Getting weird emails from your parents' accounts demanding random sums of cash? Considering they're still helping to support you - there's a good chance their accounts are getting hacked. Here are the types of malware and spam you need to watch out for and tips to ensure it doesn't happen to them again. Or to their friends.

We’ve all come across the ‘Share this now for Facebook to donate $5’ post on our social media news feeds and groaned in annoyance. More worrying? Realising we’re seeing it because our darling mum is the one who shared it, sometimes they need our help to stay safe online.

We’ve also seen parents and older family members unknowingly fall for spam posts, phishing emails and forwarding along fake news as if it’s the real deal – not just on social media but also on their usual email addresses. Considering we love our parents and want them to be safe – and are quite reliant on their occasional (OK, frequent) financial contributions to our lives – we’d really like them to keep their money in their own accounts. Or ours.

As we saw with the NHS cyber hack in May 2017, something as small as not applying a security update can potentially lead to catastrophic results.

While it’s easy to keep a tab on children and monitor their online activities because they are usually under the same roof as us and are financially dependent on us, the situation is quite different with OAPs. They typically have more disposable income and are more trusting. They also might not be familiar with the best ways to fight spam and keep their accounts protected.

Here is a list of the most dangerous attempts that can be made to extract money from them and remedies you can put in place so they don’t fall prey.

 

 

Spear phishing

This is when you receive an email from someone you know, asking you to send them money urgently. This can either be an acquaintance or a friend or even someone you might have met down at the pub. The tone of the email will basically be that they are in a bit of a spot and need money (usually a small sum, less than £300) to tide them over.

Remedy: Someone you know well will, in all probability, not email you to ask for money. Best way to check if this is kosher is to ring them and ask if they sent you an email. You don’t have to mention the money angle if you don’t want to – but do ring to confirm.

If they live out of town, text or WhatsApp them to find out.

Check their email address to make sure it isn’t a made up one and then check previous correspondences from them. There will be slight spelling mistakes, ‘o’ tends to be replaced by 0 (zero) and it might be sent from an email domain you don’t recognise.

Click ‘Spam’ on the email immediately. Warn your friends publicly about an attempt being made on them.

 

Spam text/WhatsApp messages

Being harassed via text messages, whether it’s for PPI claims or being urged to buy double-glazing… We’ve all been there.

Remedy: Usually spam messages will contain an Unsubscribe link. Do not click on the link. The best way to deal with such messages is, on WhatsApp, to block the sender’s number. If it’s a text message, then forward it onto 7726.

All UK mobile phone networks have come together to provide this free service. Make sure to use it to report spam.

 

Phishing

We know next to nothing about fishing – except that it requires trying to snare a fish in with bait. The digital equivalent also involves a trap: you’ll get an unknown email asking for you to log into your account. This can be your main email account, that of an online auction site or even your bank. Never click on any of the links.

Remedy: Report such emails as spam and then log into your account separately to make sure all is in order. Avoid clicking on any links to log into your online account, as well as any attachments.

 

Passwords

These are important but also a colossal hassle to remember. The rule of thumb is not to set the names of pets or birthdays as passwords. Oftentimes, parents or those with limited digital experience are tempted to either use easy passwords or the same one across all their profiles. The problem with doing that is that if one falls into the wrong hands, all your other profiles are at risk.

Remedy: If your parents use a Mac, iPad and iPhone, or all of them, activate iCloud across all devices as well as the keychain facility so it can generate foolproof passwords for each of their accounts as well as remember them.

If they are on non-Apple desktops and Android tablets and phones, download a password manager like LastPass. The app can sync across all their devices and store all their passwords for them, self-populating fields when the need arises.

 

Viruses, spyware and malware

It isn’t just computers and desktops that can be infected. Mobile phones and tablets are increasingly falling prey, too. Apple devices have historically been very well protected against intrusions but they too are increasingly at risk.

Samsung have announced they will have Kaspersky anti-virus pre-installed on their Galaxy S8 range and other manufacturers like Motorola and Huawei have pre-installed protection as well.

Remedy: Crank up the settings on the Android phone so it asks permission for every app that is trying to get access to photos and location.

Make sure to run the pre-installed virus protection regularly on tablets and phones as well as computers. And most importantly, download all security patches that are pushed through by the manufacturer.

 

Social media

It isn’t just embarrassing to see your parents fall prey to fake news and hoax charity appeals, it’s also a privacy concern for all friends, owing to the level of access to them it affords these crooks.

Remedy: No technology can be better than a one-to-one tutorial on social-media hygiene. Teach them some basics: That Facebook games and quizzes are just attempts to get your information. That if Facebook did donate $5 for every share on a photo of a sickly child or pet, they would go bankrupt. That Denzel Washington and the Pope would never have backed Donald Trump to become president. And that Hillary Clinton may be lots of things… but a paedophile ring leader who runs a racket from a pizza shop, ain’t one of them.

Introduce your parents to websites like www.snopes.com and fullfact.org, so they can check credibility of information before openly commenting on all posts.
Keeping safe online isn’t just about protecting our computers and finances. It’s also about protecting our reputations and making our parents proud. Until we destroy both (our reputations and any pride our parents ever felt about us) with one fell swoop: an unfortunate series of Magaluf hen do photos. We may have confused that giant inflatable man doll for Ryan Gosling, but hey, at least we didn’t fall prey to scammers, right?

Main pic: Getty via Alistair Berg