Weekly Columns

More shoppers turn to online retail to fulfill Christmas wish lists and fill stockings. As we search for gifts to give loved ones this holiday season it’s important to safeguard our information so we can protect our personal data from cyber criminals and teach those who are most vulnerable how to avoid becoming victims.

Last year, nearly 800,000 individuals called the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. More than 25 percent of the victims were older than 60 and accounted for $1 billion in losses as a result of Internet scams. Nearly $100 million was lost to COVID-related hoaxes.

It is vital that seniors know how to protect themselves and their finances from these schemes and can prevent becoming a target in the future. In order to save our loved ones from potential thieves, we must familiarize ourselves with common tactics and scams. 

The pandemic exacerbated internet fraud at a time when all Americans were searching for hope and security. In the early months, seniors were more isolated and unguarded than ever and many dishonest scammers saw this as an opportunity to further deceive and steal from this vulnerable population.

Con artists have developed a series of fake scenarios that force seniors to make fast decisions and urge them to give up sensitive personal information. 

One of the most shameful schemes is commonly referred to as the “romance scam” which is blamed for $340 million in losses just last year. In this ploy the fraudster targets a widowed senior and manipulates them into sending money or personal information.

Other scams place Medicare and Social Security benefits in the crosshairs, with impersonators portraying agency officials, as well as thieves continuing to promote unproven COVID-19 cures.

The issue is one officials at all levels of government are working to combat. Locally, Better Business Bureaus have flagged these warning signs and are educating consumers about what to look out for so we can stop this theft before it happens. In Arkansas, the Attorney General’s office is holding those who swindle our seniors accountable. 

At the federal level, the Federal Trade Commission has a division devoted to consumer information and increasing awareness about avoiding and reporting scams. My colleagues on the Senate Special Committee on Aging recently released a fraud book with instructions, tips and guidelines to avert and deal with such situations. I strongly encourage all Arkansans to consult this resource to learn more about scams aimed at older adults so we can protect those we care about.

The committee has created a toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470 where committee staff will provide callers with information to report incidences to the proper officials. If you or someone you know has suffered from one of these scams or feel you are currently being subjected to one, do not hesitate to call this hotline. 

This is one way we can fight back and take control from those who hide behind screens and shamelessly steal from their victims.

This issue requires all Arkansans to be mindful of the risks and dangers of fraud on the Internet and work together to combat these scammers and especially protect our senior community. Criminals will continue to find new ways to be a scrooge during the holidays, but by educating ourselves we can stay one step ahead of their hoaxes.