Protect Your Parents from Common Digital Traps

Older Americans continue to make enticing targets for scammers. According to a report from the FBI, seniors lost almost $1 billion to elderly scams in 2020. More than 105,000 people over age 65 were scammed, losing an average of $9,175. Almost 2,000 seniors lost more than $100,000.

There are many avenues that crooks use against elders, and digital scams are among them. There are things you should know about financial and other scams targeting the elderly including what to look for, how to protect your senior parents, and what to do if they’ve been scammed.

Why Your Parent May Be Targeted by Senior Scams and Frauds

Seniors tend to be prime targets for con artists because of three simple reasons: They tend to be more trusting, more vulnerable, and less likely to report incidents.

The FBI says older people may not know how to report fraud, may be too ashamed to admit it, or may be afraid that their relatives will lose confidence in their ability to take care of their own finances and therefore have their control taken away.

Scammers are also hoping that these older adults have retirement cash, a home or good credit that can be used against them.

4 Common Digital Scams Seniors Face

1. Confidence Fraud and Romance Scams

In these scams, older people are targeted either on social media or dating sites by appealing to their emotions. Scammers gain their trust either by manipulating them into thinking they’re developing a friendship or a romance. Often, scammers will use religion to gain trust.

When the victim is prepared, the scammer will ask to borrow money or will persuade them to buy and send gift cards, for example. The IC3 received reports from 6,817 elderly victims who experienced over $281 million in losses to these scams in 2020, the FBI report says.

2. Identity Theft (Pharming, Phishing, and Smishing)

Identity theft is a growing phenomenon. According to IdentityForce, 33% of adults have experienced identity theft. More than one in four older adults has had their identity stolen.

Here are three digital methods scammers use to steal identities:

  • Pharming. These attacks encourage seniors to visit fake websites that look like legitimate ones. While there, they’ll be encouraged to give up personal information such as account numbers, passwords and the like.
  • Phishing. This occurs when seniors are duped via email. A false message designed to trick a victim into revealing sensitive information will be sent. Victims may be told there is a problem with a bank account or a package delivery and may be encouraged to click a link to enter in the correct information.
  • Smishing. This is phishing conducted by texts or SMS. False messages supposedly from reputable companies are sent to victims. The messages may encourage seniors to reveal personal information, pay money out, or click on suspicious links.

3. Non-Payment or Non-Delivery or Fraudulent Products

Many seniors have just started to shop online because of the 2020 pandemic. Unfortunately, this opens up new opportunities for fraud scams on the elderly.

It’s not just shopping websites that scam seniors. Social media sites are drawing more seniors, giving scammers the opportunity to post false advertisements. Seniors say they’ve ordered products from social media links and have either received unrelated items or nothing at all.

According to the FBI, older victims filed over 14,000 Non-Payment/Non-Delivery complaints in 2020, with losses over $40 million.

4. Tech Support Fraud

Tech support scams rely on the unfamiliarity that many seniors have with computers and digital devices. A click of a fake site may trigger what appears to be a warning about viruses or other problems with a computer. The site or pop-up may give a phone number to call to receive help. Victims may also receive an email about a software license renewal that requires their immediate response.

Scammers often ask for remote access to a computer and then show how they’re “fixing” the problem, all the while digging around for sensitive information such as account numbers and passwords. They may ask for credit card numbers to charge for their “services.”

The IC3 received 9,429 Tech Support Fraud complaints from older victims in 2020, losing more than $116 million, the FBI says. Seniors account for 66% of the total tech support reports and 84% of the monetary losses.

Ways You Can Protect Your Senior Parent

There are some simple steps you can take to protect your elderly parent from being scammed and to empower them to protect themselves.

  • Beware of downloads. Tell your parents to never open an email attachment from people they don’t know, and to be wary of attachments that are forwarded to them.
  • Don’t share information. Tell them not to give out their private information, whether online, in an email, over the phone or in a mail-in envelope, if they are not familiar with the company or why they need the information.
  • Secure the computer. Make sure your parent’s computer anti-virus, security, and malware software, from reputable providers, are up to date.
  • Set up bank safeguards. If you’re concerned with your parent’s financial decision-making, set up a small account locally that you can monitor. Institute spending limits and alerts. Place their savings in another, more secure account.
  • Shut down for a pop-up. Have your parents disconnect from the internet and shut down their computer or phone if they get a concerning pop-up or if their screen locks up. Pop-ups can spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers.
  • Watch out for emails. Scammers spoof known companies but often misspell words or use odd grammar. If you’re not sure about an email, don’t click the “unsubscribe” link as this may just confirm to the scammer that they have a live email address they’ll continue to use. If you have any questions, contact the company through its website, not by clicking an email link.

What You Should Do About Your Senior Parent Being Scammed

There are steps to take to protect your parent. Here’s what to do if your elderly parent is being scammed.

Contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

If you have to report to the FBI, make sure you can supply as many details as possible:

  • Dates of contact
  • Descriptions of your interactions with the scammer and the instructions you were given
  • Methods of communication
  • Methods of payment
  • Names of the scammer and/or company
  • Phone numbers, email addresses, mailing addresses, and websites used by the perpetrator
  • Where funds were sent, including wire transfers and prepaid cards. Be prepared to provide the financial institution names, account names, and account numbers.

The FBI also encourages you to keep original documentation, emails, faxes, and logs of all communications.

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