In this era of digitalisation, the internet has become indispensable for everyday life. The pandemic made us feel safe, secured and comfortable in a digital world and our reliance on technology increased. Like everyone else, senior citizens also used technology for many purposes, including socialising, financial transactions, ordering food and groceries, entertainment, etc. On the one hand, the internet helped senior citizens to be a visible part in the ever-advancing and urbanising society by assisting their needs in new ways. On the other hand, the ever-changing and advancing nature of technology makes it difficult for them to be constantly updated, making them vulnerable to safety issues online. 

Anyone can become a target of a cybercrime. With more and more online safety issues and financial frauds coming up every day, it has become harder to keep oneself safe. Limited digital literacy is the cause for vulnerability and awareness is the only cure. Senior citizens are often targeted for their monetary savings and properties, and since a lot of them live alone, they become more vulnerable to certain types of cybercrimes.

Given below are some common types of cyber offences committed against individuals and a few tips to stay safe.

  • Financial crimes

These crimes are committed with the intention of stealing money. Offenders often use these tactics to lure individuals into transferring money or to take control of their finances:

  • A fake webpage or link, posing to be that of a bank or financial institution, that is designed to collect bank or account details of persons who open it.
  • Calls or messages impersonating officers from banks or government organisations and asking for confidential information like debit card number, OTPs, usernames, passwords, etc.
  • Money scams from online friends or fraudsters using the videos or voices of persons known.
  • Emails having fake QR-codes directing to a website that is used to steal money or personal data.

Things to know:

  • Never share confidential information – Banks and financial institutions never ask for information like debit/credit card information, usernames and passwords, OTP, etc. for any purpose.
  • Avoid clicking on links in messages/mails – Make sure that you always access your internet banking websites using the correct web address and download the apps from your Google or Apple Playstore. Fraudsters may send website links that look very similar to the real one to trick you into clicking them.
  • Verify at the source – When someone calls you asking for confidential or financial information, say that you will call them back and connect with the official numbers of the bank/institution to verify before proceeding.
  • Avoid using public networks – Do not use free or public wi-fis for carrying out financial transactions. Always using your home wi-fi or personal internet connection to do them.
  • Use strong and unique passwords – Always use strong passwords containing a mix of capital and small letters, numbers and special characteristics. Avoid using the same password for all your accounts.
  • Keep an eye on your bank balance – Make sure that you regularly check your bank balance and be on the lookout for any suspicious or unauthorised financial transactions from your bank account. It could be for big amount or for even a small one. 
  • Research before donating – Before donating money to charity or persons, always verify the legitimacy of the organisation and purpose. Try to get as many details as possible from the person/charity to make your research easier. Do not send money to friends made online.
  • Shop from reputed apps/sites – Always download shopping apps from the Playstore of your phone and search for the correct web address in your browser for online shopping. Since there are more and more online retailers coming up every day, make sure that the one you are shopping from reputed ones by doing a simple search for reviews on them.
  • QR Code – Scan QR codes only from trusted sources. Check the web address or URL of the webpage that you are directed to and never share any financial information. Download a security software having built-in QR scanner for phones and update it regularly.
  • Privacy breaches/violations

The internet and social media provide a platform that allows you to stay in touch with dear ones who might be living far away and individuals tend to make life updates in their social media platforms to let their contacts in the loop. However, sometimes this information is used to carry out offences like:

  • Cyber stalking – Cyber stalking is stalking that is done on online platforms and messaging apps.
  • Blackmailing – The information that you post online can be used to blackmail you for money or other favours. 
  • Impersonating your identity – Personal information that you post online can be used to impersonate.
  • Circulation of personal information/doxxing – Any information that you post online can be circulated by anyone who has access to it.
  • Hacking – Sometimes, personal information can be used to hack into or take control of your account or gadget. 

Things to know:

    • Enable privacy settings – Keep your social media accounts private and avoid making them accessible to the public. This can be done in the privacy settings of your social media accounts.
  • Accept request from known persons – Accept friends or follow requests only from persons known to you and never from unknown persons.
  • Limit the information shared – Do not share sensitive information or personally identifiable information like your phone numbers, home addresses, ID cards, names of schools that your children/grandchildren are attending, photos of them in their school uniforms, etc.
  • Take precautions during video calls – Never accept video calls from unknown persons and never share personal information during calls. Always try to have meeting IDs or passwords when scheduling a video conference with a large number of persons. Make sure that you download the app from the Playstore and keep the software up-to-date. Take care to dress appropriately and to keep your background blurred. Disable audio and video while joining a call or when leaving your device unattended for even a moment.
  • Spreading false information

Online platforms give a voice to everyone to speak out their minds but this can lead to the spreading of a lot of false information. Factually incorrect information or fake news is circulated by people or groups to promote their own agenda. 

  • Political misinformation is when false information about a candidate or political party is circulated to sway the voters into voting or not voting for them. 
  • Medical misinformation is circulation of false or misleading information about medical or health-related topics. This can have devastating consequences on a person’s health and life.

Things to know:

  • Verify information – Always verify information before accepting them as true. The information shared may seem to be from a legitimate source but it need not be true always.
  • Do not share unverified information – Do not share any information without verifying and properly researching on it first. 
  • Consult a medical professional – Do not act on any health advisories or tips shared online without consulting with a medical professional. The effectiveness of a remedy may vary from person to person; so, if it seemed to be beneficial to your friend, it need not be so for you.
  • Online sex offences

Increasingly, online sex offences are being committed against senior citizens. Offences may include: 

  • Misuse of compromised images – Images shared to a close friend in confidence may be circulated amongst others.
  • Sextortion/honey traps – Blackmail using compromised or morphed images or videos to extort money or other favours. 

Things to know:

  • Dating apps – Download and use only legitimate dating apps after verifying their authenticity using research or reviews. On dating apps, do not feel pressured to do anything you are uncomfortable with. 
  • Fake profiles – Be wary of fake profiles that may be used to trick you or threaten you. If it seems too good to be true (like someone too attractive or too young), take precautions not to fall prey to any traps set against you.
  • Never send money – Even though your online friend may plead with you or threaten you, never send them money online. 
  • Choose a public meeting place – If you decide to meet with an online friend, always choose a public place. Never invite them to your or your family’s homes.

Some other basic tips to stay safe:

  • Offers that seem too good to be true are usually fake. 
  • Messages that have spelling/grammatical errors and QR codes of poor quality are not, mostly likely, from legitimate sources.
  • Apps/websites/mails/messages that ask for personal information are to be treated with suspicion.
  • Calls or pop-ups warning you about malware or other dangers are generally used to commit offences.
  • When you receive a call asking for personal information from any organisation or business or government officials or couriers, tell them that you will call them back and verify at their official numbers.
  • Choose a code or security question among family members that can only be answered by the real person so as to avoid impersonation.
  • Always be calm. Offenders try to confuse and panic to prevent people from thinking properly.
  • If you think an online offence has been committed against you, don’t feel ashamed, it happens to everyone. 
  • Save evidence and report immediately to the social media platform and to the law enforcement.

Digital wellbeing

The internet has many benefits but excessive use of anything, even the good things, can be bad. In addition to physical discomforts associated with prolonged device use, there are also mental health issues like anxiety, depression, anger issues, etc. linked to excessive usage of gadgets and the internet. 

Mindful use of the internet and gadget is the key; excessive usage can lead to productivity issues, addictions and other mental health issues. Addictions need not necessarily be restricted to pornography, gaming or binge-watching; one can even get addicted to social media or YouTube as well. Therefore, self-paced use with time limits and regular breaks to do other activities or chores is the way to go.

India is the second largest country in adult population. Senior citizens are, by large, self-sufficient but sometimes, they need some support with technology. With the world’s reliance on technology seeping into every aspect of life, it is not practical for senior citizens not to participate in them. Avoiding the internet or the gadget is not the answer. Following basic online safety rules and mindful use is the only way to stay safe.

Additional resources:

To learn how to report a cybercrime, click here.

Read more about some of the reliable websites for financial advice by clicking here.

For a few tips on Digital Wellbeing, visit this page.

Indian residents may contact Senior Citizen Helpline Number: 14567, launched by the Government of India, for support. 

For persons residing outside India, kindly check for appropriate support systems with the government in your country of residence.

Article by Salma Jennath and Chinmai