Scammers steal 'shocking' amounts from Iowa City seniors

Published: Dec. 22, 2016 at 10:36 PM CST
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Scammers are targeting Iowa City seniors, especially those in nursing homes. It's becoming enough of a problem, police are warning the public.

Authorities said in a release what they're seeing is cases of financial extortion. It's mostly coming over the phone in a variety of different forms:

-Grandchild distress, when an imposter calls claiming to be a loved one in need of money.

-Fake bankers, looking to get ahold of your account info.

-False utility reps, threatening to turn things off if you don't pay.

-And the sweepstakes scam, where you're told you won a big chunk of money-- you just need to pay tax up front.

In the notice, Iowa City police said they're getting scam reports on a daily basis. The trouble is, there's little officers can do. Suspects are often out of state, sometimes out of country, making cases really tough to solve.

Sgt. Jorey Bailey, with the investigations department, said the thieves are making off with a lot of money.

"The amounts paid out are very large,” said Bailey. “Shocking. We just want people to be aware that these are out there."

Nationally, elder financial abuse is costing those over 60 millions of dollars each year. According to an FBI report that focused on internet scams, in 2014 elders said they lost more than $5 million through extortion, $11 million by auto fraud, and $26 million through romance scams, the most common for the age group.

Romance fraud happens on popular dating websites when scammers use affection to trick lonely seniors into handing over money for bogus reasons, like help paying medical bills.

"They basically are being told what they want to hear,” said Tracey Robertson, who helps protect seniors from all kinds of abuse with the Heritage Area Agency on Aging. “They're very much prey to these folks."

Robertson said romance scams are one of the most prominent in Eastern Iowa. One of her clients a few years ago fell victim and lost around $200,000.

"It was even to the point of selling her furniture on eBay to get more money,” said Robertson. “She was left with about $10,000 dollars."

In many cases, that money can’t be returned. So education is the weapon most are using to fight back.

Robertson said her advice is simple, if it's too good to be true, it probably is.

For more information on how to avoid scams, head to