Seniors – the Internet Scams Soft Targets

The scenario

We are witnessing increasingly aggressive email scams targeting all kinds of Internet users who utilise security cameras. For example, it was recently reported that 1,600 scam emails of this type were intercepted between 2 and 3 January this year.

Being a one of still not sufficiently secured the Internet of Thing devices, these indoor or outdoor cameras are easy targets for cybercriminals. Google’s Nest Cam Indoor and Amazon rain cameras are, reportedly, usual targets but other brands are not imine to hacking.

Although the scammers do not have all the personal information they claim to have, many people still fall victims. Cybercriminals usually threaten people to expose their sensitive photos or videos unless they pay a ransom.

This is what a typical scam email looks like:

“We have nude videos of you, which we recorded with your device camera. As proof that we have the compromising videos, you can log in using the following details: email **** and password ******.  Follow the instructions.”

No matter if the cameras we use are hackable or not, cybercriminals use these emails to receive money from uninformed or gullible people. Even if people know that they have not done anything wrong, they still fall preys. 

The victims

The above cyber incidents can happen to any of us but the senior citizens are particularly prone to this kind of crime. The FBI’s 2018 Internet Crime Report shows that people 60 and older submitted more than 62,000 fraud complaints in that year, stating losses of nearly USD 650 million.

Hence our intentions to share with our readership the reasons senior citizens are the targets as well as what are the common Internet scams are and how to prevent them.

The research of our business partner Panda Security suggests that the senior citizens are soft targets as they usually have only very basic computer skills. Furthermore, by the time seniors retire, many of them have done all their savings and are lucrative targets. On the other hand, those who have not saved enough are looking to make some fast money – so they become viable targets. It also appears that senior citizens are more trusting.

Some senior scams that happen either online or over the phone include the persuasion into purchasing unnecessary products or services, charging fraudulent or unnecessary services, forcing seniors to give their personally identifying information or financial information, promoting false offers, or get-rich-quick pyramid schemes.

Internet scams targeting seniors

While some online scams are generic and do not target a specific age bracket, others specifically target seniors. The Panda Security points out the following most common scams involving senior citizens:

Online investment scams

As many seniors are planning for retirement or need help while managing their savings, the online investment scams target these individuals promising a good return on their investment. These either turn out to be Ponzi schemes or once the money is ‘wired’, they never see it again.

Online dating scams

The Internet can be a great place for seniors to find love. However, cheaters create fake profiles and use them to get close to someone in order to scam them out of money. Unfortunately, many seniors (and the middle age people) fall victim to this scam because they are looking for companionship and can be too trusting.

Lottery scam

Seniors, like many other people, are prone to falling for scams that tell them they won the lottery. The scammers will then ask for personal and banking information to ‘wire’ the winnings to them. That is how their savings get stolen.

Counterfeit prescription drug scam

People go online to research their prescription drugs and find the best price. Unfortunately, they run into scammers who offer them drugs at a cheap price. Either these prescription drugs are not authentic or they never arrive.

Tech support scams

In 2018, these scams cost people USD 55 million. The FTC reportedthat older adults were five times more likely to report losing money on tech support scams. These scams start out with a pop-up warning of a computer issue, providing a phone number to call. A fake Microsoft or Apple employee answers the phone and convinces people to give them access to the computer so they can solve the issue. This usually ends up with accessing the victim’s bank account or request for payment for the said repairs.

Anti-ageing product scams

The anti-ageing product scams, which promising people they will look younger, are coming in a few forms. It could be an ad for a low-cost or even free (plus tax) anti-ageing products for sale. Once people enter their banking information to purchase the product, these scammers will just take their money.

Funeral and cemetery scams

Funeral and cemetery scams can target seniors both in-person and online. This could be in the form of a misleading funeral package that offers a cheaper price but ends up costing in additional service fees.

Useful bits of advice for seniors

There are many useful general pieces of advice that can be found on and offline but we here share some FBI important recommendations for seniors:

  • Contact an attorney before signing a legal document.
  • Check financial statements monthly for unusual activity.
  • Avoid unsolicited contacts.
  • Do not give out financial information or personal information to a person you do not know and trust.
  • Be wary when someone met on a dating site wants financial information or help.
  • Be suspicious of lottery scams.
  • Keep in mind that the government will not seek personal information and will not request money over the phone.

In addition, here are some Panda Security tips for keeping seniors safe online:

  • Be sure the website is secure: If entering any personal information onto a website, be sure it is a secure site, by checking the URL and ensuring it says https.
  • Use secure payment: If purchasing something online, be sure the website has a secure payment method. It is also best practice to use a credit card as it is easier to report fraud and reverse the charges.
  • Log out of a shared computer: When using a library computer or one that is shared by the living community, be sure to log out of the accounts when done. If you have downloaded any personal documents, delete them off the desktop before logging out.
  • Keep your computer updated: Keep a personal computer updated as the updated software is far less prone to malware. For extra protection, consider installing antivirus software.
  • Secure passwords: Be sure to create secure passwords for all accounts used. These passwords should be different for each account. If you have trouble remembering them, consider getting a password manager that can store all your complex passwords in one place.
  • Report the scam: Lastly, it is important that you report any scam to the authorities. Do not be embarrassed or afraid to report the scam that you were involved in. If you fell for it, it is likely others did too. By speaking up, you can prevent others from falling victim.

The last advice, actually brings a question of whether our senior citizens are legally sufficiently protected?

Is it now time to introduce particular regulations in South Africa?

On 15 June 2019, the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day took place, highlighting how older populations are vulnerable to various forms of fraud, also seeking to promote education and strategies to prevent the senior citizens from being victims of deception.

In the United States, for example, the ‘Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act’ was enacted in 2017 with the purpose to provide a platform for the Department of Justice “to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial fraud and scams that target the US seniors” – according to an FBI press release.

Minding increased the Internet-related incident numbers involving senior South Africans, particularly those related to the online ‘dating scams’, we believe that now is the right time to explicitly regulate this matter. Hence, we invite cyber law experts to take the matter in their skilful hands and help the government in protecting our senior citizens from falling victims to the online scams.

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