On Protecting Seniors from Fraudsters

It’s no secret that seniors are among the most common victims of fraudsters. In fact, according to Comparitech, ten percent of U.S. seniors were victims of financial fraud in 2022—a total of about 7.8 million people. 

But in the past, when we thought about elders being victimized, we probably thought about mail scams and charismatic phone callers who convinced Grandma to buy a nonexistent product or surrender her credit card number. After all, most seniors weren’t using home computers, and there were no smartphones. 

Now, Grandma and Grandpa have iPhones on Facebook and TikTok every day. For example, my grandmother had an iPad long before I did. And as older adults become increasingly active online, including dating, they can unknowingly become victims of various digital scams and frauds.

Everything’s changed. Want to see how everything has changed? Just take a few minutes to watch this (full link below as well) report from 60 Minutes from August 27th to see how parents and grandparents are being targeted through fear-based scams leveraged with artificial intelligence (AI) and spoof tactics. 

Let’s look at how your loved ones in their golden years could be targeted and how you can help them keep safe.

Phishing and Email Scams

Phishing is probably the most common form of digital fraud that targets seniors. Teams of scammers, often working in anonymous offices overseas, create deceptive emails or text messages designed to look like they are from legitimate sources—banks, the IRS, or well-known companies like Amazon, eBay, or Netflix. Seniors who grew up generally trusting big companies and established brands can believe these messages to be legit and are susceptible to clicking on malicious links, sharing personal information, or even transferring money to scammers.

Protection: Help the seniors in your life learn how to be cautious when opening emails from unknown senders and to avoid clicking on suspicious links. Teach them to watch for telltales like high-pressure language, misspellings, vague messages, or claims like “Your account has been locked.” Show them how they can verify the authenticity of any request for sensitive information by contacting the organization directly through its website or phone number. And remember, be patient; it’s all about protecting those you care for.

Tech Support Scams

Here, criminals call targets posing as technical support representatives from reputable companies, often Internet service providers. The fraudster will claim that the senior’s computer has been infected with malware or has technical issues and will ask the victim to download software to fix the “problem.” Of course, this software gives the scammers remote access to the senior’s computer, which can steal sensitive information like credit card numbers or even shut down the computer until the senior pays a ransom. 

The first line of defense here is simple: Seniors should not answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize. Beyond that, tell them they should never grant remote access to unsolicited callers and download a Call, Robo, or Spam Filter apps such as TrueCaller or a dozen other apps available through your mobile carrier or on the app or Play Store.

Social Media Scams

Seniors are increasingly embracing social media platforms to connect with family and friends. But social media can also be a cesspool of scams, including fake friend requests, identity theft, and fraudulent contests. I can’t tell you how many times a year I see someone close to me whose account has been hacked and not accept any friend requests.

Walk your elder loved one through the steps to adjust their privacy settings to limit who can see their personal information. Please help them to be skeptical about accepting friend requests from people who aren’t at least friends of friends. Teach them how to add multi-factor authentication (MFA) to their accounts and how easy it is once you add MFA. Remind them not to share information that indicates they are away from home, as this can attract real-world parcel thieves and burglars.  

Lottery and Prize Scams

Lottery and prize scams target seniors by claiming they have won a substantial sum or an attractive prize. But to claim their “winnings,” victims are told they must pay upfront fees or provide personal information, which can lead to financial loss or identity theft. Remind your loved one that legitimate contests don’t ask for these things. They’re too good to be true. 

Family members and caregivers should actively ensure seniors know the need for online safety and help them understand that they will be targeted. 

As we have grown up in the digital age, take time to help our loved ones, be patient, and show them how to protect their digital lives.

Keep them safe.

60 Minutes – August 27, 2023


Christopher A. Smith is the author of Privacy Pandemic: How Cybercriminals Determine Targets, Attack Identities, and Violate Privacy—and How Consumers, Companies, and Policy-Makers Can Fight Back—release date November 7th, 2023 from Amplify Publishing, and will be available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book retailers.