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Blog · Community & Lifestyle

Clear and present danger


One in five Australians believe their online safety has been compromised in the past 12 months.

Of these, the largest security breaches occurred via either an email account or via social media. The remainder were made up by computer, banking, smartphone, tablet hacks or threats to cloud storage facilities.

That’s just one of the many frightening scenarios highlighted in EY’s Sweeney’s Digital Australia: State of the Nation’s 2017 report which unsurprisingly found cyber security is uppermost in the minds of most Australians.

And it is not without good reason.

The Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) is the government’s reporting and referral service for cybercrime and online incidents under Australian law. According to statistics from ACORN, in the three months from 1 April to 30 June, 2018, there were more than 13,600 reports made to its hotline with scams or fraud, purchase or sale and cyber bullying the top three most popular cybercrimes. This was up from 11,800 from the same reporting period in 2017.

Queensland accounted for almost one third of all offences reported (30%) followed by Victoria (26%) and NSW (22%). Over 17% of all victims were aged 60 or over.

Similarly, figures come from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)’s ninth annual Targeting Scams report found these equated to losses totalling $340 million.

As well as noting a $40 million increase in reported losses from the previous year, the report also showed that investment scams were most common, with Australians aged 55 to 64 reporting the highest amount of losses, and those over 65 lodging the highest number of reports.

Scamwatch, a website run by the ACCC, says active seniors are an attractive target for would-be scammers because they tend to have more money and more accumulated wealth than their younger counterparts.

They are also seen as generally less internet and computer savvy by scammers who rely on the fact active seniors will be less familiar with new technologies.

As such, many scammers choose to scour dating sites and social media for older Australians who have recently divorced or lost a long-term partner, in the hope of identifying those in a vulnerable emotional state.

“Scammers take advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be prospective companions. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details.”

Other common online scams targeting older Australians include investment scams involving getting you or your business to part with money on the promise of a questionable financial opportunity; unexpected prize, lottery and inheritance scams, where they ask you to pay some sort of feed in order to claim a prize or winnings or trick you into sharing your bank or credit card details.

Another troubling scam doing the rounds is a so-called rebate scam where scammers try to convince you that you are entitled to a rebate or reimbursement from the government, a bank or trusted organisation and phishing scams, called phishing scams because they’re fishing for information on you – the ‘ph’ comes from ‘phone’).

Usually the scammer warns that something might happen to you or your finances if you don’t confirm your personal information by logging into the website. This site may adopt the appearance of the real website of your bank, power or phone company, but is actually fake, as is the phone number provided.

Mark Young, the club support officer at Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association (ASCCA) – which has more than 100-member clubs across every state in Australia – says the problem is compounded because many seniors feel they have been pushed by well-intentioned family members into online social networks and applications such as Instagram, FaceTime and Facebook.

Mark says active seniors who use the Internet are often passive viewers rather than posting their own photos online but have come to realise that, without using these tools they are likely to miss out on photos and interaction with their loved ones.

Others, he says, are determined not to use social media and mention this at their first opportunity.

Seniors come from a time where people ‘minded their own business’ and privacy was a habit. The self-promotion and the broadcasting of trivial events in social media is alien to them, he says.

Mark, whose volunteer peak body organisation provides learning materials to member clubs to allow them to teach seniors how to use digital technology, says the biggest fears and concerns are a lack of control when using technology.

“When coming to lessons about devices, such as smartphones, active seniors often say that they ‘just want to know more’. They don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t feel ownership of the technology. They sometimes get sporadic help by younger people that consists of explaining things too quickly or, worse, doing it for them.”

He says active seniors are certainly alert to all the media hype about the dangers of the Internet and loss of money is a huge concern to people who have a limited amount.

“Having your privacy invaded is another. The ‘if it’s too good to be true…’ cliché is unhelpful when you understand very little of it. The possibility of a mobile phone was ‘too good to be true’ once and now many of us have one.”

To assist active seniors to stay ahead of online scammers, the government has launched a new digital literacy program specifically tailored to older Australians to help them increase their online confidence, skills and safety.

The program, Be Connected, offers free courses on everything from how to access the internet, to using your device and keeping in touch with others online.

Also available in a range of other languages, including Arabic, Spanish, Macedonian and Greek, topics covered in the guide include the essentials of staying safer online such as why we need strong passwords, how to create and remember these passwords and how to avoid common mistakes; how to download and save documents; and how to pay safely online.

Mark says from ASCCA’s point of view, the best thing Australia’s active seniors can do is to learn more about digital technology to help lessen their chances of being targeted by scammers.

With more knowledge, a person can evaluate if a website or email might be a scam while they are also better positioned to know where to get help should the worst happen, he says.


Click the button below to discover more great articles in our latest issue of Chapter magazine.

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