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Online Safety for Baby Boomers

March 16, 2017

If you have elderly parents, you may be surprised to know that, according to Pew Research, Baby Boomers (people between 52 and 70 years old) spend more time online than millennials. Grandma and gramps are checking their email, watching YouTube, and surfing for vacation destinations, just like everyone else. However, unlike other generations, they didn’t grow up online, so they may be more vulnerable than younger online users.

First, elders may be great at judging character in person, but not at spotting the signs of an online scam, and they tend to be more respectful and compliant with something that appears to come from an authority. They may also be self-conscious about their computer skills and hesitant to ask when something seems wrong. So if you’re caring for or assisting an older family member, you need to be proactive in helping them protect themselves online.


Here are some easy things you can do to help your older family members to protect themselves:

  • Talk with them about the risks. “Hey, did you hear about this email scam that’s going around?” This will raise their awareness of scams and help them avoid opening phishing emails or clicking on links that may download malicious software.

  • Help them keep their software updated with security patches. Sit down with them and check that OS, apps, and browsers are set to do automatic updates.

  • Install security software on their computer and show them how to read the green lights and alerts.

  • Help them review their social media privacy settings to make sure only people they know can see their information.

  • Ask that they don’t let other people use their computers. (If you’re their tech support, this is a very fair request, as teen relatives, for example, may change settings and you’ll have to put them back.)

  • If they do banking, shopping, or access medical information online, make sure they use unique, strong passwords for each account. (And ask if they will share accounts and password information with you or put a copy in a safe, to be used in case of emergency.) Especially if memory is an issue, consider getting them set up with a password manager, so that they only have to remember one password and all accounts will be protected.

Most importantly, if something goes wrong online, let your family member know that they should contact you right away. The FBI says that most online crimes against seniors go unreported because they are embarrassed or don’t know whom to tell. By talking with your family member about online risks often, and speaking as one capable adult to another, you can keep lines of communication open and help nip problems in the bud.

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