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State officials, AARP urge older adults to be on guard against financial scams

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State officials, AARP urge older adults to be on guard against financial scams

Jun 10, 2024 | 6:00 pm ET
By William J. Ford
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State officials, AARP urge older adults to be on guard against financial scams
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Judith Boivin talks about being scammed out of more than a half-million dollars. She shared her story at a June 10 news conference at the AARP of Maryland office in Annapolis. Photo by William J. Ford.

Judith Boivin cannot remember all the details of an elaborate and complicated scheme by criminals who swindled her between September 2023 and January of this year.

But she can’t forget the amount the scammers took: More than $500,000 in cash and individual retirement accounts.

The 79-year-old Montgomery County resident shared her story to kick off “Protect Week,” an initiative led by AARP of Maryland to bring awareness on financial exploitation on older Americans.

Boivin recalled “an impostor” who called twice a day as part of an alleged FBI investigation saying her Social Security number was being used to open bank accounts to launder money across several states.

“The increased distress my body is carrying since this event is taking a major toll,” she said Monday at the AARP of Maryland office in Annapolis. “Recently, I’ve had two ER visits because of sky-high blood pressure and an amnesia episode. My neck is in a continual state of tension, often with severe migraine-like headaches, something that I never had before.”

Boivin, who’s caring for her husband who has Parkinson’s disease, continued: “I’m irritable, tense, easily angry and frustrated. I’m anxious and at times fearful about what the future may bring for us.”

She was joined by AARP representatives, state officials and advocates who will host or participate in a week’s worth of activities through June 17. The week also coincides with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Saturday.

For Maryland residents, fraud is a real problem, according to federal statistics. The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network said Maryland had the fifth-highest rate of impostor scams last year, with 2,404 scams per million residents, a total of 14,783 cases. Maryland ranked fourth in the same category in 2022.

The state also ranked high in the number of reported “investment related” schemes, at fourth in the nation last year and sixth in 2022, according to the FTC.

“The good news is that those are people that are reporting those crimes,” Karen Morgan, an AARP of Maryland executive council member, said about the data. “When we don’t report these crimes, we give these despicable scum a pass. We should not be absolving them of responsibility for their despicable actions.”

Evelyn Cusson, an assistant U.S. attorney for Maryland, said today’s schemes are sophisticated and leverage technology with “tentacles all over the country and overseas.”

Cusson said anyone who identifies or encounters a possible scam should “report, report, report. Reporting may prevent another person from being victimized.”

Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) offered some tips for seniors and their families to avoid financial scams. They include:

  • Let a call go to voicemail if it’s from a phone number you don’t recognize.
  • Be stingy with your personal information.
  • Review financial statements.
State officials, AARP urge older adults to be on guard against financial scams
Evelyn Cusson, left, and Judith Boivin chat June 10 at the AARP of Maryland office in Annapolis. Photo by William J. Ford.

He also said Marylanders are entitled to two free credit reports a year from the three major credit bureaus.

One key point made Monday: Everyone can be susceptible to financial scams.

“My father, an educated man, who [was] a medical doctor, in his early 80s was scammed for thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Brown said. “He never called his lawyer-educated son, that would be me, before, during or after the scam.

“I only learned of the scam when he passed away,” Brown said. “He no doubt was embarrassed, which I later learned. The best thing that you can do is to seek out resources and ask for help.”

For more information or to report a possible scam, speakers Monday pointed to a number of resources. They include the attorney general’s consumer protection division at 410-528-8662; the state Department of Human Services child and adult protective services at 1-800-917-7383; or the state Financial Office of Regulation at 410-230-6100. You can also visit AARP’s Fraud Watch Network.