Millennials, It's Time to Talk to Your Boomer Parents About Digital Fraud

Stressed senior businesswoman on the phone while working on laptop.
Carlos Pascual/Getty images

When we think of digital fraud, your granny who still has an AOL email might come to mind. After all, didn’t she almost get scammed out of her retirement after sharing everything from her favorite way to remove coffee stains to her social security number with a phony customer service agent? While scammers are still targeting the tech-adverse, Todd Rovak, co-founder of Carefull, a digital platform built to protect the daily finances of older adults,  shares that according to the latest available data from the Federal Trade Commission, in 2021, text messages were the most common contact method used by scammers in frauds. The scammers are evolving, and not even the technological-efficient (or even savvy) are safe. Seriously, if the former Director of the CIA was a target, it’s safe to assume your parents would be too. So millennials, here’s how to talk to your boomer parents—no matter how digitally astute they may be—about looming digital scams. With the help of Rovak, here’s why—and how—to get the conversation going.

Why Are Tech-Savvy Boomers Vulnerable to Digital Scams?

“Because tech-savvy older adults are familiar with digital payments—but they still don't use them every day, like millennials do—victims often have just enough comfort to fall for this one. That's what scammers are counting on,” Rovak conveys. Your parents may be tried-and-true early adopters who use the internet and smart phones all the time, but the fact remains that they are far more used to trusting a voice on the other line. “Older adults have spent the last two decades relying on representatives and tech support to solve issues—so this is exactly how scammers approach them at the moment,” Rovak says. On the flip side, millennials tend to have a healthy distrust of anyone on the other line. And Gen Z apparently won’t even engage.

Scams Are Getting More Sophisticated—in More Ways Than You Think

While direct phone calls are still common, scammers are increasingly turning to text and email as a first point of contact. Says Rovak, “This opens up a wider range of sophisticated, tech-first fraud that often includes convincing older adults to make digital payments (Venmo, Zelle) and even allow total computer takeovers.” Beyond utilizing technical innovations, scammers are getting more sophisticated with their tactics, playing the long game with victims. Rovak explains how it works: “A practice with the (brutal) label of ‘pig butchering’ has spiked alongside the rise of crypto trading. Someone will make contact with an older adult, gain trust and convince them to invest in crypto (or some other investment), slowly show them their ‘successful’ investments over time, and then go in for the big score by asking for a major transfer out. The hype around crypto gave this technique new life in the past years.”

Texting and Scare Tactics

“Scammers often use scare tactics to make people think their bank accounts, credit cards or subscription service accounts have been compromised,” shares Rovak. Of course, when you receive a message like this, your first instinct is to respond to repair the damage, which is why these types of scams are so effective. “The best thing to remember,” Rovak advises, “is that no real business will ever text and ask for your account information. It's simply not a thing.”

Anyone Can Fall for Government Imposter Scams

“What's more scary than a call that's supposedly from the IRS telling you that you've been audited and owe money?” asks Rovak. But the reality is that government agencies—especially the IRS—won't call, text or email you out of the blue. “[Real government agencies will] typically initiate contact by mail. They won't ask you in unsolicited calls or emails to provide your personal information. Plus, government agencies won't ask for a payment by wire transfer, gift card, payment app or cryptocurrency,” says Rovak.

The “Zelle Scam” That Spread Like Wildfire Last Year

One of the most sinister scams that’s rattling even digitally native users is known as the Zelle scam. Rovak breaks down how it works: You receive a text message that appears to come from a bank or a peer-to-peer payment service such as Zelle or Venmo, informing you that you’ve sent a digital payment somewhere, usually around $1,500. Next, typically someone claiming to be with your bank calls to “help” you with this suspicious transaction. (Remember: This transaction is completely fake and doesn’t actually exist!) The scammers, disguised as your bank or trusted customer service, tell you they will "reverse" this fake charge, but really they fool you into sending them money. Since it’s technically an authorized transaction, says Rovak, banks are not required to repay it.

How to Broach This Subject with Boomer-Aged Parents

No one wants to be talked down to–especially older adults who might not see themselves as targets—exactly the reason why it is so important. “This is one of the easier money conversations to have with parents,” says Rovak. (*Wipes sweat from brow*) The gist: Remind them never, ever to give out information. Forward articles you've read about scams to them (maybe even this one!). Advise them to forward you any fishy (or phishy) email, text or piece of mail to get a second opinion. (For example: My mom receives fake domain renewal letters very frequently, takes a photo of them, and I can let her know if she should toss them or not.) “That said,” Rovak elaborates, “more often today we're seeing millennials actually do something to help their parents—like recommending their parents sign up for some form of money protection or financial safety technology to have a second set of eyes on their finances. This can include credit monitoring or identity theft insurance, or more sophisticated AI-monitoring technology to look for strange money movements and senior scams. I'm obviously biased and recommend Carefull, since it does all of the above.”

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Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...