FBI sees increase in scams targeting Florida’s senior citizens

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville FBI office said it is seeing a significant increase in scams targeting people over the age of 65.

Both online and telephone scams targeting senior citizens are nothing new. But the Jacksonville FBI office is sounding the alarm because agents assigned to white-collar crimes are noticing an increase in the number of seniors being scammed out of their retirement money.

Florida is where many people with money come to retire. And the FBI said scammers are paying close attention to everything those retirees post on social media.

At The Villages, also known as the world’s largest retirement community located in Marion County, Florida, Jacksonville FBI supervisory special agent Kirk Spielmaker speaks to a crowd about the recent uptick in scams targeting senior citizens. And unfortunately, these FBI-sponsored events are happening all over Florida because senior citizens are the most vulnerable to relentless scams.

“You can prevent a lot of this from happening. Just make sure you’re paying attention to who’s calling you and who’s sending you the emails,” Spielmaker said.

Agent Spielmaker said most of the scams targeting senior citizens are done through social media. This is where a scammer looks for posted photos that may suggest the poster has money or is financially well off. Then the scammer will spend weeks and sometimes months developing the poster’s trust.

“This trust is now built up to the point where the scammer is now asking the elder to download an app,” Spielmaker said.

But the app was likely created by the scammer and is used as a Trojan Horse to get into the computer of the unsuspecting victim. Once the app is downloaded, the scammer has access control to banking information that may be stored on the computer. Cryptocurrency scams on unsuspecting Florida seniors have also become big business. It’s done by building trust and creating an illusion of wealth.

“Showing them, oh this guy does make a lot of money through this. Maybe I should invest some of my money into this process as well because I would like to make some money out of this,” Spielmaker said.

But as the old saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

According to the annual FBI Elder Fraud Report, last year and the year before, Florida ranked #2 in the nation in both the number of victims and the amount of money lost to scams. But last year, the money lost to scams increased to $3.1 billion. The FBI also says in 2022, investment fraud, mainly tied to cryptocurrency increased 300%. And that number is believed to be higher because not every act of fraud is reported to authorities.

The FBI has also seen an increase in romance scams.

It starts when a lonely senior citizen posts comments on social media that suggest they are looking for a relationship. Once a scammer picks up on that, he or she will once again spend time building trust with the victim.

Then eventually tell a sob story and ask for money when your guard is down.

The FBI said it’s better to call your financial institution directly and communicate with them instead of communicating with someone who should not be calling you in the first place. Also, once you hand up the phone after receiving a call from someone who is obviously trying to get your money, you need to immediately report it.

“We encourage the public to reach out to the FBI to report this. We most certainly want you to report it to the IC3.GOV,” he said.

IC3 stands for Internet Crime Complaint Center, a place where you can digitally file a complaint and also learn about cyber crimes that may be specific to your complaint.

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