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We live in an online age. The internet is everywhere and the days when our elderly parents have no idea how to access the online world are swiftly coming to an end. But with the joys of online shopping and wealth of information at our fingertips so to come a multitude of dangers. So, how do you go about protecting elderly parents online?
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Recognize they need online protection
You never want to prematurely usurp their independence and force online restrictions on a mentally competent aging parent. If you have suspicions that your elderly parent is not acting responsibly online, then take steps now to ensure their safety.
You can determine if your elderly parent needs help by:
- Observing their online habits by sitting with them as they browse.
- Starting a conversation with them about online safety.
- Paying attention to how they are interacting on social media.
- Checking online history, including shopping history.
- Recognizing signs of confusion in other parts of their life.
With my MIL, one of the first signs of her Dementia were her interactions online. While she was able to converse fairly coherently in person, her online activity was concerning.
- She would frequently leave messages on social media for random people as they came across her newsfeed.
- She thought every ad that came across her screen was especially for her and meant she needed to make a purchase. (Ask me how many bottles of hand lotion we donated!)
- She was easily misled by scammers making her computer susceptible to virus and personal fraud.
- She would often run across inappropriate sites (that she would never intentionally visit) that caused her a great deal of distress.
1. Personally set strict security settings on frequently visited sites.
More and more sites are asking for personal information that a few years ago we would never have considered providing. Your parent could unknowingly make this information more public than they should opening them (and potentially other family members) up to identity fraud and unwelcome online contact.
When you suspect that your elderly parent may be struggling with online safety, start personally setting their security settings on these sites. Disable sharing functions, make accounts private, and delete social security and identification numbers. Disable automatic log-ins and saved passwords.
Activate spam filters on your elderly parent’s email. Remind them frequently that absolutely NO creditor, government agency, or financial institution will contact them via email asking for personal information.
For added security on social media, set up privacy settings to share only with certain family and friends.
2. Parental Controls
This may seem like a drastic step but it is so necessary especially if your elderly parent has Dementia or another disease that prevents them from using sound judgement.
Setting up parental controls for your elderly parent can be tricky. The best way to start is by blocking the sites you know your elderly parent has a problem with. This includes sites that ask for personal information, sites with bogus news and information, and sites that pose security risks. It also allows your elderly parent to avoid sites that may trigger irrational or inappropriate behavior.
You may also need to restrict online purchases if you notice your elderly parent acting irresponsibly. This does not mean they are never allowed to buy anything but setting maximum payment limits or restricting certain sites can go a long way in protecting your elderly parent financially.
Related Post: What Does Parenting Your Parents Really Mean?
3. Protection Services
There are many protection services that help keep your elderly parent safe online. These can allow you peace of mind while giving your parent some continued online freedom.
Password Protection Services
These services keep all your elderly parent’s passwords in a secure location. They will be able to log-in to most of their frequently visited sites with their universal password. This keeps them from having to write down passwords opening them up to easy theft.
I use Keeper. The unlimited plan allows you to use it for all devices (computer, tablet, phone).
Identity Theft Services
Protecting identity is paramount in online safety. These services monitor your identity and credit information and alert you to any suspicious activity. They will also provide services to assist you in any identification recovery.
For more information go to FTC Consumer Information.
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
An extra step of protection, two-factor authentication is your basic security questions. These use a combination of 2 factors, 1. something they know, 2. something they have, or 3. something they are. Many sites already utilize two-factor authentication but for those that do not, an app will provide this added security for you.
For a list of sites with two-factor authentication visit TwoFactorAuth.org.
My favorite 2FA app that works across all devices and operating systems is Last Pass
Safe Payment Services
The safest and most secure way to shop online is with a credit card. They are equipped to monitor for fraud, do not direct withdraw from your bank allowing you to dispute a charge without losing money, and because they are not connected to your bank account, are easier to close in the event of fraud.
If credit cards are not an option, consider using a safe payment service. These services keep all your banking information secure allowing you to login to your account with them rather than entering your debit card or bank account information on a potentially insecure site.
The most popular and internationally available safe payment service is PayPal.
4. Direct Supervision
At a certain stage, especially if your elderly parent has some form of Dementia, you will need to directly supervise all online activity.
- Keep the computer in a central location
This will allow you to monitor your parent’s usage of the computer without them feeling like you’re spying on them. You’ll be there to answer any questions they may have and can keep an eye out for potential dangers
Havea log-in screen that requires a password.
Requiring a password ensures that the computer will not be used without your supervision. You can be assured of your parent’s online safety even when you’re not there to monitor their online presence
- Turn off the internet connection when you’re not using it.
If your parent does other things on the computer like play games or uses a word processor, simply disabling the internet connection when you’re not available to assist will keep your parent safe while still providing access to the computer.
- Download what they are most interested in and make it available offline.
If there are news sources or subjects that your parent enjoys reading, consider downloading them so they have them available without having to go online. You can also download their favorite games and movies (yes, even Netflix!) so they rarely have a need to be online.
Related Post: How to Get to Know Someone Who Can’t Communicate
As caregivers, it is our responsibility to keep our elderly parents safe and that includes the dangers lurking in the online world. By proactively taking steps toward security, you and your elderly parent can experience the wealth of the internet while minimizing the risks.
For more information on online security and tips to stay safe online, check out www.stopthinkconnect.org.
Did you like this post? What steps have you taken toward protecting elderly parents online? Let me know in the comments below.
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