AARP ElderWatch is a program with the Colorado Attorney General and the AARP Foundation whose mission is to ensure that no older adult is left to suffer, alone and in silence, at the hands of those who exploit them. The program fights the financial exploitation of older Coloradans through education and outreach, data collection and the provision of assistance.
The program was created in 2001 when the Colorado Attorney General's Office provided a start-up grant to the AARP Foundation to screen and attempt to resolve complaints of scams against older Coloradans. Ongoing funding from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which comes from restitution monies, has allowed the program to expand its education and outreach efforts throughout the state.
The AARP ElderWatch program engages roughly 180 volunteers each year and consists of three main components: The AARP ElderWatch Hotline, which is part of the Colorado Consumer Line and is an information and referral service that older consumers can call to report fraud and learn more about scams; the Fraud Fighter Call Center, which is an outbound calling center that reaches out to older people around the country to educate them about scams; and the Field Fraud Fighter Program, which consists of a series of consumer protection presentations. AARP ElderWatch also hosts an annual Fight Fraud – Shred Instead event, which provides free shredding services at locations along the front range.
The AARP ElderWatch Hotline has received more than 20,000 consumer complaints since the program’s inception. More than 3,400 calls came in during 2012, which resulted in 1,105 cases entered into the database representing a total estimated loss of $6.4 million. In 2012, the most common complaints to the ElderWatch Hotline fell into the following categories: company-specific complaints, non-stranger exploitation, home repairs, sweepstakes/free gifts, telephone service and equipment, identity theft, medical care products/services, timeshare sales and re-sales, foreign lotteries and mortgage fraud.
Older Americans are often targeted by scammers and fraudsters because they are seen as being accessible, generous, trusting, isolated and wealthy. A 2010 MetLife study found that more than three billion dollars are lost each year due to the financial exploitation of the elderly. But many experts believe that the problem is much worse than the study suggests, due to the vast underreporting of the crimes.
That’s why the AARP ElderWatch Hotline provides a unique resource for those who have been exposed to frauds, scams or financial exploitation. The success of the program is due to the volunteers, who are peers providing assistance to peers. Talking to an AARP ElderWatch specialist can build trust and understanding and helps take away the shame and embarrassment that some folks feel when reporting the crimes to the appropriate agency. The volunteers participate in quarterly training workshops with agencies like the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
“At AARP ElderWatch we strive to help older Coloradans recognize, refuse and report financial exploitation,” said Amy Nofziger, director of regional operations for AARP Foundation. “But unfortunately when a person has already sent money to a foreign lottery, for instance, it's almost impossible to get the money back. That’s why it’s so important for people to stop, take a moment to think about what they’re doing, and call us first.”
AARP ElderWatch’s Hotline is available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday–Friday. Consumers can call the Colorado Consumer Line at 800-222-4444 and select option two. If you are interested in learning more or volunteering with any of AARP ElderWatch’s programs, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 720-947-5305. Visit the AARP ElderWatch Fraud Figthers on Facebook.
Written By: Beau Ballinger, Sr. Program Specialist, AARP ElderWatch