Posted June 6, 2019
Senior citizens are vulnerable targets for scammers, fraudsters, and con artists attempting to acquire their money or personal information for identity theft, or potentially hijack the computers of unsuspecting people to steal personal information such as bank and brokerage account information. The internet can be fertile territory for these and other types of scams, and protecting seniors and loved ones from online scams has become increasingly necessary. This post discusses strategies for seniors, as well as family and friends helping protect their parents, grandparents, or older friends and relatives from online scams.
Why Are Seniors Vulnerable to Online Fraud and Scams?
According to the FBI, there are several reasons why seniors are susceptible to online fraud and scams:
- Seniors are a ripe target for con artists often due to their assets and excellent credit.
- Unwary seniors can be an easy “mark” for a seasoned con artist, often because they are polite and trusting.
- Seniors are less likely to report being scammed because they are frequently unaware they were scammed, possibly ashamed to admit being scammed to friends and family, or may lack the information and resources needed to report being scammed.
- When seniors do report beings scammed, the elapsed time since the incident (often realized by senior victims days or weeks later), along with the side effects of aging memories, may prevent seniors from providing authorities with sufficient information to pursue a case. Con artists are aware of and count on these vulnerabilities.
- Seniors’ interest in healthcare and life-extending products and services makes them susceptible to these types of scams.
Aging Brains May Become Susceptible to Scams
According to research recently highlighted in the series Brains and Losses on Marketplace, “not only are older people heavily targeted by scammers, but surprising data suggest that, as we get older, we become more vulnerable to fraud.”
Types of Online Scams Targeting Seniors
There are several different types of online scams used to victimize seniors, including:
- Social Engineering (or Phishing), including:
- False emergencies
- Financial scams
- Tech support scams
- Online dating scams
Keep reading to learn more details about these types of scams and prevention strategies.
Scammers commonly use emails and social media to scam unsuspecting seniors.
False Emergency Scams
Scammers use emails and social media – sometimes with hijacked or duplicate accounts of friends or family – to seek emergency help for things like lost wallets, or financial shortfalls due to a lost job. The con artist hopes an older adult victim will respond to the initial message so they can gain the victim’s trust, attempting to get more information and eventually money from the victim.
Other false emergency scams like emails claiming to be from a bank or financial brokerage may contain misleading links that can:
- Take unsuspecting seniors to a website that collects personal information for possible use by a scammer to access bank or brokerage accounts, steal a senior’s identity, and open credit card accounts or conduct other fraudulent financial transactions. This type of social engineering scam is known as “Phishing”.
- Take unsuspecting seniors to a website that infects their computer with a virus or malware that could damage their files or system, and do any number of things without the user’s knowledge or consent. Examples: corrupting the files on your hard drive, or installing a keystroke logger that captures everything you type and transmits it to an online thief.
If seniors receive emails or messages via social media from someone posing as a friend or family member, reach out to that person using a previously known method (phone call, text message, email, or message to a different account) to verify whether they are seeking assistance. If the request for assistance isn’t legitimate, they should be informed that their account may have either been hacked or duplicated.
To avoid being victimized by phishing, never click on links in emails unless they are positive the email came from a trusted source.
For more details, please see my post Protecting Senior Citizens from Phishing, Viruses, and Malware for more information.
Unsure how to respond? Ask a trusted friend or family member for assistance.
By now, hopefully, everyone knows to avoid responding to or clicking any links in emails from princes or other people claiming to be rich benefactors with a gift of money, where the scam is to obtain bank account information. However, the reverse scam is where a con artist attempts to steal money by billing an older adult victim using email and posing as a vendor, bill collector, or possibly the US Federal government.
In the case of a gift money from nowhere, it’s best to follow the adage if you think it’s too good to be true, it probably is. For billing scams, seniors should be advised that unless they are absolutely positive the biller (and the bill) are legitimate, they should ignore it. Unsure how to respond? Ask a trusted friend or family member for assistance.
Tech Support Scams
Seniors are targeted by phone scammers calling and pretending to represent companies they think one might trust, like Microsoft, Apple, or an internet service provider. They will attempt to gain a senior’s trust by falsely representing a trusted tech company, then obtain the victim’s computer login credentials. From there, they could remotely access the victim’s computer and steal their personal data – including, but not limited to: bank account information, passwords, personal documents, and other potentially sensitive personal information.
A tech company would almost never call a customer proactively to deal with a customer issue. Typically, they would only be calling in response to a customer contacting them first. If someone calls claiming to represent a tech company and asks for any type of personal information – especially computer login credentials (username and password) – hang up immediately. Seniors should contact a trusted friend or family member for assistance if they have any questions or concerns – or if the caller keeps calling back.
Online Dating Scams
Online dating can be a fun adventure, and a great way for seniors to find love and friendship. However, one of the most awful, hurtful types of scams is when a con artist feigns love or affection and attempts to steal money or property or get extravagant favors from a senior citizen.
When navigating the online dating world, it helps to be savvy and nuanced, and those are acquired skills. Developing a sense of how to protect oneself should be part of that skill set.
For more details please see my post Protecting Senior Citizens from Online Dating Scams.
- FBI: Fraud Against Seniors
- Marketplace: Brains and Losses
- ConnectSafely: Seniors Guide to Online Safety
This post is part of the series Protecting Senior Citizens Online.
Copyright © 2019 Patrick M. Baker