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How to Spot Scams When Connecting Online

Here at Connect2Affect, we’re always looking for ways to help you stay healthy and connected. Now that virtual activities are becoming a way of life, we want to share some tips for avoiding fraud when connecting with others online.

Scammers often target older adults, especially those who may be feeling isolated or lonely. These fraudsters use every trick in the book to try to get access to your money and/or personal information.

While most of the time it’s OK to connect with strangers online, be wary of sharing too much of your private, personal information, especially through texts on Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp — two channels frequently used by scammers. With a little knowledge and the right mindset, you can develop “a scam radar” to know when and how to protect yourself without worrying about a missed opportunity to connect.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network was created to help older adults learn about the latest scams and how to protect themselves from fraud. Read on for tips from this trusted resource.

Red Flags and Common Scams to Watch Out For

According to the FBI 2020 Crime Report, cyber fraud losses reported by people over 50 increased by 27% in one year, reaching more than $1.8 million.

Scammers put a lot of time and effort into grooming their victims. When you’re building new connections — even virtual ones — establishing trust is a key part of your budding relationship. Although that may make you feel vulnerable, you can avoid being taken advantage of by keeping these common red flags in mind when communicating with others online.

There are two main tactics scammers use to lure victims: incredible deals and a sense of urgency. Does the offer sound far-fetched? Do you need to act fast? If it sounds too good to be true or you need to decide on the spot, it’s probably a scam. A reputable company will understand when you say you need some time to think it over.

important documents on a fish hookCriminals have also been taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to unleash a host of new scams. Government agencies like Medicare or the IRS will never call you and ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card, or to make payments with gift cards or cash.

Scammers often hide behind technology to establish a connection. They may make fake calls, “spoofing” your Caller ID to show the call as being from the Social Security Administration, a tech company, or a local area code (so you think it’s a friend or neighbor calling). They also may use “phishing” emails and texts designed to look like they’re from legitimate entities when, in fact, they’re “fishing” for your private information.

As a general rule, never divulge personal or financial information to anyone who contacts you unsolicited, even if they’re using the name of a legitimate entity. Follow the old adage: trust but verify.

Romance scammers, whom you may meet in an online chat room or an online dating website, will pretend to be interested in you just to get your money or personal information. These scammers know how to be charming and make you trust them. Most people prefer to take things slowly, but a scammer will often try to rush things.

Dating someone you meet online is more and more the norm, but if you haven’t met in person or you see other red flags, be cautious.

Other scammers will call or text you pretending to be your grandchild or another loved one asking for money for an emergency. If they’re pressuring you to send money right away via a gift card, prepaid card or a wire to Western Union, be wary. Reach out to your relatives and make sure they are really in need.

If something doesn’t feel right, remember to trust your gut. Slow down and reach out to someone you trust before you take action.

To learn more about the latest scams and how to avoid them, visit the How to Detect a Scam virtual workshop from AARP Foundation and Chase. Listen in or read along on your favorite screen.

What to Do If You (or Someone You Know) Have Been Scammed

First, if you’re suspicious of an ongoing situation, stop giving money while you get help to evaluate whether the transactions are legitimate. Contact your bank (or credit card company) for the steps you need to take to stop access to your accounts.

Next, reporting the incident to the AARP Fraud Watch Network — which keeps track of scams to help raise awareness and prevent fraud — will help you feel more in control of the situation. You can also receive free support from their trained specialists, who can offer further guidance.

Remember, today’s scammers are sophisticated and extremely good at their jobs; even large companies have been fooled. If you’ve been scammed, it’s only natural to feel angry or hurt, but don’t close yourself off from making new connections based on the experience. Remember, there are people out there you can trust.

Try to think of it this way: Now that you know what to look out for, you can protect yourself and help others.

If you suspect someone you know is being scammed, be supportive, understanding, and nonjudgmental.

Showing your loved one tangible evidence of others who’ve been a victim might be enough to make them see the truth. Or they might be reluctant to cut ties with the scammer because they’re embarrassed they were scammed and they don’t want to face the situation. Again, reaching out to the AARP Fraud Network can help you figure out what else you can do to help.

Spreading the word about how to connect safely online is also a great idea. Email this resource to friends, neighbors, or family — or share it on Facebook — and you’ve got another opportunity to have a conversation that leads to deeper connections.

Help Prevent Scams

To look up a scam, report suspected fraud, or find support for yourself or a loved one, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network website.


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