My mother received a call the other day from a "nice young man" who wanted to help her with a virus on her computer. She let him talk for a while about the security of her data and how her privacy was being compromised, before breaking in to tell him that she didn’t actually own a computer and wouldn’t know where to turn it on if she did!

Mum is eighty-four and, according to the ACCC's Scamwatch, a  prime candidate to be caught in one of the many scams doing the rounds. While we would all do well to be alert, people over 65 are most vulnerable they say. Perhaps it is that they are more trusting or less familiar with modern methods of communication. But loneliness and reduced cognitive function can put many seniors at serious risk.

Some of the most common scams targeting older Australians are:

Dating & romance scams which 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 people to provide money, gifts or personal details.

Investment schemes that persuade people to part with money on the promise of a questionable financial "opportunity".

Unexpected prize and lottery scams where a person is contacted and asked  to pay some sort of fee in order to claim a prize or winnings from a competition or lottery they never entered.

Inheritance scams offering the false promise of a windfall inheritance once bank or credit card details are shared.

Reclaim scams  try to convince people that they are entitled to a rebate or reimbursement from the government, a bank or trusted organisation. Of course banking details are sought in order for the money to be paid out.

Charity scams which play on emotion to elicit funds for bogus causes and appeals.

Scammers  may contact their targets via phone, mailbox, inbox or in person. Some present themselves as large companies, as in the case of Mum's nice young man who claimed to be from Telstra. Others use a more personal approach, like the notorious Nigerian princes who appeal to you as a long lost relative or ideal candidate to help them through the difficult task of giving away their fortunes.

As we get wise to one approach, another emerges and as scammers become increasingly sophisticated in their methods, even the most alert among us should be on guard.

So how can we protect those who are particularly vulnerable and often specifically targeted? The degree to which we assist will be largely determined by our friend or loved one's age and decision making capabilities, but the following tips should help.

  • Keep track of the latest scams and alert loved ones to them. Scamwatch has up to date information on the who, what and how of current scams and  advice on how to prevent harm. Their links to online resources and e-safety sites are also worth a look.
  • Don't open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or emails from unknown addresses.
  • Keep computers updated to guard against malware which can corrupt files, or phishing expeditions, aimed at getting details such as passwords and credit card information
  • Keep personal details safe by  keeping mail safe. Crimestoppers recommends emptying mailboxes regularly and adding a lock to prevent mail and identity theft. 
  • Choose passwords and PINS carefully; they must be memorable and retrievable but not easy to predict or guess.
  • Advise elderly friends and relatives  to initiate contact with charities they wish to support , rather than responding to cold call appeals. If they wish to check on the legitimacy of a charity, the ACNC's register is a good place to start.