Internet frauds target the elderly

By Angelina Cole

As the Internet continues to become a bigger part of our daily lives, the possibility for elderly people to become victims of fraud and identity theft have increased on an international scale through the use of e-mail, short-lived Web sites and other Internet databases.

“The elderly are typically prime targets of fraud in general because they usually have a lot of money sitting in bank accounts and they usually have good credit,” said Eric Carlson, notes editor for The Elder Law Journal and University law student. “Scam artists like to capitalize on the elderly’s diminishing cognitive abilities, it’s only a natural progression that the elderly are becoming a prime target in the context of Internet fraud.”

Carlson said he believes that the major reason fraud is increasing is that criminals are inevitably one or two steps ahead of the game. When fraud and identity theft happen within the United States, the Federal Trade Commission and other governmental agencies can pursue the perpetrators.

But when fraud and identity theft happen over the Internet, the abilities of the government are limited, especially when the criminal lives outside the United States.

“I think those countries should allow the extradition of those criminals to the U.S. to be prosecuted,” said Katie Lenzini, junior in LAS.

According to Carlson, there are no global standards for prosecuting fraud and identity theft criminals. To help prevent Internet fraud and identity theft, Carlson suggests that the best way young people can help is by spending time with the elderly. University journalism professor, Bill Gaines, agreed.

Gaines, who receives these fraudulent spam e-mails daily, said he believes that younger people, who are more familiar with the Internet, can help the elderly become more aware of these e-mail messages and give them more practice using the Internet.

“The younger members of families can help (the elderly) to be suspicious and to be aware,” Lenzini said. “The people I think fall for these kinds of crimes are lonely or don’t really have that family network, and probably in those cases there’s not really that much that can be done.”

Carlson suggests programs or classes within the community, through student groups or community colleges, to teach the elderly how to use the Internet. Giving them basic knowledge would help reduce the rates of fraudulent crime. These programs are few and far between, Carlson said.

“The demand for such programs is probably out-stepping the supply of said programs,” he said. “People just need to do whatever they can to urge their local community college or teach some basic classes on how to use computers, how to use the Internet and how to be safe on the Internet.”

Common methods of Internet fraud include automated e-mails, message boards and Web sites, which all contain a “too-good-to-be-true” offer. Often, a certain sum of money is promised to the recipient should they reply with personal information. Instead, the personal information is used against them and the recipient never receives the money.

“It is especially important to educate people about it,” Gaines said. “Tell as many people as possible so they’re aware.”