By Eric Seiverling
Pittsburgh’s senior citizens are now more prepared to recognize and fight against online scams, frauds and identity theft.
And they owe it to public officials working hundreds of miles away in the other side of Pennsylvania.
Thanks to a partnership between Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney, NBC10, and Telemundo62, seniors across the state now have access to thousands of public service announcements, nonprofit partnerships, free cyber security training classes, and free educational materials.
One of three senior centers chosen in the state for this program, Vintage, Inc., located in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, received donations of 24 laptop computers and funding for Internet safety training classes.
Founded more than 30 years ago, Vintage, Inc. provides activities and programs that promote social and physical well-being for local seniors.
The center now provides 12 cyber security classes and reaches 120 senior adults.
“Vintage, Inc. is honored to be chosen for the online safety program and it’s a blessing,” said Mike Smialek, volunteer computer instructor at Vintage, Inc., during a break from teaching classes. “It’s a wonderful program thanks to Comcast’s generosity.”
According to World Atlas, Pennsylvania has the fifth highest population of seniors, with 2.2 million residents over the age of 65. According to a Pew Research Center study, 64 percent of seniors regularly use the Internet.
“There’s a perception that seniors don’t want to touch technology,” Smialek said. “But you would be surprised at how some of them are computer-savvy. They like to send emails back and forth with family and friends.”
But with their new-found online freedom, seniors face dangers in the form of identity theft, hackers, and fraud scams.
According to Home Instead, Inc., almost 70 percent of U.S. seniors have been the victim or target of an online scam, and Pennsylvania’s attorney general says online scams cost America’s seniors $3.3 billion each year.
Smialek isn’t surprised when he hears such statistics.
“Today’s seniors were brought up in a culture where you trusted people,” he said. “They’ll receive an email saying they’ve won money, and they want to believe it’s true. They’re lonely, and that makes them receptive to scams.”
Topics of Smialek’s hour-long classes include passwords, security software, frauds, malware, spam, viruses, and spyware. After completing the courses, seniors receive a certificate of completion.
Started in 2011, Comcast’s community investment program Internet Essentials has become the nation’s largest and most successful broadband adoption initiative for low-income families. The program has connected more than four million low-income Americans living in more than one million households across the country to the Internet.
In Pennsylvania, Internet Essentials has helped 272,000 residents across the commonwealth connect to the Internet, making it the fourth most successful state to participate in the program.
“We’re committed to closing the digital divide and we’re constantly looking for ways to expand the Internet Essentials program,” said Josephine Posti, public relations manager for Comcast’s Keystone region. “Seniors are a demographic we want to help overcome barriers to getting online. They’ve had good turnouts at the classes and we’re very happy with the results.”
The attorney general’s Office of Public Engagement hopes to educate 50,000 seniors on Internet safety in 2018.
“The Internet is a plus and a negative,” Smialek said. “You have to keep your eyes and ears open at all times. If an email offer seems too good to be true, it probably is a scam. If it looks shady, listen to your gut.”
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