Ryan Greene
Ryan Greene

The past three years have ushered in some enormous changes for older adults. Think about it. How many of your residents spoke with grandchildren “face-to-face” on a device they could hold in their hands pre-pandemic? Now, many older adults shop online and use social media religiously, helping them restock and stay connected with relatives and old friends like never before.

But the digital landscape also can be a minefield, littered with dangers that trick even the most tech savvy. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission, seniors lost $1 billion to bad actors and scammers in 2021 alone.

Here are three tips you can use to help residents, or can pass along to resident family members, to help them adopt safe digital habits while avoiding the risks that come with being active online.

Beware of corporate impersonators 

Microsoft, AOL, Google and so many other large technology companies have made it virtually impossible to reach them by phone — and even pretty difficult to reach by email. Forget about instant clarification or relief.

The likelihood that any of these companies would try to communicate with a user is very, very low — so any communication that seems as if it is from them should be looked at cautiously. In fact, we believe every user should start with a base assumption that any communication from a company could be fraudulent. Logos and deceitful email addresses can make emails particularly difficult to identify as fraudulent.

Look out for emotional traps

Convincing sob stories quickly can get any technology user in trouble. Eliciting urgency — “You are about to lose your account,” “Your account is on hold” — or excitement — “You’ve won!” — often is a part of the most successful lures.

And although banks and other services do use robo texts to automatically alert users to real concerns (such as fraud), they typically attempt to reach their members via several means of communication simultaneously — email, robocalls, in-app messages — so you can see that the matter is legitimate. 

If there is a link, file or phone number in the text or email, ignore it. Many scammers are trying to get you to share personal or financial information or to type login credentials into a faked website that looks legitimate (this is known as phishing).

Depending on the situation, you may want someone to help monitor email accounts and keep an eye out for those threats on a user’s behalf.

Get ahead of the problem

Sooner or later, most computer users find themselves locked out of an email account. Unfortunately, many times when a bad actor gains access to a computer, the first thing he or she looks to do is block access to a user’s email.

Too many times, we see older adults use their primary account as their back-up, with no other way to validate account ownership. Companies such as Yahoo, AT&T and Facebook (now known as Meta) are unequipped for verifying and unlocking accounts and can take 5 to 12 months to do so, leaving users feeling isolated and disconnected.

Getting ahead of the inevitable is key. Here are some important first steps:  

  1. Set up a phone with your important accounts that can receive text messages as a back-up contact on the account (email, Facebook, banking, etc).  
  2. For security questions, use answers that match the question, but choose more difficult questions to answer. (For example, do not use the dog’s birthday instead of your own. Odds are you will not remember whose birthday you used and the system will flag you as a bad actor (who forgets their own birthday?).
  3. Use a free username manager such as Go Go Quincy’s to help organize accounts. Write down passwords in an easy-to-remember location not on your computer.

Things sure are different today than when older adults were growing up, but with a little hand-holding where needed, technology can open up a world of new possibilities for everyone.

Ryan Greene is the CEO of GoGoQuincy.com, a national tech support hotline founded at Columbia University for adults 55 and older. With a personal goal to make technology accessible to older users around the world, Greene has spent the past 10 years helping older-computer-users navigate the internet. Today, a tech concierge experienced with assisting older adults is available by calling (208) 557-8466.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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