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For seniors, no “retirement” from online vigilance

“Hi, Grandma, it’s your favorite grandson,” says the urgent e-mail. “I’m in a big jam. I’ve had a serious accident in California, and I need $10,000 right away. Can you help me out?” Grandma wires the $10,000 to her “grandson” and never recovers the funds. As the number of seniors online increases, so will their vulnerability to scams. 

Although once seen as “cyber-phobic,” seniors are spending more time online for more purposes—such as shopping, banking and research.  Internet users ages 50 to 64 grew by 88 percent between 2009 and 2010, and 45 percent of seniors ages 70 to 75 use social networking.

Experts expect these trends to increase substantially as the oldest baby boomers begin reaching 65 next year. Just as the older population is soaring, so is the cost of Internet fraud on the rise. Seniors are unfortunately attractive targets for all types of scams. People age 55 and older control roughly 70 percent of the nation’s household wealth and often have large nest eggs sitting dormant in bank accounts, as well as large amounts of equity in their homes.  Seniors are less likely than other groups to review their credit card or other financial statements for signs of fraud and to report fraud because of shame and fear of being judged incompetent.

 These crimes require immediate action. National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 10-16)—with its theme Reshaping the Future, Honoring the Past—is an opportune time to highlight Internet fraud against seniors and other emerging crimes. The theme encourages us to use the lessons of the past (such as the power of grassroots activism to change laws and policies) to thwart current and future crimes. We can insist on stronger laws, more effective enforcement, and stronger sentences for Internet fraud against seniors.  We can ask the media to sound the alarm about these crimes, and we can better equip seniors to protect themselves.

By mobilizing to prevent fraud against seniors, we can reshape the future and honor the past during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and the years to come. Reducing online fraud against seniors helps create a safer future for all Americans.

This year Vermont celebrates Victims Rights Week with an all-day event, Friday April 15, 2011, featuring a workshop and keynote address by internationally renowned author Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, whose work helps guide professionals exposed to others hardship and trauma develop sustainable work practices and self-care. The annual crime victims award ceremony will be held in the afternoon. For more information contact the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services at 1-800-750-1213 or go to www.ccvs.state.vt.us

Susan S. Russell lives in Warren.

 

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