Downing discusses senior scams circulating statewide
May 17, 2023
At the beginning of May, the Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance’s Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST) received multiple complaints about a phishing and cryptocurrency scam targeting senior citizens in the Gallatin Valley.
According to Commissioner Troy Downing, this and other scams have been a huge issue and something they have really taken on in the agency, adding the lion’s share of the financial fraud they investigate and prosecute in Montana is perpetrated on senior citizens.
Downing said that Montana has one of the older populations and a concentration of wealth unequally distributed towards the senior population, so they are targets for many scammers.
“A lot of our elderly population tend to be more trusting, so it creates this environment where there are bad actors that try to separate seniors in Montana from their money,” he said.
Since taking office, Downing has set up Elder Justice Task Forces and started community outreach and education, including working with law enforcement. Because the councils did not have investigative power, Downing said they created the FAST team that deals very specifically with crimes against seniors.
According to a release from the CSI, victims of the recent scam circulating in the Gallatin Valley receive a pop-up phishing window falsely claiming obscene and illegal materials have been uploaded to their devices. To avoid legal repercussions, the victim was told to withdraw large amounts of cash and deposit the money into Bitcoin ATMs at gas stations.
Downing said they are seeing increased use of crypto and bitcoin, where victims are given a QR access code to upload money to ATMs. In several instances, employees at these locations have suspected the fraud.
“They see these elderly people come in with stacks of cash and putting them into these machines, and once it’s in there, it’s gone. It’s really hard, if not impossible, to track where it actually went,” Downing said.
Along with what he called really heart-breaking romance scams, Downing said there are also grandchildren scams where a grandparent is asked to wire money for an emergency.
Downing said one thing that scares him is they see more and more use of artificial intelligence, and with grandchildren scams, it is not just a text message anymore; it can be an actual voice call.
The CSI office also recently investigated a scam in Montana where Downing said an elderly woman was contacted by a “wealthy Mexican businessman” who wanted to buy her timeshare. Downing said the woman ended up sending multiple money wires totaling almost $200,000 she obtained by getting a home equity line of credit, and now doesn’t have the means to pay off the loan.
“It’s a big problem in Montana. I think it’s a big problem nationally, but we’re seeing a lot of these (scams) in Montana, so we have taken it upon ourselves to put together the resources to help other agencies and law enforcement across the state,” Downing said.
FAST team member Mark Mattioli shared with the Voice one of the main messages they hope to get across to Treasure State residents.
“If you are contacted unsolicited by email, text, phone, or instant message, and they want you to pay money, and they want you to do it by crypto, don’t do it, or at the very least contact our office and we can help walk you through it and help protect you,” he said.
The FAST team is currently working on active investigations, and according to attorney Chris McConnell through a coordinated effort with a national bank, they were recently able to stop the transfer of about $500,000.
Downing first wants Montana residents with concerns to call them and stressed the importance of looking for red flags.
“When these scammers come, there is almost always a sense of urgency. They compel them to privacy – ‘don’t tell your family, don’t tell anybody or the whole deal is going to blow up, or you are going to get in trouble because we put pornography on your phone and that’s going to get out.’ They use these scare tactics, saying, ‘Don’t talk.’ They are very good at silencing their victims,” he said. “Don’t buy into those hard sales tactics to get you to act silently and quickly. Almost always, that is going to be a scam.”
Those who suspect a scam can contact CSI investigators at 406-444-2040 or http://www.csimt.gov.