December 18, 2018 Technology

Protecting Yourself

Jeffrey Allen & Ashley Hallene

Not to be depressing, but as we age we slow down physically and eventually, mentally. Some slow down mentally before physically, some physically before mentally. Some slow down earlier in their life, others later. However, one thing is certain: each of us that lives long enough will ultimately experience some mental and physical decline. As a result, older people have become a prime target for those who seek illicit financial gain or to steal identities. Because technology often plays a major role in such financial misdeeds, the fact that many (most) seniors remain technologically challenged makes them far easier targets than those with a better command of technology. 

Interestingly, often as the quickness of mental capacity slows down, experience substitutes, allowing older people to continue to function with relative ease. Whether younger or older, the fact that you know technology reasonably well will not make you invulnerable to attack. However, it may give you some ability to resist and to protect yourself. Bottom line, the more you know about technology, the safer you make yourself.

Some of the reasons that the bad guys target older people include:

  • Older Americans did not grow up with modern technology and do not have great comfort levels with it. The bad guys can confuse them due to the lack of understanding of how technology works. 
  • Senior citizens are more likely than younger people to have money in their bank account making them ideal choices for identity theft.
  • Seniors may fear that reporting that they were victimized by such a scam may make others think that their mental capacity has diminished to the point that they cannot care for themselves.

Don’t think that you make yourself safe by not using smartphones, tablets, or computers.  Some of the scams use the most basic of our technology. For example, any old phone will do for making a call to a senior to try to get the personal information necessary to allow identity theft. By way of example, Jeff and his wife received four identical phone calls last week from someone who claimed to be a “Social Security enforcement officer” who was investigating fraud involving a social security number at their address. The message left a phone number and asked for a return phone call.  As an added inducement to get a return call, the message said that all social security benefits would be terminated pending the outcome of the investigation. No doubt had the call been returned, the bad guys would have asked for identification such as name, social security number, address, and birth date.  The message did not provide the name of the person being “investigated,” any digits in the social security number, or anything else that would have made it more credible. Jeff and his wife knew better than to return the call; however, it is a good bet that many seniors would do so, thinking it really was the Social Security Administration. This is just an example of one of many scams that have cropped up in recent years.  

The bad guys have learned to use many forms of technology to facilitate their efforts. Accordingly, self-preservation requires constant vigilance, and the more knowledge you have about technology, the better.

You are vulnerable via any telephone, email, computer use of the Internet, and even the use of an ATM machine (not an exhaustive list). We have given you an example of the telephone; here are some others:

  1. ATM machine. In the not too distant past, one of the local banks discovered that bad guys had installed a video camera outside the front door of the bank to observe and record (i.e. steal) entries of passwords and other information entered into an ATM machine.
  2. Email can come with links to phony websites and/or attachments that can download malware to your computer that can transmit personal information to the bad guys. It is not difficult to build a phony website or to create letterhead that looks real. It is amazingly simple to get a copy of a logo from a financial institution, corporation, or government agency, and create letterhead or a web page or an email using it.
  3. Using public WiFi can allow bad guys to scan your electronics to gain access to the information they contain.

So, other than disconnecting from all technology and the outside world, staying in bed, pulling the covers over your head and hiding, what can you do to protect yourself? 

First of all, you must understand that we are talking about risk minimization. NOTHING can give you absolute protection. Second, take the following steps:

  1. Never connect directly to public WiFi. Either use your own secure cellular hotspot or protect yourself with a Virtual Private Network (“VPN”).
  2. Never give personal information to anyone who calls you claiming an official capacity. Call a number you have verified belongs to the agency/business and deal with them. Don’t simply call back the number someone gives you over the phone when they call you.
  3. Don’t trust urgent request emails purporting to be from family or friends. Contact them by phone or in person to verify.
  4. Don’t rely on links provided in emails to go to websites to resolve a problem.  Independently go to the company’s website using a known safe URL (Internet address), call them using a known safe number, or go visit them in person.
  5. Don’t respond to emails from unknown persons or with questionable email addresses. For example, Bank of America will not send an email to you using a non-B of A server:  billpay@billpay.bankofamerica.com is a Bank of America email;  George@yahoo.com is not. Be very careful, however, and do not rely exclusively on what appears to be right. An email with the bank of America logo and letterhead set up on it may still be spoofed. For example, someone could set up a server named bankamerica.com and send an email to you from billpay@billpay.bankamerica.com and copy and paste the Bank of America logo (as we have done below).

 

BOA logo

BOA logo

If you respond to the email from the real Bank of America address, the bank will likely get your response. If you respond to the phony address, it will not, and the bad guys will. The risk is not just a faked financial institution. It took less than a second for Google to assemble all of the following images while we wrote this article:

Google search of logos

Google search of logos

Armed with such logos, the bad guys can make phony web pages, emails, and letters that will fool most people.

In writing this article, we did not intend to scare you away from technology. But, if we have scared you a bit, that is a good thing. We want to encourage you to use technology, but we want you to do so carefully and safely.

Authors

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is a co-author of the ABA book Technology Tips for Seniors. 

Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology and Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport.