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Older Australians need better financial defences

National Seniors Australia is calling for the introduction of stronger laws to prevent financial abuse towards older Australians, including the introduction of standardised powers of attorney and the creation of a national register, as well as better online protection.

The internet is the “new frontier for financial abuse” due to many older Australians falling prey to online scams. [Source: Shutterstock]
The internet is the “new frontier for financial abuse” due to many older Australians falling prey to online scams. [Source: Shutterstock]

Professor John McCallum, Chief Executive Officer of National Seniors Australia, told delegates at a National Seniors satellite event that abusers are being given a “free run” while Australian is taking time to put anything in place to protect seniors.

He described the internet as the “new frontier for financial abuse” due to many older Australians falling prey to online scams, and Professor McCallum has called for a closer relationship between the aged care sector and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

A National Seniors report, Senior Surfers; Diverse levels of digital literacy among older Australians, shows that while there are gaps in digital literacy, older Australians are more in tune with online safeguarding than people realise.

Professor McCallum says, “Abusers lurk in the shadows – anything we can do to bring their activities out into the light is critical.

“Banks are training staff to help them pick up the signals of financial abuse, but a determined abuser won’t be deterred by one knock-back – they’ll simply move along to another branch or bank. What we need, as a matter of urgency, is a national safety-net for the most vulnerable.

“Certainly the issue of a digital divide remains relevant to this population, however, it’s important to acknowledge that stereotypes of all older Australians being left behind by technology are not only harmful but also unsupported by our research.

“The pervasive, negative stereotype of all older Australians as ‘digitally disengaged’ is a far cry from reality. Our research discovered clear evidence of the emergence of skill acquisition and self-education in dealing with scams.”

Professor McCallum believes the problem lies in a “potential vicious cycle of digital challenge” which could lead to accumulating disadvantage.

The report found that although a lot of scams are targeting older Australians, luckily, despite the believed vulnerability of elderly people, most respondents were building strategies and were becoming more capable in detecting and avoiding scam attempts.

“Those less savvy are more vulnerable, leading to being scammed, which then leads to less willingness to being online, which results in remaining less savvy and so on,” explains Professor McCallum.

“Older people cannot be assumed to be vulnerable solely on the basis of age. People of all ages are vulnerable. The best we can do is to plug the gaps as we discover them.”

Many people engaging with the research believe they are not naive about online security, but were worried about their privacy and information they had online.

Study participants aged 80 and over usually experienced feeling “left behind” by technology and found half of the respondents used online search engines every day.

More than 50 percent of participants did online banking at least once a week, over 30 percent group text every day and nearly 20 percent are on Facebook daily.

“Within every age group there are those who choose not to participate, but we can’t assume that’s the result of digital illiteracy; for some people, the online world holds little appeal,” Professor McCallum said.

“This study provides evidence of a digitally literate cohort comfortable using a range of digital technologies on a regular basis.”

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