Top Online Scams Targeting Elderly and How to Prevent Them

The Straits Times in April 2022 reported that internet phishing and other online scams targeting elderly have been on the rise in Singapore.

In 2022, at least 587 people in Singapore have already lost S$2.7 million in phishing scams to scammers pretending to be friends while at least 154 victims have already been duped by tech support scams since the start of the of year with losses amounting to at least S$7.1 million.

With widespread of digital technology, the older generation are falling prey to such scams. Therefore it is important for us to prepare them to stay vigilant.

What is a scam?

Internet fraud or online scams, are dishonest schemes and tactics perpetuated using digital means such as messaging apps, digital marketplaces or smartphone apps with the intention of cheating you of your money. Scammers can use all sorts of strategies to persuade you to part with your hard-earned money from pretending to be your friend, the bank, police, and various authority figures, and even to faking a relationship with you. 

Those of us who aren’t tech-savvy may find it hard to navigate the digital realm, which causes great vulnerabilities towards online scammers. Yet, contrary to popular belief, it is not always the frail or weak-minded who fall prey to online scams. Oftentimes, individuals who are overconfident in their own abilities tend to also let their guard down and unknowingly find themselves the victims of online scams.

Common online scams Targeting Elderly in Singapore

Here are some of the most common online scams in Singapore that you should take note of:

  • E-commerce scams

Such scams typically appear as fake online sales listings for expensive or heavily-demanded items. Once victims transfer funds over to would-be sellers, they often disappear without delivering the promised goods, or send over inferior or fake products. Such scams also tend to boast of unusually low prices or promote wildly exaggerated claims about products.

Tip: Stick to making purchases from online platforms where the payment is withheld to sellers until you receive your items. And remember: if it’s too cheap to be true, it probably is!

  • Social media impersonation

It could be your friend, your boss, or even your MP! Scammers can pretend to be anyone from your life and invent all sorts of creative ways to get at your money. They usually steal profile pictures and send fake friend requests on social media to ingratiate themselves into  your lives. 

Tip: Look for proof of their real identities before you interact with any social media account. For well-known personalities, Twitter and Instagram for example, have blue check marks to indicate a verified user. Look out for suspicious signs such as bad grammar, or even strange patterns of postings. 

  • Internet love

Love can be blind, but don’t let it make a fool out of you. Internet love scammers strike up relationships with victims, manipulating them emotionally. They typically avoid video chatting, and live extremely far away from the victim, often claiming to have a prosperous life. They, however, inevitably always end up asking for loans or gifts that are never returned to victims. 

Tip: Use Google Reverse Image Search to check if the profile pictures used are genuine or stolen off the Internet. You can also search for specific things they’ve said to see if they are lifted from common scammer scripts.

  • Banking-related phishing

Is that your bank asking for your OTP or is it a scammer?

Scammers can spoof numbers belonging to banks, giving their messages regarding suspended ATM cards or unauthorised transactions an appearance of legitimate authenticity. Victims are then tricked into giving away their banking passwords or paying non-existent fees. Remember, a financial institution will never call you to ask for your sensitive information.

Tip: If you receive a message claiming to be from your bank, don’t respond to the same number. Instead, call your bank’s hotline to check if the message is real.

Tips to prevent being a victim of online scams

Here are some helpful tips for you and your loved ones to avoid becoming victims of online scams:

  • Use Scam Alert

Scam Alert is an initiative that helps educate the public about scams and consolidates information about known scams in Singapore as well. If you suspect that you’ve been scammed or are involved in a scam, you can search their site for similar stories that match your circumstances and quickly seek help. Call their anti-scam helpline at 1800-722-668 for urgent help if you believe you are being scammed.

  • Download ScamShield

Scammers often initiate contact with potential scam victims through Short Message Services (SMSes) or phone calls.  ScamShield is a smartphone app— currently available for iOS— that helps you to fight scam messages and calls. 

ScamShield actively works in the background to filter scam messages and calls from numbers used in illegal activities. 

ScamShield compares an incoming call against a list maintained by the Singapore Police Force to determine if the number has been used for illegal purposes and blocks it.

When you receive an SMS from an unknown contact, ScamShield will determine if the SMS is a scam using an on-device algorithm, and filter the messages to a junk SMS folder. Scam SMSes will be sent to NCPC and SPF for collation. This keeps the app updated and will help protect others from such scam calls and messages.

Find out more about ScamShield here

  • Send your elderly loved ones for anti-scam courses

The need for increased digital literacy among our seniors has not gone unaddressed. Lion Befrienders has collaborated with global technology firm NTT to provide digital literacy training to seniors, targeted at helping them identify common ruses and to stay safe online. During such training sessions, trainers will conduct quizzes and group activities with the seniors to help them identify common scams and red flags online. Seniors will also be able to learn how to best keep their digital devices safe, call the anti-scam hotline or seek advice from NTT and Lions Befrienders volunteers in case they come across a suspected scam. 

Now that you know a little more about the signs of online scams targeting elderly and the steps you can take to avoid falling prey to them, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones.

This article first appeared on Homage.

Homage is an award-winning personal care solution that provides on-demand holistic home and community-based caregiving and medical services to seniors and adults, allowing them to age and recover with grace, control and dignity.

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