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Recently Valentine’s Day came around bringing with it new issues involving avoiding scams.  Scammers never give up and never tire of trying new ways to reach personal and financial information.  One reason they never give up is because their tricks work on many people.  They also know that elderly people are more vulnerable to their tricks for a number of reasons.  First, they are likely to be lonely and bored.  Second, they do not know as well how to protect themselves online, or how to distinguish friend from scammer in posts.  Thirdly, seniors often have access to money.  Putting all the risk factors together makes a tempting target for those with evil intent.

Scammers this year were busy targeting seniors who expressed feelings online.  Some scammers pretended to be a loved one, perhaps a grandchild mentioned in a post by the senior.  This “grandchild” expressed their love for the senior then attempted to get a cash donation for school books, groceries, rent, etc.  Other scammers attempted to start an online relationship with the senior.  The Federal Trade Commission reports that in 2020 so-called lonely heart scams stole more than $304 million from Americans.  If you are a Florida senior, or have a loved one who is, let us share some tips about how to protect financial information all year long.

How to recognize a romance scam.

Bear in mind that scammers often present themselves as someone who loves you or desires to get to know you.  Once they establish that emotional contact with you they will lure you into buying gifts, sharing personal information that can be exploited by identity thieves, and have you send money through credit cards or banks.  In order to avoid scams,make sure to talk to friends, family, and caregivers about any new online relationships and let them help you determine if you are being scanned.

Under no circumstance should you send money to a romantic interest you have not met in person.  

If you have a new social media friend or message board love interest, know that it is a red flag if this person asks you to send money, personal information, or data to access your bank account.  If you want to avoid scams, do not fall for this.  Immediately break off all communication, no matter how tempting.  This is just one of the ways Florida seniors are prime targets for cyber criminals.  Do not offer to accept money either, as it may be another way of gaining access to your financial accounts, or an illegal attempt launder money.

There are fake websites and online greeting card with bad intentions.

Be very careful if you: spot a nice floral arrangement pop-up ad or you get a thoughtful e-card from an old acquaintance or stranger, or you receive any other online gift.  Before clicking on any buttons, look for telltale signs of fraud. Unfortunately, there are many fake websites and online advertising scams out there carefully designed to look real.

Other warning flags:

               To avoid scams, watch out for websites and offers that do not accept common payment sources such as Visa and Mastercard.

                If you are going to make a purchase, stick to reputable websites that you already know and have used successfully in the past.

                Avoid online greeting cards from unknown sources as they may contain malware.  Malware is  an unwanted addition to your computer that is designed to hide in your computer’s operating system and help a scammer retrieve personal information about you.

                If you have a new website that you would like to use, you can always run a google search on the website name + “scam” or + “complaints” and see what pops up.

Remember that Florida seniors are ripe targets for cyber criminals and be on guard at all times.  If you have been the victim of an online romance scam, immediately contact your local law enforcement.  In Collier County, the sheriff’s office has a senior services division you should start with.

Also, make sure your documents have named an advocate who has the legal authority to act for you in a crisis.  The agent under your durable power of attorney will be able to monitor your identity and accounts when your cannot to ensure that your do not fall victim to any scam like those listed above.  Make sure your power of attorney specifically authorizes your agent to pursue a claim under the Florida statute regarding protection of vulnerable adults.  We encourage you not to wait to ask us your elder law questions on this or any issue facing Florida seniors today.  Contact us if you have concerns including how to protect you and your loved ones from ongoing scams in Florida.