Are your aging parents safe online? Or are they setting themselves up as fresh bait for online scammers looking to steal their identity, destroy their credit, and drain their bank accounts?
Older adults have been a target for con artists and scammers as long as their have been older people and thieves. In fact, most scams that target the elderly are just new versions of time-proven scams that have been updated with a new twist — or new technology. And as more seniors go online, they are finding that it’s far too easy to skip or trip into an online minefield of trouble.
In a recent Huffington Post entry, Jason Alderman, Visa’s Senior Director of Financial Education, lists several key online safety tips for seniors worth sharing with the aging loved one in your life…
Update security software. Make sure their computers have anti-virus and anti-spyware software and show them how to update it regularly.
Think like the bad guys. Even the best software isn’t 100 percent foolproof, so teach them how to anticipate and ward off annoying — or criminal — behavior. For example:
- Only open or download information from trusted sites to which you navigated yourself. Don’t assume a link contained in an email, even from a friend, will necessarily take you to a company’s legitimate website.
- Don’t click on popup windows or banners that appear when you’re browsing a site.
- Some common email scams that target seniors include offers for discounted drugs and low-cost insurance, and supposed warnings from the IRS — which, incidentally, never contacts taxpayers by email.
- Financial institutions never email customers asking for verification of account or password information.
- When shopping online, look for safety symbols, such as a padlock icon in the browser’s status bar, an “s” after “http” in the URL address, or the words “Secure Sockets Layer” (SSL) or “Transport Layer Security” (TLS). These are signs that the merchant is using a secure page for transmitting personal information.
These are all common tricks used to infect your computer with viruses or to install spyware that records your keystrokes to obtain account or other confidential information.
Alderman also points out that poor passwords continue to be a real threat to personal online security — especially if your aging parent or loved one uses passwords that a determined scammer can find on an “open to everyone” facebook profile.
Use strong passwords. Believe it or not, the most frequently used password is “password.” Other common, easy-to-crack passwords include simple numeric sequences and names of pets, spouses and children. For more secure passwords:
- Use at least seven characters with a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.
- Use unique passwords for each account in case one gets compromised.
- Change passwords frequently.
- If you’re prone to forgetting, safely store a master list of passwords.
Protect personal information. Never post sensitive information on any website (or share via email, mail or phone) unless you initiated the contact. This might include numbers for credit cards, bank accounts, Social Security, Medicare and driver’s license, address/phone and full birthdate.
Criminals can easily piece together such information to steal your identity and open accounts in your name. Example: Your Facebook profile shows pictures of your dog, Rex. One of your bank’s security questions is, “What is your pet’s name?” Need I say more?
Set privacy controls. On social networking sites, carefully review privacy settings that let you limit who has access to your personal information.
If your aging parents or grandparents have recently joined the ranks of seniors online, they aren’t alone. More and more older adults are going online everyday. Many are initially motivated by a desire to keep up with their Facebook-savvy grandchildren. Some find their way online for the first time through Apple’s iPad, a touch-screen tablet computer that’s incredibly easy to use for newbies of all ages. And others just got fed up with feeling left out of the digital world.
The opportunity that the internet offers seniors is unlimited. But so are the risks. And in the hands of an inexperienced or unsuspecting senior, a computer keyboard or touchscreen can be as dangerous as letting a child chase a ball into the street.
Want to keep your aging parents or loved ones safe online? For more online safety tips for seniors, check out “Cyber Safe Seniors,” a free 60-page PDF download from Norton.