I wanted to talk to my elderly friends for a moment about fraud against senior citizens, and in particular, cyber fraud.
I guess, technically, since I belong to AARP, I am a senior citizen, although I’m only 55. But I am of the last year of the Baby Boomer Generation, and in particular, got well into my 30s before working with computers, and technology came on my scene. I was lucky to be in a career where I was taught how to use a computer, and learned email, spread sheets, and smart phones as I went along. I by no means am an expert, but I can get by, and I can learn, and that helps tremendously.
My grandkids are not old enough to help me with my computer issues, but I often toss my smart phone at my son-in-law, and tell him, “Fix this thing!”. I am lucky that both my sons-in-law are tech-savvy. My daughters are as well; one taught me to text, and the other helped me get on Facebook the first time.
However, there are some among my generation that are new to technology, and don’t have a squad that can help them with their tech issues. Unfortunately, these poor struggling souls are prime potential victims of Cyber Crime. I wanted to help those people understand the types of cyber fraud that can easily be perpetrated on the unsuspecting computer beginner.
America’s Elderly Are Losing $37 Billion a Year to Fraud
There are lots of different ways that senior citizens can become victims of fraud, from phone scams to people coming to your door soliciting, mail fraud, etc. But I think senior citizens are most vulnerable to cyber fraud, because a lot of seniors are beginners at using computers and smart phones.
“Internet fraud is a type of fraud or deception which makes use of the Internet and could involve hiding of information or providing incorrect information for the purpose of tricking victims out of money, property, and inheritance. Internet fraud is not considered a single, distinctive crime but covers a range of illegal and illicit actions that are committed in cyberspace. It is, however, differentiated from theft since, in this case, the victim voluntarily and knowingly provides the information, money or property to the perpetrator. It is also distinguished by the way it involves temporally and spatially separated offenders.” This is from Wikipedia
According to the FBI, here are the main methods of cyber fraud:
- Business E-Mail Compromise (BEC): A sophisticated scam targeting businesses working with foreign suppliers and companies that regularly perform wire transfer payments. The scam is carried out by compromising legitimate business e-mail accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques to conduct unauthorized transfers of funds.
- Data Breach: A leak or spill of data which is released from a secure location to an untrusted environment. Data breaches can occur at the personal and corporate levels and involve sensitive, protected, or confidential information that is copied, transmitted, viewed, stolen, or used by an individual unauthorized to do so.
- Denial of Service: An interruption of an authorized user’s access to any system or network, typically one caused with malicious intent.
- E-Mail Account Compromise (EAC): Similar to BEC, this scam targets the general public and professionals associated with, but not limited to, financial and lending institutions, real estate companies, and law firms. Perpetrators of EAC use compromised e-mails to request payments to fraudulent locations.
- Malware/Scareware: Malicious software that is intended to damage or disable computers and computer systems. Sometimes scare tactics are used by the perpetrators to solicit funds from victims.
- Phishing/Spoofing: Both terms deal with forged or faked electronic documents. Spoofing generally refers to the dissemination of e-mail which is forged to appear as though it was sent by someone other than the actual source. Phishing, also referred to as vishing, smishing, or pharming, is often used in conjunction with a spoofed e-mail. It is the act of sending an e-mail falsely claiming to be an established legitimate business in an attempt to deceive the unsuspecting recipient into divulging personal, sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, and bank account information after directing the user to visit a specified website. The website, however, is not genuine and was set up only as an attempt to steal the user’s information.
- Ransomware: A form of malware targeting both human and technical weaknesses in organizations and individual networks in an effort to deny the availability of critical data and/or systems. Ransomware is frequently delivered through spear phishing emails to end users, resulting in the rapid encryption of sensitive files on a corporate network. When the victim organization determines they are no longer able to access their data, the cyber perpetrator demands the payment of a ransom, typically in virtual currency such as Bitcoin, at which time the actor will purportedly provide an avenue to the victim to regain access to their data.
Frequent instances of Internet fraud include business fraud, credit card fraud, internet auction fraud, investment schemes, Nigerian letter fraud, and non-delivery of merchandise.
Steps You Can Take to Prevent Cyber Fraud
Find a trusted computer technician. You have probably seen commercials for the Geek Squad at your local Best Buy. They can be very helpful. However, I think local and privately owned computer repair shops are better. They have more knowledgeable staff, and you can personally get to know them. They can answer your questions and help you find the best software and hardware for your needs. Google search for computer technicians in your area, and look at Yelp and Hibu reviews to see how good they are. Or check your Better Business Bureau.
Invest in good virus protection. Virus protection prevents typical computer viruses from getting into your computer. I suggest Norton Anti-Virus.
Be sure you have a strong firewall. An internet firewall does just what a physical firewall does; it keeps viruses from getting through to your computer. Most virus protection packages provide a firewall.
Consider getting a VPN (virtual private network). VPNs encrypt your outgoing information so that it can’t be grabbed off the Internet and used to commit fraud against you. Then your information is stored off site with a third party, where it cannot be accessed by anyone but you. I recommend Nord VPN.
Protect all of your devises. Many anti-virus and VPN packages allow you to protect up to 5 devices, including your PC, laptop, tablet, and smart phone.
When You’re Online
Watch out for phishing emails. These emails look like they come from your bank or credit card provider. They often say something like “we need to update our records” and will ask you to click on a link. If you receive one of these emails do the following:
- Check the email address from which it came. Often hackers will use a hokey email address. If it looks strange, delete it. Banks and credit cards will not legitimately email you for personal information. They already have it, and they will not lose it. Think about it. If someone owes you money, are you going to lose their contact information?
- If this is a legitimate email from your bank, they will usually send you a link to change your password, and will often ask for the answers to your password hints you have given them previously.
- If you are still in doubt about legitimate emails, call your local bank branch or call the customer service number on your credit card. They will know if there has been an issue that needs your attention, and will tell you if an email has been sent.
- Do not give out personal information to anyone you don’t know. When in doubt, call the business with the phone number from another source, such as Google or Dex. Do not call the phone number on the email.
- Report the phishing email to your Internet provider or Email host.
The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. So, any email or text you get that says they are from the IRS is not legitimate. Call your local IRS office, or visit the IRS website to report the fraudulent email.
There is hardly ever a dire emergency when dealing with your bank or credit card provider. When the email demands immediate action, it is only a ploy to get you to act fast without thinking the issue through. The email can stay in your inbox without causing any harm. Take the time to make a phone call about the email or ask a friend what they think.
Your Email Provider
You may have noticed phishing emails from your internet provider or your email host. Some will tell you your account is being closed. Some will say they need an update of your personal information. Keep in mind that an email provider worth their salt will never ask for your password or PIN. Treat these emails as you would phishing emails about your bank or credit card. Bear in mind here too, that there is rarely any urgent need to reply, so get a second opinion. Report any phishing emails to your provider.
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You can stop a lot of fraud by just being aware of it. It will become second nature to spot those phishing emails after you have seen a few. Don’t get nervous or feel rushed as you get a second opinion. This is a time when we senior citizens can be selfish; guard your personal information and don’t share it with anyone you don’t trust. And always ask a trusted family member or friend to help if you need to.
Please leave your questions and comments below, and thank you for reading!