The FBI’s March 22 cybercrime report breaks down victims by age. AARP Maine

Cyber fraud was up 7% nationwide in 2021, with people older than 60 the most-often targeted, according to an FBI report released recently.

Former CBS news writer Phil Chin is the AARP Maine fraud watch spokesman. Submitted photo

The FBI Internet Crime Report called the rise in cybercrime “unprecedented,” with almost 850,000 reports and losses of more than $6.9 billion.

With 1,402 victims, Maine ranked 46th in the country (including US territories). The state was 52nd in losses, with a total of $7.26 million being swindled, and 42nd in the number of swindlers (507).

But that does not mean it is less of a problem here, said Phil Chin, the volunteer fraud watch spokesman for AARP Maine.

“Sure, there was an increase in Maine,” Chin said in a recent telephone interview. “It might not seem so compared to California (No. 1 in victims, losses and swindlers), but it has in part to do with population.”

Florida, Texas, New York and Illinois were also among the top five states in numbers of victims.

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Maine is “doing about the same” as other states considering population density and the high percentage of older people, Chin said.

“Cyber criminals know no boundaries,” he said. “Cybercrime is equal opportunity.”

Chin and his partner, Pam Partridge, hold monthly Zoom seminars titled AARP Maine Fraud Watch Show on the second Thursday of every month. You can go to aarp.org/fraudwatch to register for these sessions.

In March they discussed celebrity scams and IRS scams and took questions from participants.

Other types of scams include email compromise schemes, which for the fourth consecutive year, had the largest dollar losses, more than $2.4 billion nationwide, according to the FBI report. This scheme mostly affects businesses.

“For example, an entity might be asked to conduct a wire transfer of funds under false pretense, with the loot flowing to a crook,” according to a news release from AARP Maine.

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Another type of swindle, the “confidence scam,” accounted for the third-highest losses to individual victims. These scams numbered 24,299, with a total of $956 million in losses.

Cryptocurrency was involved in 34,202 complaints. Those losses grew nearly sevenfold to $1.6 billion between 2020 and 2021, according to the FBI report.

Nearly 24,000 people filed complaints of tech-support scams, which can start with a pop-up ad or warning on your computer.

“In these scams, criminals purport to have detected a problem with your device that they can fix, but there’s no glitch and they’re only after your money,” according to AARP Maine.

Sixty percent of tech-support victims were age 60 or older.

Older people are targeted more often because they usually have more money to lose, Chin said.

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“They also have more time on their hands to answer the phone or look at things on their computers, and they’re lonelier.”

This has nothing to do with intelligence or education, he said.

“It’s loneliness, distraction, the universal fear of being intimidated and the fear of missing out,” he said.

He said romance scams, impostor scams and investment fraud are big in Maine. “A con comes up with a hairbrained scheme to get you to invest. These can actually come from friends on Facebook, which can break down your defenses.”

Mainers also are commonly victims of identity theft, Chin said.

“The first thing (a swindler) will ask is your name and Social Security number. They might pretend to be a computer security company and people are afraid that if they don’t pay, their computer will get hacked.”

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Phone scammers might pretend to be an IRS agent or a sheriff’s deputy claiming you owe money or that you are going to be arrested if you don’t pay some “outrageous bill you never owed,” Chin said. If they ask you to pay by gift card, that is a sure sign of a scam.

You can avoid these calls by getting caller ID.

“Don’t pick up the phone” unless you know who’s calling, he said. “When you get junk mail, just rip it up.”

Do not enter contests or click on emails from questionable sources. Scammers use the names and logos of legitimate credit companies to swindle people.

“Stay vigilant by not jumping in the pool,” Chin said.

But it is important to remember not to victimize the victim, he said.

“Don’t add shame or blame,” he said. “Most people do not want to share stories of how they’ve been victimized. The fraudsters are counting on that sense of shame.”

The best way to deal with being scammed is to let sunshine in and make others aware, he said.

“Our motto is that if you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam,” Chin said.


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