Helping those with acquired brain injury keep safe online

Understanding, preventing and managing the impact of cybercrime on people with acquired brain injury (ABI) is the focus of a new study by researchers at the Turner Institute, Monash University.

Kate GouldPeople with ABI may be highly vulnerable to cyber scams due to their social isolation and cognitive impairments, with romance scams one of the key scam types, causing both financial loss and distress as well as conflict with their families. Neuropsychologist Dr Kate Gould, a research fellow at the Monash-Epworth Rehabilitation research centre and Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, was working with a brain injury client when she became aware that he had been the target of an online scam. In trying to help her client, Dr Gould found that there was no research or clinical guidelines to address the vulnerability of people with brain injury to cybercrimes and scams.

With Australians placed as the 5th highest victims globally to cybercrime, Dr Gould has identified from interviewing other clinicians who work with this population that people with ABI are likely at an even higher risk due to impaired memory, difficulty keeping track of inconsistencies in a scammer’s story, loneliness, having a very trusting nature and reduced online safety skills or knowledge. Getting people to the point where they understand they have been scammed can be very difficult, with highly skilled scammers grooming people for years and sometimes convincing them to travel overseas.

With a grant from the TAC small grants program, the CyberABIlity team, led by Dr Gould, are working to create an online cybersafety training program designed with and for people with ABI. The collaborative team includes Professor Jennie Ponsford AO, also from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, Anna Holliday from Li-Ve Tasmania and Colin and Alf who have lived experiences of cyber scams and ABI.

With early intervention being key, input from people with ABI to contribute to the design and trial the online resources is now underway. While there are a range of existing cybersafety resources available, Dr Gould says there is a need for these to be tailored for people with ABI. For family members, carers and clinicians who support people with ABI, having open, non-judgmental conversations about cybersafety is critical in providing a safe and trusting space to help promote online safety and respond to any cyber scams. The online training resources will include practical strategies for people with ABI and those who support them such as education about healthy relationships and learning the red flags that indicate a ‘romance’ scam.

“Effectively managing the impact of cybercrime has the potential to enhance quality of life for people with ABI by maximising their safety and building confidence in accessing the internet, email, social media and other online activities. It can also help to minimise potential impact on their mental health,” Dr Gould said.

To learn more about Dr Gould's work, read this article in Monash Lens