Survey: Two-Thirds of Seniors Have Been Scammed Online
Special to The Leader
Nearly 97 percent of seniors age 70 and older are using the internet at least once a week to check email, manage money and keep in touch via social media. All this time online is putting them at risk for scams and hacks, including tax fraud. To help seniors understand potential hazards and how to prevent fraud, Home Instead Senior Care® collaborated with the National Cyber Security Alliance to launch a national public education program, Protect Seniors Online, available at www.ProtectSeniorsOnline.com.
“We understand the stress seniors feel when they perceive their financial security – and their independence – may be at risk,” said Jeff Huber, CEO of Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network. “Unfortunately, we know scammers often target seniors. That’s why we’re committed to educating and empowering seniors to proactively protect themselves. Implementing simple cybersecurity best practices can go a long way in helping seniors protect sensitive information and reduce their risks online.”
A new survey by Home Instead found that two-thirds (67 percent) of U.S. seniors online have been the victim or target of at least one common online scam or hack. More than one-third (38 percent) report that someone has tried to scam them online, and 28 percent of surveyed seniors have mistakenly downloaded a computer virus.
Like younger generations, many seniors are using the internet to manage their finances, with 41 percent banking online and more than one-in-four (26 percent) paying bills online. And nearly one-quarter of seniors (21 percent) file their taxes online. As seniors’ finances move online – coupled with what scammers view as perceived financial security and a trusting nature – seniors are a primary target for scammers. Approximately one in 10 seniors (9 percent) said they had been a victim of criminals posing as the IRS and demanding immediate payment of taxes.
Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, explains that encouraging seniors to protect themselves online can go a long way in protecting sensitive identity and financial information. “Cybersecurity is about risk reduction. It’s difficult to achieve perfect security. But you can help older adults work to make themselves a more difficult target,” Kaiser said.
The Protect Seniors Online program offers free resources and tips to help seniors understand how scammers operate, familiarizes themselves with the most common scams targeted at seniors, and provides proactive steps seniors and caregivers can take to protect sensitive information. The resources include the online “Can You Spot an Online Scam?” quiz to test seniors’ cyber security knowledge.
According to the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Better Business Bureau, here are five of the hottest cyber scams that older adults need to avoid:
- Tech support scams: These types of scams can appear as “pop-ups,” that show up on computer screens and look like legitimate offers from reputable companies such as Microsoft. They could be selling fake software or asking for remote computer access, or install malware to steal personal and financial information.
- Tax scams: The tax season provides another window of opportunity for online fraudsters. One IRS scam being perpetrated by email as well as mail is an official-looking notice CP2000 for the tax year in question. Scam emails may direct that an immediate payment be sent. If you get a notice like this, delete it immediately and call the IRS at 1-800-366-4484. The IRS will never reach out to you by email nor will they call demanding payment. Stay up-to-date on current tax scams at IRS.gov.
- Ransomware: This is a malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. Prevent ransomware by ensuring your system has an up-to-date antivirus system. Also, never open suspicious emails from unknown senders, do not download attachments from senders you do not trust or suspicious emails, and avoid clicking on links in suspicious emails.
- False debt collectors: False debt collection emails often come as official-looking documents and the tone of the emails may be threatening and urgent. Do not respond, open any attachments or click on any links. Delete these emails. If you’re concerned about whether you owe money, contact any creditors directly to find out if they sent the emails.
- Sweepstakes scams: A sweepstakes scam often asks you to pay to receive your prize. Another version of this is a charity scam, asking you to help those in need. Sweepstakes and charities scams prey on emotions, and scam charities may have names similar to real charities. However, they usually cannot provide important documentation of their identity and mission, nor provide proof of tax-deductible contribution. If you believe the charity is legitimate, you can check it out by looking up the number and calling it.
Seniors can test their cybersecurity skills at “Can You Spot an Online Scam?” and view other program resources and tips at www.ProtectSeniorsOnline.com. Or, contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office for additional resources and to learn how professional caregivers may be able to assist. Find an office near you by visiting www.homeinstead.com/state/.