Online Scams and The Vulnerable: How To Protect Yourself

Scams are deliberate, despicable attempts to steal your money, either directly or indirectly, for example, by gaining access to your passwords and bank accounts. It’s a terrible abuse of trust and it often leaves victims feeling ashamed of being conned, when the shame should instead be felt by the amoral scammers. It’s particularly despicable to see vulnerable or eldery people getting scammed.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Australians lost a record amount of over $851 million to scammers in 2020. The true cost is likely to be much higher as not all scams are reported.

Phishing activity (tricking you into giving out personal information), in particular government impersonation scams, has thrived during the pandemic with a 75% increase.

So, which methods do the scammers use? Here were their favourites in July 2021:

  • Phone calls (victims lost nearly $9m this way in July 2021)
  • Social networking sites (victims lost over $5m)
  • Internet (victims lost $4.4m)
  • Email scams (victims lost $4.1m)
  • Apps (victims lost $2.4m)
  • Text messages (victims lost $1.1m).

Scams and older people

Scammers target people of all ages and backgrounds but, unfortunately, some scams are more likely to target older people.

That’s because older people are more likely to:

  • Have some accumulated wealth
  • Be emotionally vulnerable if they’ve recently experienced the death of a long-term partner
  • Be inexperienced with internet sites or digital engagement.

Scam types and how to spot them

Scams work because they prey on deep and powerful desires for either love or money. Let’s take a look at some of the most common scams that target seniors.

Dating and romance scams

What are they? Dating and romance scams involve an internet relationship with someone who seems like a perfect, attentive partner but whom you never meet in real life.
How do they work? They use a fake online profile to lure you in through a dating website, app or social media site. The scammer may labour for months over this relationship, going to great lengths to win your trust and affection.At some point, they’ll experience some kind of personal emergency and you’ll want to give them money. They might pretend to be:

  • Keen to visit you but can’t afford the airfare – so you offer to pay
  • Caring for a sick relative who now needs expensive treatment – so you offer to pay
  • The victim of a robbery or house fire – so you send money to help.

And once you’ve sent the money, you never hear from them again.Other romance scams draw on your willingness to help them by asking you to do small favours that are actually criminal. They may ask you to:

  • Receive items like phones or laptops then post them to another address
  • Receive money into your bank account then transfer it to someone they nominate
How do they make you feel? Great! You feel wanted, trusted, valued. This person means so much to you.Then you feel concerned by the distressing situation they’re describing and you want to help. They mean so much to you that you’ll happily send them some money.
What are the warning signs? Romance scam warning signs include someone who:

  • Professes strong feelings for you very early in your relationship
  • Suggests you move your relationship off the dating site where you met and into private emails or messages
  • Supposedly has a high level of education according to their dating profile but whose messages are full of errors (look out for any discrepancies between their official profile and how they come across to you)
  • Is always about to visit you but never actually makes it (don’t visit them)
  • Eventually tells you an elaborate story that makes you want to give them your money
  • Becomes intensely persistent if you hesitate or refuse.
How can you protect yourself? Protect yourself against romance scams by:

  • Making it a firm personal rule that you never send money to someone you haven’t met in person
  • Asking yourself if it’s possible that this relationship is a scam
  • Being alert to any inconsistencies in their story
  • Being suspicious if their webcam never works or they continually fail to meet you in person
  • Never sending compromising pictures of yourself – then you can’t be blackmailed
  • Telling family or friends if you’re going to meet this person (or taking someone with you).

Investment scams

What are they? Investment scams involve asking you (or your business) to put your money into something that sounds like a great opportunity but is actually a serious financial risk.
How do they work? You receive repeated phone calls or emails from someone claiming to be a finance professional offering you something that sounds like a legitimate opportunity to make a substantial profit from an investment, share promotion, hot tip or early access to your superannuation.
How do they make you feel? Intrigued, tempted and already wondering how you’ll spend all the money you’re about to make.
What are the warning signs? Warning signs for investment scams include:

  • The fact that they’ve approached you and are offering unsolicited financial advice
  • Pressure to act quickly or you’ll miss out
  • The promise of financial rewards that sound too good to be true
  • An invitation to a free seminar that whets your appetite only to be followed by further very expensive seminars.
How can you protect yourself? Protect yourself against investment scams by:

  • Hanging up or deleting the email
  • Ignoring any and all unsolicited financial advice – if you want advice on what to do with your money then make your own appointment with a licensed financial advisor. Find one near you here.
  • Never committing to any investment on the spot at a seminar
  • Checking this list of companies you should not deal with
  • Being cautious about any suggestion of accessing your superannuation early. There can be serious penalties for that. If in doubt, talk to your super fund directly.

Other money scams

What are they? Prize or lottery scams ask you to pay a fee to claim your winnings from a competition you never entered.

Inheritance scams dangle the false promise of an inheritance to tempt you into paying money or sharing your credit card or bank details.

Rebate scams aim to convince you that you’re entitled to a rebate from a reputable organisation.

How do they work? They can be quite sophisticated, often accompanied by very realistic legal paperwork for you to sign.

Basically, these scams involve someone contacting you to tell you that you’re owed some money and walking you through the steps you need to take to access your inheritance, lottery winnings or rebate.

You’ll be asked to provide some personal details to verify your identity. Then you’ll be asked to make a small payment to cover some administrative costs involved in accessing a supposedly large sum of money.

How do they make you feel? Trusting towards the nice person who called to tell you this good news.

Eager to get your hands on the unexpected windfall, especially when all you have to do is provide some ID and bank details.

What are the warning signs?
  • The unexpected contact
  • Oddities in the story such as winning a lottery you haven’t entered or receiving an inheritance from someone you’ve never heard of
  • Supporting paperwork that seems realistic
  • The fact that you’re being asked to pay money in order to receive money.
How can you protect yourself?
  • Ignore it
  • If it’s a rebate scam, then:- Contact the relevant government department directly (look up the contact details yourself – don’t use the contact details supplied by the scammer)- Remember that the government will not ask you to pay in order to receive a rebate you’re already owed.
  • If an inheritance or lottery scan seems plausible to you, then:- Pause and protect yourself by not handing out any personal details. If it’s real, it can wait.- Googling the details (use exact phrases from the letter) to see if it comes up as a scam- Consulting a lawyer for their opinion on whether it is authentic or not.

How to protect yourself or your elderly parent from getting scammed

Start by generally educating yourself about scams. Then maintain an attitude of suspicion towards any unsolicited calls, emails or intense romances.

That scepticism is often very hard for people raised in more trustworthy times who may naturally assume the best of others. Scammers are devious and skilled in building rapport to win your trust. You will probably like them and enjoy talking to them. That’s why you need to think rationally and be suspicious of any contact you didn’t initiate.

The government’s Scamwatch website is an excellent resource where you can:

What to do if you’ve been scammed

If you’ve been scammed, then the first thing to remember is that you’re not alone. This horrible experience has sadly happened to many other people as you can see by the sheer amount of money that scammers are making. Though it’s natural to feel foolish for falling for it, remember that plenty of others have fallen for it too.

If you think you’ve been scammed or need to report an elderly scammer then:

  • Resign yourself to the fact that you are very unlikely to get your money back. Your goal now is to limit further damage.
  • Contact your bank immediately and tell them to stop your cards and block any unusual transactions from your account.
  • Report the scam to the ACCC here.
  • Follow Scamwatch’s detailed advice on which agencies you need to tell and where to find support.

How Focused Health Care can help

Focused Health Care provides in-home care to many older or more vulnerable people. Our carers enjoy chatting to clients and feel protective towards you. We’re always on alert for any signs that someone is taking advantage of you. So, when you tell us about phone calls or excitedly show us letters about a possible inheritance, we’ll remind you about the risks of scams and make constructive suggestions about how you can check if it’s real.

If you’d like in-home carers who have your wellbeing at heart, then contact us today.



All information is general in nature.

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