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Facebook, online dating among scammers' new tools targeting seniors

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 13. 2016 11:31PM

“The IRS is about to audit you. Just pay this fine and you will be all set.”

“You’ve won $10 million in an overseas lottery. Just pay this handling fee and reap your reward.”

“Your grandson has been hurt in a car accident in the Caribbean and needs money for hospital bills or he will die.”

These are some widely recognized ploys used by scammers to gain trust and cash from the elderly. TrueLink Financial estimates $12.7 billion was stolen from Americans falling for scams like these in 2015.

“Every time we think we’ve got our hands on a scam, another one pops up,” said Sunny Mulligan Shea, a victim-witness advocate assigned to the Attorney General Office’s new Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Unit.

The unit, created three months ago, is armed with a new 2015 law that makes it a felony to exploit the elderly for money.

Prosecuting attorney Brandon Garod said it is tough to catch the anonymous con artists who solicit seniors through the mail, by phone or on the internet, but he and Mulligan Shea are working together to fight con artists through education about the new law and the newest scams.

The latest is a Facebook scam in which the con artist takes information from social media to create a profile and appear to be someone the senior knows. Suddenly, that friend is asking for money.

Garod said it is unclear whether the victim’s Facebook account has been hacked or a profile is being duplicated by a scammer.

“If someone on Facebook asks you for money, call them and ask them,” Garod said. “Most times the person won’t know what you are talking about.”

Online dating has become another scammer’s tool.

Mulligan Shea said many elders are widows or alone and looking for companionship online. The scammer builds a relationship with the senior, claiming to be from Europe or somewhere else far way, and then sends photo of a car crash they were supposedly in and begs for money.

In one case, the woman refused; Garod said the woman was besieged with “nasty, horrible responses.”

“They just kept coming,” he said.

Vulnerable group

Mulligan Shea explained the elderly are a more vulnerable group. They may be lonely, and experiencing some physical or mental decline.

They are also more trusting, even when a letter arrives saying they won an overseas lottery and only have to pay a small amount to collect a multi-million dollar prize. On its website, the FBI points to baby boomers being a generation that was raised to be “polite and trusting,” making them targets for scams.

“It’s very hard to convince these people this is not the knight on a white horse coming in with a lottery check,” she said. “The elderly are more vulnerable because they are more dependent, more trusting.”

A 2011 MetLife Mature Market Institute study found women are twice as likely as men to be victims; most are between the ages of 80 and 89, living alone and needing some sort of help.

Most perpetrators are men between 30 and 59. The stealing increases over the holiday season.

Seniors are targeted by con artists because “they often make poor witnesses” because of the effects of age on memory and being unable to recall every detail and every transaction, according to the FBI site. They are also embarrassed to admit they were taken.

“There’s a lot of pride,” Mulligan Shea said. “The victims don’t want to admit they’ve been scammed.”


Once a senior is hooked, Mulligan Shea said the person quickly becomes the target of other scammers and it’s like their name has been shared with a network of scammers. One day it is the IRS, the next day a family member has been kidnapped, and then come the letters in the mail.

Scammers now aren’t just after money.

Mulligan Shea said some con artists are scheming to get elders to buy $750 iPhones, which they use to then contact other seniors to “perpetuate the scamming.”

“They’ve come up with every possible twist,” she said.

Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at ggrosky@unionleader.com or (603) 668-4321, ext. 339.

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