Each year, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to financial fraud, which may include such things as tech support schemes, romance conspiracies, fake lottery winnings, sweepstakes scams and more. These scams are estimated to have caused a loss of $3 billion per year for the elderly population.
Criminals prey on the trust of the elderly and communicate with them directly online, over the phone and by mail. Seniors tend to be easy targets from scammers because they may understand less about technology than the younger generation.
According to the FBI website, “Seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed at having been scammed. They might also be concerned that their relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their own financial affairs.”
Below are two similar stories from local victims on recent fraud via tech support schemes. Only first names will be used to protect the victims and their families.
In August, 86-year-old Mary was on her iPad looking through emails when a message popped up on her screen saying that her computer was compromised and she needed to call the toll-free number displayed. When her daughter, Sue, called her that afternoon, Sue learned that her mom had gone to the bank to take an $1,300 advance on her credit card.
“I found out that my mom had called the number and was told that she needed to pay $2,000 to unlock the computer,” said Sue. “My mom told him that she didn’t have that kind of money and he told her to go to her bank and get a cash advance from her credit card.”
Mary drove herself to the bank and asked to take out a cash advance. The teller asked her many questions, but Mary finally told the teller that her son was in jail and she needed the cash for bail. She asked for all $100 bills and brought the cash home with her to await further instructions.
“I happened to have called her right after she returned home and asked where she was because I tried to call her,” said Sue. “That’s when she told me about the pop-up message earlier in the day while she was on the internet. I knew it was a scam and frantically asked her where the money was.”
Sue told her mom to not answer the phone until she arrived at the apartment. “I immediately took possession of the cash and called the police who said there was no crime since the money had not been given to the scammer.”
The police advised Mary and Sue to block all calls and to not answer any unfamiliar calls. Mary was frantic, saying that the U.S. government had called her multiple times and she was scared that the government was coming after her. Sue had to continually reassure her mother that it was a scam and that the U.S. government would not ask her to take a cash advance from a credit card to unlock her computer.
In September, 76-year-old Mark had a similar situation. Mark was contacted by a convincing scammer who claimed to be a ‘Microsoft employee’ and explained to him that hackers had gotten access to his computer and had accessed several illegal sites, prompting an FBI investigation. Shortly after that call, the ‘FBI’ contacted Mark and told him he would be arrested if he didn’t pay a fine of $6,000.
According to Mark’s daughter, Jen, her dad was very shaken by the event.
“They catch elderly victims off guard, and they panic, so logic goes out the window. He withdrew cash and was driving around per their instructions to a bitcoin machine to send it via a QR code,” she explained.
Luckily, Mark had inadvertently turned off the cell access on his phone in his panicked state, and that is likely what kept him from losing his money. Mark thought the FBI had ‘locked’ his phone and was coming to arrest him, until Jen got there the next day after being unable to reach him and realized what happened.
Both Sue and Jen said that education is the key to ending scams like this.
“Tell your parents never to be embarrassed to ask for help if they think they are in trouble,” said Jen. “Tell them about scams. Tell them that if someone threatens them, don’t engage, just hang up and call a trusted friend or family member.”
Seniors should be taught how to block a number and to not give out their number to people online and to never click a link that may come through via text. Also, seniors should be shown the FBI website, where there is a section that addresses these types of scams.
Another solution is to add another name of a trusted family member to the bank account and credit card of a senior so someone else is able to be messaged of possible fraud regarding the accounts.
If you or someone you know may have been a victim of elder fraud, contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online at www.fbi.gov.