Police, BBB warns people to be on the lookout for scams targeting seniors

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CARMEL, Ind. – A Carmel resident is one among many victims throughout the country to be targeted by scammers looking to take advantage of vulnerable people.

In the Carmel resident’s case, the scammer was able to take around $800,000 from them. While they have recovered a small portion of that, the case remains ongoing.

“A lot of times after even our best efforts, these people lose a significant portion of their life savings,” Saud Lt. Tim Byrne with the Carmel Police Department. “It’s a life changing event and a situation for them. It has a huge impact on the rest of their lives and inheritance of family members and so on, so it’s a very big deal.”

Why scammers target seniors

The Better Business Bureau said seniors aged 65 and over reported losing a median of $350 in 2020 when falling victim to a scam. This is more than double the loss across all age groups.

“The suspects in these cases and the people on the other end of the line can often times be very compelling and very persuasive,” Lt. Byrne said.

The Better Business Bureau says older people are often targeted by scammers for multiple reasons, including:

  • They are more likely to be at home to answer the door or telephone.
  • They tend to be more trusting and less likely to suspect a con artist.
  • They are often lonely and susceptible to a friendly pitch.
  • They may be physically incapable of making their own home repairs, exposing them to pitches from itinerant workers who knock on the door and offer to do repairs cheaply.
  • They may be on fixed incomes, making them vulnerable to promises of high investment returns or savings on medical care.
  • They may own their homes free and clear, making them a target of predatory lenders.

In this resident’s case, the Carmel Police Department said they fell victim to a romance type of scheme. This is one of the most common scams targeting seniors.

Most common scams targeting seniors

The Carmel Police Department provided information about six common scams that they see targeting seniors.

Romance Scam

In this scam, criminals pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites to capitalize on their elderly victim’s desire to find companions.

After building a relationship with the victim and getting them to trust them, the suspect will ask for help for whatever reason money-wise, have an emergency they need funds or other reasons.What You Need to Know About Romance Scams

Tech Support Scam

In this scam, criminals pose as technology support representatives, offering to fix non-existent computer issues. The scammers gain remote access to the victim’s devises and sensitive information in this way.

The Better Business Bureau says while there are tens of thousands of complaints about tech support scams, it may be seriously underreported because many victims do not even know that they have been defrauded. The BBB says others learn only later that there was nothing wrong with their computers and they were duped.BBB study on growing problem of tech support scams 

Grandparent scam

The Carmel Police Department says in this scam, criminals pose as a relative, usually a child or grandchild, claiming to be in immediate financial need.

In a 2019 report, the Better Business Bureau said while the scam has been around since 2008, they continue to plague well-meaning seniors. They say emergency scams play off of peoples’ emotions and strong desire to help others in need. Some of the urgent situations they may claim include: “I’ve been arrested,” “I’ve been mugged,” or “I’m in the hospital.”

The BBB also sees this scam target families with loved ones deployed overseas, claiming to need the money to get back from a weekend pass.Grandparent Scams Still Targeting Seniors – Do You Know The Red Flags?

Government impersonation scam

In this scam, the Carmel Police Department say criminals pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.

This scam has made a comeback during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the BBB saying it is receiving several reports from seniors reporting they are getting text messages from scammers posing as the U.S. Department of Health.

In a recent report, the BBB found the top reason people said they lost money was that the scammer “seemed official.”BBB Scam Alert: Scammers targeting seniors during pandemic 

Sweepstakes/charity/lottery scam

In this scam, criminals claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain victims’ trust. They may also claim that their target won a foreign lottery or sweepstake, which they can claim for a fee.

The BBB said since 2019, at least three individuals reported losses of well over $100,000 from people stating they were with Publisher’s Clearing House or other imposter sweepstakes-related companies.BBB Tip: Sweepstakes, Lottery, and Prize Scams

Home repair scams

The Carmel Police Department says in this scam, criminals appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never provide.

Recently, the Better Business Bureau warned people about a Plainfield business that collected down payments, promised to begin work within 30 days, and never showed up.

This scam often pops up following a major storm, flood, or other weather events when homeowners are trying to repair their houses. They can, however, happen any time. Con artists will take homeowners’ money and deliver faulty work, or no work at all. BBB Scam Alert: Home improvement scammers take money, don’t complete work

Difficulty of recovering from scams

The Carmel Police Department said it is difficult to track down money in many of these cases, but they do have a few detectives that have training in these cases.

“There’s a lot of people involved and a lot of different accounts, email addresses, IP addresses, so once the money is given away by the suspect or they’re schemed out of the money, the money then goes through several different accounts and it’s channeled and laundered through a very complex network,” Lt. Byrne said.

The detectives work to gather information, sometimes tracking back to accounts and freezing them. Other times the money is gone. Lt. Byrne said taking the cases federal is beneficial since there are many people across the U.S. involved, and potentially the world.

“Each case is unique in its own way, but dozens to hundreds of hours could go into investigating one specific case like this, and involve multiple jurisdictions at the local and federal level,” Lt. Byrne said.

Lt. Byrne said while there is a chance of potentially getting some of the funds back, it is a very difficult and long process, and it’s not always guaranteed.

One Carmel resident, however, is in the process of getting back the $84,000 they lost to scammers and more. They have been able to recover it three-fold thanks to police diligence in locating and freezing accounts, along with laws that protect victims in these cases.

How to protect from falling victim to scams

The Carmel Police Department said the big message is to not fall for scams.

“We just really want to get the message out to people to be cautious, to not fall victim to the urgency of the situation, and to do your own research,” Lt. Byrne said.

The Carmel Police Department offered these tips for people to protect themselves from falling for scams:

  • Recognize scam attempts and end all communication with the perpetrator. There are specific red flags to look out for in all of the common scams mentioned. You can find those in the links from the BBB.
  • Search online for the contact information (name, email, phone number, address) and the proposed offer. Other people have likely posted information online about individuals and businesses trying to run scams.
  • Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. Call the police immediately if you feel there is a danger to yourself or a loved one.
  • Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door services offers.
  • Never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks, or wire information to unverified people or businesses.
  • Make sure all computer anti-virus and security software and malware applications are up to date. Use reputable anti-virus software and firewalls.
  • Disconnect from the internet and shut down your device if you see a pop-up message or locked screen. Pop-ups are regularly used by perpetrators to spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a pop-up.
  • Be careful what you download. Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you.
  • Take precautions to protect your identity if a criminal gains access to your device or account. Immediately contact your financial institutions to place protections on your accounts and monitor your accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.

Reporting scams

The Carmel Police Department said if you, or someone you know, may have been a victim of elder fraud, contact them immediately. The sooner an incident is reported, the better the chances of recovering money.

When reporting a scam, it is important to include as many of the following details as possible:

  • Names of the scammer and/or company
  • Dates of contact
  • Methods of communication
  • Phone numbers, email addresses, mailing addresses, and websites used by the perpetrator
  • Methods of payments
  • Where you sent funds, including wire transfers and prepaid cards (provide financial institution names, account names, and account numbers)
  • Descriptions of your interactions with the scammer, and the instructions you were given

The Carmel Police Department says people are also encouraged to keep original documentation, emails, faxes and logs of all communications.

To report a scam to the Carmel Police Department, call them at (317) 571-2500 or submit a crime tip through their online form.

The BBB also encourages people to report scams through its scam tracker.

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