Older Australians are increasingly being targeted by online scammers.

Older Australians present lucrative targets to scammers: they are more likely to have large disposable incomes through superannuation, they are less tech savvy than their younger peers, and they are more likely to think with their hearts than their heads when spun a convincing tale.

Most recently a 45 year-old woman from Minto in Sydney’s southwest had to apply for bankruptcy after losing all her savings (nearly half a million dollars) over a two year sting.

She was groomed by three men through social media. They took their time building up trust before asking her for a combined $550,000 between 2013 and 2015.

The first man claimed to be Dr Jeffrey Spivak, a paediatric surgeon from Scotland. He asked for money which he claimed would be spent on medical supplies and air flights to treat sick children in refugee camps.

The woman responded by selling her home and transferring the funds.

She was then told Dr Spivak had died before he could spend the money.

To recoup the money she she enlisted the aid of the second man, calling himself Sgt James Anderson,.He claimed to be from the US army. He promised to get the money back for the lady, but said he needed money to be able to do so.

The woman then sold her car and jewellery and sent him the proceeds.

The third man, calling himself General Louis Anthony (also pretending to be from the US army) developed a relationship with the woman over the same period. Over time he built up a story about his son having a chronic illness.

As his mark became more involved General Anthony raised the stakes; eventually asking her for money so his son could be hospitalised.

The woman borrowed money from family and friends and her credit cards.

Senior constable Kerrie Wilson said the scammers relied on building trust between themselves and their marks. They then wait for a time when their prey’s defences were down and struck, asking for money.

“The warning signs,” said Senior Constable Wilson, “are they contact you on Facebook, email, or call.

“When people realise they have been scammed, they are usually upset, confused, and embarrassed.”

This is followed by huge financial and often relationship troubles.

Other recent scams include people pretending to be from the Australian Taxation Office demanding payment for bogus late tax returns. They threaten their marks with heavy fines or jail time.

“We have taken two reports (August 20 and 21) where victims have transferred thousands of dollars,” said Senior Constable Michelle Wills, from the Campbelltown police crime prevention squad.

“Police have also received numerous phone calls from people who have received calls or emails; however they have not transferred any money.”

Rules to avoid scammers

  • Never transfer money to a stranger

  • Never open suspicious emails or click on links or attachments.

  • Ask for a person’s name and call back number if you receive a suspicious phone call.

  • REPORT ALL SCAMS TO www.scamwatch.gov.au

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