Penn State Berks students help senior citizens avoid cyber scams

READING, Pa. — In an effort to raise awareness of cyber crimes and scams among members of the local community – especially seniors – Penn State Berks information sciences and technology students participated in the “Scams Against Seniors” symposium on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Reading Scottish Rite Auditorium.

This was the first in a series of symposiums to raise awareness and to protect seniors from scammers and criminals. The event was funded by the Michael N. Meitzler Award and supported by a coalition of local and state organizations.

The Penn State Berks information sciences and technology students, who called themselves “Cyber Lions,” volunteered to help run the event and to provide seniors with information about securing their devices. The Cyber Lions, led by Professor of Information Sciences and Technology Abdullah Konak, included the following Penn State Berks students: Michael Bacon Jr., Ryan Fletcher, Jason Jiang, Jared McNeil, Emily Pfender and Allison Piech.

“Dr. Konak requested volunteers for this and future events in helping seniors with security," said Jiang. "This seemed like a good way to help out the community."

The symposium began with opening remarks from Tom McMahon, former mayor of Reading, and it featured several keynote speakers, including Rev. Dr. Ronald W. Costen, attorney-at-law – elder justice specialist, and Mary Bach from AARP's Consumer Task Force.

The event also included several workshops. David Shallcross, director of the Elder Protection Unit of the U.S. State Attorney General's Office, gave a presentation on how to defend against phone and ATM scammers, and Pam Gockley, founder of the Camel Project, ran a workshop on bullying and cyberbullying. In addition, Jeffrey Bingham of First Financial Group discussed the importance of financial planning.

In between workshops and speakers, students had the chance to work one-on-one to help seniors with their questions. Bacon remembered one experience, in which he helped a woman who wanted to stay connected through Facebook.

“I told a lady who asked me how she could learn more about Facebook of websites like, and, where she could engage online and learn more about Facebook and watch free videos on other topics that sparked her interest as well,” Bacon explained. 

Cyber Lions plan to organize other events and workshops in the community to educate seniors about cyber scams and to teach them how to secure their devices through one-to-one sessions. They also plan to get more Penn State Berks students involved in their activities.

In addition to the students, members of the college’s Information Technology Office were on hand. Chris Riegel, network services manager, and Thomas Daniels, information technology support specialist, volunteered to record the presentations and workshops for future education and training programs.

Overall, the students who volunteered at the symposium found it to be a positive experience. Fletcher noted, “I think events like this are very helpful and worthwhile to information sciences and technology students and security and risk analysis students. It provides a real-world experience in communicating difficult and technical topics to people who aren't generally that technical.”