Scammers continue to find creative ways to identify victims


By Anjelicia Bruton
Outlook Writer

While filing his taxes earlier this year, Jim Heinis got one of the biggest surprises of his life from the Internal Revenue Service.

The 62-year-old Tallahassee resident wasn’t in trouble with the IRS. Instead, he was informed that his social security number had been compromised as a scammer attempted to apply for a credit card with his identity.

Heinis wasn’t totally surprised, though.

“That’s part of living in a computerized society,” Heinis said. “It’s something that you have to accept as a fact of being violated, but that’s just the way it is. Get used to it.”

While Heinis was fortunate, scammers have been able get away with billions of dollars from unknowning victims. And, scammers are finding their way into people’s accounts by a click of a button, a phone call or simply by a credit card skimmer.

The numbers keep rising each year since 2013, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. More than a quarter of a million complaints were filed last year.

Skimmers, a device that captures stowed credit card information, are becoming one of scammers’ most popular devices for snatching someone’s identity. Alvin Lee found that out last year when his bank card information was stolen without him having to take it out of his wallet.

He found out the effectiveness of a skimmer on a trip to his bank. He was informed that someone had purchased a $500 cell phone and were preparing to buy two cruise tickets.

He felt helpless.

“You feel not only violated, but you feel kind of powerless because there’s nothing you can do at that particular time,” Lee said.

In Florida, 20,306 complaints were filed, with 4,793 being internet crimes against victims 60 or older, according to an annual report by the FBI. Most victims seem to be older because they are usually more vulnerable, said Carrie Kerskie, Director of Identity Fraud Institute at Hodges University.
“A lot of times with older people, their children are grown then they have their own children (and) they might be living in different parts of the country, different towns, states whatever,” Kerskie said. “So then there’s isolation. They don’t see or talk to their family member every day. Isolation brings loneliness and when they get someone to pay attention to them and talk to them then it’s easier for them to become more trusting.”

Florida Representative Gwen Graham would like to make seniors citizens less vulnerable to scammers. She introduced legislations in June that would create a registry of people who have been victims, neglected, or financially exploited.

A similar measure is already in place in several other states and it has proven to be effective.
“We need all hands on deck working to protect vulnerable seniors – native Floridians and those moving here from across the country,” Graham said in a statement. “These are our parents and grandparents – the greatest generation.”

At least $2.6 billion dollars is lost annually by victims of elder abuse, according to a MetLife Mature Market Institute study.

“Technology has made information much more accessible, which allows people to develop profiles on their targets and it’s easier to know what motivates their target,” said Kerskie, “so that way they can convince them for whatever scam they’re approaching them with.”