Cybercriminals, Online Scammers and the Elderly

Cybercriminals, Online Scammers and the Elderly

November marks Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and offered an opportunity to reflect on the data security challenges faced by everyone and the specific issue of scams targeting the elderly as well as the importance of password protection.

Sadly, scammers and cybercriminals are increasingly targeting the elderly for a number of reasons, including:

  • Isolation and loneliness leave older people vulnerable to scams, especially when the scammer is able to develop a relationship before springing the scam.
  • Older people tend to be more financially stable making them attractive victims.
  • Per the FBI, people born in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s are generally more trusting than people born in the ’50s and later.
  • The elderly tend to be less tech-savvy than younger generations and are possibly experiencing decreased cognition associated with aging making them more vulnerable to scams.

An AT&T report found 67% of U.S. seniors have been the victim or target of at least one online scam or hack and highlighted a Department of Homeland Security data point that the elderly are defrauded at twice the rate of the overall population. The financial security listed above is one reason because scammers believe seniors have money available in accounts, and they also view scamming the elderly as low-risk because the crime often goes unreported or is difficult to prosecute.

What do these scams look like? Con artists pose as family members or as someone reaching out for a family member, such as a grandchild, needing money, scammers use pop-up windows and phishing phone calls referring to bogus tech support or computer virus scares, and in some cases even attempt to have victims allow remote access to their computers, another scamming avenue is fake charities and lottery winnings.

How widespread is the issue?

For scams that begin with phone calls, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports about 1.3 million scams from government imposters since 2014, the largest number of any type of fraud over that timeframe. In the first half of 2019 alone, there were almost 65,000 reported scammers pretending to be Social Security officers and 20,000 more pretending to represent Health & Human Services/Medicare. In 2018 the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network received almost 143,000 reports about tech support scams resulting in a $55 million loss in total and people 60 and older were five times more likely to report losing money in these scams than younger people.

Finally, a 2017 study from the American Journal of Public Health estimated five percent of the elderly – about two to three million people – suffer from sort type of scam yearly. And that number is likely distressingly low because as high as 85% of internet scams go unreported.

There is no quick fix to combat scammers and cybercriminals. Awareness around the types of scams that are out there is a great place to begin, but for the elderly with cognitive issues, such as Alzheimer’s disease, understanding the threat may not protect them when they aren’t able to recall the warning signs.

One line of defense is to place a firewall around any passwords with a password manager. By creating strong passwords for online accounts, such as bank records, unknown to the user, a password manager makes it virtually impossible for a scam victim to unwittingly provide their password to a would-be cybercriminal or scammer. The solution isn’t a silver bullet, but it does throw a major roadblock in the aims of scammers targeting anyone, especially the vulnerable elderly. Please visit for more information.