By Greg Wilkin, Esq.
In today’s digitized age, the Internet has proved to be a boon for many, offering convenience, information, and connectivity. However, the rise of online platforms has brought with it a sinister side: online scams, particularly those targeting vulnerable groups like seniors.
Seniors are often perceived as less tech-savvy, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals. From phishing emails impersonating trusted institutions to phone scams warning of fake virus threats on one’s computer, the tactics are multifaceted. Another common scam involves fraudsters pretending to be relatives in distress, needing money urgently. With a mixture of social engineering and a smattering of personal details (often gleaned from social media), they can be alarmingly convincing.
What makes these scams especially dangerous is that they prey on the emotions and trust of seniors. Unlike younger generations who grew up in the age of the Internet and have, to an extent, developed a skeptical eye for online interactions, many seniors approach online interactions with the same trust they would a face-to-face encounter.
One example I’ve encountered in practice have involved Facebook. One senior was approached by what appeared to be old acquaintances with an offer to make a little extra money. They would send her a check and all she had to do was go cash it, buy some gift cards, and keep a couple hundred bucks for her trouble. Since the bank knew this senior as a longtime client they took the check and handed over actual cash before it even cleared. Gift cards were bought and the serial codes were send off to the Facebook friend and then days later the bank is calling the senior and her children about this large check that they cashed that ended up being fake.
Another danger is online dating. Just like there are fake Facebook profiles, there are plenty of fake dating profiles. Dating sites market to every demographic, including seniors. I’ve heard stories from one senior who is always meeting people on dating sites, they chat back and forth but never met in person, and several time these people on the other end start asking for money for a plane or train ticket to come visit. Luckily they saw this as a major red flag against their new online friend.
Just like we need to keep an eye on our children’s online and social media use, we need to keep an eye on our parents and seniors. This includes educating them about common scam tactics, teaching them to verify any unsolicited calls or emails, and encouraging them to always consult with a trusted individual before taking actions such as cashing strange checks or transferring money.