CYBER SAFETY: Preparing older adults to face online threats

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Identity theft, investment fraud and other scams cost Americans billions of dollars in 2016.

In this day and age, with the internet making things easier and more efficient for scammers, the Michigan AARP says just about anybody can fall victim.

Norm Mackay taught cyber security at a company for years before retiring.

“The fact that I got scammed and I taught how to avoid scamming, that’s how easily it can happen to you,” Mackay said.

One day he was just planning a tee time online, when this happened:

“I was going through this website and it kept saying green fees 20 bucks 20 bucks 20 bucks…then I noticed one afternoon it was only 8 dollars for 18 holes,” Mackay said. “So, I clicked on it and my whole computer was completely locked up, everything was locked up, and it said call this 800 number or we will take everything you have.”

According to Mark Hornbeck with the AARP, it’s no coincidence this kind of trick will be seen on websites used by a lot of older adults.

“Identity theft and other fraud affects all ages,” Hornbeck said. “But older adults are often targeted by scam artists because they’re isolated, and it’s assumed that they might be more vulnerable.”

“They build your confidence, they get your confidence, then you’re ready to go, and something as simple as planning a tee time for a golf outing, now you’re stuck,” Mackay said.

But there are steps you can take to keep from becoming a victim, and the first step is just being aware those types of scams are out there.

Lisa Whitmore Davis is the associate state director for community outreach at the AARP, and also helps run the Association’s Fraud Watch Network program.

“When you sign up for Fraud Watch Network alerts, that’s free, there’s no membership,” Davis said. “It’ll allow you to get information either through your email or go to the website to find out what scams are in your area and how to protect yourself.”

People can sign up to get alerts and join the network on the AARP’s website. Then to find scams in your area you go to the scams map, search your city or zip code, then you can see everything that’s been reported near you.

So, if you end up spotting a scam online, or find something sketchy in your area, you can report it to the Network’s call center, and law enforcement will take it from there.

“That call center shares that information with state attorneys general offices, law enforcement around the country o let them know these are calls and scams that have been reported to us,” Davis said.

The issue is, being prepared goes beyond just knowing about scams in your area.

“Ten years ago there was still a lot of paper stuff, bar codes and everything else, now it’s just one number away or one phone call away or one little blip away, any little use of the debit card, anything like that,” Mackay said. “It’s become much more sophisticated. And our generation, we were fixers from years ago, but now we don’t know about it so we can’t fix it personally.”

That’s why the Fraud Watch Network doesn’t just track scams, it also takes you inside the mind of a scammer.

During some Fraud Watch Network Workshops, the AARP invites real-life ex-con artists to come and talk about how they did it.

6 News sat in on one of these worksops earlier in October.

The person presenting warned about several tactics to watch out for both online and over the phone that scammers will use.

They said scammers will try to build a personal connection with you, promise “phantom riches”, use phrases like “limited time offer or “only 10 left”, or threaten you for money.

That’s why those at the AARP say it’s important to double check before handing over your money for anything.

“Before you commit any of your hard earned money or any piece of your nest egg to some kind of promise or pledge, check on it and verify if its legitimate before you write checks or give them a credit card number or take any kind of a next step,” Hornbeck said.

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