Our elderly loved ones are some of the most precious people in our lives. Sadly though, seniors are also some of the most vulnerable, especially when it comes to online scams.
While online scams are a serious concern, rest assured there are many ways to keep your elderly loved ones safe from sophisticated scammers, ensuring they can live out the rest of their days in peace and comfort.
To best protect your aging family and friends, especially in today’s digital age, it’s important to understand just how sneaky scammers have become. While fraudsters once went door to door looking for susceptible victims, now they can use the internet to target people with the click of a button. Let’s take a closer look at the most common internet and tech-based scams targeting older Americans and how you can spot these threats before it’s too late.
1. COVID-19 vaccination card scams
Two years into the pandemic, many scammers have sadly pounced on innocent people excited about their vaccines. Seniors don’t always completely understand social media and how to be safe online, and sharing photos with personal information is a definite risk.
A simple photo of a senior’s vaccination card can reveal their full name, date of birth, and location details on where they got vaccinated. This is more than enough for experienced scammers to start stealing someone’s identity, whether it be breaking into bank accounts or opening new credit cards.
If an elderly loved one notices any suspicious banking activity or starts receiving unexpected mail, their personal information may have been compromised. Always keep an eye out, especially on your family member’s social media accounts, and make sure their settings are adjusted accordingly.
If you see them share a photo of their vaccine card, explain to them why it needs to be taken down. Better yet, if you know your elderly loved one is getting vaccinated soon and they are active on social media, gently remind them to take a photo with a generic vaccination sticker instead.
2. Social Security scams
Americans of all ages need to be careful who they share their Social Security number with, as if this information falls into the wrong hands, identity theft could be on the horizon. One common scam targeting seniors is a fake request for their Social Security numbers, which used to be via phone but is now often done through email too.
This could be a digital message asking someone to submit their Social Security number or they may miss out on funds owed to them. They may also be directed to a website that resembles the official Social Security site, prompting people to update their details. That’s especially dangerous because your elderly loved one may think they are doing the right thing when in reality, they are sharing private details with the wrong people.
The Social Security Administration will never email people asking for personal information, and they won’t call from random numbers either. Make sure you share this information with your family and friends, so if they ever receive an email that looks like it’s from Social Security, they know what to do.
Try to keep an eye on email accounts and set up strict security measures, making the most of the junk box to hopefully catch most scam emails before they reach your inbox. Also, watch out for any weird text messages claiming to be from Social Security, and remember the official website is www.ssa.gov. Any other web pages asking for personal information for Social Security are not legit.
3. Stimulus check scams
Another online scam involves stimulus checks and scammers sending emails pretending to be from the U.S. Government. Scammers just try to keep up with societal trends and whatever people are talking about at the moment, and during the pandemic, stimulus checks were high on the agenda. Criminals may send an email saying there is an unclaimed stimulus check.
Just like with Social Security email scams, anything involving the stimulus check from a strange email is a scam, as the government will not use email to request personal information. These emails may take users to a bogus website to “complete their stimulus check”, which in other words means providing sensitive information that could lead to serious financial and personal implications.
The best place to go for stimulus check updates is straight to the source, which is the official IRS website. The URL should read “www.irs.gov” so if you get an email telling you to go elsewhere, then it’s a scam and you should delete the message as soon as possible.
Many people report that these malicious emails have a link for the recipient to “request benefit payments”. The U.S. Government has made it clear the IRS, Social Security, and other administrative departments will never send emails requesting personal details like that. The sooner you can spot this scam, the more likely you are to save your elderly loved one from downloading malware or sharing sensitive financial information.
4. Dating app scams
Internet scammers prey on lonely people, and if your elderly loved ones are widowed or singled, they may be especially susceptible to online romance scams. They may meet someone on a dating app or have a secret admirer slide into their DMs, and this attention may feel fresh and exciting.
Sadly, these online romances can go south quickly, especially if the person on the other end starts requesting money or personal information. This online scam is especially difficult to deal with because victims usually feel ashamed of the situation and may be at risk of losing their life savings if their online lover gets creative enough.
If you’re talking to someone new online, pay attention to their communication style and trends. Does their profile check out or does it seem too good to be true? This goes for seniors too, so if your elderly relative is spending more and more time online, they may be caught up in a whirlwind romance that could have dire consequences.
At the end of the day, if anyone asks for money over the internet, especially if they appear to be a romantic love interest, it’s likely a scam. Never send money to anyone you don’t know, and make sure you talk to your elderly loved ones about their online behavior if you suspect they’ve struck up a friendship or romance with someone suspicious. If they can’t show you pictures of the person or answer general questions about their background, but they can show you requests for money, then this should raise serious red flags.
5. Lottery scams
Most people dream of winning the lottery, and sweepstakes scams target this normal human desire for more money. Many seniors sadly fall victim to these scams saying they won a large sum of money, and instead they suffer financial losses by inadvertently providing their personal information to “claim” their win, which of course never shows up.
The Better Business Bureau says 65 years and older account for over 50% of the total sweepstakes scam victims since 2018. Usually, they are tricked into sending money or purchasing gift cards to accept their win, which isn’t how the official lottery or legitimate sweepstakes work.
One of the most common themes of online scams targeting the elderly is that, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. A random email or text out of the blue should raise suspicions, especially if the message says you won a lottery or sweepstakes you don’t remember entering.
In the event your elderly loved one comes to you saying they won a prize, make sure to look over the message. When in doubt, research the so-called sweepstakes company to see if it even exists or if it’s something a scammer made up. If there is any mention of unusual gift cards, taxes, or fees, it’s not real and should be discarded immediately.
6. Prescription drug scams
U.S. seniors take approximately one-third of the total prescription medications consumed nationwide, and scammers have taken notice, coming up with online scams promising cheaper prescription drugs. These digital thieves send out email advertisements highlighting prescription drugs that work just as well as the big-name brands but are much cheaper.
A lot of seniors are intrigued by these ads, thinking they could save a quick buck on their prescription medications, not realizing it’s fake. The counterfeit prescription drugs may never show up, and the scammer can get away with credit card numbers and insurance information.
If a random email appears promising huge savings on prescription drugs, it’s probably a scam. Make sure your elderly relatives know they should only buy prescription medications from a trusted pharmacist to ensure their overall health and wellbeing.
As with many other online scams, these counterfeit medication medications may be riddled with spelling errors and suspicious email and web addresses. If it doesn’t make sense how these so-called prescription drugs could be so cheap, then it’s a scam and something that should be taken very seriously.
7. Free vacation scams
Sure, we’d all love a free vacation, but a surprise email promising an all-expenses-paid getaway is almost always a scam. Seniors are sadly the most susceptible to these scams as they are often naive and want to see the best in people, not realizing that what looks like a free vacation offer is actually an opportunity to steal their personal details.
These emails typically include eye-catching photos of a beautiful beach destination, promising an unbelievable deal as long as you book within a limited timeframe. These vacation homes and hotels may not even exist or at least aren’t owned by the unknown individual sending sketchy emails, which can leave elderly holidaymakers in the lurch.
If your elderly loved one’s email ends up in the wrong hands, they may start getting invitations to exclusive hotel deals, which actually require their personal information and a down payment. If it isn’t a well-known travel company like Expedia or Delta, then it’s most likely a scam designed to collect valuable information and steal identities.
You should be able to verify the property through a legitimate website, which is why it’s important to read reviews for the address and make sure people have actually stayed there. If you’re not seeing much, then you should stay away from booking anything, especially if the sender’s email address doesn’t seem all that professional.
8. Zoom phishing email scams
The coronavirus pandemic saw video conferencing platform Zoom skyrocket in popularity, which regrettably attracted the attention of scammers who saw a fresh opportunity to target unsuspecting victims via email. Zoom technology is relatively new for many people, especially seniors, and it’s certainly possible for users to mistake a scam email for an official Zoom meeting invite.
With Zoom phishing emails, scammers send emails or texts with the Zoom logo and a similar URL to confuse recipients. These messages instruct users to click a link after missing a meeting or having their account suspended. These links may contain malicious software hackers can use to steal someone’s identity and get ahold of their hard-earned money.
The problem with phishing emails is that they are designed to look like legitimate correspondence from a well-known company, so you have to pay close attention to see if something is amiss. The best email servers automatically scan for phishing emails, but if one does get through, you can spot it by reading the sender’s email address and the content of the message.
The email address may have extra punctuation or the message itself may say something odd about a missed meeting or suspended account, which aren’t official Zoom emails. If your elderly loved one doesn’t have an active Zoom account or at the very least didn’t have any meetings planned, then they are being targeted by a phishing scam and they should not click on any links.
9. Online shopping scams
Many seniors may be intrigued by the opportunity to shop online, but with countless different shops and products, it’s easy to fall for a scam. Criminals may set up a fake online store with products they don’t actually have, just to collect payment information and private personal details.
Some scammers lead unsuspecting elderly shoppers straight to the source, drawing them in with social media posts or search engine listings. Others send emails and texts advertising amazing deals on popular products, hoping online shoppers will fall for these so-called discounts.
If it’s an online retailer you’ve never heard of, or the web address and photos look slightly suspicious, then it’s always better to err on the side of caution and avoid buying anything from that site. You shouldn’t have to click on photos in an email to access the product listing online. Instead, you should be able to bookmark the URL and access it in your browser without any warnings.
As for your elderly loved ones, if they mention a good deal they found online, ask to take a look and see if it seems safe or like it could be a scam. If the retailer can’t be found online and there’s no review or BBB rating, then these emails and social media posts should be flagged as spam.
10. Celebrity imposter scams
Seniors are no strangers to popular public figures, and chances are they have a favorite actor or singer. Modern-day scammers are preying on innocent fans by sending emails pretending to be celebrities or setting up fake social media accounts.
Many celebs and influencers offer giveaways, and scammers feed off this trend by messaging victims and telling them to verify their account info and send over a deposit before they can get their prize. While this isn’t real, it can be hard for people to see past the celebrity name and picture, which makes it seem exciting yet believable.
Like romance scams, celebrity imposter scams can cause embarrassment and disbelief. That’s why you should pay attention if your elderly loved one seems withdrawn or starts avoiding certain topics. On the other hand, if they start telling you about a message they received from a celebrity, you may want to take a closer look to make sure it all lines up.
When in doubt, anytime a celeb account asks for deposits over a cash transfer app, it should be ignored and deleted. You can also check the account profile and see how many followers there are. If it’s a well-known celeb with only a couple of thousand followers, then you know something is up.
Tips for protecting elderly relatives from online scams
The rise of the internet and digital technology has connected the world like never before, but unfortunately, not all people use these online resources for good. Now not only are there scammers walking around in person looking to steal valuable information and belongings, but there are also a growing number of criminals preying on vulnerable internet users, especially those who are aging and may not understand the risks.
That’s why it’s so important that people of all ages take precautions while sharing information online. If you have elderly loved ones who use a computer or phone, it helps to maintain open communication and let them know about common scams and how to best stay safe online.
These tips for protecting seniors from online scams should help your family and friends, too.
A few simple steps can keep elderly relatives safe from online scams, ensuring they can stay connected with family and friends.
1. Talk to them regularly about technology
Constantly changing technology can be tough for anyone to keep up with, let alone seniors who don’t grow up with the internet. The more you can share with seniors about the internet and how it works, the better understanding they will have and the more likely they will be to notice anything suspicious.
2. Make sure they understand the risk
This one may be challenging because you want your elderly loved ones to feel comfortable using the internet but you also want them to understand the risks of sharing personal information online. Be patient with them and open up a clear line of communication in case they come across anything suspicious while online.
3. Install antivirus
Oftentimes scammers will use malware to put viruses on computers and steal sensitive information. That’s why everyone should have antivirus installed on their devices, especially seniors who may be less familiar with obvious cybersecurity threats.
4. Don’t click links in messages unless they verify it’s from who they think
All it takes is one bad link for scammers to gain access to your loved one’s personal details and digital devices. Show them a few examples of suspicious links so they know what to look for, especially on social media sites like Facebook where accounts are often hacked.
5. Monitor email accounts
With your loved one’s permission, it may be worthwhile to have access to their email accounts. This is particularly true if your family member or friend needs help navigating their emails and may not understand the difference between a legitimate message and junk mail.
6. Check social media settings
If your aging parent, grandparent, or aunt/uncle wants to be on social media, have a look at their privacy settings to make sure they aren’t sharing personal information with just anyone. Give them a few pointers about only adding people they know and being careful who they talk to.
7. Watch for browser alerts
If you’re surfing the web and click on a suspicious site, your browser should alert you and tell you not to continue. Make sure the browsers are regularly updated on all your family’s devices to ensure this extra level of protection and remind your relatives to never keep clicking if a warning pops up.
8. Choose passwords carefully
Help your elderly loved one get set up for online success with well-thought-out login details, especially passwords. Explain to them how to choose a password that’s highly secure but also easy enough to remember. When possible, help them with security login questions so they can manage account access to their banking and healthcare information as well as email and social media accounts.
9. Keep phone numbers private
Seniors who are relatively new to social media may be tempted to share more than they should online, so gently remind your loved ones to keep sensitive information like their phone number and address to themselves. Explain how scammers look for phone numbers so they can send bad links and steal identities. If your loved one actually understands what could happen if they share too much online, they may think twice before posting personal information.
10. Research before buying
Scammers see online shopping as an opportunity to target everyday people, which is why it’s important to talk to your older loved ones about safe shopping habits. Encourage them to read reviews and lookup business names before buying, and maybe even run certain purchases past you if they aren’t sure. A few simple checks before checking out can give you peace of mind it’s a legit online store rather than a scam.
11. Consult on large purchases
If your loved one wants to make a big purchase, whether it be new appliances or a tropical vacation, ask them to tell you ahead of time. This way you can do your own research as a family to ensure everything lines up. This is very important for medication too, as any so-called healthcare deals online should be discussed with doctors first.
12. Remind about official correspondence
Online scammers use email and text messages to convince innocent victims to provide their personal information or buy something that isn’t as it seems. Let your loved ones know that the government and any official organization won’t ask for sensitive details over email or text, so they know if they get an odd request, it’s a scam.
13. Keep an eye on finances
If you are the caregiver for an elderly loved one, then you should make sure you check in on their financial accounts regularly. This way you can pick up on anything that seems amiss, such as unexpected transfers or purchases. The sooner you can catch any suspicious activity or scams, the sooner you can mitigate the damage and protect your family member’s future.
14. Check in regularly
Last but not least, let your elderly loved ones know they can always come to you with any concerns about online scams. Touch base on new scam trends, especially anything highlighted by the FBI or BBB, so they know what to look out for. If your loved one feels like they can come to you with any concerns, they are more likely to stay safe online.