Are seniors safe online?  

A string of identical hoaxes, intended to snatch personal data, shows how online scammers prey on users who aren’t “fluent in Facebook”. 

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
Are seniors safe online?   - NewsMavens
Computer users, Jody Morris, Flickr

Why this story matters:

Facebook is, without a doubt, the most popular social network in Bosnia and the region, but it's becoming less appealing to the youth who, as some reports show, are increasingly migrating to Instagram. Teenagers interviewed by Radio Free Europe recently described the platform as “full of old people”. 

The middle-aged and senior users really are there and they are active -- reconnecting with old friends, staying in touch with family abroad, sharing pictures, poems and jokes… and getting scammed. A series of fake pages, using the slightly altered names of popular brands (supermarket chains, gas stations, a pillow manufacturor, and household appliances...), offered giveaways to those who interacted with the page and sent “...selfies of you holding your ID card, photographed front and back, so we can confirm that it’s really you getting the prize”.

The first three fake giveaways  managed to get tens of thousands of likes, shares and comments before Facebook finally removed them, about a week later.

After the scams were debunked, dozens more reports of identical schemes with different brand names were received by the magazine Raskrinkavanje (these were taken down much faster).

Some of those reports came from people who did send photographs of their personal documents and discovered that they were tricked only after reading the article. Most of them were well over fifty.

However, at the moment, most of the educational efforts related to online safety are directed towards teenagers, who actually navigate the online world much better than their moms and dads.

Unlike their kids and grandkids, who knew how to surf the web before they knew how to read and write, senior users’ level of digital literacy is low and their understanding of social networks is quite limited.

This fact is largely overlooked by both the govermental and civil society actors who design educational leaflets, organize visits to schools and create silly comic-book styled guides about kids’ safety in the digital world.

Paradoxically, there is virtually nobody doing anything similar for their parents or grandparents -- and they are the ones with ID cards and bank accounts. Those who contacted our magazine, Raskrinkavanje, or read our articles, now know how to report those pages and warn others about them. But that is, of course, just a drop in the ocean. Much more needs to be done to protect people of all ages on the internet.

Details from the story:

  • The first report of the fake giveaway arrived a week ago -- it was a page named “Bingooo” which used the logo of a Bosnia-based supermarket chain “Bingo”. It offered a 100 euro voucher if you liked, shared and messaged the page.
  • Initially it seemed like a different kind of scam -- the one pulled by web portal owners, who use these tricks to quickly create a large audience. It turned out to be something else entirely.
  • After the debunking article was published, people started leaving comments and messages with screenshots of their communication with the page. Everyone was notified of being the winner and asked to send personal data, including photos of ID cards.
  • And it wasn’t just “Bingooo” - it was also Lidl, Bosh, Dis, Gasprom, Konzum, Tropic, Green Tex… All popping up one after the other, doing the exact same thing and using the exact same sentences.
  • It's still impossible to establish how many people were scammed, or what their personal data is used for. We are still waiting for feedback from the police on the matter.
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