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How to protect vulnerable seniors from online scams

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
February 3, 2017
Spotlight on Seniors

Last night on the evening news I heard of a new phone scam.

 Goes like this, your phone rings and you answer it. The caller says “Can you hear me?” Most people will respond with “yes” and that is your mistake. That is all they needed to hear. These cyber thieves are recording your own voice saying yes and then buying bogus things online and when you report the fraud, you are played your own voice saying yes you agree to these charges hence you’re held responsible for the fraudulent charges to your card.

These are challenging times we live in, so once again I’d like to share with you some basic ways to protect yourselves and your aging loved ones from online threats. 

Here are 6 cyber security tips for older adults:

• 1.  Password: protect your devices: Lock all of your devices, including computer, tablet and smartphone with secure passwords. A strong password uses a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols and doesn’t include personal information.

• 2. Share with care: Be aware of what you share publicly on social media sites such as Facebook. Adjust your privacy settings to limit who can see your information. And don’t do it once and forget about this, you must go back from time to time to validate that it is still protected as settings change often without you knowing it by the platform creators. Never post when you are out of town, as that is an open invitation to burglars.  Trust me I know this all too well!

 • 3. Log out: Remember to log out of apps and websites when you are done using them. Leaving them open on your computer screen could make you vulnerable.

• 4. Think before you act: Emails and communication that create a sense of urgency such as a problem with your bank account or taxes is likely a scam. Consider reaching out directly to the company by phone to determine if the email is legitimate or not.

• 5. Use security software: Install security software on your devices from reliable sources and keep it updated. Run the anti-virus and anti-spyware software regularly. Security updates from pop-up ads or emails may actually be malware that could infect your device/computer.

 • 6. Consider support: If you live alone or spend a lot of time by yourself, consider a trusted source to serve as a second set of eyes and ears. Adult family members and grandchildren who are computer savvy may be willing to help. I myself love when my children come home from college because I get a tutorial on all the newest and greatest tips, short cuts and protection for my phone or computer. They know so much more than our generation, including ways to protect their devices from threats.


Top five hottest senior cyber scams

• 1. Tech support scams: There’s nothing worse than being told your computer isn’t working correctly. These types of scams can manifest themselves as pop-ups that appear on your computer screen and look like legitimate offers for computer service or help. The best approach to take when you see one of these is to not respond.

• 2. Tax scams: The tax season provides another window of opportunity for online fraudsters to take action. One IRS scam being perpetrated by email as well as mail is an official looking notice CP2000 for the tax year in question. If you get a notice like this, it is best to delete it immediately and call the IRS at 1-800-366-4484. The IRS will never reach out to you by email nor will they call demanding payments.

• 3. Ransomware: One of the most frightening forms of online fraud is ransomware, a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. 

Ensure your system has an updated antivirus system to help avoid these types of scams.

• 4. False Debt collectors: False debt collector emails often times come as official looking documents and the tone of the emails are threatening and urgent. If you are concerned about whether you owe money, contact any creditors directly to find out if they sent the email.

• 5. Sweepstakes scam: A sweepstakes scam will want you to pay to receive your prize. If you believe the charity is legitimate, you can check it out by looking up the number and calling it prior to paying. Also, research the company online and Google that phone number they gave you or from which they called. If you do a reverse look-up on Google, you can find out where the caller is calling from and often times it will tell you if it’s a scammer calling. If you don’t know how to do this, get their phone number and have a loved one who is more computer savvy look it up for you. It pays to research them first, but it doesn’t if you get scammed.


With more older adults than ever online and engaged in social media, seniors are at an ever-increasing threat that their financial and other personal information will be compromised. Protecting seniors online by educating them on the cyber threats that can put them in jeopardy needs to be part of the aging journey conversation you have with your older loved one. If you won’t who will?


Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at (707) 586-1516 anytime.