This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.
There are around 39.5 million people in the U.S. aged over 65, and a high percentage of them, particularly women (nearly 40%) live alone. Living alone makes seniors more reliant on technology, which can be a savior (think Zoom, Skype and other communication-centered technology) as well as a threat (from phishing to fake antivirus software and bitcoin scams). Are seniors more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats, and if so, what can be done to reduce their risks?
Are Seniors More Vulnerable To Online Scams?
You may be surprised to learn that millennials are actually more vulnerable to online threats than seniors. A Federal Trade Commission report shows that “40 percent of adults age 20-29 who have reported fraud ended up losing money in a fraud case” (only 18% of adults aged 70+ are affected). However, the median loss for seniors is significantly higher - $1,092 compared to $400 in the 20-29 aged group.
Common Cybersecurity Threats For Seniors
Cyber criminals often use psychological strategies to attack the elderly. Many retirees have nest eggs that are targeted by fraudsters in ways that prey on specific vulnerabilities. Research published in the journal PLOS One showed that older internet users had almost twice the chance of being victimized by phishing attacks as younger users (53.46% compared to 26.37%). Criminals can also prey on a senior’s loneliness, using dating and romance scams, selling ‘medications’ and inviting users to donate to false charities. Fake websites abound with hidden charges or non-existing products. Finally, overtly simple or repeated passwords or PIN numbers can be hacked in a number of minutes.
Helping Seniors Stay Safe
Trust in scammers sometimes ensues because seniors feel unsafe in their homes. Family members can help by creating a safe environment in which smart home systems boost accessibility and security. Seniors who are able to communicate needs and concerns to family members, make requests regarding their needs, and learn to use technology such as voice assistants can be more empowered against scammers trying to abuse their disabilities or vulnerabilities. Family members living far from senior loved ones can also ensure that seniors have access to video call software, especially if they are deaf or mute and use sign language to communicate. The more secure a senior feels in terms of mobility, communication and security, the more likely they are to discuss proposed purchases of software, devices and other items with family members. This sense of safety can help seniors avoid the impulsive purchases or email responses that arise when people are in a state of panic or fear.
In addition to helping seniors install antivirus software and firewalls, it is important to help family members or clients raise awareness about common types of scams and red flags. For instance, pop-up windows, warnings of a virus and computer issues, and typical phishing email scams should be pointed out to seniors. Equally vital is informing seniors of the dangers of logging into bank and other private accounts through a link. The safe way, of course, is for seniors to directly enter into their financial institutions’ respective websites to access information or complete financial transactions. Seniors should also be taught how to identify a secure (locked) website.
Reacting To Cybersecurity Threats
Family members can also share information on what steps to take if identity theft is suspected or discovered. Seniors should contact any financial institutions involved, check their credit reports, and consider placing a one-year fraud alert on their credit reports. They should also know how to use official channels for complaint - including the FTC online page (identitytheft.gov).
Seniors may not be the most vulnerable members of the population numerically, but are more likely to lose greater amounts of money. The more unsafe or vulnerable a senior is, the more likely it is that scammers can take advantage and obtain details for illegal purposes. Concerned family members can help seniors by creating a safe environment for them and helping out with tech and simple cybersecurity training.