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State, federal experts bring tips and advice to a seminar at Mary's Woods

REVIEW PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - Diane Childs of the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services makes an animated point during a volunteer training session at Mary's Woods.“Scammers have absolutely no respect for old age.”

That’s the message Chuck Harwood brought to a gathering at Mary’s Woods this month, when AARP Oregon hosted a volunteer training session with state and federal agencies to help teach consumers about fraud and scam prevention.

Harwood, who represented the Federal Trade Commission, was joined by Diane Childs of the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services and John Cable of the Internal Revenue Service. All three said they have handled a deluge of elder fraud complaints.

“The hard part of financial fraud is that people are reluctant to report it,” Childs said. “Senior adults have difficulty transferring financial responsibility to their children, and they don’t want to get anyone else in trouble. So the money is usually gone by the time investigators are called.

“Prevention is very important,” she added. “The scammers’ weapons are fear, greed and sympathy.”

AARP Oregon organized the April meeting in an effort to arm volunteers with tools and information to fight back against those weapons. The organization hopes to deploy its “ambassadors” at community events and make them available for group presentations, according to Communications Director Joyce DeMonnin.

“Financial fraud causes millions of dollars in losses each year,” DeMonnin said. “We need to make sure we’re armed against scams and frauds.”

In 2015, Oregon residents registered 25,468 complaints about identity theft, fraud and other complaints with the Federal Trade Commission. Childs noted that the defrauder could be anybody, even someone the victim trusts, like a family member or friend.

There are even financial advisers who, as Childs put it, “go to the dark side” in their dealings with vulnerable seniors. These advisers pray on seniors’ fears about running out of money, Childs said, and then offer a line of bogus solutions with fine print that can lead to disastrous results.

At the IRS, Cable said, fighting back against identity theft is a never-ending battle. Organized crime syndicates are now operating identity theft operations, replacing the street gangs that were once the most prevalent offenders.

“Criminals are getting more and more data because of data breeches,” he said. “The IRS is able to stop the vast majority of invalid tax returns. But the world’s most creative criminals are finding ways to part you from your cash. There are even phony IRS agents on the phone. It’s an epidemic right now.”

What’s an elder citizen to do? Learn to fight back, the panelists said.

“There are easy but critical steps you can take,” Cable said. “Like protecting your computer. An ID theft website is now available.”

The elderly are not the only targets of con artists, of course. Even younger people can become victims, Cable said, recounting the story of a friend who lost $10,000 in a Nigerian wedding proposal scam. But so many senior citizens have been defrauded that the Oregon Legislature recently passed a bill to provide for special prosecution of those who defraud the elderly.

“I hope this sparks more legislation against the bad guys,” DeMonnin said. But until that happens, all three panelists urged senior citizens to play a greater role in protecting themselves. The providers of information must be as relentless as the criminals, they said.

“This is why the AARP is so essential,” Harwood said. “It gets out the right information in a way that elder citizens understand.”

For more about protection against elder fraud, go to

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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