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Beware Online Scams against Seniors

By now, many of us hear horror stories about the hacking of emails, government agency servers, company servers, and the theft of personal information. The recent attacks on the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management’s servers potentially exposed the personal information of about 21.5 million individuals who worked for or may have only applied for jobs within the federal government. Many of us all know the years-old comical story of emails from a mysterious (and fictitious) Nigerian prince seeking financial help.

While some cyber theft may be worth a laugh because the methods seem so preposterous, many hackers and online scammers have grown in sophistication, and have come up with more and more tricks in the book to gain access to elderly individuals’ personal information, which could lead to identity theft, stolen funds, and the like. It seemingly does not take much for a genius computer programmer to enter other computer servers at government agencies, banks, companies, and even individuals’ homes, and take what they want. In this modern digital age, everyone is vulnerable, including the elderly. Financial exploitation at nursing homes is not the only financial threat.

Example: Credit Card fraud

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has put out helpful information on its website warning individuals of the dangers of information theft online. For one, there are important warnings regarding credit card fraud, which in general has been a problem, particularly of late. Individuals must be certain that websites where they shop are “secure and reputable” before they input their precious credit card information. Mere statements on the site that it is secure may not be enough – typically there are icons, such as a padlock or some other symbol, which indicates the site is secure.

One can also be more certain when the seller itself is a known and reputable merchant. If unsure, it is advisable to reach out to the seller by phone and ask more about the company and its information – a hesitant or uninformative answer, or a failure to even get through, may indicate something is amiss. It is also vital to know that when making an online purchase, the safer method is to use a credit card. Most credit cards will have a process by which charges can be disputed if there is suspected fraud, whereas use of an ATM/debit card for purchases on a fraudulent site may end up meaning that the money is long gone.

Example: Investment fraud

The FBI warns that when looking into financial investments on the web, that individuals should take similar precautions to those taken when making credit card purchases. They should ensure that the websites used to trade and make investments are legitimate, and run by legitimate companies and firms. One key is to be wary of unsolicited emails making investment offers. Another is to perform due diligence by researching the company through other resources.

What to do if breached

The threat to cyber security is more real than ever, and we are all at risk in some way. It is important to monitor credit reports as well as credit card statements to ensure there are no surprise charges or that major purchases haven’t been made with one’s information, such as a mortgage on a house. It is also important to report any suspected fraud to law enforcement. The FBI allows people to submit anonymous tips through its website, or alternatively to simply call one’s local field office to make a report.

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