Kevin Hanna’s class on cyber safety in Upstate New York attracts adults of all stripes, from 40-somethings to those well into their 80s. Some are tech neophytes, drawn in by the need to video chat with children no longer living in the area. Others are retired computer programmers looking to keep up on the latest online and phone scams. What they have in common is relative financial security and the fact that they’re often too trusting. And now they’re targets.
Hanna is the regional director of external affairs for AT&T. He teaches this class because 95% of Americans age 60 or older have experienced a scam online, costing them an estimated $1 billion last year alone. For two hours, the students sit rapt as Hanna draws from local news and AT&T’s Cyber Aware website to identify the major themes, tactics, and tricks that scammers use: pop-up boxes warning of computer viruses or calls that imitate authority to trigger a sense of fear and urgency. “I get voice mail messages that I have warrants out for my arrest,” Hanna says. When he asks if anyone in the class is, like him, supposedly on the lam, “evading law enforcement,” many hands go up.
It’s not just seniors who are at risk. According to a recent survey sponsored by AT&T, 90% of Americans across generations have experienced phishing via email or robocall, while roughly 25% have discovered a virus or malware on one of their devices. So once Hanna gets home to his family, his workday continues. He advises his teenage son never to assume online strangers are who they claim to be and educates his mother-in-law that providing seemingly innocent information to a stranger over the phone is, in fact, over-sharing, opening the door to a nefarious follow-up call.
Hanna is on the front lines of a burgeoning cyber trend called “tech caregiving,” in which people give or receive help on tech matters from those close to them. Hanna points out that a tech caregiver does not require educating an audience like he does; it’s often an unwitting role. “Folks who have older parents are often caregivers but might not be familiar with the label,” Hanna says. “While people as young as 12 can play caregiver to grandparents on things as simple as sending a photo. If I had a question about social media, my wife would be the expert. We each play our role based on what we do online and use the technology for.”
HELP IS ON THE WAY
When it comes to cyber security, the role of caregiver is ever changing. “Scammers and their techniques and tactics are constantly evolving,” Hanna observes, citing the trend in social-media mining, in which scammers target people based on what they post in their feeds. “As our use of technology grows in its sophistication, scammers likewise use that against us.”
Neil Giacobbi, assistant vice president of corporate social responsibility for AT&T, acknowledges the challenges his industry faces in both cyber security and digital safety. “There’s overwhelming awareness that there’s a problem,” he says. “It’s evidenced by daily reporting on scams, parental anxieties, children’s self-esteem—I can go on and on with all of the social issues. [But] where do you go for help, and what form does that help take?”
The Cyber Aware website, which provides tips to consumers to keep them secure online and protect them from scams and fraud, is one such resource. Another is ScreenReady, an innovative pilot program in New York City that is training the company’s retail sales force to be digital-safety consultants. Consumers—whether they’re AT&T customers or not—can get free support on how to use parental controls and safety settings. The program has been so welcomed by consumers that AT&T is considering expanding it to all of its retail stores in 2020.
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