10 Tips Seniors Need To Avoid Scams

Protect Yourself Online and In Real Life

Shawn Stewart

Shawn Stewart

Mr. Stewart has 27 years of experience with hundreds of international, commercial, military, and government IT projects. He holds certifications with ISC2, Cisco, Microsoft, CompTIA, ITIL, Novell, and others. He has a Masters in Cybersecurity, a Bachelors in IT, a Minor in Professional Writing, and is a published author.

You’ve seen it all. The rise and fall of global superpowers. A dozen presidents. Technology the likes of which would have gotten your grandparents burned at the stake. OK, well maybe not the last one but things have definitely changed over the course of your lifetime. But now, in your golden years of retirement, Seniors are the most targeted demographic by hackers and scammers.

It’s not personal. They don’t know you. They also don’t care that you survive on a fixed income from hard-earned retirement or government funds. Hackers and scammers will rob you blind, insult your intelligence, and leave you broken. I know, I know. Back in the good old days, you would at least seen the thief coming at you with a knife. Today, they pretend to be the government, love interests, friends, and even our own family. Read what advice I gave Teens in our last blog (Link).

No one should be a victim of these scumbags. Here are ten (10) tips Seniors need to protect themselves in these electronic times.

Fake Agencies Target Seniors

seniors#1 – The United States Government is not a well-oiled, efficient machine. They also do not use an outsourced call center from India. If you EVER receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Social Security Administration (SSA), hang up the phone! “But, it could be important!” I hear you say. The United States Government will never call you on the phone. That is NOT their primary mode of communication.

#2 – Do not trust any letter you receive supposedly from the IRS or SSA regarding your taxes, SSA payments, Medicare, or Medicaid. This one is hard, I know. Scammers are sending very impressive fake letters, especially to those recently widowed, telling them that because of the recent death of their spouse (or similar message), they owe additional taxes. They provide a FAKE telephone number with extension to call. When you do, they ask for credit cards, bank info, or gift cards. The IRS will find you if you owe taxes. Trust me, I know this one first hand. If you owe taxes, they will send you a Certified Letter or an agent will show up at your door. If you have any doubts about any letter you receive, call the agency at a known good number from their website and ask about the letter you received. IRS Website (Link) SSA Website (Link)

Example of a fake IRS letter (Link).

#3 – No legitimate organization accepts gift cards as payment. If you receive a call from anyone asking you to pay a balance on your electric, gas, or cable bill with a gift card, hang up. The only people in the entire world who accept gift cards are criminals and grandchildren. If you are concerned that your electricity will be turned off, call the company on the phone number listed on your bill.

seniorsScams Targeting Seniors

#4 – Don’t believe any phone call you receive asking for money of any kind. One the most disturbing and successful scams involves a child or grandchild calling asking for emergency money in the middle of the night. I’ve also seen situations where people receive calls from friends who say they are stuck in another country and need a wire immediately. Don’t fall for these! Always call someone back on a known good number to confirm before ever giving anyone any money over the phone. In fact, the absolute best way to avoid phone scammers is never answer a call you don’t recognize. Every phone carrier now offers free spam blocking software. Contact your carrier or visit their website for information on enabling it for your device.

#5 – Email messages are the primary way hackers and scammers get access to your personal information and money. Never click on any link in any email. This is true of text messages on your phone, too. By clicking the link, you install a program on your computer or phone that allows hackers to steal your bank and investment passwords. Also, DO NOT open any attachments you receive in email unless you are absolutely sure that person sent it. If in doubt, call them directly. Do not reply to the email because it could be a hacker using the stolen identity of someone you know.

seniorsSIDEBAR – The most popular email scam going right now is fake invoices. You receive an email that appears to be from Best Buy or Amazon about your recent $399 purchase. It includes a PDF file attachment. However, that file contains a malicious software program (Malware) that infects your device, computer or phone, and gives hackers access. Delete these messages. Read how to spot Phishing and scam emails here (Link).

#6 – Do not fall for clickbait ads online. Nearly every ad you see on weather, news, and popular websites these days are clickbait. What is clickbait? They are easy to spot. “One weird trick” or anything about walk-in showers, the truth about something, being surprised by something, or how to lose weight. I’m sure Tommy Chong is not pleased to see his name attached to so many of these. They lead to lists and surveys and other useless nonsense. But the real concern is most of these sites include Malware. Simply visiting these sites can install Malware. It’s called a Drive-By-Download. Learn how the Internet works here (Link).

Seniors Need Protection

#7 – Invest in a real firewall for your home Internet and endpoint protection for your cell phone and computers. You won’t find what you need at Wal-Mart or Costco, unfortunately. Ask a computer or IT professional for recommendations and pay a professional to install it properly. AARP had an article saying you didn’t need “antivirus” programs and I partially agree. Read that article here (Link). Antivirus isn’t what you need. You need an endpoint protection software that includes a firewall, antivirus, anti-malware, anti-spam, and anti-ransomware. A good program will protect you from Phishing, Drive-By-Downloads, Malware, and warn you of suspicious activity. I use BitDefender, but there are several very good programs out there for less than $100 per year that protect your phone and computer. They also have free versions, but you get what you pay for.

seniors#8 – Use different passwords for every webpage or application. A single password for everything is a single point of failure. Use a password manager software to keep track of logins and allow it to automatically insert your username and password. DO NOT save your logins and passwords in your web browsers. They are easily stolen and are visible to anyone who uses your computer. Read more about Password Managers here (Link).

#9 – Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA or 2FA) on every service. When you login with your password to your bank, for instance, your phone will receive a code. You type that code into the website to verify it’s you. If a hacker steals your password in a data breach like Home Deport or Equifax, they cannot access your account without your cell phone. Read more about protecting yourself from breaches here (Link).

Find Your Zen

seniors#10 – Don’t feed the trolls. The Internet is a breeding ground for people who hide behind their monitor and keyboard to attack others for any reason at all. The world has enough anger and hate to go around and all that division is terrible for everyone. The one thing Seniors can do for the betterment of the planet is lead by example. Don’t fall for traps every “news” organization lays today. Don’t feed into the hype by commenting online. Perhaps turn off the television or watch a documentary. Remember that everything you see on television and on the Internet is scripted for a particular purpose and to receive a certain response. Don’t give them the satisfaction and keep your own mind free of the nonsense. And, honestly, don’t worry about AI or quantum computing. That’s the least of our problems. Read about AI here (Link).

seniorsBONUS – Another unfortunate but all too real problem facing Seniors is Romance Scams. Meeting people can be a daunting experience at any age. Online dating apps seem to create a meeting place for like-minded individuals. However, beware of scams. How can you tell if the person you’re communicating with is really a scammer? They will typically ask for money or something valuable. Learn more about Romance Scams here (Link).

The ever-changing cyber landscape is nothing to fear. You will need to learn a few new tricks to stay ahead of hackers and scammers. Don’t believe everything you read, hear, or see. Take the time to protect yourself while online and never be afraid to ask. If you don’t recognize a name, number, or company, hang up the phone or delete the email. If it really is important, they’re reach out to you in a legitimate way. If you’re concerned, contact the company using a number from their website. And don’t worry about it. Relax. You’re earned it.

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