how can older people stay safe online

Why are older people targeted?

Throughout our modern history older people have been seen as vulnerable and therefore an easy target for scams. There have been roofing scams, distraction thefts, postal scams and fraud committed by phone. Now we have online scams. None of these are exclusively committed against the elderly but older people are seen as vulnerable because people hold the following perceptions:

  • They are less experienced online
  • Likely to live alone
  • More trusting
  • Embarrassed to ask for advice
  • Likely to have a nest egg (money saved for retirement)
  • Likely to be a bit more naïve

Now these stereotypes are not true for everybody but the fraudsters believe that they are true in many cases and that is why they target the elderly.

What are online scams?

The official definition of online fraud is: 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.

There is a massive range of potential frauds and there are new ones being added everyday including:

  • Computer viruses
  • Online shopping
  • Fake websites
  • Email scams
  • Relationship scams
  • Health scams

This is not an exhaustive list and new ones are being thought of every day.

Computer viruses

Computer viruses are damaging and illegal computer programs designed specifically to do harm to people’s computers. They spread from one computer to another like a normal virus does between people. The two computers do not need to be in the same room, instead they just need to be connected online. The most common way to contract a virus is to open an email with an attachment which contains the virus, or visit a dubious website.

Fraudsters often use viruses to take control of your computer remotely or in some cases the virus itself harvests your computer for personal and sensitive information. In some cases no such virus is on your machine but a fraudster will call and say they are from Microsoft or Apple and there is a problem with your computer which they will fix for you. In order for them to ‘fix your machine’ you need to give them remote access at which point they steal your information.

Legitimate IT companies never contact customers in this way. If you get a phone call from someone offering to fix your computer hang up straight away.

Online shopping

Be very careful when making purchases online. Online shopping is becoming ever more common and a great way for older people to stay independent, but the fraudsters are watching. If you have not heard of a shop do some research to find out if they are genuine before making a purchase, ask family and friends for support.

The main shopping scams involve not posting the goods you have paid for, sending you fake products or taking your bank details and emptying your account.

The following steps make it harder to become the victim of fraud:

  • Use trusted websites recommended by family and friends, use shops you know well and are sure you are on their official website or use sites like e-bay or amazon that offer some protection against fraud
  • Find out what protection your credit card gives you against fraud
  • Use a payment card that only has enough money for the purchase in question so your account can’t be cleared
  • Make sure the website is “Secure”, we explain this in more detail in a “Safe Shopping On-line Blog”
  • If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Fake websites

Fraudsters are very resourceful and sometimes create fake websites which look real and genuine. Fake websites have been designed to look like Inland Revenue, NHS, various high street banks and a range of other institutions. For example, a fake Lloyds bank website may be created to trick you into entering your pin number for your bank card, your security information or your account details.

The main way you will link with these fake sites is via a link on an email, if you have any doubt about a website then google for the service and see if the Google search takes you to the same website. Be very cautious about entering any personal or sensitive details into a website which sent you an unexpected link via email.

Email scams

Fraudsters send 1,000,000s emails every day to people hoping that just one will fall for the scam and enter their personal details. The email may ask you to reply, direct you to a fake website, inform you that you are a lottery winner or say they are somebody that needs help – maybe even pretend to be somebody you know.

Sometimes emails have a link or attached that when you click or open will download a virus as explained above.

If you have any concerns about the legitimacy of an email delete it immediately. Do not open it, do not reply – just delete it. If it is from an organisation or company that you do work with then call then using a phone number on their official website.

Relationship scams

Scammers can use social networks such as Facebook, dating websites or chat rooms; they will befriend you and initially ask for nothing but your friendship. Later once they have built a relationship and gained your trust they will start asking for money, normally by telling you a sad story. They normally just ask for a small short-term loan and they are always highly believable. Often this small loan turns into a bigger one and before people realise they have lost their life-savings.

These tricks are difficult to spot but it is made easier by discussing with a friend or relative, sometimes just saying it out loud helps you spot the issue. In any case, never send the person money or give them your account details. If you wouldn’t give all your money to your next door neighbour don’t give it to someone you have never met.

Health scams

There are quite a few scams revolving around medicines and medical related products, these are often based on false and misleading claims. They could be miracle health cures, fake medicines, miracle devices, creams or potions. The reality is often not quite as positive and the actual products delivered to your door can turn out to be fake, poor quality and in many cases damaging to your health.

Avoiding the Scams

The best way of avoiding the scams is by not fitting into the stereotype of a person likely to be a victim:

  • Take an online safety course to gain better online awareness; don’t let lack of knowledge be an issue
  • Remember banks will never call you or email you and try and fix a problem, if you get such a phone call end the call and contact the fraud department of the bank via their phone number taken from their official website
  • If you think someone is trying to scam you, a good way of checking is by contacting Action Fraud, a police resource that can give you advice
  • If your instinct is telling you there is a problem listen to it and STOP. Close down the email, website, or conversation and speak to the police or a loved one
  • Even if you live alone keep in constant contact with neighbours, friends and family. Talk about what you are doing online, be open and honest about it
  • Keep your Nest Egg safe, use a different bank account for you savings and your shopping
  • A trusting person does not need to turn into a cynic. Just be aware that lying in order to steal people’s money is a full time job for some and they are very good at it. Just think before parting with your money, take a pause, say it out loud to a friend and think does it sound right. If not STOP!
  • Never be afraid to ask for help, advice or support. Information and knowledge is the best way to beat a scammer, they thrive on peoples nativity.

What should I do if I think I’ve been a victim of an online scam?

Scammers are constantly finding new ways to trick people and online scams are changing all the time. It’s not unusual for people to get tricked, so don’t suffer in silence and don’t be embarrassed to report it. There is a huge amount of information online and Action Fraud managed by the police is an excellent example.

Tell your family and friends and report it to the police.

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