Staying safe from cyber threats

Inattention and loneliness make people more susceptible to online scams

It often isn’t age that makes some tech users more vulnerable to cyber threats, but rather factors like inattention and loneliness.

“The real advice people need to know is that the reason people are susceptible to these attacks is because they’re not mindful,” said James Robinson, a professor in the University of Dayton’s department of communication and a fellow in the Center for Cybersecurity and Data Intelligence.

Many people know that spelling errors and a sense of urgency are two signs that can point to an email scam, and that’s still true. But Robinson said we also need to start paying more attention and stop clicking on links automatically.

“You need to stop before responding mindlessly to some sort of a click,” he said.

Don’t confuse an inbox with a to-do list, Robinson said. If you get an unusual request, don’t comply.

“A lot of times you can ferret that stuff out and it doesn’t take a lot of technical training or an upgrade in knowledge,” he said.

Loneliness also makes for easier targets, particularly when they haven’t had opportunities to build other relationships. That makes them more susceptible to online romance scams, he said.

Another issue is that cyber scams are getting more sophisticated.

Messages from scammers pretending to be a grandchild of the recipient have been around for a while, but now they are using AI to separate the audio from a real grandchild’s online videos, said Kyle Jones, a professor at Sinclair Community College and the chair of its computer science and information technology department. That allows the scammer to create an audio message that sounds just like the loved one.

Scammers nowadays also seem to be taking more time to build relationships rather than depending on a quick click of a link, Jones said. That growing sense of obligation makes it more difficult to turn away a request.

Both Jones and Robinson also recommend the use of a password manager, with Robinson adding that passwords should be at least 14 to 18 characters long.

Those who think they have been a victim of a cybercrime can file a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at, said Jones, who was recently invited to the White House as part of the launch of cybersecurity initiatives to protect K-12 schools.

Robinson recommends that victims inform their internet service provider or IT department, as well as their bank or credit card company if that information has been compromised.

“You really shouldn’t be that hard on yourself if something like that happens, because it happens to everybody,” Robinson said.

Older adults do tend to lose more money as a result of cyber scams, but that’s because they generally have more money than younger adults to lose, Robinson said.

Fraudulent texts also can be reported as they are deleted, Jones noted. He encourages victims to share their stories to help others recognize scams.

“I think it does come down to trusting your instincts,” Jones said. “If something seems wrong, if something doesn’t seem right, don’t feel bad to report it and don’t feel bad to tell someone about it.”

About the Author