What does an online scam look like? Today’s online scams have become more sophisticated than ever, leading to 1.7 billion in losses in 2021 alone – and that’s just what scammers took from seniors. The real costs of these scams, however, are much higher, as many who have been defrauded either don’t realize it or are too embarrassed to report it.
The good news is that there are ways to protect yourself online and mitigate your chances of becoming another statistic. Here’s why seniors in particular are such popular targets for scammers, and how to determine if someone online is trying to scam you.
Why Seniors are Targeted for Online Scams
Scammers target seniors online because they represent a vast and potentially lucrative market for fraud. Older adults are more likely to have access to investments, retirement accounts and savings than younger people. They also have Social Security and Medicare benefits, which can be tapped into by criminals if they can get enough personal information from their targets.
Seniors may also feel more isolated and insecure as friends and family move away or pass on. When a suspicious but alarming email comes through, they may not have anyone nearby to help them process and verify the information. Scammers routinely use urgent and scary language to bully targets into acting quickly before they have had time to think the scam through.
Those born in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s also tend to be more trusting, especially when they are contacted by someone purporting to be from a government or financial institution.
How to Spot an Online Scam Targeting Seniors
While scams can come in many forms, from sweepstakes fraud to emails containing malware that steals personal information, there are some common red flags to look for.
1. Someone you know or someone posing as a government official, lawyer or police officer contacts you requesting that you send money via gift cards, wire transfers or alternative online currency to resolve an urgent legal or financial issue.
Some scammers will pose as people in positions of authority, such as doctors, lawyers or government officials like the IRS and demand urgent payment in an unusual way. They may say this is to prevent you or someone you love from going to jail or say the cash is needed for an emergency procedure. Tactics like using fear and urgency are meant to tap into your emotions, making it more likely that you won’t question the details of the request too deeply. Scammers have many tactics like this to confuse targets. If you start to feel fearful, rushed, intimidated or bullied, this should be a red flag.
2. The email or text message appears to come from an institution or brand you know and wants you to click on a link to “verify your account details” or “stop your account from being closed.”
Similar to the scam above, fraudsters will also send emails and text messages saying that you have an outstanding account balance or other issue that has resulted in your bank account or online shopping account being closed. If you actually visit your financial institution or account holder via their verified website or phone number, you’ll discover that there is no issue. However, fear and urgency can make us overlook this crucial step. Always seek a second means of verifying an action is necessary before taking it. And never, ever take it by clicking a link in an email or text.
3. You’re asked for personal information like passwords, bank account number, your social security number, Medicare information, credit card or PIN numbers.
Anyone contacting you via phone, email or text message who asks for the above personal information is likely doing so for nefarious purposes. If you have any doubt about the veracity of a request, contact the source directly from a verified phone number or directly type the official web address into your web browser. Private information like this is never solicited via email or text. If you are giving this information to someone over the phone, it should only be to someone you have called at a trusted and verified phone number, such as the phone number you use to contact your bank or medical provider.
4. Online pop-up ads on your phone or computer that say your device has a security problem or is infected with malware.
Pop-up ads are ubiquitous throughout the internet. However, if you encounter a pop-up ad that says your device has been infected with malware or that you need to contact a specific phone number to “fix” your device, it’s a scam. When you click on the pop-up, it can infect your computer with malware that records your keystrokes or allows remote access to your computer. Alternatively, it may route you to a landing page where you’re asked to input personal or financial information in order to resolve your issue. If you call the phone number, you will be asked to provide payment information for “fixing” your computer. If you are concerned about protecting your computer from cybercriminal attacks, invest in a reputable antivirus software.
5. It looks too good to be true.
If someone says you’ve “won” a sweepstakes or lottery you don’t remember entering, or is offering a prescription drug or vacation at an unbelievable discount, it’s probably a scam. These types of scams tap into our desire to get a great deal or uncover a secret financial windfall. If you have been contacted about winning a contest you didn’t enter, or lottery winnings for which you “only have to pay processing fees and taxes” in order to claim, it really is too good to be true. Protect yourself by hanging up the phone or deleting any communications. If you are uncertain about whether you entered a contest, remember that it is illegal to make someone pay to receive a sweepstakes or lottery prize they have already won.
If, at any point, you think you may have been the victim of an online scam, report it to the FTC.
Get More Resources from Village on the Green
At Village on the Green in Longwood, Florida, we offer residents numerous opportunities to learn, play and grow in a vibrant and supportive community. Resident safety is our top concern, whether online or off. That’s why we often host educational programs and lectures to help residents stay abreast of shifting technology trends and online safety issues.
Contact us to learn more, or schedule a tour to see our community for yourself or a loved one.