By Chris Hayhurst
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While smartphones can help seniors stay connected to the world (not to mention their children and grandchildren), they can also make them easy targets for scammers. Con artists and hackers, using text messages, emails, and even regular voice calls, go after smartphone users to get their personal information, or to lure them into purchases they would normally never make. Seniors who are just learning how to use their new phones are particularly susceptible to falling for such scams; focused on the versatility and convenience of the devices, they may not even realize how vulnerable they are.
Here are a few of the most common smartphone scams—and ways that seniors can protect against them.
- Phishing scams: Scam artists send emails or texts to unsuspecting consumers that appear to come from a bank, hospital, or other reputable organization. The message might offer a “free" gift if they visit a certain website, or ask for personal or financial information to confirm their identity. When the smartphone user takes the bait—and clicks on the provided link or opens the attachment—spyware is installed on their phone that can capture keystrokes and pilfer passwords.
- Bad-app scams: While most apps are indeed legitimate, some exist only to steal personal information—or to get consumers to make unwanted purchases. Once a fake app is installed on a phone, it might run in the background completely unnoticed, even as it tracks the user's browsing habits, keystrokes, or physical location. In one common scam, the installed app causes certain smartphone functions to stop working. An email or text is then sent to the user directing them to a website that can help them with the problem. Once there, they're prompted to enter their credit card information, Social Security number, or other personal details the scammer can use.
- Tech-support scams: In a typical scam, the smartphone user receives a call, email, or text from someone claiming to be a tech-support specialist from their cell-service provider. The scammer might ask for remote access to the device so they can check it for certain security flaws. The scam often includes a request for the user's credit card number, or directs them to a website where they're asked to enter their personal information.
- “Grandchild in trouble" scam: In this version of the common telephone scam, the senior receives an “urgent" email or text claiming that a family member has been thrown in jail and needs cash for bail. When they click on the link embedded in the message, malware is installed on their phone, or they're prompted to enter their bank account details so that money can be wired to the appropriate authorities.
Staying Safe Against Scams
The first line of defense when it comes to scams is to always be skeptical of any solicitation. If there's any doubt whatsoever as to whether a message is legitimate, it probably is not. Some other basic scam-safety tips:
- Never click on links or download apps that seem suspicious. Instead, only download vetted apps from official stores like Apple or Google Play.
- Keep smartphone anti-virus software and anti-spyware up to date.
- Protect the smartphone itself with a hard-to-guess passcode, and do the same with any websites that are visited on that phone. Passwords should be at least eight characters; include a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols; and should never include personal details like birthdays or grandchildren's names.
- Never reveal personal information to any solicitor, no matter where they claim to be from.
- Follow the smartphone security advice from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and from the Federal Trade Commission (FCC).
Finally, any senior who believes they've been targeted by a scam artist should file a complaint with the FCC.