By Kari Jenkins
Each year, senior citizens lose an estimated $30 billion due to scams on the internet (as reported by Online Crimes Against Seniors). While the topic of online security is important for all age groups, seniors are especially susceptible to falling victim to email scams, computer viruses, and the like. This is primarily due to having less overall exposure to technology, as well as a higher degree of trust in the information that is found online. If you have a senior relative who has started to use the internet with any regularity, utilize the following tips to keep him or her safe.
If you are one of the 79 million adults in the U.S. who lives in a shared household (in many cases, when a senior lives with their adult children), you have a unique ability to provide internet security for your relative(s). Although you cannot monitor everything that your mom, dad, aunt, or uncle views online, you can keep better tabs on the sites they visit. When arranging your living space, keep all computers in public spaces. This one simple step can help you easily see what seniors are doing when in the same room, and to know what times they are online. While this is a popular technique to use with children, it also helps in the case of senior citizens living at home. In addition to placing all computers in shared spaces, install computer virus protection, and turn on blocking features for sites that may pose a security risk.
Whether you live with a senior relative or not, having conversations about their internet use is also an effective way to know if they have been (or could soon be) part of a scam. When starting a discussion of this nature, however, it is crucial to use sensitive language and be respectful. Rather than interrogating or running the risk of sounding condescending, bring up the topic in a gentle way. For example, you could mention that you have seen news recently about seniors being scammed online, and ask their opinion about the topic. Always show compassion when asking about online activity, and tailor your message in a way that will be received as well as possible by the individual.
Outside of the usual dangers that exist online, there are specific scams that have been designed to target elderly individuals. Some of these scams include health related scams (about prescriptions, insurance, Medicare), scams about making payments for final arrangements, and reverse mortgage scams. In the same way that you would use sensitivity in discussing recent online activity, do the same when trying to educate seniors about these scams. Express care and concern as you help your elderly relatives learn about online dangers. If your relatives are receptive to the conversation, and want to learn more on their own, point them to tips on how to recognize a possible internet scam.
As the group that is most vulnerable to online safety risks, having an ongoing conversation about the dangers of the internet can help keep seniors safe. When you show interest in the digital activities of a relative by following the steps above, he or she will be far less likely to lose money or have their data compromised.