(WHTM) — Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a surge of scams. The Federal Trade Commission says in Pennsylvania alone, there were 70,000 scam reports in 2020.
That’s a 101% increase from 2019.
“What they report is just what gets reported to them ultimately, and we know scams are vastly underreported so the issue is much much larger than that,” Kathy Stokes, Director of Fraud Prevention for AARP said.
Stokes says those scams accounted for people losing more than $37 million. Topping the list, scams involving gift cards.
“It could be someone pretending to be a government agency like the Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service. It could be somebody pretending to be a loved one in need. Particularly with older adults, it’s the grandchild who’s in big trouble and needs money right away,” Stokes said.
The bad guy then tells the person to go to a store and put that money on a gift card right away. Many times these people don’t even know they’re victims.
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“Scammers are able to, they get us into a state of heightened emotion and when we’re there pretty much anything sounds plausible,” Stokes said.
Scammers love gift cards because they can get the money quickly and move on to their next target.
“It’s also something that enables the scammers to stay outside the banking system where red flags might pop up if there’s a large amount of money moving through. They can move small amounts of money on the gift cards,” Stokes said.
“Do any reputable organizations ever call you and ask for payments through gift cards? Absolutely not. In 100% of the cases when somebody asks you to pay for some obligation with a gift card it is a scam full stop,” she explained.
Another scam to watch out for is online romance.
“Someone strikes up a conversation and before you know it it becomes an online love relationship. That is a scammer and pretty soon that scammer is going to ask for money, quite often via gift card,” Stokes said.
People may think these warning signs are obvious, but older people especially are getting tricked. That’s why it’s so important to talk to them before it happens.
“If you know about a specific scam then you’re 80% less likely to engage with it and if you do engage you’re 40% less likely to lose money from it. So what does that tell us? Education is key, knowledge is power,” Stokes said.
Stokes said if you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam. So be sure to talk about this with the older people in your life.
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