Listen to this page! Narrated by Nicole A.
Updated: March 8, 2022
Written by: Deanna D.
Episode 10 Background: An elderly woman encounters a scam artist on her home computer.
Scams of Cybercriminals – Cybercriminals are on the prowl for ways to scam people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They never stop. Sometimes they even have bots or viruses doing their dirty work for them. These attacks can occur over the phone or in-person and on any device: a smartphone, laptop or tablet; So, beware! In this episode an elderly woman receives a message (which appears to be a legitimate message) on her computer. What she actually viewed may have been an advertisement. Messages like these can be viewed on a wide array of websites. Cybercriminals may use phishing emails, intimidating texts (or advertising), robocalls, too-good-to-be-true online offers, or pop-ups. They also phone their victims, send text messaging and make door-to-door house calls at the homes of seniors. This is not an exhaustive list as new ways to trick people are constantly being (re)invented. The scammer’s goal in this episode is to get Grandma Nancy to install software on her computer which permits the scammer to have unfettered access to her system. This remote access software can allow a scammer to see your clicks, keystrokes and nearly all of your personal information. Clicking on a malware-infected link or attachments can be a surreptitious way that this may happen. In this case, Nancy is just being tricked while chatting on the phone with the scammer, into installing the infected software. The scammer’s play is at Grandma Nancy’s online banking and passwords for a money transfer without her consent.
Malware – a broad term for any type of malicious software, no matter how it works, its intent or how it’s distributed. A virus is a specific type of malware that self-replicates by inserting its code into other programs. Worms, trojans and the like get on our devices by a criminal tricking us into clicking on a malicious link. The most common scam is phishing emails because they are low risk and get a high return for the criminal. Plus, they are hard to identify. Despite that, they have many of the following features: a generic greeting (Dear Sir/Madam or Dear User), a request for personal information, a sense of urgency, a threat of action or deactivation, a (fake) website address or link that looks real but is fake, a very long, convoluted email address with a few recognizable words, and poor spelling and/or grammar in the body of the email. If something seems suspicious, it is fishy. Our guts can tell.
Why Senior Citizens? Seniors are a very common target because of their retirement savings, and they often live alone. Also, some are unaware that there are malicious people out there who target senior citizens specifically for their trusting, polite and friendly nature. Plus, the scammer or con artist believes in common stereotypes. They assume that elderly people are lonely, are unfamiliar with modern technology, and are easy targets for their personal and financial information to be stolen. Unfortunately, a lot of times, these scams go unreported because seniors are humiliated. To make things worse, these crimes are hard to prosecute.
Tech or Computer Scam – Currently, one of the most successful fraudulent schemes is tech or computer support scams. Either the senior citizen is called personally by the cybercriminal, or the senior citizen is tricked into calling them. In the first version, senior citizens get a call from someone who promises to work on their computers/devices or to clear their computers of viruses. To entice the senior, the cybercriminal may offer their so-called service at a senior-citizen discount. The scammers do remote rudimentary work such as installing free security programs, and, probably, the senior never knows about the scam. In other versions, scammers use internet ads and pop-ups to persuade senior citizens to contact them for help. They provide a phone number and ask the victim to call and get their tech problem fixed. Potentially, the scammer will covertly install a program that seeks financial information. The President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Illinois says, “When an official-looking message pops up on your computer stating it has a virus and asking for your credit card information to repair or asking you to call a number to get help. It is a time-honoured con-artist tradition. The way they get you changes but the result is the same. They want your money. They want your information.”
Different Types of Scams – Many schemes against seniors are performed over email, the phone or in person. They may take the form of alleged credit card offers, charity donation requests, home improvement offers, investment opportunities, banking and wire transfers, insurance offers, health products, sweepstakes and contests, to name a few. The list is always growing. Perpetrators are always evolving and changing their methodology with advancing technology and new ideas.
Seniors need to understand security measures on various platforms. Understanding privacy settings and the basic user instructions of social media sites or email is important because it may allow seniors to use the technology safely.
For most, when we see an unknown number that starts with “888” or an alphanumeric call display or an unknown area code pops up, we let it go to voicemail or we ignore it altogether. If the senior citizen picks up the phone sometimes the caller is persistent, and it is hard to hang up on them because the senior does not want to be rude.
Seniors should be encouraged to set up and use their contact list. This will help the senior distinguish family and friends from nuisance calls, telemarketers or robocalls. Senior citizens need to know about common scams and the typical language a scammer may use. Keep in mind, only a fraudulent business will request personal financial information via a phone call, text message or email. No government agency or real business would ever ask for a person’s financial information by phone, text or email.
Cybercriminals use a variety of methods to get seniors to fall for their schemes. Be aware of the following tactics:
- Being friendly so that the victim feels like the perpetrator is on their side
- Offering senior discounts, prizes, or once in a lifetime investment opportunity with extraordinary returns
- Instilling fear of legal consequences
- Giving a sense of urgency so people cannot think or act logically
- Appearing to be helpful to gain someone’s trust
- Using emotions because it makes people more interested in buying products or services
- Pretending they are a family member, bank or charity to seem legit
- Charity Donation Requests – scammer approaches the victim and indicates they are collecting donations for a worthy cause and end up exploiting people’s goodwill
- Investment Opportunities – scammer acts as a financial advisor and gains the victim’s trust than once they have the victim’s financial information the criminal takes the senior’s money and runs
- Health Products or Cures – scammer convinces a victim that a certain health care product needs to be paid for upfront and then they will receive the items in the mail later
- Lotteries, Sweepstakes and Contests – scammer tells the victim they have won a large prize, but they need to first pay for taxes and fees to claim the prize
The above are only a few scams and tactics that criminals use. The methods are always changing and evolving. So, it is important for everyone to remain up to date.