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Cybercrime is Booming. Here’s How to Stay Safe

The internet is a source of joy for millions of older adults, who use it to connect with friends and family, shop for groceries and stream their favorite TV shows. However, the new information frontier brings risks as well as rewards. According to the FBI, fraudsters and cybercriminals cost older adults in the United States around $2 billion per year, a figure that’s expected to rise as the population ages.

Cybercrime may sound cutting edge, but its perpetrators target older adults for the same reason confidence tricksters have always targeted older adults. They tend to have savings and good credit ratings. They are likely to be polite and trusting when strangers approach them for information or assistance. Finally, they are less likely than younger people to report fraud — partly because they feel ashamed, and partly out of concern that people will lose trust in their ability to manage their own affairs.

Some common cyber scams

  • Tech support scam: Out of nowhere, a banner flashes up on your computer screen announcing “suspicious activity.” It gives a free phone number, and when you call it, a friendly and competent-sounding “technician” answers. They talk you through several “security” steps, the last of which involves transferring funds to them from your bank account.
  • Phishing: This bait-and-switch maneuver involves someone trying to trick you into giving them confidential information such as bank account numbers, credit card details or your Social Security number. The “bait” usually comes in the form of an official-looking email. The “switch” is, you get nothing for it!
  • Looking for love: Criminals pose as potential romantic partners on dating websites or social media. Once they’ve established a rapport with their victim, the scammer will plead some crisis and request an urgent bank transfer.

Staying safe

The good news is that you can protect yourself against these and other cybercrimes without unplugging your computer.

  • Don’t let anyone hurry you. Most scammers use the same scare tactic: Transfer funds now, or something bad will happen to you or a loved one. If you’re truly concerned about your safety, or that of someone you know, call the police.
  • Don’t provide personal information over the phone or by email. Remember: the more accomplished the criminal, the more trustworthy, authoritative and compelling they will sound. If they had a right to your data, you would already be working with them.
  • Keep your anti-virus software up to date. To guard against malware and malicious pop-ups, you’ll need to invest in reputable antivirus software. This costs around $30 per year — a small investment compared to what you might lose to online fraud.

Follow these best practices so that you can surf the internet without fear. If you think you may have been a victim of fraud, report it immediately to a trusted friend or family member and to your local FBI field office. 

The Village of Providence Point is subject to the final approval of the Maryland Department of Aging.

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