Social media can have pitfalls for senior citizens

Facebook has been a boon to older people who wish to stay in touch with relatives and friends both near and far.
But, according to a recent article in the AARP Bulletin, scams in which criminals attempt to steal personal information are on the rise in social media.

“ ‘Phishing’ scams, in which criminals try to collect your credit card numbers, log-in credentials and other information in order to steal your identity, have more than doubled in the past year, reports social media security company Proofpoint,” author Sid Kirchheimer.
He warned of five specific types of attempted fraud related to social media:

  1. Twitter tricks

“With keystroke tweaks, such as adding an extra character to a corporate name, cybercrooks create fake social media accounts to pose as customer-care reps. The phishing mission: to intercept messages sent to legitimate companies. You tweet a question to a bank’s customer service Twitter account, for example, and a scammer—who is monitoring these tweets—responds from a Twitter account with a slightly different name. The crook then provides a link to a fake website that requests your login code and account number.
“The customer not only expects the response, he or she welcomes it, and has incentive to follow the link,” Devin Redmond, vice president of social media security and compliance at Proofpoint, was quoted as saying.

  1. Live-stream lies

Taking a cue from media companies that stream their TV shows and movies online, crooks offer their own programming. Typically, they promise free viewing of a big game, hot concert or other popular event. The phishing mission: With tempting comments on social media pages, scammers post links promising free access to a live stream. Click and you’ll land on a website that demands credit card and personal details before any stream is provided, often under the guise of a free trial that can be canceled any time.

  1. Fake freebies and discounts

Scammers set up bogus social media pages that look like those of legit companies, and claim to offer free or dirt-cheap products and services. The phishing mission: to collect your name, address, phone numbers, email address and other information to be used for identity theft or sold to other crooks on the black market.

  1. Contest cons and survey swindles

In these schemes, crooks promise a prize for completing an online survey. The phishing mission: Getting you to fill out a survey lets the bad guys mine deeper for your personal information.

  1. Gossip gotchas

Celebrity names, coupled with terms such as “video” and “picture,” have long been among the internet’s most-typed search terms, and most dangerous. The phishing mission: Your curiosity about Hollywood’s elite, sports superstars and other household names is used to tease you into clicking on links promising scandalous video and reports about these folks, for which you provide your credit card info.

Medical ID Theft On The Rise

Senior citizens, already uniquely vulnerable to identity theft, are most often the targets of a specific variation of this kind of fraud.

A medical record folder being pulled from the ...
A medical record folder being pulled from the records (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Medical identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it to commit health care fraud,” according to a page on the website of the Federal Trade Commission. “Medical ID thieves may use your identity to get treatment, even surgery, or to bilk insurers by making fake claims. Repairing damage to your good name and credit record can be difficult enough, but medical ID theft can have other serious consequences. If a scammer gets treatment in your name, that person’s health problems could become a part of your medical record. It could affect your ability to get medical care and insurance benefits, and could even affect decisions made by doctors treating you later on. The scammer’s unpaid medical debts also could end up on your credit report.”
“In the last five years, the number of data breaches in the medical sector has quadrupled,” noted writer Laura Shin in a recent article in Fortune magazine. “Last year, for the first time, the medical sector experienced more breaches than any other. It’s again on track to lead in 2014, according to the ID Theft Center. While the health care industry has long suffered fraud by providers or employees fraudulently billing insurers, Medicare, or Medicaid, the medical industry is only just now trying to catch up to the quickly growing threat from hackers.”
The FTC recommends that everyone, but especially older Americans, read every explanation of benefits statement from their insurers. Further, the Federal Trade Commission suggests that people should annually ask insurers for a list of the benefits that have been paid in their name.
“If you think you may be a victim of medical identity theft, ask your health care provider or hospital for your medical records,” the FTC says. “You have a right to get copies of your current medical files from each health care provider, though you may have to pay for them. You also have a right to have inaccurate or incomplete information removed.”
“Many hospitals have ombudsmen or patient advocates who also can help.”

Identity Thieves View Elderly As Trusting Victims

Older people make easy targets for identity thieves.
This is “because they are more trusting and less aware of the increasing variety of scams,” according to the website of an expert on identity theft who offers six tips for helping to protect loved ones from falling victims.
Denver-based John Sileo, according to his firm’s website, became “America’s leading identity theft speaker and expert after he lost his business and more than $300,000 to identity theft and data breach.”
“Although most of our older relatives have no interests in the complexities of smartphones, computers, the Internet and online banking, many that give it a try leave themselves defenseless against thieves,” according to the site. “The elderly can be easily targeted online or through the mail in old-fashioned schemes to steal their identity and ultimately their money. They are more likely to tell a stranger stories of their past that include simple password reminders. They are less likely to suspect that an interested individual is a con artist and not just a new friend. They can also be conned through the phone or in person by thieves impersonating a representative from a charity or a well-known company.”
These are the expert’s suggestions for thwarting would-be scammers:

  • Online Security. Encourage them to continue to bank in person rather than online and have the bank inform you of any purchase over a certain dollar amount. Also, install security software on any computer they use and keep it up to date. If they do click on a link including a virus their computer and information will be more protected.
  • Freeze their credit. A credit freeze is the fastest and easiest way to protect yourself from identity theft. A credit freeze is simply an agreement you make with the three main credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, that they won’t allow new accounts to be attached to your name or Social Security number unless you contact the credit bureau, give them a password and allow them to unfreeze or thaw your account for a short period of time.
  • Credit Check and Monitoring Service. If you are not going to do a credit freeze, then frequently check their credit report with them to make sure they understand if any new accounts have been opened.
  • Opt Out. Have them opt out of junk mail that comes from financial institutions. They can do this by going to or by calling 1-888-567-8688.
  • Buy them a shredder. By shredding anything that has their name, address, birthday, social security number, or account numbers they will be less likely to have their identity stolen through the trash. Teach them what to shred and make it convenient.
  • Keep them Informed. By staying current on the newest scams and social engineering techniques you can not only protect yourself, but also you can protect others.

Members Of Military Particularly Vulnerable To Identity Theft

Navy ID card (Photo credit: Lee Bennett)
More and more states as well as the federal government are taking steps to protect military personnel and their family members from identity theft.
That’s because it’s becoming more and more of a problem.
“When your day job is protecting our country, you shouldn’t have to worry about being attacked by identity thieves,” according to an item on the website of the North Carolina Department of Justice. “Members of the U. S. military can take preemptive action to minimize the risk of becoming an identity theft victim. Security freezes and active duty alerts are two of the weapons that can be deployed in this fight, but utilizing both at the same time could lead to unnecessarily complications.”
Legislators in Ohio recently passed, and the governor signed, a measure that establishes harsher penalties for identity thieves when their targets are active-duty service members and their spouses.
“These changes will make Ohio one of the toughest states for punishing felons who commit identity fraud against active-duty service members,” Attorney General DeWine was quoted as saying in a press release. “I applaud the governor and the General Assembly for recognizing the importance of this issue. Military service members and their families sacrifice so much to protect our country, and it’s our job to do all we can to protect them.”
The Federal Trade Commission offers a brochure to help military personnel and their families deal with identity theft.
“Identity theft is a serious crime,” the FTC notes. “It can disrupt your finances, credit history and reputation, and take time, money and patience to resolve.
“The rigors of military life can compound the problems that identity theft creates.”
One of the suggestions offered in the brochure is for service men and women to place an “active-duty alert” on their credit reports when they are on deployment.
“The alert requires creditors to take steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name,” the brochure indicates. “It lasts for a year but can be renewed.”