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Online scams target vulnerable older adults | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans


Older adults can be especially vulnerable to online scams and tend to lose more money per incident.

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Not long after Tokyo-native Katsumi Iwasaki lost his partner of more than 20 years, his friends urged him to try online dating to help deal with loneliness. Like many older adults, Iwasaki, who has lived in the Bay Area for more than 30 years, was a prime target for scammers.

Through a dating app, he met an “attractive man” and an online relationship developed. Many older adults who suffer financial losses through phone or online scams feel ashamed and are reluctant to speak about what happened. But Iwasaki shared his story in hopes of warning others so they don’t get ripped off.

In a late September phone interview, Iwasaki said he “tried to buy gold from an international group” and he “paid and paid and paid,” for insurance, for shipping, even for a storage fee.

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But he never received the gold.

“I trusted him because he was an Army officer,” Iwasaki said at a Federal Trade Commission briefing in San Francisco last spring. “And because he was good looking,” he said with a laugh.

But his losses were no joke: Iwasaki, a San Francisco resident, ultimately sent this “Army officer” about $400,000, his life savings.

“Stupid me,” he said speaking softly during the phone interview. “I thought it was a good deal. My retirement, my 401(k), my savings, all gone.”

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Yet romance scams and all sorts of other types of fraud can happen to almost anyone.

Statistically, the CBS news show “60 Minutes” reported in a story titled “Targeting Seniors,” Americans are now more likely to be the victim of theft online than a physical break-in at home.

Last year, Americans lost nearly $8.8 billion to fraud, according to the FTC. But the number was probably much higher as most scams are not reported.

Only 5 percent of older adults who have been scammed report their losses, Scott Pirrello, a deputy district attorney who runs San Diego’s Elder Justice Task Force told “60 Minutes.”

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In an interview for this story, Emily Burton, assistant regional director for the FTC’s Western Region office, said fraud affects people of all ages, but older adults tend to lose more money per incident.

“It’s more impactful,” she said. “The losses are more significant.”

It’s rare to suffer a six-figure loss, as Iwasaki did; typical losses for people in their 70s are around $800, she said. For those over 80, the median loss was about $1,500.

Older adults are more vulnerable to tech scams, Burton said, such as someone calling to say they’re from Microsoft and there’s something wrong with your computer or a fraudulent email saying they’re about to be billed $399 by Best Buy’s Geek Squad.

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Older people are more trusting and less cynical, according to Aura, a Boston-based tech company that sells tools powered by artificial intelligence to protect identities, passwords and financial information. They often have large saving accounts and other financial holdings, Aura notes, and they’re less tech savvy.

They may have cognitive impairments that affect their judgment and are often hesitant to report a potential scam or ask for help due to fear of being viewed as incompetent.

And older people are much more likely to be impacted by any scam that starts with a phone call, Burton said, because they make up the demographic most likely to answer the phone.

Burton cautions people not to share any financial information unless they’re certain they know who they’re talking to.

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“No government (agency) or legitimate business is ever going to ask for your social security number or your password or your bank account number over the phone,” she said.

If you’re not certain, the best way to proceed is to hang up and make a call yourself. If someone calls claiming to be from your bank, hang up and call your bank. If anyone asks for payment via Venmo or PayPal or with gift cards, Burton said, don’t send the funds.

“Another feature of a scam is a lot of pressure to do something in a quick way,” she said. “They don’t want you to have time to talk to your children … or even think about it. So there’s this urgency and high pressure. Maybe they don’t want you to get off the phone. That’s a real red flag.”

It’s important to get another opinion, she said, so talk to friends or relatives or call an advocacy group, such as API Legal Outreach.

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Another scheme that’s hard for older adults to identify is the imposter scam. As demonstrated in the “60 Minutes” story, scammers can mimic the voice of a grandchild while calling the grandparent. The call comes in showing the grandchild’s name, and with AI tools, the scammers can impersonate the child’s voice.

“In the olden days, like three years ago, they would usually have to make up an excuse about why they didn’t sound like your grandchild,” Burton said. “They’d say, ‘Oh, there’s something wrong with my phone,’ Now, if your grandchild has videos online, all a scammer would need is a short audio clip of their voice. And they could clone it to have it say whatever they wanted it to say.”

After getting scammed, most people who file a report with the FTC online or the state attorney general are “not going to get a redress check in the mail,” Burton acknowledged, but it can happen. “If you’ve paid money to a scammer, it’s really important to act quickly,” she said.

“We get millions of reports a year. We can’t individually look at every single one, but on the whole, it’s really helpful for us. When we do bring a law enforcement action and we’re able to get money back, we do send checks to individual consumers. And we’ve sent billions of dollars back to consumers over the years,” she said. “It’s a staggering amount of money.”

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