For over two decades, I have been getting help requests from victims of online scams. Many of the victims are senior citizens. A few of them had already sent a lot of money, including their life savings to the scammer before contacting me. The more fortunate ones dodged a bullet by not sending money or important documents to the scammers.
Criminal activities like this are on the rise and take different forms. Unfortunately, it will be very hard to reverse the transaction if the victim sends money overseas. That money sent by Western Union, Moneygram or Zelle (friends) or CashApp cannot be recovered; there is no UNDO button in most cases.
Most scams targeting elders take into account vulnerability, lack of computer awareness and trust factor. While most scammers are overseas sitting in underdeveloped or developing countries, there have been scams caused by relatives and acquaintances.
There are ways to recognize scams, particularly those targeting senior citizens. This is not a comprehensive list, and this blog post will be continually updated. Please bookmark this page for reference.
- Investment Scam
- Fake Antivirus Scam
- Grandparent Scam
- Health Insurance / Medicare Scam
- Trapped in a Foreign Country Scam
- Prince Fazza Scam
- Love Scam
- Accident Scam
- Lottery Scam
- Rental Scam
- Escrow Wire Fraud Scam
- Pyramid Scheme Scam
- Bank Information Scams
- Towing Scams
- Phone Scams and Robocalls
- How to protect yourself?
- What can I do if I have been a victim?
Investment scams, such as this one targeting senior citizens in Pennsylvania are on the rise. Financial fraud is one of the fastest growing forms of elder abuse, and costs Americans more than $2.6 billion per year. About 20% of Americans 65 or older have been victims of financial fraud. Senior citizens own more wealth than other potential targets, and have accumulated wealth through hard work and constant saving. Also, cognitive decline due to increase in age makes senior citizens more vulnerable.
Scammers target senior citizens through email, phone, home visits and free seminars. They usually target groups of senior citizens.
In one kind of scam, scammers sell annuities and private placements [inappropriately] to senior citizens. There are huge penalties for withdrawing money before a specific date or transferring the annuity to another, and so on.
In another kind of scam, scammers try to get others to make an investment based on common background or similar age or affiliation (religion, community and otherwise). The scammer can abuse his position to run away with the money.
Fake Antivirus Scam
This is one of the most common scams. It targets people of all ages, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. The victim receives random fake pop-up messages telling them to "upgrade their Norton/McAfee/Kapersky Antivirus software". The victim is then prompted to download and install a fake antivirus software, which in reality is a malicious software. After installing this software, the victim no longer has control of his/her computer. The scammer (really a malicious hacker) then forces the victim to cough up a lot of money to "fix" their computer.
This is a scam that preys on grandparents' hearts as a gateway. The scammers will phone the grandparents, pretend to be one of the grandchildren, and say something generic on the lines of, "Hey Grandpa, guess who this is." When the grandparent think its their grandson Bobby and responds with, "Hello Bobby, is that you?", the scammer then pretends to be "Bobby", and lies about being in trouble with law enforcement or somebody else. Scammer "Bobby" may ask grandpa to send money urgently to a given address or send money via apps like Cash App.
The scammers may also pretend to be law enforcement officers (police) or someone in authority and try to scare them with generic statements like, "Hello, your grandchild was arrested for XYZ. You have to pay a fine of $xxxx to keep her from going to prison." Out of fear, grandpa may ask, "What happened to Bobby?" At that point, the scammers has found that grandpa's grandsone's name is Bobby, and continues with their money extortion scam.
Scammers are social engineers and can get information like this out of vulnerable victims by driving a conversation like this.
The suggested payment form for the grandparents would be gift cards or cash transfer via Western Union or Moneygram, or anything that is instant and non-reversible.
Scammers usually portray a sense of urgency. They may use sentences like, "It is urgent" or impose very short deadlines with jail or physical threats.
What Can I Do? If you as a grandparent or parent receive an unsolicited phone call or text message, insist on a FaceTime or similar video call. Do NOT volunteer or share your grandchild's information. Even if the scammers calls and throws your grandchild's name in front of you and asks for a gift card or money via Western Union, it is a scam. LEOs will never ask you to pay for your grandchild's release. It is a scammer's standard operation procedure. Note the number from which the scammer is calling. Give that phone number to a police officer and ask them to validate it first. If you have already sent money from your bank account, do not blame yourself. Please call your bank immediately; a friendly bank manager may reverse the charges.
Health Insurance / Medicare Scam
American citizens and permanent residents (green card holders) over the age of 65 qualify for Medicare. This can be a goldmine for scammers to find out which health insurance companies senior citizens people use, in order to scam them out of money. Here, the scammers call and pretend to be Medicare representatives or provide fictional service for senior citizens. They may even provide fake medical services at makeshift mobile clinics. After obtaining the information from the senior citizens, the scammers then use the personal information to bill Medicare for money.
Medicare will never call to ask you to verify your personal information via text message, phone or email.
What Can I Do? Hang up the phone call immediately, and call up the official number on the Medicare websites (Medicare.gov or Healthcare.gov). Never share your SSN or health insurance number with a random call that wants it, or tries to force you to give your information. If they ask you for your banking information or gift cards, just hang up.
Trapped in a Foreign Country Scam
This is a true incident. Many years ago, a scammer from Lagos, Nigeria, emailed my wife and me, pretending to be a known pastor from the Philippines. He claimed to have been robbed of his passport, all money and was stranded in his hotel room in Lagos. He said that he wanted money so he could buy a ticket and come home. His email sounded sincere. Just to verify, we replied to him in Tagalog. He replied back, in English, with a generic reply. He was obviously not the Filipino pastor. We called up the Filipino pastor in the Philippines and he was unaware that his email address had been hacked. The scammers had emailed everyone in his Yahoo! Mail address book. I am sure a few generous hearts would have sent him money without verifying the authenticity of the email.
There are many many scams like this where victims (senior or not) get tricked when the scammers pretend to be someone who is a respectable figure and/or has elevated status. Authenticating or validating a person of that stature may bring embarrassment to the victim. I mean why would you mistrust your pastor? He is in trouble! Or why would you think that the leader who was trapped in country XYZ would like about being trapped? Don't ask questions; just save him!
What Can I Do? Stop communicating with the scammer. Phone or meet someone who has personally talked or chatted with the person supposedly trapped in the foreign country. If you can, try to contact the "trapped person" directly using their phone number listed in your address book. When you get in contact with that person, ask questions in the language or use familiar phrases that only you and that person are familiar with. If all you get are canned or template replies, you know that the "trapped person" is being impersonated. Notify all your mutual connections about the fraud. And of course, do NOT send any money to the "trapped person".
Prince Fazza Scam
This is a form of catfishing and has been going on for years, and is being played in many countries. A stranger messages a lady and pretends to be Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai. He also goes by Fazza, and that's why this impersonation scam is known as Prince Fazza Scam.
👆 This is the real Prince Fazza. He is a billionaire. He is too busy to waste his time on Facebook and look for online romance. He is active with many activities, including domestic and international travel, extreme sports, horseback riding, and writing poetry. He writes poetry under the pen name "Fazza", which means "a person who speeds to the help and support of others". He is also known to be quite humble and very generous. One time, when a stranger Emirati asked for financial help to pay his medical bills, Prince Fazza paid the full bill of over $800,000.
Back to the "Prince Fazza Scam". The way this scam works is, the scammer reaches out to single women, widows or divorcees. The random meeting usually happens on social media. It may start on Facebook or Instagram. The fake prince progresses to more frequent conversations.
At fake prince sweet talks with these women and eventually makes them "falls in love" with him with his romanticism. He arranges to meet them for a "good time". He may ask his victims (elderly women) to buy items for him. These items may include gift cards such as iTunes or Apple gift cards. He may also ask her to send her money. At some point, he may propose marriage with his elderly victims, to make them gain more trust in him. After leeching them of thousands of dollars worth of cash, gift cards and products, the scammer will finally vanish. In the worst of cases, the scammer may turn out to be a human trafficker and can do irreversable physical harm to the victims, which may be fatal.
Fake princes have also asked generous elderly widows to donate to their non-existent orphanages, over several payments.
Welcome to the Royal family, My name is Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum the Crown Prince of Dubai. I am out here for the sake of the poor orphans, Do you have a charity heart?? God bless you for your kinds heart over this great kingdom, My beloved can you be trusted to Handle a charity Foundation in your country in good faith, And also for the great benefit of the poor orphans?? Can you be trusted to handle this charity foundation??? You are most welcome to Dubai and I would love you to know and understand that my administration have been inform about this but all i seek from you is honesty and trust, As my Bank will be giving you funds for charity project. Regards, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. City Tower 2, Office 1702 Sheikh Zayed Rd, Trade Center First Dubai, United Arab Emirates
And of course, this followed up by several messages of gratitude, leading to declaration of love, and ultimately a request to visit in person, to show their gratefulness and have a "good time". During the meeting time, the scammer will not show up. It is also possible the scammer may send a proxy on his behalf, to extract more money from the elderly lady.
Scams like this make women lose trust in humanity and lead to increase in self-confidence and self-blaming. It is disgusting that things like this even exist.
What can I do if I am that woman? Stop communicating with that person immediately. That is NOT the Prince of Dubai, or for that matter, any prince. Ask your loved ones for suggestion. Do NOT send money to that person. Finally, do not blame yourself for falling in love or getting tricked by scammers like this. There are scammer training schools in some parts of the world where instructors actually teach newbie scammers how to attract innocent women's attention and make money out of them.
Love scams or romance scams are evergreen, especially among the lonely and those who have been separated from their loved ones. Senior citizens who have been widowed or divorced, or otherwise, look for love in different places. Unfortunately, scamsters (usually in other countries), take advantage of this and exploit on the feelings of the elderly. They declare love for the elder person and make them fall in love with them, and then start coming up with stories about how they need money for this and that, and various expenses. Scammers who prey on senior citizens sometimes get what they want (money or gifts), and this emboldens them to repeat their shameless acts with other lonely and single senior citizens.
There are scam training centers in various parts over the globe, and love scams have an easy ROI. The senior victims do not want to spend too much time dating or finding it the scammer is the right one, and may end up sending money that cannot be recovered.
What can I do if Prince X loves me and wants me to send him $2,000 in iTunes gift cards? Stop communicating with "Prince X". He is a professional scammer and con artist.
The scammer makes a phone call to an elderly person and say that the son or grandson was in an accident and needs $xxxx for hospital expenses. They may try to validate their scam by involving a person of authority like a [fake] police officer, doctor or community leader. They may almost always depict a sense of urgency. It's on the lines of, "If you don't send $3,000 to this address URGENTLY, your grandson may not survive the night." or something like that. They may also suggest it is too urgent to involve others and every minute counts, as in, do not check whether it is a real emergency. This is an outright scam.
What can I do if get a call about Bobby in an accident? First, don't panic. Next, find the name of the hospital that the grandson was supposedly admitted in. Then, look up the phone number of the hospital on the hospital's official website and call them to verify. In most cases, it is a scam.
The scammer emails or sends an SMS to the victim that they (the victims) have won a lottery or prize commission. The victim is then asked to send money to cover the taxes in exchange of 10% or some substantial amount of the lottery. This scam is decades old, but there are many victims who believe it and end up losing their hard earned money.
What can I do if I receive an email or message that I won a lottery? Ignore it! You may complain to the FTC and I3C.
Scammers post fake rental properties on Craigslist, Facebook and other social media. Everything looks lovely, except that the scammer does not own that property.
The scammer may copy existing listings and post a new listing after replacing parts of information about the real landlord. For example, they may replace the landlord's phone number or email address with their own.
The scammer may ask their victims to make a payment upfront, usually an application fee, deposit, first month's rent and other things.
A few scammers let the tenants enter the apartment. The scammers also trick the landlord into giving the code for the realty lockbox, and lets the propspective tenant enter the house for viewing.
After the tenant pays money to the scammer and moves in, the scammer may ask the tenants to change the locks. This is to prevent the real landlord from entering the house.
This is a nightmare for tenants and landlords, and the scammer vanishes!
What to do if I find a great rental property? (a) If the price seems too low, or the owner isn't available to meet in person, or doesn't allow you to view the property, or asks for rent advance before you have signed the rental lease, all these are red flags. Verify the property owner credentials first. Pay with a personal or bank check so you have proof of your transaction. (b) If you are a landlord, watermark your photos and make it harder to copy. Also, do not give out your lockbox code to anyone yo udon't personally know.
Escrow Wire Fraud Scam
When potential home owners take out a home mortgage, they generally make an upfront payment known as earnest money. This is to prove that they really intend on buying the house. The earnest money is about 1% to 3% of the sale price, and goes into an escrow account until your closing. At that point, it is applied to your closing costs.
At this point, scammers step in. They pretend to be from the title company or escrow company and communicate with potential buyers asking them to wire them the escrow amount to a fake account. It makes it harder for detection if they spoof their email addresses or phone numbers to appear legitimate. If the victims pay the escrow amount to the fake account, the scam is detected only during closing.
What can I do if I get an email asking me to wire the escrow amount? Verify the recipiene's escrow account and make sure it is the same one. Call the escrow or title company to verify. Do not be in a hurry to wire money. Make sure you verify a few times, just to be sure.
Pyramid Scheme Scam
This is another area which affects a lot of people, especially the elderly. A smooth talking, smiling salesperson shows off their Mercedes Benz, or in today's world, a Tesla Model X, and asks the victim if they are interested in earning passive income so high that they will be sleeping on a pile of currency bills.
They will suggest that the victim give money upfront for goods and material. Before long, the victim would have spent a lot of money on useless material and wasted time.
What to do if I am approached by a Crapway salesman? Avoid pyramid schemes like the plague. If not, others will avoid you like the plague. Just stay away.
Bank Information Scams
Routing and Account Numbers
There are many types of bank information scams. The scammer may contact the victim by email, phone or text to get their bank routing number and account number. They may contact the victim again to request the OTP. The elderly victim may unsuspectingly give the information required to make a withdrawal transaction. In some cases, the scammer may set up recurring automatic payments to their own bank accounts.
Another bank scam is the overpayent scam. Here, the scammer sends a fake check for an amount greater than it should be. Then, they'll ask the victim to refund the excess amount. If the victim sends payment for the "excess payment", the scammer will take it an vanish. By the time the fake check is exposed as fake, the scammer is gone.
What can I do to avoid banking scams? If you get a phone call or text message (SMS) requesting confidential information to "validate" something, tell them you'll call back and hang up. Then call the official phone number from the bank's official website to verify the message. A few banks actually send legitimate text messages and phone calls from strange numbers with unfamiliar area codes, and that's not helpful. But, when in doubt, always hang up and call the official number.
If a person has been in an accident, they may be approached by a tow truck before calling for assistance or before the insurance has dispatched a tow truck. The scamster tow truck driver may attempt to scam the victim by pretending to be dispatched by the company, or offering to tow for a very inflated rate or very low rate. Just refuse.
What can I do to avoid this scam? Call your insurance and verify that the tow truck is legitimate. If it has not been sent by your insurance company, refuse any further communication.
Phone Scams and Robocalls
Scammers use telemarketing tricks
How to protect yourself?
These scams can affect everybody of all ages, but the elderly are more vulnerable for various reasons. When in doubt, do not give personal information out. Call and talk to a trusted person from your own phone or a public phone. Do not give in to impulse or urgency forced upon you.
What can I do if I have been a victim?
Contact National Elder Fraud Hotline - Office for Victims of Crime
If you have been a victim to scam, report it. You can report it to the Department of Justice's National Elder Fraud Hotline - Office for Victims of Crime or call this number 1-833–FRAUD–11 or 1-833–372–8311.
Local FBI Office
You can contact your local FBI office and report the scam. There are 56 FBI field offices across the US and Puerto Rico.
Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
You can file a complaint at the Internet Crime Complaint Center under the Elder Fraud (Victims 60 and Over) section. Include as many details as possible.
Your State Attorney General’s office
You can also contact your State Attorney General's office with more information about the scam.
If you have any questions, please contact me at arulbOsutkNiqlzziyties@gNqmaizl.bkcom. You can also post questions in our Facebook group. Thank you.