*In August 2023, a gang of fraudsters, including a bank employee and an insurance agent, convinced a 63-year-old to sell off her house and transfer the proceeds to their accounts for investment purposes.
*In June this year, a bank executive was booked for siphoning off Rs 67 lakh from a senior citizen’s bank account in Mumbai. She had trusted her relationship manager to transact on her behalf and realised she had been duped when she needed to pay a hospital bill.
These are just a couple of instances of frauds against senior citizens in India reported by the media. While these involve elaborate plans by fraudsters to wipe off senior citizens’ accounts, cases of digital frauds abound as well.
While India has made huge strides in digital adoption in banking and transactions, senior citizens who are gullible and are not that tech-savvy, are facing its ugly side.
According to the annual report of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for fiscal year 2022-23, the digital payment sector experienced the highest incidence of frauds within banks. There were 13,530 cases of frauds, up from 9,097 in 2021-22.
The banking sector, on its part, has also taken note of the rising instances of frauds targeting seniors and has implemented safeguards in place.
Says Madhivanan Balakrishnan, executive director and chief operating officer, IDFC FIRST Bank: “We have an extremely mature regulator that understands that it’s a big risk in today’s world. There are people who are using tech to attack, exploit by digging up your data. So, cybersecurity is very important. What banks are doing is reinforcing the mechanisms without making the journey painful. In this respect, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 is very important.”
Despite the checks and balances, the senior citizen segment remains vulnerable to frauds.
What Makes Senior Citizens Susceptible To Frauds?
According to Sachin Yadav, partner, forensic-financial advisory, Deloitte India, most senior citizens are not well-versed with the rapid changes in technology, which leads to a lack of familiarity with online security practices and makes them vulnerable.
Also, the elderly are from an era that values trust and figures of authority. Fraudsters take advantage of this attitude by pretending to be bank employees or government agents, persuading senior citizens to reveal confidential information.
Further, seniors who are socially isolated or living alone might crave for interaction, which makes them more likely to engage with scammers via phone or email. “Loneliness can cloud their judgement and make them susceptible to manipulation,” Yadav says.
Common Frauds They Face
There are various types of digital scams that seniors are susceptible to. The most common among these are:
Phishing: Impersonation and phising are the most common scams. Seniors might receive emails, messages, or calls that appear to be from their bank or a legitimate organisation, asking for personal or financial information. “These scams aim to trick them into revealing sensitive details. Scammers may pretend to be a bank representative, government official, or a family member in distress, requesting money or sensitive information,” says Adhil Shetty, CEO, BankBazaar.com.
Malicious Software: Seniors might unknowingly download malicious software that can steal their personal information or lock them out of their devices until a ransom is paid. Such malware also allow criminals to gain unauthorised access to their online banking account, potentially leading to unauthorised transactions.
Promise Of Prizes Or Additional Interest: Some callers make offers, such as prizes or additional interest on money already parked in the bank in exchange for bank account details.
Says Ekta Rai, advocate, Delhi High Court. “Not being aware of the fact that banks do not offer such schemes, the senior citizens end up sharing their account details, which allows the fraudsters to access other sensitive data with new-age hacking softwares and wipe out the account.”
Often the seniors receive messages on their phones of excess amount being credited to their bank accounts. Subsequently, they receive a call requesting for repayment of the excess amount credited through a payment app. “The senior citizens, not being aware of what specifics to check in the messages, fall for the false pleas of the fraudster,” says Rai.
Tech Support Scams: Many may not be conversant with the latest technology. There have been instances of senior citizens receiving unsolicited calls or pop-up messages claiming to be from tech support or a bank’s customer service. “These scammers often convince them to grant remote access to their computers or mobile devices, allowing the fraudsters to steal personal information or instal malicious software to gain remote access to their devices,” says Yadav.
How Can Seniors Stay Safe?
While the high incidence of such frauds and news of people being robbed of their money is scary, there are ways to avoid these.
Verify All Communications: Yadav says that seniors citizens should always validate the authenticity of any communication, especially unsolicited emails, calls, or messages. “They should not rush to share personal or financial information unless they are certain that the request is genuine,” Yadav says. Besides, one should not click on any links from any unverified email or messages and only use the official contact information from the bank’s website to confirm any requests.
It is also important to be skeptical of suspicious callers and never grant remote access to gadgets to strangers.
“Be cautious on the social media, limit personal information sharing, and only connect with known individuals. Remember that scammers may pose as trustworthy entities but will often retreat when questioned,” says Aviral Kapoor, partner, Alagh & Kapoor Law Offices.
As a safe practice, treat any call from an unknown number as a red flag. Ritesh Bhatia, founder and director, V4WEB Cybersecurity, cybercrime investigations, and digital forensics firm, says: “Never trust until you are very sure. Also, always verify. It is important to know there are fakes all around. Everything is about social engineering where another entity is trying to trick and manipulate you. It’s important to be cyber smart like street smart. If you do this, nothing will happen to you.”
Awareness Is Key: Balakrishnan says that increasing awarness is the key to address this problem. “There are two aspects to making transactions secure. One, technical security, which we call cyber security. The second aspect is elderly population falling prey to social fraud. One needs to realise that it could happen to you anytime,” he says.
Typically, whenever one receives a message indicating an amount being credited in their accounts, followed by a subsequent call requesting for reimbursement through a payment app, one should immediately end the call and seek clarification regarding any debited amount. One can review their bank statement or contact the bank directly to verify the transaction. Also, there are several cyber tools that one can instal on the phone to detect fraudulent calls.
Adds Rai: “Educating the elderly about the rampant fraud and teaching them caution against calls offering money are essential aspects of preventing such scams.”
“The entire financial industry, and not just banks, needs to come together and drive a very large agenda of making people aware—to warn people about the various kinds of scenarios that are possible and to continuously keep them educated about these,” Balakrishnan adds.
Use Strong Security Measures: According to Yadav, it is also important to follow strong security practices, such as using complex passwords (avoid using passwords such as birth dates, children’s names and so on that can be easily cracked).
Enabling two-factor authentication and regularly updating the software across all devices is also important. Seniors should avoid using public Wi-Fi while accessing bank accounts through netbanking, he says.
As banking technologies get more sophisticated, digital banking frauds are also likely to become more innovative. However, being aware, informed and cautious, besides following basic security measures can help. As the saying goes, it is better to be safe than sorry.