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16 News Now Investigates: Senior Scams

Published: May. 24, 2022 at 6:23 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - 16 News Now Investigates how online scammers could be targeting you or your loved ones.

You may think a scam could never happen to you, your parents, or even your grandparents, but those who take advantage of people online are coming up with new ways to find victims.

The Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana says scammers often target senior citizens who are just trying to keep in touch with friends and family using social media.

“When you have the wrong person giving you that attention, they’re really only there to bilk the senior out of their money they worked so hard for over their life,” explains Nichole Thomas, the agency’s director of communications.

One of the most common ways scammers prey on seniors is through the promise of a relationship, aiming to exploit loneliness for profit. Experts say these scammers are good at what they do. The BBB warns they often wait a month or two after a relationship is established before asking for anything.

“They’ll try to get you on the hook and then they’ll start to ask for money, potentially small amounts at first, and we’ve seen people lose thousands and thousands of dollars,” says Nichole Thomas. “They’ll be an emergency & they’ll need some money. They’ll need something from the senior. And because you’ve been in a relationship over the last few months, you think nothing of it.”

Even if you do question their story, they might have what seems like proof.

“Scammers are really good and they can show fake invoices and fake hospital bills and all kinds of things so it just gets really sticky,” Thomas says. “Especially because your heart is now entangled, right? Unfortunately common sense goes out of the window when love is involved, and scammers know that.”

The group Social Catfish works to help people verify online relationships to keep people safe, but they say a record $547 million was lost to romance scams in 2021.

In Indiana, this group reports a loss of o$131,782 per 100,000 residents. Overall, the state had 369 victims report losses of $8,942,073, according to data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.

Still, that data can only be determined by the scams that were reported, something the Better Business Bureau says doesn’t always happen.

“For every scam reported to us, there are probably nine more scams that go unreported. So a lot of times victims, especially senior victims, are very embarrassed that they had been scammed.”

Though its never a victim’s fault for getting scammed, there are ways to avoid it.

Here are some tips you need to know to keep you and your family safe:

1- Some scammers will ask to send you money and have you wire it to their family overseas. This is a trap, tricking you into participating in a money laundering scheme. Avoid it by never providing your bank information and never sending or accepting wire transfers.

2- Cryptocurrency romance scams are also on the rise, accounting for the largest losses in 2021 of $139 million. That’s up 25 times over what was reported in 2019. Instead of asking for money, scammers may try to get you to invest in a bogus crypto account. Avoid this by never investing money with anyone you met online.

3- Scammers can sometimes use a fake profile, often stealing someone else’s pictures to make themselves seem more appealing. Avoid this by being your own internet sleuth. You can do your own reverse image search on Google. You just place their photo or a link to their photo in the search bar. Google then finds websites featuring that image, helping you confirm someone’s identity in a matter of minutes.

The Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana encourages everyone to know who you’re talking to as more than 1/3 of romance scams in 2021 started on Facebook or Instagram.

“We really encourage seniors to talk to their family about any new friends and relationships that they may be experiencing and really don’t hide that from their family. We want to make sure that they’re talking openly with their family so they can assess red flags and go from there,” says Nichole Thomas.

You also need to look out for hackers who may have accessed your friends’ accounts and are now using them to get to your money.

“A lot of scams start with a direct message. They start with potentially looking like they’re coming from a friend, because again that Facebook profile could be hacked,” she says.

No matter what type of scam is at play, targeting seniors seems almost too cruel to comprehend. So why do they do it?

“They are looking for someone who has resources so that they can scam them. It doesn’t help a scammer if they scam someone that doesn’t have money,” explains Thomas.

And while seniors have been the most targeted age group and the ones losing the most money to online scams, that’s now starting to change. The Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana says the younger demographic of ages 18 to 24 is being targeted more. They’re now losing the most money, an average of $150 per person.

Regardless of age, scammers are looking for the right opportunity to take advantage of someone like you, hurting not just your bank account.

“When you’re scammed, when you’re victimized, you feel as if you’ve been taken advantage of, says Nichole Thomas with the Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana. “The more and more scammers do what they do, the less trusting we all become.”

If you or someone you know has fallen victim to an online scam, you can help prevent others from experiencing the same misfortune.

You can report scams to the following agencies:

Better Business Bureau

Federal Trade Commission

Indiana Attorney General’s Office (for Indiana residents)

Michigan Attorney General’s Office (for Michigan residents)

FBI Internet Complaint Center

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