Internet safety for seniors: How can I help keep a vulnerable person being taken advantage of online over social media?

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How can I help keep a vulnerable person being taken advantage of online over social media?

Question

apps or technology that helps prevent vulnerable people from being taken advantage on within social media platforms or generally online.

Our answer

The internet provides a platform for seniors to connect with friends and family, but it can also expose them to people trying to take advantage of them. There are some tools and strategies that can be put in place to help keeps seniors safer online.

First, it’s important to speak with the individual about the risks associated with accessing the internet. They may just not be aware of the signs of a scam, and they might even be open to implementing some protections to keep them safe. We recommend explaining the options available and obtaining their consent before making any changes.

Ensure the computer has an anti-virus program, and a firewall enabled. Most newer, computers will have these installed by default. Follow these steps for newer Windows computers to check if these are already installed. Mac computers already have a built-in anti-virus program.

Many online scams begin with a message over social media or an email from a stranger. Thankfully, most social media platforms have settings that can help to limit a stranger’s ability to find or message you online.

  • On Facebook you can change how you are searched and what the people who do search for you can find. For instance, you can limit who can send you Friend Requests to only include Friends of Friends. By default, you can be searched with only your email address, or even your phone number - if you have it linked. You can change this so that you only appear in search results for your name. You can also prevent your Facebook profile from showing up in the results of Search Engines, such as Google. Facebook allows you to view your own profile as a stranger could, it’s a good idea to limit the information that they can see.
  • On Twitter you may want to ensure that you have disabled ‘receive Direct Messages from anyone’. When this is disabled you will only be able to receive Direct Messages from people you follow. Tweets that are sent out are public by default, you may want to enhance privacy by opting for protected tweets instead. Changing your tweets to protected limits the chance of someone ‘finding you’ online.
  • Instagram accounts can be set to Private so that only approved followers can see what you share. You can also turn off direct messages to prevent strangers from contacting you over Instagram altogether.
  • On LinkedIn, you can manage the types of messages you receive. Connections that you have made will still be able to message you unless blocked, but everyone else can be limited to some degree. LinkedIn shows a special public version of your profile which has less information on it. You can change who can view your public profile and what they will see.
  • For other social media platforms, you can investigate the settings to see if you can hide your profile or make it more difficult to be searched. If there is a messaging component to the site, check how you can limit the incoming messages to only people you have approved.

Beyond social media, there are many unsafe websites that try to collect personal information. Internet users often get directed to the websites in the form of an email phishing scam or pop-up advertisements. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some common indicators of a scam, and share them with the individual so they know what to look for.

Generally, if a website or an e-mail is asking for any kind of personal information it’s highly likely to be a scam. If it looks like it comes from a company where you have made a purchase or have an account, call them directly – but do not use the contact information in the email.

If the senior’s cognitive condition is impacting their judgment, it may be difficult to apply some of the strategies listed above on their own. With their consent, you can keep an eye on their online interactions by use of parental control software.

Parental control software is designed to keep children safe online, but these types of software are often very customizable and can be made beneficial for seniors too.

  • Parental Control by metacert.com is a free Google Chrome extension that allows the administrator to set up a white list containing sites that are safe for the seniors to visit. The person browsing the Internet will have access only to the sites on the white list, keeping them safe from clicking suspicious links or following advertisements.
  • Family options is a built-in setting on newer Windows computers. You can enable weekly reports, and set browsing filters for Microsoft Edge.
  • Mobicip is a parental control system for a wide range of devices. Features include a detailed list for website filtering, a location tracker - which can be useful for lost devices - and options for checking in on the user’s browsing history. The price starts at about $4 (U.S.) a month - but there is also a free seven-day trial.
  • Qustodio is a comprehensive parental control app.  It is available for free, or you can unlock more features with the Premium version that starts at about $5 (U.S.) a month. In the free version, you are able to monitor how the individual is using their devices, apps, and the web in general. Filtering is automatically enabled to protect the individual from harmful content.

If the individual’s online behaviour remains risky, and you are not able to monitor their activity to keep them safe, you may have to have a conversation about moving away from traditional internet access. Even still, there are alternatives to accessing the internet over a computer or smart device. Instead, there are options to allow seniors to benefit from the web while keeping them safe. Customized devices often allow only a few features determined by a family member. Usually, the features include video calling, email, news, games, and more – but the device does not have access to the wider internet.

  • Claris Companion by Claris Healthcare Inc. is a simplified tablet. A family member can choose to remotely enable different features including: video calling, calendar, games, weather, and photos. The Wi-Fi tablet costs about $300 (U.S.) plus a $30 (U.S.) per month subscription and shipping fee.

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