Posted: 4 Min ReadResearch Group

Cyber Scammers Targeting Our Older Population

Like latter-day Willie Suttons, cyber criminals are targeting this specific age demographic “because that’s where the money is”

In a veritable blink of an eye, people who grew up in the 1930s, 40s and 50s have watched the state-of-the-art advance from the typewriter era to a digital society that features smartphones, the internet and the cloud. But this rapid-fire march to the future may have also left many older adults increasingly vulnerable to swindlers who have come up with a variety of shifting tactics to bilk seniors out of their savings. 

The scams run the gamut - romance scams, which often seek to exploit lonely seniors; pet scams, where websites containing stolen puppy pics offer popular breeds at steep discounts; sundry technical-support scams, where scammers claim to be from reputable companies and offer to fix a phony security issue with your computer, in an attempt to trick targets into sharing remote access to their computers or devices; and then there’s the grandparents scam in which someone pretending to be a family member in distress outside the country calls up the target and asks for emergency funds to get back home. 

According to a 2017 study, elder financial fraud and scams are a common problem, affecting approximately 1 of every 18 older adults every year. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2018, people 80 and older reported more money lost to scammers than other age groups with a median individual loss of $1,700.

Like latter-day Willie Suttons, cyberthieves often target this specific age demographic “because they believe that’s where the money is”: many older people have a “nest egg” for their retirement, may own their homes outright, and can often take loans against their assets. 

At the same time, criminals seek to take advantage of a population cohort they believe generally to be trusting and who may find it difficult or impossible to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.  Scammers also know that older people may be less likely to report a fraud due either to personal embarrassment at having been scammed, or because they’re not aware of having been victimized until it’s too late. Indeed, older victims may be isolated and reluctant to report the crime because they’re afraid their family might think they're losing their faculties. The result: They often wind up suffering in silence.

Red Flags

It’s not hard for criminals to find new victims so vigilance is paramount since it’s easy for scammers to buy lists of people who’ve been fleeced before or locate relatives’ names after hacking into someone’s email account.

As bad actors try different methods to prey upon people, a recent study carried out by researchers at the University of Florida found that older adults were particularly susceptible to phishing emails where attackers try to fool recipients into clicking on a malicious link, opening a malicious attachment, or visiting a web page and entering their personal information. (Interestingly, older women were found to be the most susceptible demographic to phishing.)

Along with installing and running up-to-date anti-virus protection, older internet users should exert constant vigilance and be reminded not to click on links sent through email. This is particularly critical when it involves communications purporting to be from a financial institution. If a bank or annuity provider needs to talk with a client, they will send a letter via U.S. mail.  

Also, if someone receives a request for financial help over text or social media, that’s the time to exercise extreme caution. They ought to talk with someone they can trust if they think they’re the target of a scam.

That caution should extend to phony pitches someone receives over the phone. The FTC found that phone calls are usually the scammer’s initial contact method (in numbers four times higher than all other contact methods combined). Even more reason to never divulge personal information over the phone.

Other Steps to Take: 

Adult children and relatives can help by having regular conversations with older individuals about the risks of being online and encouraging them to reach out for help if they suspect a scam.

Make sure they have a strong Internet security suite installed and running on their devices. 

Enrolling in identity theft protection can help seniors protect their personal information through monitoring and alerts†, and help provide restoration should they become a victim*.

No one can prevent all identity theft.

† LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

* Reimbursement and Expense Compensation, under the LifeLock Million Dollar Protection™ Package does not apply to identity theft loss resulting, directly or indirectly, from phishing or scams.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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About the Author

Kevin Alejandro Roundy

Researcher - NortonLifeLock

Dr. Kevin Alejandro Roundy has been a Researcher for NortonLifeLock since completing his Ph.D. in 2012, where his research has centered on the creation of new malware analysis and detection algorithms, several of which are featured in products today.

About the Author

Daniel Marino

Technical Director, NortonLifeLock Research Group

Striving to help developers build secure software and systems, Dr. Marino joined NortonLifeLock Research Group in 2011 to work in a variety of areas including secure cloud computing, analysis of software vulnerabilities, and mobile device security.

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