One day, Georgina’s grandkids set her up with a Facebook account. She was happy to be able to connect with them in this new digital way and see the photos they posted.
Before long, Georgina received a friend request from Jim. He said he was a serviceman on peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan. They became friends, and when he told her his wife had died of cancer – just as Georgina’s husband had – their online friendship blossomed into a long distance romance. Soon, Jim said, his military service would end, and he and Georgina could be together in person. Georgina was ecstatic.
Their first obstacle was $15,000. Jim needed it, he told her, to pay the export tax on some gemstones he had collected to open a jewelry store. She sent him the money. Then he needed another $20,000.
Yes, Jim was scamming Georgina from the very beginning. And, sadly, it worked. Before she caught on, she had sent him well over $100,000. When she contacted the police, they explained that it was unlikely she would ever get her money back.
Georgina was a victim of romance fraud, one of the many scams attackers use to prey upon elderly victims in the digital age. Scammers target the elderly to take advantage of their polite and trusting nature, as well as their typically stable financial situation. The best defense against these attacks is the ability to recognize them and end contact with the scammer.
According to the FBI, senior citizens collectively lose over $3 billion to elder fraud every year. Here are the most common scams.
The 8 most common elder fraud schemes
- Romance scam – Like Georgina’s story above, this is where cybercriminals pose as romantic partners, looking to snag a gullible lonely heart with a big bank account.
- Tech support scam – The attackers pose as tech support, offering to fix nonexistent computer issues. They try to convince victims to give them remote access to their computers and devices, which lets them steal sensitive information.
- Grandparent scam – In these scams, the attackers pretend to be a relative, like a grandchild, requesting some financial assistance.
- Government impersonation scam – The attackers pose as government agents and try to scare the victims into thinking they’ll be arrested or prosecuted unless they pay a fee.
- Sweepstakes/charity/lottery scam – Victims are told they won a prize or some money, but due to red tape, they have to pay a fee in order to collect it. This category also includes scammers who pose as trusted charities, collecting “donations” from the victims.
- Home repair scam – This one’s an in-person scam, where criminals offer to work on home improvements for the victims. They charge up front, say they’ll be back with the proper tools, and then never return.
- TV/radio scam – This is when phony ads run on the TV or radio, fooling viewers and listeners into ordering their fake services, typically something like reverse mortgages or credit repair, requiring victims to share sensitive data.
- Family/caregiver scam – In this situation, a bad actor close to the victim takes advantage of them and steals their money.
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One thing to keep in mind is that scammers always push victims into feeling like they have to act immediately. They hope to pressure victims into making rash decisions. Don’t be duped by this ploy. If you ever feel pressured to click on a link or pay some money, step back and assess the situation.
Don’t let yourself or any loved ones become a victim. Get familiar with this list and share it with anyone you feel might be at risk of falling prey to these scams. If you or someone you know has been a victim of elder fraud, report the scam. By doing so, you’ll increase the chances that the scammer will get caught and shut down.