Help Senior Citizens Stay Safe Online

When was the last time you got an email from an older relative or friend? WAS IT ALL IN CAPS? Were there links in the body of the email but not much else? Or perhaps did the person mention to you that they got the strangest email, from a friend who said she was stranded in Tijuana, money stolen, and needed help ASAP?

Senior citizens are the the fastest growing group of internet users and are currently the biggest target group for scammers and white collar internet crimes, according to the FBI. Among the many reasons they are prime targets are that senior citizens often have easily accessible funds and are less computer savvy than, say, their grandkids are. These two factors combined make them a favorite of internet scammers and virus creators. And while it’s clear that not all older internet users are less tech savvy, (think Larry Ellison of Oracle fame, 70, and Fred Kornberg, CEO of Telecom Tech, 78) as a demographic group, they tend to be less educated in the fine art of internet street-smarts.

At the same time, there are so many ways that older users can benefit from understanding how to surf and be active on the internet. Seniors can use the internet to make their lives easier by, for example, ordering groceries online, downloading books to their kindles, or simply staying in touch with friends. For the home-bound, it can be their lifeline to the outside world. But seniors often feel they are at a disadvantage when it comes to using new technology. By simply helping your friends, they can learn to navigate the waters of the internet safely and enjoyably.

The first key to reaching a senior citizen is to understand where he or she is coming from. The world of the internet is a new (or relatively new, anyway) phenomenon for them. They didn’t grow up with the abundance of technology and devices at every turn like we did. It’s not ingrained in them like it is in teenagers who were basically born texting and hanging out on social networks. Unlike teenagers or twenty-somethings, seniors expect that going out to lunch with a friend will actually include some level of engagement – that two people eating together might have a conversation, rather than sit at the same table and stare at their smartphone screens. So your mom isn’t slow because she doesn’t know how to install software, she is just a product of a different generation.

Here are some online issues to discuss with silver (haired) surfers to help them protect themselves:

Email: Email is a wonderful way for the boomer generation (or anyone, really) to keep up with friends but it’s not without its dangers. The Nigerian scams of the 1980’s are today’s emails from the president of the Bank of Africa asking you to send your bank account details and a copy of your passport in return for 4.6 million dollars. Chances are, most users can spot this fake a mile away but it’s a good idea to talk to them about phishing emails. Remind them that even emails that are “from their friend” can be dangerous as hackers can send personalized emails to the victim’s friends, names on it and all.

Links and attachments: Remind seniors to never click on links in emails unless they are certain it was meant for them and they were expecting it. Links and attachments are often infected with malware that can steal passwords and damage files. If there is any question, they can always call the person who supposedly sent it to confirm whether or not it’s genuine.

Social networks: According to Pew Research, in 2014, 27% of seniors age 65 and over in the US were using social media networks and that number is rising each year. This is great news as social media is a healthy way for seniors to connect with friends and remain socially engaged and active. The main pitfall here is that it’s incredibly easy for someone with mal-intent to get information out of unsuspecting “friends”. Seniors need to exercise great caution when connecting with people they don’t know and they should never share too much information with anyone over social media. Explain how preference settings work and that they should only display their personal information to a select group of acquaintances.

Internet shopping: A poll taken in England by OnePoll found that 86% of people over 55 shopped online and 36% do most of their shopping online.The appeal of shopping online for silver surfers is easy to understand. Shopping online means that seniors don’t need to leave home in bad weather or when they aren’t feeling up to it. It’s easy to find products and get information immediately. And the selection is limitless. But it’s also easy to get suckered if someone doesn’t know when to be cautious. Some e-commerce sites are merely scams, just waiting for an innocent victim to input their credit card details. Others are filled with malicious links and infected banner ads. Warn seniors about potential scams.

Make sure they shop only on secure sites. You’ll know if a site is secure if it has a URL at the payment stage that begins with https://. The “s” after the regular http stands for “secure” which means it’s encoded in an additional secure socket layer. This layer is what makes it safe to do online transactions there. At the time of payment, the URL should have the additional “s”, as it means that information is protected on its way from the buyer’s bank to the seller’s bank. If it’s not there, they shouldn’t be shopping there.

One thing to remember when you embark on your mission to help golden-agers stay safe online is that one day, in the not too far off future, some youngin’ is going to be explaining to you the benefits and pitfalls of some yet-to-be invented technology. Karma’s a killer so be respectful.

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