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October 01, 2014

“… Pass It On” New Scam Awareness and Education Materials from the Federal Trade Commission

Lisa Weintraub Schifferle

(Note: The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 36, Issue 1.)


Chances are good that someone you know has been scammed. They may not talk about it, but the statistics do. The truth is that sharing what you know can help protect someone who you know from a scam. People listen to you because they trust you. You’re a friend, a neighbor, a relative, maybe even an elder care advocate or attorney.

That’s why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created “Pass It On”—to help you start a conversation about scams and pass on information that could help someone you know.

What is “Pass It On”? It’s the FTC’s newest education effort. It includes articles, presentations, bookmarks, activities, and a video—all designed to get you talking about scams and how to prevent them.

“Pass It On” is aimed at active older adults, ages 65 and older—a huge group with life experience and a social network. “Pass It On” sees older adults as part of the solution, not simply victims of the actions of others. In short, older adults have knowledge and can pass it on to others.

This article describes the “Pass It On” materials, what the FTC’s newest campaign involves, and how you can get involved.

“Pass It On” Materials

“Pass It On” reinforces what older adults already know about scams. The materials cover six scams that older adults may be likely to confront:

  • Imposter Scams—what to do when someone calls or emails you, pretending to be someone you know, and asks for money or personal information.
  • Identity Theft—what to do when someone gets your personal information and runs up bills in your name.
  • Charity Fraud—what to do when someone contacts you and asks for donations to a fake charity.
  • Health Care Scams—what to do when someone lies to you about medical discount cards or changes to Medicare, in order to get your medical information.
  • “Paying Too Much”—what to do when unexpected charges appear on your bill for fees or services that you didn’t order.
  • “You’ve Won” Scams—what to do when someone tells you that you’ve won a prize or sweepstakes, then asks for money in order to claim your prize.

For each topic, “Pass It On” includes a one-page article, a bookmark, and an activity.

  • Article: The article is divided into two parts: (1) “Here’s how they work”—this part describes how the particular scam happens; and (2) “Here’s what you can do”—this part lists two steps that you can take to try to prevent the particular scam. The article invites you to pass the information on to someone you know. The back of the article explains how to report scams to the FTC through 1-877-FTC-HELP or
  • Bookmarks: The bookmarks offer quick reminders on how to prevent each type of scam. They offer quick tips like “if you have to pay, it’s no prize” and “never donate by wiring money.” The back of each bookmark explains how to report scams to the FTC at 1-877-382-4357.
  • Activities: For each scam, there is an activity to reinforce knowledge and have fun. The activities include an “imposter scams” word scramble, a “paying too much” word find, a secret message decoder on “you’ve won” scams, and more. The activities could be used at a senior center, library, or scam jam—to make talking about scams entertaining.

In addition, there is a three-minute video, which introduces the “Pass it On” materials and how you can use them.

Sample “Pass It On” Article

Wondering what these materials look like? Here’s an example of what you’ll find on the “You’ve Won” Scams one-pager:

Here’s how they work:

You get a card, a call, or an email telling you that you won! Maybe it’s a trip or a prize, a lottery or a sweepstakes. The person calling is so excited and can’t wait for you to get your winnings.

But here’s what happens next: they tell you there’s a fee, some taxes, or customs duties to pay. And then they ask for your credit card number or bank account information, or they ask you to wire money.

Either way, you lose money instead of winning it. You don’t ever get that big prize. Instead, you for more requests for money, and more promises that you won big.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Keep your money—and your information—to yourself. Never share your financial information with someone who contacts you and claims to need it. And never wire money to anyone who asks you to.
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. You probably throw away these kinds of scams or hang up when you get these calls. But you probably know someone who could use a friendly reminder.

The reverse side of the one-pager explains how to report a scam to the FTC, as well as how to sign up for scam alerts at

“Pass It On” Outreach

“Pass It On” is more than just materials. It is also outreach. The FTC is reaching out to older adults through the places they get together or live: libraries, social and civic clubs, senior centers, adult living communities, and veterans’ facilities.

There is clearly a demand for this approach. Within the first two weeks it was public, the FTC received orders for 150,000 copies of “Pass It On” materials, from 43 states. Within the first month, we received requests for almost 200,000 copies, from 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. To date, we have received over 400,000 orders from all 50 states.

We’re also working with other government agencies and non-profit organizations to get these materials to as many older adults as possible.

How You Can Be Involved

You, too, can pass it on. Like all FTC materials, “Pass It On” is free and in the public domain. That means you can use the materials and even put your own logo on them. Copies are available in print and online.

  • Print: You can order print copies at You’ll receive folders with all six fact sheets and bookmarks. Copies are available in English and Spanish.
  • Online: All of the materials are also available on the “Pass It On” websites— (in English) and (in Spanish). The websites include the articles and bookmarks, plus the activities and video.

There are many ways that you or your organization can use the “Pass It On” materials. Here are some possibilities:

  • Link to “Pass It On” on your website.
  • Write a blog about “Pass It On.”
  • Host a Twitter chat or webinar.
  • Sponsor a scam jam event, using “Pass It On” materials.
  • Offer print copies of “Pass It On” in your office’s lobby or waiting room.
  • Put copies of “Pass It On” in your local library or senior center.
  • Hand it to your friend, neighbor, or family member.

We hope that you’ll use the materials and take a minute to let us know how they are working or what else you need. Please also reach out to us if you have ideas on distribution channels and strategies. You can email us at: [email protected] in English, or [email protected] in Spanish. Pass it on! ■

Lisa Weintraub Schifferle

Lisa Weintraub Schifferle is an Attorney in the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C.