Our experience with the internet is perhaps the only way most of us experience a role reversal with our parents.
We’re the generation that grew up online. We know how to post an Instagram story, we build romantic relationships through apps and we can recognise a dodgy ad when we see one.
Our parents, on the other hand. They’re prime candidates for online scams and fraud. And it’s up to us to teach them how to stay safe online.
Easier said than done though. No matter how mainstream it is, technology still frustrates many parents, with many more being incredibly lax when it comes to online safety. They might not be a lost cause though. Today, we’ll cover six tips for teaching your parents how they can avoid online scams and fraud (that you might even find useful yourself).
Before we begin though, here are some common online scams that target old and less internet-savvy users include:
- Phishing scams
- Identity theft
- Intellectual property theft
Having a good understanding of these yourself is important — not only to be a better teacher, but to spot when you might be targeted for such crimes.
Find out their existing knowledge
Before you can start covering phishing scams and how to access their banking app safely, it’s important to test what your parents already know.
Questions about their existing knowledge of online scams are a great way to get your parents more interested and engaged. Trying to force them to make changes they’re not comfortable with won’t help information stick. It’ll simply make them resistant to change.
Try asking them (tactfully):
- “What do you know about online security?”
- “Have you heard about this in the news?”
- “How often do you use the computer, and what for?”
- “Which websites are you visiting?”
- “Is there anything you’re cautious about or makes you feel uncomfortable online?”
Exposing them to real-world events (likely featuring companies they know) and forcing them to really think about cybersecurity for the first time helps expose gaps in their knowledge and put them in a headspace to learn.
Explore ways to get them interested in computers
Computers have been around for a while now, infiltrating not just our everyday work lives, but our home lives too.
It’s likely your parents have encountered computers and the internet before, even if they don’t understand how to do much more than check their email, Google things, and simple data entry.
Rather than bombarding them with technical knowledge and trying to make a technical whizz out of a 50-year-old with his first smartphone overnight, find subtle and comfortable ways to get them interested in tech.
Get them searching for their hobbies, signing up for newsletters from their favourite brands and exploring their interests in online spaces. This will teach them the basic functionality of search engines, how to spot legitimate communication and how to communicate with other genuine people online. Staying safe online isn’t just about spotting scams, but recognising how they differ from genuine, human interaction.
Social media might not be for them, but it remains a good way to teach them about privacy and protecting their data. Consider running through the process of setting up these accounts, even if they plan to delete them later.
Cover the importance of strong passwords
Want to start slow and get your parents comfortable with cybersecurity? Focus on passwords.
Everyone knows what a password is and everyone knows how important they are. The thing is, not everyone knows what a strong password looks like.
Strong passwords and better password management is a brilliant first step to boosting your parent’s online safety and instilling good digital habits. Start by outlining the essentials of good passwords (varied, using characters and numbers, not related to their personal information) before going onto more complex strategies for protecting their accounts, such as two-step authentication and password management systems.
Rather than looking on in horror as they type in their birthday (which is also front and centre on their Facebook) to access their online banking, give them a quick crash course in this common but essential online practice.
Avoid technical and irrelevant concepts
Teaching your parents about the dangers of online scams and fraud doesn’t need to be overly complicated.
It’s unlikely they’re going to be spending their money on MMORPGs or sharing sensitive work files with their friends. They’re still your same old parents with the same interests. The best way to make sure your lessons and tips resonate with them is to transfer their world into cyberspace.
Your parents are probably going to go online to do a limited number of things. They might stream their favourite show, chat with their siblings over Zoom or do some quick online shopping. So, build your lessons around that. Run them through a purchase or get them signed up for Netflix, all while pointing out what a legitimate site looks like and why they should avoid passing on particular details.
Your online experience is unlikely to be the same as theirs. You’re not trying to integrate them into your online circles (God knows you don’t want them following you on Twitter), but make them safer within their own.
Alt-Text: Mother and daughter working on laptops together
Provide them with resources
As much as you might want to teach your parents about the importance of cybersecurity, it’s natural to find yourself getting frustrated at the process.
You might not have time to explain what ‘logging in’ is or watch as they painfully type out a web address in slow motion. It’s important to offer your advice and experiences, but you’re just one person, and likely one that gets frustrated at slooooow paced tech usage.
Do you know what won’t get frustrated though? Articles.
Rather than trying to dump all your knowledge on your parents at once, link them to some useful resources for learning about cybersecurity and what they can expect from shopping, chatting and browsing online.
Let them read at their leisure, and provide resources they can refer back to when you’re not sat by them guiding their clicks.
Some great resources to help carry the burden include:
Show them example scams
Visual aids are always a great learning tool, whether you’re young or old.
Without an understanding of the impact of cybercrime on both businesses and individuals alike, it can be hard for parents to process the seriousness of having your personal information hacked.
We’ve already touched upon how important it is to show them real-life news stories of high-profile scams, but running through the intricacies and red flags of a scam email is an equally important step for every child-turned-teacher.
Train them to become better at spotting potential scams and fraud contacts as quickly as possible. In the age of remote working, scams have only gotten more subtle and harder to spot, so noticing the small differences between a genuine and fake Zoom invite becomes an important matter of personal and company security.
5 top cybersecurity lessons for your parents
If in doubt, here’s a run-through of the top cybersecurity lessons you can teach your parents:
- How to create a strong password
- How to spot a scam email or social media message
- Why you should never join an unsecured connection
- How to analyse an online store for security measures
- When you should and shouldn’t download a file
Once they’re mastered these key learning points, they’ll be much safer online.
Teaching older parents about the importance of online safety can feel like pulling teeth, but it’s an important step in making them more comfortable and secure every time they use their PC, tablet or smartphone.
Hopefully, these tips will make those conversations a little easier next time you’re asked what a computer virus is and how to tell if you have one.