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Seniors: How to Keep Your Retirement Safe from Online Scams

The growing number of internet crimes targeting senior adults is mind-blowing. 

In 2021, more than 92,000 people over the age of 60 reported losses of $1.7 billion, according to IC3, the FBI’s Internet Crime division. That number reflects a 74 percent increase in losses from 2020.  

These numbers tell us a few things. They tell us that scamming the elderly is a multi-billion-dollar business for cybercriminals. It also tells us that regardless of how shoddy or obvious online scams may appear to anyone outside the senior community, they are working. 

However, information is power. Senior adults can protect their hard-earned retirement funds and government benefits by staying informed, adopting new behaviors, and putting tools in place designed to stop scammers in their tracks. And, when possible, family, friends, and caregivers can help. 

The FBI said confidence fraud and romance scams netted over $281 million in losses.  

The top four types of scams targeting seniors: Romance scams (confidence scams), fake online shopping, false utility representatives, and government agent imposters. Here’s how to make a few shifts to mindset and your daily routine and steer clear of digital deception.   

5 Safeguards to Protect Your Retirement 

  1. Stop. Don’t share. Often phone or internet scams targeting seniors carry distinctive emotional triggers of elation (you won), fear (you owe), or empathy (please help). For instance, a phony source might urge: “You must send admin fees immediately to access your sweepstake winnings.” Or “You must provide your social security number to stop this agency penalty.” FBI and Better Business Bureau fraud experts advise senior adults to stop and think before taking any action. Be aware of common phishing scams that include legitimate-looking email messages from a bank, federal agency, or service provider requesting you “verify” personal information. The number one rule: Never give out any personal information such as a Social Security number, bank account numbers, Medicare numbers, birthdate, maiden names, work history, or your address. 
  2. Level up your security. Changing times call for new tools and new behaviors online. Consider adopting best practices such as installing McAfee security software, using strong passwords with Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), and knowing how to identify phishing and malware scams are fundamental components of digital literacy. For a deeper dive into cybersecurity best practices, read more.  
  3. Discuss new scams. Scammers rapidly adjust their tactics to current events such as the pandemic, tax season, or an economic crisis to emotionally bait senior adults. If you are a senior adult, check out weekly consumer alerts from IC3 or AARP to stay on top of the types of scams you may encounter. If you are a relative or caregiver to a senior adult, stay informed, discuss these scams with your loved one, and explore other ways to help
  4. Research all charities. Senior adults get daily calls, emails, or even Facebook messages trying to bilk them of their money. It’s essential to do your research. Before donating to a charity, you can consult Give.Org or Charity Navigator to verify the request is legitimate. 
  5. Report all scams and scam attempts. If you’ve been a victim of an online scam or even targeted unsuccessfully, report the incident immediately. Any consumer can report online scams at the FBI’s IC3 website. Credit, debit, or bank account fraud should be immediately reported to your bank.   

Just as the seasons change in our lives, so too must our behaviors when connecting to people and information via our devices. Cybercriminals target older people because they assume they aren’t as informed about schemes or technically savvy as younger people. Senior adults and their loved ones can work daily to change that narrative. With the right mindset, information, and tools, seniors can connect online with confidence and enjoy their golden years without worrying about digital deception.