Protecting elders online: Q&A with NCOA's Ramsey Alwin

Emma McGowan 12 Nov 2021

Here's why it’s more important than ever for cybersecurity companies to serve people of all ages

It’s easy to focus on “digital natives” when we talk about people spending a lot of time online. And that makes sense! Who hasn’t seen a teenager with their nose stuck in their phone or a young adult who can’t stop texting? 

But younger generations aren’t the only ones online, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic forced so many of us to physically isolate ourselves from our loved ones. Older generations are spending more time online, doing everything from communicating with family to banking to accessing medical care. In fact, according to the Avast 2021 Digital Citizenship Report, 46% of people aged 65+ agreed that the increase in the importance of the internet in their lives varied from “a little” to “much more important” when compared with their lives pre-pandemic. 

However, increased time online also comes with a potential increase in risks. According to the FBI, elder fraud online adds up to more than $3 billion in losses annually — and that number is expected to grow. That’s why it’s more important than ever for cybersecurity companies to serve people of all ages.

With that in mind, Avast recently partnered with the National Council On Aging (NCOA). The following is a Q&A with the NCOA CEO, Ramsey Alwin — who has dedicated her career to helping older generations — and Avast.

AV: Why did NCOA want to partner with Avast? What do you see your community getting out of this partnership?

RA: The pandemic has changed everything, especially the way we stay in touch with loved ones, make purchases, and access health care. Like the rest of us, older adults are adapting to the new virtual world — buying groceries online, enjoying chair yoga via Facebook Live, participating in book clubs via Zoom, and teleworking. However, many are less familiar with the internet, making them easy prey for scammers. NCOA partnered with Avast to empower older adults with knowledge about how they can stay safe online. Together, we will expand our content and outreach on critical topics like identifying phishing scams, managing passwords, and safely using applications on smartphones. 

AV: What are the most common online scams you see in your community?

RA: Scammers target older adults in multiple ways, unfortunately. One common scam is people who pose as representatives from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, or Medicare and tell older adults they owe taxes or may lose benefits. One that really pulls on the heartstrings is the grandparent scam, where fraudsters pretend to be a grandchild in need of financial help. Increasingly common, tech support scams prey on older adults’ lack of knowledge about cybersecurity by displaying pop-up messages that say their device is compromised and needs fixing. 

AV: There’s a lot of talk about generations these days, especially online. Would you say that the older generations’ reputation for not being tech-savvy is deserved? 

RA: At NCOA, we fight against ageist stereotypes that don’t tell the true story of older adults. Today’s older adults are rapidly adopting digital technologies. And when it comes to online scams, anyone can become a victim as fraudsters become increasingly sophisticated. That’s why we want to educate people about how to protect themselves. 

AV: What’s one thing you wish younger people knew about people over 50 and tech?

RA: We want people to know that older adults are lifelong learners, and they’re eager to use new technologies when they see the benefit for themselves and their families. They aren’t afraid of tech — they may just have a different experience with it because they aren’t digital natives. We need to engage older adults where they are and give them unbiased information and tools, so they can stay in control of their online lives. We also need to look at the user experience through the lens of a non-digital native to consider how to make it more seamless. 

AV: What are some tips you have for younger people who are worried about the cyber safety of the older people in their lives? 

RA: The most important thing is to communicate. Older adults, or anyone for that matter, are more likely to become victims of scams when they are isolated or lonely. Check in with the older loved ones in your life and share safety tips for navigating the internet. Create a family plan to help older family members navigate major online decisions, especially those that involve money. 

AV: What are some tips you have for older people who want to stay safe online? 

RA: First and foremost, never send money or share your personal information — such as credit card or bank account numbers, date of birth, or Social Security or Medicare IDs — with unfamiliar individuals or companies. If you receive an unsolicited offer, be skeptical! Always take your time in making a decision. Reasonable companies will not pressure you. Do not pay in advance for any services and do your own research before replying to any offers. Finally, always report fraud to law enforcement agencies.

Further reading:
Older generations shouldn't fear being a digital burden
Learn how to protect elders from tech support scams

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