Cybercrime isn’t just your grandpa’s problem

Your grandpa Glenn calls to say his laptop is broken. You’re annoyed but you love grandpa, so you go ahead and drive over there to see what’s going on this time. He forgets to plug it in once in a while; it’s probably just a dead battery. When you get there, he tells you he called someone to help him fix it. He says the phone number popped up on the screen, and a guy walked him through adding some virus protection. But the problem is the computer won’t turn on and he can’t get the guy back on the line.

That’s when you know grandpa was a victim of tech support fraud – just one of many types of cybercrimes used around the world to steal identities, bank accounts, passwords and other information.

The hard facts of cyber fraud

The FBI says its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 9,429 complaints in 2020 related to tech support fraud alone from people age 60 and over. The losses from this type of cybercrime were more than $100 million. According to IC3’s 2020 Elder Fraud Report, “elderly victims account for 66% of the total reports of tech support fraud and 84% of the total losses.” These stats only represent the tech support frauds people actually admit happened. There are countless victims who don’t report, either because they don’t know how or they’re embarrassed to admit they’ve been bamboozled.

Scientific research reveals that our brains change as we age and one of those changes is directly related to why Grandpa Glenn called the phone number when it popped up on his screen – our brains become more trusting as we age. So it’s possible grandpa might not have been as suspicious as he would have been in his younger days.

All ages are at risk

As data gathered by the FBI shows, the elderly have been considered the most vulnerable and most likely to succumb not just to cybercrime, but other scams and schemes. But here’s one surprising thing you might not know – teens and young adults are becoming victims of cybercrimes faster than other age segments.

According to a recent report by Social Catfish, victims age 20 and younger “have shown the fastest growth rate since 2017.” And “the number of victims who are over 60 years old has increased by 112% since 2017, (while) the number of victims who are younger than 20 years has increased by 156% since 2017.” Online scam losses for all Americans regardless of age were $4.2 billion in 2020, according to the report.

Younger people are often described as more computer savvy because they grew up around technology. They’re often referred to as “digital natives” due to their entry into a world awash with technology. So why are younger and younger victims showing up in the cybercrime data? For the same reason the elderly are also at the top of the FBI’s victim list: Trust.

Aliza Vigderman, senior editor at Security.org says in a Business Insider article, “They just might not be as knowledgeable about how to protect their information. I think growing up with the technology, they kind of inherently trust it, maybe more so than someone who learned about it or started using it as an adult.”

Security.org’s survey about social media use states that out of the 700 adults in the US who responded, young people between the ages of 18 and 29 “were the most likely to be victims of identity theft at 15% compared to those who were 45 and older at 8%.” People who interact more with social media than any other age segment are 45 years old and younger. Social media exposes users to more scams.

How the aging brain affects thinking

Brain science is ever evolving and the research continues. Armed with what we currently know, aging brains become more trusting, while growing brains are more impulsive. So what can we do?

The elderly and the young aren’t the only ones who have acted impulsively, or not thought about the consequences, or hastily put their trust in an interaction they didn’t vet before clicking; it could have just as easily happened to you. Empathy is important when handling the aftermath of any scam – tech or otherwise. The best thing you can do is keep yourself actively informed and share what you know with your friends and loved ones. These tips are a good way to get started:

Tips for avoiding online scams

  • Never give money or personal information to someone on the internet whom you have not met in person.
  • Do not trust that someone is who they say they are without video chatting with them or meeting them in person first.
  • If they have a job overseas, this is a huge red flag. Many scammers use this as an excuse to not see you or video chat with you.
  • If you receive a random message from an old friend on social media, take caution, especially if they are sending you a link to click on.
  • Use a password manager to create passwords for your accounts. This will prevent scammers from easily guessing your passwords.
  • Watch for suspicious activity that asks you to do something right away, offers something that sounds too good to be true or needs your personal information. 
  • Use antivirus solutions, malware and firewalls to block threats.
  • Remember that the government will not call, text or contact you via social media about owing money or receiving economic impact payments
  • If you have been a victim of identity theft, please report your case to IdentityTheft.gov for further assistance in recovering your identity.
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