This post can also be found at the Senior Care Blog.
For the first time in history, more than half of the nation’s senior population is online. According to a recent study by Pew Research, 53% of American adults age 65 and older use the Internet or email. While seniors’ use of social networking sites continues to boom, so does use of other networks such as Craigslist.
Craigslist can be a useful place for seniors to search out listings relating to personal hobbies, shopping for new, used, or antique items, or finding needed services and contracted help. However, given the anonymity of Craigslist, protecting one’s privacy and safety remains a top priority. Unfortunately Craigslist fraudsters are targeting older adults more than ever. In fact, elderly fraud victims lose over $2.9 billion annually from scams, up 12% from 2008. Fraud perpetrated by strangers, like Craigslist posters, accounted for 51% of reported cases.
Whether your aging parent is browsing Craigslist for himself or you are coordinating listings on their behalf, it’s important to recognize the red flags to be weary of.
Here are a few basic tips to protect yourself and your loved one from Craigslist scammers:
- Deal locally with people you can meet in person – Try to arrange transactions with people in your nearby area. To avoid added security risk, agree have the exchange take place in a public place if possible. When purchasing bulkier items such as furniture that required you to visit another person’s home, accompany your loved one or bring a companion. Either way always let someone know where you are going and when you plan on returning. Be smart about personal safety!
- Do not post personal information – Never share highly sensitive information including your home address and financial information (bank account number, social security number, PayPal info, etc). Stay guard for emails that ask for your account information, or ones that ask you to validate your identity, re-enter your password, and so on. These are red flags of a phishing scams.
- Never wire money. If a person agrees to sell you something only if your wire the funds, stay away. This is a sure sign of a scam. Never send money via Western Union, Moneygram, or other wire service. These transactions cannot be cancelled and are untraceable, which is exactly how scammers leave you high and dry.
- Beware of strange email correspondences – Emails that contain phrases uncommon in standard conversation are questionable (“good day”, “Hello Kind Sir”, or “I am gratefully indebted to your kindness” to mention a few). Broken and improper English may be another trigger, but always. If it sounds suspicious, it could be a scam. Show your parent examples of emails to stay away from, so that they can filter dangerous responses from their inbox.
- Get references. If your elderly loved one is interesting in working with a contractor they found on Craigslist, ask for references. Honest business people will be happy to provide you with proof of their good record.
- Fill out an abuse report on your parent’s behalf. If you suspect your elderly loved one has been the victim of Craigslist fraud, file an abuse report at the site immediately. Here’s a great step-by-step guide to reporting abuse, harassment, and spam on Craigslist.
Stay safe and happy hunting!
Have you or a loved one ever been involved in a Craigslist scam? What advice can you share for staying safe online?