Scammers target seniors with fake info

Scammers target seniors with fake info

Editor’s note: This monthly series highlights scams that target Mahoning County, particularly the senior community. Dr. Dave Long of Poland, a Youngstown State University graduate, is a retired public affairs officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Buffalo who later worked as an Elder Scam Prevention Outreach specialist with Lifespan in Rochester, N.Y., before moving back to the Mahoning Valley.

Most older adults came of age as computers were just taking root in the workplace. But as laptop computers have become affordable, many seniors have taken the plunge and learned to pay bills, send email and “surf the web” for information and entertainment.

Unfortunately, scammers have adapted a playbook of frauds to target seniors using computers.

Many scams are based on people’s poor understanding of computer and internet technology. A senior may be looking for information online when suddenly the screen begins flashing with warnings that his / her computer has become infected with a virus or other technology threat.

At this point, the screen and computer may appear to be out of control, though a link is plainly displayed for “help.”

If you click that “help” button, several things usually happen.

Often the link will lead to a toll-free number where the senior is put in touch with a fake “service specialist” saying he / she can fix computer problems if you buy a service contract to protect your machine against viruses and attacks. The “service specialist” may also ask for banking and credit card information, and try to collect more personal information such as Social Security and Medicare numbers.

Older adults are especially vulnerable to these scams due to their minimal understanding of computer technology, and a tendency to trust technical problems to people claiming to be technical experts.

The Federal Trade Commission has reported that seniors who fall for a computer tech support scam lose an average of $500 per scam.

At best, older adults become ensnared in worthless service agreements giving no actual protection against viruses or hacking.

At worst, scammers gain the trust of seniors to steal personal information, or install hidden software that enables the scammer to remotely hijack your computer for criminal purposes.

If you get a sudden phone call that your computer has a problem, hang up. It’s a scam. Don’t trust anything displayed on your caller ID screen — this information is easily altered by scammers to show local phone numbers, or the name of a trusted organization.

If you think you have signed up for a scam computer service agreement, call your bank to dispute any charges, and cancel your credit card. Your bank will quickly issue a new credit card with different numbers.

Never call a number or click a link in a pop-up message warning you about some computer problem. It’s a scam.

If your computer screen begins to flash out of control with a message about a virus, don’t touch any keys or buttons — just turn off the power to your computer. If you hold down your “power” button for five to 10 seconds, most machines will shut down.

Start your computer again as usual, and don’t return to the scam site.

If you are in doubt about a possible computer service scam, call a relative, friend or family member with a better understanding of computers. If you’ve given your credit card number, call your bank.

Seniors protect themselves against information technology scams by knowing how they work and refusing to become a victim.

If you have a question on a possible scam, talk to a family member or call your local police department. Seniors can also call their county Senior Services Unit for more information about scams. In Mahoning County, call Bob Schaeffer at 330-480-5078. In Trumbull County, call Don Hyde at 330-675-7096.


Protect yourself

Dave Long answers questions during a series of monthly talks on the latest scams, why scammers target seniors and how to protect personal information 1 p.m. fourth Thursday of every month at the Poland Township Government Center, 3339 Dobbins Road, Poland.


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