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Common Scams & Critical Thinking

Nov 12, 2018 | 2018, Campaigns, Home & Community Safety, National Senior Safety Week, News

Technology offers many benefits and advantages, but sadly some users have nefarious objectives and use technology to prey on vulnerable members of our community, including seniors.

In the context of 2018’s National Senior Safety Week, held November 6 – 12, the Canada Safety Council and TELUS want you to be vigilant and on the lookout for these five most common types of scams that can impact seniors.

  1. Identity theft

The ultimate objective of identity theft is financial gain. Scammers will search online and/or try to obtain private information including but not limited to addresses, phone numbers, personal email addresses and birth dates. They may also try to gain unauthorized access to online accounts.

In addition to using strong passwords (or even better, passphrases) the best way to avoid becoming a victim is to be very selective about the information you share. Before providing any information online or even over the phone, consider the rationale for the request and check the organization’s privacy policy for insight into why they need your data, what they plan to do with it and who will have access to it. Keep in mind that the same information can be used for different purposes by different organizations. For instance, Facebook may ask for your birth date to let your friends know it’s your birthday, however your bank might use this same information to verify that you are the owner of your account.

  1. Online dating

Seniors who engage in online dating need to be wary of catfishing, a process by which scammers pretend to be someone they’re not in order to gain another person’s trust.

If you want to try online dating, do your research and sign up for a reputable dating website. Protect your privacy by using an email address reserved exclusively for your online dating profile and remember not to include private information in your profile.

Further, be mindful that anyone can create a dating profile and that photos and even webcam footage can be falsified. Exercise the appropriate amount of skepticism and judgment when talking with someone online and be wary of those who work to gain your trust quickly, only to ask for financial help. Do not transfer money to individuals you meet online regardless of what situation they claim to be in – once you’ve sent it, it is almost impossible to get it back.

If you connect well with someone, consider meeting in person (in a public place) to confirm they are who they say they are, before the relationship progresses further. Be wary of chatting with individuals who claim to be from another country as it’s much harder to confirm their identity. If they avoid meetings or come up with excuses, it could be a red flag.

  1. Phishing

Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending illegitimate emails that appear to be from reputable organizations, when in fact they are not.   The intent is to trick recipients into providing private information.

Telltale signs of emails of this nature include typos, grammatical errors, threats and ultimatums. Be suspicious of messages claiming to be urgent in nature with deadlines for action. Some messages demand an immediate response, relying on the would-be victim to call first and ask questions later. Always take the time to do your research and remember, banks, phone companies and government agencies will not ask you to share private information over email, text or via an unsolicited phone call.

Always double-check the sender’s email address, even if the name is recognizable. Often, phishing-related email addresses contain a long string of letters or digits, or contain names that are slightly misspelled or otherwise altered. If there are any links within the message, do not click on them until you’re certain the email is legitimate – and even then, confirm that the link is legitimate by hovering your mouse over it to see the destination.

  1. Tech support pop-ups

This type of scam occurs via a pop-up window claiming you have a virus on your device. These windows offer a phone number to call for technical support, but the “solution” often involves payment for a fix or allowing the scammers remote access to your device.

Avoid this problem by ensuring you have anti-virus software installed on your device, and only browsing and downloading from trusted websites. If you see such a notice and can’t close it down, don’t call the number displayed; instead, bring your computer to a trusted technician who can help remove any malware or viruses.

  1. Lottery winnings and sweepstakes

If you receive a message (or phone call) about winning the lottery or a sweepstakes prize, it’s likely a scam – especially when you haven’t entered any contests. Delete messages like this right away and do not click on any links.

If you did enter a lottery or sweepstakes, pay careful attention to the source of the message and consider the following questions to confirm validity:

  • Did the message come from the same organization that offered the contest?
  • Is there mention of the specific contest you entered?
  • Does the message address you by name?

If your answer to these questions is ‘no,’ it’s likely a scam and it may be wise to delete the message.

Although National Senior Safety Week ends November 12, the pursuit of online safety is a year-round job. Staying informed and knowledgeable about possible threats can help you use the Internet and all it affords us with greater confidence. Visit the Canada Safety Council’s website for more safety information and a showcase of safety through the century as the organization celebrates 100 years in safety.

You can also take advantage of TELUS Wise, a free digital safety education program, offering Canadians of all ages interactive and informative workshops and resources. Topics include protecting your online security, privacy and reputation, rising above cyberbullying, and using technology responsibly.

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