Morgan Stanley
  • Wealth Management
  • Oct 12, 2020

Cybersecurity for Seniors: A Caregiver’s Guide

The senior citizen population has never been a bigger target for cyber crime and fraud. Learn how to help protect elderly loved ones.

Caring for a senior citizen can encompass many aspects of their life, including physical health, mental well-being and personal finances. But, protecting them from cyber predators is an area of growing concern.

Why? Because for cyber criminals, senior citizens have never been a bigger target for fraud.

With the graying of America, individuals age 65 and older now account for a record 46 million people—about 16% of the population.1

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Additionally, the technology habits and attitudes of a typical senior citizen makes them attractive to cyber thieves. According to Pew Research Center, 42% of seniors own a smart phone and 67% surf the internet.1 But, most aren’t tech-savvy—only 26% of senior internet users feel “very confident” when using computers and smartphones.Even when aware of the danger, many seniors don’t believe that they themselves would ever become a cyber victim, and often underestimate the havoc a cyber attack can create.

The result? Senior citizens lost $650 million as victims of online crime in 2018, and the U.S. has seen a 400% increase in internet crime toward this age group in the past five years.2

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 is a great way to begin.

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 these 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 one-third of individuals 65 and older use social media.1 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. Possibly notify the authorities about the attempted scam. 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 complex 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. These updates 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 username and password 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. 

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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