Resources for Family Caregivers of Older Adults
4 Dangerous “Good Old Days” Habits to Break & New Bad Tech Habits

4 Dangerous “Good Old Days” Habits to Break & New Bad Tech Habits

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Ah, the Good Old Days…how often have we heard that from our senior loved ones, often followed by something they enjoyed then but can’t do now.

Unfortunately, there really are many everyday activities from past years that aren’t safe today, habits that could lead to financial or physical harm to seniors if continued…

…and many of our senior loved ones are continuing as if they’re still in those good old days.

“Good Old Days” Habits to Abandon

These are four everyday activities many of our senior loved ones – and maybe even some of us – took for granted as being safe but really aren’t.

  1. Leaving outgoing mail with checks or other personal information in the mailbox with the flag up, waiting to be picked up by the carrier.
  2. Leaving the door unlocked to be hospitable to any neighbors who came by for a visit.
  3. Answering the phone whenever it rings rather than screening callers.
  4. Leaving a spare house key under the door mat or elsewhere nearby where anyone needing to get into the house could find it.

Let’s take a quick look at each of those and why they can be harmful.

Leaving Outgoing Mail in Box

In years past one could drive down the street in most any residential community and pass a row of mailboxes with red flags up, signaling the carrier there was mail to be picked up. There are many people who continue that practice today, often putting bill payments and other sensitive information out overnight to be picked up the next day.

Criminals know that and see the red flag as a signal indicating potential treasure, ready to be plundered under cover of darkness when the streets are quiet.

It is for this reason the Postal Service recommends putting all outgoing mail in the slot of a designated post office mailbox or hand it directly to the carrier.

Leaving the Front Door Unlocked

This one is easy to understand, both why people traditionally have felt safe leaving the door unlocked and why it can be dangerous today. Sure, the welcome neighbors or visiting family members can freely walk in to visit.

Trouble is, so can someone who means harm. Someone bold enough to walk in an unlocked door knowing someone is home may not hesitate to do harm if the resident interrupt the intruder in their intended activities.

The answer to this is keeping the door locked, though a change in such a basic habit might best be accompanied by leaving a key with a neighbor or having another means to get in the house when our senior loved one seemingly inevitably goes outside one time without the key.

Answering the Phone Whenever It Rings

In years past the only way to know who was calling was to actually answer the phone. Even then it meant sometimes answering the phone to someone whose call was not welcome. Today it can mean worse.

Answering the phone to unknown callers today can be much like opening the front door for someone wanting to go in and steal the valuables., but it doesn’t have to be that way.

We realize many seniors don’t like to screen calls with caller ID or use answering machines but we need to encourage them to do so. With many phone systems it’s also possible to program in numbers associated with those from whom calls are welcome so loved ones don’t have to worry who will be on the other end.

Leaving a Spare Key “Hidden” Outside the House

How many movies or TV shows have we seen in which someone who clearly isn’t wanted in a home is able to gain access using a key hidden under the welcome mat, a rock near the door or even on the door frame itself?

Fortunately most of us realize that isn’t the most wise of practices but some have not given it up. We can’t let our senior loved ones be among those.

If an extra key is needed outside the home “just in case”, it is recommended to be left with a neighbor. An alternative is a smartphone controlled electronic lock that can be opened remotely if a loved one forgets the code.

Equally Dangerous Habits in Today’s Tech World

Each of those habits from the Good Old Days has, unfortunately, a counterpart from today’s tech world that can be hazardous if not avoided by our senior loved ones — or even us.

OLD Leaving outgoing mail in the mailbox –> NEW Posting on social networks without proper privacy settings

OLD Leaving the front door unlocked –> NEW Using public WiFi to access websites with financial or other personal information

OLD Answering the phone whenever it rings –> NEW Opening email attachments from unknown senders

OLD Leaving a house key under the mat –> NEW Using online passwords that are easy for someone to guess

The parallels between the old and new can be striking.

Dangerous Tech Habits Match Old Days Habits

See what you think…

  • Seniors, or any of us, posting on Facebook or other social network without proper privacy settings in place might as well be posting our information on the mailbox for anyone to go by and pick up anytime — and they will.
  • Using public WiFi hotspots with laptops, tablets or smartphones to unsecurely access banking or other financial or personal data on the web is similar to leaving the door unlocked to others with malicious intent also using the same WiFi signal. As with the unlocked door at home, nobody may “walk in” and steal your information most times you use the hotspot, but it only takes one criminal on one visit to create havoc.
  • Opening email attachments from unknown senders can expose all the data on your senior loved one’s computer to a hacker reaching in to grab it, much the same as the unknown caller may be a scam artist “reaching” through the phone to grab their money or personal information.
  • Using common passwords or those easy for a hacker to guess is essentially leaving the key to your financial sites under the door mat. You aren’t leaving the door, or website, wide open for them to access but you aren’t making it very difficult for them to open the door, either.

We find these parallels to be very eye-opening, reminding us that the more things change the more they stay the same.

We hope you’ll use them to open the eyes of senior loved ones and encourage them to change those habits that can expose them to physical or financial harm, whether they brought the habits with them from the good old days or picked them up more recently.

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