Teaching smart people how not to get scammed online

There’s a clear digital divide in skill between those who are able to access technology, compared with those who can’t. But there’s another, subtler digital divide: when highly educated people, frankly, haven’t learned how to use technology. To help combat smart people from falling for simple internet scams, Pam Holland founded a company called Tech Moxie.

ABERMAN: I know, from my own experience being a managing information service specialist for a lot of my family members, that not everyone understands how to use technology. You’re trying to address that issue.

HOLLAND: Yes, I am. So, I started Tech Moxie about four years ago, and it’s very common story. I think there was need, and I kind of stepped into it. My mom was wanting to learn how to use an iPad, and I got her an iPad, and I was helping her and some of her friends, and I would go into the Apple Store in Bethesda and see people coming in and asking these questions, and I thought, hey, there’s really a need for this. So, I started Tech Moxie, and it’s been growing ever since.

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ABERMAN: I get the feeling, and I feel this way every time I can’t get a computer to do what I want it to do, that the industry sells these things like they’re toasters. They’re not toasters.

HOLLAND: No. They’re not, and in fact, each one is different, and then the systems change, and you go from an Apple to an Android, and it’s completely different. Even our TV remotes, and Netflix, and all of the different services we use, are created by a developer who has his or her idea of what it should look like. So, we’re using so many different systems, and it’s completely different than the toaster, or the old telephone we would plug into the wall. There were only like three different designs for the telephone, and it was a big when we went from rotary to push button.

ABERMAN: So tell me, what is it like to work with somebody who’s really really accomplished in life, and just has no idea how to use technology? I mean, in some ways, are you more of a psychologist than a technologist?

HOLLAND: Oh, I definitely offer psychological support for those who are frustrated with the technology. Sometimes, a client of mine might think that they’re literally losing their mind because they can’t remember steps, when they’re not. They may need just the the courage. I work with women who are maybe going back to work after staying at home, or folks who have retired and always had office support. So, a lot about what I do is building confidence.

ABERMAN: Give me some examples of types of clients you work with, and what some of the challenges are that they’ve had to overcome.

HOLLAND: So, for example, I’ve worked with folks who have always had secretarial support, and they were not the one to get up and go make the copy at the Xerox machine, so that was great, until they were cut loose and in their home, and they have to figure out what to do when their email doesn’t work, or they need a password reset. So, for people like that, I might be starting with the basics, and educating. So, what I do is a combination of fixing and showing at the same time. So, when I work with a client, and I have to do password resets, or show them how to get onto the cloud, I do it, but I do it in a way that’s also teaching.

ABERMAN: Do you think that our society is really focused enough on digital literacy? I know we really focus on making sure everybody knows how to read and write, and do basic arithmetic, but digital literacy, I mean, if you can’t understand how the technology works, how can you participate?

HOLLAND: That is absolutely true, and I’ve seen that with older adults, younger adults, people who are of limited means, and just don’t have the money to buy the devices, and they’re not on as much. So, that hits everybody, and I think digital literacy is really a misnomer now, or at least what people think it is. I work with clients who think that they have to understand how every device works, and every app. and it’s about remembering where the steps are, and what they have to do. Actually, good digital literacy now is about looking at the menu, and reading the bread crumbs that are there on an app or device. So, my kids don’t remember everything about a particular type of technology, but they know where to look.

ABERMAN: Interesting. Do you think it’s because, those of us who are older, were educated at time where education was list building, process memorization, whereas technology, if you talk with the technologist and they design a user interface, they’re not thinking about a process. Maybe they should, but they don’t. It’s menus, and you should figure it out. They put a lot of the user, I think.

HOLLAND: There’s an awful lot put on the user. And there’s so much more depth, and breadth, in terms of the types of technology that are there. So, I use an analogy and I say, you know, if you’re an older adult let’s say Boomer and up, you grew up in a time where you could fix a car, and even if you didn’t change your oil, you had basic idea of the concept. Pretty much every car, you could open the hood and figure out where the oil went and came out.

Today, you don’t know that. So, I could look at my phone, and I have no idea what the inner workings are. I have probably 50 apps on my phone, and they all work a little differently. So, rather than learning each app, and each piece of technology, I teach sort of the big picture. You go into an app, you’re going to see icons. Those are the bread crumbs. So, kind of refocusing people from thinking they have to memorize everything about a device, to showing them how to get the information once they’re in there.

ABERMAN: In effect, it’s the for same me, when I think about the car. I may know how to change my oil, I wouldn’t know how to change my spark plugs, or balanced my tires, but I know how to drive.

HOLLAND: Exactly, and I give people analogies who are really more tech hesitant than others. I say, if you go to someone’s house for dinner, and you need to go to the bathroom, you know there’s probably one on the first floor, you have an idea that it might be off the front hall, you’re not positive, and you can ask. You’re not expected, nor would you not go to that person’s house cause you didn’t know where the bathroom was before you got there. And then, they usually laugh, and they get it. I say technology’s the same thing. It’s, every time you go into a different app, or piece of software, or device.

ABERMAN: I know that you have a lot of concern and interest about how technology preys on older people, phishing for example. What are your thoughts about that?

HOLLAND: It makes me very angry, actually, because it’s older adults, younger adults. It pretty much can hit anyone across the board. There’s a scam that’s been around for years, where you’re on your computer, and all of a sudden a pop-up opens, and you can’t close it. It got worse, in that the pop-up now talks to you. And so, you might be making a cup of tea, and you hear your computer yell, don’t touch anything, now you’re in danger, call this number.

Clients call the number, pay 400 dollars to do x, y, and z, and get fixed up on the computer. What’s interesting to me is that, it is not the most vulnerable adults. I’ve had that scam be played against younger clients of mine, lawyers and doctors, psychiatrist, psychologists, all kinds of professionals that you would think would know better. And they don’t, because that’s why it’s social engineering, because they know how to prey on our fears.

ABERMAN: So, nobody should feel down on themselves if they find technology intimidating, or if they get scammed.


ABERMAN: Well Pam, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us, and folks, if you’re interested in making sure that the little man inside that little box in your desk speaks to you properly, I think you want to check out Tech Moxie.

HOLLAND: Thank you, it’s been a lot of fun.