During the Covid Pandemic, we’ve all become more reliant on technology, using phones and other tech devices to stay socially engaged. Using technology to stay engaged with others is important for seniors mental and physical health. While it is a positive thing for seniors to use technology, older adults should be aware that unscrupulous scammers can use technology to scam unwitting seniors out of their assets, steal their identity, and perpetrate fraud.
The good news that it’s easy protect yourself against digital scams and identity theft, allowing you to continue to use your digital devices to remain connected. Learning how to recognize scammers, fraudsters, and identity thieves and how to protect yourself goes a long way towards keeping you and your assets safe.
Why Should Older Adults be Wary of Scammers?
Older adults are especially vulnerable to scams, including those scams perpetrated using technology. This vulnerability is due to a range of factors. One reason for this vulnerability is that seniors are attractive targets for scammers because seniors are perceived of as having assets and a fixed income. To these scammers, older adults have assets that are ripe for stealing. Another reason is that the simple biology of the aging process renders the elderly more vulnerable to scams. As a person ages, the sections of the brain that regulate two important functions, impulse control and the ability to recall and organizing information, shrink. This makes seniors more vulnerable to scammers because older adults are more likely to act without taking the time to think through their actions and they are more forgetful.1
Types of Digital Scams and How to Protect Yourself
There are a multitude of different scams perpetrated using technology. Scammers are creative and are constantly thinking up new ways to scam others. We will discuss some of the most common scams, how to recognize them, and how to protect yourself.
What is it?
Spoofing is where scammers alter their identity to make themselves look like a legitimate organization, person, or entity. Spoofers use technology to create fake logos or email or postal addresses. Phone spoofing is the most common kind of spoofing. These spoofers change the phone number that shows up on your caller ID. Phone spoofers can trick you into revealing confidential information.
How to Protect Yourself
The easiest way to protect yourself from spoofers is by not answering calls from unknown phone numbers. If you do answer calls from unknown numbers, you should hang up immediately. If a caller wants to reach you, they can leave you a voicemail message. Do not respond to questions asked by unknown callers, especially those questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Never share personal information, such as a social security number, passwords, or other information that you use for security questions, such as your mother’s maiden name. If you receive a call from someone who claims to work for a company or government entity, hang up and call that entity directly using a trusted phone number. Proceed with caution if the caller pressures you for information right then and there without giving you the chance to assess the situation.2
Click here to learn more about spoofing and how to protect yourself.
What is it?
Phishing typically involves sending an email or text message that looks like it is from a trusted party, such as your bank, credit card company, or some other merchant or service provider. The phisher may say that they’ve noticed suspicious activity or log-in attempts for one of your accounts or they may claim that there’s a problem with one of your accounts or your payment information. Phishers also tell people that they must confirm some piece of personal information, they may include a fake invoice, and they may ask you to click on a link to make a payment. Phishers may offer free stuff or some kind of too good to be true deal. After clicking on a link or opening an attachment in the phisher’s email, you may be prompted to reveal confidential information to the scammer in order to remedy the purported problem or take advantage of the deal that is supposedly being offered.
How to Protect Yourself?
One important way to protect yourself from a phishing attack is by learning to recognize these attacks. Signs that an email may not be legitimate include an email stating that your account is on hold because of a billing problem. Phishing attacks may take the form of an email that invites you to click on a link to update your payment details. Other signs of a phishing email include generic and impersonal greetings or emails from unfamiliar entities and individuals.3
You should pay careful attention to emails and text messages that you receive. Scrutinize the email addresses of the senders for small and strange changes to the email address. If you have doubts that an email is legitimate, don’t respond to that email directly and don’t click on any links or open any attachments in the email. If you receive an email that purports to be from a known company or entity, you can reach out to that entity directly by going to that company’s website and calling a known phone number. You should use your email spam filter to keep many phishing emails from reaching your inbox. Even if you use your spam filter, you should still be vigilant about ensuring that emails in your inbox are legitimate.
To learn more about phishing, including how to respond to a phishing attack and how to report phishing, click here.
What is it?
Hackers attack your computer or device’s operating system, allowing the hacker to view and steal your personal information. Hackers operate by tricking you into downloading malware or some other virus. These programs allow the hackers to steal everything on your computer or device. Hackers can also render your computer or other devices inoperable until you pay a ransom to the hacker. One way that hackers get onto your devices is through your use of unsecured public WI-FI networks or by getting you to download infected files.4
How to Protect Yourself?
You can protect yourself from hackers by using only secured, non-public WI-FI networks. Anytime you are going to download a file from the internet or from an email, you should be cautious and pay careful attention to whatever it is you are downloading. This includes files downloaded from social media, such as Facebook.
Tech Support Scam
What is it?
This scam involves scammers posing as technology support persons. Such scams can occur over the phone, as pop-up warnings on your computer, or as online adds or search engine results. These scammers will offer to fix a problem with your computer. Often however, there is no problem with your computer. Allowing the scammers to fix your non-existent computer issues can give the scammers access to your device and all the information on that device, including sensitive information. Often, these scammers will ask you to pay for their unnecessary tech support services by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, or by sending money using a money transfer app.5 Other times, these scammers will gain direct access to your bank account as a result of their access to your device and steal your money from your directly.
How to Protect Yourself?
Legitimate technology repair companies will not contact you by phone, email, or text message to tell you that there is a problem with your computer. In addition, security pop-up warnings from real tech companies will never ask you to call a phone number. If you have a problem with your computer or device and you require repairs, take that device to a trusted repair person or entity. Often, stores that sell technology equipment can provide you with technical support.6 You can do your homework before seeking the repairs to make sure that the repair person you wish to hire is reputable. Do this by only doing business with local companies or individuals. You may contact the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce if you to learn more about a particular business.
Click here to learn more about tech support scams, what to do if you have been scammed, and how to report such scams.
1 Hilton, Tom. “Scams & Older Adults: What to Do?,” Tech-enhanced Life, November 9, 2020, https://www.techenhancedlife.com/articles/scams-older-adults-what-do?utm_source=Tech-enhanced+Life+Updates&utm_campaign=98814ac7bf-TEL_Newsletter_2020_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d743fc6327-98814ac7bf-443751881.
2 Federal Communications Commission: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/spoofing-and-phishing.
3 Federal Trade Commission: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams
4 Federal Trade Commission: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams
5 Federal Trade Commission: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-spot-avoid-and-report-tech-support-scams.
6 Federal Trade Commission: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-spot-avoid-and-report-tech-support-scams.