Commentary: Cyber Security for Seniors

Commentary: Cyber Security for Seniors

In today's world there are numerous scams aimed at seniors via the internet, the phone and in person. These threats are more sophisticated and widespread than ever.

By 2030, a quarter of Fairfax County homes will have residents over 60 years of age, so our community is a tempting and growing target of opportunity for con artists and flim flam men and women. It is critical we remain hypervigilant and always err on the side of caution when in doubt.

To that end, later this month, I will be co-hosting a Senior Cyber Security Workshop (people of all ages are welcome) on Oct. 24 from 2-4 p.m. at Sherwood Regional Library with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner’s office and Mount Vernon at Home to learn about potential threats and how to combat them. In preparation for the workshop, I want to share with you a few of the more common scams to be aware of out there.

The first thing to remember is that it is OK to hang up the phone, not answer the door, or not open an email and certainly it is a good idea to call the non-emergency police number for our Mount Vernon station, 703-691-2131, if you are at all dubious or concerned. You won’t get scammed if you aren’t available to the conman.

A common con using the phone is the “grandparent” scam. The caller pretends to be your grandchild who is in trouble or in an accident, usually out of state, and supposedly “needs bail money” or “hospital money.” That one almost tricked my 90-year-old Dad a couple of years ago. He got a call “from Canada” from “my nephew;” but, he was not in Canada, and luckily my Dad remembered that and called me to check. These guys are good, so don’t feel stupid if they take your money, but do let someone else that you trust know what happened. Too many of us are too embarrassed to come forward after being taken in. But, we can all fall prey to these con artists and awareness is key to ensuring these schemes are put to an end.

Online scams are legion and will only continue to spread. One of the fastest growing online scams is hacking. Hackers look to gain access to your devices, emails and social media in order to gain secure information. Please make sure all of your devices (laptop, phone, iPad, etc. have secure passwords. Studies show that half of senior citizens do not secure their devices with a passcode. And, don’t use “Password” or something else easy to guess. Create unique passcodes that are long, use a combination of words, numerals, symbols and with both upper and lower case letters. Have a separate password to access your device that is not the same as any of your online passwords. If you don’t do this, in the event your device is lost or stolen this could leave your bank accounts and personal information vulnerable. Additionally, these criminals can use the devices to hack your social media accounts and impersonate you online. For online accounts, I recommend setting up two-step verification so that in order to gain access to the account you need to enter a passcode that is sent securely to a device of your choosing.

Finally, always be aware of the classic “phishing” emails that are designed to trick you to click on a link that promises some great new program or offer. Doing so could cause “malware” to be installed on your computer, like viruses and spyware. The link might also take you to a “spoof” site designed to look like a real website and then will ask you to provide personal information, like your Social Security number and bank or credit account numbers. It’s all very clever. Be alert. And never click on any links from a sender you do not know and trust. Even internet giants like Google and Facebook were conned out of $100 million last year through an email phishing scheme where a hacker impersonated a computer parts vendor.

We all know about the famous scams around the story of the Nigerian prince who needs our assistance by providing him some money to somehow be able to claim his inheritance. But, there are hundreds of variations equally as complex and convoluted that trap the unwary, often seniors since they are planning for retirement or managing their retirement and looking for investment vehicles. Well, remember the old adage, you don’t get anything for free, especially from someone you don’t know. Just be careful online. It’s like walking down the street. You need to stay alert.

I am always examining ways to address these issues legislatively. During the 2016 session, I was the patron of HB620, which would have allowed financial institutions to hold suspicious transactions for a period of time until it could verify the validity. This didn’t pass but in the following session, 2017, I was one of four delegates, two from each party, that sponsored the bipartisan adult exploitation HB1945 that is now the law. It broadened the definition of adult exploitation to include the unauthorized, improper, or fraudulent use of an adult 60 years of age or older, or 18 years of age or older who is incapacitated, or his funds, property, benefits, or other assets for the benefit of another, including a caregiver or person serving in a fiduciary capacity, or that deprives the adult of his rightful use or access to such funds, etc.

Protecting senior citizens and all Virginians from fraud is an issue I take very seriously. I look forward to continuing to work on this and encourage all residents to contact me regarding this important issue if you have an idea for how to curb senior exploitation. And, I hope to see you at our free Senior Cyber Security Workshop at Sherwood Regional Library on Oct. 24. To RSVP please email