Building a digital defense against elder fraud (part 1)


A few weeks ago, the FBI and the Department of Justice announced a massive sweep involving the identification and arrest those responsible for defrauding more than two million Americans, most of them elderly. This effort to combat elder fraud is ongoing.

Over the next several weeks, we are going to look at some of the most common frauds committed against seniors, why scammers seek out seniors to target and how you and your loved ones can stay safe.

First up – let’s talk about an increasingly common form of elder fraud: technical support scams. Over the course of the last year, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center says seniors 60 and older reported losses of more than $26 million. That is a 91% increase in reported losses from last year.

Technical support fraud happens when criminals pose as customer, security or tech support representatives – usually from a well-known tech company. In one version of the scam – the fraudster contacts the victim by phone, email or text to tell the victim that there’s a problem with the victim’s device or financial account. The fraudster may say the device has a security flaw and has been hacked… or that some unauthorized person is stealing money from a bank account.

In another version of the scam, the senior is experiencing a real technical problem with a device and goes out in search of help. When he pulls up the search engine results, he may inadvertently click on a bad ad instead of a legitimate vendor.

A third common way for a senior to get caught up in this scam is for the fraudster to use malware to cause a pop-up message or lock screen to appear on the senior’s device.

No matter how the scam starts, the criminal’s goal is to convince the senior to give the fake tech support person remote access to the device. With that access, the fraudster can now potentially have access to all of your personal info, your tax returns, your bank and credit card accounts, and more.

Criminals target seniors because they are often more trusting, financially stable and less likely to report the crime out of shame.

Here’s how you can protect yourself and family members:

  • Know that legitimate tech support people will not contact you unsolicited.
  • Never give unknown, unverified people access to your devices.
  • Ensure that you update all anti-virus, security and malware protection on your devices. Don’t let an unknown person tell you that he needs to do it for you.
  • If you receive a concerning pop-up or your screen locks, shut down your device immediately regardless of the directions you receive from the scammer. Oftentimes, waiting a short time and rebooting will fix the problem.
  • When doing online searches for technical support, be cautious of listings at the top of the page labeled as “sponsored”. If you are having trouble with a particular software or hardware product, go directly to that company’s webpage.

Next week, we will continue to focus on elder fraud with a look at the problem of money mules.

If you have been victimized by an online scam, report your suspicious contacts to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.

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