Reprinted with edits from MedicareSupplement.com
How technology affects the world today is enormously different from 25 years ago. In the beginning, many older Americans were slow to adopt new technologies, but those numbers are changing. In 2021, 75% of people aged 65 and up were online, and 61% of seniors owned a smartphone.
Although the benefits of technology are well-known, constant changes can make online safety a challenge. Seniors are often targets of financial abuse, so keeping your online information safe is essential. Here are 13 safety tips for seniors so you can detect suspicious activities online and keep yourself safe from scams and fraud.
1. Use Strong Passwords
When choosing a password, it’s critical not to use standard keyboard patterns like QWERTY or 12345. Try mixing it up by combining numbers, symbols, and lowercase and uppercase letters. Keep track of your passwords somewhere safe (preferably not saved on your computer), and try not to reuse old passwords for new accounts. The simpler the password, the easier it is to hack.
2. Guard your personal information
Think before giving out your personal information online, especially if the website or email asking for your information was unsolicited by you. Pop-up ads and scam emails are often disguised as something that seems legitimate — such as a notification to update your security software — to lure you into giving away personal information.
If you are ever asked to enter passwords, credit card numbers, or other personal information from an email or an unfamiliar website, ensure you know exactly where the request is coming from and why.
3. Be wary of unrealistic offers
If something seems too good to be true, it’s probably a threat to your online safety. Emails and websites claiming you won an extravagant prize or offering “free” giveaways in exchange for your personal information are likely scams. Unless you specifically remember entering a contest, it’s best to ignore online messages about prizes and special offers.
4. Install reputable security software
Only purchase recognized computer security software. Research and read consumer reviews about antivirus software options and online security tools. Once you have your software installed, keep it up to date.
5. Use privacy settings on social media
You can change your privacy settings on Facebook and other social media sites to control who can see your posts. If you leave your settings in public mode, anyone can see your posts’ statuses and the photos you share. To ensure that only the people you trust can see your posts, change your settings so that only the friends you have connected with can see what you share online.
6. Don’t post personal information on social media
Even if you have restrictive online privacy settings, avoiding overly personal posts on social media is still a good idea, especially anything that contains addresses or phone numbers. If you’re going on vacation, don’t share the dates of your trip on social media, and wait until you get home to post photos online. Burglars can use social media to target out-of-towners and find their next victims.
7. Avoid phishing scams
Scammers will try and steal online information from seniors in various ways. One common tactic involves scammers sending emails meant to look like they are from credible websites to trick you into sending them personal information. Stay current on the latest online fraud tactics, and check out these tips for avoiding phishing scams.
8. Report cyber abuse
People often associate the idea of cyber abuse with young children being bullied online, but it also happens to older adults. Do not tolerate anyone sending you mean, threatening, accusatory, or excessively angry messages online. It could be a crime.
If you think you have been the victim of a scam call the Financial Fraud/Consumer Protection Division of the Oregon Attorney General at 877-877-9392 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360
9. Think before opening attachments
Attachments in emails can contain harmful viruses that could potentially infect your computer. Don’t open any attachments that seem suspicious or come from a sender you don’t know. It only takes seconds to infect your computer after opening an infected attachment. Once the virus is on your computer, a scammer could access all personal information saved on it.
10. Set up two-step authentication
Most email providers and social media sites allow you to set up two-step authentication, which means you must go through an extra security step to access your accounts.
For example, your email provider will send a text message to your phone every time you try to log into your email. The message contains a code you enter on your email sign-on page to access your account. Check your email and social media privacy settings to set up two-step authentication.
11. Know where you get your news
Fake news stories have received much media attention lately due to their online and social media prominence. These stories can look like they are from legitimate news organizations and often have dramatic or shocking headlines.
If you’re unfamiliar with the organization that produced the story, look up the author, and check for accurate sources to ensure the story is not a joke. This guide offers more help in understanding how to spot fake online news.
12. Monitor your online banking accounts
Periodically check your bank statements to ensure you aren’t getting charged for purchases you haven’t authorized. Debit cards may not have the same protections as some credit cards (they may not monitor for unusual purchases), so keep tabs on when and where you make purchases to spot suspicious online activity quickly.
13. Backup your photos
Back up the photos from your smartphone onto your computer so you don’t lose them forever if something happens to your phone. To do this, plug your USB connector into your computer and connect the other end to your phone. Follow the prompts on your computer after it is plugged in.