The growing elder population is a prime target for scammers from all over the world who are taking advantage of this large demographic. Those over sixty-five are thirty-four percent more likely to have lost money on a financial scam than people in their forties, according to research by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's Investor Education Foundation.
The Internet is now the "Wild West" and if you don't know the dangers you could find your loved ones in trouble.
Seniors should be especially aware of fraud schemes for the following reasons:
- Seniors 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.
- People who grew up in the 30's-50s were raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say "no" or just hang up the telephone.
- Older seniors 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.
- When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators.
Here are some of the more popular scams con-artists are using today that you want to be aware of to keep your loved ones safe.
One of the scams on the rise is the so-called "sweetheart scam." Like their younger counterparts, older Americans are increasingly using online dating sites, and those sites can open a window for scammers to exploit. These scammers find an older woman on a dating site and establish a bond. Often, they persuade the victim to take the conversation off the site, thereby eluding any safeguards the dating site offers.
Soon, the scammer proclaims "love" and then explains a false predicament they say they are in: they have lost their passport and can't get home unless someone can give the embassy money to process their new one, they're on a business trip and their briefcase was stolen, or something similar.
In impostor scams, fraudsters call or email and say they are from an agency like the IRS. They tell the target they owe back taxes and provide an address for them to send money.
The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords, or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank, or other financial accounts. Recipients should also not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or a loved one gets a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here is what you should do:
- If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
- If don't owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes, then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.
The grandparent scam is also prevalent these days. In this kind of scam, a fraudster calls and says "it's your favorite grandchild" or something of the kind. Then they say they are in a predicament, usually in Mexico or some like place - they're in jail, their wallet was stolen, or something similar - and they don't want their parents to know. They just want the grandparent to wire money. These con artists can make a great case because they may have gathered personal information about the grandchild and the grandparents from the Internet.
The FBI's advice to avoid being victimized in the first place:
- Resist the pressure to act quickly.
- Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.
- Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail, especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash - once you send it, you can't get it back.
If you have received a call from an unknown person claiming to be from Microsoft stating that multiple issues have been detected on your computer, you are the victim of an attempted scam.
The purpose of these calls is to get an easy $199 (or whatever amount they choose) by scaring you into thinking there's something really wrong with your computer and that they can fix it for you.
Cybercriminals often use publicly available phone directories so they might know your name and other personal information when they call you. They might even guess what operating system you're using.
Once they've gained your trust, they might ask for your username and password or ask you to go to a website to install software that will let them access your computer to fix it. Once you do this, your computer and your personal information is vulnerable.
Your computer screen freezes with a pop-up message - supposedly from the FBI or another federal agency - saying that because you violated some sort of federal law your computer will remain locked until you pay a fine. Or you get a pop-up message telling you that your personal files have been encrypted and you have to pay to get the key needed decrypt them.
These scenarios are examples of ransomware scams, which involve a type of malware that infects computers and restricts users' access to their files or threatens the permanent destruction of their information unless a ransom - anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars - is paid.
You can remove many ransomware viruses without losing your files, but with some variants it may be much more difficult. In the past, PC World has discussed general steps for removing malware and viruses, but you need to apply some specific tips and tricks for ransomware. The process varies and depends on the type of invader. Some procedures involve a simple virus scan, while others require offline scans and advanced recovery of your files. You can categorize ransomware into three varieties: scareware, lock-screen viruses, and the really nasty stuff.
Here are instructions provided by PC World on how to remove ransomware: pcworld.com/article/2084002/how-to-rescue-your-pc-from-ransomware.html
We have focused on the more popular scams. For a more complete and current list, visit the FBI's Common Fraud Schemes at fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud
GrandPad was designed with all these scams and threats in mind. GrandPad is a simple tablet computer for seniors. GrandPad only allows emails, phone calls, and video calls from trusted family and friends. Your loved ones using GrandPad won't get unsolicited phone calls or emails from people they don't know and trust.