Cybersecurity for Seniors: A Guide for Loved Ones

Jun 11, 2024

Senior citizens are regularly targeted by cyber criminals. Learn how to help protect your elderly loved ones.

Key Takeaways

  • Senior citizens are ripe targets for fraudsters. Help your loved ones learn how to recognize common scams.
  • Assist the seniors in your life with protecting access to their accounts by using strong passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).
  • Create a device inventory and a gameplan for keeping your senior’s internet-connected electronics up to date.
  • Anyone can add a trusted contact to their Morgan Stanley accounts to serve as a designated point of contact should there be concerns about the account holder’s well-being or financial exploitation.

Caring for elderly loved ones can encompass many aspects of their life, including physical health, mental well-being and personal finances. With a growing number of cyber predators targeting senior citizens, it’s important to also consider how you can protect them from fraud.  


Seniors are actively embracing the digital age. Of individuals age 65 and older, 76% own a smart phone and 88% are active on the internet.1,2 Digital activity coupled with a lack of tech and security savvy could make seniors an attractive target for cyber thieves. In fact, senior citizens lost a collective $3.4 billion in 2023, an 11% increase from 2022.3


As a caregiver, trying to protect your loved one from cyber criminals can be scary and overwhelming. How do you even start to fight back? This three-step roadmap can help you get started.

Step 1: Start the Conversation About Common Scams

This step can be the most difficult for caregivers, but it’s one that they shouldn’t skip. It might help to begin this discussion by gently reminding your loved one that anyone—no matter their age—can fall victim to a scam artist. Then talk about ways an individual can be targeted, such as the tactics listed below.


Social engineering: Many scams involve social engineering—using a false pretense to persuade individuals to share personal information or take action. Countless variations of these scams exist. Romance or online-dating scams featuring a predator that uses a dating website or social media to capitalize on an elderly individual’s desire for companionship are common. So is the “grandparent scam,” in which cyber thieves pretend to be a relative—usually a child or a grandchild—who is in distress and needs immediate financial help.


Phishing and vishing: A phishing scam typically starts with an email that looks like it’s from a trusted or legitimate source and asks your relative to do something, such as download an attachment or click on a link that leads them to a website that seeks to steal their information or will infect their computer or smartphone with malicious software, known as malware. Educate your family member about the dangers of clicking on links or opening attachments, even from senders who look legitimate.


“Vishing” is a variation of this scam that takes place by phone. Your elderly loved one may receive a call from a fraudster purporting to be from an IT company and requesting remote access to their computer. Or they may claim to be with the IRS and ask for a Social Security Number to deal with an urgent issue with a tax return. Always be skeptical about an email or phone call that asks for personal information, requests immediate action or makes an offer that sounds too good to be true.


Social media scams: Roughly half of individuals 65 and older use social media.4 Make sure your family member has his or her account-privacy settings ramped up and caution them to limit the personal information they share online. Warn your family member about online quizzes or surveys that may appear harmless. The data collected from them can be shared with many companies and lead to spam emails. Or, even worse, these quizzes may contain links to fraudulent websites, or collect their personal information to perpetrate identity theft.


Responding to scams: How should your elderly relative handle scams that originate through different means? Instruct them to do the following:

  • Phone calls: Hang up immediately. Use voicemail to screen calls.
  • Email: Delete the fraudulent email by marking it as spam/junk. Never respond to it.
  • Text: Block the incoming number from their phone.
  • Social media: Report the violation and block the user.

Step 2: Tackle Password and Account Security

Practicing good password hygiene and enabling Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for sensitive accounts are two of the most powerful yet simple ways to boost cybersecurity.


For optimal password protection, use a lengthy and unique password for each account. Reusing the same password for every account can lead to a hacker gaining control of all of them. Concerned about your senior loved one having to remember all those passwords? Set them up with a password manager. This software-based service creates unique passwords, securely encrypts and stores them and can auto-fill the passwords when your loved one accesses their accounts.


MFA requires using two or more methods of identification, such as a password, plus a temporary access code sent to a mobile phone, when logging into an account. Relying on frictionless forms of MFA, such as biometrics that employ facial or fingerprint identification, is a great, easy-to-use option. Be sure to enable MFA for your senior loved one’s email account. A good email provider for a senior should be one that’s reputable, automatically provides new security updates and offers robust spam-blocking.

Step 3: Conduct a Device Inventory

Create a list of all the devices your elderly relative owns. This makes it easier for you to keep things organized and consider getting rid of devices that aren’t used regularly.


But it also can act as a checklist when ensuring all the software running on these devices (the operating system, applications and browsers) is up to date. Software updates regularly contain fixes to security bugs and play an important role in maintaining a strong cybersecurity defense. Devices that aren’t regularly updated are prime targets for hackers.


Also, check to ensure that hardware, such as smartphones and computers, with access to sensitive information will automatically lock and require a password to reactivate. After securing the devices, make sure to configure the home Wi-Fi router and access points with unique usernames and passwords that are not the default ones that come with the equipment.

Protect Your Senior Loved One’s Financial Wellbeing

Fee-based monitoring services, such as EverSafe, offer specialized protection for seniors that guards against internet scams, fraud and identify theft. 


Additionally, seniors (and anyone) can add a trusted contact to their Morgan Stanley accounts under Profiles + Settings.  This person serves as a designated point of contact in the event that there are concerns about the account holder’s well-being or possible financial exploitation. The trusted contact does not have authority to take any action on the accounts.


Feel like you need to talk to someone about your loved one’s financial wellbeing and how to help safeguard against scams? Get in touch with your Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor. Our expert fraud and cybersecurity teams may be able to help.

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