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Increased spending by consumers means there’s increased fraud activity. Here’s some tips to avoid falling victim to cyber fraud during the holiday shopping season.

“Cybercrime has gotten more sinister and significant,” said head of Citibank’s fraud prevention unit Mike Steinbach. “The American public needs to know fraud has evolved. You shouldn’t be waiting on monthly, quarterly reports. You should be checking your accounts regularly.”

The number of elderly victims has risen at an alarming rate, while the loss amounts are even more staggering. In 2021, over 92,000 victims over the age of 60 reported losses of $1.7 billion to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That represents a 74% increase in losses compared with losses reported in 2020.

Among older victims, the most prevalent crimes were tech support, non-payment/non-delivery and identity theft, the FBI said. But the crimes that reaped the biggest dollars included romance and confidence schemes, which totaled $432 million.

“Fraudsters have cyber tools to target phones and emails en masse and they’re hoping for someone to bite. All it takes is for one person to take the bait,” Steinbach said. “Some are very easy to see. Some are very hard to see. Some sound and look very legitimate.”

“All ages and all demographics are at risk. No one is immune – everyone is a potential target. But the elderly have savings, IRAs and other retirement accounts. Fraudsters go where the money is,” Steinbach said.

Cybercrime costs include damage and destruction of data, stolen money, lost productivity, theft of intellectual property, theft of personal and financial data, among other losses.

A 2020 report from Cybersecurity Ventures expects global cybercrime costs to grow by 15% per year over the next five years, reaching $10.5 trillion annually by 2025.

A Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2022 “Identity Fraud Study: The Virtual Battleground,” which found a 90% increase in account takeover from 2020 to 2021.

Identity fraud losses tallied $52 billion in 2021, affecting at least 42 million American adults, as hackers moved more aggressively into “hijacking victims’ online lives,” the study found.

The Justice Department said this month it was expanding its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, adding 14 additional U.S. Attorney’s Offices, up from six offices, in a move to combat sophisticated fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.

Some tips for avoiding scams, according to Citi, the FBI and AARP:

Scammers have learned how to spell: Fraudsters have gotten smarter and now send emails and text links that closely imitate those from real companies or other trusted individuals and that may appear to be legitimate.

Be skeptical of unsolicited messages: Be aware of seemingly real emails, texts and phone calls that ask you to urgently provide personal or account information. Don’t click on a link from any email or text that you receive unexpectedly and delete unsolicited incoming emails and texts. Additionally, don’t provide any personal identifying or account information to any inbound communication by phone, email or text.
Be aware that the federal government will not call you unsolicited and ask for personal information. The agencies already have details like your Medicare and Social Security numbers. No federal government agency will initiate a serious contact with you through social media, text or email. Most correspondence from the government would come from the U.S. Postal Service.

Use multiple passwords: Vary the passwords used on your email, online banking, credit card accounts and other financial accounts and change them every three months, ideally. If you use only one password for everything, a swindler could quickly gain control of your email and that’s a gateway to all of your financial accounts. So mix up your passwords with strong combinations of letters and numbers or “passphrases” — a random combination of words, plus numbers and symbols, to make them impossible to guess. Never keep passwords in a list on your computer.

Don’t take the call — make the call: If you get a call from an unknown number, don’t answer it or return it. Instead, contact your bank yourself by logging in to its secure website or by calling the known customer service number from the back of your card to review account activity and information.
Even if you get a call from a number which appears on caller ID as your bank’s name and number, do not provide personal information on that inbound call as fraudsters can easily spoof the incoming caller ID information. Legitimate customer service, security, or tech support companies will not initiate unsolicited contact with individuals. Meanwhile, if a “tech support” pop-up or error message appears with a phone number, don’t call that number. Error and warning messages never include phone numbers.

Slow down: Resist the pressure to act quickly. Criminals will urge the victim to act fast to protect their device or account.

Educate your loved ones: Even if your loved ones aren’t tech savvy, you can help them by explaining schemes that target older adults, such as grandparent scams in which a person calls claiming to be a grandchild or on behalf of a loved one who needs money in an emergency.

When recently sentencing one of eight perpetrators of a grandparent scam, a federal judge described such scams “heartbreakingly evil.” That group engaged in criminal enterprise extortion and fraud to swindle more than $2 million from elderly victims across the country.

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