FBI warns of web-based romance scams towards elderly

Crime & Public Safety

DALLAS (KETK) – Fraud against the senior population has continued to grow as the United States closes in on the second year of living in a global pandemic.

Each year, millions of older Americans are at risk of being swindled out of millions of dollars if they become targets of scams.

Criminals will take advantage of the loneliness and isolation in the senior population to conduct targeted crime sprees.

“It’s a rising crime. We are seeing more and more 30 to 40 cases a month just in fraud-related schemes involving elderly,” said James Freeman, sergeant, Tyler Police Department

The FBI Dallas and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern and Northern Districts of Texas will be releasing a new public service announcement to help spot and stop scams that affect seniors.

In June 2021, the first-ever Elder Fraud Report from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) was released to coincide with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

“They get that call in the middle of the night claiming to be a grandchild. they…they tend to go into panic mode and it’s… it’s reasonable to understand that…that’s what happens, but these scammers take advantage of that, and so because of that.” says Tim McDonald, investigator, smith county sheriff’s office

“Reporting scams and frauds quickly is critical. We work closely with our law enforcement and industry partners to hold criminals accountable for high dollar fraud losses that leave our senior population and their future generations in financial ruin and despair.” 

JOSE A. PEREZ, Dallas FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge

The total financial loss for 2020 was reported at $1 billion for victims over the age of 60 comprising nearly a third of total losses. 2020 had a staggering increase of $300 million in losses to those in 2019.

Overall, Texas ranks third in the nation for reported victims and reported losses to seniors at more than $69 million.

“Obviously there was a need and to think I was going to get the money. You know this $30,000 for $900 didn’t seem unreasonable at the time, but then later when I thought and you know and looked at it I was like oh my goodness,“ said Luerine Tunstle, a Tyler local.

According to an FBI analysis, more than 200 individuals over the age of 60 reported losing more than $7 million to romance fraud schemes.

The FBI said criminals target individuals in every demographic hoping to establish trust which will allow them to access their target’s finances.

“Law enforcement, the FBI, social security, IRS, do not call victims to say there’s a warrant out for your arrest please pay us x amount of money. electric companies, utilities don’t call to say to threaten, to say you haven’t paid when your bills are actually current,” says Jose Perez, FBI Dallas assistant special agent.

Once a scammer convinces the victim to send them money, they need an often-unwitting person to act as an intermediary to first receive the funds and then send the proceeds to the fraudster.

If East Texans have been coerced into sending money to an individual they’ve never met in person, or know someone who has, they should contact a financial institution right away and report the incident to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

To report a suspected fraud or crime: file a report at www.IC3.gov, submit a tip online https://tips.fbi.gov or contact your nearest FBI Field Office

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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