Jewish Post

Cybercriminals Targeting Elderly with Phishing Scams

Those who work in finance, education, law or medicine receive a lot of cybersecurity compliance training on the job. Students also benefit from continuing education on internet security through their academic institutions. But who is training our older family members to avoid cybercrime and protecting them from scams?

We are proud of grandparents who embrace technology and stay current and connected via email and social media. Young family members are frequently called upon at family gatherings to “fix” grandma’s computer or show her how to do something new on her smartphone. However, a lot goes on between these family visits that can put our older loved ones at tremendous financial and emotional risk.

This week, we learned of a cyberattack on a 92-year-old widow from the Upper East Side. She opened an email alerting her to a problem with her bank account. The email gave a phone number to call to resolve the issue. She called the provided number and spoke to a representative who already had some of her information. She was asked to provide her account number and login to verify it was her. You can guess what happened next. Her last remaining $50k in retirement savings was transferred from her account. The thieves would have taken more had it been available.

This incident was reported to authorities and the bank, but the funds went to an untraceable offshore account. There is virtually no chance of recovering this money. This victim will now subsist solely on Social Security in her rent-controlled apartment.

Seniors who miss out on learning strategies and tools to avoid these scams are especially vulnerable. Financial scammers target seniors for two reasons: They believe seniors have a lot of money and lack the knowledge to protect themselves.

Her regular IT technician suggested adding security software and taking phishing training during his most recent visit. This charming and feisty client told him she was not an idiot and no one would scam her. (Also, she did not want to pay $13 per month for the service.) The technician felt distressed that he could not convince her to do these two simple but effective things. GEEK-AID computer repair company COO, Sanford Wilk says this resistance is not uncommon among clients in this age group. “Our elderly relatives and friends must understand that these criminals do not play by the rules or care about you or your situation. They want your money. They are getting significantly more brazen. We had to design specific training just for our senior citizen clientele.”

Strong security software will keep most malicious attempts from ever landing in an inbox. However, some may still get through, and others arrive via text, phone call or in social media posts. Cyber Security training designed for seniors can illustrate the risks with everyday examples and train users to avoid, report or take steps when needed. Live training works best so that questions can be addressed immediately. This case is only one type of internet scam that targets seniors. Here are some others:

Government Imposter – Cybercriminals impersonate IRS, Social Security or Medicare agents to gather identifying information that can be used for identity theft. They may use scare tactics or threats of arrest.

Sweepstakes Scam – Scammers impersonate Publishers Clearing House® or lottery agents and convince victims to send upfront money to cover taxes and fees needed to claim their prize.

Charity or Business Imposter Scam – Hackers claim to be a charity or financial institution and trick victims into giving a credit card or account number over the phone.

The following are the best ways to help older family members who may lack access to security training and tools:

  • Help them sign up for training from a cybersecurity professional. Have family members join them in training so they can discuss it.
  • Add robust security software to their computer, tablet and smartphone so that most malicious attempts are filtered out before ever landing in their inbox. Have the installer configure the settings for them.
  • Remind vulnerable seniors not to react quickly or ever give out financial information over the phone.

Contributed by Patricia Surdovel who writes about technology and cybersecurity in NYC.