Tech scams financially devastating senior citizens

District Attorney Summer Stephan

Tech scams financially devastating senior citizens

By District Attorney Summer Stephan

The number one scam overwhelming San Diego County seniors and robbing them of their life savings involves a tech hoax in the form of emails, texts or pop-up adds. The message is simple, but treacherous: their device has been hacked and they need to act.

The situation quickly escalates when the scammer tells the senior that because their computer has been compromised, their financial accounts are at risk.

Since our lives are ruled by our computers and all of the personal and financial data that flows in and out of them, we are right to be concerned about computer safety and guarding against a virus or spyware.

But when San Diego Seniors are draining their bank accounts nearly every day to these types of scams, the warning to the public is urgent. Do not believe unsolicited messages, do not click on links sent by unknown senders and certainly do not provide financial information to anyone you do not know or trust.

In the latest iteration of this elder scam, bad actors groom the victims over weeks and months that their trusted financial advisors are under investigation and cannot be trusted. The victim is coaxed to give their money to the fraudster with a warning that they say nothing, or risk being harmed or going to jail.

Last year, the San Diego County Elder Justice Task Force reported $49 million in losses. Already this year we have exceeded that figure.

The elder tech scam can go down a number of paths, but they each end with significant financial loss. For example:

  • The scammer says your longtime trusted financial advisors are under investigation and can’t be trusted.
  • There is a court order saying you must remain silent about being hacked.
  • The scammer strikes every so often making you think your computer has a new virus that you must pay to have removed each time.
  • The credit card or banking information you provided to stop the virus may have unauthorized use.
  • Your computer may get infected with spyware or remote access software allowing access to personal and financial records.
  • You’re told to deposit your money into a “government” account where it will be safe.

Here are tips on how to deal with computer safety and tech support:

  • Do not call phone numbers on pop-up ads about computer security.
  • The best way to keep your computer safe from viruses is to update its security software.
  • If you have concerns about the security settings or viruses on your computer, take it to a reputable brick and mortar computer repair business and ask them to sweep your computer for remote access software and other harmful software.
  • If you get a pop-up ad that takes up your screen, has no way to close and suggests you click on it as the only way to rid the screen of the intrusion, take the computer to a professional repair shop.

Don’t click, call or answer if:

  • You get a phone call you didn’t expect saying there is a problem with your computer.
  • You get a message that a foreign spammer attacked your system and you need to pay to protect your banking information.
  • If you are asked to make payment in Bitcoin or wire transfer, it is a scam.

The DA’s Consumer Protection Unit is comprised of deputy district attorneys, investigators and paralegals dedicated to protecting consumers and law-abiding businesses from fraudulent or unfair business practices. To report a consumer complaint, you can call (619) 531-3507 or email If you have been the victim of elder abuse, report it to Adult Protective Services: (800) 339-4661.