How criminals are exploiting personal information to target vulnerable seniors in elder fraud


Scammers are using leaked personal information to rob older Americans of their hard-earned money. 

In 2023, people over 60 lost a whopping $3.4 billion to scams, a 10.6% increase from 2022, according to the FBI’s IC3 reports. 

Tech support scams are the most common, affecting the most people and causing the biggest financial losses. Other common scams include investment fraud, romance fraud and identity theft.

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How criminals use your personal data against you

According to the FBI’s IC3 reports analyzed by the data removal company Incogni, criminals are able to scam older folks because they have access to their personal data. They gain access to this data through data brokers who collect personal information from public records and sometimes also source it privately. This data can include anything from your name, contact number, address and financial details to your relationship status, the electronic gadgets you use and more.

When a criminal has your personal information, they can use many tactics to scam you. I discuss some of the common ones below:

1. Investment fraud: Criminals perpetrating investment fraud use personal information, such as financial details, names and contact numbers, to trap their victims. This type of fraud affected 6,400 individuals in 2023, causing total monetary losses of $1.2 billion.

2. Tech support scam: It’s one of the more common scams where a criminal uses information like your contact number and the electronic gadgets you use to scam you. They may also try to impersonate popular e-commerce companies like Best Buy and Amazon. Around 18,000 individuals have been affected by tech support scams in 2023, losing over $589.8 million.

3. Confidence or romance fraud: Personal data like income level, credit rating and assets owned can help criminals choose viable targets for this type of scam. Over 6,700 Americans have been affected by confidence or romance fraud and have lost over $356.9 million.

Other examples of ways criminals scam elderly people include government impersonation, identity theft and harassment.

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What is the scale of these scams?

Seniors in the States have been significantly impacted by scams involving personal data. In 2023, there were a total of 101,068 reports filed by individuals over 60 years old, resulting in total losses of $3.4 billion. This represents a 14.5% increase from the 88,300 reports filed in 2022 and a 10.6% increase in the total amount of money lost (up from $3.1 billion in 2022).

The numbers become even more shocking when you take reports from the last five years. Between 2019 and 2023, a staggering 455,000 reports were filed, with seniors losing a total of $10 billion. In 2023, the average amount lost per victim was $33,900, a slight decrease (3.38%) from the $35,100 in damages reported in 2022.

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10 ways to protect yourself from criminals exploiting personal information

If you think you’re at risk or have been affected by one of the many scams I discussed, follow these steps to protect your digital privacy and safety.

1. Invest in data removal services: While no service promises to remove all your data from the internet, having a removal service is great if you want to constantly monitor and automate the process of removing your information from hundreds of sites continuously over a longer period of time. Check out my top picks for data removal services here.

2. Place a fraud alert: Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) and request a fraud alert to be placed on your credit file. This will make it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name without verification.

3. Be cautious of phishing attempts: Be vigilant about emails, phone calls or messages from unknown sources asking for personal information. Avoid clicking on suspicious links or providing sensitive details unless you can verify the legitimacy of the request.

The best way to protect yourself from clicking malicious links that install malware that may get access to your private information is to have strong antivirus protection installed on all your devices. This can also alert you of any phishing emails or ransomware scams. Get my picks for the best 2024 antivirus protection winners for your Windows, Mac, Android and iOS devices.

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4. Check Social Security benefits: It is crucial to periodically check your Social Security benefits to ensure they have not been tampered with or altered in any way, safeguarding your financial security and preventing potential fraud.

5. Change your password: If you think your personal data has been compromised, you can render it useless to thieves simply by changing your password. Opt for a strong password, one you don’t use elsewhere. Even better, consider getting a password manager to generate one for you.

6. Regularly monitor your financial accounts: Check your bank accounts, credit card statements and other financial accounts regularly (at least every two weeks) for any unauthorized transactions or suspicious activity. This allows you to catch fraud early and take action.

7. Be cautious on social media: Be careful about the personal information you share on social media, as scammers can use details like birthdays, vacation plans and family/friend connections to target you.

8. Use multifactor authentication: Enable two-factor authentication on your important accounts to add an extra layer of security beyond just a password. This requires a second step like a code sent to your phone to log in.

9. Back up your data: Regularly back up important data from your devices to an external hard drive or cloud storage. This protects you if your device is lost, stolen or infected with malware.

10. Use updated security software: Keep security software like antivirus and anti-malware programs updated on all your devices to protect against the latest threats.

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Kurt’s key takeaways

Your data is now more valuable than gold for scammers and bad actors. They can use your personal information to cause not only financial but also mental harm. These bad actors especially target individuals above 60, knowing that they are vulnerable. It’s important that you stay extra careful when navigating online and don’t address unsolicited advice from anyone on the web or over the phone.

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