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Former FBI, CIA head warns of elder fraud after death threats

Older adults were scammed out of roughly $1.7 billion in 2021, a 74% increase from 2020.
Published: May. 31, 2022 at 11:34 AM EDT|Updated: May. 31, 2022 at 11:46 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - New data from the FBI is showing a frightening increase in the number of scams aimed at older adults.

Older adults were scammed out of roughly $1.7 billion in 2021, a 74% increase from 2020.

Some are calling it the “scam-demic,” another consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Data

Upwards of 92,000 seniors fell victim to elder fraud last year. 2,189 of them were from Georgia.

Not only has the number of elderly victims increased at an alarming rate, so has the amount of money they’ve handed over to scammers. The average dollar loss per victim was $18,000, according to the FBI.

Tech fraud was the most reported type of scheme affecting older adults, with 13,900 reported victims. Also relatively common were identity theft schemes, with 8,902 victims; and romance scams, with 7,658 reported victims.

RELATED: BBB warns of uptick in Covid-19 testing scams

Kevin Schlais, an investigator with the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office, said his elder exploitation cases nearly doubled from 339 cases in 2020 to 617 in 2021. He said the pandemic played a large role because so many older adults were stuck at home, isolated and lonely.

“People got lonely; people got scared, and they found comfort talking to people they didn’t know online, on the phone, or on message apps,” Schlais said.

The Scams

“I got up one morning, went to look at my Facebook account because I usually have morning prayer with family and friends, and I couldn’t get in,” Janice Ibrahim said.

After someone hacked the 65-year-old’s account, Ibrahim couldn’t talk with her friends, so she searched for “Facebook customer service” and called the first number she saw.

“The guy told me I needed a $100 Google play card, so I went to Kroger, and I got the $100 Google play card,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim wasn’t talking to a Facebook employee, but a scammer whom she would eventually send $200 in Google play cards.

“I really feel violated,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim was one of 2,189 Georgians over age 60 who reported financial loss related to fraud to the FBI, last year, totaling more than $33.5 million.

Janice Ibrahim and investigative reporter Rachel Polansky call back the number claiming to be...
Janice Ibrahim and investigative reporter Rachel Polansky call back the number claiming to be 'Facebook Customer Service.'(Rachel Polansky)

A call to the number claiming to be Ibrahim’s Facebook customer service representative was revealing.

“You’re speaking with Facebook Support. We are located in California, Menlo Park,” the man said.

When CBS46 began asking the man questions about himself, he got defensive.

“Ma’am, I can’t share my personal information over the phone,” he said.

“So you can’t share your personal information but you want us to share our personal information?” investigative reporter Rachel Polansky asked.

“Ma’am, I am the representative of Facebook. I’m an employee!” the man shouted angrily.

Polansky reported the caller’s phone number and the Facebook group claiming to be ‘Facebook Customer Service’ to Facebook. A Facebook spokesperson removed the group, telling Polansky, it violated their policies on Inauthentic Behavior.

If you think a Facebook Group is violating Community Standards, you can report it here. You can report a profile or other inappropriate content here. Facebook offers information on ways to avoid scamming here.

The Solutions

Don’t pick up the phone if you don’t know the phone number. If it’s important, the person will leave a message and you can call them back.

Don’t pay anyone with a gift card in exchange for goods or services. “No legitimate business or government agency will ask for a gift card as payment,” Schlais said.

And if you’re thinking it could never happen to you, even former FBI and CIA director Judge William Webster was targeted. Webster got a call telling him he won the lottery. When his wife, Lynda, told the caller they weren’t interested, the caller became abusive and threatening.

“I am going to kill you. I am going to kill your husband. I am going to set your house on fire,” the caller said.

“He said that he knew we lived in a white house,” Lynda Webster added. “He said he had snipers that worked for him, and that the blood from my brains would look terrific on that white brick house. It was scary.”

The Websters’ called the FBI, who eventually caught the scammer.

“If it helps bring people to justice, I’m for it,” Judge Webster said.

Now, they’re sharing their story to encourage others to report these types of schemes to local law enforcement.

You should also contact your local police department as well as the local FBI field office and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3.

You can report a Facebook profile or other inappropriate content here. And, if you think a Facebook Group is violating Community Standards, you can report it here.

If there’s something you would like CBS46 investigates to dig into, fill out this submission form.

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