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Report the Scam Before You Lose Money

Distressed woman on computer.

By Troy Downing, Montana State Auditor and CSI

Montana has the 5th oldest population in the Nation. Additionally, persons over 65 own more than a third of our wealth, while families with heads that are 35 or younger hold a very small 2.9% of the wealth. This wealth concentration contributes to the fact that seniors are often targeted by scammers. Indeed, CSI Investigators estimate over 75% of the financial fraud we investigate involves senior victims.

As the Montana State Auditor, Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, I oversee two of the largest industries in the state. Additionally, our agency prosecutes those who commit securities fraud. However, prosecution alone is insufficient. The best solution is to prevent swindlers from stealing hard-earned dollars in the first place.

To that end, I wanted to take this opportunity to identify a few red flags you should be aware of to protect yourself or your family from charlatans trying to part you from your money:

  • Scammers like to use non-standard forms of payment. If someone asks you to pay for something with gift cards, money grams, or cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, be very suspicious.
  • Scammers use a false sense of urgency. They will try to scare you into thinking that a time window is rapidly closing and the time to enter the deal is now.
  • Scammers compel silence. If you are told to be quiet, you should be suspicious.
  • Scammers love cryptocurrency. I know this was already listed above, but it warrants a second shoutout as it is a growing concern and the preferred currency used by many scammers.

Some of the most common scams we are seeing around the state include romance scams, grandparent scams, and crypto scams; I’ll briefly describe a few below.

Romance and grandparent scams have been around for a long time. Sometimes romance connections are made online in affinity groups—for example, playing online games such as Scrabble with strangers. Generally, the scammer pretends to be someone they are not. They enter a long-distance relationship or friendship with the potential victim. Sometimes these relationships go on for weeks or even months. Similarly, grandparent scams play on the trust seniors have in their grandchildren. Often using artificial intelligence, scammers impersonate grandchildren with wild stories (such as a sudden eviction or the need to purchase an expensive plane ticket), that ultimately require the senior to send money to a child in distress.

We have seen a number of crypto scams around the state. Some scammers will cause a popup window to open on a victim’s phone stating, “we have installed illegal material on your phone. We are reporting you to the authorities unless you put $1000 cash into a crypto ATM at your local drugstore.” Other scammers convince seniors to invest in crypto, and provide false statements about the money people are making. Then, when people attempt to access the gains, the scammer will require even more money be sent to pay for taxes or banking fees. None of the gains the victim sees are real, and all the money goes to offshore accounts.

If you have seen one of these scams going around, call us or local law enforcement before parting with any of your cash. We are here to help. We estimate only 1 in 44 scams are reported. The more we know, the more we can help others. MSN


You can find us online at: CSIMT.gov or at 406-444-2040. Troy Downing is the Montana State Auditor and Commissioner of Securities and Insurance. He was elected to office in 2020 and has been the head of CSI since January 2021.

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