It’s sad but true: senior citizens are prime targets for hackers, scammers, and identity thieves. Why? Because criminals prey on people whom they suspect are naïve, especially when it comes to technology and recent advancements.

There’s also a long-standing stereotype that senior citizens are more trusting of people and therefore more likely to fall for a scam, no matter how outrageous. Further, as our elderly population grows older, criminals also know they fear having their independence stripped away; that means senior adults are statistically less likely to report a crime because they don’t want anyone to think they can’t care for themselves. So how do you protect the people who spent your lifetime protecting you? By arming them with information.

It’s strange to think about sitting your parents or grandparents down and having a talk with them about online safety, just as you had to teach your children about it. But the fact is, back when your parents were raising you, this level of connectivity and technology access simply didn’t exist. To think they will intuitively know how to protect themselves from a professional scammer is just wrong.

First, figure out how connected your parents plan to be, and don’t make the mistake of thinking they don’t want or need a computer, tablet, smartphone, or the internet. They’re not only great tools, but our society is shifting more and more to practically requiring them. At the same time, listen to them when they tell you how involved or interested they are. 

If they’re content with a laptop and a Facebook account, that’s great. If they want a smartphone for portable access and to convert their accounts to online banking, that’s their prerogative. Help them figure out their tech needs, and then you’ll know what types of self-protective information they’ll need. Next, give them the resources to stay on top of current scams. Discussions about recent crimes affecting the elderly are vital, but you can’t prepare them for every possible threat. Provide them with the basic safety information they’ll need to get started, like warnings about email scams, social media oversharing, and protecting their identities while shopping online. From there, point them to resources like the Identity Theft Resource Center’s news blog so they can stay informed.

Some of the main topics you’ll certainly want to address include:

  • Protecting your Social Security number, account numbers, and PIN numbers
  • Having strong, unique passwords on all of your accounts
  • Avoiding phishing scams - never click a link in an email, never send money to someone who contacts you online, ignore emails that claim your account is past due, and don’t fall for social media hoaxes
  • Keeping your anti-virus software up-to-date
  • Avoiding oversharing on social media, especially with people whom you really don’t know

Finally, make sure they understand they can call you at any time with a question about a possible scam or scenario. Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, and it’s important that they know scammers are good at what they do. You must make it clear that you will not judge or laugh, and that you’ll take their concerns seriously.


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