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May 18, 2023

How to protect vulnerable children and seniors from cybercrime?


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Last year the Ontario government announced that they are providing funding to agencies that are helping communities address cybercrime. They are targeting funding to for awareness campaigns and support around cyber threats such as hate, human trafficking and fraud.

I get asked a lot by parents and children of seniors how to protect their loved ones online? They are particularly worried because these vulnerable communities are living in an online world that they don’t totally understand. The sites are also changing so quickly even things that we grew up with like Facebook are now almost anathema to younger people. The young and old are no longer using the same platforms and thus unable to look out for each other.

When we talk about Cyber Security it’s important to remember that these are not new security issues. Cyber is a vector of attack not a crime itself. So to protect ourselves we can use many of the same risk mitigation strategies our parents used for us. The big thing that has changed is that we are facing these threats online and not in the park, or school yard. I think it’s helpful for parents and those caring for their parents to consider their advice in the same terms.  These are some simple tips for children (and good reminders for those who passed them along to us) – so we can can all be better protected online.

Don’t talk to strangers

Same rules apply. The internet can be wonderful to build communities, especially introverts, others who are isolated geographically or due to limitations. A stranger online is no different than a stranger in a park. They could be there for legitimate reasons or not. Stranger danger until proven otherwise.

If something is too good to be true, it probably is

Everything has risks and you need to understand what those are – online investing, crypto currency speculation, winning a contest or prize. We wouldn’t accept stock tips from someone on the subway, or the neighbour’s kid without healthy skepticism. Reddit forums and ticktock influencers are no better. The internet is not a get rich quick secret place. We’ve all seen the movies, boiler room, wolf of wall street, etc. Old school telephone marketers promising get rick quick schemed. This has moved online.

There are no secrets online

Don’t send something online you wouldn’t feel comfortable putting on a postcard and mailing in a physical mailbox to your grandparents or nextdoor neighbour. This goes for your credit card number, offensive comments (“poor taste jokes”) or compromising photos. On the internet everything is permanent and always accessible – we need to treat it that way.

Be responsible for your things

This is like other rules for my kids – be responsible for sweatshirts and sports equipment that we casually leave behind. And rules around the house. You open something close it. Turn on the lights, turn off the lights. The same is true for credentials. Don’t forget to close down your social media accounts if you use them at someone else’s computer.

Keep your privates, private

This is a weird concept to explain to a young child but some things are meant to be private. Passwords, wifi codes, and home alarm codes should be included in those things and are probably easier to talk about than the other things.

Don’t take candy from strangers

Don’t click links or download files from untrusted sources. This requires vigilance and some situational awareness because often scammers attempt to impersonate people that you know or links that look legitimate. This is called social engineering and spear phishing. This is designed to trick you. Don’t fall for it. Make sure you know what you are getting and from whom.  

If you have a problem ask for help

There is a famous quote from Mr. Rogers – “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ Our world can be a scary place and the internet is not a refuge but often a funhouse mirror that can distort and amplify the worst of us. Mr. Rogers advise still applies. There are still people here to help. There are resources available – talk to police and where they cannot help ask some of these groups or others.

Contact us for more tips or for cyber security assistance

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