Senior Tech Scams: The Big Three

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Even more so at holiday time, seniors are a tech scammers’ ideal target.  Here’s information on three sneaky scams designed to gain remote control of your  computers. Be alert to the Big Three!

The Scary Pop Up Scam

You get a scary screen pop-up* alerting you to a “serious problem” with your computer. Naturally, there’s a phone number to call for immediate help — and since you’re worried AND can’t remove the pop-up, you dial.

The Malware Phone Call Scam 

You receive a call telling you that your computer is infected with malware. The caller ID numbers appear to be legitimate: it comes from Microsoft, Dell, AOL or the like.

The Legit-Looking Email Scam

You receive what appears to be a legitimate email from a payment service you use (g., Venmo, Square, Zell, PayPal). You’re advised that your account will be debited for a gift card. There’s a number to call, of course. Since you didn’t make the purchase, you dial immediately.

Don’t touch that phone!

In any of these scams, you’ll find yourself in prompt telephone contact with a  smooth-as-silk con man or woman. Once you’ve been convinced that there’s a serious problem, you’re prepped for the next step: agreeing to install a remote-access program that allows the stranger to operate your computer.

Depending on the scam, here’s what happens next.

Repair Scams

Repair Scams: The criminals “assess” your computer’s “problem(s)” while actually running harmless, bizaare-looking programs. Odd symbols and strange letters and numbers will race across your screen. You’re told they’re signs of corruption, increasing your worry/concern.

The scammer will then offer to “fix” your “problem” and get your credit card information to make (sometimes hundreds of dollars worth of) fake “repairs”. If you’re lucky, that’s the end of it – but worse things sometimes happen:

  • Additional fraudulent charges may be made to your credit card.
  • Malware may be installed that allows hackers to steal your identity, including your passwords and financial information.

Refund Scam 

Refund Scam: With access to your computer, the crook enters a fake deposit on your account statement. The scammer then leads you to believe that while correcting the problem, you made a typo – entered, say, $5,000 instead of $500 – to make the appropriate correction.

You’re told that if the money is simply withdrawn from your payment account, the IRS must assess a 28% transfer fee because the payment service is an international concern. That’s a hefty four-figure sum.  Solution?  Send gift cards totaling the money due; there will be no (IRS-assessed) withdrawal penalty and both sides will be square.

Yes, people, including financially sophisticated men and women, actually fall for this scam.

Avoiding Tech Scams

A dash of savvy and a sprinkling of common sense will protect you. Follow these guidelines:

  • Never give remote access control to anyone you don’t know.
  • Computer and government tech support specialists never cold call. If you get such a call, it’s a scam. Hang up.
  • Legitimate computer companies don’t put their phone numbers on  pop-up warnings asking people to call.  If you get such a warning, it’s a scam.

*You may have trouble closing the pop-up: They’re coded to be resistant to closing. In this case, force close your browser. If you’re using Windows: hit Ctrl + Alt + Delete and open the Task Manager. If you’re on a Mac: hit Command + Option + Escape.

Are You Digital Skills Ready?

Want to get even more digitally savvy? Senior Planet is proud to work with AARP Foundation on the Digital Skills Ready@50+™ initiative, made possible through a generous grant from The resources  are focused on digital essentials to help older adults find and secure jobs, change careers, or explore entrepreneurship. Visit here to learn more and register  – registration is required.

Nona Aguilar is an award-winning writer of numerous magazine articles and two books. She has also edited four specialty business newsletter publications. Her work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Family Circle and Cosmopolitan, and in The Business Owner.

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