Senior citizens are often targeted with adverts for miracle health products offering to cure conditions or improve the quality of life. Usually, these focus on disorders common in the elderly such as arthritic pain, memory deterioration, and hair loss. These products often appear to be provided by a reputable online pharmacy. The reality is that the products may at best be a low-quality imitation of a legitimate product and at worst contain harmful or even life-threatening ingredients.
If you ever need to purchase medical or healthcare products online, only use legitimate and trusted websites. Never be tempted by suspiciously low prices or unproven health benefit claims.
There is a prevalence of scammers using social media networks and dating websites to seek out victims to extort money from. Sometimes they will claim to be a friend or relative that needs money sent to them urgently to pay a medical bill or because they are stranded in a foreign company. The scams work because they create a situation where the victim feels that they have to act straightway rather than check if the story is true. It is relatively simple to impersonate someone on social media so that the victim thinks that they are dealing with someone that they know.
Another trick is to make contact via a dating website and establish a relationship that allows them to request money. Often pretending it is a short-term loan to solve an immediate crisis or pay for travel to meet up with the victim. The loan will never be repaid. An excuse will be made why the trip was canceled.
Always be cautious when dealing with someone online. Look for red flags such as someone claiming to be from the same country working overseas but looking for a partner in your country. You can only really be sure who a person is once you've met them face to face, in a safe public environment, of course. If in doubt, verify the facts before acting and be on your guard for sudden urgent requests for money. Never catch a flight to a foreign country with a suitcase full of cash, whatever they say their crisis is!
As a variation on the relationship scams, fraudsters often try to take control of social media accounts of elderly people to contact their family and request money for some emergency situation. Keep your online accounts secure using strong passwords.
Tips for Senior Citizens
The resources we've linked include lots of tips aimed at keeping senior citizens safe online. Here is a summary of the critical advice that applies to everyone, regardless of age and technical prowess.
- Always use strong passwords online. If you have trouble remembering passwords, use a tool such as a password manager to help.
- Always use good security software on any device that connects to the internet and keep it up to date.
- Make sure your devices are protected with strong passwords or pins so no one else can use them when you're not around. This is essential if you're a resident in a care home or have care staff visiting your home. Without protection, anyone could pick up a device and get access to private information or download malware.
- Make sure your internet is secure. If you use wi-fi, make sure it is set to use the most robust security possible and protect with a strong password.
- Only use reputable websites for online purchases and check the website is secure as indicated by the padlock symbol and the letters "https" at the beginning of the website address. Check their shipping and refund policies, so there are no surprises if something goes wrong. If in doubt, ask family and friends if they have any recommendations of good websites to use.
- Double-check all the details before committing to any purchase. While consumer laws provide some protection, they won't help with non-refundable products such as financial products, travel tickets, or custom-made items.
- Keep an eye on your bank and savings accounts for any suspicious activity such as payments you don't remember or recipients you don't recognize.
If you are unsure about anything, get support. It could be a family member or a friend, a caregiver, or a local trusted expert that offers support as a service. For senior citizens, the best support can usually be obtained from grand-children if you have any. They are usually the most technologically savvy family members; often, they provide their services in return for sugar-laden treats.
Reporting Online Crimes
For problems with eCommerce services in counties including the US, Canada, and the UK, a reporting website hosted by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is available here. The information is shared with law enforcement agencies in the participating countries.
For investment scams, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has an online facility to report suspected securities fraud or wrongdoing here.
In the US, the FBI runs an online Internet Crime Complaint Center where users can report if they have been a victim of an internet-based crime.
The Department of Justice also provides a list of resources for reporting various computer and internet-related crimes here.
In Canada, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website provides advice for reporting. It hosts a newly developed mechanism for online reporting of cybercrime and fraud.
In the UK, the Action Fraud website provides the national reporting center for fraud and cybercrime.
In the US, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provide resources under the 'STOP.THINK.CONNECT' service banner. Their resources for Older Americans include tips and advice and links to other US government resources.
The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) is a US public/private partnership that is part of the STOP.THINK.CONNECT program that provides Privacy Tips for senior citizens.
The FBI also offers helpful information on common scams and crimes targeted at the senior citizens on their Elder Fraud webpage.
In Canada, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security offers Information and Guidance.
In the UK, the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) offers cybersecurity Advice for individuals and families.
Tips are provided by ConnectSafely, a US-based non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about safety, privacy, security, and digital wellness: the Senior's Guide to Online Safety. They have also produced a useful downloadable Senior's Guide for Online Safety that can be printed and shared.
Also, for US seniors, SafeWise is a security research company that offers Internet Security Advice for senior citizens as part of its overall home security services. Similarly, US insurance advisor CyberInsureOne provides a guide to keeping Seniors Safe Online.
AgeUK, the UK-based charity that looks after seniors citizens' interests, has provided an excellent guide to Staying Safe Online - Tips for Older People.
Home Instead Senior Care is a global business that provides domiciliary care for the elderly. Their Protect Seniors Online public education program offers some helpful information: 10 Cybersecurity Best Practices for Older Adults. Their website also has a quiz to test if you can Spot an Online Scam.
The Center for Cyber Safety and Education, part of the International Information System Security Certifications Consortium Inc. (ISC)², provides Cyber Safety Resources for Senior Citizens with some good essential advice.
Enough Is Enough is a Canadian non-profit organization that provides valuable resources around internet safety, including Internet Safety 101: Cybersecurity for seniors.
Advice for Canadians is also available from the Get Cyber Safe national public awareness campaign, including their seniors' guide to staying cyber safe during Covid-19.
Security software company Sophos offers advice for protecting senior citizens from cyberattacks on its website to promote its products. Norton also provides similar advice on their website for the same marketing purposes.
The multinational technology conglomerate Cisco Systems, Inc has produced an online booklet called Keeping your Family Safe Online that includes a section on protecting senior citizens
Finally, the AARP (formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons) is a US-based special interest group focusing on issues affecting the over-fifties. They offer advice for the children of senior citizens to help Protect their Parents from Scams.