Cybersecurity Tips for Americans 55 and Older

Critical Cybersecurity Tips for Americans 55 and Older to Avoid Online Scams

06/06/2022 | Safety & Security


Cybercrime and online scams targeting older Americans are rising, making heightened awareness more important than ever. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2020 Elder Fraud Report, people aged 55 and older reported nearly $1 billion in fraud-related losses. This is an increase of $300 million in losses compared to 2019.

how to avoid online scams
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center 2020 Elder Fraud Report.

These figures are staggering and are the reason every older adult needs to be vigilant about cybersecurity and online scams. However, online scams can be tricky to avoid, especially the more sophisticated schemes.

If you’re over the age of 60, you are a primary target for cybercriminals, and you need to protect yourself against these fraudulent online schemes. Keep reading to learn how to identify the most common online scams, get advice on protecting yourself and learn how to respond if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim of one of these online scams. 

Seven Common Fraud Schemes Aimed At Older Americans Online

Government Impersonation

Nothing scares people more than owing money to the government. That’s why government imposter scams are the most common fraud schemes around. Under this type of scheme, scammers text message, call and email their victims pretending to be from Social Security, the IRS or Medicare and threaten arrest, deportation and the loss of benefits if you don’t pay a fine immediately.

Confidence Fraud Scams

A popular confidence scam is called the “Grandparent Scam.” Grandparents always want to take care of their grandchildren, and that makes this scam especially dangerous. Imposters call their victims and ask, “Hi grandpa/grandma, do you know who this is?” When the victim says their grandchild’s name, the imposter says, “Yes,” and then asks for money for something like car repairs or groceries.

With this scam, the imposters ask for money in the form of a gift card or wire transfer to keep their activities and identity untraceable.

Tech Support Fraud

The computer virus scam is malware that delivers a pop-up message on a computer stating the computer is infected with a virus and needs to be fixed. The message provides a phone number, and when called, the scammer requests a fee to fix the computer.

Those who don’t know much about their computers are easy targets, so when they see a message pop up saying their computer is infected with a virus, they’re going to be concerned.

Lottery/Sweepstakes/Inheritance Scams

You should never have to pay a fee to collect a legitimate prize, but that’s how lottery scams work. The victim is informed they’ve won a cash prize but must pay a fee to receive the money.

After the victim pays the fee, the scammer deposits a fake check into their bank account, but after a couple of days, it bounces.

Investment Fraud

Another type of fraud to watch out for is investment fraud. Under this type of scheme, the criminal contacts the victim with what seems like a great investment opportunity that speaks to them through a common interest like a political affiliation, religion or ethnicity. The fraudster will present the opportunity as either low-risk or no-risk, and the promised returns are too good to be true.

Non-Payment/Non-Delivery Fraud

With a non-payment fraud scheme, the victim ships an item that is never paid for. In a non-delivery fraud scheme, the victim pays for something that is never shipped. Fraudsters used this scheme extensively to take advantage of older Americans during the pandemic, when many people needed to buy necessities online.

Many fraudulent ecommerce websites appear professional and legitimate but buying from an unknown website is risky.

Fraudulent Products

Fraudulent products have been around for a long time. Anytime a product promises to be revolutionary, or a “breakthrough” in an industry, that should raise flags of caution.

Many fraudulent products are exposed quickly when people start posting complaints on the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) website. If a product or company has multiple complaints and fraud reports filed with the BBB, it’s more than likely a scam.

Three Security and Privacy Tips To Avoid Cybercrime Online

Cybercrime can have devastating financial consequences. Follow these three tips to avoid becoming a victim of an internet scam:


Closeup portrait, sitting young woman showing elderly with black glasses to use portable device,scrutinizing data with great concern, isolated indoors background

1. Know how to spot an online scam

To avoid becoming a victim, it’s critical to know how to spot one of these online scams. The problem is that while some online scams are obvious, others are sophisticated and well-disguised. For example, some online scams seem like legitimate opportunities from a mailing list and others appear to come from friends.

To spot a scam, look for these things:

  • A request for money. Be especially wary when the request asks for money in the form of Bitcoin, any cryptocurrency or a Western Union transfer.

  • A request for help for a sick, injured or destitute person. Scammers go after people with big hearts who want to help others. Ignore and delete these types of emails.

  • A notice that something is wrong with your order or account. Scammers frequently send emails asking people to click on a link to “verify” an account, log in to an account or fix a problem with an account or purchase order. If you haven’t made a purchase, this type of email is most likely a scam.

     You can verify its authenticity by calling the business directly at a known and trusted phone number. Don’t call any phone numbers provided in the email. If it’s a scam, the numbers will be fake too.

  • A web page asking you to enter private data. If you click on a scammer’s link, the page content might ask you to enter your online banking login credentials, credit card information or Social Security number.

No matter how much the page resembles your real financial institution’s website, never enter any personal information on a website after clicking a link in an email. Scammers recreate websites to make them look real, but they’re actually fake, and any information you type will be sent to the scammer.

Always visit your financial institution’s website by typing the website address into your browser to make sure you're on the real website.

2. Be suspicious of emails asking for money

If someone you know sends you an email or any text-based communication asking for money, don’t click any links and don’t send any money. Immediately contact the person and ask if they sent you an email asking for your financial support. If the request isn’t legitimate, delete the email or report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

3. Don’t be afraid to say “no”

Scammers will prey on your desire to help others, so it’s important to learn how to say “no” even when your heart wants to say “yes.” For example, if you get an email from someone asking for financial help to cover expensive medical treatment for a child, you might naturally want to help. However, scammers are counting on your desire to help in order to cheat you out of your money.

Don’t be afraid to ignore or delete emails that request your financial assistance. It doesn’t say anything about your character because the situations described within these emails are phony.


Protect yourself and your finances from online scams

To learn more about how you can avoid financial exploitation on the internet, check out the National Council on Aging’s guide to avoiding scams and fraud.



What to do if you suspect you or a loved one have already been scammed

If you or a loved one have lost money, become the victim of identity theft or any other cybercrime, resources are available through The United States Department of Justice's  website to help. Just select your state from the drop-down menu found on the Victim and Family Support web page to find local organizations that can help with food, money and other important resources.

If you think you’ve been targeted by an internet scam, don’t forget to report the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) immediately. 


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