Tech support scams targeting seniors on the rise

Emma McGowan 20 Apr 2022

Tech support scammers target older people because they believe them to be more trusting and they tend to be more financially secure than younger people.

When Phyllis Weisberg, 90, received a phone call claiming that there was an issue with her computer, she knew she had to do something right away. The person on the other end told her that they could help her — but it would be for a fee. Phyllis, a widow, trusted the young person on the other end of the line and she went right to her bank to arrange a wire.

"They warned me not to discuss the issue on the telephone with anyone, because these bad guys could hear all my conversations,” Phyllis says. “They sent me an address and asked me to send a wire with money. I went to the branch closer to home. A very young fellow asked me the questions the scammers told me he would ask and I responded in the way they asked me to. I had all the answers programmed for me.”

Unfortunately, the people calling were not there to help. They were thieves conducting a “tech support scam,” which is when a scammer calls, messages, emails, or uses pop-ups to convince someone that there’s an issue with their device. Through the wire and other tactics, they gained access to Phyllis’ bank account — and stole $20,000.

The scammers use high-pressure scare tactics to gain remote access to victims’ computers or, as was the case with Phyllis, to get them to send large amounts of cash. They’ll usually pose as someone from a recognized, reputable organization like a bank, hospital, or software company (we’ve even had reports of scammers posing as Avast) in order to create an immediate layer of trust with potential victims. 

"My first reaction was total embarrassment that I would do anything that stupid,” Phyllis says. “It took me quite a while to realize I wasn’t the only one who was being taken advantage of. All I can do now is warn others and just hope that this will at least help one other person avoid going through this.”

And Phyllis is not alone. A 2021 survey conducted by Avast in partnership with YouGov found that 82% of people over the age of 65 in the United States have received a phone call from someone who was trying to scam them. We also observed a 251% increase in consumer attacks from January 2021 to December of the same year. And, according to the FBI, 66% of the victims of tech support scams in 2020 were over 60 years of age and the total loss of money amounted to over $116 million. 

Tech support scammers specifically target older people because they believe them to be more trusting, hope they might have memory problems, and they tend to be more financially secure than younger people. They are professionals whose entire job is scamming and stealing money from people like Phyllis.

Luckily, there are ways to protect yourself and your loved ones against this kind of scam — and you’ve already taken the first step by reading this. You should also know that no legitimate tech support will ever contact you without you contacting them first. If someone does, hang up immediately, and call someone you trust right away.

If you’ve already given them access to your devices or your bank accounts, call your financial institution immediately, let them know what happened, and see if it’s possible to block any outgoing payments or wires. Then, call a legitimate company to make sure that your device doesn’t have any viruses or lingering software placed there by the scammers. The best way to ensure that a company is legitimate is to get contact information from someone in your life that you trust or to navigate to a website on your own. Do not call any numbers or click any links sent to you by someone you don’t know, even if you recognize the name of the organization they claim to be from.                                       

Avast has teamed up with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) in order to help you protect yourself and your loved ones from tech support (and other) scams. Head over to their Avoiding Scams for Older Adults page and watch the video below for more information.


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