Online Fraud: 7 Common Scams & Tips for Avoiding Them

Couple looking at computer
October 9th, 2021

Scammers still rely on the phone, but they’ve also expanded their frauds to the digital world. Staying vigilant and skeptical is critical to avoid being defrauded. Protect yourself by protecting your personal and financial data. Distrust any request for your Social Security Number or payment via credit or debit card, ACH, EFT or other option. Read more about elder financial fraud.

“Fraudsters target seniors because, compared to younger victims, seniors often have more available cash,” notes Ron Cresswell, J.D., CFE, Research Specialist at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. “Seniors also tend to check their financial accounts and credit reports less frequently, and they are generally less aware of common fraud schemes. Ideally, you should check your financial accounts online every day and investigate any transactions you don’t recognize.”

7 Online Scams Targeting Seniors

According to the FBI, these are the 7 most common online elder fraud scams:

1. Romance

Some people on social media and dating apps pretend to be romantically interested to earn your trust and affection before asking for gifts or money. Defense: Turn down requests politely and move on.

2. Tech support

Fraudsters email you offering technical support for bogus issues like viruses or software upgrades, then gain access to your computer and sensitive files and data. Defense: Don’t give random people remote access to your computer.

3. Relative in need

Criminals can learn a lot about you from your social media accounts, including the names of family members. This supports “spoofing”, the email form of forgery. The spoofer sends an email posing as a relative—usually a child or grandchild—claiming to be in immediate financial need. Defense: Contact another family member close to the person.

4. Government impersonation

Like the family member scam, some people email you saying they represent a government agency and threaten to arrest or prosecute you if you don’t pay. Defense: Resist the pressure. Find the agency’s contact information (not a number provided in the email) and reach out directly to find out if the request is authentic.

5. False advertising

Pop-up ads and emails target potential victims by advertising services, such as reverse mortgages, credit repair or even home services, that require advance payment – with no intention of providing them. Defense: Don’t pay in advance for services.

6. Phishing

Phishers send emails that look authentic and direct you to visit a website (which also looks real) where you’re asked to enter account or Social Security numbers. Defense: Don’t click on any links or attachments in unsolicited emails or text messages that instruct you to update or verify account information. Look up the company’s phone number (don’t use the one a potential scammer is providing) and call to ask if the request is authentic.

7. Corona virus vaccine and booster shots

Fraudsters take advantage of COVID-19 concerns, sending emails or placing online ads and social media content promoting opportunities to pay for a shot or to reserve a spot near the front of the line. They may also offer to ship the vaccine directly to you. Defense: Decline all offers and contact your doctor’s office for accurate information. The vaccine/booster is free and attempts to “jump the line” are false.

4 Things to Do If You’ve Been Scammed Online

If you think you’ve been a victim of online fraud, don’t feel embarrassed. Instead, take action.

  1. “File a police report with local law enforcement authorities and keep a copy,” Cresswell advises. “You can also file a report with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.”
  2. Notify your financial institution for any affected accounts.
  3. “Request a copy of your credit report and continue to monitor your credit in the future to look for anything unusual,” Cresswell adds.
  4. Report scams to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip via

Use this advice to be more aware of criminal tactics and safeguard yourself and your loved ones from online scams.