GUEST ESSAY: The Top 5 online privacy and data security threats faced by the elderly

By Lyle Solomon

What is it about the elderly that makes them such attractive targets for cybercriminals? A variety of factors play a role.

Preserving privacy for a greater good

Unlike many younger users online, they may have accumulated savings over their lives — and those nest eggs are a major target for hackers. Now add psychological variables to the mix of assets worth stealing.

Perhaps elderly folks who haven’t spent a lot of time online are easier to deceive. And, let’s be honest, the deceptive writing phishing assaults and other cyber threats today employ are skilled enough to fool even the most trained, internet-savvy experts.

Ever present threats

Some of our elderly may be concerned that any hint of weakness will convince their relatives that they can no longer live alone. Thus hackers rely on them not revealing they’ve been duped. That said, here are what I consider to be the Top 5 online threats seniors face today:

•Computer tech support scams. These scams take advantage of seniors’ lack of computer and cybersecurity knowledge. A pop-up message or blank screen typically appears on a computer or phone, informing you that your system has been compromised and requires repair.

When you contact the support number for assistance, the scammer may ask for remote access to your computer and payment to repair it. Once they get remote access, fraudsters hack confidential details of older adults and scam them. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), seniors lost $500 each on computer tech assistance scams in 2018.

•Internet and email fraud. While surfing the Internet is a valuable skill at any age, some older persons have a slower adoption rate, making them ideal candidates for automated Internet scams common on the web and in email applications.

Pop-up browser windows imitating virus-scanning software will trick users into installing either a false anti-virus program (at a high fee) or an actual virus that will give scammers access to whatever information is on the user’s computer. Seniors are especially vulnerable to such traps since they are inexperienced with the less obvious components of web browsing.

Phishing emails and messages may appear from a company you’re familiar with or trust, and they can appear to be from a credit card company or a bank. Phishing emails may ask for personal information like a log-in or Social Security number to authenticate your account, or they may urge you to share your credit card payment details. Then they steal your personal and financial information using that information.

•Identity-theft. Identity theft can happen online, over the phone, or without the victim’s knowledge by stealing the victim’s information. A criminal exploiting someone’s medical or insurance details to make fraudulent claims is known as medical identity theft.

They can either use the data to charge the services or steal the cash. In each case, the victim is liable for thousands of dollars. Because the scammer’s health records are linked to the victims’ information, it may not be easy to qualify for insurance in the future.

Scams involving the Social Security Administration aren’t new, but they’re becoming more active and dangerous. In this type of attack, fraudsters inform the victim that their Social Security number has been used fraudulently and threaten to put them in jail if they do not comply with specific requests. If they successfully obtain the victim’s PII, they will be able to steal their Social Security benefits.

•Romance Scam. Online platforms are an excellent place for many seniors to connect and interact with new people. However, cybercriminals use this as a playground, and they use these online portals to play with the emotions of older adults.


An elderly victim is duped into believing they have a trusting relationship with the actor in this crime. The perpetrator, who may pose as the victim’s grandson or love interest, takes advantage of this connection to persuade the victim to share financial information, give money, purchase expensive presents, or unwittingly launder money. This enormously horrific cybercrime primarily targets older women and freshly widowed individuals.

•Debt relief scams. Seniors often worry about their debts, and fraudsters take advantage of that. They create fake websites to provide debt settlement services. They ask seniors to give their financial details and pay upfront fees.

Be aware, be prepared

Don’t be frightened or humiliated to tell someone you trust if you feel you’ve been a scam victim. You are not the only one, and resources are available to assist you. Doing nothing will aggravate the situation. Keep a list of phone numbers and services ready, such as your local police department, your bank, and Adult Protective Services. They will help you out.

About the essayist: Lyle Solomon has extensive legal experience as well as in-depth knowledge and experience in consumer finance and writing. He has been a member of the California State Bar since 2003. He graduated from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California, in 1998, and currently works for the Oak View Law Group in California as a Principal Attorney.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone