How Criminals Exploit Personal Information to Target Vulnerable Seniors in Elder Fraud

Scammers are using leaked personal information to steal hard-earned money from older Americans.

In 2023, people over the age of 60 lost a whopping $3.4 billion to scams, a 10.6% increase from 2022, according to the FBI’s IC3 reports.

Tech support scams are the most common, affect the most people, and result in the greatest financial losses. Other common scams include investment fraud, romance fraud, and identity theft.

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How Criminals Use Your Personal Data Against You

According to FBI IC3 reports According to an analysis by data-wiping company Incogni, criminals are able to scam seniors because they have access to their personal data. They get access to it through data brokers who collect personal information from public records and sometimes also from private sources. This data can include anything from your name, phone number, address, and financial information to your relationship status, the electronic gadgets you use, and more.

When a criminal has your personal information, there are many tactics they can use to scam you. Below, I’ll outline some of the most common ones:

1. Investment fraud: Criminals who commit investment fraud use personal information, such as financial information, names, and phone numbers, to trick their victims. This type of fraud affected 6,400 people in 2023, resulting in total monetary losses of $1.2 billion.

2. Tech Support Scam: This is one of the most common scams in which a criminal uses information like your phone number and the electronic gadgets you use to scam you. They may also try to impersonate popular e-commerce companies like Best Buy and Amazon. Around 18,000 people were affected by tech support scams in 2023, losing over $589.8 million.

3. Confidence or Romance Scam: Personal data such as income level, credit score and assets held can help criminals choose viable targets for this type of scam. More than 6,700 Americans have been affected by the trust or love fraud and lost more than $356.9 million.

Other examples of how criminals defraud the elderly include: government identity theftidentity theft and harassment.

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How widespread are these scams?

Seniors in the United States have been significantly impacted by scams involving personal data. In 2023, a total of 101,068 reports were filed by individuals over the age of 60, resulting in total losses of $3.4 billion. This represents a 14.5% increase from the 88,300 reports filed in 2022 and a 10.6% increase in the total amount lost (compared to $3.1 billion in 2022).

The numbers become even more shocking when you look at reports from the last five years. Between 2019 and 2023, there were a whopping 455,000 reports filed, and seniors lost a total of $10 billion. In 2023, the average amount lost per victim was $33,900, down slightly (3.38%) from the $35,100 in damages reported in 2022.

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10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Criminals Exploiting Your Personal Information

If you think you might be in danger or have been a victim of one of the many scams I’ve discussed, follow these steps to protect your digital privacy and security.

1. Invest in data deletion services: While no service promises to remove all of your data from the internet, having a removal service is ideal if you want to continuously monitor and automate the process of removing your information from hundreds of sites continuously over an extended period of time. Check out my top picks for data deletion services here.

2. Place a fraud alert: Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit report. This will make it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name without verification.

3. Be careful of phishing attempts: Be wary of emails, phone calls, or messages from unknown sources that ask for personal information. Avoid clicking on suspicious links or providing sensitive information unless you can verify the legitimacy of the request.

The best way to protect yourself from malicious links that install malware that can access your private information is to install strong antivirus protection on all your devices. This can also alert you to any phishing emails or ransomware scams. Check out my picks for the best antivirus protection winners of 2024 for your Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices.

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4. Check social security benefits: It is essential to periodically check your Social Security benefits to ensure they have not been tampered with or altered in any way, thereby preserving your financial security and preventing potential fraud.

5. Change your password: If you think your personal data has been compromised, you can make it unusable to thieves simply by changing your password. Choose a strong password that you don’t use anywhere else. Better yet, consider getting a password manager to generate One for you.

6. Monitor your financial accounts regularly: Check your bank accounts, credit card statements and other financial accounts regularly (at least every two weeks) for unauthorized transactions or suspicious activity. This allows you to detect fraud early and take appropriate action.

7. Be careful on social media: Be careful about what personal information you share on social media, as scammers may use details such as birthdays, vacation plans, and family/friend relationships to target you.

8. Use multi-factor authentication: Enable two-factor authentication on your important accounts to add an extra layer of security beyond a simple password. This requires a second step like a code sent to your phone to log in.

9. Back up your data: Regularly back up important data from your devices to a external hard drive or cloud storage. This protects you if your device is lost, stolen, or infected with malware.

10. Use updated security software: Keep security software such as antivirus and anti-malware programs updated on all your devices to protect against the latest threats.

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Kurt’s Key Takeaways

Your data is now worth more than gold to scammers and criminals. They can use your personal information to cause not only financial harm, but also psychological harm. These criminals particularly target people over 60, knowing that they are vulnerable. It is important that you remain very careful when browsing online and do not respond to unsolicited advice from anyone on the web or over the phone.

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