CLEVELAND — For 25 years, Tahira Wilson has worked at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland.

What You Need To Know

  • Seniors are at a high risk to be the target of a scam, especially ones that prey on emotion

  • Data from the Federal Trade Commission said romance scams in particular were up 80% in 2021 compared to 2020

  • Because of the trend, a Cleveland-based nonprofit is developing a peer support group for older adults who have been impacted by cybercrimes

“I love watching the client put forth the effort to be able to stay in their homes independently. May it be just letting us in to give them support,” she said.

Wilson is a mental health case manager that works one-on-one with senior citizens in their homes.

“Some of the biggest challenges is health decline. Some of the biggest challenges are exploitation,” said Wilson.

The exploitation often comes as cybercrimes.

In the last few years, she’s noticed an increase in the number of clients falling victim to internet and phone scams.

“These people are sitting home and they’re vulnerable,” said Wilson.

Wilson is working with the Director of Behavioral Health Services, Tamar Cooper, to create a support group for people 55 and older who have been the target of an online scam.

“The older person has been isolated. They long to have some type of contact,” Cooper said. “So, if someone reaches out to them, they’re going to talk to them and they truly believe that maybe this person is the love of their life or that they’re interested in them and then when they find out that no, this didn’t happen or they’ve taken all this money for them, it’s so difficult for them to believe it and then they really don’t want to report it.”

Many also struggle to talk about it. Wilson said establishing trust in relationships with clients is the first step. She said that trust is critical in allowing them to feel comfortable opening up about what they’ve been through.

“A lot of that is just meeting them where they’re at. Not judging them,” she said. “Just being a confidant for them.”

The Federal Trade Commission reported romance scams are at a record high. That’s when a scammer pretends to be interested in dating in order to gain access to someone’s personal information and finances.

In 2021, consumers reported losing $547 million to these kinds of scammers.

“You weren’t stupid. These people are criminals. They manipulated you. They have so much time to sit there and groom you,” said Cooper.

Those types of scams come with a lot of shame and embarrassment for victims. Cooper said it’s important for therapists to show sensitivity and empathy.

The group provides educational resources on how to spot warning signs of a scam and offer mental health support. 

“You are not alone. You are not to blame,” said Cooper.

Wilson said letting them know they could help someone else by sharing their story could be motivation to join a group like this, where they may find strength in others in a safe environment.

“Peer relationships are great because you don’t feel alone,” said Wilson.

This group does not help resolve legal or financial cybercrime issues. It solely focuses on mental health support.

Anyone interested in learning more or joining the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging cybercrime therapy group, may can reach out via email at or call 216-373-1784.