CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina, in partnership with the FBI and the AARP in North Carolina, hosted a virtual informational seminar via Facebook Live today, to discuss the rise of online romance
scams targeting older adults and to offer tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults are increasingly turning to the internet to obtain information, stay in touch with loved ones, connect with friends on social media, and form new romantic relationships. Scammers are taking advantage of older Americans’ increased online presence to perpetuate romance scams and steal elder victims’ money and identities, and, even worse, turn older adults into unwitting “money mules.” A money mule is a person that uses an existing or new bank account to conduct wire transfers or other types of financial transactions at the request of a scammer. Typically, the funds the money mules receive and engage in transactions with are proceeds of fraudulent schemes and, in many instances, the account holders are not aware they are being exploited as money mules to carry out financial fraud.
During today’s livestream presentation, Assistant U.S. Attorney and Elder Fraud Coordinator for the Western District Maria Vento, and Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI Brian Cyprian provided an overview of romance scams, money mule schemes and identity theft, and shared useful tips on how to spot those types of scams and how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud. Here are some of the tips shared with the audience:
- Be mindful of what information you post and make public online, as scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- If someone contacts you and wants to start a romantic relationship with you, research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly on your own phone or through a third party app.
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but always comes up with excuses as to why he or she can’t.
- Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.
- If an online prospect claims to be a United States citizen living or working in another country and asks you for help or money, refer him or her to the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you want to send money, consider using a U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) Trust.
- Do not use your personal bank account to transfer money or conduct financial transactions at the direction of someone you met online.
- Do not give out personal information via the phone, mail, or internet/email unless you initiated the contact and are certain you are dealing with a trusted organization or individual.
- Verify requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them using the main contact information on their official website.
- Do not open, respond to, or click on links contained within unsolicited emails.
- Use strong and different passwords to secure banking accounts, credit accounts, etc., and change passwords and check accounts routinely.
- Limit personal information shared publicly on social networking sites. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites.
- Regularly obtain and check your credit reports from the three credit bureaus to ensure you recognize all accounts.
- Tell someone you trust if you have become a victim.
- If you suspect fraud or have fallen victim to an online scam report the fraud to the authorities and the dating website.
- Keep in mind that if you send money once, you’ll be a target for life.
- Remember, it’s not rude to say, “NO,” if someone approaches you online.
- A good rule of thumb is, if it’s too good to be true, it’s likely a scam.
To report suspicious activity or if you’ve fallen victim to a scam, please call the Department of Justice’s National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311), or online at www.IC3.gov.
For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office Elder Justice Initiative, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdnc/elder-justice-initiative.
A recording of the seminar can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/AARPNC/videos/vb.86880509778/291438361931498/?type=2&theater.