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Internet Safety for Seniors: Assisting Older Relatives in Avoiding Online Scams


In the digital era we live in, the risks of cyber scams have become an increasingly pressing concern, especially for the older generation. This past summer, Daniel Goldstein’s 86-year-old mother fell prey to such a scam, losing $600 in a deceitful scheme that exploited her trust. This incident is far from isolated; last year alone, consumers of all ages lost a staggering $8.8 billion to scammers, with older adults being the most affected demographic, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The challenge of protecting our elders from these digital predators is daunting, yet essential. Often, the conversations surrounding this topic can be delicate and complex.

 

Genevieve Waterman from the National Council on Aging stresses the importance of a multigenerational approach to addressing this issue. Scammers target people of all ages, but their tactics vary. By understanding the specific scams that target seniors, we can better equip them to defend themselves.

 

For instance, the “grandparent” scam and romance scams are particularly prevalent among older adults, as noted by Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention at AARP. In the grandparent scam, imposters posing as grandchildren solicit money for emergencies. In romance scams, which accounted for $1.3 billion in losses in 2022, fraudsters typically initiate contact through social media, later moving to private messaging apps like WhatsApp or Google Chat, eventually coaxing their victims into sending money overseas.

 

The key to thwarting these scams is awareness and continuous dialogue about them. Unfortunately, Goldstein’s mother, despite being relatively tech-savvy and having discussed email scams with her son, was unprepared for the type of scam she encountered. The urgency created by the scammer clouded her judgment, leading to the loss. This tactic of creating a sense of urgency is a common thread in many scam practices, and it’s crucial to highlight this in discussions with family members about scams.

 

When engaging in conversations about scams, it’s essential to adopt an informative rather than authoritative tone. Stokes suggests asking open-ended questions like “What do you think about this?” instead of imposing directives. Including younger family members in these discussions is also beneficial, emphasizing that scams can target anyone, regardless of age.

 

However, if a family member does fall victim to a scam, it’s crucial to approach the situation with empathy. Scammers are often part of sophisticated, well-organized groups, making their schemes incredibly convincing and hard to resist. Victims should be treated with the same compassion we would offer to any crime victim.

 

Finally, establishing a plan for dealing with potential scams can be a proactive step in preventing future losses. Goldstein had a system in place where his mother would call him if she ever felt uneasy, but the scam still occurred. This highlights the importance of not just having a plan but also reinforcing and regularly revisiting it to ensure it remains effective.

 

Navigating the digital world can be particularly challenging for older adults, who often lack the necessary digital literacy training. As we continue to integrate technology into our daily lives, it’s crucial to empower and protect our seniors, helping them to navigate this new virtual world safely.

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