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Cybercriminals Target Seniors: What Employers Should Know

Five individuals based in the Philippines and the U.S. were recently arrested on charges of identity theft and fraud.

According to the 14-count indictment, the defendants started their scheme in 2014, when one of the men was working as a civilian employee at a U.S. Army installation. Through his position, he allegedly stole thousands of military members' personal information, including names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and Department of Defense identification numbers.

Three of the other defendants allegedly hacked a Department of Defense portal that allows military members to access benefits information online. The cybercriminals then used the stolen personal data to steal from military members' bank accounts as well as veterans' benefits payments.

Two of the defendants allegedly found people who would accept the stolen funds into their bank accounts and then would wire the money to the defendants and others.

The five allegedly stole millions of dollars from service members and veterans, most of whom were elderly or disabled. They are charged with multiple counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, and aggravated identify theft. "Five Fraudsters Indicted For Million Dollar Scheme Targeting Thousands of U.S. Servicemembers and Veterans" justice.gov (Aug. 21, 2019).

Commentary

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned that seniors are particularly vulnerable to cybercrime.  

According to the FBI, cybercriminals target seniors because they often have a "nest egg"; own their home; have excellent credit; they were raised during a time when people were taught to be polite and trusting; they are less likely to report identity theft; they make poor witnesses if they do report because age has affected their memory; and they are susceptible to scam products that promise increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, or cancer treatment.

Statistics show that more and more older adults are using the internet, including opening up social media accounts. At the same time, their relative lack of familiarity with cyberspace may make them more attractive targets.

To that end, employers who employ people who are not "internet savvy" run a similar risk.

Cybercriminals steal $37 billion every year from vulnerable older Americans, according to one financial services firm. However, a study conducted by the New York Office of Children and Family Services found that for every reported case of cybercrime against a senior, 44 go unreported, suggesting that the actual amount stolen annually from seniors is far greater. 

The effects of cybercrime against the elderly go beyond the financial. A study conducted by Mark Lachs, co-chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, found that elder abuse victims, which includes those who suffer financial exploitation, die at a rate three times faster than those who have not been abused.

If you believe that you or a senior you know has been the victim of cybercrime, immediately contact the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center as well as your local law enforcement agency.

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