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The Scary Rise in International Fraud Against Older Adults

You receive a call. You’ve won the lottery and a Mercedes-Benz. You don’t recall entering a contest for either, but it sounds exciting. Who wouldn’t want a ton of extra cash and a new car? The person on the other line tells you that all you need to do is pay a one-time processing fee. 

You wire the money. The prizes never come. 

These types of scams are becoming increasingly common, and there’s an entire system of bad actors who play various roles in targeting victims and executing fraud against older adults. The victims are often older adults, seniors, or the elderly, and more commonly, the scammers are part of international rings.

An episode of National Geographic’s Trafficked recently shined a light on the intricate process criminals use to scam victims, sometimes out of everything. It’s an interesting watch, but you may not have an hour. We’re going to give you a quicker (but comprehensive) primer on why fraud is happening overseas and how it affects you. We’ll also give you tips on how to prevent and report international fraud.

Why Are International Scams Happening?

For some criminals, scams represent a way to make money — a huge draw, particularly if they live in poverty. Trafficked spotlighted scam rings in Jamaica, where about 400,000 people live in poverty. One criminal said she got into the fraud business after her grandfather couldn’t afford life – saving surgery and died.

American companies also outsourced many of their call centers to the Caribbean and India. It’s a cost-cutting measure — wages are lower in these countries. They train employees to assist English-speaking customers with their needs, such as booking a flight or cruise. Sometimes, those employees may go on to use their phone communication skills at illegal call centers where they attempt to commit fraud against older adults.

Where International Fraud Is Happening

The AARP lists five international hotspots for scams.

  • India
  • Jamaica 
  • Costa Rica
  • Romania/Eastern Europe
  • Nigeria

It’s also happening on our shores in the U.S. Florida has become known for Medicare fraud against older adults. 

How International Fraud Against Older Adults Often Happens

Many times, fraudsters use call lists. In businesses, call lists are legitimate ways to grow engagement and revenue for a brand. Your local baseball team’s ticket sales office may call you to try to sell you a season ticket package. You may go to a fair, visit a car display, give your email address to enter a real contest for a free new car and later receive information on new models available to lease.  

However, fraudsters also use lists, often obtained using dishonest tactics. International scam rings may lure potential victims with an ad to enter a contest at no cost. The person may submit all of their information, including their social security and phone numbers. This data sells for big money — more than $5 per person.

People will purchase the information and use it to contact people and scam them out of money. There are a few common scams they utilize:

  • Lottery scams: With these sort of sweepstakes scams, fraudsters call a victim, tell them they won money or an expensive prize and request a one-time processing fee. The prizes are false, but they do lose money.

  • Romance scams: Even before the advent of dating apps like Tinder or eHarmony, romance scams have been prevalent and are particularly sly when looking to fraud against older adults. Scammers pose as a love interest and use messenger or dating apps, such as Facebook, to sweet-talk victims. Then, they start requesting money for expenses, such as travel, and pricey gifts like jewelry. Victims wire them the money and sometimes lose their entire life savings.

  • Impersonating government agents: Bad actors pretend to be a part of a government agency, such as the IRS or Office of Social Security. They’ll ask for money or personal information, such as someone’s bank account or social security number, and use it to steal money or their identity. 

Why Older Adults Are Often Targets

fraud against older adults often happens as seniors can be lonely

In Trafficked, one scammer mentioned that all of her victims were seniors. She recalled scamming one person out of everything, including the wedding ring her late husband placed on her finger the day they got married. 

Why? Scammers say seniors are often lonely. They may have more money saved than younger counterparts just starting their careers. Seniors are often good-natured and want to believe people have everyone’s best interests at heart. Finally, older adults did not grow up with technology and may not be as tech-savvy as younger generations.

Scammers know all of these things. Their objective is to make money as quickly and as easily as possible, so they target seniors. 

How to Prevent International Fraud Against Older Adults

The threat of getting scammed may seem scary. However, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Keep these tips on how to prevent international fraud in mind when communicating with people you don’t know.

  • Only answer and return phone calls to people and businesses you know.
  • If you do pick up and realize it’s a robocall, hang up immediately
  • Never give your social security number to someone you don’t know. Don’t use it to sign up for online sweepstakes. Remember, government agencies like the IRS will not ask you for it.
  •  If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s OK to be skeptical. 
  • Research companies that reach out to you with sales pitches. 

Government officials are also trying to help. In Jamaica, the rise in fraud led to a State of Emergency. Last year, the Department of Justice announced its largest-ever fraud sweep after arresting 400 people. 

How to Report International Fraud

Reporting fraud is one of the best ways to protect yourself or others. Here are a few tips on how to report international fraud.

  • Start with your local authorities. Call or visit your local police department. Have information, such as the day the fraudster reached out to you and how (bring phone numbers or email addresses). The authorities can look into it or point you in the right direction.

The FTC recommends reporting international fraud to econsumer.gov.

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