Senior Scams: “The Scams”
Kathy (not her real name) joined an online dating site for people over 50 because she felt lonely after two years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Aurora, Illinois, resident met a man on the site and fell in love with him. In a matter of weeks, the man told her he had a job opportunity in Toronto and needed $5,000 for work permits. After Kathy gave him the money, he started asking for more.
“I’m thinking, well, yeah, I want to help this man,” Kathy, who wanted to remain anonymous, told a local TV news station. “You know, I’m falling in love with him. Why wouldn’t I want to help him?”
Over time, the man helped himself to more than $92,000 of Kathy’s money. Since Kathy could not afford to support him, he suggested that she take out loans and use her house as collateral. The man promised to pay her back.
Kathy said it wasn’t until a friend recommended that she watch The Tinder Swindler, a movie about a man who cheated women out of their money, that she realized she had fallen prey to a scammer.
Romance scams, also called confidence scams, are one of the three most common frauds seniors report each year, according to the FBI’s 2021 Elder Fraud Report. In fact, the report said that romance/confidence fraud accounts for the highest losses reported by people over 60 years old.
According to the FBI, scams against older adults are rising at alarming rates. For example, over 92,000 people 60 and over reported losses of $1.7 billion to the FBI in 2021, a 74 percent increase in losses over those reported in 2020. The average victim lost $1,800 per scam, while 3,100 victims lost more than $100,000 to scams. The FBI believes these numbers are much higher because people over 60 are less likely to report fraud compared to people in their 20s and 30s.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that scammers are now using romance scams to pressure their victims into bogus investment opportunities, particularly those involving cryptocurrency.
The Three Most Common Scams, How they Work, and How to Protect Yourself
Confidence Fraud: No Real Romance in These Scams
How it works: Older adults sign up on dating apps or receive a private message on a social media platform, such as Facebook or Instagram. Scammers use fake online profiles and photos of an attractive person. They study information about potential victims to show victims they have common interests and to earn their trust.
Generally, the scammer claims to be overseas in the military, working on an offshore oil rig, or another place where the scammer can avoid meeting the victim in person. Over time, the scammer starts asking for money for various emergencies or an unexpected legal fee.
How to protect yourself:
- Go slowly and ask a lot of questions.
- Talk to friends or family about your new love interest and pay attention if they are concerned.
- Never send or forward the money to someone you have never met in person.
- Be cautious of people who urge you to act quickly on their investment opportunities.
- Research the person’s photo and profile online to see if their details match elsewhere.
2. Tech Support: Be Careful What You Click On
How it works: Scammers send malicious email attachments or pop-ups on a website claiming there is a problem with the user’s computer. The user is instructed to dial a phone number that goes to a fraudulent call center. The scammer may ask for permission to take over the user’s computer to fix the non-existent problem and then ask for payment. Or, the message might direct the user to click on a link that goes to a malicious site where the scammer steals the user’s sensitive information or infect the user’s device with malware.
Tech support scammers sometimes impersonate well-known tech companies, such as Best Buy’s Geek Squad. They also place malicious advertisements in the newsfeed of Microsoft Edge, the default web browser for Microsoft Windows.
How to protect yourself:
- Safeguard your information. Never give out personal information if you do not know the sender of a text or email or cannot verify the sender’s identity.
- Always use two-factor authentication (2FA) for better security whenever available.
- Avoid clicking on sensational headlines, links, and attachments received in unsolicited emails. Words like “shocking” and “bizarre” are red flags, and scammers use these words as clickbait. Also, clicking on a link from an unknown sender may send you to a malicious site that can infect your device with malware or steal your sensitive information.
- Use a trusted antivirus software program on all of your devices. Do not pay for antivirus software from an unknown sender.
3. Government Impersonation: “Hello, I’m from the IRS”
How it works: Scammers, posing as government employees, send texts, emails, or calls claiming to be from a federal entity, such as Social Security or the IRS. For instance, fraudsters say they are from the IRS, and the victims owe back taxes that need to be paid immediately or else they will be arrested. Scammers usually demand payment with gift cards. Once the schemers have the gift card number and the PIN, they have your money.
Fraudsters who claim to be from Social Security say there are problems with the victims’ Social Security number. So, scammers say they need the victims’ personal details and banking information to resolve the problem. Scammers also tell victims they need the information to calculate a Cost-of-Living-Adjustment for them.
How to protect yourself:
- Do not give your personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, or banking account numbers, to someone you do not know.
- Do not mail or wire cash or purchase gift cards to pay an alleged debt that you know nothing about.
- If the call is questionable, hang up. If the scammer has left a message, do not return the call.
- Ask someone you trust about the questionable message or threat that you received,
- Federal agencies will only contact you if you have asked the agency to call you or if you have ongoing business with the agency.
- Any official communication from a government department will be sent to you through a mailed letter or in person. If someone shows up in person, insist on verifying their credentials. Government agencies do not send threatening texts or emails or make calls demanding payment.
How To Report Fraud
- To file an online fraud complaint with the FBI, go to www.ic3.gov.
- To report a confidence fraud/romance scam, contact the dating app or social media platform. Then, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
- To learn more about fraud involving Social Security or to report fraud, go to https://www.ssa.gov/scam.