Empower vulnerable Georgians against cybercriminals

Older adults are facing a barrage of online scams related to the pandemic. Fraud and scams can happen all year long; however, they tend to increase during the holidays. Crimes specific to the holidays are just variations of everyday fraud. According to the Federal Trade Commission, victims in the United States lost over $1.9 billion alone in 2019. With older adults isolated this year, the Division of Aging Services Forensic Special Initiatives Unit is encouraging family caregivers, friends and neighbors to remain vigilant on behalf of their loved ones.

Below are some tips you and your loved one can follow to prevent becoming a victim.

Online Shopping
Shopping online is a convenient way to buy gifts while staying healthy during this pandemic. Here are some suggestions to better protect yourself online.

  • Make sure you use a secure password for your accounts and do not share your login information. Many online companies offer two-factor authentication, which enhances security by requiring more than just your password to sign in. For example, a code is sent via SMS (text message) to your phone in addition to a password to sign in.
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi for any shopping activity. Public Wi-Fi networks can be very dangerous and while they are very convenient, they are not secure. Potentially, hackers can access your usernames, passwords, texts and emails.
  • Always use a trusted site. Be careful using links from a search engine, as they can be falsified to appear as a legitimate business site.
  • Look for the green Secure Sockets Layer encryption before making a purchase. Before entering your personal or financial information, you need to ensure that the site you are on is legitimate and can be trusted. Look for an icon of a locked padlock usually to the left of the URL in the address bar.
  • Always use a credit card, not a debit card when purchasing online. Debit cards are linked directly to your bank account, thus a much greater risk if a criminal were to obtain this information. Credit cards offer better protection and reimbursement in the event you become a victim.

Phishing is a cybercrime in which a person is contacted by email, telephone or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution or relative to trick that individual into providing personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords.

  • One example is the Grandparent Scam, where the caller says a grandchild has been arrested and needs money. Others include the Social Security Scam, where criminals pose as social security officials and advise that your Social Security number has been compromised; and the Senior Grants Scam, where they tell seniors they are eligible for a grant of $20,000 or more, and they just need to provide their bank account number to have the money deposited.
  • Check your credit card and bank accounts twice a day, every day. Review your transactions and report any fraudulent or questionable charges as soon as you notice them.
  • Most banks allow you to set up purchase alerts using either email, text message or both. If you observe a suspicious purchase, contact your issuer immediately.
  • Never give your financial or personal information over the phone to someone that initiated the call. Only give information on a call which you placed and make sure you are speaking with a reputable representative at the institution.

Payment scams
Be cautious of sellers and websites that demand payment solely through gift cards. Scammers sometimes encourage shoppers to conduct wire transfers, allowing criminals to quickly receive illicit funds. Credit cards provide several layers of security against fraud and are typically the safest way to conduct online shopping.

Charity scams
The holidays are a time when many people feel called to give to charities. While the effects of the pandemic mean there will be even more of a need this year, it also means more sham charities will be exploiting goodwill. Always verify a charity by checking the Georgia Office of Attorney General Consumer Protection Division website: https://consumer.georgia.gov/consumer-topics/charities

The Charity Navigator is another way to check the validity of a charity: https://www.charitynavigator.org/

Adult Protective Services is the state entity charged with investigating all reports of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation of older persons (65+) or an adult (18+) with a disability who does not reside in long-term care facilities. To report abuse of elder persons or adults with disabilities, please call 1-866-55AGING (1-866-552-4464) press "3" or file a report online. Note: The online reporting form is not compatible with Internet Explorer 10. Victims of holiday scams are also encouraged to file a complaint with the FBI at www.ic3.gov.