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July 7, 2023San Juan, PR, United StatesFinancial Crimes

HSI San Juan warns of financial scams among seniors

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Juan is alerting the citizens of Puerto Rico to avoid falling victim to illegal financial exploitation schemes, the most common and fastest growing form of elder abuse.

Older Americans lose a staggering $2.9 million a year to a growing variety of financial scams. Baby boomers represent the largest and most affluent generation, and one in five victims of reported fraud are between 60 and 69 years old.

HSI San Juan acting Special Agent in Charge Rebecca Gonzalez-Ramos explains, "Fraud is a priority for law enforcement and the general public. That is why HSI is leading Cornerstone, a task force that seeks to combat financial exploitation by expanding its efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams targeting seniors; educate them on how to identify such scams and avoid becoming victims of financial fraud."

HSI has identified the following types of financial exploitation:

  • Romance scams. Scammers take advantage of people seeking romantic partners or companionship through dating websites or social media.
  • Grandparent scams. Scammers contact a victim — typically by phone — claiming to be a family member (usually a grandchild) and say they’re in immediate financial need.
  • Government impersonation scams. Scammers claim to be government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.
  • Sweepstakes, charity or lottery. Scammers claim to work for a charitable organization and tell victims they have won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, which they can collect after paying fees and taxes.
  • Tech support scams. Scammers act as tech support representatives and offer to fix nonexistent computer problems. The scammer gains remote access to the victim's computer or phone and personal information.
  • Phishing. Scammers send out fake emails or set up fake websites to steal victims’ personal information.
  • E-mail extortion. Victims receive emails that include previous or current passwords they use online. The messages appear generic and do not cite specific websites, and they may be poorly worded and include grammatical errors. Victims are given a short deadline to respond — usually a day or two — which is a classic, pressure-based scam tactic.
  • Fake check and overpayment scams. Victims list something for sale in a newspaper or classified ad or on the internet, and a scammer makes them an offer and sends them a check. The check turns out to be considerably more than the victim charged for the item. The scammer will pretend it was a mistake and ask you to deposit the check and return the excess money.

Seniors, including those who are recently widowed or divorced, are often targeted by romance or financial scammers because of their vulnerability and access to cash.

Gonzalez-Ramos, warns people not to send money to others they don’t know. "We want to urge the public to join our agency to help us identify any suspicious activity in which you or a family member or friend may be a victim of financial fraud. The consequences of this crime can be devastating to the victim. We have the tools to identify and prosecute fraudsters who seek to take advantage of the good faith of our seniors."

If you or someone you know has been a victim of financial fraud, you can report suspicious criminal activity, including potential romance scams, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year at (787) 729-6969.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI's workforce of more than 8,700 employees is comprised of more than 6,000 special agents stationed in 237 U.S. cities and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI's international presence represents the largest DHS investigative law enforcement presence overseas and one of the largest in U.S. law enforcement.