Weekly Columns

In recent weeks there have been more news stories in Arkansas about novel methods scammers are using to take advantage of unsuspecting individuals and steal their money. It’s important to be educated about this issue and stay up-to-date on the ways thieves are operating so we can safeguard against these crimes and prevent seniors – the population that is most often the target of these scams – from becoming a victim.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) scammers stole $1 billion from America’s seniors in 2021. Data from the agency reveals 25 percent of individuals over age 60 were contacted by thieves via phone last year.

In The Natural State, one woman recently reported a scam to police after receiving a phone call from what she thought was her bank about suspicious activity on her account. The phony bank employee told her the CIA could help resolve the situation and then duped her into paying more than $50,000 for assistance.

Scammers are using a variety of methods and mediums, including the internet where they prey on the vulnerabilities of the elderly by building connections they later exploit.

A letter from one constituent recently asked my office to help a retired servicemember overseas whom she met online. 

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command receives hundreds of reports each month similar to this scenario. This common tactic is identified as a romance scam. Thieves use the names, pictures and personal information of U.S. military members and retired servicemembers to build a fake identity and attract future victims.

The FTC reports romance scams hit a record high in 2021 and now criminals are using this scheme to lure people into phony investments, particularly with cryptocurrency. Just two months ago the FBI warned about the uptick of a similar ploy in Northwest Arkansas.

While the techniques vary in how scammers operate, the objectives are the same. I’m working with my colleagues to share the latest information and resources to prevent unsuspecting Americans, particularly seniors, from becoming victims. 

The Senate Special Committee on Aging recently released its annual Fraud Book detailing the top swindles reported to the committee’s fraud hotline. Launched in 2012, the hotline aims to help identify scams targeting seniors and better educate this population so they know the signs to watch for to stay safe. 

According to the report, Arkansans have called about a variety of scams including the top complaint filed with the hotline for several years––the government imposter scam. In these cases, an individual falsely claims to represent a federal agency such as the IRS and asks for personal information such as a Social Security number. Then they threaten to withhold benefits unless you follow their instructions, which often call for wiring money or sending prepaid debit or gift cards.

The toll-free number 1-855-303-9470 is operated from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central time to record suspected fraud attempts. Arkansas seniors who believe they are a victim are welcome to call. As always, incidents of crime can be reported to local law enforcement. 

Recognizing the signs of common scams can reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim. We can also help educate our elderly loved ones, friends and acquaintances to stay one step ahead of these bad actors.