Let’s help non-tech people navigate cyber space safely 

After I wrote the story of the young man who stole money from the bank accounts of his mother’s friends by claiming he would use new technology to protect their accounts from scam artists, one of the victims told me that the suspect attempted to pull the same trick with another senior citizen.  

Fortunately, the woman shared the “offer of help”, according to the informant, with her son who immediately told her to refuse the offer. The victim’s takeaway from this incident was that elderly people, who do not understand new technology, should not be quick to accept any offer of help with their accounts even from people they knew well. They should consult somebody – their own child or relative – who are more tech savvy.  

He said the elderly were favorite targets because they were assumed to be ignorant about new technologies – most of them anyway. 

His story reminded me of a special report produced by, if I remember correctly, the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) a few years back on scams through e-mail. Remember the Nigerian who started looking for a partner who could help him get his dictator father’s millions in dollars? He started the search via snail mail and eventually used e-mail. 

The ABC special report cited studies that showed victims of this and similar scams spanned all age groups, professions, white collar and blue collar jobs, working and retired people. 

What stood out for me was the story of a retired couple who lost all their savings and could no longer pay their bills because they were supporting a poor African “theological student” finish his studies. The couple’s children were alarmed that their heretofore very financially independent parents could no longer pay their mortgage and had to borrow money to pay for utilities. 

They reported the problem to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) unit that had started looking into cyber crimes.  An FBI agent visited the couple and told them of the various scams used by felons to dupe people to give them money. 

The couple politely listened to the federal agent but it was obvious to him they did not believe a word he said. The con artist knew what buttons to press. He was quoting the Bible every time he wrote or talked (they were also communicating by telephone) to them, talked about the situation in Africa, of course, and how miserable his life was. 

The story may not be about the current problem of using digital gadgets to con people but it is still a very good reminder that those of us who have elderly relatives should make sure they are fully warned about the risks that those new toys pose. Just as we should monitor closely what kind of materials young people are exposed to online, we should also pay close attention to the kind of stuff our elderly relatives get.  

Ask @Shirley 

Q. Why do the leaves of my sanseviera get soft and soggy? 

A. The plant is overwatered. Water the sansevieria only if the soil almost dry. The best planting media are sand, ipa (rice hull) and a little soil (sandy loam). If the plant is inside the house, water it only once a week. 

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