The number of older adults connecting with friends and family on the internet and via social media is rising every year. You know this from personal experience, if you’re a home-based caregiver for seniors. It’s statistically true as well, according to recent Pew Research studies which show 53% of Americans age 65 and up using the internet and email, and 43% making use of social networking.

The online experience has opened doors for the seniors in our care, giving them ways to stay in touch with the important folks in their lives despite the obstacles that distance, weather, and health issues may present. But the internet can also open the door to a lot of unwanted and unwelcome attention in the form of targeted scams, fraud, and identity theft.

These risks are real. National statistics show that while adults over 65 make up just 12% of our population, they comprise 30% of all the victims of fraud and scams each year. As a caregiver, you have a real duty to help the elders you serve develop safer, wiser practices on their computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Opening the conversation

Start with a conversation about seniors who’ve been defrauded — it’s a great way to introduce the topic of online safety. Remind your charges to change their secure passwords every now and then, and keep a handwritten list of passwords near their computer. Let them know that it’s a bad idea to click on an email link that comes from a stranger, and to never, ever, give account information of any kind in response to an email.

Social networks

Many seniors don’t understand how public Facebook really is. Help them to tighten up their privacy settings, and let them know that criminals are using the social networks, too! An innocent post about being home alone or a check-in at an outside location can be an invitation to home invasion. If checking in via FourSquare is a favorite activity, encourage seniors to check in when they’re leaving, instead of when they’re arriving.

Online dating

This might be a delicate subject to broach. But please, do it anyway! Thousands of seniors are defrauded every year by unsavory characters posing as romantic partners. They need to understand that when an online date starts spinning a hard-luck story — no matter how heartbreaking it seems — it’s a doomed relationship and a scam in the making.

Links from friends

Even if the seniors in your care have cleaned up their online behaviors, their friends may not have done the same. Encourage your charges to wait a day before clicking on links they get from friends via email or Facebook posts. While nobody sends malicious viruses to their friends on purpose, accidents do happen, and that’s what the scammers count on.

Virus protection

On the subject of malware and viruses, help your charges download a good virus protection program. If you can set it to run automatically, do so. Then take the time to demonstrate how it can be manually activated as well.

A final note

Remember, you’re not trying to scare seniors away from using their computers and mobile devices. The online world is a great place for elders to keep up on news, access valuable information, and stay in touch with family and friends. With your help, seniors can be safe in that online world — just the way you keep them safe in the real world.

Author: Kimberly Barnes