Three Popular Scams Against Seniors to Beware
Advice from the FBI on how to recognize and avoid these rackets
Scam artists ripping off seniors is nothing new. Older folks are perceived as more trusting than younger people, and they’re more likely to have some money: savings, investments, a monthly Social Security check.
But three scams have recently become particularly widespread according to James Rothe, a supervisory special agent in the FBI’s Economic Crimes Unit. He recently told us about them.
1. Government impersonation schemes
How they work: The scam artist calls, posing as a government official, and uses what Rothe calls “aggressive intimidation tactics” to demand money… or else.
For example, the caller might purport to be from the Internal Revenue Service. “They’ll claim someone owes back taxes and threaten them with arrest or other legal action if they don’t send money right away or give their credit card information,” Rothe says.
Other variations include crooks posing as local law enforcement officers, claiming the person has unpaid traffic tickets, or as private attorneys threatening a lawsuit.
Whatever the ruse, they may call repeatedly and also send threatening e-mails.
“Sometimes people who know they’ve done nothing wrong will pay just to end the scenario,” Rothe says.
2. Grandparent scams
How they work: A scam artist calls, claiming to be the older person’s grandchild, and asks for money to get out of some type of trouble. Or the caller may purport to be an arresting police officer, lawyer or doctor, calling on the grandchild’s behalf. In some particularly ambitious schemes, the FBI says, the grandchild impersonator will speak first, then hand the phone over to someone playing one of those other roles.
For example, the phone rings in the dead of night. It’s little Johnny, saying he’s been arrested in another country and needs money for bail. He asks his groggy grandma or grandpa to wire it as soon as possible and not to tell his parents because he is so embarrassed. If little Johnny seems like a more law-abiding type, the scam artist may say he’s been mugged or that his wallet was stolen and he needs money to get back home.
These scams have become increasingly sophisticated, Rothe says, because of the availability of so much personal information on social networking sites. It doesn’t take much research for a con artist to collect enough details about the real grandchild to build a plausible story line.
3. Online romance scams
How they work: Criminals search online dating sites and social media for victims, win their confidence, woo them into what seems to be a romantic relationship and set them up to be defrauded — or worse.
Rothe says the con artist may spin a convincing story involving some sort of financial hardship and ask if the victim can help by sending money. In some cases, he says, con artists have actually persuaded their love-struck victims to assist them in a crime, such as helping cash a counterfeit check or re-shipping stolen goods.
According to an FBI advisory on the topic, these scams can become even more dangerous if the victim is persuaded to meet with the con artist, possibly in a foreign country. Some victims, the FBI says, have been injured or reported missing as a result of such trips.
What to do
If you think you or someone you know has been approached by a scammer or become a victim of one of these frauds, start by calling your local police. Depending on the details of what happened, they should know where to go next. If the crime involves more than one jurisdiction, the FBI may get involved. The FBI also asks that possible Internet-related crimes be reported to its Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as IC3.