TL;DR Why the elderly are more susceptible to scams, the types of scams and tips to avoid them.
Shortly after I started my role at Panther, my mom called to tell me about an article she read in the monthly AARP magazine. It was a topic on how the elderly can protect themselves from scammers and hackers. This naturally sparked my interest because I don’t find this topic being talked about enough. Scams are something we are all aware of, but why is the elderly group much more vulnerable and what can be done to better protect them?
Why The Elderly Are At Risk
The internet is a vast and informative space, and it can be overwhelming for people, especially for those who aren’t used to it. We millennials grew up with the internet at our fingertips, so it wasn’t anything scary. But imagine if it was something totally foreign to you – maybe like trying to keep up with Gen Z lingo on TikTok.
Last year, a subgroup of the FBI known as the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported that 88,000 people aged 60 and over collectively lost $3.1 billion dollars to internet fraud.
Our parents and grandparents are often victims of scams because they are easy targets. What makes seniors easy targets on the internet? The following include but are certainly not limited to the elderly being:
- Too trusting
- Not tech-savvy
With the influx of information available, it’s hard to trust what is real and what is not. Technology can be intimidating, and speaking from my role as the designated tech person in the family, my parents feel embarrassed when admitting they don’t know what they’re doing on the computer. They’d rather me quickly resolve whatever their issue is rather than learning (sorry, mom and dad).
The 3 Main Types of Scams
Every day, we are at risk of encountering a multitude of different scams, but a few stand out as particularly prevalent and have personally impacted my family. Let’s delve into these specific scams with the goal of safeguarding ourselves and our loved ones in today’s interconnected world.
- Online shopping
- Tech Support
Online Shopping Scams
Online shopping scams can come in different forms. Maybe you are buying clothing, beauty supplies, medicine, or incredible concert tickets. Either way, you’ll be using a credit card to make that purchase. It can be tricky to decipher if it’s a legitimate website, especially if you are in a rush of excitement to make that purchase.
Last year, my mom had fallen victim to a scam. She thought she was purchasing tickets to a show at the theater in Detroit, only to have lost a couple of thousand dollars! I asked her what the website was, and it was NOT the official website of where tickets could be purchased.
Unfortunately, this type of scam is not only something my mom experienced. In a different AARP article, another woman fell victim to the same sort of scam when trying to buy Taylor Swift concert tickets for her daughter and a couple of her friends. She didn’t know the tickets weren’t real until she drove to the venue’s box office!
Online Shopping Tip #1: DON’T trust the sponsored or advertised site when you search.
These are often hijacked by scammers and can lead to untrustworthy sites disguised as trustworthy. In an article in the Washington Post, this is known as “malvertising.” Said differently, it’s a malicious advertisement that leads to a scammy website.
In the screenshot above, the fake link led to a site where the customer was able to place an order. The customer received a phone call from the restaurant saying the order had been placed by a known scammer who had upped the prices by 15%. The order was placed in the victim’s name, and the scammer hoped the restaurant wouldn’t notice. Luckily, they did and canceled the order, but the victim still had to deal with the double charges on their credit card.
Online Shopping Tip #2: Make sure the site is secure
Is the website adorned with HTTP or HTTPS? The “S” means secure and will have a lock symbol next to the URL. This is how you know the website is secure.
Secure sites can still be compromised by scammers, but it’s not as easy. Don’t trust buying from an http website, but still, do your research on the site regardless.
A phishing scam is when you receive an email or text that seems like it’s from a legit source, which leads to a fraudulent website or malicious download. Scammers use this method to steal your personal information like your passwords, bank information, and/or social security number. It could be disguised as a message that says you need to reset your password, a problem with your payment, or that you’re eligible for a crazy, too-good-to-be-true deal. Here’s an example of a phishing email:
Upon first look, this message appears trustworthy, but it’s scammy. These emails are often filled with a sense of urgency, bad grammar, and pretty vague information.
Phishing Tip #1: Hover over any links before you click them
As seen in the example above, when you hover over a link, you can see where it leads. We can see that this does not lead to a safe website, so that alone will get the alarm bells ringing. Hovering over images or buttons is also an option if there are no hyperlinks in the body of the email.
Phishing Tip #2: Check the sender’s name
Do you recognize the sender’s email address? Does it match whatever site/business they are claiming to be?
This might seem legitimate, but look at the email address. The customer support email for Amazon does not include a person’s name. Not to mention, you would never receive this kind of email from Amazon asking you to call them. There are a handful of ways to contact Amazon for support, and this is not one.
Tech Support Scams
A tech support scam is when someone from a trustworthy tech company like Microsoft, Apple, or Google is claiming to be a technical support person. This con artist will convince the victim they have an issue with their device and that they must act right away. Scammers will often trick the victim into granting them remote access to their computer. This type of scam can be done two ways: phone calls or initiated by a pop-up on a website:
This pop-up can be disguised as an urgent message like, “threat detected on your device!” To an untrained eye, this kind of message can seem very convincing. I know someone who had a job as a technical support agent to protect the elderly from this type of scam. The scammers were so great at convincing their victims to trust them that the victims didn’t trust the help! The goal of that scammer is to gain access to your personal information as well as your money.
Tech Support Scam Tip: Don’t call the number listed or click anything.
Stop what you’re doing and contact your techy loved one. Trustworthy and legitimate companies won’t call you to claim something is wrong with your device. It’s up to you to contact them for help. A true pop-up from a tech company would never ask for you to enter your phone number or click on something to enter payment information.
If you were scammed into granting remote access to your computer make sure your computer is updated to the latest version and run a scan to ensure suspicious files are found.
If you were scammed into paying the scammer contact your bank to see if the charges can be reversed.
When I was first learning to drive, my parents always told me to “drive defensively.” Well, the same can be applied to protecting yourself on the internet. Proceed with caution, keep your blind spots visible, and pay attention to your surroundings.
Speaking of being vulnerable as a reason the elderly get scammed, there are vulnerabilities on all levels everywhere we go. One of my goals in this blog is to reach people of all levels, whether young or old, from enterprise company level to a home user, and to teach ways they can better protect themselves in today’s connected world. As a Senior Cloud Security Strategist at Panther, I wanted to create a piece that my parents could learn from, and I’d like to continue my efforts in making learning about cybersecurity interesting and relatable to everyone.
Another goal of this blog was to reach people outside of the cybersecurity community because I don’t see that being done often enough. I hope you will share this with anyone who might find this information helpful!