Donna Moses could share stories for hours about the many financial scams that have ensnared local senior citizens.
Moses has seen just about everything in her work as Suncoast Credit Union’s lead member victim advocate in risk management.
Such scams probably aren’t going away anytime soon, Moses said during her talk as the featured guest speaker at the May breakfast meeting of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.
In fact, financial scams that prey on the elderly is the “No. 1 consumer fraud issue growing today,” Moses said.
Nationwide, seniors lose about $36.5 billion every year related to financial scams and fraud, Moses said.
She believes that the problem is even bigger than that.
For every case reported, there’s about 14 others that aren’t, the banking professional said.
She advised seniors to be aware that it could happen to them.
“I’ve had cases right here in Zephyrhills, so don’t think it’s not happening in your community,” Moses said. “It is happening in every county that we serve, and the community. It’s just awful the money that people are losing.”
Romance scams are one of the most common scams her office encounters, she said.
In such scams, a con artist typically pretends to have romantic intentions to gain affection and trust. The con artist often claims to be from another state or country, or deployed in the military and so on. Then, the scammer begins asking for money, claiming it’s for airplane tickets, medical bills or other expenses.
Moses said she’s had clients from 50 years old to over 90 years old who have been victimized by romance scams. They have been exploited for hundreds and thousands of dollars at a time, she said, and in most cases, the scammer is 10 years to 30 years younger than their victim.
“They haven’t even met the person. They’re always behind the scenes, but they’re just reeling (seniors) in,” Moses said.
The speaker made clear that she’s not disparaging online dating with seniors, but she warned them to watch for this red flag: “When they start asking for money, it’s a problem.”
Aside from the romance scam, Moses said other common scams include sweepstakes scams, the IRS scam and grandparent scam.
As a general rule, the speaker advised seniors to not engage with strangers online or on the phone. “Hang up, don’t talk to people,” said Moses.
As with most scams, Moses said any stolen money is very rarely ever recovered.
“You’re sending it to people you don’t really know. The money usually winds up out of the country,” Moses said, adding scammers will also ask victims to send them gift cards and expensive electronics, such as cellphones and laptops.
“Family members are like, ‘You’ve got to get the money back’ but you can’t. It’s very hard. Law enforcement is overwhelmed with these types of cases, even the ones that are not being reported,” Moses said.
To help prevent such crimes, seniors need to become educated about the various types of scams, Moses said. It’s also important for people who have been scammed to share their stories, to help prevent others from being victimized.
And, it’s important to report incidents to the Florida Department of Children and Families, and local law enforcement, she said.
Published May 22, 2019