If you have parents who are nearing the age of retirement, it’s important to take time to help them understand the risks and growing prevalence of cybercrimes in the U.S. Although nearly anyone can become a victim of a cybercrime, seniors above the age of 60 are particularly vulnerable. In fact, it’s estimated that cybercriminals steal approximately $40 billion every year from older adults in the United States of America.
In this article, we’ll tell you why aging adults are ideal targets for cybercriminals, what the most common threats are that you need to look out for, how to educate yourself and your parents, and how to protect senior parents in your family from becoming a victim of a cybercrime.
The Quick Facts
Before we get too far into what cybercrime actually looks like and how to protect your aging parents, let’s look at the facts:
Cybercrimes against older adults have increased 5x since 2014 (Source).
Of the victims who filed claims of cybercrimes in 2020, 105,301 of them were over the age of 60 (Source).
The average loss per victim in the 60+ age group in 2020 was $9,174 (Source).
It’s estimated that a cyberattack is attempted every 39 seconds (Source).
As the U.S. population continues to age, more people will find their aging parents at risk. But what is it that makes older adults so particularly vulnerable to cybercrimes? There are a number of factors at play, which we’ll look at in more detail in the next section.
What Makes Aging Adults Ideal Targets for Cyber Criminals
Cybercriminals prey on aging adults for these reasons:
Reason #1: Many senior adults are simply not as familiar with the technology and online tools of today. Technology moves fast and seniors are left having to learn how to use websites, manage online accounts, and communicate with online support on their own.
Reason #2: Many senior adults have more savings built up than younger people. Adults over the age of 60 have spent their whole lives working and saving for retirement. They are in a strong financial position and tend to have good credit and equity in properties.
Reason #3: Many seniors aren’t aware of common threats and scams that can occur online. They aren’t naturally suspicious of criminal behavior and phishing attempts that can happen when navigating on a website, reading through emails, or talking to someone on live chat. This makes them more trusting of people and more susceptible to being convinced to give information or money to cybercriminals.
The Most Common Threats
There are many tactics cybercriminals use when preying on vulnerable seniors. Here are some of the most common threats to look out for:
Tech support scam: Cybercriminals convince seniors that they need to remotely access their computers to fix a fictitious problem.
Fake family emergency scam: Cybercriminals pose as a family member stranded somewhere and in need of immediate financial assistance.
Government official impersonation scam: Cybercriminals pose as government officials asking for personal information or attempting to collect a debt.
Medicaid or medicare scam: Cybercriminals attempt to get seniors to buy something using Medicaid or Medicare funds.
Reverse mortgage scam: Cybercriminals attempt to get seniors to apply for a fictitious reverse mortgage or loan.
Home title theft scam: Cybercriminals use public information to steal a senior’s home title and take out loans against the property.
Fake social media friend scam: Cyberciminals create a fake profile that matches a friend of a senior adult in an attempt to get access to sensitive information or funds.
Malicious download scam: Cybercriminals convince a senior adult to download a file that ends up being malicious in nature.
Get-rich-quick scam: Cybercriminals convince a senior adult to send funds to be eligible to win a lottery or grand prize, or to make money on an investment.
In each of these examples, the goal of the cybercriminal is to gain access to the personal information or money of the person being victimized.
Ways to Protect Your Parents from Cyber Crimes
Being a victim of a cybercrime can take a huge emotional and financial toll on your life. For a senior adult, it can mean the difference between living comfortably through retirement and having to spend the last years of your life recouping losses and working to support yourself and your family.
If you want to help project your aging parents from becoming a victim of a cyber crime, here are some recommended steps you can take:
1. Educate them about cybercrime. Help your parents understand what cybercrime is, how prevalent it is, and what puts them most at risk.
2. Help them with passwords and account creation. Teach them how to create and update their passwords. Encourage them to use a service like LastPass, which will generate and store secure passwords for them. Help them set up online accounts and show them how to use them.
3. Keep their computer software up to date. Make sure their computer software is always kept up-to-date. Check in monthly to make sure they have downloaded and installed updates correctly.
4. Teach them how to recognize the signs. Help them recognize common signs of phishing behavior and cybercriminal activity.
5. Make them wary of strangers reaching out to them on email or social media. Encourage them to not respond to people who reach out to them via email or social media unless they know who they are. Tell them not to give out personal information over email or social media, even if they believe they are talking to someone they know and trust. Always ask them to speak to the person over the phone to confirm their true identity.
6. Help them understand how their financial institutions will contact them. Make sure they understand how their financial institutions will contact them and what information they will and will not ask for.
7. Teach them safe browsing habits. Teach them how to browse the web safely, and help them understand the dangers of downloading files on sites they aren't familiar with.
8. Check in with them regularly. Talk to your parents regularly to identify warning signs yourself and to continue educating them about cybercrime.
What to Do If Your Parents Become a Victim to a Cyber Criminal
If you believe your parents have been victimized by a cybercriminal, take the following steps:
Step 1: Report the crime to IC3 and with your local law enforcement agency.
Step 2: Help them change their passwords to any accounts that may have been impacted.
Step 3: Freeze or close any accounts that may have been compromised.
Step 4: Report crimes involving money or loans to the credit bureaus.
Step 5: Monitor your accounts for unusual activity and report any suspicious activity to your bank.
Cybercrime is not going away anytime soon. The best thing you can do for your parents and for yourself is to stay educated and be proactive when it comes to keeping information safe.
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