YOUth should know: How to help your grandparents spot and avoid online scams

You can download applications on your phone to help block spam calls and texts.

Farhana Subuhan

Published: 25 November 2022, 1:26 PM

Online scams have been rife in Singapore and many, especially the elderly, have fallen prey to a spate of text-phishing scams. 

The Singapore Police Force shared that the top three common scams in 2021 involving seniors aged 60 and above were phishing, social media impersonation, and investment scams. The number of phishing scams also saw a three-fold increase as compared to 2020 among the elderly.

This Grandparents’ Day, Youthopia spoke with Lucian Teo, an online safety ambassador at Google, to find out how youths can do their part as tech advocates to prevent seniors from falling prey to these online scams.

1. What are some possible types of online scams? What might they look like?

According to Lucian, most online scams are attempts to steal either personal information or money, or both, from an individual. Scammers can do this in a variety of ways.

Love scams are one of the most common scams in Singapore, where the scammer pretends to befriend their targets online. Building a fake relationship over time, they use that trust to extract payment by asking for financial help or providing “investment opportunities”, shared Lucian.

In addition, deception tricks people into giving their personal information such as login credentials into a phishing site that looks exactly like a trusted site.

There are also get rich quick schemes and fake job postings that invite targets to send their information or money to a false platform or contact.

Lucian added that there are fake urgent notices that get people to act before something bad happens. For example, one could receive a notice to send a small sum of money for the customs authority to process a parcel that has violated some law.

2. What can we do to illustrate examples of everyday scams to our grandparents?

When you receive a suspicious text or a call in the presence of your grandparents, take it as an opportunity to share with your grandparents and discuss if they can differentiate if it’s real or otherwise, advised Lucian.

Another suggestion is to have your grandparents roleplay as scammers, and brainstorm with them on what scammers would typically do to steal information or money.

Walk your grandparents through some strategies scammers employ, but be mindful of not scaring them off the Internet entirely, said Lucian.

“While waiting for family dinner or when spending time together, offer to walk them through apps or processes that might be unfamiliar or confusing, and would only take several minutes.”

He added that seniors can be taught to store their passwords safely, strengthen their Google Accounts, and block calls and SMSes made by scammers through ScamShield.

3. What should you do if your grandparents inform you that they have received a message asking them to pay a fee?

Lucian reminds young adults to suspend judgements, learn together, and take action in such a situation.

Expose your grandparents to the many scams, schemes, and types of misinformation that they can come across online by walking through with them on signs that show it is not a legitimate request and what they should look out for, suggested Lucian.

You can also check out Google’s online phishing quiz to see if you and your family members can tell what is fake.

Lastly, teach your grandparents to take action by reporting the suspicious message to the messaging or social media platform. Lucian recommends following the Triple S rule:

  • Slow it down: Scammers often create a sense of urgency so that they can bypass your better instincts. Take your time and ask questions to avoid being rushed into a bad situation.
  • Spotcheck: Do your research to double check the details you’re getting. If you get an unexpected phone call, hang up. If you get an email, instead of clicking on the link sent to you, you could go directly to your bank, telco or government agency’s website and login from there.
  • Stop! Don’t send: No reputable person or agency will ever demand payment on the spot. Often, scammers will insist that you pay them through gift cards – which are meant only to be given as a gift, not as payment under threat. So if you think the payment feels fishy, it probably is.

4. What are some of the apps that the elderly can download to prevent being scammed?

Lucian shared that the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) launched ScamShield – a mobile app available on both iOS and Android which identifies and filters out scam messages using artificial intelligence. 

It also blocks calls from phone numbers that were used in other scam cases or reported by ScamShield users. These two functions reduce opportunities for scammers to reach out to intended victims.

He added that Google Messages provides end-to-end encryption that allows no one, including Google and third parties, to read messages as they travel between devices. It also contains built-in spam protection that allows users to block and report spammers, block entire conversations, and flag any suspected spam messages.

You can recommend strengthening your grandparents’ account security by adding a two-step verification to verify it’s you, so that if a hacker manages to get your password, they still won’t be able to get into your account.

5. Phishing scams can be a little tricky to spot even for young adults, given their similarities to the original website. What are some signs that the elderly can look out for on the website if they happen to click these links?

Lucian advises users to always pause and not click on links that you are unsure of, as some scammers try to make their link very similar to the real site. Users can start by checking the URL bars to spot fishy links.

To avoid being phished, Lucian recommends verifying the links and taking an extra step by checking the site status to know it’s safe through Google’s Safe Browsing site. You can go straight to the organisation’s homepage and navigate to the section that you want.

He also advises to contact the authorities or organisations directly for clarification rather than relying on links in the message, or numbers provided.

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