Protecting Seniors from Scams Online and Offline

As our society becomes increasingly connected through technology, older adults are more vulnerable than ever to scams and fraudulent activities. Scammers often target seniors due to their trusting nature and lack of familiarity with modern digital platforms. It is crucial for older individuals and their families to be aware of the potential risks and take proactive steps to protect themselves and their families. In this article, we will explore some effective strategies that can help older people avoid scams and safeguard their financial and personal information.

Stay Informed: Knowledge is power when it comes to scam prevention. Encourage older adults to stay informed about common scams targeting seniors. They should be aware of the warning signs such as unsolicited calls, requests for personal information or urgent demands for money. Stay updated on the latest scams through reliable sources like local law enforcement, government agencies and consumer protection organizations. Consider subscribing to scam alert newsletters to receive regular updates on emerging threats.


Be Wary of Unsolicited Communications: Advise older adults to exercise caution when receiving unsolicited phone calls, emails or messages, particularly from unknown individuals or organizations, especially those pretending to be from the government or law enforcement. Remind them that legitimate institutions will never request personal information, passwords or financial details through unsolicited means. Encourage them to be skeptical and avoid sharing sensitive information without verifying the authenticity of the request.


Maintain Strong Passwords and Security Measures: Older individuals should be reminded to protect their online accounts with strong and unique passwords. Encourage the use of a mix of letters, numbers and symbols, as well as regular password changes. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible to add an extra layer of security. It’s also important to keep all software and devices up to date with the latest security patches, as this helps protect against vulnerabilities that scammers can exploit.


Verify before Trusting: Scammers often pose as legitimate organizations or individuals to gain trust and manipulate older adults. Emphasize the importance of verifying the identity of anyone requesting personal or financial information. Advise older individuals to independently contact the organization or person using verified contact details to confirm the authenticity of the request. Encourage skepticism and remind them that it is better to be safe than sorry.


Limit Sharing Personal Information: Encourage older adults to be cautious about sharing personal information, both online and offline. Remind them to only provide sensitive details, such as Social Security numbers or bank account information, when it is absolutely necessary and to trusted sources. Advise against sharing personal information over the phone or via email, as these methods can easily be exploited by scammers.


Be Cautious of Investment Opportunities: Many scammers target older adults with fraudulent investment schemes promising high returns. Older individuals should be cautious when approached with investment opportunities that sound too good to be true. Encourage them to consult with a trusted financial advisor or family member before making any investment decisions. Educate them about common investment scams and the warning signs, such as guaranteed returns or high-pressure tactics.


Establish Trusted Points of Contact: Encourage older adults to designate a trusted family member or friend as their primary point of contact for financial matters. This trusted individual can help review financial statements, identify potential scams and provide guidance when making financial decisions. Having someone who can objectively assess situations can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to scams.

Protecting our seniors from scams requires a combination of awareness, education and proactive measures. By staying informed, being cautious of unsolicited communication, maintaining strong passwords and limiting the sharing of personal information, older adults can reduce their vulnerability to scams. Additionally, verifying the authenticity of requests, being cautious of investment opportunities and establishing trusted points of contact are essential strategies for scam prevention. By implementing these measures and fostering an ongoing dialogue about scams, we can help older individuals enjoy a safer and more secure online experience.

One scam that’s on the rise that can affect older adults is “check washing.” According to a March 2023 article in AARP, scammers check individuals’ mailboxes for checks, steal the keys from mail carriers or fish for checks in the neighborhood mailboxes. The thieves use bleach or acetone nail polish remover to get rid of the payee’s name and amount. Once the check dries out, the fraudsters write in their name and a higher amount, which can be as high as several thousands of dollars. The crooks then take the “washed” check to a bank, a check-cashing place, or a store that cashes checks to get the cash. Unless the teller or cashier is vigilant, they give the scammer the cash.

Check washers also sell these types of checks to other criminals as well as use the information on the check, such as a person’s name, address, account number and routing number to withdraw their victims’ money, open up other accounts or get loans and lines of credit.

AARP suggests the following for people who still write checks:

–Pay bills online instead.

–Take the enveloped check to the post office instead of leaving it in the mailbox.

–Use non-erasable blue or black gel ink instead of the ballpoint pen ink.

–Don’t leave mail in the mailbox. If possible, pick up the mail as close to when the mail carrier comes by or, if going away, ask the person who’s watching your house/apartment/condo to do the same.

–Monitor your bank account, including checking the withdrawals against the checks you’ve written.

–Report any incidents or discrepancies to your bank, the postal inspection office, the police and credit agencies.

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