An Eckert Byrne PSA: Beware of Internet Fraud

Being home and isolated during this pandemic has dramatically increased our use and reliance on technology. Many of our parents are learning to Zoom, Facetime, and manage Facebook accounts. The pandemic has increased our virtual connections, but sadly, decreased our in-person connections. Isolated and lonely elderly adults are more susceptible to scams and financial abuse.

Raised with technology, children today are more web savvy than many adults. Concerned about internet predators, we, as parents, warn our children about the dangers of the internet, but we often forget to have these same conversations with our parents or elder family members, who may be more vulnerable to online threats such as internet scams, phishing, and similar fraudulent activity.

A colleague recently shared a story about her client giving away over $100,000 to an online scammer during the COVID quarantine. The elderly client was partially aware of the scam, but felt that this person was giving her more attention than her own children. Her kids weren’t calling her twice a day, but the scammer sure was. She felt that the money she sent the scammer was a small price to pay for companionship and attention. While this client felt there was value to the “relationship,” more often than not the risk is financial devastation.

Internet fraud incidents tend to mainly target older populations and the financial losses are at record levels even though they are vastly underreported. In 2020, 70% of internet fraud victims were over the age of 50 and according to a recent study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans over the age of 60 are five times more likely to fall victim to tech-support scams, three times more likely to be conned by imposter scams, and more than twice as likely to fall for a prize, sweepstakes or lottery scam.

With internet fraud seemingly lying in wait behind every Google search, it is important to know how to identify scams and mitigate your risk. We thought it may be a good idea to share some of these scams with you so you can share them with your loved ones.

Tech Support Scams

Tech support scammers try to convince you that there is an “issue” with your computer, sometimes even claiming to be a legitimate tech company. They do this via phone calls, emails or computer pop-ups, and often request payment by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, or money transfer app.

How to mitigate risk:

  • Legitimate tech companies won’t contact you by phone, email or text message to tell you there’s a problem with your computer. If you get a phone call you didn’t expect from someone who says there’s a problem with your computer, hang up.
  • Security pop-up warnings from real tech companies will never ask you to call a phone number. If you see a pop-up that has a phone number, do not call.

Imposter Scams 

Imposter scams come in many varieties, but work the same way as a tech support scam. A scammer pretends to be someone you trust to convince you to send them money. They may recite information about you to prove their “legitimacy” and gain your trust, but in reality, they may have just done a quick Google search or looked at a family member’s obituary. These scams also include romance scams, which in 2020 alone reached a record $304 million in reported losses.

Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and apps, or contact their targets through popular social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, or Google Hangouts. The scammers strike up a relationship with their targets to build their trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. Then, they make up a story and ask for money.

Imposters might say things like:

  • You owe money to the IRS or another government agency
  • A friend or family member is in trouble and needs your help
  • You received a check for too much money and you need to send back the extra

Romance Imposters might claim they need money to:

  • Pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses
  • Pay for surgery or other medical expenses
  • Pay customs fees to retrieve something
  • Pay off gambling debts
  • Pay for a visa or other official travel documents

How to mitigate risk:

  • Hang up on phone calls related to social security number issues. (The IRS is not going to revoke your social security number!)
  • Never send money to someone you don’t know.
  • Google search the person’s name multiple times, and if not much is found about the person, s/he could be an imposter.

Lottery or Prize Scams

These scammers inform their victim that they have won a prize/lottery/sweepstakes. The recipient of the message (the target of the scam) is usually told to contact a “claims agent.” After contacting the agent, the target of the scam will be asked to pay “processing fees” or “transfer charges” so that the winnings can be distributed, but actually, the “winner” will never receive any lottery payment.

How to mitigate risk:

  • If you did not buy a ticket for a drawing or lottery, then you cannot be a winner, so be wary of messages that claim you have won something that is unknown to you.
  • Know that all genuine lotteries simply subtract fees and taxes from the prize you won.
  • Examine the sender’s email address. Scam lottery emails will nearly always come from free email accounts such as Outlook, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Live, MSN, Gmail, etc.

Check for spelling mistakes. As with the vast majority of scam email messages in general, lottery scam messages often contain spelling and/or grammatical issues.

Finally, NEVER give out your password to your email or online accounts to anyone who asks for it. Anyone who “needs” this information is up to something bad.

In one of our recent newsletters, we discussed the importance of protecting your digital assets. As the world becomes more digitized, the risk for fraud increases. By educating your loved ones on the types of internet fraud and common warning signs, you can save your family from embarrassment, financial losses and stress. It’s an uncomfortable, but important, conversation to have. For additional tips and information please see below and visit the Federal Trade Commission website, linked here.


Anna Eckert Byrne