The extinction of bank cheques has pushed older Northlanders into the unfamiliar online world faster than they can adjust to, advocates for seniors say.
July saw the last of New Zealand's major banks end the use of cheques as a method to make or receive payments as their use had significantly declined.
ANZ reported fewer than 1 per cent of their customers using cheques regularly with most people preferring to make payments through digital channels.
The decision was a blow to Northlanders 65 years and older – who, last year, made up 20 per cent of the 193,170 people living in the region.
Grey Power Far North representative Ron Thompson, 87, said a combination of closed bank branches in the Far North and Dargaville, and the retirement of cheques "pushed too much on to the elderly".
He said a large number of older people in the Far North had no landlines.
Then there was the issue of understanding jargon linked to the web.
"It's difficult as a lot of the elderly don't drive...we've been pushed online faster than we can handle or adjust to."
Keith Clapham, 78, from Ruakākā, said it was harder because "we weren't born with a computer in our hand".
"I'd sit down write a cheque, put it in the post, and my bills were paid and now I have to use something, where if it goes to the wrong place it's gone."
Fortunately, Clapham could pay his water, rates, and power bill in the Ruakākā township.
"But I can't do that for anything else I need to. All of a sudden we're not been catered for."
He said the threat of scams stopped older people going digital.
That was the case for a 73-year-old Northland woman, who said using the internet caused her great anxiety.
"I don't buy anything online, I don't do any payments online, I try not to do anything – I'm too scared, it's too risky."
The woman's brother-in-law, aged 75, had stopped a scammer from accessing his online bank account. She also knew a person who had been conned out of $20,000.
She said a lot of older people had to rely on others for help but there were fears that made them vulnerable to elder abuse.
Data from the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing showed 10 per cent of Kiwis aged over 65 years living in the community experience elder abuse.
Around 54 per cent of those cases linked to financial abuse – where people either had their money used illegally or were coerced into signing or changing official documents, such as wills.
Family members were most often the abusers, according to The Ministry of Social Development.
When it came to dollars lost in online scams Netsafe data skewed towards Kiwis aged 55 and over as the most affected.
Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said people at that age had usually accumulated more assets, so potentially had more to lose.
"Where people express anxiety and concern, that's not entirely a bad thing. That emotion stops them being overconfident and making a mistake."
Northland police recently issued a warning about scammers, pretending to be from the bank, targeting people by phone or via Facebook in order to get computer access or bank details.
Police said the scammers, often from other parts of the country or abroad, were so convincing many people didn't realise they'd been duped until too late.
SeniorNet Dargaville chairperson Heather Cashin said the banks had been very supportive towards older people in the wake of terminating the use of cheques.
The community training network partnered with Westpac, a year ago, to provide a face-to-face programme focused on internet use.
"Most older people are getting around it and able to go online. There are a few that are finding it very, very difficult but talking to different people and the banks have been good for them."
ANZ external communications corporate affairs senior manager Stefan Herrick said they had reached out to thousands of cheque users to let them know what digital payment options were available and offer support.
Westpac regulatory affairs and corporate legal services media manager Max Bania said the bank's call centre had a priority queue for customers over 65.
"We encourage them to contact us to discuss the different ways they can do their banking."
Laurence Zwimpfer, operations director of the Digital Inclusion Alliance (DIAA), said there was a big job to do when it came to supporting older people into the digital world.
"Twenty per cent of the population don't have digital skills, so we need that 80 per cent that do to help."
DIAA and Kiwibank toured a mobile bus around New Zealand where people can learn alternatives to paying by cheque, and how to recognise and avoid online scams.
Zwimpfer said the bus would be returning to Northland next year.
DIAA also offered a Stepping UP training module for online banking–delivered free in more than 10 libraries in Kaipara, Whangārei and the Far North districts.
Issues with internet access in places like Kaitaia and Kaikohe were being overcome by a "huge uptake" in Skinny Jump – a low-cost prepaid broadband service that offers 30GB for $5 a month.
"Seniors have been a big part of that uptake as internet access is a big part of the digital inclusion equation for them, given many of them are on fixed incomes."
How to adjust to online banking?
Top tips from Netsafe's chief executive Martin Cocker...
• Utilise all the available support banks offer their customers. Call them and ask them to walk you through internet banking.
• Take your time to make sure you've set up your security properly. Ask someone you trust to help you install two-factor authentication.
• Exercise caution. If you're not sure of something, talk to the bank or someone you trust to get their advice.
• If you're worried something has gone wrong – act quickly, call your bank or if you have been affected by a scam, call police on 105.