5 Cybersecurity Threats Targeting Seniors in 2023

5 Cybersecurity Threats Targeting Seniors in 2023

According to the National Council on Aging, “In 2021, there were 92,371 older victims of fraud resulting in $1.7 billion in losses.” Scams can be particularly devastating for older adults who have been saving their entire lives for retirement, are on a fixed income, or may not have financial pathways available to recoup their losses.  

Unfortunately, every year new scams are created to take advantage of unsuspecting individuals. And every year, as technologies change and evolve, scammers find ways to use the vulnerabilities of both users and the technology itself to defraud their victims. So how do you and the older adults in your life avoid becoming one of those victims? The most important things consumers can do to protect themselves is to exercise caution and to stay informed.  

In this post we’ll cover five of the most common online scams and threats for seniors to watch out for, as well as simple steps you can take to spot them and what to do should you or a loved one fall victim to cyber fraud. Whether you are an older adult or you have older adults in your life, it’s crucial to be familiar with the tactics criminals use to disenfranchise this highly-targeted population. Keep reading to find out how.  

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Phishing Scams 

You may have heard the term ‘phishing’ before, but weren’t sure exactly what it means. The term itself is a nod to proto-hackers who broke into phone systems as a means to get free calls (where that ‘ph’ at the beginning of ‘phishing’ comes from). However, today’s phishing scams are much more nefarious than getting free long distance. When cyber criminals phish, they use digital communications—usually email, but also texts and cell phone calls—to obtain your personal information or access to your accounts in order to defraud you. 

Cyber criminals target everyone with their phishing email, texts, and calls, but since seniors often have more assets than their younger counterparts (and may not have the technical savviness of those who grew up with computers), they tend to be more at risk.  


How to Prevent Falling Victim to Phishing Scams 

Take the time to teach yourself and the older adults in your life common phishing warning signs to avoid falling victim to these scams. Watch out for: 


  • That are from: Banks and credit card companies, government agencies like the IRS, Medicare providers, online companies and websites (whether or not you have done business with them), relatives (especially if they don’t usually email you), and royalty or other wealthy individuals. 
  • That contain: downloads (file attachments), urgent claims, cheap graphics, spelling and grammar errors, links to login pages. 
  • Or that request you: log in to an account, call a number, go to a website and enter personal information, or send money. 


Phone Calls and Text Messages 
  • That are from: banks and credit card companies, car dealerships and warranty companies, relatives you don’t speak to regularly, hospitals, schools, travel agencies, the IRS or other government agencies. 
  • That request: money, personal information, gift cards, or bank/credit card account information.

Government agencies and reputable companies will never ask you to send money via electronic communications, and will almost never ask you to login via a link.  

If you or someone you love receives any communications that you suspect are fraudulent, STOP. Find a different way to contact the sender or caller to verify the claim before clicking on any links, downloading attachments, or giving away any personal or account information. Call the individual or organization directly yourself with an official number (like the one on the back of your credit card), stop by your local bank branch office, reach out to a trusted friend or relative, or contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protections: 1-800-441-2555. 

Tech Support Scams 

With this kind of cyber fraud, scammers contact users and convince them that they have been negatively impacted by another fraud attempt, virus, or major technical issue. The scammer will claim that they can help their victim eradicate the threat or fix the problem by giving remote access to their computer.  

Scammers may pose as a government agency, an official organization or technology company, or a service that helps people with computer viruses and other threats. Once the hacker gains access to your or your loved one’s computer, it is easy for them to block your access to the computer and take any valuable information that might be stored on it. This could include: documents and files, financial information, and passwords to online accounts (including bank and credit card accounts and accounts through online merchants like Amazon).  


How to Prevent Falling Victim to Tech Support Scams 

There are a few cautionary measures you or a loved one can take to avoid falling prey to these kinds of scams. Never do any of the following:  

  • Let anyone gain remote access to your computer. 
    • Instead, take your computer to a trusted repair company if you suspect issues or call an official tech support line. '
  • Click on pop-up windows on websites that warn you about viruses. 
    • Instead, close the entire browser window or press ‘escape’ if you can’t find a way to close it, then avoid visiting that website again. 
  • Download antivirus software from third parties. 
    • Instead, use the pre-installed software on your computer, or download software from reputable companies from an official website or an app store. 
  • Accept calls from tech support companies. 
    • You will never be contacted by phone by any reputable company and be asked to install software. Instead, hang up, and if it’s a company you actually use, contact them directly to verify any claims.  
  • Follow instructions emailed to you on behalf of a tech support company.  
    • Instead, if it appears to be from a company whose services or products you use, contact them directly to verify any claims.  

In all of these cases, if you aren’t sure what to do, don’t be afraid to ask someone for assistance. If you have an older adult in your life who uses technology frequently, share this information with them and let them know you are there for them if they ever need any help. 

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Charity Scams 

Because of their tendencies for generosity, seniors are often victimized by scams that claim to benefit a charity, asking for money for special causes whose victims will never see a penny. This is especially common in the wake of major local, national, and global disruptive events. Hurricane and relief, aid to the Ukraine, and fundraising for COVID-19 victims are some of the most recent false pretenses scammers have flocked to in the past few years. As AARP explains, “Some sham charities succeed by mimicking the real thing. Like genuine nonprofits, they reach you via telemarketing, direct mail, email and door-to-door solicitations create well-designed websites with deceptive names.” 


How to Prevent Falling Victim to Charity Scams 

As with our advice on previous scams, the best thing you or your loved ones can do is learn the tactics and practice caution. In their article How to Donate Wisely and Avoid Charity Scams, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends taking the following steps before writing a check or giving over your credit card information: 

  • Research organizations online first.  
    • Use sites like BBB Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator to ensure the charity is legitimate.  
      Only pay using credit cards or checks. 
  • Anyone asking for cash, gift cards, money orders, money wires, or even cryptocurrency is probably choosing those methods because they are harder to trace or can be easily used internationally.
    • Legitimate U.S. charities will be happy to accept card payments or checks. 
  • Watch out for scammers’ tricks, including: 
    • High-pressure pitches 
    • Sentimental claims 
    • Fake caller ID or email addresses (it’s easy to make phone calls and emails look like an official communication). 
    • No specifics on how your donation will be used 

If you receive a phone call asking for donations—even from an organization you know and trust—don’t feel guilty by telling them you will make the donation online instead. Hang up, navigate to the official website (on your own, without a link) and make the donation through a secure online payment system to guarantee the money is going to the right place. This will also ensure you have an email record of your donation for tax purposes.  

Grandparent and Romance Scams 

As the CDC points out, older adults are at an increased risk of loneliness and isolation, and may not have regular contact with those whom they love. Unfortunately, scammers and cyber criminals take advantage of these vulnerabilities for their profit, preying on individuals by posing as relatives or romantic interests. 
With grandparent scams, scammers will reach out to older individuals, impersonating either a grandchild or someone (like a school or hospital) who is in the care of their grandchild. The scammer may even be able to use online records to find out the name of your actual grandchild or school they attend, to make it sound even more convincing. Scammers will usually ask for money to help the child out of a jam, whether it be money for the actual child, or money to pay for medical or other costs.  

With romance scams, also called ‘catfishing,’ scammers will pretend to be a love interest, and may even spend weeks or months communicating with their victims in order to build trust. It can be hard to know if someone you have recently met has legitimate interest in friendship or a romantic relationship, but a telltale sign you’ve been catfished is if they ask you to keep your relationship secret and/or ask you for money. If someone you recently met comes to you in a financial crisis asking for gift cards, money orders, online transfer, or cash, recognize that it is probably a scam. Don’t be ashamed—scammers are excellent at deception, and catfishing can happen to anyone, no matter their age or appearance. In fact, in 2021 individuals of all ages lost over $500 million to online dating scams. 


How to Prevent Falling Victim to Charity and Romance Scams 

The best thing anyone can do to protect themselves is to watch out for the warning signs mentioned above and verify individuals are who they say they are. Here’s how: 

  • Tell them you’ll call back: If a relative (or organization/hospital on their behalf) is calling you asking for money, write down the number and tell them you will call them right back. Take a few minutes to touch base with their parent or other relative directly. You can also look up numbers for their school or hospital and call these places to verify the claim, as well.  
  • Do a background check: If someone befriends you online (or even in person) and asks you for money early on in the relationship, check into their background. Ask a tech savvy friend or relative to help you do a little research.  
  • Never send gift cards, money orders, or wire transfers: Requests for these kinds of payments are telltale signs something is not right. Check out the FTC’s Gift Card Scams page for more information. 
  • Don’t give away your credit card or bank account numbers, no matter how much you think you can trust someone. 
  • Be okay with saying no: Tell the individual your reasons for distrust and let them know you can’t help them financially, even if you care about them. Offer to research alternatives for assistance if it’s an emergency. Be firm. 

Online Shopping Scams 

As online shopping has gained in popularity for shoppers of all ages, cyber criminals have latched onto an additional opportunity to defraud consumers. Using online advertisements on places like Facebook and Google, as well as fake emails and social media messages, scammers direct individuals to fraudulent websites selling fake products. When you purchase a product and enter your payment information, the scammers not only have your payment, but now have access to your financial account information as well. 

Additionally, savvy shoppers looking to save money purchasing used products on online marketplaces, like Facebook Marketplace, also need to watch out for fraud. Scammers may ask you for money upfront before the good is delivered, or sell you a counterfeit or flawed product. If you’re the one selling the product, be wary of people who send too much money via methods like Venmo or Paypal, then ask you to refund the difference. They will cancel the original transaction, but you’ll still be on the hook for whatever you paid them.  


How to Prevent Falling Victim to Online Shopping Scams 

Fortunately, there are few simple steps you can take to avoid online shopping fraud: 

  • Verify that the website is legitimate. Use the Better Business Bureau’s guide, How to identify a fake website to learn the warning signs. Enter the address into URLVoid to see if the site is safe or malicious. Do a web search about the company to determine its legitimacy. For example: “is cheapshoes4u.com a scam?” 
  • Use a credit card for online purchases. Again, never pay with things like gift cards, money orders, or wire transfers. Credit cards (and even some debit cards!) offer more robust consumer protections.  
  • Never pay upfront for a good from a private party. Wait until you have the purchase in hand and you’re sure it’s the quality that you expect before sending money. Know that once money has changed hands, you probably won’t be able to get it back. 
  • Reserve large purchases for reputable sites, stores, and dealers. If you’re looking to make a major purchase, like a television, vehicle, or expensive clothing item, stick to trusted online and brick-and-mortar establishments.  

What to Do if You or a Loved One Falls Victim to a Scam 

Depending on the extent of the fraud, you may need to take several courses of action. The most important thing to do is to safeguard all your financial accounts as soon as possible. Here are some things you should do in the aftermath of a cyber scam.  

  • If there was an organization or company that the scammer was impersonating, call them directly using an official number and report the incident. 
  • Stop by your local bank branch office to inform them. Even if you don’t think your bank accounts were affected, it’s important to notify your financial institutions, just in case. 
  • Contact your credit card companies at the phone number on the back of your card. 
  • Contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protections: 1-800-441-2555 
  • Contact your local police department in Northumberland, Columbia, or Montour County 
  • Get a copy of your credit report to look for new credit inquiries. Put a temporary freeze on your credit. 
  • Change your passwords for all major accounts.  

If you aren’t sure how to proceed or need assistance in handling the matter, reach out to a loved one, financial professional (like a First Columbia Banking Services representative), or local law enforcement agency for help.  

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As a trusted community financial institution, we’ve seen the real-world impact of cybersecurity fraud and know how important it is to safeguard your financial wellbeing. That’s why we strive to protect our customers—and help our customers protect themselves—from cyber criminals and scammers. Stop by one of our local branch offices in Northumberland County, Columbia County, or Montour County to learn more about how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from cybercrime.