Teach Seniors to Recognize and Avoid New Age Technology Scams

To help keep your aging loved one safer with their 21st century communications, ask 3 basic questions.

By Leah Felderman  

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In This Article:
Internet use in seniors is on the rise.
What does this mean for our aging loved ones?
3 basic questions to recognize and avoid scams.

Long gone are the days when you had to be wary of the door-to-door sales man. Sorry Willy Loman, nothing personal. Not so long ago the home phone (land line) would ring seemingly every single dinner time, usually mispronouncing your name. Although we always felt obliged to answer, gradually we grew to ditch the polite refusals. With the evolution of robocalls we learned we were entitled to just hang up. Later we adapted to disregard the calls all together thanks to the advent of caller id. Some families were (and still are) stuck in technology limbo, in between the obligatory answer and the clairvoyant assistance of caller id, screening calls with an answering machine and awaiting the ominous "beeeeep" to determine if friend or foe.

The end of the 20th century brings us the wonder of the world wide web and the ability to communicate via electronic mail. It also introduces a multitude of new avenues for scammers to hatch their plots. Some of the scams are laughable, they are so conspicuous and rudimentary. Who would really believe an African Prince needs help to retrieve their currently inaccessible fortune? Did Aunt Mabel really send you a link, so you can save money on pharmaceuticals and help improve your sex life? Hold on, let me just click that link and open that file, what could possibly go wrong?

To those of us that use technology on a regular basis most of the swindles are obvious. Annoying, yes, but definitely not a threat because we know better. To add to the unsolicited annoyance, many of us now utilize cell phones and grifters have found oh so many ways to utilize this to their advantage including texts and calls from cloned numbers. Don't forget an instant alert anytime one of those asinine phishing emails comes through! For every modern convenience there is an equitable inconvenience created by a scam artist.

Internet use in seniors is on the rise.

Recent Pew Research reveals that internet adoption among seniors has risen steadily over the last 15 years. Of seniors ages 65 and older, 67% are internet users and approximately half of seniors have the internet at home. This is up from just 14% of seniors (65 and older) being internet users 15 years prior. "Younger" seniors have internet statistics comparable to the overall population: 82% of 65- to 69-year-olds are internet users, and 66% say they have internet at home. Internet use and home internet connections for the overall population are 90% and 73%, respectively. Rates decrease with age but are still impressive with 44% of seniors ages 80 and up using the internet and 28% having a home internet connection. As is true of the general public, internet and home internet access among older adults varies substantially across socioeconomic factors. Of seniors whose annual household income is $75,000 or more 94% are online and 87% have the internet at home. This drops to 46% and 27%, respectively, among seniors in households earning less than $30,000 a year.

Recent court rulings emphasize the internet's importance as an essential information and communications platform. The internet is no longer considered a luxury of telecommunications but is now considered a public utility. Expect to see internet use rise as adoption of this public utility becomes more easily accessible in public and private modalities.

What does this mean for our aging loved ones?

Senior use of the internet opens up additional avenues of vulnerability for our aging loved ones to potentially become victims of a swindle. Just as you may be familiar with Mahjong but haven't a clue how to navigate the dragons and flowers, Grandma may be able to use her new computer just fine for her goals but not be familiar with all the different ways people will try to encroach on her security. Just as it was your aging loved one's job to teach you to use the restroom and help you learn how to read, it is now your duty to teach them to recognize and avoid new age scams. Some scams are attempts to directly bilk your elderly loved of money by requesting credit card numbers, bank account info, etc. Some are attempts to acquire personal info such as social security numbers, account numbers and passwords, and other sensitive data (and subsequently commit their crime of financial and/or identity theft). Some scammers work via direct contact such as phone calls, emails, online chats, etc. Other swindles may engage in a more insidious ploy by exposing your elderly loved one's device to malware and acquiring sensitive data, unbeknownst to the user.

The inherent success of a scam is that it doesn't need to work every time, just once. Just one unsuspecting person, elderly or otherwise, to engage with them. One person not to shut down the pop-up window, one person not to hang up the phone. A scam needs just one ingenuous person to reply to a text and call an unfamiliar number, one person willing to click the link or open the file from an unsolicited email. Once able to connect to the quarry, the swindle progresses. Perhaps there is something wrong with your computer security settings, you are purportedly using unlicensed software, credit card fraud has been detected, your checking account password has been compromised, or your email needs a security update. Perhaps it is the IRS or some form of law enforcement that wants to help you circumvent some impending financial and/or judicial doom that you unwittingly participated in. The list of atrocities that can be avoided are seemingly endless as your would-be rescuer on the other end of the phone or computer has been sent to help. Perhaps it is already too late: the link has been clicked, the file opened, and the malware is already hard at work stealing passwords, sensitive data, and other digital fragments of your identity.

We want our aging loved ones to join us in the 21st century and send us emails. We want them to exchange vacation pics with the family on social media and be able to connect with their grandkids on Skype. We want them to be safe and savvy when navigating their new tools of technology.

3 Basic Questions to Recognize and Avoid Scams

1. Is this entity trying to get access to my finances?

Are they asking for a credit card number, bank account information, or some other form of electronic payment? Are they trying to get account information via a backdoor such as offering you a refund or reimbursement on an account or have you received a check to deposit?

2. Is this entity trying to get access to my personal information?

Is somebody trying to ascertain your account numbers, on-line identities, and/or passwords? Are you being asked to provide sensitive information such as your social security number, date of birth, and answers to common security questions (maiden name, paternal and maternal details, etc.)?

3. Is this entity trying to gain access to the computer (or another electronic device)?

Have you been directed to an unfamiliar a website? Have you been sent an attachment, link, or download via email or other electronic contact (such as a social media message). Is somebody requesting remote access to your computer for any reason? Have you been given a hardcopy file (in form of a disc, memory stick, SD card, etc.) to open on your computer? Beware of the wolf in sheep's clothing! Often times worms, trojan horses, spyware, and viruses (to name a few) are unknowingly passed along to recipients from a reliable source unbeknownst to them as well.


Leah Felderman BA MA

About the Author

Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.

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