In the age of the internet and speed-of-light technology, not every advancement is welcome; financial scams are nothing new and unfortunately due to the expansive nature of our online activity, we are targeted daily, often times without our knowledge.
Admittedly, this blog post is a testament to two separate incidents that I became personally aware of within the same week; one involving a relative, and one involving a resident of Bonita Bay.
The first story involving a relative is a classic internet scam that focused on a senior female who spends countless hours online, mostly Facebook. Initially contacted via Messenger on Facebook (she did NOT know this person) the impostor immediately sought to engage via private email to further isolate the victim under the guise to “communicate better” (and outside the “eyes” and protection of Facebook). A.A.R.P. notes, “Technology has streamlined communication, offering scammers powerful new tools of deceit and opening up a vast pool of potential victims.”
This “phantom” claimed to be an American doctor overseas (should have been the first huge red flag!) with a young daughter.
It is unclear exactly how long the “grooming” took place (time the scammer spends building a relationship with the victim) but unfortunately by the time I was made aware of the interaction, my relative had been swindled out of upwards of $60,000 – apparently to help with surgeries, and support the children of Afghanistan, and who knows what other falsehoods.
Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they’re now considered “the crime of the 21st century.” Why? Because seniors are thought to have a significant amount of money sitting in their accounts and have a lessened ability to identify when someone is out to do harm.
According to the National Council on Aging, “Financial scams also often go unreported or can be difficult to prosecute. However, they’re devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a very vulnerable position with little time to recoup their losses.”
The other scenario which involves a resident of Bonita Bay is a “phishing” or “click-bait” scam. The resident noticed a “pop-up” (a screen that can takeover your computer screen) insisting that their computer is “no longer protected from viruses.” The resident was unable to avoid this pop-up and clicked on the “ad” and paid $199 via credit card for what they believed to be virus protection. This was in February.
Fast forward nearly four months – the pseudo company contacted the resident saying the “protection service was no longer viable” and they were offering her a full refund (another red flag) but instead of crediting her credit card, they needed her bank account information for the refund.
The second part of the scam was the admission that they refunded her TOO MUCH MONEY. Instead of $199 they credited her account $1099! (Believe me when I say, these criminals are EXPERT in their delivery! They are masters of manipulation! Also, when have you ever known a company to pay you too much?!)
The saving caveat of this story is that the Bonita Bay resident DID NOT REMEMBER/COULD NOT LOCATE the pass code to the banking account. The “company” said they would call the following morning to finalize the transaction.
In the middle of the night, the resident awoke, confused, but recognizing that something “was off.” She did some investigating (checking with family) and realized this was not a legitimate request/company. The following day – like clock-work – the scammers called back to gain the bank code – and interestingly they first inquired whether the resident “was alone” or not, in which she smartly replied, “No. I am here with my attorney.” The phony company immediately hung up!
This incident was very alarming for the resident, however, she recognized that had she offered the banking pass code, every cent in that account would have been stolen from her! Never, ever give your personal banking or credit cards to anyone you do not know!!
How can seniors protect themselves online?
Former banking executive Chris Couse, and current owner of MashGrape Technologies of Fort Myers says, “It’s challenging to protect against human nature, but one very important aspect to remember is no legitimate business will ever contact you directly and offer you a refund. Nor will a company ask for any personal banking information.” Couse adds, “Instead of targeting banks and larger institutions, scammers are focusing on the everyday internet user.”
Shame, fear of ridicule and the victim’s own denial enforce this contract of silence. “Once people are invested in these scams, it’s extremely difficult to convince them they are not dealing with a real person,” says Steven Baker, director of the FTC’s Midwest Region and a leading expert on fraud. “People want to believe so bad.” (Sadly, this is the case with my relative. I was adamant that this was a scam and they simply did not want/could not comprehend this “person” was not who they said they were.)
For further information, please refer to the National Council on Aging’s Top Financial Scams Involving Seniors here.
Also, if you find yourself in a position where you have been scammed, please consider filing a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.
If you ever have a question about the legitimacy of a company or person, ASK someone! Reach out to your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, ANYONE. It’s better to be ultra-skeptical up front rather than financially devastated after words. Fearing to please, or feeling silly for questioning something that doesn’t seem right are the emotions that criminals rely upon to gain your trust – and ultimately your money.
Written by Katie Walters