If you find you're a victim of a romance scam, you can contact a website that acts as a support group: Romance Scams.org. The closer the season moves toward romance day or Valentine's Day on February 14th, the more the romance scams targeted to older unmarried, widowed, or single women, designed to quickly deplete the women from any money they've saved or inherited by scams from sweet-talking suitors. Around St. Valentine's Day, the romance scammers online seem to come out of their winter hibernation.
How the scammers work is to confuse seniors and also single women over age 40 in order to rip them off by asking for money or information that can be used to create identity theft situations. One example is finding out someone's personal information, mother's maiden name (through genealogy sites sometimes) and bank account information.
Scammers of older women in the age 70s to 90s+ group focus on home repair scams instead of romance, offering rides to appointments and shopping, frienships, and cleaning offers for a chance to get into the victim's checkbook or bank account. Romance scams target the age 40 through 60s women. And some men of any age are targeted by female scammers using social media to send photos and ask for money to be wired. It's men in their 80s and 90s most often falling victims to female scammers asking for money to pay emergency bills.
Some scammers create a back door in a person's computer and steal passwords
Other scammers live overseas or travel and ask for money to be wired for emergencies. Then there are the romance scammers targeting single people of all ages, especially middle-aged and older individuals, and more women than men. Check out Claudia Buck's January 29, 2013 article in the Sacramento Bee, "Beware of romance scams, Sacramento singles told as Valentine's Day approaches." Older women are the biggest target, women dating for the first time after the loss of a relationship, or singles of various ages looking for a meaningful relationship.
Beware of romance scams. That goes not only for women, but also for men being taken for any money they may have in romantic scams. Locally, two older Sacramento-area women just got jilted out of $2,000 or more by sweet-talking suitors they met on online dating sites, according to the Northeast California Better Business Bureau.
Sometimes middle-aged female scammers with adult children scam older male widowers in their nineties by bringing them cooked meals and then asking for money or even to move in with them so they can find a way to get into their check book. Others don't form relationships, but look for ways to have victims wire them money as they travel or live abroad.
Check out the better business associations for complaints against online social media services focused on bringing people together for forming possible future relationships. The scammers usually don't target poor, indigent seniors. They are attracted to any income you have from any source, especially for older widows or divorcees who have a sizable savings or income from a past marriage. The Better Business Bureau also may have a list of complaints.
Don't let a romance online convince you that what's real in social media is real in relationships off-line
Romance scams are very predictable. The rules seem to follow the same pattern of women (or men) being wooed romantically online. Next comes a reason why the man or women needs money. After that the person with the money wires cash– often thousands of dollars – to their supposed suitors. The majority of targets for scammers are unmarried, single, or widowed older women. But the ages can range from single women in their 40s to 60s and even older.
And there are male victims, especially males known to be famous or have been popular at some point, public figures with some money, or are highly educated. Widowers are a favorite target of female scammers, especially older, retired men who own a home and have a pension from a previous government or military career, have a wife who died in the past few years, and don't live with their children.
The typical male might be a retired teacher or professor, government worker, or physician who owns a vacation home and has lost his wife in the past few years. Some female scammers look at the obituaries in newspapers looking for middle-aged men who lost their wives from cancer at an earlier age than the usual lifespan. Other female scammers may be graduate students or graduates looking for a sugar daddy to pay off their college loans in exchange for companionship. But most women looking to scam the older men are not intending to stay in a relationship once they've asked men to send them thousands of dollars.
For women, many of the male scammers are Americans, but a large segment live overseas. Many scammers are in Nigeria or Ghana, and some are in England, according to FBI sources mentioned in the Sacramento Bee article. Romance scams are similar to identity theft and fraud. Thousands of women and some men each year are scammed by online strangers who form a pen-pal romance.
Some of the female victims range in age from 50 to their 70s. Beware of dating sites for seniors. Some are reputable, but you never know who joins under a phony identity. The key is when the men ask for money to cover some business or health expense. Older women may send out thousands of dollars before their children find out.
The Better Business Bureau may investigate, but a lot of these romances just disappear as soon as money is sent. California gets more romance scam complaints – both in volume and amount per victim – than anywhere else in the country, at least those reported by Dallas-based MoneyGram.com, a global wire transfer service with dozens of locations in the greater Sacramento area, according to the Sacramento Bee article. If someone asks for money in a romance, you can file a complaint with their local FBI office, the state attorney general's office or the Federal Trade Commission.
What to watch out for to prevent a scammer from taking you to the cleaners
Don't send money to someone you've not met in person and know all his or her living relatives and where they live. If you meet someone online who says he or she is in love or talk destiny and fate, it's a red flag. Watch out for the man or women who uses words such as sweetcakes, babycakes, sweetie, hon, honey, babe, baby, sugar, and similar terms.
These terms used too quickly in a relationship are not terms of endearment, but a form of control and domination, designed to control your money and you. It's like the hand on your shoulder from a stranger, too quick, too dominating, and too familiar.
The photo online used may be old or of someone else. Usually the photo disappears from a chat spot and instant messaging takes its place. You're not going to see the real person often on Skype if the photo online is not recent or of the actual person. The webcam approach is avoided. The perpetrator/scammer doesn't want you to see him/her in real time and save the photo to later turn over to the FBI. Also, if you see the scammer in person at a fast-food eatery, you have a chance to get the person's DNA on a straw or styrofoam cup or plastic spoon to turn over to the police or FBI.
Many scammers can't spell and use bad grammar
Not all scammers are educated enough to use their own writing. They may use someone else's quotes or poetry, but generally their grammar and spelling is poor, and they don't have the education they usually claim they have had.
If the scammer lives abroad, they may night understand American slang. And those who do look up an answer online usually tell you they have to use the toilet to take the time to look up American slang expressions, if they're citizens of somewhere else and not familiar with U.S. slang expressions. Many of these scammers work several victims online at one sitting.
The job they tell you they have usually is false. If they need money, they're in debt or aren't working. Don't be scammed by false claims of having a career where they travel overseas or are consultants on various projects you can't check out with their employers or customers.
Most of these scammers tell you they lost a wife or husband in some tragedy. Or the men will tell women their wives are too sick for a relationship, if married. When they beg you for money, it's a scam. You are asked to pay hospital bills or buy airline tickets. Or they'll email you or call and ask for emergency money to pay bills since they're traveling. Or they'll ask for money to pay for surgery for themselves or a family member.
The clicker comes when they ask you to wire money. You'll never get repaid because they'll have one excuse after another if they're a scammer. There usually are inconsistencies in their stories. And an alibli and excuse will come up each time you ask. If the men are still married, they'll tell you to keep the relationship to yourself. As soon as anyone romantic suitor asks for money, break it off. You don't need to clean out your bank account for a scammer, since you won't see him or her after your money is gone unless they think you have a steady source of income such as a pension, social security, savings, or a home left to you from your last relationship.
The top ten scams targeting seniors
The top ten scams perpetrated on senior citizens are health insurance fraud, counterfeit prescription drugs scams, funeral and cemetery scams, fraudulent anti-aging products, fake telemarketing calls, Internet fraud such as pop-ups simulating anti-virus programs, investment schemes, reverse mortgage scams such as fake letters printed with a County Assessor's Office heading that aren't from the County Assessor's Office, lottery and sweepstakes scams, and the grand parent scam, where a scammer calls an older adult pretending to be a grandchild in trouble in a foreign country or another city.
Each time there's a big change in government policy in the news such as the Affordable Care Act, scammers look at public directories, newspaper obituaries, advertiser's demographic mailing lists of older adults, and sometimes attend funerals. Seniors need to beware of scammers who get their names, addresses, and email addresses also from social and life-long learning groups that print catalogs of members and from companies sending advertising flyers to older adults about changing their health care insurers.
Scammers also get names and addresses related to their health-care insurance in the same places that real estate agencies and insurance companies get the addresses and email of older adults to mail them flyers to change health care services during open season for making changes. Be on the alert for scams targeting older adults using a tactic of trying to confuse people on the phone or even by visits to the home by scammers who pose as real estate agents offering veterans benefits if you sign over your mortgage or title to your home.
The Veterans Administration doesn't phone, visit your home, or send flyers about benefits
You'd have to contact the V.A. directly for information, not someone posing as a representative. Check out the informative site, Top 10 Scams Targeting Seniors : NCOA, National Council on Aging. Although the catalogs only go out to members, when older catalogs are thrown away, sometimes they find their way into the hands of scammers looking for names of older adults from a wide variety of clubs and classes, including newspaper obituaries where the name of the person and family members are mentioned.
Scammers also may show up at funerals announced publicly in newspapers, particularly if the name of the business or career information about the deceased is mentioned in the newspapers. Check out the July 12, 2012 article, "Health care scams targeting elderly - Bonney Lake-Sumner Courier."
The Federal Trade Commission warns seniors about a new scam. Criminals pose as government officials and try to collect health information by telephone calls targeting older adults. The scammers refer to the new Affordable Care Act. Check our own state's Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division as to what to watch out for in your local area. Check out the site, Scammers target elderly over Affordable Care Act - Federal Way Mirror.
How the scammers work is to confuse seniors in order to rip them off
The scammers may call an older adult and say they're from the government calling to update the older adult's health information for the new Affordable Care Act. The government never calls seniors to ask for their health information.
The scammer asks for personal information such as a checking account number. Then the scammer mentions the older adult's children, the names of the adult children of older adults easily can be found by scammers in public records searches. You can check out the Better Business Bureau (BBB) about the scams related to the latest U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling called the Affordable Care Act - U.S. Government .
Scams related to the federal health insurance law were reported immediately after the act was passed. The scammers try to rip off older adults by confusing them especially in times when there's news of a change in government policy. Scammers focus on health insurance and tax credits when they call senior citizens.
Lists of people over age 65 are easily purchased by various advertisers for a variety of businesses from health care information, veterans benefits, and funeral and hearing-aid companies, to mention just a few of the types of unsolicited mail seniors get that aren't sent to younger families. It seems to many seniors that just about every business in town knows your age, address, name, family members, and email address. The problem is when scammers want to rip you off or assume your identity and open a bank account using your name, get a debit or credit card, and run up a bill that's billed to you and that collection agencies try to collect from you.
Whether you're found from membership lists in clubs, in demographic advertising databases, or in public records, seniors are targeted by scammers based on the theory scammers have that you'll be confused or fooled into thinking that the scammer is from the government or legitimate. Don't give any personal information or agree to purchase anything from these flyers or phone calls.
Scammers also target relatives mentioned in newspaper obituaries
Obituaries in the mainstream media are read by scammers who target recent widows and may research lists of members from clubs attended by people who lost their spouses or partners. Some scammers are brazen enough to attend funerals. Not only seniors are targeted by people who lost younger relatives or even infants. Thousands of dead and live children's identity is stolen, particularly social security numbers.
Scammers can open bank accounts and obtain credit or debit cards in the name of children using social security numbers issued to kids. It may take years before the children are old enough to find out, usually when they reach college age.
Be careful of personal information for seniors in newspapers, obituaries, and funerals listing detailed personal information, and also when children first obtain social security numbers. Childen's social security numbers are sold to human traffickers or thieves looking to open fraudulent credit accounts. For further information, see the articles, Child Identity Theft Takes Advantage Of Kids' Unused Social Security numbers. Check out the site, How to tell if your child's identity has been stolen - Technology.
Sometimes names and phone numbers are obtained by membership in ethnic or religious groups, genealogy associations focusing on specific ethnic or religious groups, or even life-long learning classes that publish annual catalogs listing the name, address, phone number, and email addresses of members.
Veterans' benefits scams target seniors
Too many scams target aging veterans looking for veterans' benefits for funeral services, usually aimed at getting ownership of a person's home away from the elderly veteran before his children inherit his house. For further information, check out the Consumer Financial Protetction Bureau (CFPB) website.
Scammers may offer veterans benefits but neglect to tell you that they're not from the Veteran's Administration. And the Veteran's Administration does not send you flyers or come to your house or phone you to tell you about various funeral or other benefits, business deals, insurance deals, mortgage-related offers on your house, or membership fees. Some scammers even pretend to be your grandchildren in trouble and asking you to wire money. Many seniors don't bother calling relatives back to verify information before they wire money to scammers.
Even though the catalogs go to members only, when the catalogs are disposed of at the end of a year, most of the names and locations are still current. And members also can obtain lists of people who attend senior center groups, university courses for continuing education, and even religious social or genealogy clubs.
One example is of a name, address, email address, and phone number of someone who joined a specific religious genealogy group made up mostly of seniors of a specific ethnic group and culture. That senior recognized the person's name a few years later on a mailing list coming from a particular dental office, and also showing up online on a white-pages type list for locating persons.
The elderly person recognized the name being on a variety of lists online simply because of one middle initial inserted in the name which originally was used only on the one mailing list at a particular ethnic genealogy group that met in at a senior apartment complex lounge or library room for genealogy research of a specific ethnic group. It shows how names and addresses get around from the social group to the dental office to finally an online service for locating people...all because the senior put in one initial as a middle name that never was used before on any other list.
What telephone scams targeting seniors sound like
The most often scheme is for a strange voice on the phone to call a person known to have grandchildren that live in other areas outside of Sacramento. The voice addresses the person answering as grandma or grandma and asks for money to be wired to another city or country.
The voice on the other end often says he or she is in trouble abroad or in another city and needs money wired immediately. It's happening currently in Yolo County, and the Yolo County District Attorney's Office is alerting residents to a dramatic surge in scam calls in West Sacramento, Davis, and Woodland suburbs of the Sacramento regional area. The phone calls usually start off with a voice that says, "Grandma, it's me."
Sadly, too many elderly people are actually taking out all their savings and sending it to strangers who scam them out of their money with this type of scam. Recently in Sacramento, another elderly woman was tricked into sending all the money in her savings account to someone claiming to be her grandson who was out of the country and in trouble.
These international scam artists get a list of people's names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails if they're online from the same sources that legitimate businesses buy their demographic lists from. If you've ever wondered why people over the age of 70 keep getting letters from funeral services and hearing aid companies, it's because various companies sell demographic lists of people, mailing lists, by the age of the person.
You may find people in their 50s and 60s getting cruise and travel catalogs which changes to funeral services, cremation companies, and hearing aid firms, business that sell power chairs and scooters for those with low mobility, and bathroom fixture firms selling walk-in tubs for the elderly or disabled.
What scams to beware of focused on business or culture
Beware of funeral, veteran's benefits, reverse mortgages, credit card, money wiring, and hearing aid scams. These types of mailing lists as well as information from social media sources and organizations or even medical offices contain the ages and phone numbers, addresses and even email of large numbers of the aging population.
There are real estate scams whereby scammers try to coerce people into selling their homes to get funeral benefits and other scams with lists taken from real estate offices, census files, lists of home owners from recent home sales, assisted living moves, senior club memberships, if available to businesses, genealogy club memberships, if lists are available to others, and catalogs published with the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of older people.
One source could be a club catalog or school catalog listing members of life-long learning classes with their names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. These older catalogs thrown away can be taken out of trash cans or found in estate sales after a person has died, found in trash thrown out or obtained in other ways with a free list of names and addresses of retirees who have attended life-long learning classes in a particular year.
Scammers rely on older people's supposed loss of short-term memory or confusion
Other types of scams targeting older people focus on their possible hearing or memory issues that the scammer is counting on. International scam artists use telephone, email, and bank information. For example, someone may call regarding credit or debit card information asking on the telephone for personal information.
Never give information to a caller. Tell the person you'll visit your bank's branch and ask what the issue is when you go into the bank branch. Seniors who are home-based and unable to get to their bank branch or who do a lot of shopping online because of low mobility issues frequently are targeted.
Be careful of listing too many personal names and similar information on genealogy blogs online. All a scammer has to do is look up the name, address, phone number or email address of living people listed on genealogy blogs. Don't list people on genealogy blogs who are alive.
Scammers look at ancestry groups and blogs to see whether a living person is on there and then may go online to search for an address which may be listed in any one of several services online that list personal information as well as names and addresses or phone numbers and email.
Don't list people still living on genealogy blogs
Mailing lists often are sold to scammers. One scam consists of calling people who already subscribe to newspapers and get the online version of the same print paper free. The caller asks the person at the other end whether he or she wants to subscribe also to the online version of the newspaper for a fee. The problem is the online version is free when the person already subscribes to the newspaper delivery in the paper form that's delivered daily to the home.
Mailing lists of people who get various publications delivered to the home such as newspapers and magazines may be bought if the publication sells those mailing lists to advertisers or other businesses. Scammers can buy mailing lists for a fee and focus on the mailing lists compiled by demographics such as age, income level, or location.
Never give personal information to callers asking for bank information
Never give anyone phoning you your credit card information. Never give personal information to a stranger calling asking for personal information no matter who they say they're from. You have no proof of it. If someone says you won a lottery or a vacation, tell them to send a letter and you'll have your lawyer validate that evidence. Don't give out credit card numbers or your mother's maiden name.
Don't give out your mailing address. If you won a lottery, the company would already have your address. Either hang up or tell the caller you'll contact your state's lottery office to find out whether you won anything since it would have to be validated and fact-checked.
Most elderly people don't talk about facts being validated and checked by lawyers when somebody calls them asking for information. Scammers want your social security number, credit card information, bank account numbers, birth date, your mother's maiden name, and other personal information so they can open a bank account in your name, get a credit or debit card and run up a bill. Don't even give out your phone number, even if they say they have it. Never subscribe to a publication if somebody phones you. Check out the magazine online or in a library to make sure you're subscribing for one year only.
Don't let others get control of your credit or debit card with automatic renewals
Never sign up for automatic delivery of vitamins or publications. You may be allergic to the supplements and you don't want your debit or credit card charged without you knowing it. You need to maintain control. Also the magazine may go out of business after you've paid for three years subscription. Remember George Burns quip, "I'm so old I don't even buy green bananas."
Never click on a link sent to you by email. And never wire money even if the person sounds like your grand child. Instead call or email your grand child. Don't respond to call back a phone number the scammer gives you.
The "grandma wire me money scam" is increasing in Sacramento
You have no proof that number or toll-free number is to the scammer or really to your bank or other official. Instead, validate the evidence. Better yet, hang up. For further information, check out the Claudia Buck's June 16, 2012 financial column in the Sacramento Bee, "Beware of financial scams targeting seniors." Scamming is growing in Sacramento it's known as elder financial abuse. It's not new. With the TV program "Locked up Abroad," a variety of scammers are using the ploy, "Grandma I'm in trouble overseas. Wire me money right away."
Too many seniors don't even bother to call their grandchildren or children to find out first if a scammer is calling. If your grandchild was in trouble, your children or other relatives would have told you. But call everyone else first. Usually the scammer is aware you have a grandchild of a certain age.
Information could have been taken from any source where you announced your family members' ages or gender and any other information, or from various schools. Chances are the person calling overseas has never met your grandchildren, although it could also be someone who knows your children or grandchildren and is trying to scam any family members, targeting the oldest people first.
Public information is saved by scammers
Scammers are targeted the senior citizen culture, particularly in the Arden Arcade area where a large number of seniors own homes or rent senior apartment complex residences and assisted living quarters. Sometimes the scammers get names of older adults from various newspapers that are read by the senior culture in Sacramento where there are several newspapers and directories for seniors and numerous senior centers and housing.
Sacramento mainstream and social media, advertising mailing lists, and membership lists from various clubs open to seniors, retirees, and life-long learning groups, library clubs, city directories, demographic lists of names and addresses by age, the Internet, mailing lists of dental and medical patients, hobby groups and church membership lists may be available or sold to scammers who prey on the elderly asking them to wire money.
Last week, the state Department of Corporations - State of California urged Californians to be aware of investment fraud and other financial scams targeting seniors. It's also got a great resource, "Seniors Against Investment Fraud" (SAIF), which outlines scams and financial fraud targeting those over 50. Download it here. For further information, check out the June 16, 2012 Sacramento Bee article, "Beware of financial scams targeting seniors."
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
If you're concerned about financial abuse based on your age, the Consumer Financial Protetction Bureau (CFPB), created by Congress in 2010 following the country's mortgage meltdown has the statistics you can research. According to the CFPB, Americans age 60 and over lost at least $2.9 billion to "financial exploitation" in 2010, often by family members. If you have a story to tell them about how you were scammed as an older adult, check out the CFPB website on what information they can use regarding your experience. You can help other seniors by letting them know what kind of media focuses on scamming the elderly.
Seniors in Sacramento are being targeted by scammers and emailed media publications that contain information to get seniors to give up their money. The Deceptive practices are mainly aimed at seniors. Some also may be aimed at college students. Don't fall for scams about fraudulent "senior certifications" and other pseudo-financial designations.
To solve this problem, you need to check the authenticity of a financial adviser's credentials. You need to find the resources on elder fraud, including those aimed at military retirees. Too many scams target aging veterans looking for veterans' benefits for funeral services, usually aimed at getting ownership of a person's home away from the elderly veteran before his children inherit his house. For further information, check out the Consumer Financial Protetction Bureau (CFPB) website.
Also please subscribe to and/or check out my various nutrition, health, or cultural media columns such as the Sacramento Nutrition Examiner column, Sacramento Healthy Trends Examiner column, the Sacramento Holistic Family Health Examiner, the Sacramento Media & Culture Examiner, and my national columns: National Healthy Trends Examiner column, National Senior Health Examiner column, and the National Children's Nutrition Examiner column.
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