Baby boomers are losing their life savings to phone scammers claiming to provide tech support, authorities say

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Scammers stole more than $3.4 billion from older Americans last year, according to an FBI report released Tuesday that shows a rise in losses through increasingly sophisticated criminal tactics to trick the vulnerable into giving up their life savings.

Losses from scams reported by Americans over the age of 60 last year were up 11% over the year before, according to the FBI’s report. Investigators are warning of a rise in brazen schemes to drain bank accounts that involve sending couriers in person to collect cash or gold from victims.

“It can be a devastating impact to older Americans who lack the ability to go out and make money,” said Deputy Assistant Director James Barnacle of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “People lose all their money. Some people become destitute.”

The FBI received more than 100,000 complaints by victims of scams over the age of 60 last year, with nearly 6,000 people losing more than $100,000. It follows a sharp rise in reported losses by older Americans in the two years after the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, when people were stuck at home and easier for scammers to reach over the phone.

Barnacle said investigators are seeing organized, transnational criminal enterprises targeting older Americans through a variety of schemes, like romance scams and investment frauds.

The most commonly reported fraud among older adults last year was tech support scams, in which criminals pose over the phone as technical or customer service representatives. In one such scam authorities say is rising in popularity, criminals impersonate technology, banking and government officials to convince victims that foreign hackers have infiltrated their bank accounts and instruct them that to protect their money they should move it to a new account — one secretly controlled by the scammers.

Federal investigators saw an uptick between May and December of scammers using live couriers to take money from victims duped into believing their accounts had been compromised, according to the FBI. In those cases, scammers tell victims that their bank accounts have been hacked and that they need to liquidate their assets into cash or buy gold or other precious metals to protect their funds. Then the fraudsters arrange for a courier to pick it up in person.

“A lot of the the fraud schemes are asking victims to send money via a wire transfer, or a cryptocurrency transfer. When the victim is reluctant to do that, they’re given an alternative,” Barnacle said. “And so the bad guy will use courier services.”

Earlier this month, an 81-year-old Ohio man fatally shot an Uber driver he thought was trying to rob him after receiving scam phone calls, according to authorities.

The man had been receiving calls from someone pretending to be an officer from the local court who demanded money. The Uber driver had been told to retrieve a package from the man’s home, a request authorities say was possibly made by the same scam caller or an accomplice.

The staggering losses to older Americans are likely an undercount. Only about half of the more than 880,000 complaints reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center last year included information on the age of the victim.

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