Living in the 21st century means living in the heyday of cybercrime. In fact, monetary loss from cybercrime incidents have been increasing exponentially every year since 2001. Criminals are constantly devising new ways to get their hands on credit card numbers, medical information, and other highly sensitive data. And they know targeting vulnerable groups tends to improve the success rates of their identity theft scams.

From a cybercriminal’s perspective, seniors are the perfect target. Since they grew up in an age before computers, they’re usually not as tech-savvy than their children and grandchildren. This makes them far more likely to fall victim to cybercrime. Unfortunately, targeting the older crowd is paying off: Seniors lost an incredible $3 billion to online scams in 2020 alone.

Don’t panic. Educate yourself instead

If you've been the victim of an identity theft scam, don't panic.

If you’re worried about navigating the internet without having your information stolen, relax. Elder identity theft is preventable as long as you learn what to watch out for. By familiarizing yourself with all the best ways to stay safe online, you’ll be able to browse the internet in peace again whether you’re 17 or 75.

Here are some of the latest identity theft scams aimed at seniors. If you ever encounter any of these schemes while browsing online, don’t let cybercriminals take the wheel. Report them immediately and block and ignore the perpetrator.

The grandkid scam

The Grandkid Scam is one of the most common and successful identity theft schemes currently targeting seniors. Malicious hackers reach out through email, text message, telephone, and social media sites like Facebook and pose as a family member in dire need of cash. They spin sob stories about bail payments, high interest loans, overdue credit cards, and other desperate financial matters to tug at their elderly victim’s heartstrings.

The backbone of this scam is naivety and emotional impulsivity. So even though it might be difficult to stay calm, if you receive any communications from someone claiming to be your grandchild or any other family member, do your research before sending them any money or personal information. Confirm the phone number the “loved one” calls from is theirs by calling them back on a number you recognize. And if someone reaches out through social media asking for money, make sure you aren’t dealing with a fake profile.

Romance scams

Romance scams are a common identity theft scam

Romance Scams are another one of the latest identity theft scams devised to prey on the emotional vulnerability of senior citizens. Cybercriminals steal photos of attractive (usually much younger) individuals. They then message people on social media with the aim of kindling a romantic relationship. Their goal is usually to trick their victim into sending them money and lavish gifts. They accomplish this through many means, including:

  • Deep, caring conversations
  • Private photos and videos
  • Promises of meeting in person
  • Marriage proposals

In some cases, the scammer will also claim they had an accident at work or developed a sudden illness and need help paying their medical bills.

This scam is particularly cruel because many times, the cybercriminal will spend a considerable amount of time cultivating a relationship with their older victim. This leads to the victim growing emotionally attached to their so-called suitor, losing a lot of time and money in the process.

To avoid falling prey to this scheme, be wary of any strangers who add you on social media sites. Always trust your instincts when meeting new people online. If the man or woman of your dreams shows up out of nowhere and comes on far too strong, there’s a good chance you’re being targeted by a scam.

Fake prescription drug scams

Scammers use fake prescription drugs to scam seniors.

Fake online pharmacies are everywhere. It’s disturbingly easy to stumble across one during a simple Google search. Therefore, keep in mind even if an online pharmacy looks reputable, that doesn’t mean it is. Scammers can set up convincing fake online pharmacies in a matter of hours. All it takes is a couple of clicks for them to gain access to your credit card numbers or bank information.

Use discretion when ordering your medications online. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your doctor for recommendations of reputable online pharmacies. Also, be aware some of these cybercriminals go as far as soliciting seniors directly. If you receive an email or text offering prescriptions at an “unbelievably low price,” report and delete it. You’re far more likely to fall victim to a classic phishing scam than you are to get your prescriptions on time that month.

Social Security and Medicare scams

While all the scams we’ve covered pose a threat to seniors, Social Security and Medicare scams are actually the most common elder identity theft scam in the country. Cybercriminals use countless methods to trick seniors into divulging everything from full Social Security numbers to seemingly harmless tidbits of personal info that can later be used to access their accounts.

The classic version of this scam involves a cybercriminal sending a fake email claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, Medicare, or some other government entity. These emails almost always rely heavily on scare tactics and use urgent language. They threaten loss of Social Security benefits or health insurance. This naturally causes panic in the mind of the recipient. Desperate to hold on to their benefits, countless seniors have been tricked into giving away their Social Security numbers without a second thought.

Online scams are always evolving

Learn how to avoid identity theft scams

As these old-school scams have drawn public scrutiny, cybercriminals have been forced to get creative. They’ve come up with even more devious techniques. In 2022, phone calls phishing for answers to security questions are common. If the scammer manages to get their hands on the senior’s birthday (which takes only a minute or two of online research), they can access their Social Security account and wreak all sorts of havoc.

Some of these scams are downright strange. Seniors receive phone calls where the scammer simply attempts to lead them into saying “yes.” This answer is recorded and used to impersonate the senior and gain access to their Social Security or Medicare benefits through automated phone menus.

Learn to identify and avoid online scams

These are only a few of the nefarious scams cybercriminals use to prey on thousands of seniors every single year. Fake lotteries and contests, ransomware, and timeshare scams are some other examples of common schemes you should watch out for.

In the war against cybercrime, knowledge is your most powerful weapon. You can learn to outwit hackers at any age by sharpening your tech skills. Our Guide to the Internet for Seniors is an excellent place to begin!

Erica Suzette is the Lead Blog Writer for Lumen Technologies. Although her writing career has spanned every industry from finance to real estate, tech writing has always been her favorite. Aside from penning her own blogs and stories, she also writes songs on the guitar. She’s been an avid gamer since her 7th birthday and has helped write several mobile and computer games throughout her career. She also loves 70s movies and music and enjoys collecting records.