Protecting the privacy of older Victorians online

Monday 9th October, 2017

This month Victoria is celebrating the 35th Victorian Seniors Festival, with a range of events and activities taking place across the state. The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) recognises the importance of protecting the privacy of older Victorians, and is marking this year’s festival by offering some privacy tips for senior citizens who have an online presence.

Older generations have experienced significant technological change firsthand and the increasing digitisation of services means that they are having to adopt new technologies faster than ever before; senior citizens may use social media to stay in touch with friends and relatives, online banking tools to manage their finances, and regularly shop online.
An increased online presence can pose a privacy risk and some of the most prevalent online scams, designed to gain access to personal information (including identity theft, phishing and hacking scams) are often aimed at older persons. So far in 2017, there have been over 5,000 reports from individuals over 65 of online scams targeting their personal information, higher than any other age bracket.

Ensuring older Victorians retain control over their personal information online is essential in protecting their privacy. When using online services, older Victorians should:

• set online social media accounts to private and refrain from accepting friend requests from unknown persons

• avoid clicking on links or attachments contained in suspicious emails (for example, emails that do not address you by name or contain many spelling or grammatical errors)

• always seek a second opinion where an email requests payment or an electronic transfer of funds

• if using public wifi hot-spots to access online services, check the terms of use to understand how information about you will be collected and used

• avoid providing personal information, such as mobile phone numbers, addresses or a date of birth, where it is not necessary to gain access to a service (for example, where it is not a ‘required field’).

Protecting online privacy is a growing concern for all generations. As a particularly vulnerable community, it is increasingly important for older persons to be aware of the amount of personal information inadvertently shared online. Increased awareness can be one of the most effective ways to protect against online privacy threats, and a number of organisations have produced helpful guidance on avoiding online scams, including the Australian Securities and Investment Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has also published a series of online resources to assist older persons in taking steps to protect their online privacy.

Older Victorians are encouraged to contact OVIC if they have any privacy concerns, on 1300 666 444.

This article was written by Emily Arians, Policy Analyst, Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner. This post does not necessarily reflect the views of OVIC.