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How to stop scammers dreaming of a white Christmas

Michael Sandelson

15.11.19 3 min. read

Cyber criminals have always been looking for their next opportunity to part people from their hard-earned cash. The elderly are no exception.

Thieves have abounded throughout time. Cyber criminals are just the latest version in a long line that goes back to the very beginnings of human existence – or maybe even before that. Crimes in their many forms will exist as long as there are bad people in the world.

To take some examples: cavemen clubbed their Neanderthal peers over the head to take their food, the Vikings traveled in longships across seas to pillage other nations. Highwaymen held up stagecoaches for gold, robbers raid banks. Cyber criminals want your credit card and bank account numbers. Some villains are softly-spoken to gain trust, others are just plain ruthless, employing methods such as blackmail.

There are, unfortunately, countless news stories of white-haired elderly people being robbed of their pension money (some fight muggers off successfully). Snatching handbags and/or cash, or sometimes using more violent means are to name just some methods.

The elderly are one of several vulnerable groups who are susceptible to online scams. They can be in the form of a phone call or an email. Phishing, used by adversaries including nation state ones, is the most common form of fraud.

A recent ID protection survey conducted by F-Secure found that 19 percent of people aged 65 and over (624 responses) said that either they, or someone in their family had been affected by cyber crime. This category covered malware (malicious software that can run on computers after the unsuspecting recipient clicked on what appeared to be a trustworthy email) and viruses. Credit card fraud accounted for 14 percent of the respondents.

6.4 percent answered that they were worried about someone hacking into their bank account and stealing money from them, with 6.1 percent saying that they were worried about online shopping fraud. Concerns about someone hacking into their email and loss of personal data returned percentages of 6 and 5.8, respectively.

The run-up to Christmas is one example of prime time for cyber criminals. The elderly need cash to tide them over when banks are closed and ATMs are empty. Perhaps they want to buy their partner or relatives a present online using their credit/debit card. Or maybe the criminals want the money themselves for the holiday season.

Scammers might believe that they can trick an old dog with new ones, but this is not always so. 5.7 percent of those aged 65 and over said they were aware of the cyber risk of credit card fraud, 5.5 percent of that of malware and viruses, and 5.1 percent regarding phishing.

Savviness and knowledge are not enough to protect anyone from scammers, though, whatever their age is. Online risks can be mitigated by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to hide one’s real IP address and stop scammers spying on your online activities.

There are also solutions that allow safe surfing, protecting you from viruses, trojans, and ransomware, as well as a password manager. This last solution prevents scammers from getting your login details for sites you use by generating strong, random ones, and avoids the need to remember passwords. Home routers can also be protected from hacking.

One takeaway? Never click on links in emails you deem to be suspicious. Cyber criminals, though persistent, pick easy targets in order to peddle their fraudulent ways.

In the words of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan (1944-2017), American professional wrestling manager, commentator, wrestler, and comedian: “The money’s the same, whether you earn it or scam it.”

Michael Sandelson

15.11.19 3 min. read

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