Protecting the elderly from online scams


Art Samaniego

While it looks like senior citizens are often a target for cybercriminals, the truth is, bad guys are randomly looking for people they could scam online. Cybercriminals do not discriminate based on race, religion, nationality, color, gender, sexual orientation, social class, economic status, disability, or age. Scammers do not care if you're young or old. As long as you do not take good care of your online accounts, expect that someone will attempt to steal these accounts from you.

Many senior citizens have become victims of cybercrime because, by nature, they are trusting, polite, and, most of the time, longing for someone to be with them. Unfortunately, cybercriminals exploit this goodness in our parents and grandparents. This trusting nature coupled with the cybercriminals' manipulative and skillful phishing techniques could spell disaster for the seniors and all of us. Being a victim of cybercrime is like having the COVID-19. Once infected, it is not only the seniors who could be affected but also the people close to them. These are the people they regularly engaged with on social media -- family, friends, and relatives.

If you have seniors at home who regularly use the internet, you need to guide and remind them that, like in real life, ordinary users have become the target of cybercriminals. Internet users get daily threats and attacks that sometimes they don't know that their accounts have already been compromised.

Here are the most common elder fraud schemes that could be used against seniors.

Love scam
Loneliness amid the pandemic is real, and scammers know this. Criminals pose as interested romantic partners on Facebook to capitalize on the seniors' desire to find companions. Once they get the seniors' trust, they would then ask for money and then disappear.

Account failure scam
This scam is one of the most successful scams used against elderly internet users. Usually sent via email and using a fake email address, the scammers ask the potential victim to immediately update account information to avoid being locked out from the bank and other online service providers. All it takes for the victim is to click and fill out the form from a link provided by scammers. Cybercriminals could then take over the account.

Nigerian scam
This scam is an old modus but still effective in scamming elderly internet users. The scammer requests help in facilitating the transfer of a large amount of money. In return, they would offer to give the victim commission. The scammers would then ask the potential victim to send money to pay some of the costs associated with the transfer. The scammers would then disappear once the victim sent the money.

Tech support scam
Criminals pose as technical support representatives from the internet service provider or a software company and offer to fix non-existent computer issues. The scammers then would guide the victim to install something. The installed software would give them remote access to the victims' computers, allowing them to get their personal information and financial transactions.

Investment scam
This scam usually comes from emails and instant messaging apps. It would ask potential victims to invest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The scammers will offer an exaggerated return-on-investment rate and an assured profit if the victims invest a larger amount. Once the victim gives his credit card details, the scammers would then use it for other purposes. In the next billing cycle, the seniors would have unauthorized charges on their credit cards.

Grandparent scam
The cybercriminals would pose as a child or grandchild, claiming to be in immediate financial need. Once the criminals get the money, they would disappear or even try again if the crime was not reported.

For a safer internet experience for our elderly at home, do the following as suggested by law enforcement agencies:

1) Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. Inform your parents and grandparents to resist the pressure to act quickly. Tell them to call you first before doing anything.

2) Always remind the elders to avoid unsolicited phone calls, private messages, emails, and text messages. Ask them to forward to you the messages and emails before answering them.

3) Warn the elderly from downloading files and opening email attachments. Always be wary of attachments forwarded via FB messenger and other messaging apps. These attachments could contain malware.

4) If you suspect that criminals have accessed the device of your elderly, immediately contact your bank to place protection on their accounts. Constantly monitor their accounts for any suspicious activities.


(Art Samaniego, Jr. is the head of Manila Bulletin IT Department and is the editor of Technews.)