Although young people certainly occupy the lion’s share of our digital real estate, America’s senior citizens are connecting with and using the Internet more than ever before. 65% of seniors today say they browse the web regularly, compared with only 14% back in 2000. And four in ten people 65+ own a smartphone; that’s up almost 25% since 2013. There are lots of reasons for the uptick, according to the Brookings Institute, including keeping in touch with family; shopping; searching for medical information; keeping up with the news, and bargain hunting.
But with this surge in access also comes a renewed call to caution from eldercare experts, who warn that some seniors’ lack of experience and trusting natures can make them more vulnerable to online scams and predators. Here are some tips for helping yourself or an elderly loved one navigate the Internet safely:
- Protect Your Computer. Many of us could use this reminder, no matter how tech savvy we are. 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. And be sure to keep mom or dad’s passwords in a safe place where they can access them if necessary.
- Don’t Talk to Strangers! What we drill into our kids applies to every sector of the Internet, particularly any unfamiliar site or email solicitation that asks for personal information. 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, insurance policy info.
- Buyer Beware. If Dad likes to browse online retailers, make sure he limits purchases to secure, reputable websites like Amazon and Walmart. Head here to learn more tips for safe online shopping.
- Check Your Statements. If Mom likes to shop online, make sure she’s reading all bank and credit card statements carefully and checking for any unauthorized purchases or withdrawals — no matter what the amount. Identity thieves will often test your vulnerability by withdrawing very small amounts to see if you notice, before attempting larger purchases. So make sure Mom’s on the lookout for anything at all that doesn’t match her records.
- There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Any emails or FB teasers offering anything for free in exchange for personal information should be treated as potential identity theft and promptly deleted.
And finally, get educated! With more seniors online than ever, there are an increasing number of excellent ways for adults 65+ to learn more about how to navigate the web safely. Here are a few we like:
- The US Department of Homeland Security’s Stop Think Connect program is an excellent online resource designed exclusively for seniors.
- The AARP’s Internet Safety Tips for Dummies provides clear, readable guidelines for safe online usage.
- Local government websites and chapters for the Council on Aging often are quite helpful. We like the guidelines put together by the Washington State Attorney General’s office, which you can find here.