Online Scams and Seniors: our Q&A with an expert
June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). The day aims to focus global attention on the problem of physical, emotional, and financial abuse of elders. It also seeks to understand the challenges and opportunities presented by an ageing population, and brings together senior citizens, and their caregivers, national and local government, academics, and the private sector to exchange ideas about how best to reduce incidents of violence towards elders, increase reporting of such abuse, and to develop elder-friendly policies. In recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we will be publishing an article each day of the week leading up to June 15th.
Many people are worried about online scams, but the truth is, scams aren’t new, the only thing that has changed is their delivery.
Have you ever received an email from someone overseas, saying if you help them out by giving one sum (or a few sums) of money that they will give you thousands or even millions of dollars in return? If you haven’t received one personally, you likely know someone who has.
Known as the Nigerian Letter Scam (or “419” for the fraud designation in the Nigerian criminal code) this form of fraud has been around for centuries. And while you may shake your head thinking, “If it sounds too good to be true…” there are many smart, intelligent people out there who have had the misfortune of falling victim to such a scam.
Why is this and how can it be prevented?
We met up with Dr. Cosmin Munteanu, an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, who has been researching why people are unprepared for scams and how they can be recognized more easily. He graciously answered our questions about online scams and the impact they have on seniors.
Q: How big of an issue are online scams for seniors?
“We only know what gets reported through the RCMP, and their statistics show that online scams cost those 65+ approximately $10 million annually.”
Q: Does the media create a false sense of fear about scams targeting seniors?
“I don’t think it is so much a media problem as a lack of awareness as a whole. The 65+ age group gets most of their information from the media and the media reports on the crime, which can create the perception that scams are more prevalent and scary than they really are. This is why increasing awareness of the topic and getting more people involved in research like ours will help improve our perceptions of scams over the long run.”
Q: How have scams evolved over the years?
“Scams have been around forever and anyone can be the target. The 419 scam has been going on for a long time, in fact, there is early evidence from the 17th century of scammers in Spain targeting rich families from England with letters sent to their estate. Now, everything has gone online. So the scam hasn’t changed much, just the medium of delivery. There also isn’t a certain age group or demographic that is zeroed in on… the point of the 419 is to get the message out to as many people as possible and see who responds.”
Q: Is the fear of online scams warranted?
“A lot of our research is looking at the consequences of the fear of scams and where that leads. It is interesting to see how a lot of people don’t know that using their debit card is actually riskier than shopping online, yet many people avoid shopping online because they worry about scams. We are looking into these fears, perceptions of where and how scams take place, and how to properly address them.”
This interview is part of an ongoing series regarding scams and seniors. Stay tuned for more information about the varying types of scams, what to watch out for and how to protect yourself.
Amintro is the social app for those 50 plus looking to make new friends and expand their social circles. Find like-minded people in your community and then meet with confidence in person. We take online safety very seriously and you can find more tips and information on this topic in our Safety Guidelines. And if you do find yourself on the receiving end of a scam call your local police department to report it.
By Christine Tompa
*Originally published July 5, 2016