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Protecting Assets from Con Artists

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Over a period of five years “Jeremy,” a con artist now doing time, worked a number of gold coin scams. “We would tell people that gold would absolutely double in value in the next one-to-two years,” he said from his jailhouse cell. and “they would be able to rely on its making them far more money than any other investment vehicle.” he said from his jailhouse cell. What he failed to disclose was that he was selling the gold at up to a 500 percent markup.

Identity theft, investment fraud and scams rob millions of Americans of their hard-earned money every year. More than $20 billion was stolen from about 13 million victims in 2012, according to the latest Javelin Strategy and Research reports on identity fraud. Older adults are bilked out of about $3 billion annually.

Con artists use a myriad of scams to steal your money, including phishing scams, tech-support scams, gold coin scams, oil and gas scams, sweepstakes and lottery scams, grandparent scams and many more. Although methods differ, tactics are the same.

When authorities ask convicted con artists to describe the trick to scamming people out of money, they all say the same thing: “Get them under the ether,” the ether being a heightened emotional state that makes it hard to make rational decisions. Once they find something that triggers the emotions, they “throttle up” on that trigger and get you to focus on it until you are in a heightened emotional state, ready to open your wallet.

“Rocky” is a con man who worked as a consultant to a number of fraudulent boiler rooms, where telephones are set up to steal millions, then quickly close and the money is gone. He described the ether as a condition that a master closer puts a prospect in by hitting their fear, greed and urgency buttons, adding “I wanted to keep the victim up in the altitude of the ether because once they drop into the valley of logic, I’ve lost them.”

In another tactic, con artists develop a victim profile by asking personal questions to discover your emotional trigger. As they become endeared, you begin to trust them.

Con artists also use a tactic called "phantom riches, " meaning something you want but can’t have. The con artist will dangle that phantom desire in front of you in order to get you to make an impulsive decision.

A common tactic to reel you in typically goes like this: “Now John, back in 1860 from the Philadelphia mint, there were 22,625 of these coins minted. Of those 22,000, only four have survived. Only four remain and are available only from me.” This information and more can be found in the "Con Artists Playbook," which contains interviews, along with access to more information to protect people from theft and fraud.

The Fraud Watch Network offers free access to information about how to protect yourself and your family. Membership is not required and you have access to a real, live person, and resources about what to do to spot and avoid them.

In keeping true to its mission of protecting the financial security of older adults, AARP is fighting identity theft and fraud in North Carolina. Get information, watchdog alerts and more by visiting aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call 877-908-3360.