Scams are plentiful on the current internet landscape, and people of all ages find it overwhelming to dodge these digital bullets. Users over the age of 60 have an especially difficult time keeping their identities and bank accounts safe, as they may find that all of the practical sense they have developed over the years to spot scams in real life just don’t translate on the internet.
Statistics back this up: according to researchers, individuals over 65 are 34% more likely to have lost money in a scam than people in their forties.
Popular internet scams affect the whole family
Scammers know how vulnerable older generations can be on the web, and they take advantage of unsuspecting victims everyday. This can cause stress not just for seniors, but also for their entire family unit. Younger generations may also be fearful of how vulnerable their parents or grandparents are to internet fraud.
This dilemma is often caused by a lack of communication: older generations may not want to share potential issues or ask certain questions out of embarrassment. Similarly, their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews may not want to insult them by asking if they need help spotting scams.
But indulging this sense of propriety can be dangerous. Financial information and personal assets may be put at risk, and the victim’s whole family can suffer from these loses. Additionally, if an older family member isn’t practicing the right safety online, they may accidentally compromise the identities of their loved ones.
One simple misstep increases the likelihood that victims will be put on “sucker lists” that are sold on the black market and will be targets for future scams.
Internet fraud that targets seniors
The following list describes the most common scams that target seniors in the contemporary digital landscape, and how to avoid them.
1. Social Security Scam
Tens of thousands of seniors in the US have fallen victim to this new social security scam. Scammers create legitimate online accounts with the social security website and redirect payments to their own personal accounts. With over 59 million Americans receiving social security benefits in 2014, this scam targets many individuals’ primary source of income.
2. Funeral Invitation
As we reach more mature phases of life, we anticipate more loved ones and acquaintances passing away. Internet con artists take advantage of this sad fact of life and send out fake funeral invitations to lure in older individuals. When the victim sees the email, they click a link or open an attachment to learn the name of their deceased friend/acquaintance. Then malware attacks their computer and steals sensitive information that can be sold to cyber criminals or used immediately to steal money.
3. Work at Home Scams
Everyone is looking to make an extra buck here and there, and seniors are no exception. Often older members of a household may want to contribute more to family finances, but this noble mission can end poorly for those who respond to fake advertisements. If it seems too good to be true, requires specialized training, or asks for “training” money, it is most likely run by a scammer looking to get access to an unsuspecting victim’s bank account (or even some free labor).
4. Lottery/sweepstakes Scams
Since older internet users may be less experienced than their younger counterparts, they may easily fall for a sweepstakes scam, often in the form on an email informing them they have won some kind of prize (usually money). The email will ask for funds to release the prize money or sensitive personal information to allegedly pay taxes or bank fees.
5. Fake Online Pharmacies
Seniors have more ailments, and as result, potentially high medical bills depending on the country they reside in. Other times they struggle with mobility and transportation. Either of these issues makes using an online pharmacy a tempting option. However this need makes the elderly vulnerable to fraudulent online vendors. This can be confusing for many people, not just seniors, because legitimate online pharmacies do actually exist. But according to the NABP (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy) 96% of online pharmacies operate outside of existing legal structures, and “fuel prescription drug abuse and misuse.”
6. Sweetheart Scam
Many older individuals suffer from loneliness. In England alone, over 61% of all people over the age of 75 live alone. It’s natural for older internet users to turn to dating sites and social media to alleviate this loneliness. Unfortunately, this also increases their risk of falling for a “sweetheart” scam. These cyber criminals lure in their victims with a prospect of love, usually through many back and forth messages. These fake “sweethearts” ultimately exploit the victim’s pocketbook, asking for funds to come and visit or to buy basic necessities. People have reported being scammed up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
7. Grandparent Scam
This is an old trick that preceded the internet: an alleged “grandchild” calls from a noisy location, telling the grandparent in question that they are in trouble and need money immediately. Nowadays, this can also come in email form. Criminals even going so far as to accurately assume the identity of the victim’s grandchild or family member and claim the matter is incredibly urgent. Desperate to help their beloved, this stops internet users from thinking twice about sending money.
8. Investment Scams
While investments made online have become increasingly popular, so has scamming people with get-rich-quick and Ponzi schemes. These can take the form of professional looking ads, websites, and videos that detail how other individuals have made their fortune this way. Other times it will come in the form of an email from a trusted source, like a family member or friend. Unbeknownst to them, their email account has been have hacked and a scam artist is utilizing it to lure unsuspecting victims into paying large sums of money they will never see again.
9. Fake Check Scam
The internet can be a great place to sell that old couch or elliptical machine, but you should be wary of the offers you receive. When an unsuspecting victim puts something up for sale on the internet, they may be impatient to rid themselves of the listed item and make some quick cash. Unfortunately this is when scammers strike, offering the lister a cashier’s check that’s often made out for more than the agreed upon price. The victim will pay the scammer the difference only to find out later that the check is a fraud. Seniors are more likely to fall for this scam because they trust older forms of payments like checks over secure forms of internet-based payments.
10. Charity Scams
Charity scams are old news in the realm of telemarketing, but are their increasing presence online is a cause for concern. Seniors should be wary of any emails that ask them to contribute to a charity, even if the associated website and materials appear legitimate and well designed. Most federal governments have lists of registered charities, and the representative in question should be able to provide a registration number or ID that can be cross-referenced with the appropriate national registry.
Protecting yourself from Internet scams
Reading about all these scams may have you thinking that you should just turn off your computer for good! But protecting you and your loved ones from over hundreds of internet scams is just a matter of taking a number of simple precautions:
- Set up financial accounts online with a trusted family member
- Create complicated, un-memorizable passwords for all of your accounts
- Install trustworthy anti-malware
- Always learn the whereabouts of your family when you suspect their identity has been stolen
- Be wary of “officials” contacting you stating they are from a financial institution or the government
- Never open an attachment from an unidentified source
- Be suspicious of emails, ads, and websites that offer you money in exchange for personal information or an upfront payment
- Learn what precautions to take when dating online
Scams can bring lots of stress to your entire family, but they don’t have too. A combination of adopting the habits listed above and communicating regularly about your safety concerns can significantly reduce your exposure to internet fraud.
Just remember, a healthy dose of suspicion goes a long way. Not everyone is trying to take advantage of your trust online, but few things are worth the risk.
UPDATE Jul 8, 2015: Bear in mind, that anyone of any age can fall victim to the scams mentioned above. Chances of being deceived are in fact higher at a certain age (in this article referred to as the senior generation) but of course it depends on the individual background and personal interest when it comes to internet technology.
Have a great, scam-free day!