We're all superheroes in the fight against fraud

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Fraud Busters: Crusaders for "truth, justice, and the American Way!" Who are these relentless superheroes? Surprise - all of us! We are the front line in combatting fraud and scams; we need to constantly educate ourselves as well as friends, family, and neighbors.

I recently wrote that we have several paths to follow when trying to fight fraud that lead to numerous departments of Federal and State government as well as non-profit groups like AARP, the Better Business Bureau, Consumers Union, and the National Consumers League - all free services. There are also fee-for-service businesses that fulfill similar functions.

All these agencies, groups, and businesses track reports of fraud and scams and issue alerts to educate the public on the latest crimes. The common thread with these organizations as well as federal and state government is that alerts and notifications are either posted on the internet or sent as email alerts to those who have registered to receive them. This means having regular access to a device such as a computer, electronic tablet, or "smart" phone.

Let's start with those who do not have any of these devices. If you want to be current on the various scams and fraud you need to have computer access and an email account. Luckily, the necessary devices are often available at senior centers and town libraries. In some cases, residents may also be able to locate publicly accessible computers in municipal building or schools.

Use one of these public computers to create an email account. Several companies such as Google or Yahoo offer free email accounts and most libraries or senior centers have staff who can help patrons with this task. Once you have access to the internet and an email account, you are all set for the next step. (Those who already have access might want to set up a new email account strictly for receiving fraud and scam information).

Three types of online fraud resources are most common. One type provides continually updated information on fraud and scams. I call this an "active user" resource. Active users must take an active role and visit web sites regularly to obtain the latest information. The web site resources maintain libraries or collections of information that can be accessed any time of day or night. Some of these web sites deal with specific types of fraud (medicare.gov) while others are address the broad spectrum of scams (fbi.gov/scams-and-safety).

A second active resource is basically a consumer fraud "help line." Help lines generally provide the consumer with a way to receive assistance in situations where help or direction is needed. Two such examples are AARPs Fraud Watch Network or the Vermont Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program.

In both of these resources, the consumer must regularly visit the website to receive current information. The third resource is one in which the consumer takes a more "passive" role. He or she registers for fraud alerts that are sent out periodically as email messages. The alerts give notice of current scams being reported to law enforcement and are released by government agencies or non-profit groups providing fraud education services for consumers (Vermont Attorney General and AARP are two such providers).

AARP, state and federal agencies, and many other organizations believe that the best weapon against falling victim to fraud is education, recommending all three types of resources. Begin with AARPs Fraud Watch Network (www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork), the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov), the Vermont Attorney General's Office (www.uvm.edu/consumer), and the National Consumer League (www.fraud.org). These are "one-stop-shopping" sites that include resource libraries, alert registration, and fraud reporting forms.

A second tier of support (active resources) is available from a wide range of government offices: the FBI (www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety), and the New York Attorney General (www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection). There is also a website with the federal government that combines a number agency resources - www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds. All of sites provide resources and fraud reporting links. In the private sector, you can visit www.consumerfraudreporting.org, a wide ranging resource with tips, links, and scam descriptions, as well as the web sites, www.scambusters.org and www.consumerreports.org. (For Medicare fraud, visit www.smpresource.org).

The resources listed here are not the only ones available but will provide a wide range of services. Additional questions or concerns? Contact me at egreenblott@aarp.org.

AARP is seeking Fraud Fighters of all ages. Contact the AARP New York Office at (866) 227-7442, or AARP Vermont Office at (866) 227-7451.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

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