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Being wary of scams and sharing your personal information

During this digital age, it’s hard to keep your information and money safe as an older person when new technology and how it works can be quite confusing. This is doubled by the fact more and more scammers are utilising the current COVID-19 crisis to target people through phone calls and email phishing scams.

Last updated: March 25th 2020
Two older people looking at their credit card while on their laptop.
Always be wary of providing your credit card or debit card details over the phone. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key Points:

  • Never use the same password or variations of the same password, utilise different numbers and letters with a mixture of capital and lower case letters
  • Online quizzes may be fun but usually there is a catch, and that catch is usually your personal data being passed on to third party websites and organisations
  • Scammers either attempt to build rapport with their targets or are very aggressive and frightening. You are within your right to say you will call the company back directly on the company number and pay a bill rather than right at that moment

It can be hard to differentiate between real or fake news, genuine or false information in emails. While technology is a great way to create profiles for advertisers it is also an easy platform for scammers to use.

Older people are more wary of what they post online and on social media, but are not that careful about the data they give away freely for competitions they enter or anything else that involves giving away personal information.

Elderly people are also more prone to falling victim to online and over the phone scams, which could result in substantial amounts of money being taken from your savings.

It’s important to always double-check with someone you trust about whether you are making the right decision before handing over money or information.

One thing to keep in mind is scams are always developing and becoming more clever as the years go on. Always be vigilant with odd links, monetary requests you aren’t expecting, and be careful with who you provide your personal information to.

Passwords: Variety is the spice of life

Researchers have found that elderly people tend to use easy passwords to safeguard some of their most important assets.

It can be a little concerning when you are storing away your hard-earned savings for retirement or a nice holiday.

Seniors generally use really easy passwords like ‘password’ or ‘abc123’, which can be very easy to guess by hackers or even people you know.

Another concerning factor is the number of people who use derivatives of the same passwords.

For example, say you decided to make your password named after your cat, Fluffy. You used the same name as the base for the password, but just added numbers to make it different for different accounts. Such as, your bank account password is ‘Fluffy1’, your superannuation is Fluffy followed by the day of your birth, ‘Fluffy25’.

While derivatives of the same password may make it easier to remember, it also makes it easier for someone to guess.

A good idea is to mix up your passwords where possible to make your online accounts safer. This means utilising a mixture of letters and numbers and a mixture of capitals or lower case letters.

Data is up for grabs

Data has been a massive commodity for advertising companies online, and offline, over the last decade.

Many older people may not be aware they are giving out their personal information.

While they tend not to post too much revealing information on social media, it can be as easy as entering an online competition for you to have all your personal information stored and sold on to a third party.

The same goes for loyalty cards, if you spend $100 on groceries at a supermarket and use your loyalty card, that supermarket now knows how much you spend, what products you are buying and if you are able to withdraw and pay that much money.

This information is usually taken by those companies to try and sell you specific things based on your recent purchases, but this information is also a hot commodity for other companies to buy. You may never know how far your information can be passed along.

It’s also similar to ‘fun quizzes’ online, which not only takes your personal data, but formulates a personal profile about your as an individual from the answers you chose in the quiz.

A good idea to be safe online is to reduce how much information you pass out, like phone numbers, home addresses and emails, and be careful with what you are engaging with online.

Scammers are not your friend

Many scams these days target elderly people online and on the phone, with scams over the phone the most effective.

There are generally two types of scams, threatening and aggressive scams, or social engineering scams.

Threatening scams aim to scare the person on the end of the phone into making decisions on the spot, either forfeiting information or money. They can be aggressive calls, threatening to get the police involved and having you put in jail.

Social engineering scams are a lot sneakier compared to threatening scams, because they involve gaining trust resulting in an older person passing along the details scammers are asking for.

Social isolation is a big problem with older people, which is why a scammer who takes the time to engage and chat with an elderly person on the phone is more likely to be trusted. Because they take an interest in the person, a lonely older person may soon consider the scammer a friend and undertake what is being asked of them.

It’s important to check bank statements, especially since scams are carried out in lots of different smart ways. Rather than taking out big amounts of money, scammers tend to take out $10-$20 dollars on a recurring basis, so the withdrawal doesn’t look huge and cause suspicion.

Love scams are another popular and big paying swindle. There are many stereotypical ideas of the love scam, generally around a Nigeran prince, however, that is not the most successful type of love scam.

In most cases, it affects an older man and woman, who has developed a relationship of some sort with someone, somewhere in Australia.

The scammer would first spend time creating a connection with the elderly victim before making up extravagant scenarios where they need the individual to pay money to help them.

It is an incredible emotional manipulation, which can result in a lot of money passing between hands.

The best way to combat these types of scams is to firstly, never give your credit card or personal details over the phone. No matter the business, a caller should never ask you to pay for something over the phone, especially for small transactions.

Additionally, when online, avoid pressing on dodgy links. If you receive an invoice from an unknown and weird email address, go to the actual company website, for example Telstra, and see if you have any outstanding bills.

Other good options when you receiving a concerning call or odd email asking for money, is to check with someone you trust. The aim of these scams is to isolate you from the herd. Ask a friend or family friend about their opinion of this before paying any money.

For more information, head to the Government Scam Watch website for more information.

What scams have you seen floating around or experienced? Let us know in the comments below.

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