Cybercrimes are more prevalent now than ever, but a vast majority still go unreported. That’s because many scams target individuals, especially seniors, for under $1,000. The sentiment is that people would rather pay and move on than report out of embarrassment or fear that law enforcement's efforts to help would be futile.
Despite not knowing the true number of people targeted by scammers, cybercrime still led to $6 trillion in damages in 2022 alone. The risks are everywhere – from a piece of unsuspecting mail requesting confirmation of your identity to a nonexistent charity asking for donations – and seniors are scammers’ primary target.
Let’s discuss the reason crimes against seniors are so pervasive, the most common types of cybercrimes out there, and how to protect yourself or your loved ones against the dangers of elderly scams.
Why are Elderly People Targeted by Cybercriminals?
Why do cybercriminals and scammers target older adults? Seniors are far less likely to report these types of crimes than younger people – 41% of 20 to 29-year-olds report compared with 18% of 70 to 79-year-olds. They are also less technologically savvy, making them easy targets.
Additionally, scammers believe they can get more money and more lucrative information from seniors. And they’re right. The average loss from cybercrimes is $324, but that number doubles for people in their 70’s and quadruples to $1,300 among 80-year-olds.
Many seniors live off of government benefits, which is a common target for cybercriminals. But it’s not the most common. That spot belongs to online shopping frauds. And the most expensive losses for people over 60 years old? Romance scams.
Most Common Types of Cybercrimes
Cybercrimes are everywhere, but scammers are often after one of two things: money or identifying information they can steal.
When it comes to financial theft, there are a variety of scams that cyber criminals use to target their victims.
Online shopping fraud
Online shopping scams are the most common crimes against seniors. In this type of fraud scheme, scammers create real websites that only exist to collect payments (and payment information). The items purchased are never delivered because they never existed.
This was a big problem during the pandemic between 2020 and 2021. Many scam sites were put into place to sell masks or other health and safety items, but the victims never received their purchases.
Watch out for spelling errors on the website or prices that don’t match the item’s value. Those are the easiest ways to detect whether you’re buying from a legitimate store.
Fake charities are a popular scam used to prey on generous, unsuspecting victims. These charities appear to be legitimate organizations requesting donations for their cause, but the scammers in charge have no intentions of using your “donation” for good.
If you’re unsure of whether the organization reaching out is real or fake, do your research. Also, consider donating on the charity’s website directly – versus over the phone or via email – to avoid your money ending up in the wrong hands.
Home repair scams
Most door-to-door solicitors offer legitimate services and work for real companies, but some are a bit more nefarious.
The best case scenario if you unknowingly hire a scammer to do home repair or improvement work is that they do subpar work and leave you to pick up the pieces. The worst case? They take your deposit and run.
Lottery scams are another prevalent fraud scheme that cyber criminals employ. This is often both financial and information theft.
Scammers claim that you’ve won a prize but need money to cover “taxes and fees” or that you can pay to enter a sweepstake, but once you do, you never hear from them again. They might even request personal information with the promise that they will contact you if you win, which they can use to defraud you even more.
It’s not just money that cybercriminals are after. Another reason scammers exist is to collect personal information that can be used to steal your identity. There’s a plethora of different ways they try to do this.
Given that cybercrimes against seniors are most often unreported, health insurance scams are a popular way to steal both identifying information and money.
Scammers may bill Medicare for services they provide at fake clinics and then take off with the money. Or they call you to gather personal information, posing as a Medicare representative. This type of crime can happen to anyone over the age of 65 who qualifies for Medicare, so it’s important to be cautious.
Tech support scams
Tech support scams are difficult for older people to detect due to their lack of experience with technology. What most people would recognize as a scam – a pop-up message or black screen telling the victim to call a certain number so an undisclosed tech problem can be fixed – can be seen as a legitimate issue to seniors who don’t know any better.
Operating under the guise of legitimate technical support teams, cybercriminals steal personal information that can give them access to their victim’s bank accounts.
Many seniors, while retired, are still on the hunt for jobs or side hustles to supplement the pension payout or government assistance income they receive. Cybercriminals know this.
Scammers target this group of people by promising a work-from-home job as long as they pay for training. If you fork over the money, you’ll find there was never a job opening to begin with. Personal information can be collected as well, which is often used for nefarious reasons.
Other Common Scams
We’ve discussed the most common types of scams among the elderly, but what methods do cybercriminals use to target these individuals? There are three in particular that cause the most damage.
Seniors report that the most common avenue scammers use to contact them is over the phone. There are many different types of cybercrime schemes employed over the phone, such as social security scam calls, IRS imposters, and robocalls.
Social Security scam calls involve scammers spoofing their phone numbers to appear as if they’re calling from the Social Security office. When you answer, it is usually an urgent message claiming your SSN was used for illegal activity and that someone is on their way to your home. This is meant to intimidate you into paying up or risk getting in trouble.
A similar scenario occurs in IRS imposter scams. You get a call from the IRS (or from a number appearing to be the IRS) claiming you owe back taxes. They threaten jail time if you don’t pay them over the phone immediately. These are easy to spot because the IRS will never contact you by phone.
Robocalls are another phone scam in which automated technology calls households around the world to ask “Can you hear me?” When you say “yes,” the scammer uses the recording to authorize unwanted charges or gain access to your personal information.
With the rise of SMS marketing over the past few years, account takeover scam texts are also increasing. In this scheme, scammers send texts claiming there’s a problem with your bank account, credit card, or online shopping order. The texts include a link that, if clicked, leaves you vulnerable to fraud or theft.
Phishing emails are similar to account takeover scam texts. You get an email in your inbox that looks legitimate, appearing to be from a store you shop at, the bank you use, or your credit card company.
The email typically requests personal data such as log-in information or credit card information that they then use to steal money or additional information. This type of scam typically targets unsuspecting, technologically-challenged seniors.
How to Protect Yourself from Cyber Criminals
The potential for elder abuse through fraud schemes rises with age, which makes learning how to protect yourself and your loved ones from cyber crimes that much more important.
There are quite a few actions you can take to protect against threats to your finances and personal information:
- Verify who you’re speaking to before sharing personal information
- Don’t sign anything without doing thorough research first
- Stay vigilant when online or on your phone
- Don’t click on links you were sent unsolicited
- Let spam or unknown calls go to voicemail
- Avoid sending money to people you’ve never met in person
- Enable two-factor authentication in case someone does get ahold of your information
- Use your best judgment; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is
Steps to Take if You Believe You’re a Victim
Scammers purposefully target vulnerable individuals, which means there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you believe you’re a victim of a cybercrime.
If you see that money has been moved from your account that you didn’t authorize or you’re getting notices about potential identity theft, report it. There are two ways you can do this:
It’s more common now than ever before to become a victim of a cybercrime, but there are steps you can take to prevent this. Be wary of your online activity and guard your personal information closely to avoid scammers from gaining access to your accounts and, potentially, your identity.
Most importantly, report any signs of fraud. There’s nothing to be ashamed of! Organizations like the FTC exist to help you get your life back, so take advantage of them and stay diligent.