Five Cybersecurity Scams Where Seniors Are Especially Vulnerable

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The FBI’s 2021 Elder Fraud Report leads off with a staggering, sobering statistic: adults 60 and over were swindled out of $1.7 billion dollars last year. That’s with a B. Even worse, that marks an increase of 74% year-over-year. Clearly seniors are an attractive target for cybercriminals. Here are five of their favorite ways to target our elders, and what can be done to stop them. 

And, to follow, we’ve compiled information on the four most common scams that our seniors face, and what can be done to avoid them.

Five Cybersecurity Scams Seniors Should Be Aware Of

1. Phishing

It’s an old adage, but one that holds especially true when it comes to cybersecurity: don’t believe everything you read. Bad actors are quite talented in crafting authentic-looking emails that are not to be trusted — or clicked! The practice of sending these kinds of emails to potential victims is known as phishing. Phishing involves fraudulent communication with the intent of stealing sensitive data (such as login credentials or credit card information), deploying malware into a computer system or committing financial fraud. 

It’s wise to be cautious anytime you receive an email. Even emails that apparently arrive from friends can be highly suspicious. If you’re not sure why a friend is asking you to do something via email, call them to see about the request — the email you received just might be a fake.  And never open attached documents or click on links in emails sent from people you don’t know.

A stack of credit cards piled on top of each other with a fishing lure going through them.

2. Scam Calls  

Scammers love to take you by surprise. Many times, this will involve a ruse about someone you   know. This can come as a call in the middle of the night to greater increase the urgency and your confusion. The caller may pretend your family member has been arrested and needs bail money, or that they are experiencing a dangerous health crisis.   

In situations like these, it is important to talk to another family member that can verify whether what the caller said is true.  

No matter how worried or stressed they make you feel, if you do not know the caller, don’t give them money no matter the “urgency.” Verify with someone else you know and trust before providing information or funds that a stranger requests.  

3. Fake Computer Warnings

There’s a lot to learn when it comes understanding the ins and outs of your computer. Cybercriminals know this, and will try to exploit this by tricking you into thinking there could be something wrong with it. Often, they’ll make it look like your computer has a virus. Alarms and voices may sound from your computer’s speakers and you might even see a pop-up with a phone number to call in order to stop the alarms and fix your computer.  

If you call, guess who will be on the other end of the line? Yep, the same bad guy who put that fake warning on your computer and now plans to scam you out of some money. In such scenarios, the perpetrators use fear and confusion to get you to call or chat with them. Then they pressure you into sharing your screen, or have you pay for their “services” to remove the “virus.” 

Here’s the deal: DO NOT CALL THE PHONE NUMBER. Just close the browser, regardless of any warnings not to do so.   

4. Did You Make This Purchase?

We generally appreciate when our bank or credit card company notifies us of unusual spending related to our accounts. So, when a call or text comes in asking if you bought an iPad on Amazon for $800 and you know you didn’t, you might be receptive to this caller who is, in fact, luring you into falling for a common scam.  

People tend to react quickly and without hesitation when they fear their accounts are being used for fraudulent purchases. When you respond to the call or text to let them know you didn’t make the purchase, the attackers take the next step in their deception. 

They will try to convince you to share your computer screen, so they can help issue you a refund. Next, they might manipulate the appearance of the website so it seems you were refunded too much money and now owe them a significant sum.   

You can stop this scam in several spots. First, check the account yourself by logging into the official website or by calling the number on the back of your credit card to see if there have been unauthorized purchases. Second, never share your screen if you have your bank account, credit card accounts. or any other financial or vulnerable personal information open and available.  

5. Scams via Texts (Smishing)

Cybercriminals want to do all they can to grab our attention and try to fool us. Which often means they are looking to put their messages in places where there isn’t as much competition for attention.

The average email user receives about 100 emails per day, and according to AARP, only 67% of seniors who use smartphones access their email on their smartphone. The bad guys know that their messages will sit in a pile of other emails.

Text messages, however, they get a much more direct connection to their target. Not only does their message end up in a place that gets checked more frequently than email, it will also have less trouble fighting for a senior’s attention because, on average, they will only have to compete with 16 other texts in a single day.  

Still, even though the attackers know they have a good chance of getting a senior’s attention with a text message, it’s not enough to just get your attention. That’s why they put a great amount of effort into crafting a message that can trick you.

They present false claims that your bank account needs attention, that you have a package coming your way, that your phone has been infected with a virus, or perhaps even claim they would be a great companion if you would just click on the link.

The rule is Always Be Suspicious. If you aren’t expecting a message, don’t let your curiosity get the best of you. Avoid clicking that link! Instead go to the legitimate website to check if the claim in that text is true.  

For example: if you get a text saying that your bank account has been compromised, DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK in the text! Instead, go directly to your bank’s official website, login, and update your password.

As part of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Arctic Wolf encourages you to share this blog post as well as the video so your family and friends can also stay safe and help end cyber risk.  

Check Out More Cybersecurity Awareness Month Resources

What is Cybersecurity Awareness Month? 

The Importance of Enabling MFA

Register for the Security Awareness Summit

And learn more about Managed Security Awareness

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Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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