Scammers are criminals who say and do anything to steal from older adults — and the scams are growing by leaps and bounds. The FBI recently released its annual Elder Fraud Report for 2022. Compared to the year before, fraud against elderly victims increased 84 percent in just one year.
Tech and customer support fraud topped the list as the most common scams reported. In second place, investment fraud against older adults was up 300-percent, with victims losing more money to these scams than any other kind of fraud. Across the United States, the average dollar loss per elderly victim was $35,101, and more than 5,000 people reported losing more than $100,000. Nearly 100 seniors reported losing $1 million each to a scammer.
Cryptocurrency scams, using things like BitCoin, are at the heart of many scams, enabling thieves to steal large amounts of money almost instantly over the internet. Elderly victims are targeted because of their wealth in savings, retirement accounts and property. Scammers impersonate government officials or investment consultants to gain access to account numbers, convert your funds to confusing electronic currencies and steal your savings in the blink of an eye.
The 2022 Elder Fraud Report indicates Ohio was the sixth-highest state in the country for senior scams, with 3,099 victims reporting losses to the FBI.
California was the top scam state in America with more than 11,000 fraud victims. North Dakota was at the other end of the spectrum, with 109 elderly victims of scams and frauds.
Criminals exploit every advance in information technology to go after retirement nest eggs. The FBI reports many scams originate from call centers located in South Asia, mostly in India. American law enforcement has ratcheted up joint operations with Indian authorities, raiding call centers, arresting the crooks working in them, and seizing money and equipment.
In spite of these raids and arrests, don’t expect any decrease in the number of scam calls, emails, texts and letters.
How can you protect yourself?
• Be aware of how scammers operate. Take a minute to download and read the FBI’s 2022 report at www.ic3.gov/Media/PDF/AnnualReport/2022–IC3ElderFraudReport.pdf.
• If you suspect a scam attempt, immediately end all communication with the perpetrator.
• Never send any personal information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks or wire transfer information to anyone for any reason.
• Keep your computer up to date with anti-virus and malware protection.
• If your computer screen becomes locked or has a pop-up image you can’t delete, disconnect from the Internet and shut down your device. In many cases, you may have to hold down your power button for several seconds to turn your computer completely off. Let it sit for a minute, restart and don’t return to the malicious site you stumbled into.
• Never click a link in a text message or call a toll-free number in response to a text saying your account has been locked or suspended by any business, bank or government agency
• Be careful about what you post and make public on the Internet. Criminals routinely harvest personal information posted on social media and dating sites to learn about you, and target you in a scam.
• Remember government agencies or law enforcement officers never request payment by cryptocurrency, gift cards or cash in the mail, nor do they call you by phone to say you are under investigation.
Seniors are constantly contacted by scammers and seniors with landline telephones are the ripest targets of all because their names and addresses are published in public phone books. If you have a landline phone, consider getting rid of it. You are only making it easier for a scammer to target you.
Arm yourself against scams by being slow to respond to any unexpected contact. Scammers depend on you to do something quickly — and usually something you will regret.
If you have a question on a theft or any possible scam, talk to a family member or call your local police department. Seniors can also call their county Senior Services Unit for more information about scams. In Mahoning County, call Bob Schaeffer at 330-480-5078. In Trumbull County, call Don Hyde at 330-675-7096.
Dave Long of Poland, a Youngstown State University graduate, is a retired public affairs officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection who later worked as an Elder Scam Prevention Outreach specialist in Rochester, N.Y., before moving back to the Mahoning Valley.
If you go …
Long answers questions during a series of monthly talks on the latest scams, why scammers target seniors and how to protect personal information 1 p.m. fourth Thursday of every month at the Poland Township Government Center, 3339 Dobbins Road, Poland.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.
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