FBI Warns of Cybercrimes Targeting Seniors

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By Eric Sinrod on June 25, 2019 3:00 PM

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day took place last week on June 15. This Awareness Day highlights how older populations are vulnerable to various forms of fraud and seeks to promote education and strategies to prevent the elderly from being victims of deception.

At the federal level here in the United States, the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act was enacted in 2017, and the Department of Justice brought forth the Elder Justice Initiative. The purpose of the Initiative is to provide a platform for the DOJ "to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial fraud and scams that target our nation's seniors," according to an FBI press release. As a consequence, the FBI "has prioritized [its] efforts to address elder fraud."

Regional initiatives to protect the elderly have been introduced in the United States as well. For example, the Phoenix Field Office of the FBI is seeking to create greater knowledge about "cyber scams targeting the elderly in Arizona" in recognition of World Elder Abuse Day, as stated in the FBI press release.

Top Crimes Against Seniors

As part of creating greater awareness, the press release points out that residents over the age of 60 make up most of the cybercrime victims in Arizona in 2018 and accounted for the majority of adjusted losses in that year, citing statistics from the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.

According to these statistics, the top five crimes by elder victim count in Arizona are extortion, personal data breach, non-payment/non-delivery, tech support, and virtual currency.

The top five crimes against Arizona seniors by financial loss are confidential fraud/romance, real estate/rental, BEC/EAC, advanced fee, and social media.

The bottom line is that even though a person of any age can become a victim of a cybercrime, the elderly, who are less familiar with technology and who can have cognitive and health issues, are particularly vulnerable.

Recommendations for Seniors

So, what is to be done? The FBI makes some important recommendations for seniors in its press release, including the following:

  • Contact an attorney before signing a legal document.
  • Check financial statements monthly for unusual activity.
  • Avoid unsolicited contacts.
  • Do not give out financial information or personal information to a person you do not know and trust.
  • Be wary when someone met on a dating site wants financial information or help.
  • Be suspicious of sweepstakes scams.
  • Keep in mind that the government will not seek personal information and will not request money over the phone.

Finally, if you have reason to believe that a senior has been a victim of any type of fraud, contact a local law enforcement agency and the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (or a local FBI office) immediately.

Unfortunately, as more sophisticated and devious ways to defraud seniors are devised to scam seniors online, we need to be ever more vigilant to protect this especially vulnerable group.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at ejsinrod@duanemorris.com with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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