How to Avoid Scams Aimed at Seniors

As 2018 draws to a close here in Australia, it's a time for many of us to take stock and appreciate all of the blessings that the year has brought us. For some among us, however, 2018 didn't bring joy – on the contrary, it brought financial calamity and worry. That's the case, at least, for people who fell victim to financial and other scams this year.

How to Avoid Scams Aimed at Seniors

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.

Romance Scams

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.

Advertising Scams

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!

Check the comment section below for additional information, share what you know, or ask a question about this article by leaving a comment below. And, to quickly find answers to your questions, use our search Search engine.

Note: Some of the information in samples on this website may have been impersonated or spoofed.

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Online Threat Alerts Security Tips

Pay the safest way

Credit cards are the safest way to pay for online purchases because you can dispute the charges if you never get the goods or services or if the offer was misrepresented. Federal law limits your liability to $50 if someone makes unauthorized charges to your account, and most credit card issuers will remove them completely if you report the problem promptly.

Guard your personal information

In any transaction you conduct, make sure to check with your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if the seller, charity, company, or organization is credible. Be especially wary if the entity is unfamiliar to you. Always call the number found on a website’s contact information to make sure the number legitimately belongs to the entity you are dealing with.

Be careful of the information you share

Never give out your codes, passwords or personal information, unless you are sure of who you're dealing with

Know who you’re dealing with

Crooks pretending to be from companies you do business with may call or send an email, claiming they need to verify your personal information. Don’t provide your credit card or bank account number unless you are actually paying for something and know who you are sending payment to. Your social security number should not be necessary unless you are applying for credit. Be especially suspicious if someone claiming to be from a company with whom you have an account asks for information that the business already has.

Check your accounts

Regularly check your account transactions and report any suspicious or unauthorised transactions.

Don’t believe promises of easy money

If someone claims that you can earn money with little or no work, get a loan or credit card even if you have bad credit, or make money on an investment with little or no risk, it’s probably a scam. Oftentimes, offers that seem too good to be true, actually are too good to be true.

Do not open email from people you don’t know

If you are unsure whether an email you received is legitimate, try contacting the sender directly via other means. Do not click on any links in an email unless you are sure it is safe.

Think before you click

If an email or text message looks suspicious, don’t open any attachments or click on the links.

Verify urgent requests or unsolicited emails, messages or phone calls before you respond

If you receive a message or a phone call asking for immediate action and don't know the sender, it could be a phishing message.

Be careful with links and new website addresses

Malicious website addresses may appear almost identical to legitimate sites. Scammers often use a slight variation in spelling or logo to lure you. Malicious links can also come from friends whose email has unknowingly been compromised, so be careful.

Secure your personal information

Before providing any personal information, such as your date of birth, Social Security number, account numbers, and passwords, be sure the website is secure.

Stay informed on the latest cyber threats

Keep yourself up to date on current scams by visiting this website daily.

Use Strong Passwords

Strong passwords are critical to online security.

Keep your software up to date and maintain preventative software programs

Keep all of your software applications up to date on your computers and mobile devices. Install software that provides antivirus, firewall, and email filter services.

Update the operating systems on your electronic devices

Make sure your operating systems (OSs) and applications are up to date on all of your electronic devices. Older and unpatched versions of OSs and software are the target of many hacks. Read the CISA security tip on Understanding Patches and Software Updates for more information.

What if You Got Scammed?

Stop Contact With The Scammer

Hang up the phone. Do not reply to emails, messages, or letters that the scammer sends. Do not make any more payments to the scammer. Beware of additional scammers who may contact you claiming they can help you get your lost money back.

Secure Your Finances

  • Report potentially compromised bank account, credit or debit card information to your financial institution(s) immediately. They may be able to cancel or reverse fraudulent transactions.
  • Notify the three major credit bureaus. They can add a fraud alert to warn potential credit grantors that you may be a victim of identity theft. You may also want to consider placing a free security freeze on your credit report. Doing so prevents lenders and others from accessing your credit report entirely, which will prevent them from extending credit:

Check Your Computer

If your computer was accessed or otherwise affected by a scam, check to make sure that your anti-virus is up-to-date and running and that your system is free of malware and keylogging software. You may also need to seek the help of a computer repair company. Consider utilizing the Better Business Bureau’s website to find a reputable company.

Change Your Account Passwords

Update your bank, credit card, social media, and email account passwords to try to limit further unauthorized access. Make sure to choose strong passwords when changing account passwords.

Report The Scam

Reporting helps protect others. While agencies can’t always track down perpetrators of crimes against scammers, they can utilize the information gathered to record patterns of abuse which may lead to action being taken against a company or industry.

Report your issue to the following agencies based on the nature of the scam:

  • Local Law Enforcement: Consumers are encouraged to report scams to their local police department or sheriff’s office, especially if you lost money or property or had your identity compromised.
  • Federal Trade Commission: Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or use the Online Complaint Assistant to report various types of fraud, including counterfeit checks, lottery or sweepstakes scams, and more.
  • If someone is using your personal information, like your Social Security, credit card, or bank account number, to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund, report it at This federal government site will also help you create your Identity Theft Report and a personal recovery plan based on your situation. Questions can be directed to 877-ID THEFT.

How To Recognize a Phishing Scam

Scammers use email or text messages to try to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. If they get that information, they could get access to your email, bank, or other accounts. Or they could sell your information to other scammers. Scammers launch thousands of phishing attacks like these every day — and they’re often successful.

Scammers often update their tactics to keep up with the latest news or trends, but here are some common tactics used in phishing emails or text messages:

Phishing emails and text messages often tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. You might get an unexpected email or text message that looks like it’s from a company you know or trust, like a bank or a credit card or utility company. Or maybe it’s from an online payment website or app. The message could be from a scammer, who might

  • say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts — they haven’t
  • claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information — there isn’t
  • say you need to confirm some personal or financial information — you don’t
  • include an invoice you don’t recognize — it’s fake
  • want you to click on a link to make a payment — but the link has malware
  • say you’re eligible to register for a government refund — it’s a scam
  • offer a coupon for free stuff — it’s not real

About Online Threat Alerts (OTA)

Online Threat Alerts or OTA is an anti-cybercrime community that started in 2012. OTA alerts the public to cyber crimes and other web threats.

By alerting the public, we have prevented a lot of online users from getting scammed or becoming victims of cybercrimes.

With the ever-increasing number of people going online, it important to have a community like OTA that continuously alerts or protects those same people from cyber-criminals, scammers and hackers, who are every day finding new ways of carrying out their malicious activities.

Online users can help by reporting suspicious or malicious messages or websites to OTA. And, if they want to determine if a message or website is a threat or scam, they can use OTA's search engine to search for the website or parts of the message for information.

Help maintain Online Threat Alerts (OTA).

How to Avoid Scams Aimed at Seniors