Internet scams targeting older adults are big business. How big? In 2021, over 90,000 seniors were victims of fraud, and scammers walked away with 1.7 billion in cash.
These types of scams are difficult to prosecute because the ways criminals ask for money can be difficult to track, and many scams go unreported. Older adults in particular are hesitant to report a scam, often due to feelings of shame and embarrassment. Yet they are often the biggest targets of these types of scams because they are more likely to have access to funds such as investments, savings and Medicare and Social Security benefits compared to their younger counterparts.
These fraudsters have become increasingly sophisticated, making it tougher than ever to spot red flags. However, there are some ways you can educate and protect yourself to mitigate the risk of being scammed. Here are some of the most common scams targeting seniors today, and how you can protect yourself from becoming another statistic.
While robocall scams don’t happen online, their rise has coincided with advances in technology that make this kind of scam possible. These scams are enabled by automated phone technology that can dial thousands (and even tens of thousands) of phone numbers without the need for a human operator. These calls often use urgent and threatening language about how your electric will be disconnected or your car impounded if you don’t pay them immediately.
How to protect yourself: Always contact these agencies directly to discuss any potential outstanding bills or fines. Never, under any circumstances, give any personal or financial information to these incoming callers over the phone, no matter how legitimate they may appear.
Computer Support Scams
Pop-up messages or blank screens may appear on your computer or phone indicating that your system is compromised or has a virus. When you click on the ad or call the support number indicated for help, you may be asked for your financial or personal information. Worse, the scammer could convince you to give them remote access to your device, which can allow them to access all of your saved passwords and personal information.
How to protect yourself: No legitimate computer support company will be proactively monitoring your computer and ask you to contact them. Delete these requests, close any pop ups or completely restart your device to ensure that you don’t accidentally click on anything.
Online Romance Scams
Online dating has become increasingly popular. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2020, about 30 percent of U.S. adults have used an online dating service, and about 12 percent ended up marrying or being in a committed relationship with someone they met online. Yet despite its popularity, the online dating landscape can be just as fraught today as it was in the early days of the internet. In fact, the normalization and prevalence of online dating have made it easier than ever for scammers to exploit those seeking romance or even platonic friendships. Like other successful scams, romance scams work because they tap into our emotions and offer to fulfill the basic human need for companionship. After connecting with you online using a fake profile, they may communicate with you online or even via the phone for several weeks or months before asking for money to pay for medical emergencies, visa troubles, or travel expenses to come and visit you. If the first scam is successful, they may continue reaching out to you for money, often giving more and more elaborate excuses and explanations as to why they need it.
How to protect yourself: Always complete your due diligence on anyone you meet online. Verify profile details using third party sources online. If they tell you they are an alumni at a particular university, don’t just take their word for it. Look it up. See if you can verify their work address or email via a company website. Most importantly, do not give – or offer to give – anyone money or personal financial details, especially in the form of wire transfers, gift cards or other forms of online currency.
Other Types of Internet Fraud
There are many other types of internet scams and fraud. Friends and family scams come in the form of emails and text messages pretending to be someone we know – like a grandchild or friend from our internet address book. Sweepstakes scams use the same method of contact, telling you you’ve “won” a prize, but in order to claim it, must pay “taxes and processing fees.” Scammers even impersonate government institutions and trusted brands, pretending that you need to “verify your account details” or your account will be suspended.
How to protect yourself: Be immediately suspicious when you are approached online or via phone for personal details or cash from anyone claiming to be a friend, family member, financial or government institution. Verify these requests by logging into trusted websites directly or emailing verified accounts from family members. Never, under any circumstances, click on links in these suspicious emails or hit “reply” and respond to them that way.
If you think you have been the victim of a scam, report it to the FTC.
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Harbour’s Edge is a vibrant senior living community in Delray Beach, Florida dedicated to providing older adults with the physical, mental and social activities they crave to live a truly inspiring retirement. This includes informational and educational programs about online safety and cybersecurity awareness so that you can learn new skills and stay on top of shifting technology trends.