Are Senior Citizens the Most At-Risk for Online Scams?

September 7, 2023 • Devin Partida


Why are senior citizens most at risk of online scams? Older adults are one of the most highly targeted demographics for scams and cyber attacks today. Unfortunately, thousands of seniors lose money and data to hackers every year. There are a few reasons older adults are frequently targeted by scammers and hackers.  

How Susceptible Are Senior Citizens?

More senior citizens become increasingly aware of online scams, but many are still highly susceptible. The digital threat landscape constantly shifts, so those uninvolved in those shifts will always face some risk. Even when an individual understands how to evade common scams, new, unknown ones pose a significant concern.

The Federal Trade Commission claims younger adults are more susceptible — citing how 86% of people reporting online shopping scams are aged 18 to 59 — but they may not consider situational factors. 

Ultimately, older people are often the most at-risk group regarding many online scams. Some reports allege every senior citizen affected by one loses as much as $34,200 on average. As long as it’s a profitable venture, scammers will continue to target anyone most likely to fall for their schemes.

Why Are Senior Citizens Most At Risk of Online Scams?

Senior citizens are often susceptible to online scams because of their age. According to some research, the inability to detect scams effectively can signal mental decline or cognitive impairment. Older people often reach a threshold where they cannot recognize apparent fraud identifiers.

It’s usually a combination of multiple factors. Scammers target older adults more often because they believe they can get more out of them. While you’re probably already aware of the generational wealth disparity, you may not know its significance. 

According to data, senior citizens had a median of up $90,060 in assets, making them nine times more wealthy than millennials. Even Generation X — the second-wealthiest of all generations — only has a little over $48,000. Scammers get more money when they go after the people who hold the most.

Senior citizens are susceptible even without considering these factors — you cannot ignore how technological advancements have given leverage to scammers. For instance, some bots impersonate famous public figures to scam unsuspecting people. 

Deep fakes and artificial intelligence have also progressed to the point where even younger age groups are defenseless. Classic preventive and protection measures aren’t as practical when someone can convincingly fake whatever identity they need.

How Can Older Adults Stay Safe From Scams?

Senior citizens are often targeted by scammers and hackers because they don’t have the digital fluency that younger generations have. So, learning about technology and the red flags of scams can go a long way toward helping older adults stay safe online.

Create Secure Passwords

Reusing passwords across multiple sites and using short, easily guessed passwords significantly increases someone’s risk of being hacked. Older adults are less likely to know the basics of good password hygiene, so learning to create secure passwords is a great ideas.

A password is strongest when it’s over 16 characters with no identifiable sequences. Using a password manager can be extremely helpful for senior citizens. The password manager will securely store all of their unique passwords so they don’t have to remember them. Instead, the user simply remembers the one password for their password manager.

There are many reliable password managers available for free today. Google Chrome has a built-in password manager. LastPass is a great option, as well.  

Learn the Red Flags of a Scam

People often fall victim to scams because they don’t notice critical red flags until it’s too late. Scams often have obvious warning signs if you know what to look for, though. Older adults can protect themselves from most online scams by simply learning the red flags of a phishing attack, which is how many scams start.

Filter Emails and Calls

Phishing messages have become so common that email and phone service providers have begun building filters to automatically delete or block suspicious messages. For instance, Gmail has an automated spam filter. Older adults can check to see if they have these filters set up, or ask a younger person to help them do so. This will automatically block most malicious messages from showing up on their phone, tablet or computer.

Use Multifactor Authentication

Scammers often try to steal a victim’s login credentials for key websites and services, such as a banking website. Using multifactor authentication can prevent these attacks from being successful. It involves setting up a secondary identity verification method in addition to a password. For example, when a user tries to login to their account, they need to confirm their identity using a one-time code sent to their verified phone number.

Older adults can use multifactor authentication (on sites and apps where it is available) as a last line of defense. Even if someone does manage to get their login information, their accounts will still be safe thanks to multifactor authentication.

What Kinds of Scams Do Senior Citizens Often Fall For?

Some of the most common scams are medical, romance, technical, grandparent and investment. These schemes use various tools and psychological tricks to prey on vulnerable targets.

Here are some of the top scams affecting senior citizens as of 2023:

  • Romance: Scammers often pose as romantic interests to dupe older adults. People above 60 years of age lost $139 million to romance schemes in 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission. 
  • Medical: Since every United States citizen qualifies for Medicare at age 65, scammers pose as representatives to get information or request fake payments.
  • Tech support: Many scammers take advantage of senior citizens’ lack of digital literacy, posing as technical support to mislead them. The goal is to gain account, device and personal information.
  • Investment: Although you may not picture older people when you think of cryptocurrency investors, many are familiar with the practice. In 2021, their $239 million in losses mostly came from crypto scams. 
  • Grandparent: Scammers often pose as a grandchild in danger to create urgency. Generative AI has elevated this classic scam, making it difficult to discern the validity of the voice on the other end.

Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, it highlights the most common schemes targeting elderly people. They’re uniquely concerning because they can adapt as technology does.

What Is the Importance of Senior Citizen Susceptibility?

In 2021, over 92,000 older adults lost money from a financial scam, totaling over $1.7 billion in losses. 

The Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2022 report on elder fraud shows scammers collectively defrauded thousands of senior citizens out of $3.1 billion, up 84% from the previous year. Such significant increases will only continue unless people take strategic preventive action.

While younger people are somewhat better at avoiding scams, no one is immune to cyber crime. The high risk posed to older adults is a clear indication that scammers will gladly target the most vulnerable victims. Plus, emerging technologies like AI are making it easier for bad actors to get into hacking with little to no experience. So, everyone should be aware of the high risk of scams facing not just older adults, but all of us.

The Rise of Online Scams

The high vulnerability of senior citizens highlights the need for increased cyber hygiene and preventive measures. No matter your age, it’s vital to take measures to protect yourself and your friends and family online.