Facebook scams cost NC seniors $1.4 million last year

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comMarch 25, 2014 

  • Where to call

    The state Department of Justice asks that consumers report scams to its Consumer Protection Division at 877-566-7226 or file a consumer complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov.

Scam artists operating across North Carolina and elsewhere are using Facebook as a means to perpetrate a long-standing dirty trick: They ask for money while posing as an older person’s grandchild in trouble.

Often operating from other countries, the scam artists keep creating new twists on the grandparent scam and other frauds, such as the “sweetheart scam,” state and local law enforcement officials said.

As improbable as the schemes can seem, they continue to snare victims. The sweetheart scam, in which older people are exploited online by purported romantic partners, found 36 victims in 2013 who lost $1.4 million, and as of early this month, six victims who lost $203,141 in 2014, according to Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office.

The grandparent scheme cost 34 consumers $140,145 last year, and 14 victims $55,353 so far in 2014.

“The scammer calls and acts as the grandchild of the elderly resident and claims to have been arrested in another city,” Apex Police Capt. Ann Stephens said in a news release. “The scammer then gives the phone to a second scammer who poses as a law enforcement official and requests the elder resident send gift cards or wire money to bail out the grandchild.”

In this social media-driven era, the scam artists are boosting their chances of being believed by scoping out family pictures and relationships on Facebook or other sites.

In a variant seen this year, the Department of Justice said, some scammers, posing as grandchildren, call older victims and claim to be in jail because they have caused injury to a foreigner visiting the U.S. and won’t be released until the foreigner’s medical bills are paid. The foreigner, potential victims are told, has returned to his native country but still needs the money.

Police suggest that families limit access to their Facebook or other social media sites. In addition, the relative should confirm and report the situation through other means – such as calling local law enforcement – and never send gift cards, provide bank information or wire money.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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