Online shopping, entertainment, and social media have become integral to life for so many people, including seniors. But the internet brings new dangers as well as benefits. Susan Doktor from Money.com shares 6 tips for keeping older adults safe from scammers and thieves while enjoying life in the digital age.
If you’re responsible for the well-being of an older adult, you’ve probably heard them say more than a few times: “Things sure were different when I was growing up.”
But some changes have been nothing short of a miracle. For example, the ability to talk “face-to-face” with a grandchild who lives halfway across the world or send messages instantly – all on a device you can hold in your hand.
Many elders embrace the changes the digital age has ushered in, diving headfirst into online shopping and delighting in social media that help them stay connected with old friends.
But the digital landscape can also be a minefield, littered with dangers older adults may not be aware of. In fact, according to the FBI, seniors lost almost $1 billion to scammers in 2020 alone.
And that’s where you can help. Explain the common pitfalls of using the internet so they’ll know ahead of time – after all, forewarned is forearmed.
We share 6 tips to help seniors adopt safe digital habits and avoid the risks that come with being active online.
Tip #1: Build trust with your older adult
Older adults want to hold on to their independence and privacy. That’s a good thing and caregivers typically encourage it.
But we also recognize instances when maintaining autonomy can be dangerous for seniors.
For example: continuing to drive when their vision and reflexes are declining. Cooking their own meals when pots and pans become too heavy for them to lift. Managing medications when they’ve grown forgetful or easily confused.
Just as you navigate these common issues compassionately, it’s also necessary to convince older adults to trust you to help them stay safe online even if it takes a few tough conversations.
But it’s also important to explain that everyone – not just seniors – has to be careful in the digital world.
Tip #2: Protect all electronic devices with strong passwords
We get it. It’s an inconvenience to have to enter your password every time you want to use your mobile phone or use financial websites to pay bills online.
But it’s necessary because our electronic devices contain a lot of personally- and financially-sensitive information.
A lost phone or stolen laptop that isn’t password-protected is a free-for-all for fraudsters and thieves.
Tip #3: Educate seniors about common scams
Back in the day, there was the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes – overall, a relatively safe way to chase the dream of suddenly becoming a millionaire.
Nowadays, convincing sob stories or the lure of easy money can quickly get seniors in trouble.
For example: emails that promise instant money in your bank account – just provide your bank account number. Or fraudulent requests from “old friends” who are down on their luck and can use a loan to see them through hard times. Worst, a fake “grandson” who needs money immediately to get out of a bad situation.
It’s important to educate older adults about these common scams and how to recognize these communications as scams.
Depending on the situation, you may want to help monitor their email accounts to keep an eye out for these threats.
Tip #4: Verify and think carefully before clicking
Teach older adults to be cautious about clicking on links and attachments in emails and text messages – even those that seem to be from family, friends, or companies they’ve dealt with before. Accounts can be hacked and messages could be from a fraudster.
Clicking on a spammy link can install malware and allow fraudsters to access their device.
Unless messages have truly come from trusted sources, older adults should never click links or open attachments.
Tip #5: Safeguard Social Security Numbers
Sometimes doing legitimate business online requires your Social Security Number (SSN).
For example, a Social Security Number is needed to open a retirement savings account or to buy a life insurance policy.
But as a general rule, older adults need to know that their SSN shouldn’t be disclosed without a very good reason and that most companies won’t ask for it.
If they ever feel they need to provide their SSN, let them know that you’re always available to help make sure the company is legitimate.
Stolen Social Security Numbers are a primary cause of identity theft so investing in identity theft protection may also be a good idea for the older adult you care for.
Tip #6: Be mindful of what’s being shared on social media
Scammers and identity thieves often use social media to search for personal information that can be used to steal from seniors.
Seniors should start by adjusting their privacy settings to limit who can see their “About Me” personal info and their posts to only trusted family and friends.
Teach them to recognize when social media activities could put them at risk.
For example, answering seemingly fun, innocuous questions posed online, like “What’s your favorite pet’s name?” or “Do you remember your first phone number?” present a danger because these questions and answers are commonly used to recover account passwords.
Older adults might not know that these are common tactics used by thieves to figure out the passwords that protect their financial accounts.
Recommended for you:
- 8 Sources of Low Cost Internet for Seniors
- 3 Ways Technology Helps Seniors with Dementia
- 5 Worst Tech Gifts for Seniors (and What to Give Instead)
Guest contributor: Susan Doktor is a journalist, business strategist, and experienced family caregiver. She writes about a wide range of contemporary issues that affect family and financial life, including retirement, parenting, and life in the digital age. Her contribution comes to us courtesy of Money.com
This article wasn’t sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. For more information, see How We Make Money.