You probably never thought you’d see grandma surfing the net or your grandpa on Facebook, but seniors are heading to the internet in record numbers. According to the Pew Institute, as of April 2012, more than half of adults over the age of 65 are now accessing the internet. This is the first time that research has shown this age bracket going over the 50 percent mark for internet usage.
The good news is that the internet has opened up a whole new world for seniors — especially for those who have restricted physical mobility. The bad news is that the internet can often resemble the lawless Wild West, with robbers and scam artists just waiting to ambush that beloved senior in your life. Unfortunately, unlike younger generations who have grown up with the internet and tend to be savvier about scams, seniors are often hitting the web with wide-eyed innocence, making them the perfect mark for the cyberpredators.
If your parents or grandparents are computer newbies, it may be up to you to give them a few lessons about the internet.
Voice and Email Phishing
According to Microsoft, phishing emails and phone calls are designed to take your money or identity from you. A phishing email, for example, will typically pretend to come from a financial institution, such as your bank, and will usually look identical to typical marketing emails. Voice phishing is similar except that a scam artist will use an automated recorded message that he robo-dials to victims. These emails or voice phishing calls will attempt to scare you by claiming that an unusually large withdrawal has been made against your account and to please call a number or click on a link for help. If you follow through, you will then be asked for personal information, such as bank account numbers and passwords, which can then be used to steal your identity or money from your account.
It is important to warn the seniors in your life that they should never give out personal financial information to anyone, even if they believe the request came from a trusted source. Seniors are especially vulnerable to voice phishing or email attempts as they often don’t understand how a scam artist can create official looking emails from another company or how their information can be compromised. Inform seniors that if they suspect that something is wrong with their accounts, they should contact the institution directly.
A Loved One is in Trouble
Recently, unsuspecting victims have been receiving calls or emails that claim to be from a loved one who is in desperate need of cash quickly. The loved one typically identifies himself as a distant relative and explains that he is in trouble and needs money to leave the country.
Unfortunately, these emails are typically worded in an alarming manner to persuade seniors. Warn elderly loved ones that they should never send money to anyone without checking with other family members first.
Seniors who live by themselves may be lonely and could be easy marks for romantic scams. If a senior in your life has met someone online, you should warn them that they should not divulge personal information or give money to a person they have never met only online. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to pretend to be something or someone they are not online. In fact, this deceptive practice has even earned its own nickname — catfishing. Recently, an embarrassed Manti T’eo, a Heisman trophy finalist, had to admit to being a victim of just such a scheme.