With more people online than ever before, cyber-crime is something that now affects people of all ages and backgrounds, as hackers and scammers aim to steal money and personal information from any internet user that drops their guard. Yet one of the most common targets of online fraud is also one that often has the least experience with the internet: seniors. Recent research has shown that cybercrimes against US adults aged 60+ have increased five-times since 2014, has led to more than $650 million in losses every year. Though cyber-criminals might not discriminate based on age, they recognize a vulnerable target when they see one, so it is important for older internet users to take additional steps to make sure they stay safe online.
While internet users of all ages are affected by online scams, there are a surprising number of strategies used by scammers that are designed specifically to target seniors. There are many reasons for this: older adults are generally viewed as being less tech-savvy, and thus more susceptible to certain types of online fraud. For instance, less knowledgeable internet users might have a harder time telling the difference between a legitimate website like Amazon and a fraudulent website trying to imitate the real thing. Additionally, since many seniors often have “nest egg” funds tucked away for retirement, they are often very attractive targets for cyber-criminals.
Of course, not all seniors fit this description: research has shown that certain senior groups are far more tech-savvy then one would expect, even if they don’t use the internet as regularly as younger generations. Yet this perception of older adults as being less tech-savvy, more trusting, and flush with cash has led many hackers and scammers to specifically target them.
Although most scammers are generally after the same thing—money or personal information—they have a wide variety of ways to get what they are after. From initiating friends and family to claiming your computer is infected with viruses, scammers will blatantly lie
· Phishing: arguably the most common method of scamming people online, phishing refers to when a scammer uses fraudulent emails, texts, pop-ups, or copycat websites to get you to share valuable personal information. This can include your login IDs and passwords, Social Security numbers, or other account data. By disguising themselves as legitimate websites or organizations, scammers can potentially trick users into giving up vital data without them even knowing.
· Confidence/Romance Fraud: with type of scam, a victim is deceived into believing they are in some type of a trusting relationship with a scammer. This includes criminals pretending to be a family member (like a grandchild asking for airfare to visit them), along with “love interests” that aiming to use their relationship for personal gain. An FBI report found that romance or confidence fraud was the 7th most commonly reported scam and the 2nd most costly.
· Identity Theft: the act of stealing of personal information and using it to make fraudulent purchases or money transfers. Most forms of internet fraud involve some type of identity theft, but scammers don’t always need to trick someone in order to steal their information. Instead, they will target online accounts with poor passwords or PIN numbers.
No matter if you are 8 or 88, it is important to remain vigilant when using the internet. Though security experts are constantly coming up with new strategies to combat cyber-criminals, it is not possible to completely eliminate security issues online. That said, there are a few good all-purpose tips that can make your online experiences a little bit safer:
Be wary when a website or pop up ask your personal information. Even if it claims to be from a legitimate website or organization, it could be a copycat using a similar looking website to fool you. Always double-check a website’s URL address and note if it seems different from usual.
Be cautious about opening attachments unless you are 100% certain of the sender’s identity. Scammers can sometimes imitate friends or family members by sending messages from a spoofed account. If someone you know sends a message with a suspicious-looking attachment, consider calling or texting them before opening it.
Always set your security software up to date automatically. One update could be the difference between being protected against a major virus or being open to a cyber-attack.
Make sure to back up your files to an external hard drive or a cloud storage option. You never know when something will go wrong, so it pays to take extra steps to keep your data safe.
Use long and unique passwords for your various online accounts. While it might be easier to remember one password that could use for everything, it also means that if a scammer gets ahold of one password, they potentially have ALL of your passwords.
Most importantly, if you think that you have been the victim of an online scam, don’t hesitate to come forward about it. One of the biggest reasons that cyber-criminals specifically target older internet users is because they are less likely to report if they have been the victim of a scam. This is usually due to embarrassment, as some believe that admitting they were scammed will cause their family members to see them as incapable of handling their own financial affairs. But the fact is that criminals are very good at what they do, and many smart people have been victimized online. It is our duty to report online fraud cases, not only for our own sake but to protect others as well!
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