Scamming Elderly: a deep dive into some schemes

[Released on April 17th]

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FBI IC3 Annual Elder Fraud Report is now live! And we wanted to focus on 3 scamming schemes: romance scams, extortion, and online shopping.

None of them are "brand new" or 2022-specific but being aware of them, effectively detecting, investigating, and eliminating them from an online platform might be worth knowing. Overall, 88.262 victims over 60 have reported to IC3 in 2022 and their total losses amounted to $3.1B, which makes it more than $35k on average per person. For the record, the median annual income for US citizens over 65 is $47,620 [US Census Bureau]. Meaning that the elderly people got to give nearly all their yearly pension if not more in some cases.

1. Romance, Confidence, and Grandparents scams

Fake love is not romantic, and it's hard to trust someone again once your confidence was undermined. That's why it feels even more inhumane to do it with elderly people, who might have been hoping to find a partner to spend their retirement with.

Let's dive into two schemes reported and highlighted in the IC3 report.

Scheme #1, Confidence or Romance Scams:

Over 7k people over 60 reported to IC3 that they fell victim to this type of scam. Their total losses were around $419M. Here, we're talking about the "experts" in what they do: the scammers establish a connection, pretend to care, and then start asking for money.

Scheme #2, Impersonation of a relative:

"Luckily", around 400 victims over 60 reported to IC3, and their total losses were approximately $3.8M. How? A scammer sends a message on behalf of the loved one (e.g., a niece or a grandchild) pretending to be in a state of emergency. Probably not able to get in touch with their families to confirm, a victim panics and transfers the money. How platforms can spot fake dating profiles:

  • Profile overall impression: does it smell like catfishing?
  • Message content: does it looks suspicious? Did multiple users receive the same message?
  • Geolocation: a user is based in country X but your platform never had anyone from there?
  • Poor grammar: does a US-based user make obvious mistakes?

“I am so much blessed to have you in my life, my dear.” These are the words WE should be telling our grandparents and not scammers.

2. Extortion, sextortion... and then blackmailing

"Almost half of the extortion victims over 60 reported to be victims of sextortion". The losses are over $15.5M this year, which is around $4M less than in 2021.

It's heartbreaking to read, and more so for the Trust and Safety professionals. Why? Because quite a lot of extortion schemes happen on social media platforms where the scammers have a chance to gain the trust of their victims, then threaten them, and get hands on their money.

Some signs of sextortion for a user and a platform:

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3. Online shopping

Has it ever happened to you that you ordered hiking boots but got a wallet? Or saw an expensive watch with a 90% discount? Or paid for an item that never arrived?

Well, you might have fallen into one of the online shopping scamming schemes. Talking about the elderly victims and non-delivery scams, over $51M was reported in losses by around 8k people in 2022. After the Call Centers fraud (covered in the IC3 report), this is the second most reported scheme. In its essence, it's a very straightforward scenario: a buyer pays for an item that is never delivered. A tip for buyers: if something sounds too good to be true, too overpromising, or strangely overly-cheap - it usually is. As much as one might be dreaming of getting a gold bracelet for "45 USD today only" from a reputable brand, this dream probably is not meant to come true.AI is here to detect anomalies and suspicious activities, and a strong team of human Content Moderators is there to check further and remove any violating content. But then, what's next? Instead of detecting, deleting, and blocking these actors over and over again, why not compile all these data, investigate further, and ban them once and for all?

Want to protect your customers from threats and bad actors? Connect with Falkor - we make it possible.

Did you or someone you know fall victim to internet-related fraud (or attempted fraud)? Report to IC3. Remember: you're not the one to blame.

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