State agency warns about romance scams after elderly man loses $200K

MEDFORD, Ore. — Thousands of people fall victim to scams every year in the U.S., especially our most vulnerable population.

It almost happened to a Medford woman after losing her husband.

Last Valentine’s Day, Ann got a phone call from a number she didn’t know.

“She said well you could be getting over $200 more a month because he bought an insurance policy for you before he passed away,” said Ann, a Medford resident.

Her husband passed away 17 years ago.

The 89-year-old lives alone and says she rarely gets phone calls, especially ones with the promise of extra cash.

“He was the type of guy he’d give you his last dollar the shirt on his back,” she said. “He was a very giving man and I could see him doing that.”

But before Ann could get her hands on the money…

“She said you need to pay $8,500 for the government for taxes on that money,” Ann said.

Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says it received over 68,000 complaints from victims of internet scams over the age of 60.

Those victims losing more than 835 million dollars.

“Before you know it they’ve gained that trust and they’re draining a bank account… draining their life savings from them,” Brad Hilliard, Oregon Dept. of Consumer & Business Services.

The national data is no surprise to Hilliard.

He says the department investigates dozens of cases where the elderly fall victim to scams.

“We’ve seen cases ranging from 10 to 12 thousand dollars. All the way up to $400,000,” he said.

Hilliard says recently, an 80-year-old widower lost more than $200,000 after befriending a woman on an online dating service.

“Senior citizens are typically considered targets because they have life savings that they’re living off of,” said Hilliard. “So they’ve accumulated some wealth over the years.”

Hilliard says the woman, who the widower believed he was in a romantic relationship with, persuaded him to send money to support an art gallery in Florida seeking investors to ship a marble lion sculpture from China.

There are tracking and records for victims thinking that ‘oh this is legit’ when it’s all just part of a well-designed hoax,” said Hilliard.

Ann was told to send money to Colorado Springs. They even sent a taxi to drop her off at the post office.

“They wanted her to go to the bank and get the money, cash, hundred dollar bills and put them in between the pages of a magazine,” said Lana, a close friend of Ann’s.

Today, she calls her close friend Lana her “guardian angel” and for good reason.

“We went down to the post office,” said Lana. “I go we need this package back right now it’s a scam. And he looked and he went and he got it. Within, what, an hour it would have left that post office.”

Ann says sharing her story today isn’t easy.

“That’s my entire life savings and I’m almost 90 years old,” said Ann. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be here.”

But she doesn’t want to stay quiet anymore.

“If it will help one person, it’s worth it,” she said.

To avoid being scammed out of your hard-earned money, experts say don’t send money to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.

Also, if you need to send money use a licensed money transmitter.

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