By Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief, ReHack.com
Older adults are at a high risk of falling for online scams. Cybercriminals often target this demographic because they may have dementia, understand technology less or have a large retirement fund. Additionally, many seniors are looking for human connection, opening the door for scammers to engage with them via dating apps or social media. Here are the cybercrimes most commonly committed against seniors and how family members can prevent them.
1. Dating Scams
Many older adults fall victim to a particularly heinous cybercrime that preys on loneliness — the fake love interest scam. A criminal poses online as a potential partner, offering affection and companionship to the victim and then starts asking for favors.
They often start by requesting a small amount of money and then escalate to more significant requests, like asking for bank account access or plane tickets. Widowed adults are especially susceptible to this scam.
2. Fake Tech Support
This cybercrime can take several forms. Perpetrators may call the victim and claim that their computer has been compromised. Or, the victim might click a pop-up ad telling them their computer has a virus and they must call IT services. The criminals then pose as tech support to gain remote access to the computer.
Once the scammers run a fake diagnostic test for a nonexistent problem, they often ask the victim to pay for their “services” by wiring money, sending a gift card or using untraceable cryptocurrency. Alternatively, they may gain remote computer access and hack into the victim’s personal accounts.
3. Social Security Fraud
Scammers pose as Social Security employees and call the victim, telling them they owe the government money or there’s a problem with their account. This can be very frightening for seniors relying on government aid. The scammers will usually request personal information such as the victim’s name, age, location and Social Security number.
The caller ID may look official. Unlike the actual Social Security Administration, cybercriminals will usually ask for payment in the form of wire transfers, cryptocurrency, gift cards or even cash.
4. Loan Scams
In this type of cybercrime, criminals pose as lenders and offer victims a low-cost loan in exchange for hefty, up-front fees. They may demand a prepaid card or banking information.
Genuine lenders will be registered in the state, be transparent about their fees and have a physical address. They’ll ask to see a person’s credit score to determine if they have a history of paying bills on time and in full. In contrast, scammers might guarantee approval to anyone regardless of creditworthiness.
5. Lottery Scams
Most people have seen this type of scam before. Victims get a message through email, text, pop-ups or postal service, telling them they’ve won a great fortune.
But there’s a catch — the victims must pay a processing fee or tax to claim their prize. Or, they have to provide their bank account credentials so the scammer can transfer the money to them. Perpetrators sometimes up the ante by telling victims they must act immediately or they’ll lose the money.
6. Bogus Miracle Cures
Scammers cash in on older adults’ declining health by offering them overpriced, bogus medicine in the form of pop-ups, emails or phone calls. For example, they might sell capsules containing little more than sugar, salt, spices or other household ingredients but market them as energy-boosting vitamins.
Or, they may sell actual vitamins at a wildly inflated price, saying that the pills will fix age-related ailments such as baldness, fatigue or even cancer. The fake cures usually claim to treat a variety of problems. Scammers often sign their unwitting victims up for a subscription service, charging their cards multiple times without offering a way to cancel it.
This serious crime is on the rise thanks to the advent of webcams and smartphones. Perpetrators contact a person and claim to have seen them naked through their webcam, telling the victim they have compromising photos or even videos of them. They then threaten to publish the images unless the victim pays immediately.
Cybercriminals pre on the fear of embarrassment to extort their targets for increasing amounts of money. They may or may not actually have photos of the victim. The nature of the crime
makes many people ashamed to ask for help, not wanting family members or authority figures to see them in a state of undress. This means the scammers can blackmail them indefinitely.
How to Protect Seniors from Cybercrimes
There are numerous ways to prevent older adults from falling victim to scams. Here are some tips:
- People should advise their loved ones never to give out personal info to a stranger.
- If they have permission, caregivers can monitor their older family members’ bank accounts and credit cards.
- Social media users should limit the amount of personal information they publish.
- Caregivers should search for information about companies claiming to offer incredible deals or cures.
- Family members should be suspicious of people who request gift cards as a form of payment.
- Seniors should not open email attachments from unknown sources.
- Older adults should report suspicious activity immediately, even if they’re embarrassed or unsure if it’s a scam.
- Tech-savvy family members can install security features like antivirus software on all computers.
These practices go a long way toward protecting older adults from cybercrimes.
Standing Up to Cybercrime
Though the internet provides many opportunities for scammers to take advantage of people, it’s possible to navigate it safely. Seniors should follow safe practices — such as protecting their personal information when going online — and their family members can step in when they need guidance.
Devin Partida is an industrial tech writer and the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com, a digital magazine for all things technology, big data, cryptocurrency, and more. To read more from Devin, please check out the site.