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Fraud victims in denial: They’re a challenge

The Albuquerque woman who called me recently was near despair because a close relative kept giving money away to a serial scammer. It was the same pitch over and over, and the relative kept falling for it over and over — even when the caller told her a fantastic tale about a helicopter arriving soon to deliver her supposed winnings.

Nonetheless, the relative refused to listen to reason and lashed out in defense. Despite warnings from family members and from the store where the woman was buying Amazon cards for her predators, she continued on.

The worried Albuquerque woman had no idea what to do about it.

Amy Nofziger, director of AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Helpline, says this kind of dilemma is all too common.

And “it’s a challenge,” especially because scammers often instruct their elderly victims not to tell anyone — whether it be about supposed lottery winnings or romance via an internet dating site, Nofziger says.

The scammer warns that family members, if told, will react by trying to get some of the bogus lottery money or by getting very angry. When the relative does in fact get upset, it cements the victim’s loyalty to the scammer, Nofziger says.

“For lack of a better word, they get brainwashed by scammers,” she says. “They (scammers) are breaking down the trust with the people we should trust the most.”

Preying on senior citizens in this way is likely to become even more common, says Bernice Geiger, spokeswoman for the state Regulation and Licensing Department. By 2030, New Mexico’s percentage of population over 65 will increase from 29th to fourth-largest in the nation, she says.

Nofziger advises that once you become aware that a loved one is being duped and you want to step in, “always lead with empathy. The best thing … to do is to talk and listen to the person who is victimized.”

If there’s no breaking through, and the person refuses to listen, it might be best to bring in an outsider, such as a priest, a police officer who deals with fraud or anyone who might be in the victim’s “circle of trust,” Nofziger says. “An authority figure is often valuable to the older generation.”

Also, consider contacting AARP’s Fraud Watch Network helpline, which can be reached at 1-877-908-3360.

By bringing in a respected outsider, you are eliminating any kind of family dynamic that might be at work and giving the victim a different set of eyes through which to see their actions, Nofziger says.

If none of that works, there is a deeper consideration to take into account.

“This is a hard thing to say, but you are going to want to talk to the family physician,” she says. “Are there some cognitive tests that need to be run?”

In New Mexico, there are some added protections for these situations.

The Senior$afe program teaches both families and financial professionals — including bank tellers, credit union employees and investment advisers — how to spot exploitation and how to report it.

To request a presentation on these topics, call 1-800-704-5533.

Contact Ellen Marks at emarks@abqjournal.com if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.

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