A How-to Guide for Having “The Talk” with Your Elderly Parents … about Internet Safety
The face of the Internet is decidedly more wrinkled than many would assume.
The Pew Research Center determined 59 percent of seniors use the Internet. Shockingly, a new report by Limelight determined on average, Baby Boomers – who are now in their 50s and 60s – spend more time online than their 18-33-year-old counterparts in the Millennial generation.
"As we age, we naturally want to stay connected to friends and loved ones more and the Internet provides the easy means to do that, especially when those friends and family are geographically dispersed,” said Jason Thibeault, Limelight’s senior director of marketing strategy and author of the report.
Seniors at Higher Risk of Fraud
In most ways, this trend is very positive for society. The Internet allows the elderly, particularly those who are homebound, to maintain connections with their friends and family, to keep up with the news, and to purchase products and services that they may not otherwise be able to access. In fact, the Gerontological Society of America recently conducted a longitudinal study that “found a positive contribution of Internet use to the mental well-being of retired older adults in the United States, where Internet use reduced the probability of a depression state by one third.”
However, in the same way, that the elderly are at a higher risk of offline fraud, they can also easily fall victim to online scams. Tragically, a study by San Francisco-based TrueLink Financial revealed: “seniors are losing $36.48 billion every year to senior fraud, exploitation and financial abuse—more than 12 times the most widely reported previous estimate.” Additionally, the report determined 36.9 percent of seniors lose money to scams, exploitation, and abuse in any given five-year period. Of these, 6.9 percent lose $10,000 or more.
“Two trends are going to define the future of fraud: the advancing age of the average American and the increasing use of the Internet among seniors,” says Jeff Bell, CEO of LegalShield. “We are committed to partnering with families to protect one of our nation’s most precious resources: our elders.”
How Scams Work
To avoid a scam, it is helpful to understand how one is put together.
- Contact information is collected. The scammer has obtained some of your personal identifying information (PII) which might include, name, email address, phone number, address, and/or other information they will use to reach you. If the contact information is not first obtained by the scammer, then they will layout a bait of some sort-- a fake employment ad, for example, that might cause you to contact the scammer first and provide personal identifiers.
- A compelling story is presented. This is where the scammer gives the reason they need PII and/or money from you and it can come in the form of a letter, email, text message, or phone call.
- The fake reason may be one of the following:
- You won the lottery held in another state or country (even though you never entered that lottery)
- You are offered a well-paying, work-from-home job
- Your credit card or bank account is in danger of being closed or your access to it restricted
- A relative is in danger and needs money
- A person in a foreign country needs your help getting a great fortune transferred to the United States
- The victim is fooled. The target of the scam is asked for personal information and/or money. This is where the trouble starts—you give them your personal identifiers, access to your credit card or bank account or accept a bad check presented to you by the scammer.
- The scammer is rewarded. Now the scammer gets to work using information provided by the scam victim to steal money, open new credit accounts, or trick the victim into giving money to the perpetrator of the fraud.
For many adults, avoiding scams like these can seem like a matter of “common sense.” However, for the elderly – particularly those who live in relative isolation and/or who suffer from even a mild form of dementia or memory loss – these scams can appear very legitimate. They need their trusted advisors, particularly their adult-aged children, to educate them about self-protection.
Tips to Protect Your Elderly Parents Online
In many ways, seniors simply need to practice the same principles any of us need to adopt when surfing the Web, chatting online, or making purchases through the Internet.
One easy way to educate your elderly parents about “best practices” of navigating the Internet is to give them a printed copy of articles explaining how to stay safe online (such as this one, as well as our recent articles about Craigslist and avoiding tax fraud). Having a printed copy they can keep next to their computer gives them a chance to refer to it whenever they have a question.
Some helpful tips:
- Be cautious when using a search engine. The first links listed are paid advertisements and may not be the site you seek. In fact, such an ad may lead to a site that claims to be something that it is not.
- Be wary of email messages that ask you to provide personal information for any reason. No legitimate business asks you to provide sensitive personal information by email. Scammers will try to trick you into reacting quickly to a message that appears to be urgent so that you give up personal information before really thinking about what you’re doing. Delete such messages without responding.
- Do not give an unknown person access to your computer (as in access to check the computer for viruses or to fix a problem with it) unless you initiated the call, having contacted a service that you verified as legitimate.
- Call ‘the victim.’ If you receive a call or email from someone claiming to be a relative in trouble, call that relative or another person to check on them. This type of call—where you are told a child or grandchild is in trouble--is a common scam and the caller will threaten harm if you call anyone else. This is just a scare tactic. Do not continue conversations with the scammer-caller.
- Do not believe urgent demands. Understand that if someone demands that payment be made by wire transfer or pre-paid debit cards, then it is likely a scam. Scammers ask for payment this way because it is virtually impossible to trace and they can get the cash quickly.
- Do not pay any money toward a debt that is not yours.
- Do not pay fees to receive a prize that you supposedly won.
- Hang up on anyone that you believe is a scammer. Do not push any buttons on your phone or speak to the caller. Also, refer to this article on how to protect yourself from phone scammers.
- Don’t trust Caller ID. Scammers can mask their numbers.
- Reduce unsolicited phone calls. Register your phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov) to reduce calls from telemarketers. See if your phone service works with Nomorobo to block robocalls and telemarketers. (www.nomorobo.com)
The most important advice is simple: just begin the conversation.
You don’t have to know all of the answers, but you almost certainly know more than your elderly parents. Let them know you care about them, and you are only talking about this because you want to protect them (and not embarrass them). If you enter the conversation that way – by expressing love and a genuine sense of concern – you are almost certainly going to have a positive experience.
To learn more about how an IDShield membership can help you to protect yourself and your family.