New Mexicans over the age of 60 lost millions to online fraud, the FBI said in a recent media alert.
COVID-19 restrictions forced more older people to use the Internet to shop and socialize, exposing them to scams, the FBI said.
More than half of that amount – $3,880,981— was lost due to confidence fraud, which is typically in the form of romance scams, where criminals pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites.
In a typical romance scheme, the scammer, using a fake identity, tries to quickly woo a victim by expressing strong emotions or professing an immediate connection, according to the FBI’s Scams and Safety web page.
"I felt a real soul connection with him right away," one victim said in a declaration posted on the page and the FBI’s YouTube channel in 2017. "We sang to each other. We prayed with each other," the woman said.
Then came the plea for money. "He was trying to finish up a job in California and he needed some money," the woman said.
She ended up sending him money. And then he asked for more money. "He was coming in over budget…he needed a lawyer," the woman said, among other reasons he gave for needing money. As a result, in the end, she lost all of her inheritance and retirement money.
Why older people?
Older people are an irresistible target for fraudsters and scammers, the FBI said.
"This demographic tends to have more financial stability, which makes them a target for criminals looking to make a quick profit," the FBI said, adding that "older Americans may be more easily intimidated or lonely."
Also, while older people may be wary of physical crimes, they may lack the awareness to protect themselves against online scams, according to the FBI.
"We urge our older residents as well as their families to educate themselves about online frauds and report any cases to the Internet Crime Complaint Center," said Special Agent in Charge Raul Bujanda of the Albuquerque FBI Division.