As people of all ages spend more time online, scammers and hackers are becoming more sophisticated. Consumers reported losing almost $9 billion dollars in scams last year, according to data released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) — an increase of more than 30% compared with 2021.
Online shopping was among the top five types of scams, and scams conducted through social media had the highest overall reported losses: a total of $1.2 billion.
Those statistics are only for reported fraud. Many instances go unreported, particularly among older adults, who may be more likely to feel ashamed or embarrassed if they are victimized.
Whether trying to steal money or personal information (which can be used to access financial accounts or for identity theft), scammers prey on older adults for several reasons:
The FTC data shows how fraud differs by age groups:
Fortunately, there are many ways to protect yourself from being scammed, whether you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed, reading emails or shopping on websites.
Although these tips focus on staying safe online, some are also useful for avoiding scams perpetrated by:
Strong passwords are one of the best means of protecting your accounts and personal information when you’re on the internet. These are some guidelines:
It’s usually not a good idea to keep a written record of your login information and almost impossible to remember it all. A password manager may be a good alternative.
A password manager stores your login information, typically in an encrypted database. You log in to your password manager using a master password that only you know. The password manager then provides your login information when you access your accounts.
Most password managers will also generate passwords when you set up new accounts.
Password managers have some potential downsides, so do some research before making any decisions.
There’s an adage that warns if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. This wisdom may be more relevant than ever in the digital age.
If you’re on social media or browsing the internet and you notice an interesting ad offering an extreme discount (e.g., for prescription drugs) or a free trial offer, be careful. It could be a scam or a way for a hacker to infect your computer or mobile device with a virus. Pop-up windows are especially suspect.
Be equally careful if you receive an email or text message with a seemingly fantastic offer (or a request for a donation).
Here are some dos and don’ts:
Scammers are crafty when it comes to enticing people into providing information. These are some common ways:
Some scammers send emails or texts that appear to be from banks or government agencies (like the Social Security Administration or the IRS). They may ask you to verify your bank account number or login information. They may also urge you to make a payment in order to avoid a penalty.
Catfishing schemes are a variation of the imposter scam. These scammers use social media to lure their targets by pretending to be a new friend or love interest. They may want your information to gain access to your accounts, or they may be more direct and ask you for money.
The safest way to avoid this type of scam is to accept friend requests on social media only from people you know. If you think you’re being targeted, ask your new acquaintance to do a video chat. You could also ask to meet in person, but be extremely careful if you do. Only agree to meet in a public place, and ask someone you trust to go with you.
Another method scammers use is asking you to register for a free trial or subscription. While some of these offers are legitimate, others are not. It may seem harmless to provide your email address, mailing address or phone number, but hackers can use this information to gain access to more information about you, or they can sell it.
Be particularly wary if someone tries to pressure you into providing personal information or making a donation or payment right away. Always take the time to verify that the person or organization making the request is who they claim to be.
These additional measures can help you be more secure when you’re online. If you’re interested in using them but aren’t sure how, ask a trusted friend or relative for help or look for information online.
Your social media accounts, browsers, email accounts, computers and mobile devices all have security and privacy settings you can adjust for increased protection.
Many types of antivirus software are available for your computers and mobile devices. An online search will tell you which ones experts recommend for your needs. Some are free; others have a subscription fee.
Also called two-step verification or two-factor authentication, this adds another layer of security in case your password is stolen. For example, when you log in to your account, you may have to provide a code sent to you via text or email.
Basically, a virtual private network (VPN) disguises your online identity, making it harder for anyone to track your online activity or steal your data when your devices are connected to the internet. Some companies bundle antivirus software with a VPN.
A final note: Be sure your wireless network is secure, and always keep your devices’ operating systems updated.
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Featured Image: Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock