American senior citizens were duped out of more than $3 billion in the last two years, largely from illegal call centers and phishing groups based in India, the Times of India has reported, citing FBI data. It's a trend that shows no sign of abating. In the last 11 months, Americans of all age groups lost $10.2 billion because of online and call center-related scams—an increase of 47% over last year's $6.9 billion.
The FBI is so alarmed they've taken specific action in India. Read on to find out what it is, and how to avoid being scammed by recognizing the most common fraudsters.
Online Scams Involve Ads
According to the FBI, there are two main avenues of online fraud: Search engine ads that link malicious websites to software that resembles legitimate applications and ads that promote phishing sites (or sites designed to gather credit card or other financial information).
These ads often mimic personal finance platforms, the Times of India reports. Fraud cases related to "tech support" have increased by more than 130% annually and cost Americans $347 million in 2021 and $781 million from January to November 2022. Year-to-year, these crimes increased 128% in 2022.
FBI Now Looking More Closely At India
According to the Times of India, the FBI has permanently placed an agent at the American embassy in New Delhi to work closely with authorities to take down the fraudsters, including freezing money transferred through wires and cryptocurrencies.
Most Common Elder Scams
According to the National Council on Aging, the top three financial scams targeting older people involve government impersonation, sweepstakes, and robocalls. In government impersonation scams, perpetrators call older adults and pretend to be from the IRS, Social Security Administration, or Medicare.
They may say the victim has unpaid taxes and threaten arrest or deportation if they don't make an immediate payment. Information the victim provides can then be used for identity theft.
In a sweepstakes scam, fraudsters call a senior citizen, telling them they've won a lottery or prize. They're told that if they want to claim their winnings, they must send money, cash, or gift cards—sometimes in the thousands of dollars—to cover taxes and fees, the NCOA says. The scammers might pretend to be from commonly known organizations like Publisher's Clearing House.
Robocalls, Romance Scams Also Common
A common robocall scam is the "Can you hear me?" call, the NCOA says. When the older person says "yes," the scammer records their voice and hangs up. The scammer then uses the audio snippet as a voice signature to authorize unwanted charges on items like stolen credit cards.
Online romance scams—in which a perpetrator deceives a victim into believing they're in a trusting, romantic, loving relationship—are another significant area of fraud. Federal Trade Commission said that in 2021, $547 million was lost to romance scams—a record amount. "Reports about romance scams increased for every age group in 2021," the FTC said. "The increase was most striking for people ages 18 to 29. For this age group, the number of reports increased more than tenfold from 2017 to 2021."