To keep family members better connected, many people are purchasing smartphones for their aging parents. While their intentions are good, this gesture could be exposing their loved ones to hidden risks. Technology may be foreign to your parents. Without knowing how to properly use such a device, they could be putting themselves at risk for identity theft. If you have purchased, or are considering purchasing, a smartphone for your aging parent, there are a few things you should do to help them protect their privacy.

Lock your Phone

The first step is to create a password for the device. This will help them protect their information in the event it is ever lost or stolen. You might be tempted to ignore this step because it may frustrate your parents. Simply explain to your loved one that using the password feature is like locking their door when they leave their residence. It will take some getting used to, but after a while they will adapt. Besides, the password only needs to be a minimum of four characters. Some phones now permit you to use your finger or thumbprint as a password. This may take a bit of patience in the beginning to set up, but it will be easier for your parent to use in the end. However, if your parents are sharing a device, then opt for the passcode as opposed to the fingerprint.

Use Secure Wireless Internet Connections

Many smartphones come with a default setting allowing the device to automatically connect to available wifi networks that are in range. Check your parents’ phone under “settings.” If their device is set to automatically join networks, deactivate this. If you skip this step, they could be automatically connected to a malicious network, exposing their personal information. Once this feature has been deactivated, or it has been changed to “ask me to connect to available wifi networks,” show them what the screen looks like when a network becomes available. Explain why it pops up, how it helps to protect their privacy, and that they can simply dismiss the alert or join a trusted network when they get them. Once again, it may seem like a nuisance at first, but eventually it will become second nature.

Manage Mobile Applications

Teaching your parents about applications is a must. Show them the App Store on their device. Explain to them or show them how apps can be used to enhance the ways in which they can use their phone. The best way to do this is to go through the process in person. Download an app with them and explain one step at a time. Show them how to find and read the terms of service and/or privacy policy for the app as well as how to determine what information or tools on the device this app will be able to access. If you don’t know how to do this, then this is the perfect opportunity to brush up on mobile phone security yourself.

Using an internet search engine, type in “how to manage app permissions on your (enter the name of your smartphone)?” For example, if you use an iPhone, you would search “how to manage app permissions on your iPhone?” Then choose the appropriate website from the search results. Here are a few more things for you and your parents to consider when installing apps:

  • Only install apps from an app store. For iPhones, use App Store on iTunes. For Androids, use Google Play.
  • Before installing an app, read the terms of service and/or privacy policy to determine what information will be accessed by the app.
  • Use anti-virus software to scan apps for potential malware, if applicable.
  • During the installation process, you may receive a prompt asking if you would like to allow the app to access information in specific areas on your device. If you do not agree, cancel the installation or block access by choosing “don’t allow.” This can be customized to protect things like your location, pictures, contacts, etc.

Use Mobile Security and Anti-Virus

This topic applies more for Android users as there are very few, if any, anti-virus apps available for iPhone users. In 2015 Apple removed many of the so-called antivirus apps from their App Store. Most of these were merely data back-up and phone-finding apps. They did very little by way of scanning the device for viruses.

Android users have numerous options, but these must be downloaded through Google Play. Help your parent by setting this up and showing them what a virus warning looks like and more.

The AV Test Independent IT-Security Institute is an excellent resource for independent reviews of mobile antivirus apps. Each year they test and rate software for various platforms, including mobile phones.

By helping your parent implement these basic privacy settings as soon as they begin using their phone, you will be helping to protect their personal information. It will also give you an opportunity to begin a conversation about vulnerability to fraud and scams. Remember, having a conversation is much more effective than simply warning someone of something. By using these tips, you and your parents can stay in touch and have peace of mind.