With nearly 47.8 million citizens over the age of 65 living in the United States, cybercriminals are taking note. As the remaining the baby boomers enter their retirement years, analysts project by the year 2035, the senior population will hit 78 million. Internet-connected devices and online accounts have become a part of everyday life, and when taking into consideration the abundance of personal data stored on those devices and accounts, it’s easy to see how a cybercriminal can obtain enough information to compromise an identity. From dumpster diving to corporate data breaches, thieves use many tactics that, once understood, make them avoidable.
For individuals who require assistance with activities of daily living (ADL), it’s essential that their caregivers are educated and prepared to defend both physical and digital information. As a caregiver, it’s your responsibility to cover the topic, even with those who may not use the Internet.
Steps to Ensure Your Loved One's Information Remains Secure
Secure, shred, and permanently delete old or unused documents
All sensitive documents, both physical and digital, should be safely stored behind a lock; this includes the patient’s Social Security, medical, insurance, tax, and financial records. In fact, even letting mail collect in the home or mailbox can be a dangerous practice, as it’s possible that this information could be stolen or accessed by a mail thief or dumpster diver. When disposing of your patient’s old mail, bills, medical information, or personal documents, use a file shredder for added protection and always secure private documents within a locked safe. The whereabouts of the combination or key to the safe should be disclosed only to the most trustworthy family member or caregiver.
Regularly update devices and passwords
The overall security of your patient's device depends on the software installed to defend it. Security updates not only fix potential bugs that slow software, but they can also address critical faults that could make the information stored on a device vulnerable to attack. Enabling automatic updates is the best way loved ones and caregivers can stay current and guarantee that a device is uncompromised.
The same goes for passwords: Caregivers with access to online passwords should frequently change previously used passwords for entirely new, unique ones. Password managers can help loved ones and caregivers keep track of multiple, highly secure passwords, and relies less on an individual’s memory or physical notes. Two-factor password authentication is an easily enabled security measure that requires a second form of identification at login. This handy feature allows loved ones to keep tabs on a loved one’s account activity and access to accounts and notifies them when there’s an attempt to log in.
Identify and avoid phishing emails
If you’re not paying attention or downloading from an untrusted source, phishing emails, malware, and other cyber-scams can be difficult to identify. Caregivers should always check unknown emails for poor grammar and punctuation, a misspelled email address, or a link to a fake or unsecured website before allowing the patient to respond.
Monitor accounts and statements to identify potential issues
Seniors work their entire lives to establish financial portfolios, savings accounts, credit lines, and well-maintained credit profiles: all things that are especially attractive to cybercriminals. Caregivers and loved ones can help by frequently checking financial records, billing statements, and collection notices, as it’s possible that criminal activity and fraudulent charges could go unnoticed. Significant transactions or outstanding balance notifications may not show up on credit reports right away and, if an individual borrows regularly, there's a chance the creditors may not deem the transactions as fraudulent. Therefore, its important caregivers regularly notify the patients family members of any new mail, notifications, or billing statements.
Helpful Tools for Caregivers and Loved Ones
Identity Theft Protection
Combating identity theft doesn’t have to be a scary uphill battle. Beyond having caregivers watch out for phone, mail, and online identity thieves, it’s important that a patient knows what to do if someone asks for personal information or financial data. For an added layer of protection, busy family members and caregivers often enroll their loved one in a senior identity theft protection and monitoring plan. As anybody who has faced ID theft in the past will tell you, you’re more likely to have your information stolen again if it has been compromised in the past. LifeLock offers a number of specialized services including one designed specifically for seniors; it allows family members to monitor an individual’s activity, receive alert notifications, freeze accounts, or immediately report issues.
Identity theft is a stressful experience for those who fall victim to it, and stress can have a negative impact on health, especially as we age. In addition to taking online precautions to safeguard your loved one’s assets, it’s important as a caregiver to also encourage them to take care of their health. A medical alert device company, like Medical Guardian, can provide your loved one or patient with additional peace of mind by giving them a direct line to help should they ever need it. Medical alert systems can be used in a variety of situations, from medical emergencies to fires or break-ins, to non-emergencies, such as needing help getting in touch with a neighbor or child. Since it is not always possible to provide a patient or loved one with round-the-clock care, a medical alert system is an excellent alternative.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 3.8 billion prescriptions written for Americans each year. Of those, approximately 1 in 5 is never filled and 50 percent of the ones that are filled are taken incorrectly. Medication mismanagement can be especially dangerous for seniors, so it’s important that caregivers not only know which medications their patients are taking, but also the proper dosage and side effects. A MedMinder medication organizer can help with medication adherence so your patient or loved one can take their medication as directed, even when you are not there.
Wandering off is a scary reality of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Project Lifesaver, a certified nonprofit with offices nationwide, is a wonderful resource for anyone caring for a patient or loved one that has wandered off. The organization employs a location finding program that strategically combines “state of the art locating technologies, innovative search and rescue methods, and community policing courses that educate first responders about cognitive conditions.”
Keeping Seniors Safe on the Internet and Beyond
When it comes to senior safety, both online and out in the world, education is the first step in staying protected. Starting the conversation with your patient or loved one is a great first step, but your senior safety education doesn’t end there. People with bad intentions have found ways to scam seniors on dating websites, over the phone and even through the mail.
Being aware of the various types of scams that target seniors can help, but scammers are always coming up with new ways to con those who are the most vulnerable among us. Part of why many scammers target seniors in the first place is due to the fact that they are less likely to report the fraud out of embarrassment and shame. But as a caregiver, it’s important to let them know that they are not alone and that there are a variety of institutions that can help.
If you believe that your patient or loved one has fallen victim to a scam you can contact the following organizations to report it: