Don’t Let Scammers Break Your Account or Your Heart

by Attorney General Josh Stein | Spring 2024 Living Power Magazine

heart broken

Relationships bring joy and connection—but unfortunately, scammers love to prey on other people’s hope and happiness. They are adept at using sweetheart scams to rob people of their hard-earned money. The “sweetheart scam” is one of the most widely utilized modes of preying upon a victim for financial gain. In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received reports from 6,817 elderly victims who experienced over $281 million in losses to confidence fraud and romance scams. In 2023, we received 71 sweetheart scam complaints representing more than $2.3 million in total losses.

People make new friends and and dates online—that is part of life in 2024. But if you’re connecting with someone online, be careful. The person on your screen might be an imposter. In sweetheart scams, scammers often pretend to be someone you already know or someone you’re likely to connect with because of their appearance or shared interests. They’ll use these connections to start to form a bond with you, but only to steal your money.

Often, the person will claim to live overseas and have a good reason for why they are unable to see you in person. They might say they are a US citizen, but they are stationed on an oil rig, a military base, or other convenient excuse. They are overly friendly and often quick to profess their love or admiration, and they’ll message you often and be very communicative.

They won’t ask you for money at first. They’ll wait a few months until they’ve established the relationship, and then they’ll tell you about a problem they’re having that prevents them from coming back to the country. They might be dealing with a medical emergency, have a family member with health issues, not be able to afford lights, or some other problem. Whatever the reason, it will require money to solve, and they’ll ask you to send it. They’ll make promises about visiting you and getting married once they have the money and can resolve their problem.

Have your guard up when you’re talking to people online

Try to verify who they are before you start communicating with them. Remember that if an online love interest ever asks you for money, it’s almost always a scam. And if they ask you to pay with a gift card, wire transfer, or through cryptocurrency, it’s certainly a scam. Don’t make that payment or investment.

Unfortunately, sweetheart scams can be a gateway to other scam attempts. If a scammer can get money from you once, they will likely try to get money from you again. It’s important to put a stop to these scams the moment you become concerned—talk to someone you trust before you send money, or call your bank or my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

Sweetheart scams can be especially cruel because they don’t just target your wallet—they target your heart. It might be hard to talk about being the victim of a scam because you’re dealing with grief and heartbreak, as well. But scammers try to target all of us, and there’s no reason to be embarrassed over the actions of a criminal. Let my office know if you think you or someone you know has been the victim of a sweetheart scam by calling us at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or online at NCDOJ.gov/complaint.

Don’t let a scammer break your bank account or your heart.

Bennett Place | Durham NC

Docent Fred Tetterton gives tour
Bennett Place docent Fred Tetterton talks to NCRGEA’s District 4 members about the events during the largest surrender of Confederate forces that ended military actions during the Civil War. 

With a chorus of thousands of cicadas singing in the background, 47 NCRGEA members from District 4 toured the site where the last surrender of a major Confederate army in the American Civil War, Bennett Place.

The tour, organized by District 4’s Community Advisory Board (CAB) and coordinated by co-chair’s Ed McBride and Regi Taylor, was part of NCRGEA’s CAB Community Engagement program.

Ed McBride
District 4 co-chair Ed McBride (standing), talks with NCRGEA members during lunch at the district’s recent Community Engagement gathering at Bennett Place in Durham.


Members learned about the Bennett family and how their home became the site of Confederate General Johnston’s surrender of more than 89,000 soldiers to Union General Sherman effectively ended the war. This all took place after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.

Members watch movie
NCRGEA District 4 members watch a film at Bennett Place Museum about the surrender of the largest Confederate force during the district’s recent Community Engagement event.


If you are an NCRGEA member and have an idea on what your district could do, contact Deryl Davis Fulmer, NCRGEA Community Liaison. You can find out about activities under the “Districts” webpage.

Deryl speaks with members
NCRGEA’s Deryl Davis-Fulmer, standing, talks with District 4 members during lunch at the district’s recent Community Engagement gathering at Bennett Place in Durham. Bennett Place was the site of the largest surrender of Confederate forces and marked the end of military actions during the Civil War.

Gardening for Good

Spring Edition 2024 | Living Power Magazine

Of all the post-retirement activities and hobbies, gardening ranks among the top pursuits of those with more time to spend on the things they love—and no wonder. A study published last year in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health found people who garden, particularly in community gardens, increased their overall well-being by exercising more, eating more fiber, and staying connected to others in their community. A 2018 study from the journal Clinical Medicine found that gardening reduces stress and can also lower the risk of developing dementia.

The benefits of gardening, however, go far beyond the personal. Some have found ways to garden that also benefit the environment, those with food insecurity, and the community at large.

Master Plan

In 1979, NC State Extension launched its volunteer initiative to help guide homeowners in making environmentally sound decisions in their landscapes. Now 45 years later, the NC State Extension Master GardenerSM program has grown to an extensive network with outposts in every county in the state, with volunteer opportunities in 75 counties.

“These are programs that engage people from the community—local citizens and residents and people who are interested in learning more and also want to volunteer,” says Charlotte Glen, NC State Extension Master Gardener program manager.

The Extension Master Gardener program isn’t simply a horticulture class. While participants do learn about gardening best practices during their training—which includes 40 hours of instruction and a 40-hour internship—those skills simply serve as the basis of the real work done by volunteers.

Once trained through their local extension office, volunteers begin working in their communities on projects that include installing plant labels with QR codes linked to the Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox—the extension’s plant database—in demonstration gardens. Both those initiatives, alongside workshops and other educational outreach, are designed to educate the community about growing their own food, as well as planting gardens that benefit local ecosystems.

“With our Extension Master Gardener program, we’re focusing on home gardening,” Glen says. “The goal is improving quality of life and helping people have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and helping people take care of their yard in a way that protects the environment.”

Extension Master Gardener volunteers also have been instrumental in setting up and maintaining community gardens across the state. These gardens, along with home gardening initiatives, have become an important part of the Extension’s work to reduce food insecurity in North Carolina.

“There are a lot of different activities across the state around helping people grow their own food, whether it’s starting a garden in their yard, being more successful with their gardening, or working with community gardens,” Glen says. “It’s building local production so people don’t have to rely on food being shipped in from somewhere else to a grocery store that may be miles from their home.”

Extension Master Gardener volunteers Ann Farnham (left) and
Susan Levy (right) lead therapeutic horticulture activities for
groups at the Siler City Center for Active Living.
Photos by Steve Broscious

Some Extension Master Gardener volunteers also operate therapeutic gardening programs, designed to improve both physical and mental health in their community. “They’re helping people through gardening, basically helping them improve their health and wellbeing,” Glen says. “The program helps whether it’s physically through the exercise of gardening, or mentally, because there are so many benefits of being around plants.”

Master Gardener volunteers also sometimes get to be a part of statewide research initiatives conducted by NC State, such as a recent study that explored how managing perennial stems increases the ability of residential landscapes to provide habitat for some pollinators, such as bee and wasp species that live and reproduce in plant stems.

“We had volunteers in different counties across the state collecting stems and sending them to some of our researchers on campus, and lo and behold, they found pollinators in them,” Glen says. “And that’s the land grant’s mission—to do research and then through Extension, take that information out to the people and make a difference.”

Glen says the Extension Master Gardener program offers a wide range of roles across the state, and no matter the job, those who give their time can be certain they’re making a difference in not only their community, but the world. “It’s not just a gardening class,” she says. “It’s for people who want to learn about gardening, and then use that knowledge to help others.”

To learn more about the NC State Extension Master Gardener volunteer program, visit EMGV.CES.NCSU.edu.

A Fresh Perspective

During her tenure as principal of a K–12 school that catered to students with significant intellectual and physical disabilities, Kelli Howe knew she wanted to enact programs that would prepare these kids to obtain jobs upon graduation.

Outside the facility, several old greenhouses stood in a state of disrepair, remnants of a horticulture program the school offered during the 1970s and ‘80s. Howe thought they could be salvaged and obtained funding from the school board to refurbish them. Around that time, an acquaintance brought Howe an article about the Charlotte-based nonprofit 100 Gardens, which builds and operates aquaponic gardens in schools, prisons, and communities in need.

“I learned about aquaponics and it seemed to be the perfect fit because it’s very repetitive, predictable, and schedule-driven, which is what a lot of special needs students, especially students with autism, need,” she says.

Aquaponics is a farming method that raises edible freshwater fish and vegetables together in a symbiotic environment. A tank holds fish, such as tilapia or catfish, which provide natural fertilizer for vegetables that are rooted in water in a separate tank. The vegetables absorb nutrients from that fertilizer, providing clean water that goes back to the fish.

“We started off in a very small way—we raised about $2,500 and got one very small table, one tank, and seven fish,” Howe says. “We trialed that for about five months, and the kids loved it.”

That first tank led to a larger enterprise at the school that still operates today and provides all the lettuce for a local restaurant. After Howe retired, she joined the board of 100 Gardens and now works with the nonprofit as education director to install aquaponic systems in schools and other locations across North Carolina. She says she enjoys the work she does with 100 Gardens not only because it’s fun, but also because it gives her a chance to enact change that can potentially improve our environment.

“It’s a relationship—aquaponics is a symbiotic system, and that’s the same way I’ve always felt about the earth,” she says. “These gardens are a way to show people their impact on the earth and how if we don’t improve our situation, we will no longer be able to garden outside. It just gives a different perspective.”

To learn more about aquaponics, visit 100Gardens.org.

Sustainable Seeds

Teri Stanley has always loved gardening. Growing up in a farming family, she developed an early appreciation for cultivating plants, be they vegetables or flowers. After retiring from Nash County Schools, Stanley dedicated more time to gardening, and she found she liked starting from scratch with seeds rather than buying plants.

“I like flowers, and it’s nice to plant from seeds, so you know what you’re getting,” she says. “I also like to have fresh vegetables—it’s nice to go in the yard and pick things and know where they came from.”
While the growing season is pretty long in North Carolina, Stanley says you have to start planting prior to the last frost to have flowers and vegetables—which can take months to grow—ready when summer hits. So she devised a way to recycle items from her home to create mini-greenhouses for seedlings.

Stanley uses empty plastic juice bottles and milk jugs filled with dirt to plant her seeds, putting them outside in her raised beds to grow. She says not only do the containers protect the tender sprouts from the cold, bugs, and birds, but they also facilitate a more conducive growing environment than indoors.

“When you grow seeds inside, they get kind of leggy, and this keeps them from getting leggy,” she says. “Plus, they are more acclimated to being outside, so it’s easier to transplant them from the container.”

Stanley says her homemade greenhouses allow her to garden not only more successfully, but more sustainably, as well. And she says this method reduces the investment in planting a garden, making it accessible to just about anyone.

“I try to recycle as much as I can,” she says. “And with that and a packet of seeds, even if you don’t have good luck with your plants, you’re wasting maybe a dollar or 50 cents. But I promise you, if those seeds do come up, they will make you feel so good.”

Local Outreach: District 6 @ Albemarle NC

July 23 @ 1:30 pm 2:30 pm

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Stanly County Public Library | 133 East Main St | Albemarle NC 28001

Other Questions? Call 919-834-4652 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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Local Outreach: District 3 @ Lexington NC

July 17 @ 1:30 pm 2:30 pm

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Lexington Public Library | 602 S Main Street | Lexington NC 27292

Other Questions? Call 919-834-4652 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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Local Outreach: District 3 @ Winston-Salem NC

July 10 @ 1:30 pm 2:30 pm

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Senior Services | 2895 Shorefair Dr NW | Winston-Salem NC 27105

Other Questions? Call 919-834-4652 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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Local Outreach: District 9 @ Whiteville NC

June 17 @ 10:30 am 11:30 am

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Whiteville Senior Center | 827 Washington St | Whiteville NC 28472

Other Questions? Call 919-834-4652 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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Local Outreach: District 4 @ Pittsboro NC

June 13 @ 1:30 pm 2:30 pm

NCRGEA is inviting all retirees from public service, both state and local, to join us for refreshments and a discussion of issues that affect public service retirees of North Carolina.

We’ll talk about current legislative issues, retiree issues, and retirement benefits available to all public service retirees.

This is a great opportunity to meet and speak with other retirees who share the same concerns you have and to talk to Josephine, Outreach Coordinator at NCRGEA, with your questions.

Registration is FREE: Click on the button at the top or use this link.

Location:

Pittsboro Center for Active Living | 365 Highway 87 North | Pittsboro NC 27312

Other Questions? Call (800) 356-1190 or email Josephine@NCRGEA.com.

Free

(919) 834-4652

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