More and more of our moms and dads are going online. A 2017 report from the Pew Research Center found that 67% of adults aged 65 and over said that they used the internet. Seniors are accessing the internet in a variety of ways, such as by smartphone or tablet, and their use of social media is also on the rise.
Bearing this increase in mind, it’s a good idea to make sure that your parents, or older friends, are aware of the risks of using the internet, and know how to take steps to make sure that the devices they are using are secure, and to stay safe online.
Generally, the risks of using the internet apply to everyone, but some, such as identity theft and financial fraud, may affect senior internet users to a larger degree. Here, we take a look at these two issues in detail and make some suggestions that may help to increase awareness of online safety for seniors.
According to the latest figures available from the US Department of Justice, in 2014 there were 2.6 million elderly victims of identity theft. This was an increase from 2.1 million in 2012. What’s concerning as far as seniors are concerned, is that such an increase was not detected in relation to any other demographic group. Once a person has been made aware that their identity has been stolen, it can take a fair amount of time to resolve the issue. Not only that, being the victim of identity theft, or any cybercrime for that matter, can have lasting effects. A person may not only suffer financially, but also emotionally.
There are a few reasons why older people may be more susceptible to identity theft than younger generations. They may be more trusting than other age groups, and cues that they may have picked up on when they were younger that would have aroused distrust may no longer create suspicion in their minds. They may answer requests to provide information without considering why a person is making a request and what the information may be used for.
Protection Against Identity Theft
The first thing to do to help protect your older loved ones against identity theft, is to make sure that their computers are kept securely. In its Cyber Tips for Older Americans, the Department for Homeland Security points out that, “just as you use locks to keep criminals out of your home, you also need safeguards to secure your computer.” Make sure that the computer itself is kept in a safe place and is not left unattended if it’s being used away from the home.
In addition to protecting the computer itself, the information that’s stored on it needs to be protected. Make sure that mom and dad use a secure browser such as Chrome or Firefox, and have security software installed that provides browser protection, a firewall, virus protection, anti-malware tools and real-time protection. You may also consider using an ad blocker to protect the computer against malware served up via adverts placed by third parties on, otherwise, reputable sites. Once they have the software installed, make sure that they keep it up to date so that their computer does not become vulnerable. It may involve some nagging, but stick with it. It will be worth it.
Providing Information Online
Make certain that whoever is using the net is aware of the risks of providing information online. Unless they know that they’re on a reputable and secure website (look for the padlock symbol in the address bar) they shouldn’t provide personal information such as a name, address, age, phone number, or social security number.
As well as entering information directly on a website, people also need to be aware of emails that request information. Most organisations such as banks and utility companies will not ask for personal information by email. An email from a bank that looks official and asks for a user ID and password could be a phishing scam and allow thieves to access the bank accounts connected with that information. Additionally, emails that ask for confirmation of security information by clicking on a link could install a virus or ransomware. If your parents do receive an email that they have concerns about, get them to contact the purported sender directly to check its authenticity.
A final thing to think about in relation to the information stored on a computer, is what happens when it’s time to upgrade? Make sure that, once any important files have been transferred to the new computer, the hard drive of the old one is properly wiped using file shredder software.
As well as identity and information theft, one thing that seniors should be aware of are internet scams. There are numerous different internet scams that can target older people. One of the things to be aware of are cold calls from someone purporting to be a computer security engineer who offers a free security check in an effort to gain remote access to a computer. Once they have access, they can download software onto the computer that will allow them to steal money. It can also lead to identity theft and infect the computer with various viruses.
Other scams that often affect seniors include fake virus protection pop-ups and emails purporting to be from friends asking for money. Make sure that you warn your loved ones not to click on any unknown links or emails. If the email looks like it could be a real request from a friend in trouble, always try and contact them to check whether or not they did send it. In many cases, an email account will have been hacked and the request will not be genuine.
Be Wary of New Friends Online
Another risk that seniors face could come from the online dating sector. Online dating is on the increase amongst the older generation. A report in Forbes on the growth in online dating stated that 55-64 year-olds doubled their use of online dating sites between 2013 and 2015. Whilst, talking about your mom or dad’s profile on Match.com may not be the easiest of subjects to broach, you should make sure that they are aware of so-called “sweetheart scams,” whereby a potential “match” contacts them and, once trust is established, asks them for financial help.
What to Do if Your Loved Ones Are Victims
One of the most important things that you can do is to get the victim to report the crime. The FBI states that, as a group, seniors are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to go to, they are ashamed that they have fallen for a scam, or they don’t know that they have been scammed. If your loved one has been a victim of internet fraud or identity theft, try and be there to support them and help them to report the crime to the correct authorities.
The internet can be used by seniors in many positive ways that can make life much better.
Shopping can be done effortlessly, keeping in touch with family who live miles away, or even in different countries is easy now by email, or Skype. Although the possibility of identity theft, or falling victim to fraud is there, if our older friends and relatives are informed of the risks, they can take steps to avoid scams and stay safe online.
From time to time, SensorsTechForum features guest articles by cybersecurity and infosec leaders and enthusiasts such as this post. The opinions expressed in these guest posts, however, are entirely those of the contributing author, and may not reflect those of SensorsTechForum.