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Older Americans urged to be mindful of online to in-person scams

In one locality in Colorado alone, police say they received reports of older adults losing over $125,000 in cash and other valuables in scams.
Older Americans urged to be mindful of online to in-person scams
Posted at 4:04 PM, Aug 15, 2023

Authorities say older Americans in some areas of the country are being targeted with scams, with some losing thousands of dollars over the past month. In one locality in Colorado, police say it's a trend that has set off alarms within a local sheriff's office.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has received at least three separate reports of older adults in their 70s who have lost upwards of $125,000 in both cash and gold recently. 

Deputies with the sheriff’s office said all three cases have some similarities. All of the victims are over the age of 70, the scams are ransomware-related and all of the victims were instructed to keep their conversations secret before meeting with the suspects who allegedly stole the money. 

Deputies say the scams start with an "error message" popping up on an iPad or computer. The error message instructs the victim to call a number, and then the suspects run through a series of steps to hack into the victim's electronic device. They are then reportedly told to either purchase gold or withdraw large amounts of cash before the suspect plans to meet the victim, in person, to be handed the cash or gold.

Colorado investigators say the suspects conceal their identities by wearing a medical face mask and sunglasses to keep their interactions short and as discreet as possible. 

In one case, an 83-year-old woman withdrew $22,000 from two different banks after the scammers claimed she was in danger of losing all her money, Scripps News Denver reported, citing police accounts of what happened. 

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"We’re very concerned," said Douglas County Sheriff Darren Weekly, who explained that while scams are nothing new, "what is new in these other cases is that the suspect is actually meeting with our victims in person. It's a dangerous situation."

While police said they do not believe this is part of a crime ring in the state, they do believe it is the latest and newest way to scam older Americans. 

It does appear that this new type of scam, because a scammer who is willing to meet in person is a more brazen escalation of other online scams that older Americans have been warned to be aware of in recent years. 

In 2021, AARP warned older Americans to be aware of a list of scams targeting the aging population, including Zoom phishing scams, COVID-19 vaccination card scams, online romance scams, peer-to-peer payment scams and Social Security scam calls. In all of those examples, the main component of the scam is conducted remotely — online, over the phone, or via mobile texting. Police are now warning Americans not to have more trust for a stranger — and potential scammer — just because they are willing to meet in person. 

"We want people to be very vigilant with the elder population, whether you're talking for your parents, your neighbors — talk to them and ensure that they don't fall for them," said Weekly. 

Police say in some cases, the suspect tells the victim that their computer or iPad has child sexual abuse material or other type of incriminating information victims would be reluctant to share with law enforcement.

Deputies said older residents should never let anyone take over their computer, and no one should hand over money or valuables to a person they don't know. 

"Always take a moment to verify the identity and credentials of anyone seeking financial transactions or sensitive information," Weekly said.

This story was originally published by Scripps News Denver. Douglas Jones at Scripps News contributed to this report. 

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