THEY almost got me this week. The email came in from DHL. A parcel was on its way. My personal particulars were required. By sheer coincidence, I was actually expecting a DHL parcel, so I picked up the phone and dialled. I was seconds away from being another crime stat.
Two things blew their cover. First, I noticed the email address. DHL presumably owns a domain name that isn’t “wescamyou.com”, or whatever it was. And second, the DHL employee from London sounded a lot like a chap from China sitting in a shed.
But I made the call. That’s the point. I’d fallen at the first hurdle of online security. I had become my late father-in-law.
Not a day went by without the old fella calling excitedly to say that he’d won the Irish lottery or been left a fortune by a dead African royal or was in line for a free penis extension.
In the early 2000s, he was particularly keen on the Nigerian prince and the penis extension. Who wouldn’t be?
But the Irish lottery was the perpetual spanner in his analog works.
“I know you’ll say it’s a scam, but this one looks genuine,” he’d say down the phone.
“Did you buy a ticket for the Irish lottery?” I’d ask.
“Nah, but this is a national lottery. They’ve pulled out my passport number.”
“Are you Irish?”
“Well, I drink a lot of Guinness.”
How easy it was to be smug, watching the old-timers swap black-and-white TVs for cable boxes and arthritis tablets for digital tablets, as we showed them how to use smart phones and laptops for the first time. But be warned. We are only ever one fake DHL delivery from joining a musty club of yesterday’s men and women, one ChatGPT application away from being less useful than a chocolate fireguard.
Tech divide opens vulnerability to scams
A recent trip to Sengkang Polyclinic showcased the divide. Queuing up for an appointment, I saw that many of us in line were close to or over 50. Inside, younger people were already seated. They’d booked their appointments online. Those in the queue were perhaps less comfortable with the tech. Those in the queue are also more vulnerable to online scams.
In the United States, a report by the Federal Trade Commission showed that roughly eight out of 10 scam victims are over 65 and generally lose more money than other groups. Those who are slower to adjust to online banking and shopping are also slower to pick up on the associated risks.
In Singapore last year, the police reported that the top three scams involving seniors aged 60 and above were phishing, social media impersonations and dodgy investment schemes. Phishing scams involving seniors more than tripled from 153 in 2020 to 561 in 2021.
That’ll never happen to me, I said. Until a fake DHL representative from China asked for (and almost got) my digital life story. The tech has outgrown my Luddite brain. The troubleshooting I once did for my father-in-law is now done by my daughter, for me.
It’s not really working out. A recent, fruitless attempt to link a printer to a laptop, wirelessly, culminated in me punching the printer.
According to Age UK, there are five simple tips to stay safe online. Keep strong passwords. I don’t. Install security software on the computer. I don’t. Update devices regularly. I don’t. Protect the wireless network. I don’t (and didn’t even know I could.) And protect tablets and mobile phones. I did buy nice leather cases for them, but that’s about it.
Honestly, I’m a digital open goal for scammers. Had those foreign money launderers gone after my cash and assets, I’d have been none the wiser (though they wouldn’t have found much beyond an outline for a children’s book and some terrible EPL predictions.)
Never be smug about superior tech knowledge
Fortunately, there are excellent organisations doing so much more than writing self-deprecating columns to mask one’s incompetence. RSVP Singapore, a wonderful non-profit group that supports volunteerism among seniors, has been organising cyber-security workshops since the pandemic. And the National Library Board is holding its annual “Let’s be S.U.R.E. together!” series of programmes to improve online safety.
But a personal favourite was the “Youths Help Seniors Go Digital” workshop held last year, which not only won the award for the most literally-named workshop, but also bridged the knowledge gap in a sensitive fashion. It was youngsters sitting down with seniors to explain in simple terms how the playing field has changed, a bit like Pep Guardiola sitting down with David Moyes.
That’s the way forward.
Never be smug about superior tech knowledge because it’s terrifyingly fluid. It mutates and morphs into something bigger, stranger and occasionally uglier within a generation, or within a year even, a bit like Chelsea. It’s hard to keep up.
Until recently, there was nothing I didn’t know about DVD resolution, sound and vision. Today, charity organisations don’t even want my DVDs and broken players are harder to fix and replace. It’s an ever-shrinking window between cutting edge and obsolete.
Ideally, the streaming Zoomers will empathise with the DVD Gen-Xers and VHS Boomers because that nagging fear of ignorance will hit them, too, eventually. It’s inevitable. One minute, you’re mocking your father-in-law for winning an Irish lottery without buying a ticket. The next, you’re a phone call away from handing over bank details for a fake DHL package that wasn’t even yours. (I nearly lost my life savings for a Harry Styles hoodie. Bloody, infatuated daughter.)
No one is immune to the ominous threat of tech irrelevance, especially if AI switches on tomorrow morning and decides that your work, knowledge and skills can be replicated. Why do you think I’m still making jokes about penis extensions? I’m banking on AI taking longer to catch up on empathy, compassion and puerile humour.
Whatever the generation, the tech overtakes us all in the end. All we can do is give a little support to those who came before. Guide them through this online quagmire. And together, hopefully, we can be spared those reptilian scammers obsessed with life’s private parts.
Whatever the generation, the tech overtakes us all in the end. All we can do is give a little support to those who came before. Guide them through this online quagmire.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 28 books.