She was embarrassed to tell me, and once she did, I understood why. My friend of 20 years, a smart woman who has worked with technology for most of her career, got scammed out of $500.
My friend is now in her 70s and received a professional-looking email from a popular computer security company that told her she owed nearly $1,000 on her account. An older person on a fixed income, her initial reaction was panic and a desperate need to remain in good standing with her credit. In a knee-jerk response, she clicked on the link in the email, which directed her to connect with someone who could help her pay off this balance. Instead of a credit card, the representative instructed her to go to a local drug store and use gift cards to pay off her debt. When she attempted to buy these gift cards, her bank stepped in and stopped the process. Unfortunately for her, the bank didn’t step in until $500 had already been spent.
Common sense would sniff such a scam out right away. Why not simply log in to your account and see what you actually owe or wait for a charge to appear and dispute it with your bank? And once you have to physically go to a store to initiate an alternative transaction, how could you not question if it’s legitimate? Fear is common sense’s mortal enemy and a primary driver when it comes to money. She may have briefly questioned what she was doing, but the fear of owing that much money took over and led her to make a terrible decision.
She’s not alone. The Federal Trade Commission reports consumers of all ages reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to scams just last year. When it specifically comes to tech scams, AARP reports this category is the most often reported against people 60 and older, resulting in $588 million in losses in 2022. Here is AARP’s advice for keeping yourself safe:
• When in doubt, shut it down. If you can’t close a browser window to get rid of a fake virus-warning pop-up, try to reboot the computer.
• Don’t ever call the phone number in a pop-up. Legitimate tech companies will never ask you to call a phone number or click a link.
• If you get an unsolicited call, email or text message telling you that there’s a problem with your computer, ignore it. Real tech support staffers will never contact you out of the blue.
• Be wary of anyone requesting remote access. Don’t let an unknown, unverified person get into your computer or device.
• Resist pressure. The FBI notes that scammers urge targets to act quickly to protect their computer or bank accounts. That sense of urgency is to prevent you from having time to think clearly and question their behavior.
Decisions based on fear usually aren’t the correct ones and scammers know this. By initiating a “fight or flight” response in victims, these companies steal not only money from seniors’ pockets, but also their self-confidence. It’s not my job to make my friend feel stupid, and empowering older people, especially LGBTQ senior citizens that are often overlooked, to feel armed with knowledge and support is the best way to reduce the impact of these crimes.