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Business

Net tool tracks fraud against older people

David Burdette narrowly avoided becoming a financial fraud victim.

Cheryl Senter/New York Times

David Burdette narrowly avoided becoming a financial fraud victim.

David Burdette, a retired executive in Concord, N.H., narrowly missed becoming a victim of financial fraud last summer after criminals were apparently able to crack the password to an online account he used to manage his telephone service.

Burdette, 63, said it took months to change various account numbers and reset passwords after the episode, which left him wary of the perils of the Internet. “My level of paranoia has certainly increased,” he said.

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Alerting consumers to fraudulent schemes targeting older Americans is the goal of a new interactive Fraud Watch Network map created by the advocacy group AARP.

The national map, which became available last week, follows creation of the group’s fraud awareness campaign last fall. The goal is to help consumers track illegal schemes that target them for financial fraud and identity theft, said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president at AARP.

The online map lets you click on your state and see notices about fraudulent activity in your area, both from consumers reporting their personal experiences and from state authorities. Arizona’s attorney general, for instance, warns of “medical alert” scams that are circulating in several regions, targeting older people in particular.

Reports on the map include one from a woman in Tennessee who received e-mails telling her she was about to be evicted, and asking her to click on an attachment. Another in Texas learned that someone had created an online Social Security account in her mother’s name, and had redirected her monthly payment to another account.

Older Americans may be attractive targets because they have accumulated nest eggs for retirement, or have substantial equity built up in their homes.

“They have access to resources and funds they’ve saved for their whole lives,” said Nora Eisenhower, assistant director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office for Older Americans.

In Burdette’s case, he learned that he was nearly a victim when he got a call from his bank, asking if he had authorized a transfer of funds to an overseas account. He hadn’t, so the transfer was canceled. But it had been a close call, he learned. Before the criminals contacted his bank to request the transfer, they had used their online access to his telephone account to activate a feature that lets customers forward calls to another phone number. When the bank initially called to verify the transaction, the call went to the criminals, instead of to Burdette. The scheme was thwarted when a suspicious bank employee contacted Burdette on another phone number.

If you think you’ve encountered a scam, you can complain to the consumer bureau of your state attorney general’s office. More resources are available at the federal stopfraud.gov site.

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