As a senior, you’ve probably reached a point in your life where you can finally relax, spend some time with your grandchildren, and maybe even travel a bit. It’s very likely that your home and vehicles are paid off, and you’ve got a good-sized nest egg available to help you live comfortably for many years into the future. After all, you’ve worked hard for a very long time and now’s the time to enjoy it.
But the sad reality is that there are millions of scammers out there who are actively trying to steal your money, and they’re increasingly using the internet to accomplish it. In the past, while fraudsters have traditionally used methods such as telephones and door-to-door interactions to scam senior citizens, older generations have become more online savvy in recent years, which has caused scammers to change their tactics. In fact, according to a 2014 Pew study, 59% of seniors reported using the internet, which is 6 percentage points higher than just 2 years before.
However, while seniors are increasingly turning to the internet to stay connected via email and social networking, to shop, and even to bank, they may not always be aware of the potential dangers these activities involve. This was even highlighted in a recent AARP study outlining the most common traits associated with scam victims, many of which are often exhibited by seniors.
Because HighYa is committed to making all of our readers more informed consumers regardless of age, we feel it’s important to help keep seniors in-the-know about everything the internet has to offer—including some of its pitfalls. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common ways seniors are defrauded over the internet, and then discuss methods that you can use in order to avoid them altogether.
Pop-Up Advertisement Scams
Think about the last time you were browsing the web. Did you click on something and expected to be taken to a different website, but instead had a new screen appear that advertised some product or service? If so, then you know first-hand what a pop-up advertisement is.
While most pop-up ads are harmless (if not somewhat annoying), some can provide you with a world of grief. How? Imagine that a pop-up ad claims to have scanned your computer and found 4 different viruses on it. By downloading their free software though, this pop-up claims that you can erase them all completely free of charge, and that you’ll be protected from future viruses as a result.
What you don’t know is that 1) there probably aren’t any viruses on your computer, 2) that you won’t be downloading any anti-virus software, but 3) instead, you might actually be downloading a virus. These viruses are typically some type of spyware that might record your keystrokes, access your usernames/passwords, send emails on your behalf, or much more.
Whichever form they may come in, these fraudulent pop-up ads are out to steal your information, whether it’s your banking information, social security number, important documents, or all of the above. Ultimately, they can then steal your money or even your identity, which is a huge problem that can take years to sort out.
Email Phishing Scams
Have you ever received an email from someone in another country (often Nigeria) requesting that you help them deposit a large sum of money? And in return you’ll receive a large percentage as a “thank you” gift? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, according to the New York Times, similar scams have been rife for as long as a century, and have drawn in millions of unsuspecting individuals, many of which have been seniors.
These scammers will often email thousands of strangers per day in order to cast as wide a “net” as possible, and they’ll attempt to tell you their sob story. But whether it’s a Nigerian prince or some other tale that pulls on your heartstrings, these fake emails are intended to get you to hand over your money. After you’ve been pulled in by the sad story and replied to the scammer’s email, they’ll create a sense of urgency in order to convince you to act quickly. In other words, they want you to act emotionally instead of logically, although we’ll discuss some ways you can prevent this from happening later.
But first, similar to the popup ads mentioned above, scammers may attempt to steal your personal or online information through emails, which may appear to have been sent from your credit card company, your local bank, the government (e.g. IRS, Federal Reserve, etc.), or even a funeral home. Wherever they’re pretending to come from though, they’re all out to do one thing: to get you to willingly hand over your important information.
Let’s say you open an email that appears to have been sent from your bank, which lets you know about a $500 deposit that was just made. Curious, you clink on the link and enter your username and password, but instead of being taken to you account’s homepage, the website asks you to verify your information, including name, last 4 digits of your social security number, as well as your bank account number. What you don’t immediately realize though is that this was a fake website created by scammers, and you just handed over all the information they need to take your money and steal your identity.
Anti-Aging Product Scams
As you reach your senior years, it’s perfectly understandable that you may want to turn back the hands of time a bit, and anti-aging products manufacturers know this. As a result, these products are often specifically targeted at seniors, and use pseudo-scientific language and big claims to drawn you in and take your money. In fact, even as far back as 2001 the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted that, “Senior citizens who buy anti-aging and alternative medicine products may spend millions of dollars on products that either make unsubstantiated claims or contain less of the active ingredient than is indicated on the label.”
In order to combat this, if you’re thinking about purchasing an anti-aging product you found on the internet, be sure to thoroughly research the product here on HighYa, as well as other online customer review websites. This way, you can gain a better understanding of what other customers have experienced and take into consideration any difficulties they’ve had. Also, if you’ve seen an anti-aging product endorsed by your favorite celebrity, don’t be swayed into making a decision based on this alone, as they may end up being fake.
It also goes without saying that you should always consult with your physician prior to beginning any new anti-aging product, who might even have some insight into its efficacy and whether or not it’s the best use of your hard-earned money.
Online Investment Scams
Similar to the Nigerian email scam, online investment scams often promise seniors with “guaranteed” high returns on their investments, the ability to get rich quickly or to strike it rich. These individuals will often disguise their scams as a an oil and gas investment, a prime bank scheme, or a “risk free” investment, but which often end up being pyramid or Ponzi schemes.
However, while online investment fraud may come in many forms, often the best question to ask yourself for any potential fraud is, “Does this sound too good to be true?” If your gut instinct is that it is, then it’s likely a food idea to stay away.
But how do these scammers draw you in in the first place? You’ll probably receive an email from someone who is supposedly looking for individuals to provide capital for one of the above types of investments. This individual may claim to represent a legitimate financial institution or investment company, and might include several initials after their name, which may or may not be legitimate professional designations.
While it’s usually a good idea not to respond to emails from unknown third parties in the first place, if you do plan on attempting to learn more, make sure to take a deep breath and not allow yourself to be rushed into making a decision. Instead, find out as much as you can about the individual that’s emailing you, and extensively research the company they claim to represent. Scammers typically don’t like it when you ask a lot of questions, so be sure to ask as many as you can muster.
What Are Some Other Ways that Seniors Can Avoid Internet Scams?
In addition to the above, one of the best things any senior citizen can to in order to avoid internet scams is to protect their computer by installing a firewall, spam filter, and anti-virus and anti-spyware software. In addition, you should create strong passwords and update them regularly.
Equally as important is to develop good online habits, primarily teaching yourself not to open any emails from unknown senders. If you are drawn in, never click on any of the links it contains or download any of its attachments, which will often contain spyware, malware, or viruses.
If one of these emails appears to have come from a financial institution or credit card company, it’s often best to log directly onto their site instead of clicking on a link inside the email. On top of this, it’s a good idea to remember that the IRS or government will never ask for financial information through an email.
If you’re a senior and regularly shop online, make sure that you don’t send money or hand over your bank account/credit card information unless you’re absolutely sure you’re purchasing from a reputable source. Other good ideas are to avoid making decisions based on emotion, and to always check the upper left-hand corner of your browser’s address bar and look for a small “lock,” which indicates that you’re purchasing over a secure connection.
Finally, be sure to read through the SEC’s Protecting Yourself Against Investment Fraud booklet.
What Can You Do if You’ve Been Scammed Over the Internet?
Senior citizens are often ashamed to report being scammed for fear of embarrassment or being deemed unfit to live alone, although it’s essential that this occurs in order to help other seniors avoid being scammed, as well as to bring the fraudsters to justice.
Because of this, if you’ve been the victim of an internet scam, be sure to report it to the FTC, as well as to local law enforcement. This could help spread the word quickly and to minimize the total damage that occurs.
On top of this, it may be a good idea to cancel existing credit cards and bank accounts and open new ones, and in extreme instances of identity theft, to obtain a new driver’s license or state-issued ID. Also, you’ll likely want to closely monitor your credit score, which can be handled by a wide variety of credit monitoring companies, and perhaps to even put a “fraud alert” on your account, which prevents any new loans or credit from being obtained without your express consent.
Whatever you do, it’s always important to remain proactive. With a little forethought and knowledge, the internet is a wonderful place that can help keep you connected during your senior years. Be sure to stay informed by regularly visiting HighYa, and if you have any advise on internet scams for seniors, be sure to let them know in the comments below!