A friend recently told me the story about how his father was scammed, and ended up in a spanish prison for drug smuggling. My own grandmother had been scammed (multiple) times, eventually causing my grandparents to lose their home. In this age of the internet, seniors are huge targets for being taken advantage of, for two main reasons: a) many of them come from an era where they tended to trust people more easily, and b) they are minimally familiar with the internet and how it works. Seniors (and many others) fall for many of these scams because they are lonely and are being wooed by someone attractive to them, or they are promised ‘easy money’, or simply because the scam is well-articulated, well-planned, and written to appear very legal and legitimate.
So the question comes to mind: How can we – as individuals – help (read: stop) seniors (and others) from falling victim to online scammers?
After hearing my friend’s story about his dad, I couldn’t help but think about how it all started – and how it apparently starts for many seniors – email.
As with many parts of life, education is key. Learning about the pitfalls and negative possibilities is what keeps many people safe from all kinds of dangerous things. But again, in the age of the internet, the “magic box” with the keyboard and screen attached to is just not understood by seniors. But seniors, or really everyone, want to be in charge of their own lives. They’re adults, just as we are… but much like children, some seniors just don’t see the dangers of these emails (that are really scammers) and may not be as willing to trust their own family about “modern things.”
As a software geek, I started thinking about an old piece of software that started around the beginning of the public internet called “Net Nanny” and how software might be able to help intercept these digital messages that get the interest of seniors. And specifically, I’m thinking of the friends and family members who have elders who use email and the internet. Yes, there’s a privacy issue, but if a son, daughter, grandchild, spouse, or other family member was to install a piece of software, or a browser plugin, or add a proxy to an elder’s computer that can watch for keywords or other potential scam activity – and then notify the family members of the potential fraud.
This “Senior Nanny” software or proxy could LOCALLY read the text of every email and webpage the senior is viewing – as well as the text the senior types – and compare that text to an update-able list of keywords and phrases. Then, send a txt and/or email to the family member warning them that their senior might be engaging in something questionable. The actual text or emails would not be disclosed, just that there’s something they need to check on. Furthermore, that software/proxy/plugin would not save or capture anything – it’s still up to the family member to act on the information.
This is just an idea to try to slow down the rampant elder abuse that takes places every day on the internet. Talking to seniors about the dangers is a good start, but again, the scams are getting more and more convincing, so the seniors don’t recognize them as problems.
Ultimately, I just don’t to see more seniors losing their homes, their savings, or in extreme cases, end up in foreign prisons simply because they were gullible and trusting.
- Hearing by the Special Committee on Aging SD-562 – Hearing to examine a new scam by global drug traffickers perpetrated against our nations’s seniors. February 10, 2016
- Senate Special Committee on Aging
- Senate Special Committee on Aging hearings
- Senate Special Committee on Aging Fraud Hotline and website – (855) 303-9470 – www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline
- Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line and website: 866-DHS-2-ICE – www.ice.gov/tipline
- U.S. man freed from Spanish prison; had been tricked in scam to smuggle drugs
- Pastor home after targeted in international drug trafficking scam
- Elderly U.S. Citizens Used as Drug Mules – Crime Watch Daily (Crime Watch Daily S01E143)
- Retired pastor recounts online scam that landed him in Spanish prison