Secret Service warns of 'romance scams,' other elder fraud schemes in SA

DOJ, law enforcement working on 'largest sweep of elder fraud cases in history'

SAN ANTONIO – Whether it's through fake, online sales posts or phishing emails with fraudulent links, there are a variety of cyber-related schemes that take advantage of the elderly.

"A lot of the communications that are done through the fraudsters to the victims is using technical measures," said Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Paul Duran, of the San Antonio Field Office.

"So, it's email, text, and a lot of times, they're just not really familiar or comfortable with these technological advances," Duran said.

The Secret Service announced its participation with the Department of Justice and "other federal partners" in what it called the "largest sweep of elder fraud cases in history."

The cases involve more than 260 defendants from around the world who are accused of taking advantage of more than 2 million Americans -- most of whom are elderly.

San Antonio is not immune to the problem.

Duran said his office often sees "romance scams" through online dating sites.

"They'll develop a relationship with who they think is, you know, someone that they're comfortable with," Duran said. "And once that turns into that person needing help, financial help, whatever the story may be -- and there are tons of different stories -- you know, just be very suspicious about those types of transactions."

The Secret Service tries to get victims' money back to them.

Since 2017, the Asset Forfeiture Unit out of San Antonio has opened 66 seizure investigations and seized more than $3.2 million of assets, according to a news release.

The San Antonio Field Office has been able to return about 95 percent of seized assets back to victims.

"It's a great feeling for those families to see that, you know sometimes that their parents or grandparents are not going to be left without any type of resources," Duran said.

However, not all the money gets recovered. The best advice, Duran said, is to avoid the scam or fraud in the first place.

He also recommends everyone be wary.

"Any stories where you have to move money in a (sic) expeditious fashion, or you're feeling any type of pressure to do that, if you're an elderly victim, ask for help and maybe your family and friends say, 'Hey, take a look at this. Does this make sense?'" Duran said.

"And that could potentially at least raise some red flags to say, 'Let me do some further verification on what their, you know, online relationship is asking for,'" Duran said.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Bill Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.