PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — More than $950 million was stolen in online scams in 2021, and among those scams was elder and dating fraud.

Officials with the FBI say the elder population is targeted much higher than any other demographic for a couple reasons.

Fraudsters say seniors are desirable because many are more financially stable – con artists see them as dollar signs. There’s also a greater chance seniors are isolated and are more easily intimidated.

In 2021, there were over 1,500 reported victims of elder fraud in Oregon with over $17 million in losses. Officials say they know that number is likely higher, but it’s impossible to know how high because they’re going off the reports they get.

This age group will be targeted in different types of scams. Romance scams, technical support fraud, non-delivery fraud like buying something that never comes.

“We’ve seen cases where the fraudsters tell us that they think of our elderly population as overly polite and trusting, so they try and take advantage of that that they’re less likely to report a crime again. Maybe due to that isolation. Maybe due to shame,” Special Agent in Charge of the Portland Field Office Kieran Ramsey said.

Ramsey also said some people might be afraid to report the fraud, because they see it as a sign they’re surrendering their independence.

Meanwhile, online dating is easier than ever, and in many cases it’s very successful. However, officials say when people are blinded by love they can fall victim to crimes they didn’t see coming.

According to the FBI, the search for connection online saw a massive spike coming out of the pandemic where people were isolated. There are legitimate ways to find connection online. This doesn’t mean they are to be afraid of, but fraudsters are opportunists and will take advantage.

According to the 2021 FBI Crime Report, romance scammers swindled Americans out of $956 million. That’s $481 million more in losses than in 2019 — a 101% increase. And officials with the FBI say there’s no limit to these scams

An identity theft protections company recently released tips on how to best protect yourself, which included:

  • Remember that not everything you see online is real: Deepfake technology, fake websites, spoofed social media profiles and fraud messages can all lead to phishing attacks – always exercise caution if you are contacted by an individual when you can’t validate their identity with 100% confidence.
  • Never share confidential information digitally: Dating scammers will use urgency as a tactic to trick people into giving away information quickly. If you receive a message or link from someone demanding you to fill something out urgently, don’t. Immediately contact support and report the account.
  • Don’t put personal information on your profile: Do not be specific when exposing personal information on your profile that will compromise your identity. For example, you can display your age but not your exact date of birth.

Ramsey says there is one warning sign that is a bright red flag.

“The ultimate red flag, and without a doubt will always come will be an ask for money and generally speaking it will be under some urgent circumstance,” Ramsey said. “Perhaps it will be framed as some kind of emergency or crisis or perhaps it will be some ask or attempt to provide money so that meeting can take place in person.”

He said you have to do your own due diligence and verification to protect yourself. This includes trusting your instincts and not being afraid to ask someone for advice if you feel uncomfortable with an online request.