FBI Portland
Beth Anne Steele
(503) 460-8099
April 23, 2019

Oregon FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Elder Fraud

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: we continue our series on building a digital defense against frauds targeting senior citizens.

For the past month, we have looked at all kinds of elder fraud—including tech support, money mule, and real estate scams. This week, as we wrap up our series we are going to hit on two more schemes that criminals are known to use to target seniors 60 and older: sweepstakes and telemarketing frauds.

Sweepstakes scams may make you think you are a big winner when, in fact, you could end up losing everything. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center says that more than 2,600 senior victims reported losses of $47 million to it in 2018.

In a sweepstakes or lottery scam, the bad guy convinces the senior that she has won money in a sweepstakes or foreign lottery. The fraudsters often claim to be attorneys, customs officials, or lottery representatives. They make an effort to appear official and reputable. The scammers tell the victim that she has to pay some kind of fee before receiving a prize… a fee for shipping or insurance costs, customs duties, or taxes.

Through the course of this scam, the criminal will often find and use personal information about the victim in an effort to gain her trust. The scammer knows that older victims are more likely to be polite, trusting, and willing to believe those in a position of authority.

The second kind of elder fraud we are talking about today involves telemarketing scams… scams where the bad guy convinces the victim he can make money fast or avoid some legal or tax problem. These kinds of scams have been around forever, but evolving technology makes them even harder to spot. Criminals buy and sell marketing lists and personal information so they can have as many details as possible about their victims before they make contact. In some cases, they take the time to build a relationship with the senior so the senior is less likely to look for outside guidance before sending money to the scammer.

Technology also makes it easy for the criminal to make authentic-looking documents so he looks official. As with lottery scams, the fraudster often tries to portray himself as a reputable figure at a federal agency or perhaps an insurance company or bank. Again, he hopes to prey upon a senior’s tendency to trust those in positions of authority.

Here’s how you can protect yourself and family members:

  • Do not give out personal info by phone, mail, or the Internet unless you initiate the contact.
  • Always use publicly available sources to confirm you are using legitimate contact numbers and addresses for a business or agency.
  • Do not pay for fees or services with a gift card. Legitimate services will not request payment in this manner.
  • Be wary if someone tells you that you have to pay immediately or the offer will disappear.
  • Be wary if you have to pay any fee or provide bank account information for a “free” gift, vacation, or prize.

As the old adage goes—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you have been victimized by an online scam, report your suspicious contacts to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.