According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), there were over 150,000 reports of fraud this year, with losses totaling over $100 million. Believe it or not, that's actually an improvement over last year's total, which came in at a staggering $340 million. No matter which year you look at, however, there's always one statistic that doesn't seem to change. It's the fact that people over the age of 50 are three times more likely to be victimized by scammers than younger folks.
The statistics prove that it's vital for people in our age group to be aware of what's going on out there, so we can protect ourselves and our assets from would-be predators. That goes double for those among us who have embraced online shopping or conduct our banking over the internet. Scammers frequently target those with online accounts, especially when the person using them isn't very tech savvy.
Although the types of scams vary, there are a few common tactics that you can be on the lookout for if you want to stay safe. They include:
By now, it's a safe bet that you've heard the term phishing bandied about in the media since it's such a common way for scammers to target people. Basically, phishing refers to an attempt to trick someone into revealing private or personal information by pretending to be someone you are not. It's a type of scam that can happen on the phone, online, or by email, which is why it's a favored method of criminals everywhere.
With that in mind, you should be aware that calls and emails you receive won't always be from who they claim to be. You should treat emails or calls claiming to be from your bank, the ATO, or any other company you do business with caution. Never give out any personal information unless you are certain of who you're communicating with.
Another way that scammers gain access to the lives of unwitting victims is through their hearts – that is, by pretending to strike up a romantic relationship with them. The internet has made this kind of approach more widespread and effective than ever before, so it's become distressingly common of late. Right now, romance scammers are targeting older people playing online games like words with friends, by striking up conversations and luring them into sending money.
In general, if you want to avoid this type of scam, try to meet new people the old fashioned way – by getting together in person, in public places. If you do pursue any kind of online relationship, keep it limited to talk. If someone you've met online starts asking for gift cards or money, it should be clear what they're after. Don't let your feelings blind you to reality, and tell them to take a walk.
Fake Billing Scams
Each month, we all follow some variant of a very common routine. The month's bills arrive, and we dutifully pay them, one by one. Scammers take advantage of that fact by sending, either by post or by email, official-looking bills that are designed to fit right in with the real things.
If you receive a bill that you don't recognize, don't rush to pay it. Check to see if it is legitimate if it refers to an open account you actually have, and if it's from an entity you don't recognize, throw it away. Don't be fooled by collection letters or messages that arrive out of nowhere – especially if they're using threatening language. A real debt collector can't behave that way, as it would be a violation of the law.
Last, but not least, is a scam that's as old as the printed word – advertising scams. In the internet age, there are more secondhand sales and classified sites than one could ever want, but they're a breeding ground for unscrupulous thieves. In the last few months, seniors have been targeted on classified sites (and print publications, too) by crooks that seek to defraud them out of thousands of dollars.
In general, the scam involves listing a valuable item for sale at a steep discount, such as a vehicle or other large asset. Once the scammer gets an interested response, they convince the would-be buyer to pay a deposit to secure the deal and then hand them off to an accomplice that takes the balance and agrees to deliver the item. Of course, the item is an illusion, but the money is not. By the time most victims realize they've been had, it's too late to find the scammer or any of the lost funds.
The bottom line here is that scammers prey on the vulnerable, so the more information you're armed with, the safer you'll be. There's no way to be prepared for every little variation in tactics that they bad guys will employ to try and entrap their victims, but the broad outlines mentioned above cover the bulk of their methods as of today. The best defense that any of us can have is to maintain a healthy level of skepticism and make sure to investigate the moment something seems amiss. With any luck, 2019 will see a further reduction in losses to fraud, with us seniors leading the way!