Dear Security Cat,

My grandma recently moved to a nursing home where she has 24/7 access to internet. My sisters and I got her a laptop and set up email for her and even Facebook so she can keep up with family and communication. But we’re concerned with all the cybercrime out there that she’ll get hacked. What can I do to keep her from becoming a victim?

-Concerned in Cincinnati

Perhaps one of the most despicable things fraudsters do is go after senior citizens. Unfortunately, the elder members of our society are easy targets. And it’s not just because they don’t have the technical know-how regarding computers and the internet. Here are the three main reasons why:

  • They usually have a nest egg or established credit, both of which are top priorities for scammers.
  • Those that grew up in the in the 1960s or earlier tend to be more trusting and polite. It’s a generational trait that social engineers love to exploit.
  • Elderly victims are less likely to report scams because they are concerned relatives and caregivers will take financial responsibilities away from them. In other words, there’s little concern for repercussions.

There are many others, but the three above summarize the thought process cybercriminals and social engineers go through when they choose their targets. The tricky part is figuring out what you can do to prevent these scammers from claiming victims.

5 Ways to Protect Your Grandparents from Scammers

Be there for them.

This is a tough one because there’s no way any of us can be available 24/7. But open the lines of communication and establish a team. Get as many trustworthy members of your family involved as possible. Set up a group network via text or social media or email so that if the senior in your life needs help, someone will hear about it.

If your grandparent(s) are in an assisted living situation, appoint a few members of your team to be the main point of contact. This will help keep the communication streamlined and ensure that nothing is lost in translation. And obviously, the most important thing is that your grandparents know how and who to contact for any issues that come up. Keep it simple but make sure it’s thorough.

Educate them on why they are targets and what scammers are after.

This is going to vary by what your grandparents know already and what they need to be educated on. But a refresher course on general security can’t hurt. Make sure they can easily and readily spot phishing scams. Show them what social engineers look like and what they are after.

Keep in mind that it’s not all about cash. Criminals also love personally identifiable information (PII) such as full names, addresses, social security numbers, etc. According to a study from a few years ago, elderly victims lose over $2.9 billion annually to identity theft. From tax fraud to medical ID theft, your grandparents need to be aware that their PII is just as valuable as their bank accounts.

Remember that not all scams come via email or the internet.

Not every criminal sends phishing emails. They are just as happy to pick up the phone and steal personal information by posing as, say, a representative of a medical company that is administering payments to folks over the age of 72. “Ma’am, all I need is your bank account info and we’ll wire you the money you deserve!”

Scammers also go door-to-door and sell fraudulent or unnecessary services at unreasonable prices. Again, seniors are often too polite to say no and might fall for a pity story or a pushy salesman. Make sure your grandparents are aware of these situations and remind them that they should not, under any circumstances, give out personal or financial information to strangers.

Set up their computers and devices with all the usual security accoutrements.

Per usual, make sure their online accounts have strong, unique passwords. You may want to consider a password manager to eliminate the need for memorization. If not, determine a way to save and store passwords so your grandparent can easily locate them. This is a rare situation where writing them down might be your best bet. Just be sure that they are hidden in a way that no one else can find them.

This is also where two-factor, or multi-factor authentication is especially handy. Have the second factor of authentication come to your phone or email so you’ll know immediately if someone is trying to access your grandparent’s account. It’s also a good idea to ensure that their social media accounts are set to maximum privacy. And don’t be afraid to occasionally check in on their social media or email accounts to ensure that nothing fishy is going on.

Beyond typical privacy settings and strong passwords, install antivirus/malware software on all of their devices, and set up backup software to run automatically in the background.

Utilize remote login.

Let’s face it, as we get older the less we understand modern technology. Troubleshooting will eventually evade all of us. If your grandparents need help with a technical issue, you’ll want to be able to help them as soon as you can, but not every issue requires your physical presence. With remote login software, you can gain access to their computer or device and troubleshoot from the comfort of your home.

And for that matter, if the elderly person in your life isn’t technically inclined, consider getting them a tablet instead of a standard computer. Tablets are generally easier to use and run into fewer technical issues. Some have an “easy mode” that simplifies the device even more. Find out what your grandparents are most comfortable with and go from there.

Security Cat™

Security Cat™ knows everything about cybersecurity! He likes to fight cyber crime, catch phish, subdue trigger-happy mice, and help humans be safer online. He boosts SAC's company morale and helps out with social media (or at least sits on our keyboards).