The elderly are been increasingly targeted by sophisticated and persistent cyber crooks with scams that range from mail order, online and phone frauds.
Some scammers in the UK claim to be from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or the police and threaten arrest if their disingenuous demands aren’t met.Scams involving fake tech support, online dating and tax refunds are increasingly becoming increasingly popular. 
  • The US Justice Department recently announced its largest- fraud case in which elderly people were targeted. The case involved 250 defendants worldwide who victimised more than one million Americans, largely targeting or affecting elderly people to the tune of more than $500 million.

Age Cymru, a charity for elderly people in Wales, recently estimated that up to 150,000 older people across Wales are conned each year, for an average of £1,200 each.

The population of over 65’s in Wales is estimated to be 720,000 which means approximately 20% of elderly people, or one in five, are duped by online scammers each year.
  • In one example, scammers claiming to be from HMRC, tell the victim they have an unpaid tax bill. They say if the bill isn't paid a warrant will be issued for their arrest. 
  • The scammers have sometimes asked for the payment in the form of iTunes vouchers. They tell the victims to buy them at a supermarket, before calling them back and asking for the codes. 

These findings are no doubt replicated across other countries as cyber criminals focus on vulnerable people.

Why are elderly people targeted?

It’s often said that technology outpaces the ability of elderly people to keep up with it, which often leads to them falling victim to fraud.

However, research in the US revealed that as people grow older, they tend to concentrate more on the positive. Consequently they are more prone to fall for scams.

This has less to do with cognitive decline, but so-called socio-emotional shifts in the brain that unfold as we age. In short, elderly people are less likely to pay attention to the negative and as a result are not as vigilant against threats.

Scams to watch out for

  • Personal emergency: Scammers email or post social media messages that appear to be from someone you know saying they are in some type of distress and need money. Find another way to verify if it’s true, such as calling the person directly.  
  • You owe money: If you receive an email from a bill collector or a government agency about money owed by you don’t respond unless you are absolutely certain it’s legitimate.  
  • Infected computer: You might get a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft saying your computer is infected or vulnerable to hacking. They offer to repair it for you. Don’t respond and hang up the phone. Microsoft and other companies never make these calls. These are criminals trying to steal your money and plant viruses on your machine.
  • Pop-up messages: Be suspicious of any messages that pop-up on your computer, in your web browser or on a mobile app warning you of a virus or a security risk. Hacker’s plant these pop-ups in the hope that someone will click on them and download viruses. If you think that your device may be at risk get some advice from another person who understands computers and potential threats.