Cyber threats are reshaping society and the approach we take to protecting our children and our seniors.  We often acknowledge and respond to the dangers to children with passive and active methods to restrict their access to site and content.  With senior citizens it is not that simple. They have been our boss for all our lives and protecting them from themselves is sometimes challenging.

This morning my mother-in-law told me that she had a big blue shape on her computer that would not go away.  She also said that there was a booming British voice advising her to call the number in the shape for assistance.  It said her computer had been infected and by calling the number she could receive assistance. For a novice computer user, she did not see a way to close the screen out and the help was appreciated at that moment.  Fortunately, she did not call the number or click on and links associated with the message. After calling her daughter we were able to remove the spyware exploit and put new protection on her computer.

I am saddened by the many seniors who will and have been taken advantage over simply because technology and the threats have moved past them.  Think of the millions of seniors who don’t have readily available assistance when facing crafty and professional criminals on the other side of the Internet.  Had she called the number, they would have probably pushed her to pay for a service and download their software. The software may have been harmless to the functions of the computer, but the intruder could have essentially moved into her life.  For skilled hackers, it is like taking candy from a baby.

They Don’t Get It

We would never allow criminals to go door to door and canvas potential elderly victims.  This is the current situation across the world. In some cases, not having so much access to digital media may be a good thing.  It limits the access for the criminals on the other side to get in. The American Association for Retired People (AARP) and other organizations are really working hard now to provide awareness of cyber threats.  However, the opportunities to scam seniors is ramped now.

AARP tells seniors that they should understand accepting cookies.  They explain that computers should only allow downloads when the browser is open.  Unfortunately, most seniors on computers just learned what a browser is and haven’t a clue about cookies.  Most think cookies are a nice gift because its equivalence in their world is what they provide to grandchildren.  

Part of the issue is an ambivalence across society.  Everyone knows by now there are hackers. However, most people don’t see themselves as potential victims.  Seniors typically know what street to avoid at night, so they stay away. On the computer, it is not clear why, how, what, when, or even who is attempting to engage them.  The danger is hidden in so many places that there are few safe Internet streets.

The FBI confirms what we know about why seniors are targeted.  Their Scams & Safety web page (www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors), talks about how there is a great probability most seniors own their home, have a savings, and live from a retirement account they access online.  Just playing the odds, it is a great bet that seniors, with their limited computer skills and extensive free time can be engaged. Through that engagement, or through the art of social engineering, they can be made into partners working to give their money away.  All without them realizing they are being manipulated.

How Can I help

The only solution here is to explain the dangers to seniors much the way they explained it to you as a child many years ago.  They must first be aware of the danger and develop a healthy respect for the ability a hacker has with today’s technology. Seniors must then be coached on what to do if they experience a particular type of event or see an email that is too good to be true.  Many of them often receive emails promising free gift cards.

Lastly, a senior’s computers must be set-up to assist in thwarting the hacker’s advances.  Many of the attacked are computer driven and automated. In other cases, the hackers are awaiting a positive response from the senior.  It can be something as simple as filling out a form. I guess the hardest part of this is getting past our own denial. Once we realize the loss so many other seniors have had, like electronically losing everything, we will act to save people we love.  Don’t let their lives disappear through the computer screen.