SINGAPORE — In today’s digital age, seniors sometimes feel like newcomers in an unfamiliar world. While the internet offers great opportunities, it also has a dangerous downside: scams. These scams, orchestrated by clever criminals, can deceive people of all ages.
Although seniors have often been perceived as easy targets, recent data reveals that their concerns about online safety and privacy are more complex than we assume.
According to the mid-year scams and cybercrime statistics for 2023, released by the police on Wednesday (13 September), victims of reported scams incurred a loss of $334.5 million in the first half of 2023.
Young adults are hit hardest while elderly face fake friend call scam
Among the numerous scams, job-related frauds emerged as the most prevalent, accounting for over 25 per cent of reported cases during this period.
However, the spectrum of scams is vast, encompassing e-commerce fraud, fake friend call scams, phishing attempts, and insurance-related deceit. These scams have infiltrated the lives of individuals of all ages, rendering no one immune to their effects.
While the number of reported scam cases surged significantly – exceeding 22,339 in the first half of 2023, marking a 64.5 per cent increase from the previous year – the total financial losses attributed to scams decreased by 2.2 per cent compared to the same period in 2022.
A particularly intriguing revelation is that most scam victims are not seniors. In fact, young adults aged 20 to 39 accounted for more than half (50.8 per cent) of the total number of scam victims.
This trend, which has persisted since 2022, can be attributed to young adults conducting a significant portion of their daily activities online, thereby exposing themselves more to the risks of falling victim to scams.
Elderly victims aged 60 and above accounted for approximately 11.7 per cent of the victims. They often fell prey to a fake friend call scams, a deceitful ruse typically carried out through phone calls or messaging apps like WhatsApp.
In this scheme, the perpetrator impersonates the victim’s friend or acquaintance, coaxing them into sending money. As a consequence, unsuspecting seniors frequently end up transferring funds to bank accounts owned by unknown individuals.
How can we empower seniors in the digital age?
The need to continue supporting the elderly becomes evident when considering their vulnerability to emotional manipulation and trust-based scams.
Unlike younger generations, who are more tech-savvy and accustomed to navigating the digital realm, some seniors may lack the familiarity and awareness needed to detect such fraudulent activities, according to experts who spoke to Yahoo Southeast Asia.
To address these challenges, initiatives such as Project PRAISE (Police-RSVP Anti-Scam Engagement) by senior volunteers organisation RSVP Singapore have emerged to guide seniors amid the perilous digital landscape.
Launched in 2022, Project PRAISE has reached over 4,200 seniors in just a year through close to 60 outreach sessions, empowering them with the skills and confidence needed to navigate the digital landscape securely.
RSVP Singapore chairman Koh Juay Meng explains, “Seniors often worry about various aspects of life, a concern deeply rooted in their love for family. Even as their children have grown into parents, seniors continue to harbour concerns for their offspring. So while new technologies emerge, these concerns are nothing new.
“The main objective is to eradicate their fear. We strive to ensure that when seniors are handed a mobile phone to access an e-commerce platform, they know precisely what steps to take.”
Seniors like 74-year-old James Loo, a seasoned volunteer at RSVP Singapore, share their experiences, and he says it is evident that empowering seniors in the digital world is not only possible but crucial.
Loo reflects on his friends’ anxieties when confronted with the complexities of smartphones and laptops, stating, “I think a lot of the seniors’ anxiety stems from ignorance. They’re uncertain about how a particular app works and what risks it may entail.”
For some seniors, even the basic act of touching a digital device can be intimidating. As Loo elaborates, “Some of my friends who are not so tech-savvy don’t even use a laptop, or they don’t even dare to touch the screen, for fear of when the screen image disappears.”
The need to shield seniors from digital predators
Matthias Yeo, co-founder and chief executive officer of CyberXCenter – a Singapore company which builds cyber capabilities – inhabits a vastly different world from the peaceful volunteer spaces of RSVP Singapore.
His expertise in cybersecurity has immersed him in the darker realms of the digital landscape. He stressed that seniors are frequently singled out as targets by scammers who exploit their vulnerabilities.
“They may create profiles of seniors based on details about their family members, behaviours, and personal information readily available on the seniors’ family social media accounts. This information may be exploited to make their scams appear highly convincing,” he says.
“For example, if a scammer is aware that a senior’s daughter is planning a trip to Australia, they might attempt to deceive the senior by claiming that their daughter is stranded at the Australian embassy and needs a fund transfer for administrative fees. There is also the potential for scammers to leverage on artificial intelligence to mimic the daughter’s voice.”
Seniors also frequently fall victim to scammers who seek to defraud them of their life savings. “They are the easiest targets as they do not know enough of the technology that enables the scammer to do that,” Yeo says.
“For example, just by providing the OTP (one-time PIN) to the scammer, it allows the scammer to take ownership of the senior’s account.”
However, amid these formidable challenges, Yeo emphasised the feasibility of enabling seniors in the digital world. Proactive measures, such as regular TV programmes addressing scams, can educate those who may not possess the digital prowess of younger generations.
“Engaging in conversations about the latest online scams, teaching seniors how cybercriminals think, and educating them on cybersecurity best practices are pivotal,” he asserts.
“While tools such as anti-malware solutions are readily available, awareness and education remain critical components of seniors’ online safety.”
Companies and technology firms entrusted with seniors’ information must also exercise heightened precautions to safeguard their data. Yeo believes that collaboration between the government, companies, and cybersecurity experts is imperative to fortify the digital defences of seniors.
With education and knowledge, experts believe that seniors will be better able to enjoy the benefits of the digital landscape without running into scams that are potentially devastating to their lives.
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