It’s no surprise that Americans are online more than ever before; by 2019, experts predict we’ll spend more time on the Internet than we will spend watching TV! Our senior population is falling right in step with this trend; nearly half now own smartphones, with over 65% saying they browse the web on a regular basis.
Along with this relatively new affinity, however, comes a word of warning from many eldercare experts, who cite seniors’ lack of experience and trusting natures as putting them at heightened risk for online scams and predators. According to the FBI, online phishing schemes deliberately target the elderly because they tend to be wealthier, more trusting, and less likely to report fraud. And the statistics are sobering: one recent report estimates that Americans 65+ lose an estimated $36.5B each year to Internet scams and abuse. If you’re a senior yourself or have a parent needing guidance, here are some tips for navigating the web safely:
- Protect your computer. This advice applies to all of us, and it begins with your passwords; they should be 12-15 characters long, with numbers and symbols, and changed every six months. Keep track of them with Dashlane or 1Password, both free and easy to use. Every device should be protected with security software, complete with automatic updates, as well as secure passwords and a firewall. Consumer Reports recommends Avira Free Antivirus, which you can download here.
- Don’t give out personal info! We raise our kids not to talk to strangers; this applies to every online interaction as well. Anything pertaining to your identity is off-limits to any unknown sources, including your name, address, phone number, social security number, birth date, email address, doctor’s name, and insurance policy info.
- Shop safe. If Mom likes to browse online retailers, make sure she limits purchases to secure, reputable retailers like Target or Amazon. Advise her not to save any credit card info on any retail site, and to always use a credit card (never a debit card) to protect her cash accounts. Head here to learn more tips for safe online shopping.
- Check bank statements carefully. If you are purchasing online, make sure to read all bank and credit card statements carefully and check for any unauthorized purchases or withdrawals — no matter what the amount. Identity thieves will often test the waters by withdrawing a small amount to see if you’re paying attention before attempting larger transactions.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Any emails or FB teasers offering anything for free in exchange for personal information should be treated as potential identity theft and promptly deleted.
With more seniors online than ever, there are a number of excellent resources for learning more about Internet safety. The US Department of Homeland Security’s Stop Think Connect program is an excellent online resource designed exclusively for seniors. And check out the AARP’s Internet Safety Tips for Dummies for clear, readable guidelines regarding safe online transactions.