FTC: Fraudsters Go Low-Tech to Trick the Elderly

Fraudsters are increasingly going back to basics in a bid to trick particularly elderly victims into handing over money, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The regulator posted two warnings on Tuesday highlighting the lengths scammers are prepared to go today in order to collect.

It revealed that a Pennsylvania man reported being sent a threatening letter using fake FTC branding.

“The letter said his online and financial activities put him under suspicion of money laundering and terrorism. And now, all his ‘activities will be under review’,” the FTC’s associate director of consumer response and operations, Monica Vaca, said.

“Our best guess is that this letter is just the first part of a scam. The second part will probably involve ‘urgent’ phone calls telling people to send money right away. Now, though, you can spot the scam.”

She clarified that the FTC would never send out threatening letters like this, force recipients to pay — especially not by gift card, wire transfer or cryptocurrency — or share personal information.

Phone scams are increasingly common; spam calls soared 325% year-on-year in 2018 to reach an estimated 85 billion worldwide.

The FTC warned that scammers often call the elderly pretending to be a grandchild in trouble who needs urgent cash for bail, emergency hospital treatment or some other reason. They scrape details from social media to make the scheme sound more convincing.

Such 'friend and family' imposters typically manage to get as much as $2000 from their victims, versus an average media fraud loss of $462. However, the figure rises to $9000 per victim for those over 70.

As well as asking for gift cards or wire transfers, which are easier to launder, the scammers are increasingly requesting cash payments in the mail, the FTC said.

In the region of $41 million has been lost in the past 12 months to friend and family scammers, versus $26 million the previous year, explained Vaca.

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