News

Social Media Has Found a New Demographic – Senior Citizens

As senior citizens become more connected they also become a target for online scammers. – Courtesy photo

By Terry Miller

We’ve all seen millennials glued to their smart phones as they’re driving, crossing the street or even on a date. Yes, the smartphone has indeed changed young peoples’ lives.

However, the young have now been outnumbered by their parents and grandparents, especially when it comes to Facebook use.

According to the well-respected Pew Research Center, a swiftly growing demographic for social media use is people of age 65 and older; 34 percent of seniors use social media sites. “Grandparents are becoming proficient in alien things like Skype and especially Facebook and liking it,” says the Huffington Post. “It has become a healthy emotional outlet and word of its benefits has spread like wildfire among the elderly.”

My late father discovered the joys of email when I bought him a Macintosh SE 30 computer back in the mid-1990s. He was, however, rather zealous. If I didn’t directly respond or at least acknowledge his email(s), he’d be on that ancient device – the telephone – asking if I’d seen his email. If that didn’t work, he’d send a fax. My hi-tech cassette answering machine was completely full by day’s end, mostly with messages from my dear father asking why I hadn’t acted upon his emails.

My dear mother, now in her late 80s, discovered the world of social media some years ago thanks to her grandchildren. My mother, who is far more patient than my father ever was,  learned all about Facebook, FaceTime and text messaging via voice better than her own children.

Social media has changed the way we interact with the world around us in ways we never imagined even a decade ago. My mother keeps in contact with friends and relations back in England. She absolutely loves Facebook and is always responsive to her contacts.

My mom uses text messaging more than most   ̶ trouble is, it is the voice activated thing that bugs me. Text messaging should be short and sweet, like Twitter, let’s say. When the matriarch of the family texts, a not-so-short story develops into an Agatha Christie mystery. This of course takes considerable time to read and inwardly digest but alas, you have to respond eventually.

By this time, my email box is overflowing with extremely “important” news, the voicemail full; the office is wondering when I’m going to open those important pieces of “snail mail” and the cat wonders if I’ll ever feed him again.

Thus is our life, made better and brought to you by Apple, Samsung, Windows and a billion so called “start-up” tech companies. Yes it’s all about marketing, so beware.

According to Pew Research Center, “with nearly 59% of adults over the age of 65 online and 46% of those on at least one social network, it’s safe to say social media is impacting the lives of seniors in unparalleled ways.”

Senior citizens are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, and this doesn’t surprise me in the least but these seniors should be on high alert as an online presence can also attract online scams targeting the elderly in an attempt to deplete money from their life savings.

When we needed an important piece of information or some research – long before Google – many of us used the ‘human search engine,’ i.e. the reference librarian. What a concept.

Now, that dear helpful librarian is named ‘Siri’ for those of us with the ever-growing list of new Apple toys and services which rapidly drain our bank reserves.

One in five seniors has been the victim of a financial crime according to LA District Attorney, Jackie Lacey. “Some lose money to fraudulent loan or investment schemes and others fall prey to crooked telemarketers, phony charities and dishonest contractors.”

The American Journal of Public Health estimates that about 5% of the elderly population (which equates to around 2 to 3 million people) suffers from some sort of scam every year.

“What’s worse, it’s very likely an underestimate,” said David Brune, a professor at the University of Toronto. This is most likely because it’s expected that a large percentage of Internet scams go unreported. The FBI says that people who grew up in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s—a.k.a. those frequently targeted for scams—are generally more trusting than other generations, which makes them susceptible to con artists who want to find the most vulnerable personalities.

The FBI’s Common Fraud Schemes webpage provides tips on how you can protect yourself and your family from fraud. Senior citizens especially should be aware of fraud schemes for the following reasons:

  • Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.
  • People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
  • Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
  • When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, months—after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.
  • Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.

If you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone or email. Telemarketing/ computer scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations. For more information and tips to avoid these scams, visit the FBI’s Telemarketing Fraud webpage.

The Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Hotline can be reached at 1-(877) 4-R-SENIORS or 1-(877) 477-3646.

April 11, 2019

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Terry Miller


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