Authored by J. Koyano, Symantec employee
Senior citizens are some of society’s greatest resources, yet they can easily be overlooked as we go about our busy lives. National Senior Citizens Day, celebrated on August 21 every year, encourages society to value the wisdom and contributions of senior citizens. What better way to honor our beloved seniors than to help protect them at a time in life when they are most vulnerable?
Sadly, the elderly all too often fall victim to scams. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, seniors are prone to fraud. Seniors often are victimized by IRS and tax, sweepstakes and lottery, sweetheart, drug smuggling, and tech support scams.1 Criminals use online methods to trick seniors into falling for a few of these scams.
Although it may be a common assumption that seniors do not understand or use technology, a May 2017 report by the Pew Research Centers shows otherwise. The survey found that seniors are becoming more digitally connected, with 42% of adults 65 and older reporting owning smartphones. Today’s elderly also go online, with 67% of seniors using the Internet. For the first time, half of senior Americans report having broadband at home.2
Unfortunately, although seniors do use technology, they don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing so. According to the Pew survey, 34% of older Internet users have little to no confidence using devices online. Some 48% of seniors agree with this statement: “When I get a new electronic device, I usually need someone else to set it up or show me how to use it.”2
Online scams that target senior citizens
If you have a senior in your life who uses the Internet, be aware of these scams that commonly victimize the elderly:
IRS and tax scams
Dealing with the IRS can be daunting or confusing for anyone, but imagine how intimidated your grandmother might feel if she received a call from the IRS telling her she owed money and needed to pay immediately, or risk being arrested. IRS-impersonation telephone scams like these are commonplace and demand payment via wire transfer or pre-loaded debit cards.
The IRS reminds people that it does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or text messages,3 yet seniors continue to fall for email phishing scams that appear to be from the IRS and ask to confirm personal information, verify PINs, or answer questions about refunds or filing status.
Tech support scams
Scammers take advantage of seniors’ lack of confidence in their online capabilities when they call or send emails to seniors saying their computer has a virus.4 If hackers have already successfully installed malware on a senior’s computer, they can create pop-up messages that warn that the computer is infected and ask that the user provide remote access or click on a (malicious) link to have “tech support” fix the issue. If they don’t steal sensitive information from the victim’s computer outright (like passwords), they might diagnose an imaginary “technical” problem that will require credit card payment. Many seniors do not feel confident in their online abilities, so many fall for these tech support scams.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking of online scams that the elderly fall victim to are those prompted by their loneliness and a desire to connect with other people. Fraudsters perpetrate “sweetheart” or “affinity” scams on online dating sites, making connections with lonely seniors and then playing on their emotions to take advantage of them.5 The scammers create phony online dating profiles, contact seniors on the site, and then eventually ask them for money for bogus reasons, or for sensitive personal information that they can use to steal their identities.
How to protect the senior in your life from online scams
You can help the seniors in your life avoid becoming victimized by these scams simply by talking to them on a regular basis. Whether you talk to them on the phone or chat with them online, having regular communications will allow you to ask questions about how they spend their time and to have conversations about the dangers of being online. Know that the senior in your life may not be as comfortable as you with technology and would probably appreciate that you are concerned about their safety enough to offer tips or advice.
Other specific steps you can take include:
- Make sure they have a strong Internet security suite installed on their devices. Norton Security Premium protects up to ten devices, including PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets. Internet security software can defend your seniors’ devices against ransomware, viruses, malware, and other online threats.
- Enroll them in an identity theft protection program. The number of elderly identity theft victims increased from 2.1 million in 2012 to 2.6 million in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.6 LifeLock Senior helps protect aging parents from identity theft by empowering adult children to actively monitor threats to their parents’ identities — and to get help if needed.*
Resources to learn more about scams targeting senior citizens:
Better Business Bureau: Scam Tracker
FBI: Fraud against seniors
Federal Trade Commission: How to report fraud
LifeLock: LifeLockUnlocked blog
Senate Aging Committee: Fighting fraud: Senate Aging Committee identifies top 10 scams targeting our nation’s seniors