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N4T Investigators: Arizona seniors hit hard by internet fraud

Tucson –  She is too embarrassed to be identified because she lost $100,000  in a government grant scam.  Someone hacked into her Facebook messenger account, posing as a friend,  and telling her she was awarded a grant. The 71-year old widow from Cochise County wired the money to scammers, believing it was for taxes on the grant.

“I’m hurt, ” she told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. ” This is out of my husband’s pension. I usually don’t do things like this.”

A senior citizen from Vail said she fell in love with a guy she met online, but never in person.   She wired him an amount in the five figures. She’s too embarrassed to reveal exactly how much.

She’s too embarrassed to be identified because she lost 100-thousand dollars in a government grant scam. The 71-year old widow from Cochise county wired the money to scammers, believing it was for taxes on the grant.

“They are preying upon elderly individuals, and they will not stop,” said Gary Hellmer, the FBI agent who oversees the white collar crime unit here. The agency’s Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2017 report lists the top five crimes targeting Arizona seniors as:

-Non-payment/ non-delivery (meaning victims weren’t paid for a service or didn’t receive a product they paid for)

-Tech support. That’s the one in which scammers say your computer is malfunctioning and they can fix it, for a fee. Your money and personal information are stolen.

-Overpayment. That’s the old check deposit scam.

-Phishing and related scams

-Personal data breach.

Agent Hellmer says cell phones and the internet have made it easier for scammers. “The scammers can sit in their rooms wherever they’re located and develop these scams, and they start an onslaught of attacking u.s. citizens.”

Jonathan Granoff, the Elder Justice Coordinator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tucson, told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, “These people are predators, and they’re willing to do just about anything to get a quick buck.  As the population is aging, the victim pool is becoming bigger and bigger for elder fraud.”

Agent Hellmer said internet scammers who are overseas have conspirators.  “We have a trend here in the United States where there are money mules that will move the money for the scammers.”

The FBI advises older Americans and their caregivers:

-Never give financial details to someone you don’t know, especially if you met them online
-Check financial statements every month for unusual activity
-Contact an attorney before signing any legal document

Granoff summed up the best advice: “If a stranger calls you, or contact you or communicates with you, asking for money, don’t do it.”

While it’s difficult for law enforcement to find phone scammers, it’s not impossible. Last year 56 alleged fraudsters based in the U.S. and at call centers in India were charged with stealing  $300 million in the old IRS phone scam. Remember, the IRS doesn’t call you without first having mailed you a bill , and it doesn’t threaten to arrest you if you don’t make an immediate payment.

If you have a story, you’d like us to investigate, email us at or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz

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