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3 Ways to Help Protect Older Family Members From Online Fraud

5 Minute Read

A few years ago, Jan Howard nearly fell victim to an online scam. Someone contacted the 63-year-old Toronto resident to tell her that her nephew had been in a car accident. Because the individual knew personal details about her, including her name, address and her nephew's name, she believed him. It was only when she rushed out to wire $2,000 to the fraudster that a neighbor, who had heard of others receiving similar requests, told her it was a scam. "The fact I almost got caught is amazing to me," says Jan.

Jan can take comfort in knowing that many others have succumbed to scams, too. According to the Federal Trade Commission, hackers and other nefarious individuals stole $1 billion from Americans in 2018, with online and email fraud accounting for $241 million of that total. "We know the number of these types of incidents is going up," says Corey Carlisle, Executive Director of the Washington-based American Bankers Association.

A McMaster University report estimates that 5.4% of older adults become victims of financial fraud. The reasons for elder fraud are simple: older people have more money saved than younger generations. A Nielsen report found that half of U.S. adults were older than 50 and in control of about 70% of the country's disposable income. Additionally, as people get older, certain health issues can leave them more vulnerable to hackers.

Fortunately, there are ways to help protect yourself and your loved ones from cyber fraud.

Keep an Eye on Family Members

Online scammers do extensively target the elderly, says Carlisle, so family members need to be on watch. "We're trying to reinforce the notion of financial caregiving," he says. Pay attention to a loved one's financial activity -- be mindful of any odd transactions being made or unusual checks being written -- and make sure they don't stray from their financial routine. Not everyone will have access to a parent's bank account, but you can still be on guard: If a family member's credit card gets declined, or you notice bills piling up on the kitchen table, then start investigating further.

Be Open About Unusual Activity

Talking to loved ones about cyber fraud is important, too, says Carlisle. If you notice an odd email in your family member's inbox, don't be shy to ask them who it's from. It's also a good idea to talk about the kinds of scams and frauds that are being perpetrated. "We really encourage people to speak openly with people in their family," says Carlisle.

Avoid Suspicious Emails and Requests

According to the American Association of Retired Persons, families need to make sure their loved ones understand proper Internet usage. For instance, tell elderly family members to avoid clicking on online pop-up ads, as these can install malware on a computer. As well, do make sure they don't open emails from unknown sources or click on links asking for personal information. Be careful about having them sell products on online auction sites, too, as that can allow fraudsters to pose as buyers who then end up paying with counterfeit checks or money orders.

If there are any signs of fraudulent activity in any bank account, act quickly to resolve it, says Carlisle.

As for Jan, she's screening calls with caller ID, tracking what scams are occurring by watching media reports, and she has reported fraudulent calls to the police. "If someone (asks me to do something), I don't say just 'yes,'" she says. "I protect myself."


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