In this 2016 file photo, an elderly Mainer reads from her notes as she talks about being targeted by scammers over the phone. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Compared with other states, Maine experiences relatively few internet crimes. But the huge increase in the amount of money scammed from elderly Mainers last year is cause for concern and heightened awareness. 

Seniors here in the oldest state in the U.S. need to be on guard for the unfortunate fact that there are bad people out there looking to take advantage of them through a variety of scams. 

As BDN reporter Judy Harrison explained this past week, based on multiple FBI reports, Maine seniors lost $12.74 million in 2022, compared with $2.56 million lost in 2021. And that is likely an undercount, given that many victims of these crimes don’t report them due to embarrassment. 

Falling victim to these scams is not a reason to be embarrassed. But the increasing toll of these scams is definitely a reason to be prepared. Maine seniors and their caregivers should be aware of the various tactics scammers frequently employ to try to gain access to their money, in order to spot and avoid these attempts ahead of time. 

The two most common types of these scams in Maine fall under what are known as tech support scams and romance scams, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCormak, who coordinates the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts against elder fraud in Maine. Tech and customer support scams involve people trying to get money for supposed computer or other account problems, and romance scams involve people creating the false impression of an online relationship in order to get close to and then steal from someone. 

“Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim,” according to the FBI. “The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable. Con artists are present on most dating and social media sites.”

These scammers will often try to quickly build trust, suggest in-person meet-ups that never happen and eventually ask for money. 

“If someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using your account to carry out other theft and fraud schemes,” the FBI continued on its page about romance scams. 

That page includes several important tips, like urging people to be careful about what they share online. Of all the suggestions, this one might be the most important for seniors to keep from getting scammed: “Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.”

Tech support scams typically involve someone pretending to help with a non-existent computer problem, or a supposed issue with a bank account or email account. These can be initiated in a variety of ways, including by phone, email, online ads and pop-ups. 

“Tech support fraud is increasingly common and targets some of the most vulnerable individuals. Above all, remember that whether it’s a phone call or a website, legitimate tech support won’t ever proactively seek you out to fix an issue,” Emma McGowan, a privacy and security expert, told the National Council on Aging earlier this year. “If in doubt, don’t engage, give access to your devices, or share any personal information.”

In that same National Council on Aging piece, a tech support scam victim shared an important piece of advice: be aware. 

“All I can do is warn other people and just hope that this will help one person to avoid doing this. It would be a blessing to me,” 90-year-old Phyllis Weisberg said in January after scammers got $20,000 from her bank account. 

Like many others, her first reaction was to be embarrassed. Victims shouldn’t be embarrassed when scammers trick them, but they should always be aware that those tricks are out there. The more people prepare for these scams, the less likely they will become victims to them.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...