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Online security of seniors

November 20, 2015

Are older people at increased risk of becoming victims of online data mining and scams?

This is a simple question that deserves a straight answer. I conclude that even if our hunch is “yes”, there is no available published data that can allow us to answer the question directly. I conclude that most coverage of the topic is speculative.

Yesterday I published a blog post about online data mining of information for older Americans looking for Medicare information online. My belief – based mostly on anecdotal observations – was that older internet users are more susceptible to online scams and data mining campaigns but I have no in-depth understanding of the issue. A publisher then queried me about the possibility of expanding on the topic. I spent a little time researching the topic of online security for seniors and was surprised by the lack of published source data. This blog post is a roughly formatted summary of what I did find.

National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)

In my blog post yesterday I referred to a continuing education course on ethics in the insurance industry that compiled many examples of violations investigated by the various state insurance departments. The NAIC compiled data on insurance market conduct violations. Yet even if we look only at reports for online scams, there is no way, to my knowledge, to separate the data based on age of the victim.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
http://www.dhs.gov/publication/stopthinkconnect-older-american-resources

One of the few resources is “Cyber Tips for Older Americans

DHS does not say that older Americans are at increased risk of online security problems.

I sent an email: “I have been asked by xxxxxxxxxxx to write an article on cyber threats to older Americans.
It seems difficult to find sources of original research on this topic.
Can DHS help by pointing to any available data?”

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

“Internet Fraud

As web use among senior citizens increases, so does their chances to fall victim to Internet fraud. Internet Fraud includes non-delivery of items ordered online and credit and debit card scams. Please visit the FBI’s Internet Fraud webpage for details about these crimes and tips for protecting yourself from them.

From <https://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors/seniors>

The FBI does not indicate an increased risk to seniors.

I will call the National Press Office at (202) 324-3000

National Council on Aging (NCOA)

Says the #1 fraud for seniors is Medicare/health insurance fraud:
“Their unfamiliarity with the less visible aspects of browsing the web (firewalls and built-in virus protection, for example) make seniors especially susceptible to such traps. ”

and

“Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they’re now considered “the crime of the 21st century.” Why? Because seniors are thought to have a significant amount of money sitting in their accounts.
Financial scams also often go unreported or can be difficult to prosecute, so they’re considered a “low-risk” crime. However, they’re devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a very vulnerable position with little time to recoup their losses.”

From <https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/>

NCOA provides no citations for their report or links to additional information so I presume that the comments are opinions or are speculative.

Frontier Secure (2013)

A private web site commenting on the topic in 2013 said
“Seniors are typically more trusting and respectful of official looking material than younger generations, and more worried about notices that claim there is a problem with their information that might somehow tarnish their good name.”
“These concerns increase your risk of falling for ‘official notice’ types of scams. These may claim to be from your bank, from a utility company, the IRS, or a local, state, or national government body.  Whether you get a notice by phone, mail, email, or online, the ONLY way to avoid being scammed is to double check with the relevant company or government body to see if the notice/alert/etc. is legitimate. Do not provide any information or money before you have independently checked out the information.”

“Many seniors who feel an economic pinch are also at greater risk for discount drug scams, tax refund scams, disability scams, welfare or social security payment scams, as well as ‘free money’ scams like ‘you won the lottery.'”

From <http://blog.ftrsecure.com/why-seniors-face-increased-risks-in-some-online-activities/>

Again, no sources or references are provided so I presume the comments are speculative.

 

One Comment
  1. Today the Department of Homeland Security responded to my request for more information and the editor of New Jersey CPA magazine gave me a writing assignment for the 2016 financial planning edition on this topic.

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