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Safeguarding Older Adults in the Digital Age: A call for cybersecurity awareness | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Japan recently announced that it is considering a proposal to take away bank cards from those over 65 to take a stab at reducing financial scams that their older population is currently grappling with. In today’s rapidly-evolving digital landscape, it’s all too easy to underestimate the profound impact of cyber threats on our lives. Many of us operate under the assumption that we are safe and well-informed, immune to the dangers that seem distant and abstract. But it’s when these perils strike close to home that their seriousness truly comes to light. I’m not referring to another wave of a virus, but rather the insidious realm of Cyber Fraud.

I was jolted into understanding the gravity of these crimes when it hit close to home – affecting none other than my own octogenarian father, a veteran soldier. This personal experience served as a stark lesson, teaching us that even the most informed and vigilant individuals can be ensnared by cybercriminals if not cautious enough.

The Silver Generation in the Crosshairs

As the world experiences escalating digitization, and the aftermath of the pandemic propels more seniors into the online realm, a troubling surge in cybercrimes targeting older adults has emerged. The once reassuring virtual space has become a breeding ground for financial scams through deceptive phone calls, fraudulent texts on social media, and other cunning tactics. It’s not uncommon nowadays to hear stories from within our own circles of family and friends about those who have fallen victim to these malicious acts. Astonishingly, in 2021 alone, the Lok Sabha documented a staggering 52,974 instances of cybercrime in India. The situation has only worsened, with the government’s Cyber Crime portal (cybercrime.gov.in) now registering an alarming 3,500 daily complaints related to financial fraud. Most distressingly, among the prime targets of these cyber assailants are widowers and senior citizens.

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I share this anecdote as a clarion call against the perils of divulging sensitive information online. Not long ago, my father received a call purportedly from his bank, with the caller alleging a minor outstanding credit card payment of just INR 11/-. This seemingly trivial sum was positioned as an oversight, and to prevent larger charges on the main billing, my father was urged to settle it promptly. Operating on the premise that a reputable institution like a ‘bank’ wouldn’t deceive him, coupled with his innate belief in maintaining immaculate financial records, he unwittingly shared his OTPs (not once, but as the caller claimed, multiple times). Shockingly swiftly, unauthorized transactions worth ₹1 lakh manifested on his phone, all originating from unfamiliar vendors. The ease with which my father fell victim to this ruse despite his best intentions was truly eye-opening.

This incident served as a resounding reminder of the imperative to educate our society, especially the elderly, who stand among the most vulnerable. Many of them live independently and lack familiarity with the latest technological advancements and their corresponding pitfalls. While technology can greatly enrich their lives, we bear a responsibility to equip them with the knowledge to thwart potential threats and avoid sharing sensitive data with unknown entities. Guiding my father through this ordeal refined my approach to handling such matters. I learned to impart information without admonishing, to illustrate risks using relatable examples, and to reinforce key takeaways consistently. Nurturing their innate wisdom while encouraging the adoption of safer practices is pivotal.

Most crucially, maintaining a composed, positive, and proactive demeanour enabled me to restore not just my father’s trust but also my own confidence.

Empowerment through education: Safeguarding vulnerable older adults

The menace of elder fraud is palpable, underscoring the urgent need to educate our seniors – our parents, grandparents, and friends – about the looming dangers. According to the Report of the Technical Group on Population Projections for India and States 2011-2036, by 2031 India is projected to have around 194 million elderly individuals. This presents both prospects and challenges. With support systems often lacking, and an inadequate understanding of evolving technologies, many elderly individuals are perilously exposed to fraud, data breaches, and cybercrime.

In response to this escalating issue, GetSetUp took the initiative in July 2023 by launching an exclusive series centred on Cybersecurity. This series covered a comprehensive range of cyber frauds, equipping participants with insights into safeguarding themselves and reporting potential incidents in case they find themselves victimized.

As we march further into this digital era, it’s imperative that we champion cybersecurity awareness for our older adults. By imparting knowledge, patience, and understanding, we can build a resilient shield against the malevolent forces lurking in the digital shadows. After all, it’s not just their safety, but also the integrity of our digital future that hangs in the balance.

(By Ashwini Kapila, Managing Director, GetSetUp India. Views are personal)


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