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Cyber Security Awareness For Seniors

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month. Anyone can be scammed, even me. Out of all age demographics, the Senior population Is victimized the most by cybersecurity financial scams. It is truly sad that hackers and con artists will prey upon our beloved older adult population. There are a million and one ways to defraud someone but in this blog, I will focus on phone call (telemarketing) scams, internet fraud, and email/phishing scams. These are the most common scams that I have witnessed and helped my older clients with.


You would be surprised to know the number of older adults who are scammed daily; yet, who do not report the crimes. Why? Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs and lose their financial independence. Most older adults are capable of living their lives unassisted and free of living in nursing homes in comparison to the generations prior. It can be a blow to the ego when one is scammed. Imagine having to tell your adult child that you lost $10,000 of your life's savings?


Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists and scammers. If you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins, and health care products, and inexpensive vacations.


My advice to my older adult clients is to NEVER give out personal or financial information over the phone. Especially, to strangers. Winning a prize does not require having to pull out your credit card or bank account information and pay a stranger over the phone. Immediately hang up when they start trying to bait you into giving such information. I have even heard stories of how these con artists angrily yell through the phone at older adults demanding credit card information 'or else'. Do not allow ANYONE to talk to you like that. I again instruct one and all to immediately hang up the phone.


Tech Support Scams are HUGE and happen in three ways,

  • You may receive a pop-up window on your PC or MAC stating that your machine has a virus and that you need to call the number provided on the screen immediately.

  • You may receive a phone call from a toll-free or local number stating that they received a notification that your computer has a virus and that they need your device IP address immediately in order to help.

  • You may receive an email stating that your bank or another account information has been compromised and you must reset your password or call a number.


FAKE POP-UP WINDOW THREAT SCAM


The picture above is an example of a pop-up window alert that any Windows, Chrome or Mac device can get. A pop-up window will quickly get the attention of any user. Scammers who plant these pop-up windows on sites count on users to take action immediately by calling the number shown on the screen. The sad part about these pop-up links is that hackers no longer plant these links on social media or unscrupulous sites. They plant them everywhere. From banking sites to golfing sites. I once had an SVP call me into his office for help with his computer. He was on a Golf Association website trying to pay his membership dues when he received a similar pop-up window. In the event that you should receive such a pop-up window immediately shut your device down. If you are unable to shut it down from the settings either hold down the power button until the device shuts down, remove the battery (if it is a laptop with a removable battery), or unplug the computer from its power source immediately if it is a desktop. Do NOT call the number on the screen. I repeat, DO NOT CALL THE NUMBER ON THE SCREEN. It is a scam and if you do call the fake tech support reps will do the following things,

  1. Ask you for your device IP address. Do not worry if you do not know what an 'IP Address" is or how to obtain it. The scammer will calmly walk you step by step over the phone on how to obtain it. The IP address allows them remote access into your computer.

  2. Once they have the IP address the fake tech support rep will do fancy things like move the mouse around (Oooooh!), open up notepad (Ahhhh!), type some gibberish (FAAANNNCCCYYY) and then for added special effects they will say, "Oh, look! You have virus on your computer!" This is where they then tell you there is a fee to remove the threat OR They can do what the worst of the worst scammers do and hijack your device. They will take possession of your device and threaten to take your important documents and financial records. (The City of Atlanta and even Charlotte have been victims of ransomware hijacking attacks. Yes, Atlanta and Charlotte. It took the City of Atlanta nearly a year to recover from this hit and they lost millions of dollars in the process because county records were inaccessible during this time.)

  3. Once they have scared you into believing that your device has a virus they will then need you to pay a 'small' fee for virus removal. Because credit card company's and banks are reversing these bogus transactions after they are reported the scammers are now instructing its victims to go to their local Walmart or other retail store to purchase gift cards in order to pay them. This is a RED FLAG!

In an online article entitled "Age of fraud: Are seniors more vulnerable to financial scams?" the interviewer talks to Judy, a 79-year-old Senior and victim of tech support fraud. Judy was defrauded out of nearly $200,000. Yes, $200,000.


Judy laid out all the used cards, piles and piles of them, covering every available spot on a small table. In all, there were more than 100 used Target and Walmart gift cards, some decorated with pretty pink flowers or cute cartoon penguins or, as it was the holidays, Santa Claus.

Judy’s nightmare began with a phone call from someone claiming to be from computer tech support who said he needed to get into her computer to fix something. It spiraled from there.

According to Judy, the scammer who took control of her computer-directed her attention to what looked like a readout from one of her accounts at US Bank. The account should have had $29,819. She freaked out when it appeared the account had been drained to nothing. Judy was led to believe if she gave the caller even more money, she would get all of it back. She said the scammer ordered her to not just Walmart but also Target, resulting in more than two dozen trips over two weeks to buy gift cards and to turn the value of the cards over to him by phone.