Wisc. (WLAX/WEUX) – The isolation of the last year has led many people to the internet in an attempt to connect with others. For some, that connection came with a hefty price. More than four billion dollars were scammed through internet crimes in 2020. Most of that money was handed over by people older than 60.
According to the FBI’s internet crime complaint center, seniors scammed in Wisconsin online last year lost between 10 and 20 million dollars. AARP senior program specialist Courtney Anclam says there are just so many ways a scammer has to connect with a potential victim, it’s hard to protect everyone.
“It’s email, it’s social media, it’s dating sites, it’s your phone, and they really prey on the trust that people have.” That type of trust is what lead a Holmen woman, who wished to remain anonymous, to make a digital connection.
“I would get friend requests, and I would go to them, and this one seemed kind of nice. He said hi, I said hi, and it may have been even two weeks until again he contacted me, how are you doing, stuff like that.”
Eventually, the conversations turned to requests for money, which the woman provided, up to a certain point.
“I just got sick of him wanting and needing more and more money. One thing after another, and I just kind of decided to sit down and look through all the facts, and I just kind of said this isn’t real.”
Anclam describes this type of situation as a romance scam, a crime that affected more than 300 people in Wisconsin last year.
“They are so good at pretending like they actually care about you, and especially in this time of COVID and social isolation, pretending to be a romantic partner or a friend, even like a pen pal situation.”
While there’s a sense of shame that comes after being scammed, Anclam says raising awareness about online fraud is the best way to destigmatize those feelings.
“These people are professionals, it’s their job to get you to give up information, it’s not your fault if this happens to you, you’re a victim of a crime.”
The Holmen woman hopes her story can serve as a lesson to others who encounter similar situations.
“If you don’t know who you’re talking with or dealing with, just stay away from it.”
AARP offers a fraud resource center to teach people about warning signs of online scams. Resources can also be found on the AARP fraud watch network website. Victims can contact the fraud watch network helpline for more information.
For cyber safety, Alex Loroff, First News at Nine.