Jun. 18—Older New Mexicans lost more than $7 million to online scams and other fraud schemes in 2020, the FBI says in a new report.
The bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center — dubbed IC3 — found 837 state residents over the age of 60 were duped out of a combined $7,127,910, with nearly $4 million lost to so-called romance scams, according to the report.
That marks a steep decline in the average dollar amount lost to each victim of such crimes in 2019 but an increase in the number of victims. That year, over $13.5 million was taken from 528 senior victims in New Mexico.
Frank Fisher, a spokesman for the FBI’s Albuquerque field office, said seniors are often more susceptible to romance cons, in which someone builds their trust and confidence before asking for money. He cited a more trusting nature among many older residents and noted they also remained isolated from family and friends during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Older people tend to be the most vulnerable because sometimes they’re single, they’re looking for relationships and they have financial security and assets,” Fisher said in an interview Thursday. “Before you know it, the criminals are asking for money or are asking to meet the person who they’ve developed the relationship with online.”
Fisher said the decrease in dollars lost to online fraud and the rise in the number of victims between 2019 and 2020 are likely due to a change in the types of scams used each year.
“The reason is because a significant amount of loss [in 2019] was due to business email compromise,” he said. “That was big in 2019 because more people were at work before COVID came across. We think that’s why the confidence romance scams took over in 2020 during COVID.”
Fisher said anyone who was a victim or even a potential victim of online fraud should report the incident at the IC3 website. Knowledge about the perpetrator, trends in scams and other information could help lead to an arrest, he added.
The FBI does not want people to report regular spam emails. Rather, it is seeking reports of emails and other messages from someone approaching with specific information about the recipient, such as their name, place of work, the high school they attended or other personal identifiers. An unfamiliar person with such information is likely a scammer.
Nationally, New Mexico ranked 31st among states in elder fraud, with California first at $150 million in losses. Elder residents nationwide lost nearly $1 billion, according to the report.
Data from the report also showed fraud has been increasing nationally, both in total losses and victims, since 2017.
Fisher said the numbers are likely far higher than what goes reported.
“We have a suspicion that those numbers are low, that many people are embarrassed — particularly some of our older people are embarrassed — and they don’t want to admit that they lost money in scams,” he said. “There is no embarrassment in reporting this. You can only help us catch criminals by reporting it.”
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