By Eric Harvey
Consumers reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to scams in 2022, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In first quarter of this year alone there have been nearly 22,688 fraud reports in New York state with 8,083 of them coming from imposter scams.
They come in all sorts of forms: a caller pretending to be a family member, a so-called internet lover asking for favors or a notification on a computer that says there’s an issue that needs fixing . With quickly growing technology, it can be difficult to discern what is true and what isn’t.
The Riverdale Press previously reported on a 66-year-old woman who over the course of several months sent out $240,000 under the guise she would be receiving $1 million in return. She was contacted on an app by what was believed to be a security trading company and told to invest money into cryptocurrency. Despite sending the money, she never received a penny.
According to flyers handed out by the 50th Precinct, scammers have been convincing New York residents to send gift cards for fraudulent purposes. They will tell their victims that it’s to avoid arrest or deportation, to pay a family member in trouble, or to keep their Social Security benefits. Victims may also be asked for money through Venmo, Zelle, Western Union, wire transfers, and cryptocurrency.
The 50th Precinct would not comment regarding its scam prevention except to point to the flyers.
Riverdale Senior Services provides assistance to older adults in navigating through different technology through technology classes and also avoid becoming prey to scams. In one training video posted to YouTube they teach how to recognize phishing, shopping scams, and tech support scams.
Some of the more common scams in the Riverdale area according to social worker of RSS Selina Ng are identity theft based scams. One example given was one in which a caller will pretend to be a grandson or granddaughter in the middle of a family emergency.
“I would say the most popular one in Riverdale that older adults fall prey to is the tech support scammers where they want you to believe there’s a serious problem with your computer,” Ng said.
“They want you to pay for tech support services you don’t need, to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”
The Riverdale Press previously reported an incident in which a 73-year-old woman received a message on her computer alleging it was “hacked” and that she needed to withdraw money from her account to fix the problem. The woman removed $32,000 from her bank account and a man came to her address, said her computer would be fixed, took the money, and never returned.
Ng described a woman who had a similar experience and kept sending money to a place because she believed her computer had an issue. They took all of her money and her savings, and she had to get adult protective services because she couldn’t afford her rent.
According to Ng this particular kind of scam was a recurring one during the pandemic in which people relied on their computers.
One woman who was almost a victim of a scam herself earlier this year recounted her story to The Riverdale Press. She had gotten a smart television, and wanted to transfer Amazon Prime from a friend’s iPad to the television. She called a number that was on the screen and explained her situation. A man on the other line asked for her name, address, and credit card number.
He was able to access the woman’s Apple account password. He insisted that she send her security code, but she knew from experience never to give it. The man grew more adamant and annoyed, to the point where he said, “oh, you are a stupid woman,” and that she would be banned from Amazon for life.
“I said ‘dear Jesus, I’m in a bit of trouble’,” the woman said after hanging up. She then drove through the dark to get to the bank, canceled her card, and then changed her Apple password.
The woman described RSS as a very helpful place for seniors, particularly when she has “techy questions.”
“RSS is doing so much on spreading the word about crime prevention,” Ng said. “Right now we are working with the Federal Trade Commission’s Fraud Fighters Program, Pass It On outreach in the community, and asking for people to get out the word about scams that could happen.”
Gema de las Heras of the federal Division of Consumer and Business Education provided background about the program.
The program has recruited 10 to 12 people who have agreed and volunteered to disseminate information provided by the FTC, via powerpoint presentations and information sheets. Participants are asked to attend monthly training webinars where each month has a different focus on a scam, varying from impersonator scams, romance scams, and charity scams.
Participants are asked to share the experiences and messages they learned in their communities. They then report back on how the materials are received, what observations were made, and what things worked.
The sessions are held virtually, with groups in multiple states. The final session will occur in October and all feedback will be sent in a report to Congress.
Riverdale Senior Services,