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The generation gap: Protecting our kaumātua online

By Mitchell Hageman
Wed 30 Mar 2022

From a young age, Kiwi kids are taught the basics of cyber safety through a variety of different channels. Whether it is through school or lessons from their parents, awareness around being safe online is instilled in our tamariki who are now growing up in a device-centric world.

And for millennials and Gen Z, much of their daily working and personal lives revolve around technology, and over time and through experience they have amassed a variety of cyber skills and generally have a pretty solid foundation of online safety.

But what about those that missed out? Our kaumātua who caught the tailwind of online technology later in their life and are struggling to come to terms with many aspects of it through no fault of their own. Sadly, this demographic is the most at risk when it comes to cyber safety and often gets caught out and targeted.

A recent global report by Avast found that technology hesitancy among the older generation is significantly widespread. Out of the 2,700 people aged 55 and older surveyed, statistics revealed that only 42% use the internet regularly, 31% use it occasionally, and 27% never use it at all. 

The most damning statistic in this report was that 36% of the respondents over 55 were found to shy away from using the internet entirely because of cyber risks. Avast chief information security officer Jaya Baloo remarked that a variety of factors around cyber security prevent people in this age group from feeling comfortable and protected online, saying "the challenges start with choosing the right devices and software. Properly configuring privacy settings, setting up devices and a Wi-Fi network are also insurmountable hurdles for many as well as ongoing maintenance."

In New Zealand, the report also revealed that those aged between 55-64 and over 65 primarily use their desktop computer or laptop to go online, making them more at risk to ransomware, tech support scams, spyware/Trojans, and Botnets, which could be accidentally or unknowingly downloaded via links in emails or through malicious websites.

"Different generations may see the internet with different eyes and have different online experiences, which is something to keep in mind when having conversations about online safety at home," says Baloo.

Last year, the Detail reported that New Zealanders lose an estimated $500 million a year to overseas fraudsters online, and older victims are overrepresented in the statistics. In 2019, there was a particular increase in scammers targeting the senior Pacifica community, with RNZ reporting that there had been a significant occurrence of fake investments, dodgy shares, illegitimate cryptocurrency trading and requests for money on Facebook.

Netsafe says on its website that defrauding through deception seems to be the most common occurrence for older people through a variety of different channels and methods online. 

Banks are often a common channel used by scammers, with many NZ based banks sending out security alerts to their elderly customers. Often these complex cyber scams involve fake documentation and malicious links via email that ask for customer details under the guise of being professional and helpful, with reports of older people losing thousands of dollars.

Netsafe's website recommends that it’s important for anyone embracing the opportunities available online to adopt safe behaviours along the way, and has a wealth of resources to help.

So we know there is a significant problem and Aotearoa's elders are at risk of cyber threats more than others, so what other resources and support systems are out there to help and what are people feeling out in the community?

We spoke to He Manaakitanga Kaumātua Aotearoa (Age Concern New Zealand) about their experience in assisting kaumātua with cyber security and what families and organisations can do to help.

"Age Concern New Zealand and many other organisations are working hard to educate older people about scams, but more could be done to support people around online safety," says Age Concern NZ manager health promotion and policy Joanne Reid.

"Many older people are very keen to be online. They want to stay in touch with friends and whānau, order goods and services online, do online banking – and enjoy the entertainment available online. Importantly, they need to be scam savvy and keep up-to-date about how to be safe online."

Reid says that scams and cyber security threats can have an extremely negative effect on older people, and they often hear from relatives of those who have been targeted highlighting their concern. They also consistently hear about those concerned about device safety in general.

"Age Concern hears from older New Zealanders wanting to learn how to use their smartphone or tablet, they also want to increase their knowledge about how to use their device safely. We also hear from people who are upset because they have been scammed or from a friend or whānau member who may be concerned that an older person is being scammed."

According to Reid, often older people are embarrassed when they have been caught out by a cyber scam, and Age Concern provides a supportive and caring environment to speak openly, with professionals on board to assist in sensitive matters.

"Age Concern provides someone caring and professional to talk to. In some situations, an older person may not have told anyone else that they have been scammed. Understandably, people are upset and embarrassed, but they shouldn't be. Scammers are cunning and anyone can be taken in, especially in the busyness of life."

Reid says anyone who comes to Age Concern will be given helpful advice and support and encouraged to contact key players in the cyber world who are also part of the threat prevention process.

"They are told to contact their bank, and to report the scam to CERT NZ and the Police. Age Concern can also link them to financial support and food services if needed."

When discussing advice for families and carers of older people who may be at risk of scams and cyber threats, Reid says the best thing to do is become educated and aware of the risk and develop risk prevention strategies.

"A useful step families can take is to teach their older relatives ways to detect and protect themselves from scams. Older family members may need to be shown these things several times rather than just once. Helping their family member to check their privacy settings is another useful tip."

There are also a variety of virtual and hard copy resources out there to help, says Reid.

"Age Concern New Zealand's website has useful information and resources about online safety for older New Zealanders and their whānau. Banks, CERT NZ, Citizens Advice Bureau, libraries, the Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa and the Department of Internal Affairs / Netsafe all offer information and education around online safety and can support older people to stay safe online. The Little Black Book of Scams is a great free resource available from Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission."

People can also contact Age Concern NZ by phone at 0800 65 2 105.

"Older people and their families can always ring Age Concern to seek advice, discuss options, develop a plan of action and in some instances can support advocacy with banks or raising scam awareness," says Reid.

"The more people trained in online safety the better. Everyone, including older people, whānau and carers are at risk of being scammed." 

Public Interest Journalism Fund logo
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.
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