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Seniors equipped to avoid falling victim to online scams

Published:Tuesday | March 28, 2023 | 12:20 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
Shelly-Ann Thompson (left), founder and principal director, Golden Designs Limited, talks with senior citizens during a cybersecurity awareness seminar at the Manley Centre in St Andrew on Saturday.
Shelly-Ann Thompson (left), founder and principal director, Golden Designs Limited, talks with senior citizens during a cybersecurity awareness seminar at the Manley Centre in St Andrew on Saturday.

In light of increasing anxieties concerning online frauds as well as other cyberattacks, a group of senior citizens were educated on Saturday on how best to use the Internet and its applications in a safe and responsible way.

The cybersecurity seminar was hosted at the Regardless (Manley Centre) in Kingston by Shelly-Ann Thompson, founder and principal director of Golden Designs Limited.

One senior told The Gleaner that many people in her age group found it very challenging to get accustomed to smart phones and as many seniors are uneducated about various kinds of cyber threats, they are unable to mitigate against them.

“We live in a dangerous world. It is a frightening situation we are being told about,” Eugenie West said.

The senior stated that because a lot of information was disseminated on Saturday and could not be absorbed in a day, she would appreciate if more seminars could be held to keep elders in the loop on the dangers of social media and the Internet on a whole.

Thompson’s presentation, titled ‘Too Wise To Be Fooled’, covered a wide range of ways in which seniors are challenged when manoeuvring the online space.

“[Our] company has received a number of reports from senior citizens as it pertains to being defrauded, being scammed, as well as being abused when it comes to understanding and using the online space and devices, so we decided to stage this seminar,” she said.

She highlighted that some challenges seniors encountered online included a lack of familiarity with technology and online services as well as social isolation and loneliness, making them more vulnerable to scams and fraud. In addition, they have to contend with information overload, needing assistance in learning to use hand-held devices and digital services, issues with manual dexterity as a result of medical conditions that limit their functionality, and visual impairments.

Ingrid Hardy, former St Andrew parish organiser for the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC), told The Gleaner that the seminar was very informative as it drew her attention to cybersecurity issues that she had not previously known about.

The NCSC is a department within the Ministry of Labour and Social Security that focuses on creating responsive programmes that acknowledge and facilitate the enjoyment of citizens’ rights by older people.


Hardy said that cyber threats such as malware, inclusive of adware, spyware, viruses, trojans, and ransomware, were new to her and that she was also not aware of how to safeguard herself from becoming a victim of various kinds of cybercrimes.

“It was very helpful. More knowledge lets you be more aware and alert and to also be protective of your device as well [so as] to not willingly give out your information and to be quick to open things that you’re not sure of,” Hardy said.

She confessed that previously, while browsing, she would often click on pop-up advertisements prompting her to download antivirus software.

“I think we, seniors, are sometimes [in the frame of mind] where we always want to know [things], and so we are quick to open things before we think, and I think it’s very important to be more careful,” she added.

Kenton Roberts, group IT officer at Guardsman Group, gave the seniors a run-down on what they should look out for and how use the web safely.

“They’re just sending you a message to see if they can get an emotional response out of you,” he said of phishing messages and emails.

“It costs nothing to double check, but it sometimes costs everything when you assume,” he added, urging the seniors to read carefully to see which company the email was attempting to mimic.

The seniors were shown how to put antivirus apps on their devices, activate two-factor verification for added protection of their emails and other accounts, and how to create strong passwords to prevent hacking.

They also got the opportunity to ask questions about suspicious activities they had encountered with people trying to gain access to their devices, defraud them, or to get them to click on phishing messages and emails.

Some senior citizens recounted how unscrupulous individuals had phoned them, claiming that they had won money or a vehicle and demanding payment for processing fees. Their Facebook accounts were also taken over, and the hacker started to make shady phone calls and send messages to them and people they knew, attempting to sell them various things.

“The Internet, to me, is one of the biggest equalisers. When you go online, ... Facebook [and] Amazon, [for example], are not gonna ask you for your age. So young and old, all face cyber threats,” Roberts said.

Marlon Johnson, parish organiser for the NCSC with responsibility for St Andrew, told The Gleaner that the department had received various reports from seniors who have been defrauded.

“We see cases where persons just call them and are saying that they are relatives and are in need and that they should send money. [Other cases include] those who are on social media platforms, where persons reach out to them and have hacked their accounts, or they receive calls for them to send money because they have won lotteries and sweepstakes,” he explained.

Johnson noted that these cases are rectified through in-house assistance or through the intervention of the police.

Social media scams – Hackers are constantly coming up with new ways to deceive users into giving away their personal information and money, including fraudulent WhatsApp messages, scam emails, text messages, websites, social media accounts, and online dating profiles.

Romance scams – Scammers create fake online profiles on dating or social media sites to build relationships with their victims and then exploit them for financial gain. These scams typically target individuals who are looking for romantic partners, particularly those who are older, divorced, or widowed.

Banking fraud – The use of illegal means to obtain money, assets, or other property owned or held by a financial institution, or to obtain money from depositors by fraudulently posing as a bank or other financial institution.

Investment scams – These scams can take many forms, but they usually involve the promise of high returns on an investment opportunity that does not exist or is not legitimate.

Identity theft – Using another person’s personal information (e.g., name, TRN, credit card, etc) without permission.

Imposter/impersonator scams – Criminals pretend to be someone else in order to gain trust and trick their victims into providing personal information or money. They can take many forms but often involve the scammer posing as a government official, law enforcement officer, or a representative from a well-known organisation.

Grandma (grandparent/imposter) scam – A call or email to seniors in which they pretend to be their grandchild or another family member in distress. They will ask the victim to wire money to help them out of a supposed emergency.

Tech support – In this type of scam, the scammer pretends to be a tech support representative and claims that the victim’s computer is infected with a virus. They will ask the victim to download software that gives them remote access to the victim’s computer or to provide payment for tech support services.

Business/job opportunity scams – Fraudulent schemes that offer individuals the chance to make money quickly and easily (especially work-from-home opportunities).