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Helping seniors build a safer relationship with technology

senior sitting at kitchen table

Unlike the younger generations who grew up with the internet, tablets and modern technology, older family members can face unique challenges in today’s digital world. Many technologies serve to make tasks simpler, provide personalized services or hold capabilities that benefit seniors and older adults.  Yet the online world is host to a variety of threats that may not be obvious to older users.

With rising levels of fraud and cybercrime, it is crucial that older generations not only understand the technology they use, but also the cyber scams that they might face. Here are some things to keep in mind when helping your older family members get up to speed on today’s digital landscape.

Challenges faced in technology products

Younger generations are frequently referred to as digital natives, since they grew up with the technology that is so common today. They intuitively understand how devices and apps work because they’ve seen similar things before. Older individuals, on the other hand, are often referred to as digital immigrants because they were raised before that technology was common, so they’ve had to adapt to a new way of life.

Whether it’s second nature or a struggle, the increased reliance on technology includes nearly every age demographic. In the year 2000, the number of young adults vs. older adults who reported regularly using the internet was separated by 56 percentage points. In 2022, that number is down to 24 points, with 75% of those 65 and older reporting to spending time online. Clearly, they are embracing today’s digital world.

Despite this evidence of their digital evolution, there’s an assumption that older adults are not the most tech-savvy individuals. That assumption can lead to overlooking their needs when products are being developed. User interfaces designed for younger users, for example, may be more difficult for a senior to navigate, especially if they have any vision or hearing impairments. Seniors can also be less likely to receive training and support while trying to learn new technologies — and some online resources and communities can feel like they’re the exclusive domain of younger, more advanced users.

When helping an older adult select a product or service, it is important to evaluate whether the needs, abilities and preferences of someone still learning the ropes are addressed. Consider these two features:

Accessibility | Look for products that are easy to use and include clear navigational panes, simple interfaces and easily read instructions. Research the customization features that could improve their experience, such as editable font sizes, larger buttons, high contrast colors and the option for screen readers. Such personalization could make a huge difference in their day-to-day use.

Support | Products and services that offer a wide range of support, resources or FAQ hubs can provide seniors with a safe place to have their questions answered. Seek services that provide complimentary online tutorials and the option for one-on-one conversations with a representative should they need help.

The right tools and training can help digital immigrants more easily put these products to work for them. But those resources also need to help educate older users about the increased identity and cyber threats lurking online.

Cyber safety for seniors

Cybercriminals often target senior citizens with online threats and cybercrime for a variety of reasons: They are often more trusting; they are often unfamiliar with online threats; and they are more likely to have significant savings or retirement funds that cybercriminals are looking to seize. The FBI reported an in elder fraud losses since 2021. Those aged 60-69 lost $828 million last year, and older victims lost over $35,000 each on average.

As digital immigrants, technology was not always a part of their everyday lives. As a result, they may need additional training to protect themselves and their personally identifiable information (PII). Consider these topics when educating an older individual on cybersafe protocols:

Street smarts for online safety | Spotting the scams that target older adults may be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Teach them to be suspicious of any unsolicited calls, emails or text messages asking for personal information. Remind them to not click on suspicious links or spam emails. It is best practice to not respond to a communication from someone you don’t know, but if they are expecting a call from a company representative or a member of support staff, the older adult should demand that the caller verify their legitimacy before moving forward with the conversation.

Password safety | Encourage older users to secure their account information by upgrading their passwords to 16-character passphrases. The more secure the password, the safer the account it protects. Password managers, which provide a simpler way to store these complicated passphrases, are also a great tool for seniors to keep these accounts organized and more secure.

Update software | Firstly, it is vital to regularly ensure the software and security systems on their devices are up-to-date and working properly. Updates in software often close any vulnerabilities. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are another tool seniors can use to keep their data and online accounts protected. VPNs encrypt the data being sent to and from a device, making it practically useless to anyone who intercepts it.

Identity theft protection service | Falling victim to identity theft can be both mentally and financially devastating. Consider purchasing a comprehensive identity protection plan that includes credit monitoring, continuous dark web monitoring for exposed credentials, advanced fraud monitoring, smart alerts and resolution services.

When seniors are empowered to feel more comfortable with everyday technology, it can improve their connectivity with loved ones and improve their quality of life. Helping them get the training and protection they need so they can protect their digital existence goes a long way to instilling that empowerment.