With an increasing number of seniors using cell phones, the Internet and social media sites like Facebook, Verizon has launched an initiative in New Jersey to educate seniors about the dangers that lurk online.

Sam Delgado, vice president for external affairs, discusses online safety in both English and Spanish with seniors at Casa Israel Medical Daycare Center in Newark. 

Verizon executives, along with a team of Verizon fraud experts, kicked off its “Safety for Online Seniors,” or SOS, initiative this week with workshops at Casa Israel Medical Daycare Center in Newark and at the Sayreville Senior Center.

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“There are so many different ways that fraudsters can take advantage of our seniors, whether it be through the traditional landline phone, their cell phone or the Internet,” said Sam Delgado, vice president of external affairs for Verizon New Jersey. “As a good corporate citizen, we feel it’s important to protect our most vulnerable population from online predators.”

More than half of adults 65 and older use the Internet and online tools such as email and visit social media sites. The Internet offers many benefits to seniors, including the ability to stay in touch with family. Many seniors are also using the Internet for online banking, bill paying, shopping and management of their investment portfolios.

But seniors are also more vulnerable to scam artists who have devised all kinds of methods for extracting vital information from seniors that can be used to steal their identity and their savings, said Neel Patel, senior fraud analyst at Verizon, who attended both senior events.

Among the most common scams are contained in emails, including the granddaddy of them all: the Nigerian prince who came across a large bundle of money and needs your bank account and social security number to deposit the funds.  

“Believe it or not, many people still fall victim to this classic scam, especially seniors who may have joined the online community recently,” said Mark Pokoj, a senior fraud analyst with Verizon, who also attended both senior events.

Many seniors also fall victim to telephone scams in which the fraudster poses as  someone from the government or offers work-from-home opportunities, medical discounts or travel opportunities.

“If the person on the other end of the phone is creating a sense of urgency, saying that you must act now, or makes an offer that seems too good to be true, it’s most likely a scam,” Pokoj said.

Many seniors who do their banking online can easily fall victim to spoofing scams. The way it works is that the victim will get an email with a link that directs the user to a phony banking site made to look like the website of the bank you do business with. The victim, thinking they are at the bank’s legitimate site, types in their user name and password and unwittingly gives the hackers everything they need to clean out the account.

“It’s very easy for scammers to create a fake site that is a close facsimile of the real thing,” Pokoj said. “It’s best not to click on a link in an email, but to go directly to the web site, especially for any site that requires a username and password.”

There are also some simple precautions that seniors can take to avoid becoming a victim, including shredding all documents that contain banking, medical and investment information. Even something as simple as putting a password on a smart phone is a good precaution.

“Someone can pick up your phone and swipe vital information from it in the blink of an eye,” Delgado said. “It may take an extra 10 seconds to type in the password, but it’s worth the time and effort.”

Verizon also handed out complimentary copies of “Internet Safety Tips For Seniors for Dummies” by Linda Criddle and Nancy C. Muir.

Sayreville Mayor Kennedy O’Brien, who attended the senior event in Sayreville, said he appreciated Verizon’s effort to keep seniors safe.

“Our police department gets calls every day from seniors who report that they have been a victim of some kind of online or telephone fraud,” O’Brien said. “In many cases, there is little the police department can do. So the best protection for our seniors is to be well educated.”