It started with a phone call, a man warning my mom that her computer was messed up, but he could fix it. He just needed remote access to her computer… along with her bank account. That led to a fake PayPal account, a gift card scam that cost her thousands of dollars, and harassing phone calls that still haven’t stopped.
When your aging parents get scammed because of something happening with their computer or phone, it’s frustrating to everyone. They’re often embarrassed about it, you can’t believe it happened, and you may have to get other people involved to clean things up.
We must remember that many of our parents knew a world before television even existed. Compare that to today, and so much of the current technology is understandably mind-blowing — which unfortunately makes them more susceptible to scams. And these scammers know the right things to say to worry them and/or befriend them.
The more they understand tech, the better they can help protect themselves and the less it will feel like a foreign language. Here are the best things we can do to help:
1. Teach phone tech
Find the right device to allow them to do the things that they want to do and the things you’d like them to be able to do. Do they need to access a rideshare app? Text? Take pictures? Check email? Or do they just want to make calls and play solitaire?
Understanding needs and wants can help you decide if they need a smartphone, a flip phone designed for seniors, or even just a landline in their home. In today’s world of caller ID, help them understand that when it says “Spam Risk” on the iPhone, they shouldn’t answer.
2. Keep it simple
Don’t push them to learn more than they want to. Back in the early 80s, my husband taught my father-in-law how to use a computer spreadsheet program called Lotus. He learned how to open a file and save a file, add a column, insert a row, and print. My husband kept asking if he wanted to learn how to sort things or put a graph together. “No, I’m good,” my father-in-law would tell him.
About 40 years later, my father-in-law still insists on using Lotus (which isn’t even in business anymore) because he doesn’t want to learn Excel or Google sheets. Those five things he learned in the 80s are still all he knows today. Back then, he had to enter “/”, “F”, “S” to save a file. Now he has a mouse and Windows, and he could click to make things easier. But he keeps it simple for himself, and he’s happy not to learn anything new.
3. Have remote access to their computer/email
You don’t want scammers to get remote access, but when you have it, it can be a lifesaver. Especially if your parents live in another city or another state. This can help if something pops up on their screen, and they don’t know what to do. Or if, somehow, their Windows become “Tiled” instead of “Cascade”. You can also use Facetime, but that takes a little patience!
The thing that’s helped me the last few years is access to my mom’s email. She gets so much spam and so many people looking for donations. I’m able to clean things out of her Inbox every day, and if she asks me about an email, I can easily look at it.
4. Teach them to never “click”
One of the first things my husband taught his dad when email started in the 90s was to not click on any links or attachments. To this day, we often get emails forwarded to us about “problems with a PayPal account” or “your computer has a virus.” I’ve tried to teach my mom the same thing, as she’ll call and say she didn’t know she had a certain product that she got an email about. “You don’t mom,” I’ll tell her. “Look at the email address it’s really coming from!”
You can also get the grandkids involved or a young neighbor, since technology is second nature to them. The independent living facility where my mom lives has a class every Monday to learn and troubleshoot problems. Senior centers often have classes, too.
Set your aging parents up for success and don’t get frustrated when they seem to have more trouble with a computer or iPhone than a toddler. They may be more familiar with an old black-and-white television or a stick shift pickup from the 50s. Let them learn at their own pace.
After 30 years as television journalists, Kim and Mike Barnes have a new mission: to broadcast a message of support and to undercut the confusion surrounding care for aging parents. Through their free Facebook Group, expert interviews, and guide for gathering essential information, Parenting Aging Parents provides access to the knowledge desperately needed for adult children.