How to educate older family members about scams

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Australia has an ageing population, meaning more seniors each year are at risk of falling victim to scams. Data from the ACCC’s Scamwatch revealed that in 2023, Aussies 65 and over lost $114 million – more than any age group. In the eyes of scammers, older adults are lucrative targets. They can be vulnerable, trusting, not always computer savvy, and are likely to have some savings or valuable possessions. 

Some scams can be hard to spot, especially as your family members get older and scams get smarter. Elaborate romance schemes, using AI to clone the voices of your loved ones, and cryptocurrency scams are just a few ways scammers will attempt to trick older Australians into giving away their money and information.

If your loved one falls into any of the following groups, they could be at a higher risk of falling victim to scams or fraud:

  • People over 50
  • People who live alone
  • People with a physical or mental disability 
  • People from the LGBTQIA community
  • People reliant on other family members for their care
  • People who have been abused

Even though you can’t fully protect your parents and grandparents from falling victim to a scam, you can talk to them about current scams, how to protect themselves, and the telltale signs they could be engaging in a scam.

Communicate the importance of cyber security

No matter your age, cyber security is important. To bolster your family member’s digital security, we’d recommend doing an overhaul of any weak passwords and changing ones used for multiple sites. Weak or overused passwords can put your loved ones at risk of being hacked. The more complex the password (think 14 letters or more with a combination of symbols, numbers, and uppercase characters), the more protected their information will be from hackers and other cyber threats.  

If you’re worried they won’t be able to remember each password, install a password manager

Start having productive conversations

Acknowledging that your older family members are at a higher risk of being targeted by scammers is an important part of having a conversation on how best to protect themselves. 

We know these conversations can at times come off as condescending, even if they come from a place of empathy and kindness. Mention your own experiences, like a scam call or text you received recently. Light-heartedly mentioning a specific new scam going around can be the first step to helping protect your older family member. If they know a particular scam is doing the rounds, they’re much less likely to fall for it, let alone engage. 

It can be as simple as ‘Hey, have you heard about this new scam going around? I got a text from an unknown number the other day saying someone used $2000 on my card. I don’t even have that much!’

Important paperwork like property deeds and wills should be protected and can spell trouble if they end up in the grimy hands of a scammer. To prevent sensitive financial information from falling into the wrong hands, you could also reach out and encourage them to use strong passwords or security software as an extra precaution for their superannuation, bank, and investment accounts. 

We all want to act in our family member’s best interest and the best way to do that is to ensure they’re taking active steps to keep safe and educate themselves.

Use technology to their advantage

Setting up barriers for their protection can help older family members safeguard their information and reduce how often they're contacted by scammers. 

They likely already have contacts set up on their phone for their friends, family, and places they frequent, like the doctors. If you go into the settings on your family member’s phone, you can select an option that sends all unknown numbers to voicemail.

Even if somebody who’s not in their contacts is calling about an emergency, they can still listen to the voicemail and add them to their contacts at their discretion. Even though older adults are more likely to answer the phone, if they don't have unknown numbers calling them, they won’t pick up. 

This feature can also be set up with their email, so the contacts from their address book get priority, and spam is filtered out and trashed.

Teach them how to respond

If you’re like me and have no trouble immediately hanging up when you realise it's a scam or telemarketer call, you’ll have no issue. But, you’re grandparents and parents might not be the same. Scammers love to catch their victims by surprise and create a false sense of urgency. If your older family members don’t often receive scam calls, they might not know what to say and just go along with it. Alternatively, they could have trouble simply hanging up out of fear of appearing impolite. 

We’d recommend writing a script – just a few responses or sentences your family members can default to if they’re caught off guard. Assertive statements like ‘I’ll check with my husband who’s a policeman and call you back’, or ‘I can’t talk, I’m making dinner’ are ideal.  

If they claim to be from a government agency or a bank and your family member is worried about hanging up, make it known that they can always call back using a number from a trusted source, like the phone book or the company’s website. 

In addition, it's imperative your older family members know they should never respond to fraudulent text messages or spam emails. Simply delete the message and do not click on any embedded links in the message or attachment, as it’s likely they'll lead to an unsafe website.

Know the red flags

Teach them some common warning signs which indicate they could be talking to a scammer: 

  • Requests for money: They claim your loved one is the recipient of a grand prize, or they have a ‘once in a lifetime’ investment opportunity.
  • High return rewards with no risk: Even worse, the investment opportunity purports to have ‘no risk’. Every investment has some level of risk; this could point to fraudulent intentions.
  • Unsolicited calls from a number that claims to be from a government agency: Anyone declaring themselves to be with an agency like the ATO or Medicare, followed by claims of an ‘urgent payment’ or thinly veiled threats.

Keep up to date

Scammers are continuously adapting their methods to keep ahead of potential victims. A technique that remains the same is leading with a sense of urgency. No matter the scam, communicate to your family members that this is how scammers interact with and prey on their victims. It's incredibly unlikely your elderly grandmother is going to get sent to jail if she hangs up on someone pretending to be from the ATO. 

We’d also recommend opening a dialogue about some of these common scams that commonly target older Australians so they can be prepared for any that may come their way.

Romance and dating scams

The scammer will start by trying to build your loved one’s trust and getting close to them. They might shower them with compliments or claim they are ‘soulmates’, then try to convince them to transfer assets into their name or ask to be a beneficiary of their will. They’ll almost always ask for money or prompt you to invest in cryptocurrency.

Those who live alone or have had a partner or loved one pass away are particularly vulnerable and are most susceptible to interpersonal and romance scams. 

Investment scams

Posing as a prudent financial advisor, the scammer will use high-pressure sales tactics to convince your loved one to invest in a lucrative ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. They might also promise secret overseas markets, and impersonate banks or financial companies to offer illegitimate government/Treasury bonds. The promise of low-risk investments is used to trick seniors into giving away their personal information, as well as chunks of their savings. 

Always prompt your loved ones to consult with an accredited financial or legal advisor before investing. 

Grandchild scams

Imposters will claim your loved one’s grandchild or child is in trouble and they need to transfer money, cash, or gift cards to help them. The scammer will either pretend to be the grandchild or use any personal information available online about the grandchild to make the scheme seem more believable. In some cases, they may even use AI to create a clone of their grandchild’s voice.

Funeral scams

There are numerous scams targeting relatives of the recently deceased. Scammers will raid obituaries and contact relatives claiming the deceased has an outstanding debt and demand it be paid. 

Alternatively, if they’re having a live-streamed funeral, the fraudster will create a page that mimics the church facilitating the live stream. They’ll pose as a legitimate way for someone to watch their deceased friend or family member’s funeral, then direct them to a fraudulent website and demand payment before the live stream can be viewed.  

Check in

Being present is just as important as the other steps on our list. Visit, call, or video chat with your older family member when you can and keep the lines of communication open. If they feel like they can come to you or ask you if the text they just received is a scam, it’s one step closer to ensuring they know what to look for and how to protect themselves. 

If an older family member does fall victim to a scam, it's likely they already feel shameful and embarrassed. Exercise some empathy and kindness, and work directly with them to figure out the next steps. Reassuring words and compassion are important – ensuring they have a judgement-free space to ask about scams can help keep them safer in the future.

Final word

Older people are more trusting of others and can be more vulnerable, especially if they live alone or have previously lost a partner or child. They’re often not as tech-savvy, leaving them susceptible to scams online, over the phone, and on social media. To keep your loved ones safe from scammers, it's important they know about current scams, what might indicate a scam, and how to protect themselves and their personal information. 

Hannah Geremia
Written by
Hannah has had over six years of experience in researching, writing, and editing quality content. She loves gaming, dancing, and animals, and can usually be found under a weighted blanket with a cup of coffee and a book.

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