and buy something?

Right? So we really need to, anytime anybody is asking us for honestly anything, um, over the phone, over text, over email, over social media. Why are they asking this? Does this make sense? And as, um, basic as it might sound, I really, I really want people to almost just check in with themselves. It’s like, are you a little stressed right now?

Is your heart rate racing? Are you feeling pressure? Um, do you have the gut feeling? I mean, the gut feeling is actually science telling you that, I dunno, I think we need to think about this. I’ve had many victims say to me. I had the gut feeling and I ignored it, and I didn’t listen to it well, and and so listen to it.

Listen to it. But then there’s then the practical tools, right? Like knowing that anytime you pick up the phone or anytime you’re on social media or online, there is. A criminal waiting for you, not if there is and is today gonna be the day that they reach out to you. Um, knowing that, and also just knowing that this is happening to so many people across the country.

I mean, I think last year they estimated that 8.8 billion with a b was lost. To frauds and scams. I actually take that number and multiply it by 10 or 20 because this crime is very under-reported. Um, so it’s just not happening to one person, so it’s gonna happen at some point in your life. Um, so read the articles, you know, know the red flags, the red flags, as I said earlier, asking you for money or personal information.

End of story. Those things do not happen on a normal basis. Your friend does not call you and ask for your Medicare number. Your friend does not call you and ask for a prepaid gift card. Amazon does not call you and ask for a prepaid gift card, but the scammers, again, can get you under that emotional ether, um, and get you to basically be brainwashed to do what they want you 

Diane Hullet: to do.

That’s amazing. You know, given that this has all been on my mind the other day I placed an order with Harry and David, right? Like gift baskets. And then I got a call about five days later from Harry and David, which was somebody clearly outta the country, so not the best English, and said, um, your credit card has been turned down and so we need a new credit card.

And I was like, oh, this is a hundred percent a scam. And I hung up. Then I got an email from them saying, no, really, you’re. You know, this thing is compromised and we, we didn’t get your credit card to go through. So then I called with a little more openness to what it might be, and then it seemed more legit.

They did have my, my nu, my numbers that I had put in and what I’d ordered and so on. But wow, the fact that we have to have these red flag awarenesses all the time that someone is trying to scam us at any moment is really important, I think, to go into our older years 

Amy Nofzinger: knowing, yeah, it’s important, but think about in your daily life.

All the things that you are already doing to protect yourself. You know, you’re walking to your cars, you’re alert, you’re aware of your surroundings, you have your keys out. Um, when you come home at night, you know, you pull into the garage, you close the garage, then you go into your house, you have an alarm on your house, you have a dog, you have a fence.

We have things every single day to keep ourselves safe. So we also have to keep ourselves financially safe. This is, this is just a different type of criminal. This is not the criminal that’s necessarily breaking into your house and robbing you. This is the criminal that’s breaking into your, you know, kind of your emotions and robbing you.

Um, and so ask the questions, right? Be skeptical. Um. You know, I, I think it’s, it’s kind of funny sometimes, especially during the pandemic, um, you know, when I worked from home every day and my kids were doing school and stuff, they would hear me talking to victims. They would hear me doing all my, you know, interviews with fraud and stuff.

And so they definitely got more of a taste of what mom does. And so I can’t remember where we were, but someone was asking for my son’s social security number in a legitimate way, but he’s like, Nope, scam. And that’s what we need to do. Think scam first, then verify that, then maybe it’s not 

Diane Hullet: amazing. So you’re, you’re saying pay attention to the red flags.

Pay attention to your gut. Is there anything else? Like, I, I notice like a lot of things now have like two factor authentication, right? And so before I can sign into something, they’re gonna send me a code to my cell phone and, and that kind of thing. What, what’s your thought on using those? Sort of technologies.

Amy Nofzinger: I mean, I mean, I think they’re great and I think a lot of technology is already built into our devices. Um, people just don’t use it or know about it. So one of the things is, and this is a great task that people can do with loved ones in their life, because we have, you know, gotten a lot of our older loved smartphones.

So, you know, sit down with them and go through their smartphones, set up their contact. So put their doctor’s phone number in the phone, put their grandchildren’s number in their phone, maybe even add a picture. So yeah, go into your phone settings and there’s an, um, a toggle that says, send any unknown number to voicemail.

So that means if anybody calls you or your loved one that is not in their contacts, the phone won’t even ring. It’ll go to their voicemail and leave a message that way. Then. Outside of the pressure or stress of being on a live call, your loved one can listen to that voicemail and determine if they wanna respond.

Um, again, most scammers don’t even leave voicemails. Um, but that is a great way to, to use some of the technology that’s out there. Also, for people who still have landlines, um, which I know there are quite a few, Nomorobo is a great resource for people that’s. n-O-m-O-r-O-b-O. You can go and sign up on your landline for free and that’ll stop any robocall that comes in.

Um, I have it on my house phone ’cause yes, I still have a house phone. And what happens is when the robocall comes in, it’ll call you and it’ll call the robocall call center and they’ll determine if it’s a robocall that they then will. Take away from you. So your phone will ring one time, but then after they determine it’s a robocall, it’ll go straight to their call center.

Um, so there is a lot of technology out there. Another thing people need to do with technology is when you’re done using your apps on your phone, let’s say you use a banking app or a peer-to-peer app is, you need to sign out of that app. We have seen a significant amount of people being victimized via like Cash App, Venmo and Zelle because they keep those apps open on their phone.

Then let’s say they’re walking on the trail and someone says, oh shoot, I lost my phone. I need to call my mom. Can I borrow your phone? They pretend to dial in a phone number, but really what they’re doing is opening up your bank account or your peer-to-peer app, transferring the money to them. You don’t realize it.

Just make sure to sign out all of your apps, like social media apps, your banking apps, like as I said, your peer-to-peer apps. Um, just ’cause you have a passcode on the main part of your phone doesn’t mean that someone somehow can’t guess that passcode. ’cause I’m gonna guess half of yours right now are 1, 2, 3, 4.

Um, and get into your device and if they can get into your device, they can get into those banking apps and transfer your money. Great, 

Diane Hullet: great advice. Oh my gosh, my kids are nodding in agreement because I always get to sign outta stuff. They’re like, mom, why do you have so many things open? Close this stuff really amazing.

Well, fantastic. You know what, um. I guess we’ve talked a bit about what the scams are and we’ve talked about how can we protect ourselves. What else should we know from your point of view as a really just an expert in this 

Amy Nofzinger: field? A couple of things. Um, one, as I will always say and repeat to say, don’t think this won’t happen to you.

Um, I have worked in my twenty-three years with doctors, lawyers, um, accountants, law enforcement to themselves, um, is, it doesn’t matter if you have a PhD from Harvard. Um, and, and funny, I don’t know if I say funny enough, but without having the other right words to say it, sometimes I feel like the more educated and the.

Smarter you might be, the more vulnerable you might be sometimes because your brain has never steered you wrong in the past and you have a lot of trust in yourself to not ask questions or do research. Um, so just be aware of those kind of vulnerabilities. Be aware that if you are in a life. Um, transition, whether that’s you recently lost a loved one, you’ve gotten, um, some health news, you know, you had to move, you’re divorced.

That increases your vulnerability to a lot of scams. One, because you’re just emotionally in chaos. And also criminals can find out information about people. Criminals can find out in obituaries that you might be a recent widow. Criminals can find out d divorce records in some cities and counties ’cause it’s public record.

So just know that you, um, have some different vulnerabilities through your life. And just be aware of that I think is really important. Also know that if someone in your family or even yourself has been a victim of a fraud or a scam, it’s crucial that you talk about it and report it. Um, that’s one of the things we really pride ourselves on at the ARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline is we have trained volunteers all over the country who work with one-on-one with victims on their, on their.

Fraud journey. Um, certainly to get them to report it to law enforcement, but also to help them understand that they’re not alone and that this has no determination on what their person is or who they are. Um, because we know that the, um, negative emotional outcomes from being a victim of a fraud or scam can sometimes outweigh the outcomes from being a victim of violent crime.

And the reason is, is because there’s not as many supports we in this society, blame. Critique and criticize victims of financial fraud. We say things like, you should have known better. Oh my gosh. Why didn’t you call me? I thought you were smarter than that. That’s so obvious. Things like that, we need to say, I’m so sorry that this happened to you.

Together we’ll find a path forward and just let them know that you’re there for them. That’s 

Diane Hullet: incredible advice. I think that’s really, really powerful because you’re right, and I think victims blame themselves as well as the people around them blaming them, and so that emotional damage is a piece of the toll as well.

When, when you say report, what’s the best way 

Amy Nofzinger: to report? I. So it, we all, a lot of you know us in this space say we don’t really care where you report. Just report it. So you can certainly, if you’re comfortable with your local law enforcement, report it there. If you’re comfortable with your at attorney general’s office, report it there.

FBI, um, the FBI. The FBI has a great reporting tool online. I the letter I, the letter C, the number three.gov call us on the helpline. It’s a free resource for anyone of any age, and you don’t have to be an AARP member. And de, depending on what kind of scam it is, maybe we’ll say first you need to call your bank.

First you need to call your credit card. Then you need to file a report with the FBI, but just report it. And the one thing about financial crimes that’s really interesting is. You know, I said a little bit earlier that 8.8 billion, but let’s multiply that 10. So let’s say 80 billion was lost. You know, we look at these crimes as really individual crimes, but that’s a societal impact.

That is money leaving your community’s economy. So even if Mrs. Smith in Centennial Colorado loses $30,000. Sure it’s not the $30,000 that you have, but that’s $30,000 that’s not being spent in your community, in your economy. That’s $30,000 not going to a charity because she can’t donate it. She also might then have to go on some public support.

Um, so we need to look at this problem as a community problem and a problem that affects all of us, even if you weren’t the victim of that particular loss. It’s a loss that we all are feeling, and so we all need to take a stand and really stop these crimes. 

Diane Hullet: That’s, that’s fantastic. What a great final kind of call to action to see this as something beyond just individual, but really is a huge societal problem and, and not just a problem in terms of victimization, but a problem economically, a problem financially for individuals and for society in 

Amy Nofzinger: our communities.

Oh no, you’re exactly right. Like my kids hate it, but whenever we go to the grocery store and I see those, you know, huge kiosks of prepaid gift cards, I’m like, yep, I bet you know, a million dollars was lost on these last year. And they’re like, all right, mom, can we just get the eggs and move on? 

Diane Hullet: Uh, yes. Uh, teenagers, how they keep us sane.

Right. Well, Amy, thank you so much for your time. You can find out more about the work Amy does at AARP.org slash Fraud Watch Network. Did I get all that right? You got it. And also, ic.gov is a place where you can report these kinds of crimes and let’s all do what we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

I think you’ve had some really good tips for people, and again, the most important one being knowing that this will happen. So keeping a skeptical eye out for. Emails and phone calls are the main thing. Absolutely. Thanks again, Amy. You’ve been listening to the Best Life Best Death podcast. As always, you can find out more about the work I do at bestlifebestdeath.com.

Thanks for listening.

Diane Hullet

Diane Hullet

End of Life Doula, Podcaster, and founder of Best Life Best Death.