Whilst spending Christmas with your family, you may want to persuade your older relatives to enjoy the benefits of going online, but it might be hard to convince them, with frequent stories appearing in the media about various scams robbing someone of hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds. Worse, experts say that reported cyber crimes are just the tip of the iceberg, with up to nine in ten victims being too embarrassed to admit they’ve been conned.
So how can we make cyberspace a safer place for older people? Specialist advice website www.myageingparent.com has come up with a handy guide aimed at encouraging the families of older people to help their relatives to go online, while keeping a weather eye open for potential problems.
“Sadly, amongst all the fabulous uses of the Internet which can really enrich older people’s lives, there are pitfalls,” says the site’s MD Deborah Stone. “Even those of us who spend our working lives online sometimes get caught out, so it’s hardy surprising that those new to the technology can fall prey to unscrupulous people. The balance to be struck is not to scare your relatives off from using the Internet – fear of what can happen on there is one of the big deterrents to adoption – but to enjoy its many advantages and stay alert to the potential dangers.’’
Safer social media
“Encouraging someone to use Facebook is a marvellous way of keeping tabs on family and old friends and family,” says Deborah, “but we all get invitations to connect with people we don’t really know. Explaining the potential hazards of connecting with someone you don’t know can be really helpful. And if your parent mentions a new friend they’ve met online, it’s worth double checking they are genuine – as subtly as possible.”
Staying alert to email scams
Older people are often at risk for getting roped into email correspondences. Online predators are well aware of older people’s desire to interact with others and they’ll design elaborate schemes to forge online relationships with them, in order to manipulate them into handing over either money or personal information that can be used for identity theft.
“One of the most common scams comes when a friend’s email box has been hacked into and all their contacts receive emails asking for help because they’ve been stranded on holiday,” says Deborah. “It can look very genuine. Again, warning relatives of scams like this without scaring them off using email is the best possible approach. If in doubt, telephone the person who appears to have sent it. Equally, they need to know not to open up attachments or click through to links unless they are absolutely confident that it is genuine – even if the email appears to come from their bank or utility provider. Such e-mail requests come from phishing scammers who take the personal data from those who reply to the fake requests and use it to steal their identities, or lead to their computer being infected with a virus or malware. If in doubt, get them to leave the email attachment alone until you can check it out for them.”
Yet despite these potential dangers, older people shouldn’t be discouraged from going online. Says Deborah: “Using the best parts of the Internet can be more productive than passive solitary activities, such as watching television, or listening to music. Elderly people can use the web to socialise through online chat rooms, message boards and games. Online games are quickly growing amongst the older demographic, as they serve to keep the mind sharp and engage with fellow interested game players.
Many elderly people have few people left in their lives save for a handful of distant friends and family. Instead of living a life of complete solitude, they should embrace contemporary technology to stay actively engaged with the surrounding world. For every older person who has been manipulated through an elaborate online scam,” concludes Deborah, “there are many more who have successfully navigated the web to stay in touch with others and cultivate relationships with organizations and individuals that they otherwise wouldn’t have met.”
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