The elderly face a host of special perils that don’t affect younger adults, including age-related illnesses and injuries, discrimination in the workplace, and social isolation. It seems like the list gets longer each year.
Cyber Threats Disproportionately Affect the Elderly
Cyber-perils represent a growing threat for America’s senior citizens. As technology advances, crooks are only too happy to use it to prey on older folks, many of whom lack the technological sophistication and fluency that comes naturally to “digital natives” — people born after the advent of personal computing and 24/7 connectivity. People over age 65 are more likely to be victimized than members of younger generations.
Fortunately, older adults aren’t helpless in the face of digital threats. Education and preventive action can dramatically reduce the incidence of online fraud, theft and other forms of abuse. If you’re looking to protect yourself or a loved one from the digital dangers facing America’s aging population, these four precautions can help.
- Beware of Bogus Email Communications
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to email “phishing” scams. Phishing emails appear to originate from a trusted sender, like a bank or government office, and typically ask the recipient to confirm a password or piece of vital information by responding to the email or clicking a link. Most institutions and agencies explicitly avoid sending such communications — so if you or a loved one receives one, simply delete it.
- Avoid Hybrid Telemarketing / Online Financial Scams
When crooks get a hold of seniors’ phone numbers, they can mount multi-front attacks. An email purporting to be from a grandchild or cousin in prison, the hospital, or some other compromised situation might be followed up by a phone call requesting a hefty sum for bail, medical bills, or other expenses. Such requests are often accompanied by warnings not to try to contact the person by regular means (i.e., their cell phone) due to the embarrassing or dangerous nature of the situation. No matter what’s said, though, it’s likely to be a lie.
- Purchase Antivirus and Anti-Spyware Software
One of the most effective ways to avoid online fraud, abuse and financial loss is to purchase and keep current antivirus and anti-spyware software. For a reasonable fee, such programs provide 24/7 protection and automatically update to adjust to new threats. While antivirus protection doesn’t guarantee against a sophisticated hack or novel infection, the alternative — a completely defenseless computer — is far worse.
- Change Passwords Frequently
Password protection is particularly important for seniors who use online banking and brokerage platforms, as well as those who store sensitive documents in the cloud. Bad actors who successfully relieve senior citizens of their passwords — whether through email phishing scams, covert hacking or direct contact — can wreak havoc on their finances and destroy their credit.
To reduce the risk of victimization, seniors should keep a different password for every portal and change them all each month. Random passwords that can’t be tied to a well-known fact or figure (such as kids’ or pets’ names) are generally more effective, too.
Online Threats Abound
These aren’t the only online threats faced by the elderly, of course. New perils are constantly coming to light, even as the “good guys” find and punish those responsible for perpetrating older scams. If you’re enjoying your golden years or have a loved one who’d like to do the same, remember this: The moment you stop paying attention to your online safety is the moment your safety is truly in jeopardy.