We all have someone in our lives who isn’t tech-savvy. They don’t know how to convert a word doc into a PDF, or they try to do a Google search on Facebook, or they seem to struggle with the ‘simple’ act of text messaging. These are not uncommon missteps when using smart devices for people who didn’t grow up with Siri ® (let alone the Internet!) at their fingertips. While these mistakes seem harmless or even comical at times, there can be much more serious cyber security consequences.
Baby Boomer and Generation X populations (born 1946-64 and 1965-76) are a growing target for scammers because they are a largely trustworthy population made up of financially successful people. And some of the oldest may have cognition and memory ailments. The American Journal of Public Health estimates that about 5% of the Baby Boomer population, (about 2 to 3 million people), experience from some sort of scam every year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation cites that older adults lose more than 3 billion dollars a year to financial scams.
Some of the most common forms of cyber threats that vulnerable Baby Boomers can fall victim to are impersonation scams, or fraud. This is a kind of deception involving trickery and deceit that leads unsuspecting victims to give money, property, or personal information in exchange for something they perceive as valuable or worth protecting. According to Scam Watch, in 2019 so far 10,297 scams have been reported in the 55-64 age range, and 13,323 scams have been reported in those 65 and older.
Here are some of the top types of scams used against this population:
- Medicare, health insurance, and pharmacy scams in which perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative or provide bogus healthcare services for patients in order to gain access to their personal information. They may also be persuaded to buy unsafe or fake prescription medication that may harm their health.
- Sweepstakes and lottery fraud occur when an advertisement pops up saying you’re the lucky winner in a random website sweepstakes. This is a ploy to get people to enter their personal information, including address and credit card number in order to “claim a prize” or win money.
- Sweetheart scams seem unusually cruel. With a majority of the Baby Boomer population dealing with the death of a loved one or children leaving home, maybe living alone for the first time, loneliness can creep in. Scammers in these scenarios pretend to be a love interest of the victim and eventually ask for money to help support them.
The good news is that we can help the most vulnerable in this population avoid falling victim to a scam. We can have conversations to stimulate awareness of online and phone safety practices, make frequent visits and facilitate discussions about monthly bills and medications, and destigmatizing fear or embarrassment to come forward if they find they have been taken advantage of (waiting to rectify the situation could only make things worse). You can report scams to a number of organizations, including the FBI, Social Security Administration, Federal Trade Commission, or your bank or retirement facility.
Don’t wait until it’s too late, have important conversations with loved ones of all ages and ensure they feel empowered to make smart decisions online.