Bradenton PD launches unit dedicated to elder fraud prevention: 'They come through all the time'

One police department in Tampa Bay has already investigated dozens of elder fraud cases this year. The Bradenton Police Department says it’s become such a problem that it created an Elder and Vulnerable Adult Fraud Unit.

The unit is dedicated to investigating, but mainly preventing, elder fraud cases.

Police say scammers are using more and more tactics to target elderly victims.

READ: Pinellas County sheriff announcing new initiative to take vehicles from people fleeing law enforcement

One senior citizen lost nearly $50,000 from clicking on a phishing message.

"It was from social media, and they come through all the time," Officer Deana McNeal said. "You never know who you're talking to."

Police say the woman clicked on a Facebook message that claimed her account was hacked. The message told her to call a number for assistance.

READ: Bradenton police see dramatic increase in car burglaries as summer months begin

"And that comes out of their pension or, you know, their 401K. Anything that they have set up for retirement to live the rest of their lives with," McNeal said.

Bradenton police say they’ve investigated 36 incidents of elder fraud this year. Police say the average age of a victim is 75 years old, with a total of $2 million lost.

"I do have a lady now that’s in debt of $20,000, and it's been over a period of months," McNeal said. "She constantly gave into a romance scam."

Officers with the elder fraud unit speak to assisted living facilities and other communities to educate people and reach them before the scammers do.

"We went from banking with money only, and then checks, and then credit cards," McNeal said. "So that involvement for them is a little bit scary. ‘Oh, I have to bank with my phone. I have to tap to pay.' Now, they don't understand that."

McNeal says they’ve already gotten a lot of positive feedback and interest from other facilities.

READ: Manatee Memorial Hospital halts non-emergency procedures, surgeries for uninsured patients

She says they also work with banks to help educate the staff on how to spot a potential victim of a scam.

"Because they can say, ‘wow, this is a large amount of money for you. What are you purchasing?’ Or, ‘do you need help?’" McNeal said.

McNeal says often, they can’t get the money back, especially if it’s a scam involving gift cards, cryptocurrency or gold bars.

READ: Tampa 'Madame' accused of running human trafficking, prostitution rings out of massage parlors and barbershops

"I've been trying to trace gift cards, and they're completely out of the state or untraceable," she said. "So they sell them to each other. And unfortunately, you've already spent that money."

You can find more information on the Bradenton Police Department’s elderly fraud unit here.

SIGN UP: Click here to sign up for the FOX 13 daily newsletter