Tyler Moffitt headshot
Tyler Moffitt

During the pandemic, the digital universe became a vital part of daily life, particularly for older adults. And that importance has continued. 

When the world shut down, senior living residents and other older adults had to learn new ways to connect with their families; the internet became that lifeline. The pandemic also showed people less familiar with the digital realm all that is possible online.

Today, 61% of those aged 65 or more years use smartphones, embracing social media, video chats, online shopping and even online dating. Smartphones are not just communication tools; they’re critical for health monitoring and safety, offering medication reminders, heart rate monitoring, falls alerts and emergency call features, enabling older adults to live a more independent lifestyle.

Senior living communities have significant responsibilities when it comes to ensuring the safety and well-being of their residents. And although the digital world provides many welcome benefits for older adults, it also creates significant new risks for residents — and communities — that must be addressed. 

Thriving online, but at what cost?

The internet, although a boon for connectivity, has opened the doors wide for cybercriminals. Those criminals expertly mimic legitimate sites and emails, making deception increasingly sophisticated and difficult to discern. The rise of social media and online shopping platforms further expose older adults to those threats.

Seniors are particularly vulnerable due to generally being less technologically savvy, having substantial retirement funds and having a higher incidence of memory impairment. Moreover, their desire for social connections makes them easy targets on social media and dating apps.

In 2022, more than 88,000 older adults were victims of cyber fraud, resulting in losses of $3.1 billion, an 84% increase from the previous year. Those attacks not only affect the individuals but also extend to senior living communities, which are already facing financial challenges projected to persist into this year. If a resident falls victim and his or her account is frozen, then a provider will not be paid.

Safety is no longer just physical

Digital safety now is as crucial as physical safety. Discussions on digital risks should parallel those on physical safety in senior living communities. Similar to how topics such as healthcare proxies, finances and estate planning are addressed, digital safety also must be part of the conversation.

To promote digital safety, consider the following best practices: 

  1. Conduct regular educational sessions, short, frequent classes about online scams, emphasizing the risks of sharing personal data and using debit cards online. Those sessions should be updated quarterly to reflect emerging threats.
  2. Involve families. Encourage families to monitor their loved ones’ online purchases and interactions. Watching for unusual expenses can help identify potential scams, particularly romance scams.
  3. Advocate for password managers. Educate on the risks of written passwords and saved payment information. Password managers offer a secure alternative and can be accessed by a trusted family member if necessary.
  4. Implement secondary payment options. Communities should have backup payment methods in case a resident’s account is compromised.
  5. Extend protection beyond devices. Although antivirus software is essential, providers should encourage protection that covers identity and privacy. This broader approach is crucial, as even savvy users can fall prey to malicious links or fraudulent websites. 

Cybersecurity in senior living no longer is optional but is a necessity in the evolving digital era. Senior living operators must stay ahead of the curve to safeguard their residents — and themselves.

 Tyler Moffitt is a senior security analyst at Webroot, an OpenText Company.

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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