Philadelphia, Pa. — Criminals like to prey on the elderly because they are seen as easy targets: financially stable, trusting, and unlikely to report crimes committed against them.
Thousands of Americans fall victim to these scams every year, with the Philadelphia FBI reporting that older Pennsylvanians lost over $77 million in 2021—and those are only the reported cases.
The latest batch of scamming techniques that the FBI is tracking are romance scams, tech support scams, fake government agent scams, and “grandchild” scams where a caller claims to be a relative.
Romance scams, also known as confidence scams
Criminals create fake profiles on dating sites or social media platforms to form a relationship with a target. Using the built-up relationship, they then manipulate and steal from victims. These are some of the most common scams reported to the FBI, and the Bureau is warning the public about a rise in romance scammers stealing through cryptocurrency schemes.
Tips to avoid romance scams
- Think twice before sharing personal information online. Scammers can use information shared on dating sites and social media to find and manipulate targets.
- If an online suitor tries to isolate you from friends or family, they may be a scammer – and if they’re not a scammer, they’re still a creep.
- If someone is requesting inappropriate photos or financial information, they may use these items to extort you.
- Don’t send money to online acquaintances.
Tech support scams
Fraudsters will pose as a customer service or tech support representative and call, email, or text a target offering to resolve some kind of problem: usually a compromised email/bank account, a computer virus, or a software license renewal.
Real tech support professionals don’t send unsolicited messages to customers, demand immediate payments, or ask for payments via mailed cash, prepaid cards, or wire transfers.
Tips to avoid tech support scams
- Unsolicited “tech support” contacts are fake.
- Don’t give unverified people financial information or remote access to devices and accounts
- Keep devices and software up to date
These infamous schemes involve a scammer calling a grandparent, usually late at night or early in the morning, and claiming to be a grandchild. The caller says that they are in some kind of trouble such as being arrested for drug possession, having a car accident, or being mugged, and says that they need money to be wired to an account as soon as possible. The caller will often add that they do not want “their parents” to know about the situation.
Sometimes instead of pretending to be a grandchild, the caller pretends to be a police officer, lawyer, or doctor. A recent trend involves having a courier or rideshare driver show up at a target’s house to pick up a payment in person.
Tips for avoiding a “grandchild” scam
- Resist the pressure to act quickly.
- Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the “emergency” is real.
- Never wire money based on phone calls and emails, especially ones from overseas.
- Remember: wiring money is like paying in cash. It cannot be retrieved after it is given.
Government imposter scams
These intimidating scams involve someone impersonating an official from a government agency such as the FBI, IRS, Social Security, U.S. Marshals, state/local police, or county court. They contact a target by phone or email and threaten victims into paying.
As an example, a scammer might say that you need to send money or personal information right now to avoid arrest, deportation, tax charges, social security cutoffs, and other similar threats.
Tips for avoiding government imposter scams
- Law enforcement authorities and government officials never contact members of the public by phone, text, or social media to demand payments or personal information.
- Legitimate investigations and legal actions are done either in person or through official letters.
- Legitimate law enforcement agencies and government officials don’t request prepaid cards or cryptocurrency.
- Never give personal information to someone without confirming their identity.
- If in doubt, call the agency that is allegedly contacting you using a verified phone number. Verified numbers can be found on agencies’ websites.
If you or someone you know is a victim of a fraud scheme, submit information about the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. You can also call your local FBI office.