By Alicia Harvey

Although technology yields many benefits for older adults, from staying connected with loved ones to accomplishing tasks online, it can also make them vulnerable to fraud or identity theft or other online scams. Crime can affect people of all ages, but those 60 and older are frequent cybercrime targets. This is because they often have “nest egg” retirement funds, are more trusting than other age groups, and are less likely to file reports due to embarrassment. People older than 60 have submitted fraud complaints with estimated losses of $650 million to over $36 billion annually.

Why Seniors Are At Increased Risk for Online Scams

Seniors are not immune from online threats, even if they don’t use the internet. They face their own set of unique vulnerabilities and dangers. Few new scams target seniors; the issue lies in how the existing scams are tailored to exploit older Internet users.

  • Computer Illiteracy
  • Internet Illiteracy
  • More Trusting
  • Seniors and social networking sites
  • Information exposure and seniors

Senior citizens may also often believe myths about online security that if they don’t use computers or the Internet, there couldn’t be any way for scammers to find their information. 

  • Publicly available government records will tell you whether you own a house, vote, have a record for any crime, and much more.
  • Unless you’ve been careful to ensure that your cell/mobile telephone isn’t listed in any public directory, it’s online. 

Of course, not using the Internet at all is impossible. Fortunately, there are measures that seniors can take to stay safe online. 

Protect Yourself With These Five Points

1. Use strong passwords

Not knowing how to guard your accounts and personal information can leave you vulnerable to attacks online. This is why, no matter the age group, it is essential to protect yourself with strong passwords, as they are your first line of defense against hackers.

When creating passwords, avoid using common combinations or personal information that can be easily guessed — such as birthdays or the names of loved ones. Instead, use complex combinations filled with upper and lower-case letters, special characters, and numbers. Make sure to vary passwords across different accounts as well. If you’re worried about remembering all of your passwords due to your age, you can use password managers like LastPass and 1Password. Password managers allow you to store passwords in secure encrypted databases to make it easier to remember your passwords. Also, do not forget to update your passwords yearly, if not more frequently.

2. Download software updates

Outdated software can leave your devices vulnerable to ransomware, which targets vulnerabilities as entry points for hackers. This is especially true for social media and messaging apps, which many seniors use to stay connected with their loved ones. In 2018, attackers exploited a vulnerability in the Facebook code, affecting almost 50 million accounts. Thus, developers continuously update code for software and apps to keep them secure.

Downloading software updates can install the latest security patches that fix these vulnerabilities in your operating systems and applications.

Consider turning on automatic updates in your Play Store or Apple App Store account, so your phone or other mobile devices get the latest updates frequently. Or make sure to manually apply them by checking the stores frequently for updates. Your mobile devices, as well as computers, also have security updates that you will want to make sure are getting installed as well. They should give you alerts when this needs to happen but also keep an eye on the news for important updates. If you are unsure how to do this or have questions, you can always ask a friend or family member for help.

3. Make yourself aware of phishing scams, and never trust a link you didn’t ask to receive 

Phishing scams use fraudulent messages to trick you into divulging sensitive information and user data, such as credit card numbers or login credentials. If you are not careful, you can lose a lot of money. In a report from the American Journal of Public Health, data analysts estimate that about 5% of seniors — around 2 to 3 million people — are affected by some form of scam yearly. However, this does not account for the many internet scams that remain unreported, making the actual number much more significant.

While there is no way to block phishing attempts completely, the best way to protect yourself is by being careful about who you respond to online. Ensure not to trust emails, messages, or calls asking for sensitive information. Especially those that sound like:

  • “If you don’t respond, your account will be closed” (and you’ll notice that the date of “tomorrow” never is listed)
  • “This offer won’t last; order now”

Sensitive information includes passwords, account numbers, credit card information, and other personally identifiable information — such as your address, social security number, or government data. Be wary of giving out this information even if the request comes from friends, as phishing scams can come from contacts whose devices or accounts have been infected. Consider giving the institution or the friend a call first to talk about the request but NEVER use the phone number in the suspicious email or text.

Also, avoid opening email attachments or clicking on links in emails, especially if they have been forwarded or come from someone you do not know. Keep in mind even an email that looks like it is from a friend or family member could have been compromised. So even from folks you do know, be cautious and only open attachments if you are expecting them.

4. Be careful about what you post on social media

Social media is one of the most commonly frequented platforms on the Internet. As of April 2022, there are 4.65 billion social media users. However, social media is not the most secure in protecting your personal information.

To keep your information safe, you should take the necessary precautions to prevent cyberattacks on social media profiles. Be careful about what you post, as cybercriminals can skim through your profile to extract information frequently used in security questions, such as a pet’s name or your mother’s maiden name. To avoid these encounters, you should adjust your account settings to limit who can only see your profiles to your friends. You can do this on most social media accounts by accessing the security and privacy settings.

5. Use secure Wi-Fi networks

When setting up your private network or connecting to public networks, make sure they are secure. This means that they have been protected with a password. You can input or change the password to your personal Wi-Fi network by accessing your router and finding your wireless security settings.

When in public, avoid using public Wi-Fi networks that are unlocked without a password, as hackers have been known to set up fake networks to attract users. Once you log on, they can see everything you are doing online. So if you are in public, it is best to ask staff within establishments first what their Wi-Fi network’s name and password are. If you need to connect to an unsecured network, ensure you are not logging into sensitive accounts or giving out sensitive personal information.

For seniors, the Internet provides a wealth of resources that can help you connect with others, learn new things, and even take virtual vacations. By familiarizing yourself with the essential steps to protect yourself from online scams, you can enjoy the Internet and its benefits safely.

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