by Cristy Koebler
Being the adult child of an aging parent comes with specific challenges. Apart from the obvious concerns over our parents’ health, mental faculties, and ability to provide for themselves, the digital age brings a whole new set of fears. Is someone scamming my mother out of her life savings? Does my dad know how to protect himself from telephone scams? Are my parents being safe online?
One of the chief struggles in the adult child-elderly parent dynamic is being able to help your parents protect themselves while still acknowledging that they are independent, intelligent people. Too often, the urgent need to step in and protect our loved ones can be seen as infringing, or butting in where we’re not wanted.
That’s why it’s important to navigate any conversation or instruction with care. The 21st century senior citizen was alive before the advent of color TV, cell phones, and free long distance phone service, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of understanding today’s technology. After all, theirs is the generation that ushered in this great era of innovation, and the conversation surrounding their self-protection should reflect that.
Here are three key tips for helping your parents protect their identities and their information:
1. How “techy” are they? – If your parents are a part of the senior population who has openly embraced smartphones, tablets, and internet TV, great. If they’re not, that doesn’t mean their identities are necessarily safe. Elder scams through phone calls, the postal system, and even old-fashioned door-to-door con artists are still viable threats.
Make sure your parents have a way to learn about new threats as they come up, but that they’re still aware that the old methods of conning people out of their money or their identities are still every bit as prevalent as ever.
2. Seniors and social media – Senior citizens have embraced social media in ways that you might not suspect, but remember that previous point about ushering in new innovations. Older adults have a firm appreciation for being able to connect with others easily and for free; remember, their childhood years were the days of paying four dollars a minute for a cross-country phone call. The ability to turn on their smartphones or log onto Facebook and see pictures of their family members and friends is a real draw.
But their appreciation for technology doesn’t mean that the little tricks that hackers or scammers may try are so easily recognized. Warn your family members (of any age) about the dangers of connecting with people they don’t know on social media, about making sure they’re not oversharing their personal information online, and about never giving money to someone they met on social media, no matter how desperate the situation or how much they think they know this person.
3. Let technology help you – There are both blessings and pitfalls that come from better access to technology. Whether your parents are “connected” or not, you can use technology to their benefit. Credit monitoring services—with your parents’ consent, of course—can help both of you stay on top of your parents’ credit activity and identity, and help safeguard against scammers. A remote desktop application on their computers, again only with your parents’ consent, can help them feel like they can call you at a moment’s notice if there’s any strange activity, like viruses or malware. There are even social media monitoring applications that can keep you informed if anyone is using certain keywords to target your parents’ accounts for the purposing of emotional abuse or scams.
The most important thing you can do to protect your parents is to keep the security dialogue open, engaging, and light. Remember, your own understanding of personal safety may have come from lessons they instilled in you. Just as you once came to them with the hard questions about life, return the favor and let them know you’re there to help.
Cristy Koebler is Communications & Media Manager at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in identity theft on social networks and smartphones, and shares educational information with the public through ITRC’s social media channels.