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Avoiding the Internet Scammer’s Snare: Don’t Become a Senior Statistic

Older African American woman on iPad

More and more older Americans are active online. According to 2017 research by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of adults ages 65 and older reported they go online, and 42 percent reported owning smartphones, up from just 18 percent in 2013. And, according to a 2018 study, Pew found that some 37 percent of Americans 65 and older indicate that they use social media. From shopping, selling, banking and estate planning, seniors rely on a wide variety of online services aimed at helping them maximize their time in retirement.

Unfortunately, with digital savviness comes vulnerability. In fact, seniors fall victim to internet crime more than any other age group. So much so that last year, Congress designated May 15 National Senior Fraud Awareness Day. In 2017, 82.5 percent of the average annual complaints to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center came from victims over the age of 60, representing losses of over $342 million.

Why are older people more at risk? They make attractive targets because they are likely to have more money saved and be less tech-savvy than young people. They’re also more likely to experience declining judgment and therefore may not recognize they’re being scammed before it’s too late.

Social engineering, which relies heavily on these vulnerabilities, is a popular technique. It involves the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes. It’s popular because scammers can use it to reach anyone with a phone or email account, it’s easy to perpetrate, and the number of potential deceit scenarios are vast. From masquerading as a grandchild in financial trouble to a friend with a medical emergency, the possibilities are endless.

It may seem unjust, but facing reality is the first step to protecting yourself or the older people in your life. The second step is to make a commitment to be vigilant. According to The Con Artist’s Playbook, an AARP publication, a scammer’s goal is to “…catch you while you’re ‘under the ether,’ a heightened emotional state that makes it hard to think clearly and make rational decisions.” Learn how they get you into that state so you can be ready for it.

Here are a few other important basics that can help you avoid getting caught in a scammer’s snare:

  1. Protect your family’s privacy. Social engineers are skilled at exploiting the information you post online to scam you.
  2. Only open messages from people you know. Don’t click on any links in emails that claim they can help you resolve a financial problem.
  3. If you find yourself on the phone with someone you don’t know, don’t make any financial decisions. No matter what they say or how they pressure you, tell them you never make financial commitments over the phone.
  4. If you suspect you are being targeted by a fraud or scam, call your local police, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice Initiative and AARP Fraud Watch Network. Both offer not only fraud reporting, but also many helpful resources.
  5. Trust your instincts. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

The internet has so much to offer that can help seniors get more out of this special time in their lives. Arming yourself, and the seniors you love, with basic cyber safety practices will help create a safer online environment. You can find those tools and many other helpful cybersecurity resources on our website. We also invite you to follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter, where we frequently share cybersecurity tips.


Written by: Sarah Nicholas

Sarah is the Director of Communications for Serendipity Communications. She lives in Plainwell, Michigan with her husband, daughters and stepson, with twin stepdaughters nearby. She is passionate about cyber safety education for children and enjoys ballet dancing, reading and volunteering at her children’s school.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Ameris Bank is not affiliated with nor endorses any of the companies listed in this article.