For seniors, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has been a lifeline. Many older Americans enjoy connecting with friends and family on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites. However, there can be hidden dangers lurking on social media. For some seniors, these dangers come in the form of vicious romance scams.
What Are Romance Scams?
Romance scams, also known as dating scams, totaled more than $300 million last year, according to USA Today. Much of these losses were for retirees who have been targeted on social media. The way these scams operate is that a scammer sends their target a friend request and attempts to strike up a friendship or romantic relationship. Then, they’ll move the conversation off of social media and begin texting or calling. Eventually, they will ask for money, possibly for an emergency. They’re likely to ask for a wire transfer or gift cards.
It can be difficult to sort out scammers from individuals who are truly looking for friendship. Senior citizens can stay safe by keeping conversations on social media and not giving out personal information. Research friend requests before accepting them by looking at their profiles. And if you feel suspicious, talk through your concerns with friends and family.
It’s important for seniors to be aware of the many scams that exist. Unfortunately, scammers often target seniors because they may be seen as more vulnerable. These scams against seniors can take many forms, from email and phone scams to identity theft.
Family Imposter scams: In this type of scam, a con artist pretends to be a family member or friend in need of money. They may even go so far as to create a fake email account or social media profile in the name of the person they’re pretending to be.
Romance scams: With this scam, the con artist creates a fake online dating profile and gains the trust of their victim. They may even send flowers or other gifts. Once they have gained the victim’s trust, they will ask for money.
Tech Support scams: In this scam, the scammer will call or email their victim pretending to be from a tech company like Microsoft. They will then claim that the victim’s computer has a virus and offer to fix it for a fee.
Knowing how to spot these scams is the first step in protecting yourself. If you are contacted by someone who you think may be a scammer, do not give them any personal information. Hang up the phone or delete the email. You can also contact your local law enforcement to report the scam.
Many seniors are aware of the most common forms of fraud targeting older adults, like romance scams and grandparent scams. However, scam artists are always coming up with new ways to attempt to steal money from hardworking Americans. Gift card scams, in which scam artists use tech support to weasel their way into seniors’ lives, have conned some individuals out of all they have.
One Woman’s Gift Card Scams Story
AARP has reported extensively on different forms of fraud targeting seniors, including gift card scams. One woman interviewed, a former teacher, spent $45,000 on gift cards over the course of three days. She was targeted by two individuals: one posing as an American Express employee, the other pretending to be a Microsoft tech support agent.
These individuals claimed that they could see illicit purchases made by the woman online and that there was a warrant out for her arrest. For them to help her, she would need to purchase them gift cards to the tune of five figures.
It was only once the ordeal was over that the former teacher realized she had been the victim of a scam. Now, working with the police, the FBI, and her credit card company, she’s making an effort to get back what she’s lost.
How can you avoid falling victim to this scam? First, know that no legitimate company or government agency will ask you to pay them in gift cards.
Additionally, pop-ups on your computer purporting to be from Microsoft can be a form of fraud. When in doubt, reach out to your credit card company or tech support agency directly rather than calling the number the pop-up provides.
During COVID-19, senior scams have been on the rise. From vaccine scams through robocalls and texts to romance scams that target lonely older adults, it’s never been more crucial for seniors to stay safe. One of the most insidious senior scams? The “grandparent scam.”
What Is a Grandparent Scam?
In Western New York, hundreds of cases have been reported to the FBI of malicious phone calls to unsuspecting seniors. The intent of these calls? A scammer will pose as the child or grandchild of the senior. During the call, they’ll pretend that they’re in trouble—most likely, legal trouble that requires the senior to send money. Whatever it is, they’ll act like the issue is incredibly urgent. Their request to the senior on the line will be for them to send bail money. In this New York community alone, according to ABC Buffalo, scammers stole over $13 million.
How to Stay Safe
Scammers are likely to get their information about your children or grandchildren through social media. Keep your profiles private and avoid giving out personal information. If you receive a suspicious phone call, hang up. Don’t give them any information, and try to verify who they’re claiming to be by calling someone else. Report any attempted scams to the police.