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Elder fraud is real. Tell your parents, grandparents and friends about these scams

Kids, it’s time to have “the talk” with your parents and grandparents.

Cybercrime cost Americans over 50 nearly $3 billion last year, a whopping 62% increase from 2020, according to the FBI’s 2021 Elder Fraud Report.

In fact, the number of victims could be much higher, as seniors are also less likely to report fraud, says the FBI. This is supported by figures from the FTC, which show that while 44% of younger people in their 20's reported losing money to fraud, only 20% of those in their 70's did the same.

The risks are wide-ranging, from fraudulent phone calls to phishing attempts via email, texts to social media messages, or shopping scams designed to dupe seniors out of their savings.

Rise in attacks, plus seniors pay out more

The pandemic played a role here, too, believes Michael Jabbara, Visa’s vice president and global head of fraud services.

“It’s no surprise we’ve seen a massive shift over the years towards digital transactions, but with this shift there’s also an increase focus from fraudsters,” says Jabbara. “This is especially true for elder individuals who may be a target because of a lack of technical sophistication and because they don’t always report these crimes to authorities.”

Jabbara says “grandparent scams” are still a popular attack method.

“This is where a fraudster spoofs a relative’s phone number and sends a message asking for money due to a medical emergency or text books, or whatever the case may be,” he said

Jabbara says Visa has invested more than $9 billion in anti-fraud measures over the over the last five years, including the use of artificial intelligence and advanced data analytics, “to ensure we’re keeping our network safe and secure across the globe.”

“Fraudsters are able to glean those personal details the grandparent posted pictures on Facebook or Instagram, allowing them to craft a very believable message,” Jabbara said. “Or in other cases, a family member’s account is hacked and a fraudster gets access to their email, they’ll target an elder family member with a similar plea for money or help. They play on their emotions.”

Seniors are a lucrative target

Seniors also pay out more. Disturbing data published by cybersecurity company Comparitech shows that while the average loss from those in their 'was $324, it jumps to $426 for victims in their 60's, $635 among 70-somethings, and a staggering median loss of $1,300 among those in their 80's.

Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert with NordVPN, a leading Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider, see below, says its recent survey found that 84% of Americans have experienced a form of “social engineering,” where fraudsters attempt to fool you into divulging confidential or personal information.

“Phishing scams are one of the most common tactics among cybercriminals, designed to trick people into clicking on links that download malicious files often containing a virus,” explains Markuson. “So, one of the main tips we have for seniors is to be cautious and question everything they receive from unknown senders.”

Markus says often there are grammar mistakes in the email you received, a sense of urgency to confirm your details, or a strange-looking email domain.

What should we do about senior fraud?

When it comes to protecting our loved ones, letting them know about these risk plays a big role.

Jabbara says one of the best practices to fight back is to have a “tech check-in” with aging relatives, to go over these assorted tips.

Share with care: Limit how much personal information you share online. Set your social media profiles to private. If someone asks to connect with you on social media, only accept their request if you know them.

Be wary of “emergencies”: Your family or friends can easily be hacked to send out emails or text messages claiming to be urgently in need of cash or gift cards, scamming you out of money or gift cards.

When in doubt, just ask: If you really think it could be your daughter or grandson reaching out, don’t confirm by replying to the message you received. Instead, reach out in another fashion, such as calling them. Chances are, it’s fake. Block and report the fraudulent message.

Lock your devices: Use a passcode or fingerprint to lock your phone or tablet. If you have a computer, use a strong password that’s at least 12 characters long.

Shop safer: Always use a secure Internet connection when making a purchase. Reputable websites use technologies such as SSL (Secure Socket Layer) that encrypt data during transmission. You will see a little padlock icon in your browser(and usually “https” at the front of your address bar to confirm it’s a secure connection. Only shop on sites that take secure payment methods, such as credit cards.

Enable multifactor authentication: When it comes to logging into your online accounts, add a second layer of defense by enabling multifactor authentication, sometimes referred to as “two-factor authentication.” This means you not only need a password or passcode (or biometrics logon, like a fingerprint of facial scan) to confirm it’s you, but also a one-time code you’ll receive on your mobile phone to type in.

Install good cybersecurity software: Just as you wouldn't leave the front door to your home unlocked, you shouldn't let your tech be vulnerable to attacks, whether it’s a virus or other malicious software, called “malware,” that sneaks onto your device or caused by being tricked into giving out sensitive information.

Make sure you have the right cybersecurity tools to prevent fraud

Good antimalware that’s updated often can identify, quarantine, delete and report any suspicious activity coming into your computer or flag sensitive info going out.

“Seniors have more important things to do than worry about than being protected online,” says Gagan Singh, executive vice president and chief product an revenue officer for cybersecurity company McAfee.

A just-announced tool called McAfee+, from $49.99/first year, then $139.99/year after that, was created to make it easy for everyone to confidently live life online no matter how much or little they know about technology and online threats including identity theft.

“Our new product lineup includes tools that help people prevent identity theft and credit fraud, including credit monitoring, credit lock, removing their personal data online, identity monitoring, and website safety notifications,” says Singh.

Avoid Wi-Fi hotspots

Resist free wireless Internet at, say, a coffee shop or in an airport. It’s best to wait until you’re on a secured Internet connection at home, or use your smartphone as a personal hotspot, which is safer than public Wi-Fi. If you must use a hotspot, never conduct any financial transactions – like online banking, trading or shopping – as you never know if your information is being tracked and logged.

Use a VPN

A VPN conceals your online identity by using encryption technology, therefore what you do and where you go online cannot be seen by your service provider, the government, search engine, browser company, social media sites, advertisers and malicious types.

“VPN is an easy-to-use tool that helps users to make sure their network is secure at all times,” confirms Markuson. “For seniors, who sometimes find it hard to keep up with latest technology and cybersecurity trends, it is a perfect solution [as] VPN not only helps to stay safe while using public Wi-Fi, it also make sure user’s private data is safe from snooping.”

NordVPN can be purchased starting at $3.69/month with a two-year subscription that includes three months for free.

Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cybercrime cost American seniors $3 billion last year, a 62% jump