How to Guard Seniors Against Internet Scams and Fraud

January 5th, 2018

By: Sharon Roth Maguire, MS, RN, GNP-BC Chief Clinical Quality Officer, BrightStar Care

Many seniors today rely on email, social media, and phones to stay connected with friends and family. While technology keeps us in touch from afar, it also opens the door to scammers who prey on older adults.
 
In 2017, nearly 70 percent of seniors were using the internet, and every year, thousands fall victim to scams and fraud. Sometimes the consequences are minimal, such as uncharacteristic remarks or photos posted from their accounts. But unsuspecting people often are tricked into giving away personal or financial information online or on the phone, which can add up to thousands of dollars lost.
 
While everyone should be mindful of scams, people who aren’t technologically savvy or have declining memory or decision-making abilities are particularly vulnerable. Use the tips below to detect technology scams, help seniors avoid them, and safeguard their information while they use their favorite technology.
 

Spot Social Media Fraud

Using social media is a great way for families to stay in touch long-distance, especially with video calling. But, unfortunately, many social-media platforms are relatively easy for hackers to access. Watch for these signs if you think a loved one’s account has been compromised:

  • Hateful, noncoherent, or otherwise out-of-character status updates or images
  • Uncharacteristic actions, such as liking or sharing inappropriate content
  • Unexpected friend requests or group invitations

If you notice any of these issues, call your loved one right away to find out if the peculiar activity was intentional. If it was and you’re concerned, take time to talk about how your loved one is feeling and how you can help. Sudden mood changes and uncharacteristic behaviors can be signs of depression or dementia.
 
If the activity wasn’t intentional, the account likely was hacked. If you suspect someone has created a fake account using your love one’s name or image, you can report the account on Facebook or Twitter. It’s wise to update social media passwords as well. Many of us are guilty of using the same password on all of our accounts, but this isn’t recommended. If one gets hacked, they all can get hacked! Help your loved one come up with a different password for each social media account, and offer to store it safely in case they forget it.
 
Related reading: Senior Scams and How to Avoid Them

Avoid Email Scams

Email can be easier for some seniors to access and use than social media, and it has become a lifeline for many of our clients whose loved ones live far away. It can be tempting to click on links and attachments because we don’t want to miss anything going on with our family and friends. Particularly with email (and increasingly so with social media), what we click on or open can wreak havoc on our loved ones’ accounts and privacy in the form of computer viruses or harmful programs.
 
Encourage your loved one not to open or click anything they receive unless they recognize the sender’s address. Following this guideline can help spare your loved one from falling victim to a pretend long-lost relative asking for money or similar nonsensical stories. If your mom or dad is concerned they’ll miss a picture or an update, consider creating a family code word or phrase. In every email, use the code in the subject line as a sign that the message and attachments are safe to open.

Steer Clear of Telephone Scams

Telephone best practices can be tough for anyone. Telephone scammers can sound incredibly professional and trustworthy and often are aggressive when they don’t get the information they want.
 
A few rules of thumb to help your loved ones avoid telephone scams:

  • Never give personal information over the phone unless it’s to a verified source. For example, if a loved one calls the number on the back of their credit card, they can share appropriate information with the person who answers. But if someone claiming to be from the credit card company calls your loved one, he or she shouldn’t tell them anything. A legitimate organization should have important information already and shouldn’t need to verify it.
  • There’s no need to be polite if someone gets pushy on the phone. No one has the right to threaten your loved one with penalties, higher interest rates, or other detriments. Unfortunately, many seniors fall prey to these nasty tactics because they don’t want to appear rude or unable to make their own decisions. Encourage your loved one to simply hang up if anyone yells at, threatens, or tries to push them around on the phone.
  • Take the easy way out if you feel cornered. There’s no harm in deflecting the conversation if your loved one feels uncomfortable or suspicious. Ask them to respond with, “Let me talk to my daughter first,” or “My son helps me make financial decisions,” rather than giving a response they might not feel comfortable giving.

A good way to verify whether a caller is reputable is to ask the caller to dial back at a specific day and time. If the individual refuses to call back or becomes aggressive, it’s likely he or she is a scammer.
 
Connectivity is wonderful to keep seniors feeling involved in family conversations. Encourage your loved one to use best practices for social media, email, and the phone to keep their personal information out of the hands of would-be scammers.
 
If you’re concerned that your loved one is vulnerable to scamming, call 866.618.7828 or find a location near you to speak to a BrightStar Care senior care professional for tips on how to start a productive conversation about web and telephone safety.