We’ve all heard the horror stories. A senior receives a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild, or their bank, or the IRS (the list of scams is ever-growing). The person on the line tells them that something bad is about to happen, and the senior, scared and overwhelmed, sends them money. As time passes and feelings settle, they realize they’ve been taken advantage of. Every year, something like this happens to two to three million seniors in the United States. These types of scams have slowly been shifting to the internet, where scammers realized it’s even easier to build a convincing lie and take advantage of people’s unfamiliarity with the Internet. What can you do to help prevent your loved ones from falling for this?
Keeping Senior's Personal Info Safe Online
While it’s impossible to keep track of every type of Internet scam, there are steps that can be taken to decrease the odds of them happening. For other tech-related issues seniors might face, check out our article on solving common tech issues.
Scam Prevention Tips for Seniors
One of the easiest ways to help keep seniors safe on the Internet is by bookmarking websites that they commonly use. One common type of scam is buying URLs that are common misspellings of popular websites (cjase.com instead of chase.com), then using replica versions of the actual website to steal people’s info when they try to log in. This can happen to seniors especially often, as their worse eyesight can make it difficult to notice details that would tip them off to the scam. Saving websites to their bookmarks makes it so they can just click on that and be guaranteed to find the correct site on the other end.
Having an anti-virus is also a very helpful way to prevent issues from popping up if your family member does click on a link they shouldn’t. There’s plenty of free options that do a decent job, such as Avast (which also offers a premium membership with extended features), but it may be best to purchase one of the long-standing premium antivirus programs. Industry standard McAfee antivirus offers a wide range of features, as well as options for adding multiple devices (such as smart phones) to your plan for a reduced fee. They’re often at the front of the pack when it comes to detecting and protecting from new types of viruses, making web browsing much safer no matter what kind of sites are being visited.
Preventing Common Types of Scams
This type of scam is when someone “phishes” for your information, usually by pretending to be someone else. A common one is a text or email from “Amazon” where they claim there’s an issue with your order or payment info. When you click on the link they’ve provided, you’ll be taken to a fake login page that impersonates whatever site you’re expecting. Once you use your log-in info on that site, they take it and gain access to your actual account.
The best way to prevent this is by not following links that have been emailed or texted to you. Instead, go to the website of whoever is claiming to have contacted you and attempt to solve the problem via the phone number or email on their website. If they don’t have record of having recently contacted you, the previous person was most likely running a phishing scam.
Malware, short for “malicious software,” is a type of virus designed to steal data and destroy your computer or home network of devices. Popular antivirus softwares stop you from being affected by malware in two different ways.
One is at the point of entry by scanning each file as it’s downloaded onto your computer. The antivirus will likely have a log of previously verified files, and allows ones that it recognizes to be legitimate. For files that it doesn’t recognize, it will pull them into a testing environment where they can identify how it works while being unable to make changes to the rest of your computer.
The second way that antivirus software works is by constantly scanning your computer for potential issues or malware. Some viruses are designed with a delayed effectiveness, meaning they sit dormant for weeks or months before deploying in order to avoid detection by your antivirus. A good antivirus software will have both of these features, and much greater chance of keeping your computer safe.
Sweetheart scams are a relatively new type of scam, something that only became possible in the internet age. Scammers will create fake online dating profiles, using pictures of random people that they find on social media. They’ll act relatively normal at first, asking seemingly innocent questions that are actually intended to determine how vulnerable someone may be to a scam. They typically target seniors or other people who don’t have a consistent social network, taking advantage of their loneliness and desire for social relationships.
Once they’ve developed a relationship with their target, they begin asking them for money. Small amounts at first, typically with sob stories about how they need to purchase something immediately but don’t have income for a couple of days. Once they’ve gotten them to send small amounts a couple of times, they slowly crank up the frequency and amount they’re asking for.
This type of scam is becoming increasingly common. The Federal Trade Commission reported $547 million lost to romance scams just in 2021. People typically lost around $2,400, but some people lost significantly more. This can be especially dangerous for seniors who have significant amounts of assets, but need them to last the rest of their life. Losing even five or ten percent of their assets can mean a significant decrease in quality of life.
Adding Double-Checks and Other Safeguards
The easiest way to keep your loved one’s finances and personal information safe is by adding a system of double-checks that they need to go through before they send anything. This could mean having one or two people that they’ll check in with before sending money in any unusual situations, or having a financial advisor that has to approve excess spending beyond their regular fixed amount.
However, many scammers will try to work around systems that you’ve developed. One common type of impersonation scam is pretending to be a grandchild who finds themselves in an embarrassing situation, and needs money immediately but doesn’t want their parents to know. Their intent is that not only will the grandparent not double-check that it actually is their grandchild, but also by using their “embarrassment” as a reason to potentially get around safeguards that you’ve set up. This makes it extra important that your loved one knows that they need to use the double-check system in all cases, even if the scammers have a solid story for why they should disregard that system.
For information on other types of scams and steps you can take to prevent them, the National Council on Aging has put together a useful guide.