Five online scams targeting seniors

Why are seniors targeted by online scams?

There are several reasons why the elderly are often targeted by fraudsters and especially cybercriminals.

There are several reasons why the elderly are often targeted by fraudsters and especially cybercriminals.

    • Availability. Older people may be less mobile, less socially active, and therefore more available to read emails, pick up the phone, and respond to texts from strangers. This level of accessibility makes it easy for scammers to make contact.
  • Solitude. Older people who live alone are particularly vulnerable to fraudsters who take advantage of their isolation. A friendly email or a friendly voice on the phone can help gain their trust quickly.
  • Savings. Retirees are more likely than younger Canadians to have savings that are relatively easy to access.
  • Low trust online presence. More and more elderly people have smartphones and surf the Internet. According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of seniors own a smartphone and 75% browse the Internet1. However, most are not comfortable with technology: only 26% of senior internet users feel “very confident” when using computers and smartphones.2.

Seniors: Beware of these five scams

1) Phishing

Phishing is a commonly used online scheme to get you to give up your personal or financial information for the purpose of financial fraud or identity theft.

In this case, scammers send an email that appears to be from a legitimate source and direct you to a fake website. This fake website looks authentic by copying the real company’s descriptive branding and logo. You will then be asked for various personal information, including credit card numbers, account numbers, passwords, your date of birth, your driver’s license number and your social security number. When you think you’re giving information to a legitimate company, you may be giving it to a scammer instead.

This type of scam is a popular tactic used against seniors, who may be more willing to trust and have more time to respond to obvious offers.

Protective measures:

  • Never click on a link in a spam email.
  • If the email appears to be from someone you know but seems unusual, try contacting the sender in a different way to verify that the email is legitimate.
  • Before entering confidential or financial information online, check your browser for a padlock icon. Make sure the URL in your browser’s address bar starts with “https”.
2) Phishing via text

Text phishing is a tactic very similar to phishing that instead uses a text message to achieve its goals.

Text phishing attacks are becoming more common due to the high percentage of text message opens and replies. Only 20% of emails are opened and 6% are replied to, compared to 90% and 45% for text messages3. Studies show that people are more likely to trust a text message than an email, and many are unaware of text phishing attacks.

Protective measures:

  • Never click on a link in an unsolicited text message.
  • Call the message sender directly. Legitimate businesses and financial institutions will not ask you to update your account or provide login information via text message. It’s always best to confirm received requests via SMS by calling the company’s official number (ie the one you find on their website, not the one in the message).
  • Check the phone number. Suspicious phone numbers, such as numbers with only four digits, may indicate that a service was used to send text messages from email. This is one of the many tactics scammers use to hide their real number.
3) Scam calls

While not technically an online scam, phone scams are a particularly effective tactic against seniors, and the recent grandparent scam feeds on feelings and the natural tendency to protect loved ones.

In this scam, a grandparent receives a phone call from a scammer pretending to be their grandchild. Their “grandson” pretends to be in crisis (in jail, in a car accident, trying to get home from a foreign country) and needs money immediately.

The scammer often asks the grandparent not to tell their “parents,” swearing them to secrecy, and may hand the phone over to someone posing as a lawyer and demand immediate payment. As these scams have become more sophisticated, scammers are now using artificial intelligence technology to mimic voices and convince people that their loved ones are in trouble.

Protective measures:

  • If you are being pressured to send information or money quickly, stop and think about the plausibility of the situation.
  • If you receive such a call, hang up and report it immediately Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
  • To ease your fear, call or text your loved ones directly to make sure they are okay.
4) Romance scams

More and more seniors are turning to the Internet to meet new people, and for those looking to start over after a divorce or the death of a partner, the Internet is a less intimidating way to get started.

Unfortunately, romance scams are on the rise. In 2022, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, romance scams were the second most commonly reported scams in the country. In addition, fraudsters target the elderly, especially those recently divorced or widowed, because of their vulnerability and access to cash.

Using dating, gaming and social networks, they pose as real people looking to connect. After establishing a relationship and building trust, often after months of texting, emailing or chatting, scammers ask for money.

5) Fake computer warnings

Scammers know that many Canadians don’t know everything about their computers. So if a warning message pops up on the screen warning of a virus, they know most people will want to take steps to fix it. However, these warnings are more often than not false. Older adults with limited computer literacy can be especially easy to fool.

Fake virus warnings appear as pop-ups on your screen (or worse, as voices or alarms), signaling an imminent threat and prompting you to take immediate action, either by downloading the product or calling a technical support number to fix the problem.

If you call this number, you will encounter a scammer who wants to collect your credit card information in order to remove the virus. They may even force you to share your screen to gain access to data on your computer.

Protective measures:

  • Do not call the number or click on the link that appears on the screen in the alert popup.
  • Close your browser regardless of warnings to the contrary.
  • Call someone, such as a trusted friend, family member, or the store where you purchased your computer, to make sure your device isn’t compromised and give you peace of mind.

Unfortunately, older Canadians are an attractive target for cybercriminals who exploit the vulnerabilities and proclivities of seniors. Knowing the types of cyber risks that exist can help protect you and your loved ones.

1 – Pew Research Center:
2 – Pew Research Center:
3 – According to a study by Gartner: “Tap Into the Marketing Power of SMS”, Chris Pemberton.

This article is intended to provide general information only and is not intended to provide legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with a professional advisor regarding your specific situation. The information presented is believed to be factual and current, but we do not guarantee its accuracy and cannot be considered an exhaustive analysis of the topics discussed. Opinions expressed reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. Royal Bank of Canada and its entities do not promote, either explicitly or implicitly, the advice, opinions, information, products or services of third parties.

Share this article

Leave a Comment