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Scam Alert

Con Artists Target Older Victims

5 schemes and scams you may find hard to resist

En español  |  Older people like to think they're more worldly wise than the young. But does that mean the 50-plus set is less likely to fall for scams? Turns out it depends on what kind of scam.

In a new report, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (pdf) says it received nearly 315,000 fraud complaints in 2011, with the bad guys making off with $485 million. (Known as IC3, the center is jointly run by the FBI and the nonprofit National White Collar Crime Center.) Analysis of victims' ages suggests that older people are particularly likely to fall for schemes in which the crooks claim to be government officials. Romance cons, too, were hard for older people to resist.

Here's the lowdown on the top five flimflams.

1. Work from home

Generating 17,352 complaints, the number one spot goes to an especially dangerous version of the work-from-home "opportunity." Through advertisements in newspapers, online job sites, emails and social networking sites, scammers recruit innocent job seekers as "mules" to unknowingly steal or launder money. They work at their computers, thinking they're a "money transfer agent" or a "payment processing agent" for a legitimate business, but in fact they're moving stolen money abroad and unwittingly disguising its true origins. The scammers may also compromise the victims' own accounts or identities.

Overall, victims lost $20 million total through identity theft and account tampering, averaging $1,160 per victim. "Regrettably, due to their participation, these individuals may face criminal charges" for check fraud and receiving and moving stolen goods, notes the report.

Losses to the 50-plus: $8.4 million


50-59: 1st in complaints, losses of $2.8 million
5th in complaints, losses of $2 million


50-59: 4th in complaints, losses of $2 million
5th in complaints, losses of $1.5 million

The most complaints were filed by those in their 20s, but people in their 50s lost the most money.

Scam Alert: New Study from Internet Crime Complaint Center: seniors are at risk

Cyber-romance scams can be responsible for snagging more than $8900 in losses per victim. — Photo by iStockPhoto

2. Government official impersonation

There were 14,350 complaints about emails that falsely claim to come from a government agency. Fast-growing are FBI fakers demanding money to prevent arrest, but the category also includes emails that seek money and personal information and purport to be from the IRS, Social Security Administration, Medicare or other agencies. In truth, government agencies do not send unsolicited emails. The total losses were $3.5 million, with a per-victim loss of $245.

Losses to the 50-plus: $2.2 million


50-59: 1st in complaints, losses of $328,000
2nd in complaints, losses of $1.1 million


50-59: 1st in complaints, losses of $501,000
4th in complaints, losses of $250,000

Over-60s lost the most money, $1.35 million, with those in their 50s in 2nd place at $829,000.

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Video Extra

They often sound too good to be true…well as USA Today Money Reporter Jane O'Donnell says, many of them are. Here she is with tips on how to avoid those working from home scams.

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