Fraud Watch Network: New tool helps head off scammers

Jackie Swett never dreamed she'd spend a rainy day in March walking through the Museum of Flight, but she didn't go for the vintage airplanes.

Swett got up early to attend a special anti-fraud presentation called Scam Jam, which taught attendees about scams, fraud and how to avoid being a victim. She had a special reason for attending, because the 50-year old computer newbie learned she fits the unique profile of a likely victim of online fraud.

A newly released national survey by AARP highlights specific online behaviors that increase your likelihood of being victimized by fraud online, such as opening mail from unknown sources, signing up for free trial offers, and clicking on pop-up ads.

The report , "caught in the Scammers Net," also found your likelihood of falling for scams online, in email or texts goes up if you feel isolated, are concerned about debt, have lost a job or experienced a negative change in your financial status.

Swett is candid about her struggle with PTSD, her solitary lifestyle, and her failure to realize scammers had downloaded malware on her computer. Then, one day in September, she couldn't get into her email account.

"This 800 number popped up and said if you're having trouble getting into your gmail or email account, call this number," Swett explained.

She called the number and was told she needed to install a $200 firewall to remove the virus and protect her computer. The fraudsters got her money, her credit card information and the data from her computer, then vanished. It cost her another $550 to get her computer restored and secured by a legitimate company in town.

Swett still didn't realize she'd been scammed until months later, when she got a alert from AARP. That's when she learned about her victim profile, the Scam Jam educational event at the Museum of Flight, and the new Fraud Watch Network - a nationwide alert system that lets you report scams and find out about scams where you live. Here in Washington, the special website is sponsored by the AARP and the state Attorney General .

"We want people who are here today to go warn their friends, their neighbors and encourage them to sign up for it so we can have a network of thousands of people who are looking for this, reporting and warning," said AARP State Director Doug Shadel. "We want this to become a nationwide detection system."

Jackie's out her money, but by arming herself with information, she feels she has a better chance of avoiding scams than she did before. Her message to other scam victims? Don't keep it to yourself. Tell someone.

"Don't sit on it. Don't be ashamed. Because that makes you more of a victim and they win. No. You need to tell. Because if you tell, that empowers you," Swett said.

As she strolled past the old planes in the museum, she says her heart is soared a bit- with the belief that by sharing her story, she's helping someone else.