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Cyber scams targeting seniors on the rise, FBI warns

Cyber scams targeting seniors have jumped up 11% in 2023, costing more than $3.4 billion in total losses for elderly victims, a newly released FBI fraud report shows.

Furthermore, the number of fraud complaints filed with the FBI by those over the age of 60 also rose by 14% in 2023.

The FBI 2023 Elderly Fraud Report, released earlier this week, complies a list of over 30 different types of cyber crimes impacting those over 60, comparing how many complaints were filed for each over the past three years.

The report shows tech support scams were at the top of the list in 2023, followed by investment and cryptocurrency scams, personal data breaches, and then confidence and romance scams.

“Cyber criminals continue to seek ways to profit from our dependence on technology by launching a variety of attacks and, in many cases, specifically targeting elderly victims,” according to FBI’s Los Angeles Public Affairs Specialist Laura Eimiller.

Typical tactics used by fraudsters to target the seniors include “phishing, spoofing, extortion, and various types of web-based fraud,” stated Eimiller.

The report shows that the elderly filed 101,068 complaints – out of a total of 880,000 in 2023 – to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the most of any age group tracked by the agency.

According to the FBI, the number of cyber crimes against seniors are most likely higher.

That’s because an estimated 50% of fraudulent crimes go unreported and many of the complaints filed do not have information on the victims age.

The FBI report also found that of all the elderly scams, investment fraud continued to be the most costly with losses exceeding a massive $1.2 billion last year.

The average financial loss per elderly victim is calculated to be about $34,000 for each victim, with close to 6K losing more than $100,000, often a senior's entire life savings.

The FBI says that the financial losses for senior victims have led to remortgaged/foreclosed homes, emptied retirement accounts, borrowing from family and friends, and in some cases, to victims taking their own lives because of shame or loss of sustainable income.

Scammers try and gain victims trust

“This report underscores the fact that seniors are a particularly vulnerable victim group and are often specifically targeted for fraud by bad actors,” said Mehtab Syed, assistant director in charge of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office.

The top cyber scams used to target the senior population:

  • Investment Scam - Often complex and sold to victims as low-risk/guaranteed high rate of return. i.e., Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes, market manipulation fraud, real estate investing, and advanced fee frauds.
  • Tech Support Scam - Bad actors pose as tech support and offer to fix nonexistent computer issues allowing remote access to the victims devices and sensitive information.
  • Confidence/Romance Scam - Criminals pose as interested romantic partners through dating websites, gaining a victims trust to eventually ask for money.
  • Cryptocurrency Scam - Scammers get victims to deposit large sums of cash into cryptocurrency ATMs, convert the cash to cryptocurrency, and then simply transfer the crypto into their own accounts.

Other high ranking methods used by cyber criminals include government impersonation scams, and the use of call center schemes.

Tips for preventing senior scams

The FBI's IC3 was established in May 2000 to receive complaints on cyber matters, including online fraud, hacking, intellectual property rights, trade secret thefts, online extortion, international money laundering, and identity theft.

Some of the most important steps for seniors (and their loved ones) to take to help prevent scams is to practice good cyber hygiene.

This means being cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door service offers, and to never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, gift cards, etc. to unverified people or businesses.

Besides updated anti-malware and virus software and firewalls and enabling pop-up blockers, the FBI says to avoid opening emails and clicking links or downloads from unknown sources.

If a senior believes they are being targeted by scammers, the FBI says to cut off all communication immediately.

If the victim is unsure, the FBI suggests going online and trying to verify if a person is legitimate by searching contact and business information, or the offer itself, as other victims will most likely post their own warnings online.

Victims of suspected fraud can contact their local FBI field office, submit a tip online, or file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

The agency also says victims should call the police if you feel there is a danger to yourself or loved one. Scammers often use fear and urgency to dupe their victims.

“The FBI and our law enforcement partners have prioritized efforts to address elder fraud and encourage anyone who believes they are a victim of fraud or know of a senior who may be, to immediately report the incident to the FBI or another law enforcement agency,” Syed said.

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