Seniors are particularly vulnerable to online scams and fraud, which makes cyber security an especially important topic for older adults.
However, by being more mindful of your behavior and putting a few cyber security best practices in place, you and your loved ones can better protect yourselves while using the internet. Here are some guidelines and online security tips you can start practicing today.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Just like in real life, it pays to take notice of where you are and what’s around you when you’re using the internet.
Transactions involving money, like shopping online or banking, call for extra vigilance. Follow these guidelines before you make a purchase or payment.
- Verify that the website you’re on is an actual business. Look for red flags like poor grammar, an incorrect URL (the address in the bar at the top of the page), and anything that seems “off.”
- If a promise, such as half-price Tiffany jewelry or free overnight shipping, sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Websites that claim to offer enormous bargains on designer jewelry or clothing may send you a knockoff - or nothing at all. Also be wary of clicking on any popup links that say things like: “Congratulations! You have won $500,000!”
- It’s safer to shop online with a credit card than with a debit card. That’s because the credit card isn’t directly tied to your bank account, while the debit card is. If someone fraudulently uses your credit card, you’ll be able to work with the company to report the issue. In addition, with access to your debit card information, scammers can draw money directly from your bank account, which could result in unauthorized charges and insufficient funds to cover other expenses.
- If you ever land on a website that doesn’t seem right, or if the website appears to tell you that your computer or device has a virus, stay calm and navigate off of the site. Sometimes shutting down the device and restarting will help. If the site wants you to call a number asking for “help,” don’t do it.
Another note to remember is that although you may be careful when online, other people can still collect information about you without your knowledge and use it for their advantage. It pays to scrutinize your bank, credit card, and credit score statements for any unexpected changes and report them immediately.
Email With Care
Email is a simple way to send and share messages with friends and family. You may also use emails to exchange information with your financial institutions or with websites you enjoy. Just like with the rest of the internet, it’s important to be smart when viewing emails.
Always verify the sender before clicking on or replying to any email. It’s easy for people to pose as someone they’re not in an email. Look for other red flags like strange spelling or unusual requests. If the email appears to come from someone you know but the message is odd, verify it with that person through another method. It’s always better to check.
Email phishing is a form of scamming in which scammers try to lure you into providing sensitive information with an enticing or alarming message. A common phishing scam that often targets older adults is communication from someone claiming to be a government agency, like the IRS or Medicare. The email may try to intimidate you by using words to get you to take action quickly, warning you that you owe money, or asking you to “update your information” online.
Official government agencies like the IRS will not send such correspondence via email. Therefore, you can feel confident that it’s a scam and the email can be deleted. If you’re still unsure, call the agency yourself and ask.
Similarly, you may receive spam emails from sites trying to sell knockoff medications, promising get-rich-quick schemes, or asking for money. Ignore these and block the sender.
Be Social Media-Savvy
Social media can be a fun diversion and a good way to connect with friends and family. It can also be an easy place to fall victim to false information at best and a scam at worst.
Not everything that people share online is true. Social media sites are taking steps to help prevent this, but be a “defensive reader” - question what you read, and look it up on other sources to verify the information.
If you want to share photos online, verify that you know who can view them. Check your social media site’s security settings to be aware of what you’re sharing. Also, keep in mind that sharing photos of things like your home’s exterior, places you’re visiting while on vacation, and fine jewelry might not be a good idea. People could use this information to know that you have valuable items at home or that you’re away.
Online quizzes are fun to take, but ask yourself who might benefit from the information you provide. If you don’t know or trust the site where you find the quiz, don’t take it. Although the company might be legitimate, it could also use the information for purposes you didn’t expect - like impersonating you to your friends and family.
More Ways to Protect Yourself Online
You can take additional steps to help keep your computer, phone, or tablet safer.
- Install a trusted antivirus app or program. You can also work with a local computer security company for help choosing and installing such a program.
- Be aware of where you are when conducting business. Don’t use a public Wi-Fi network to shop or bank - these transactions can be intercepted by others.
- Don’t keep a list of passwords right next to the computer or where someone could easily find them. And make passwords difficult for others to guess. Phrases like “1111” or “open” aren’t secure enough and can easily be compromised. Use a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols for the best results.
- Know who has access to your devices. Make sure that only trusted family and friends could access your devices (and only if needed).
Although cyber security may seem complex, it’s all about paying attention and asking questions. Doing that will help you use the internet safely and enjoy your time exploring the world wide web.
More Tips for Using the Internet
Have fun online connecting with friends and family by reading our blog on creative ways to use the video-conferencing tool Zoom. You can also make a difference right from your home with your time and a smartphone or computer through virtual volunteering.