The young and the elderly share a common characteristic; they are the most vulnerable segments of our population.
In parenting, we are always vigilant of the activities of our children and since they have limited access to things like financial instruments, our greatest concern is generally their personal safety.
I referred in the past to the risks posed to young people through abusive and predatorial practices on social media and, quite simply, their inability to consistently make good decisions.
The elderly, on the other hand, are vulnerable to both physical harm and financial fraud.
Look at the majority of victims in just about any white-collar crime, phone scam and now computer scam and you’ll find retirees in large numbers.
Naturally, many elderly are subject to physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their family, unscrupulous caregivers and petty criminals who perceive them as unable to defend themselves – and thus easy targets.
Just as we teach children to be wary of strangers and to communicate with us about anything that seems odd or threatening, so too do we need to help our elderly relatives understand that it’s OK to ask for help and to be skeptical of those who make unusual suggestions or worse, try to scare them.
When I came into my parents’ home to help them out, I brought along a computer.
Coincidentally, within a couple of weeks of my arrival, a phone call came to them saying that the caller was a representative of a large computer company that monitored viruses on computers and wanted to let my parents know there was a computer virus being loaded into a computer at their home right now.
Since I was not at home but he knew my computer was plugged in, my father got nervous.
He listened to a pitch that asked him to purchase an anti-virus program with his credit card over the phone, immediately, to avoid the risk of the computer being completely ruined by the virus. There was no “hard sell” as much as there was a friendly voice pretending to be helping him out of a terrible jam.
My Dad asked for a phone number and said I would call back when I got home, which he hoped would be soon but, the caller added some pressure by saying it would be too late then.
When he wouldn’t leave a number, my Dad got suspicious and refused to give a credit card number. When I got home, my Dad told me about it and was visibly worried that he’d done something, or more accurately not done something, that might have damaged my computer.
I assured him this was a scam and he should never give out any of his financial information to anyone who phones him – NEVER.
A month ago, my wife’s Mom received a phone call from her “grandson” who needed her to send him some money via wire payment to get him out of some trouble that he didn’t want his parents to know about.
Even though she’d heard of this scam, she was so upset initially that she forgot about that and was just about ready to help him when she realized he’d not said his name.
She asked him his name and when he kept changing the subject and never mentioned a name, she calmed down and hung up, although she called the parents of all her grandchildren to make sure it wasn’t real.
While I am trying hard not to treat my parents as anything other than rational, independent adults, I am well aware that they are not knowledgeable in sophisticated technological and financial matters and I’m spending time with them talking about such issues.
Unlike those who prey upon the young and the elderly, I am trying to educate them, not instill fear in them, so that they act with knowledge not with emotion.
• Graham Hookey is an educational and parenting writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.