Cyber Scams: How To Protect Yourself And Your Family

May 25, 2021
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Cyber scamming targeted specifically at elderly individuals is a major problem in the United States, growing worse during the global pandemic. The American Journal of Public Health estimates that about 5 percent of the elderly population (which equates to around two to three million people) suffer from some sort of scam every year, with a large percentage of Internet scams going unreported.

The multi-billion dollar business of scamming the elderly in the US is draining people of their life savings, their retirement funds, and government benefits. The Orlando Sentinel, citing a Department of Justice report, points out that elderly people lose out on about $3 billion to scammers every year.

Below have shared some ways that you can protect yourselves and your loved ones from the threat of online fraud. 

What elderly or vulnerable people can do to protect themselves:

  • If contacted about an online discount or deal that seems too good to be true, stop and perform more research on the company providing the deal before giving any bank details or personal information. 

  • Consult with family members and caregivers about potential purchases before going through with it and never give away information on an impulse.

  • Avoid answering any emails or ads that come from unfamiliar sources.

  • The FBI suggests that you contact your doctor before committing to any health procedure or treatment not covered by your insurance.

As a loved one or caregiver, here are some steps you can take to protect your loved ones:

  • Regularly check in on bank accounts and retirement accounts with an eye for odd purchases or withdrawals.

  • Keep loved ones informed on ways they could be scammed on the Internet. 

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the top 10 scams targeting seniors include the following:

1.Medicare — Fraudsters pose as Medicare representatives to get seniors to give them their personal information, such as their Medicare identification number, and then use this information to bill Medicare for fraudulent services and pocket the money.

2.Counterfeit prescription drugs — As prices for prescription drugs increase, seniors look to the internet to find cheaper prices for their medications. Unfortunately, fraudsters are aware of this and set up websites that advertise cheap prescription drugs, which are usually counterfeit. Seniors who unknowingly purchase these counterfeit drugs soon realize they have been duped when the drugs do not provide any relief from their medical condition or even cause additional health problems.

3.Funerals — In one type of funeral scheme, fraudsters use obituaries to find out information about the deceased in attempts to extort money from family members or grieving spouses. They claim the deceased has an outstanding debt that must be paid immediately. The family members are already in a vulnerable state and are more likely to pay the fraudulent debt.  

4.Anti-aging products — Scammers advertise anti-aging products that are either worthless or harmful. Scammers might also advertise products as being effective and natural, but in reality, the product has no anti-aging effects. 

5.Telephones — Phone scams are the most common scams used against the elderly. Scammers might get seniors to wire or send them money by claiming to be a family member who is in trouble and needs money. They might also solicit money from the elderly by posing as a fake charity, especially after a natural disaster.

6.Internet — Victims have been tricked into downloading fake anti-virus software that gives scammers access to personal information on their computers. Seniors might also respond to phishing emails sent by scammers asking them to update their bank or credit card information on a phony website.  

7.Investments — Fraudsters can take advantage of victims by posing as financial advisors to get access to their retirement funds and savings. Once they have access to the funds, they take their money and run.

8.Mortgages — Elderly victims who own their homes can be valuable assets to a scammer. Scammers might send out fraudulent, yet official-looking, letters to victims that list the supposed assessed value of their home. 

9.Sweepstakes/lotteries —This scheme usually involves contacting elderly victims either by mail or telephone, and informing them that they have won a prize of some sort, but must pay a fee to obtain the prize. Scammers send a fake check to the senior to deposit in their bank account knowing it will take some time for the bank to reject the check. Meanwhile, the victim has sent the scammer money through wire transfer for fees or taxes on the prize. The victim soon realizes that they were scammed when the check doesn’t clear.

10.The grandparent scam — This scam is extremely deceptive because it plays on the elderly’s emotions. In a grandparent scam, a scammer calls an older person and pretends to be their grandchild. They ask them if they know who is calling, and when the grandparent guesses the name of one of their grandchildren, they pretend to be that grandchild. 

If you believe you or someone you know may have been a victim of elder fraud, contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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