HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) recognizes June 15th as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The awareness day is to draw attention to abuse, neglect, and fraud committed against older Americans.

The DOJ reports elder abuse impacts at least 10% of older Americans each year.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says the elderly are seen as great targets for scams and fraud.

“They are more trusting, they are more polite, and they have a harder time saying no,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent, Matt Tootle. He said they are typically also seen as more financially secure. “You put all of those together, and they make for a target-rich environment,” he said.

Tootle said in 2021, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) saw a “staggering increase” in the number of cases reported.

He said more than 92,000 victims reported more than $1.7 billion dollars in losses nationwide. “That represents a 74% increase over the previous year,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice says in 2021, more than 1,100 seniors in Alabama reported being victims of elder fraud. Those cases totaled more than $17 million dollars in losses.

There are many types of elder fraud schemes. However, romance scams are some of the most common.

The FBI defines a romance scam as criminals who “pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites.”

Tootle says it can be heartbreaking for victims.

“They believe they are in a long-term relationship with somebody who they want to believe cares about them,” he said. He said some people don’t even recognize that they are victims.

He said criminals will do whatever they can to get potential victims comfortable with them, and they will find lots of information on social media before reaching out.

“They (criminals) are going to find out as much as they can about their victim, and then they are going to spend time getting to know the victim, developing trust.”

“It’s not going to be week one they are asking for money,” he said. “They want you to be comfortable with them.”

Tootle recommends keeping all social media pages private and thoroughly vetting new friend and follower requests before accepting.

Once criminals have gotten their potential victims comfortable, that’s when things can start to get shady.

“They’re going to convince you through one scheme or the other that you have to send money and you have to do it now. There’s always a sense of urgency, there’s always a sense of secrecy” Tootle said. “They don’t want you talking to friends, family members, they teach their victims how to lie to the banks”.

Tootle said there are some warning signs to look for in a loved one.

“If you see an increase in phone calls from unrecognized numbers, or your loved one is spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone or is being secretive about the phone. Maybe an increase in banking activity, problems paying bills. Those would all be warning signs.”

Tootle urges concerned parties to have the “hard conversations” if they are worried someone in their life may be getting scammed online.

If you are concerned about a family member, loved one, or friend, you can report the situation through the Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov.

“The beauty of the IC3 website is it doesn’t just have to be the victim that files the complaint,” Tootle said. “If somebody has a loved one or family member or friend they believe is being targeted or victimized, you can file a complaint on their behalf.”

Tootle said to just give as much information as you can when making a report. However, even if you don’t have a lot, to still fill out a report with IC3 or your local FBI field office.