Because senior adults are generally more susceptible to serious consequences from COVID-19 than the rest of the population, social media has provided them with a way to stay in touch with others, pursue online interests, and make new friends. It has enabled them to order food, supplies, services, and medications online, while fending off the emotional and physical challenges of being alone.

Yet being online can be dangerous, particularly for seniors who may be unfamiliar with the tactics unethical people use to steal their identity, and their money.

The Scams

It can be difficult to determine whether someone you don’t know and wants to be your online “friend” is simply trying to connect socially, or seeking to take advantage of you. Unfortunately, seniors, who tend to be more trusting, become prime targets for scammers.

Some of the most common online scams include the following:

Email offers that are too good to be true.

The scammer offers a fictitious prize designed to elicit private information from the senior or encourage them to send money. Or an email may falsely claim to come from a customer service representative seeking bank account information, requesting from the senior their user names and passwords.

Scammers that have information on the senior.

It is fairly easy for scammers to obtain a person’s personal information from organizational lists, church groups, and community service groups. Lists also can be purchased illegally, but a surprising amount of information is freely available online. Scammers use the information they are able to get about the senior to convince them they are someone they are not.

Loan requests.

A scammer email may desperately request a small loan, promising to pay it back with interest. Don’t fall for it.

Requests to confirm bank login.

The scammer creates a convincing website requesting this information. A legitimate banking representative will NOT ask you for your username or password.

Fake webpage warnings.

This happens when a senior is warned his or her computer is infected, requiring the immediate installation of the “company’s” security software. It’s called “scamware.” You pay for this software with a credit card and then end up installing “malware”—malicious software used to harm, exploit, and retrieve data from your computer, including your credit card information.

Counterfeit prescription drugs.

Seniors looking for lower-cost medications online can fall victim to people selling worthless or unsafe substances.

Medicare scams.

A scammer poses as a Medicare representative and encourages seniors to supply personal information.

Protection and Online Privacy

The first line of defense is awareness – knowing that scammers are out there.

Before clicking a link or responding to an email ask yourself who may be asking you to respond, what they are asking for, and if what they are offering in return seems too good to be true. Be especially suspicious if the person is asking for money or information that can be used to obtain your money. One best practice of online privacy to follow: never provide sensitive information online.

Use strong passwords.

This means creating a password that includes upper and lower case letters as well as symbols to make it very difficult for someone to guess correctly. Using different passwords for separate accounts and changing passwords every few months, including passwords for banking and credit card accounts, can be quite beneficial and keep you safe.

Setup security tools.

For seniors less familiar with computer security software, a family member may need to assist with setting up the senior’s system. This includes making sure a firewall is always on and installing and frequently checking anti-virus software.

Access information on online scams.

Protect Seniors Online provides education and tips on how to avoid online scams.

There are several places to report online scams. AARP Elder Watch works with seniors to help them make good online decisions and report scams.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center maintains a site to file complaints on scammers and provides information on how scammers work.

Technology offers a great opportunity for older adults and seniors to connect with their loved ones or find new hobbies! Find more senior-friendly technology ideas and tips on our blog.