Senior couple sitting on a sofa in front of a computer with smiles on their faces.

Online Safety for Seniors | Tips for Staying Aware

Internet safety should be a priority for anyone who goes online, especially given the rising number of scams. Many of these deceptive practices specifically target seniors, who can be more vulnerable to this type of fraud. Fortunately, with a little knowledge of the most common online scams and how they work, they can be avoided. Here are some simple online safety tips for seniors, including an overview of common online scams so that you can protect yourself or a loved one from becoming a victim.

Scams Targeting Seniors Are On The Rise

Scams targeting seniors are some of the most common. The National Council on Aging estimates that scammers took approximately $3 billion from seniors in 2022, an 84% increase from the previous year.  Before diving into the specific types of online scams to watch out for, here are a few broad tips for seniors to follow for a safer online experience.

General Online Safety Tips for Seniors

Since there are many different online scams targeting seniors, it’s important to follow some general guidelines for staying protected online. The following online safety tips can help mitigate the risk of becoming the victim of a scam.

  • Keep your technology up to date. Computers, phones, and other electronic devices require regular security updates to protect against ever-changing threats.
  • Do not open suspicious emails or click unknown links. This includes links sent to you via text message. Email senders may also pose as friends or family members, so be sure to verify every message you receive.
  • Be suspicious when asked for money or sensitive information. A healthy dose of skepticism can keep you from becoming the victim of a crime.
  • Recognize red flags in a conversation. Requests for payments by wire transfer or gift cards, threatening messages, and suspicious-looking messages are all signs of a potential scam.
  • Beware of fakery. Whether in the form of fake online profiles or individuals posing as official representatives of real organizations, understand that not everyone is who they say they are.
  • Never be embarrassed to speak up. Mistakes happen to everyone! If you realize that you’ve been scammed, report the fraud and tell friends or family members you trust as soon as possible. This will help others while also protecting you from further harm.

Types of Online Scams Targeting Seniors

While the above tips can help protect against online scams at large, your most powerful weapon against online fraud is knowledge. Below, we’ll outline some of the most common senior scams, including how to spot them.

Malware Scams

Malware is a portmanteau term for “malicious software.” These programs install themselves on a user’s computer without the user’s knowledge. Once the malware is installed, a hacker may be able to take control of the computer or gain access to the information saved therein.

What it might look like:

Malware often comes in the form of a suspicious email or link within an email. The email may even look as if it’s coming from a person or brand that you trust.

How to avoid it:

Never click links in emails from people or businesses you do not recognize. If you do recognize the brand or person, be mindful of how professionally the email is presented. Are there errors in grammar or spelling? If it’s purportedly from an individual, are they asking you to do something that’s out of character for them? If you receive a suspicious-looking email, delete it immediately. If it is from a brand prompting you to login to a website, visit that site directly and check your account there, instead of clicking on a link in an email.

Medicare and Healthcare Fraud

All United States citizens over the age of 65 are eligible for Medicare. For this reason, scammers have a large pool of potential targets. However, Medicare fraud is not the only way scammers may try to target older adults. Perpetrators may pose as private health insurance providers, a health care provider, or a medical device supplier.

What it might look like:

Scammers often contact seniors asking for personal or medical information, pretending to be a representative from an insurance agency or Medicare office. They then use this information to steal a person’s identity or file fraudulent insurance claims.

How to avoid it:

Protect your Medicare number and your personal medical information. If contacted by someone saying they are from a particular office, ask if you may call them back at a phone number that you have verified online as belonging to that agency. Remember that scammers can now “spoof” verified numbers. This means that your caller ID may state that your caller is contacting you from a specific office number listed online or a familiar number even when they are not.  Be wary of providing your medical records to anyone other than trusted medical professionals whom you contact directly.

Online Relationship Scams

Relationship scams don’t just occur on dating apps. Services popular with older adults, like Facebook, can be used by scammers to mislead seniors and gain their trust. Once the scammer has a person’s trust, they begin to ask for money. Unfortunately, reports of romance scams have hit record highs.

What it might look like:

A scammer may make contact with a target through a dating site, smartphone app, or through social media platforms like Facebook. Although the individual may seem real, chatting with you online or even over the phone for long periods, their profile will be fake. After they believe they have gained your trust, they will try to convince you to send them money in the form of cash deposits, gift cards, or other means. Often, they will say they or a loved one are in financial trouble due to a medical or health issue, garnering your sympathy. Once they believe they have gotten all the assets they can from their mark, the scammer will disappear.

How to avoid it:

Be suspicious of any online friends you have not met who ask for money or who begin to share financial sob stories with you to gain your sympathy. Common red flags of a scam include requests for wired money, reloadable cash cards, or store gift cards because these forms of payment are more difficult to trace.

Charity Scams

While many of us are looking to make the world a better place, some see this as an opportunity to commit fraud. From small fraudulent fundraisers to large fake charitable organizations, a charity scam can take many forms.

What it might look like:

An untrustworthy person may set up a fake fundraising website or solicit donations through social media or an official-sounding charity may contact you via email or even by phone asking for your support.

How to avoid it:

For small fundraisers, try to verify as much as you can about the cause before donating money. For large organizations, you can use a website like Charity Navigator to do background research on an organization.

Avoiding Online Scams for Seniors | Final Tips

Preventing online scams can be easier when you practice open communication with those you trust. Sharing any suspicious activities with your family or friends can help you identify potential fraud or bad intentions. Remember that everyone is susceptible to online scams, and if you become a victim, there’s no reason to feel ashamed. Many scammers continue to get away with these activities because their victims feel too embarrassed to report them.

Following up-to-date information on the latest tactics used by scammers can also make it easier to avoid scams or fraud, empowering you to feel safer online and enjoy the many benefits of staying connected through technology.

Find a Supportive Community at Abbey Delray South

You will always find an informative and supportive community at Abbey Delray South. Our team is dedicated to your health and safety—online and off. We often host educational talks of interest to older adults, including sharing tips about online safety and personal security.

If you’re interested in learning more about life at Abbey Delray South, contact us and consider scheduling a tour to see our exceptional Floridian community for yourself.