Above: Computer classes are just one way to get some tech learning. There are many opportunities to get smarter and safer with your devices. Image by sifpceuc from Pixabay.

It’s a well-documented fact that seniors are more susceptible to online scams and phone scams than any other cohort in our population. The horror stories are published in newspapers and broadcast on local and national TV news reports. It’s time for seniors – and their families – to tackle the problem head-on because the scammers get better all the time and because there’s more money at stake.

There are numerous places in metro Atlanta where seniors can find tech learning and coaching. They range from tech sessions at retail stores, such as those for iPhone training at Apple Stores, to programs run at senior centers or residential facilities to private, in-home coaching. (Full disclosure: I have recently affiliated with the Lifespan Technology Learning Center as one of their resource people.)

Tech Safety Rules of Thumb

Whatever learning programs you choose or wherever you go, there are some basic rules of thumb to follow whether you pick up a telephone or use a tablet or computer.

  • If somebody you’ve never met – even if they say they’re good friends of someone you know – offers you a technical or financial service, don’t take it. You could be easily scammed.
  • Don’t even have a conversation with a strange caller offering computer services. It’s the easiest way for them to get into your computer system and into your financial sites to clean you out.
  • If you’re offered something that’s too good to be true, it likely isn’t true.
  • Don’t use redial to call back a phone number you don’t recognize. Scammers are really good at disguising their real phone number, and you could be calling back a foreign number (with huge charges to you) that’s linked to a way to get you to pay for something you’ll never get.
  • Don’t click on any links that you are not 1,000 percent sure you know.
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Most of you already know all or most of these rules of thumb. The problem is that it’s all too easy to become confused by fast talkers and the fast pace of some technological tricks. Speed and jargon are two things scammers use to take advantage of seniors.

Therefore, a life-learning lesson that applies to everyone – before we get into technology – is to train yourself to take a step back. Why is a stranger contacting you by phone or email with an offer to make you richer or make your computer run better? Why are you seeing a pop-up on a website while you’re on the internet?

Places to Learn

Group Learning: Group learning is always a great way to start learning about any aspect of technology. Once somebody asks a question, it always seems to open a floodgate of questions and concerns, and you’ll quickly learn you’re not alone. You’ll be able to cover things that you hadn’t thought about before and trade information with fellow students and the group leader. Group lessons are either free or with modest fees. While a good place to hear others, group lessons are not tailored to the individual and sometimes impart information that the student already knows, doesn’t care about or doesn’t understand.

Individual lessons: While more expensive than group lessons, a one on one encounter with the teacher provides a individualized approach which will more often lead to better learning. Many of the organizations that offer group lessons will also provide individual lessons.

On-line learning: There are a multitude of websites that provide tutorials and practice sites. A good place to start is YouTube where you can find videos on just about any subject. Remember however, that just because it’s on YouTube, it isn’t always right!

Newsletter subscriptions: I subscribe to about 20 newsletters that arrive on a daily or weekly schedule. I attach articles from these sources to newsletters and post them on the Digital Device doctor Facebook page. One of my favorites is Techlicious (www.techlicious.com).

Software company websites and forums: Virtually all software vendors offer help on their websites and almost always sponsor user forums. The trick is to ask the right question. Again, take all data with a big grain of salt.

Just ask Google: We have all been amazed to find a super explanation or response just by asking Google. Enter your question in the search bar and within seconds, it’s all there.

Ask the Digital Device Doctor: We are available to answer your questions or resolve your issues and will frequently point you to articles or other helpful information. Just call, text or send a quick email. More in-depth training is also available for a fee.

Topics for Learning

You can simplify your online life by learning about ad blockers. But that’s just one area where tech learning can help, and here are some you should consider:

Computer Security: Keeping all of your software up to date is one of the most important steps you can take to keep out hackers. We recommend learning about how updates from hardware manufacturers and software publishers are distributed and how to make sure you can download and install them. Updates contain bug fixes and security updates to protect you from hackers.

Viruses and Malware: Numerous programs exist to keep viruses and malware from getting into your computer. You should learn how to select one (or why to accept one recommended by a trusted source) and how to manage it for maximum protection. We always recommend having antivirus and malware protection running constantly in the background.

Router and Wi-Fi Network Security: You should know how they work (in brief, non-technical terms) and to set usernames and passwords for maximum security. If hackers get into your network, they can do a lot of damage to your computer and any device running on your network, including phones, tablets and smart-home devices.

Smart-Home Devices: Smart speakers such as Amazon’s Echo (Alexa) and Google’s Nest, as well as Siri on iPhones, can add convenience and improve seniors’ quality of life. They can also tie into a number of systems to help others communicate with you. Other smart-home devices include cameras, doorbells and thermostats. You’ll likely need someone to set them up, but learn how to use them and how to use new features as they come along—they can be lifesavers.

Smartphones: It’s humbling to think that when you have a smartphone, you have more computing power in the palm of your hand than NASA had when we sent astronauts to the moon. Find a comfortable starting point to learn how to use your phone’s many features. Learning can cover smartphones in general or specific phones, such as iPhones or Samsung phones.

Wherever you go for your learning, it’s important to make sure you get information you can put to use immediately. That will help you retain your learning better and give you a foundation of knowledge on which to build more technical skills and understanding while better protecting your assets.

Gene Rubel

Gene Rubel is a tech consultant and writer based in Sandy Springs.