Help Older Adults Stay Safe Online

Internet safety for seniors impacts all of us. Help the older adults in your life know the signs of cybercrime by being aware of the top scams.

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The internet provides opportunities for fun, learning, connectivity and more. But the web also creates a playground for fraudsters, especially praying on senior citizens. According to the American Bankers Association, senior financial abuse is estimated to have cost victims at least $2.9 billion last year alone.

Why are senior citizens targets for cybercrime?

Scammers often believe that older adults have more money set aside. They also target senior citizens because they tend to be more trusting, and may have memory issues. Also, older adults may have difficulties navigating technology.

What are the most common senior citizen scams?

  • Grandchild Scam. A fraudster calls senior citizens acting as a grandchild or family member, or pretending to call on their behalf. They establish a rapport and ask for money under the guise of helping family.
  • Healthcare Scam. The scammer may pretend to be a rep from an insurance company or Medicare and attempt to pull personal information. They may press for information claiming benefits are at stake.
  • Romance Scam. Scammers may prey on older adults, especially if they live alone. Even if the victim is not part of a dating site or service, the scammer may use information on social media to build a phony romantic relationship, and ultimately ask for money.
  • Sweepstakes or Lottery Scam. Fraudsters call an older adult to tell them they’ve won a lottery or prize of some kind, but tell the “winner” that in order to claim the prize they must send over money or gift cards up front to cover supposed taxes or processing fees.
  • Government Impersonation Scams. Scammers call unsuspecting senior citizens claiming to be from a government agency, like the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), Medicare or Social Security Administration. They make false threats, often saying the senior citizen owes money, like unpaid taxes. They solicit money, or information that may be used for identity theft.
  • Tech Support Scams. Hackers pose as tech support agents that spot a fake virus on the senior’s computer or mobile phone. They convince the victim to install a virus protector, that actually enables identity theft.

How can you help protect seniors from fraud?

While there are several tips to keep older adults safe online, the trends change constantly. The best way to keep senior citizens safe online is to keep the conversation going and set reminders to check in on their online habits.

  • Explain common scams. Take the list above and talk over each scam with seniors that you care about.
  • Know the red flags. If anyone contacts them asking for a wire or money transfer, or even a gift card, it is likely a scam.
  • Help them protect their devices. Set up antivirus software on their computers, and encourage them to have unique, strong passwords on mobile devices.
  • Always verify. Encourage the older adults that you know to remain calm when they receive a suspicious email, text, or call. They can simply hang up and contact a trusted source to verify or ask for help.

How do you report elder fraud?

According to the FBI, seniors may resist reporting fraud. Perhaps they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed at having been scammed. They might also be concerned that their relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their own financial affairs. However, reporting a scam is important, and can be done relatively simply. You can:

  1. Contact your local FBI field office.
  2. Submit a tip online. Or,
  3. File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.