Most people think that kids and teens are the most vulnerable to online fraud, but Grandma or Grandpa are targets as well. Seniors, unfortunately, have become a prime target for many scammers. As technology advances, so do potential threats to privacy and security. So it’s important to be aware of current threats and share them with older adults.
Remember that loneliness is something that is a big issue for the elderly, and the Internet can offer a social life and a way to communicate with others. Consider all the other reasons our senior citizens are adapting to this fast-paced world:
- Participating in social and cultural activities
- Keeping in touch with loved ones
- Meeting new friends and romantic partners
- Online banking, shopping and investing
- Getting doctor reports and test results
- Sharing and viewing pictures on social media
- And much more.
Any of these activities can open up the doors to risks. But just as you fasten your seat belt before driving, makes sure your loved ones are taking these precautions before using the Internet to ensure their safety:
Make sure passwords are long…and strong. Cyber security experts recommend at least eight characters, including numbers, upper and lowercase letters and symbols. Avoid using names or dictionary words. And make sure seniors are not sharing passwords with anyone, unless you’ve designated someone you trust to manage their accounts. Should someone else have their password, they may be able to impersonate them and ask one of their friends or family to send or wire money—a common scam.
Use privacy settings. Both for your computer and online sites that seniors may visit. Facebook has controls which will let them post only to friends or their friends plus their friends. You can also choose private and public posts. There are also privacy settings for smartphones that can restrict who has access to your location, contacts and other personal information.
Think before posting. If sharing a picture, video or comment, it’s a reflection on the sender. If the wrong people get their hands on it—they may be harvesting data for other purposes to scam.
Be careful when sharing photos. Our instant world allows us to instantly share photos real-time wherever we are. But do you really want all your loved one’s followers to know you’re they’re out of town or on vacation for a week? These are the kinds of things that scammers look for. It’s ok for them to take pictures. However, you should encourage them not to post pictures on social media until they return home. This will help prevent anyone from robbing their identity or house.
Secure shopping. Online shopping has grown more popular year after year with everyone, even our seniors. They enjoy the convenience of price shopping, click-and-purchase convenience and more, which is especially important if they have limited mobility. Recognize the risks of online shopping as well: Be sure you are dealing with reputable merchants. Many are legitimate, but some may be out to steal your credit card number or other information. You may be able to reduce risk by doing some online research to see if there are reviews or comments about the merchant.
Also, when visiting an online store, have them check the website address. If the first part of the URL does not begin with https://….. , it is an unsecure site and you will likely be redirected to a spoof website. Instead, close the browser window and manually type in the website address you want to visit in a new window.
Know who you’re talking to. The Internet is a popular way to meet friends, and there are websites for all ages including senior citizens to find romance. But remember, it’s easy to create a persona with a picture and a profile, and who knows if it’s for real until you meet him/her in person? A few rules to share: Always meet someone in a public place and never go to their home unless you’ve spent time with them. Trust takes time. Never give someone money regardless of their circumstances; scams are common for this. Ask the person you’re “talking” to if they want to Skype or FaceTime. You will be able to hear and see the person and get a better idea if they are genuine or not.
Watch out for phishing. If your loved one receives an email from their bank or another organization with their personal information, remind them to never click on the link or send money. Fraudsters are famous for recreating legitimate looking logos and messaging, often for financial institutions. Always call Tower’s Member Service Center or other financial institution for backup. More information about phishing can be found here.
Be available to help your parents navigate the Internet. Help them set up and secure their computer with privacy controls, install antivirus software and set up firewalls.
Install software to backup their files. There are several online services that will allow you to backup your files for free or very little cost.
What to do if you are a victim
If you suspect you or a loved one is a victim of a scam, here are resources for reporting the scam:
AARP—has ElderWatch, where hundreds of volunteers work with the elderly to assist them from staying away from scams.
FBI—the lead government agency for reporting and investigating cyber crimes.
USA.gov— this site gives tips on how to avoid cyber crime, phishing scams and Internet fraud.
Justice.gov—the Department of Justice has a section on their website for reporting computer and other cyber crimes.
Resources: AARP, FBI, Department of Justice, ConnectSafely.org, GetSafeOnline.org, USA.gov