Luke wasn’t in jail.

Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys was telling a story to illustrate how family members of the group have been impacted by scam artists who take advantage of the elderly.

He said someone contacted his mother-in-law and told her a great-grandson, Luke, was in jail. She was told that $10,000 was needed to set Luke free. She was ready to head to the bank, but, fortunately, she called her son, who recommended checking out the situation first. As it turned out, Luke wasn’t in jail. He was enjoying a lake. And just like that, a bad guy’s attempt at a cash grab was foiled.

Probably everyone knows someone elderly who has been targeted by con artists. Thanks to a new campaign backed by the Oak Ridge Boys, maybe fewer senior citizens will become prey.

The Oak Ridge Boys will perform a sold-out show Saturday night at Paradise Cove inside the River Spirit Casino Resort. Bonsall and his mates — Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban — arrived early so they could take part in a Friday news conference on the venue’s stage.

Partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice and AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, the Oak Ridge Boys were present to unveil a new public service announcement intended to combat fraud schemes targeting senior citizens. The crowd watched a video intended to raise awareness about the topic and heard the Oak Ridge Boys and team-up mates speak about the need for such a campaign.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said senior citizens are targeted because of vulnerability.

“There is no doubt that scam artists maliciously target the senior population,” he said. “It is my view that people who orchestrate these scams are among the lowest forms of life in this world. My office has a zero tolerance policy with regard to their actions, and we remain dedicated to taking decisive actions against them.”

AARP/Fraud Watch Network’s Wayne Blackmon, acknowledging the Oak Ridge Boys seated nearby, said it’s great to have “these kind of partners” in the venture.

The Oak Ridge Boys have a history of supporting causes they deem worthwhile. This one was brought to their attention by Jim Halsey, a Tulsa-based music impresario who has managed the group for decades. Bonsall said this cause means something to the Oak Ridge Boys “because we’ve been affected by it, and I think a lot of people have.”

Bonsall said his wife had her identity stolen and it was a “long, long trip” to get things fixed. Allen shared a story about his wife’s Social Security number being hijacked. He said the experience was “pure hell.” Weasels weren’t able to steal her Social Security funds, but they tried to charge medical bills to her Medicare account, and that caused problems.

“It just was crazy for a year, and we finally got it straightened out,” Allen said. “But it took about 20 calls and 20 meetings, all the way to the United States Congress, to get it fixed. We weren’t with the AARP and Fraud Watch Network at that time. I’ve got a feeling that, had we been, I would have got it fixed a lot sooner.”

Types of elder fraud range from high-tech to knock-on-your-door scams to just plain thievery. Allen said he’s got a family member with Alzheimer’s disease who had her safe emptied by a caretaker.

“It’s just heartbreaking what people have to go through today to stop these people that are trying to steal from the elderly,” he said.

Blackmon told news conference attendees they shouldn’t leave with a “trust no one” mindset. Instead, leave knowing you should trust someone, because most elder fraud victims “went it alone.”

“Find a very, very trusted, loyal and true friend and bounce things off of them,” Blackmon said. He also urged using resources available on aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

“Like Smokey the Bear, I am here to say prevention is the key,” he said.

Golden mentioned one way of prevention: “I’m too old to deal with these prank calls, because I hang up pretty quick.”

Officials who spoke during the press conference included Jody Hunt, U.S. assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Division; Trent Shores, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma; and Sean Voskuhl, state director of AARP Oklahoma.

In a news release, Acting Associate Attorney General Claire Murray said fraudsters are targeting and stealing billions of dollars from unsuspecting Americans every year.

“Unfortunately we will never be able to fully stop this kind of fraud and you’re never going to be able to completely stop bad people from doing bad things,” Hunter said. “But, if you take proactive steps, we can help people learn how to protect themselves and avoid being an easy mark and avoid becoming a victim.”

Bonsall echoed Hunter’s comments about not being able to completely prevent bad people from doing bad things.

“But we can sure fight,” Bonsall said. “And the Oak Ridge Boys, we are for fighting.”

Bonsall indicated the group will throw its social media muscle behind the campaign and help in other ways. After the news conference, he and Allen fielded this question: Wouldn’t it be great to catch the bad guys?

“We’re going to catch them,” Allen said.

Added Bonsall: “And after we catch them, let’s kick their (butt).”

Jimmie Tramel

918-581-8389

jimmie.tramel

@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @JimmieTramel

Scene Writer

Jimmie is a pop culture and feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, he has written books about former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and former Oklahoma State football coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389