Photo by Tom Gilbert

Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt (left) announced a campaign on Friday to increase awareness of fraud schemes that target the elderly. The campaign features The Oak Ridge Boys, who all call Hendersonville home. Pictured are Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban.

No one is immune from fraud schemes that target the elderly, members of the Hendersonville group The Oak Ridge Boys said Friday during a press conference in Tulsa, Okla. 

Citing personal experiences, the group members explained why they’ve joined forces with the U.S. Department of Justice and the AARP to launch a national campaign to make people aware of scams that target the elderly as well as what steps to take once one does falls prey.

The Country Music Hall of Fame members have recorded a public service announcement that will air nationally. They’ll also participate in a social media campaign to combat the problem.  

Oak Ridge Boys member Joe Bonsall told about a recent phone call one family member received about one of his grandchildren. 

The grandchild was in jail and the family member needed to send money soon in order to have him bailed out, the caller said. Bonsall said the scam would have worked if another family member hadn’t intervened by finding out that his grandson was on Old Hickory Lake and not in jail. 

“We’re still working, but we are elderly,” joked singer Duane Allen who is 76.

Allen told of the hoops he and his wife had to jump through after someone stole her social security number and started claiming medical benefits. 

“It took a year to get past that,” said Allen.

According to the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, Tennessee has the fifth highest rate of fraud in the country. Tennesseans lost more than $18 million to fraud in 2018, according to the agency.

“This is a big topic now statewide,” said HPD Det. Neal Harris who says he assigns several fraud cases a week to his detectives. 

Harris said that while the elderly appear to be particularly vulnerable, they aren’t the only ones who fall prey to scams.

“I think a lot of time the elderly are more lonely and looking for conversation,” he said. “A lot of times the victims enjoy the conversation and don’t mind sending people money.”

Harris said the majority of the scams police investigate are over the phone or over the Internet.

He said the best thing to do is to be skeptical of any contact one has where someone is asking for personal information, or asking to send money. 

Harris said the department will investigate the scams but have no jurisdiction if they are overseas. 

“It’s frustrating because we want to help these people and we want to prosecute, but many times it’s out of the country and we can’t do anything,” Harris added. 

Still, residents are urged to report the incident to police as well as the Federal Trade Commission. 

“Fraudsters are targeting and stealing billions of dollars from unsuspecting Americans every year,” Acting Associate Attorney General Claire Murray said in a written statement. “In order to fight this epidemic, Americans must report fraud schemes and spread the word among their families and friends. I want to thank AARP’s Fraud Watch Network and the Oak Ridge Boys for working with us to fight this critical issue.”

Anyone who has been a victim of a fraud scheme is urged to report it to local law enforcement as well as www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. Information about the Department of Justice’s Elder Fraud initiative is available at www.justice.gov/elderjustice.

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