Online Security — Seniors Try To Stay Safe In A High-Tech World

LAGUNA WOODS — Advances in technology and its growing necessity in everyday life bring the increasing vulnerability of users to cybercrimes. Despite Laguna Woods’ low crime rates, many residents have expressed concerns about cybercrime, fraud and telephone scams plaguing the community.

“(Scammers) called several times and I hung up on them,” said Helen Coutant, member of the PC Club. “I got a call back each time, scolding me for not calling them and listed scary consequences for me. These people were scary in content and tone.”

Coutant’s story is not uncommon, with California having the highest number of cybercrimes in the United States, according to an FBI report. In 2015, the state accounted for nearly 15 percent of the 288,012 cybercrime victims nationwide, the report stated, with $195 million in statewide losses.

Fortunately for Laguna Woods, new police services chief Lt. Fred Thompson has an extensive background in cybercrime and fraud, having been part of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department cybercrimes Investigations Unit.

Cybercrime, fraud and scams are a growing danger, Thompson said. Criminals tend to prey on people who are more vulnerable and susceptible to digital crimes, such as older adults, he said.

Scams typically involve dishonest allegations, ranging from claims that a grandchild vacationing in Europe is in need of emergency money to demanding payment of a fine for missing jury duty, Thompson said. The easiest way a person can avoid becoming a victim to these scams is by simply hanging up the phone, he said, since most government agencies send information by mail only.

“Most of us here in the Village were not born in a generation where we used computers much, if at all,” said Bob Sellards, president of the PC Club. “We have many people who come in (to the PC workshop) and we’re all trying to catch up with our grandkids.”

Sellards and Coutant suspect that criminals could be using the Laguna Woods ZIP code to track down phone numbers of elderly people as targets.

“The likelihood of getting a senior who lives in this Village is very high,” Sellards said. “If you make enough calls, it’s just the law of averages; if you make 20 calls a day you just need one or two to bite.”

In addition to fraud and telephone scams, Thompson said, he fears the “internet of things” will become another opportunity for crime. The internet of things includes any device that connects to the internet, such as mobile-operated security systems, garage doors and other smart devices. Since these devices are connected to a network, criminals can access them if they are able to hack into the network.

Avoid becoming a victim to cybercrime, fraud or scams by using common sense, Thompson said. Take precautionary steps such as using firewalls on computers and difficult passwords.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, current scams include a text-phishing scheme claiming to be Social Security and asking for personal information, online employment scams that offer free checks, a tech-support scam claiming the caller is from Microsoft Tech, telephone requests for tax information, and a warrant for your arrest.

The Sheriff’s Department website is a good resource for those who want to learn more about scams and cybercrime and how to avoid them. The PC Club teaches its members how to avoid becoming victims of cybercrime, fraud and telephone scams, Sellards said.

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