Cyber Safety for Seniors

These days’ people do everything online – meet people and stay in touch, conduct business, purchase products and services, store and access records, and support hobbies or entertainment interests. Everyone is vulnerable to general risks involved with using the internet but seniors are particularly vulnerable to identity theft and cyber-crimes because often times they lack the necessary computer skills or have difficulty understanding Internet culture. How can seniors stay protected when browsing the Web?

New types of cyber-crimes are continuously being created to target seniors and exploit their lack of Internet experience. If an online criminal gets ahold of your personal information it is even easier to access your bank accounts, retirement savings, 401(k), IRAs, Social Security checks and more. And before you know it, that financial safety net you’ve built around you and your family is gone – in milliseconds.

Staying educated and up-to-date with cyber safety measures may seem daunting, but the time you invest to educating yourself will help make computers much less dangerous. You just need a refresher course on the fundamental cyber safety precautions for securing your computer against the ever increasing exposure we all face to online viruses, scams, and identity theft. And don’t forget to become familiar with the online fraud policies and recommendations of your financial institution.

You can learn how to take advantage of the internet without falling prey to online criminals. Take steps to protect your personal data and your retirement savings so you can have peace of mind when you go online.

Protect Your Retirement Savings from Cyber Threats and Identity Theft

In addition to being targeted for other types of crime, seniors share many characteristics which make them vulnerable to online attacks. Here are some ways you might be opening the door for cyber predators to damage or steal your data.

Why Seniors Are At Risk

  • Generally Lacking Up-to-Date Technology Skills – Many seniors are tech savvy, many more are not. Often their computers and mobile devices are not properly secured. Beyond installing security software, you should set up automatic updates, turn on firewalls, use secure passwords, etc..
  • Failure to Understand Internet and Online Behaviors – Unfortunately, tech savvy does not equal Internet savvy. Navigating the Internet safely is more about cultural understanding and familiarity with human behaviors online than actually understanding the technology behind the Internet. And just because you haven’t experienced a virus, does not mean that you haven’t become a victim of cyber threats. New crimes are developed every day to access your public and private information online.
  • Tend to be More Trusting – while seniors have a wealth of experience in judging the character of people they meet in person, few have developed the skills required to assess the authenticity of people and companies one meets online. And seniors tend to be more trusting of official looking materials, emails or websites leaving them vulnerable to scams.
  • Sharing More Personal Information than They Are Aware of – Social networking sites, online dating sites, and mobile applications or games include terms allowing the companies to read, save and/or access your personal data. Even reputable companies who may not share your private banking information or phone number may be sharing your name, gender, online usage patterns to other companies for marking purposes. Seniors, though they may read the terms and conditions of a contract more than younger generations, are still more likely to sign-up for notifications, quizzes, surveys or online deals accessing their data.

You May Be Sharing Your Information Online Without Knowing It

There are numerous ways for predators to access your information, from public records to online scams. As public records are being backed-up on computers or in the cloud by government services, seniors may not even know their information is out there. Here are 5 ways you may be sharing too much:

  1. The Government hold public record tied to your name if you vote, have a criminal record, report to jury duty, buy a home, participate in a census and more.
  2. Most phone numbers are public record unless you have careful requested its privacy. Chances are that your name is still tied to one or more phone number
  3. If you donate to charity without anonymity then your name is likely listed among all their donors as a thank you.
  4. If you volunteer for any organization, church group, etc., then your name and possibly contact information is stored or published for their records.
  5. If a relative has shared your information with a genealogy website, your name, copies of a census record or even a copy of your birth certificate may be online.

6 Tips to Help Ensure Retirees are Safe and Secure on the Internet

  1. Seniors aren’t the only ones at risk of a cyber-security threat; their banks and financial institutions are vulnerable too. Takes steps to protect your money and consider using more than one institution to store your IRAs, 401k, and other retirement savings – think of it as another form of diversification to prevent losing all of your money when an institution is breached.
  2. Never trust an email or link sent to you by someone you don’t know. Clicking on these links and messages can send you damaging viruses, corrupt your hard drive or pull your personal data. If a company or person you don’t know contacts you, use a search engine to locate and verify the information to contact them back.
  3. Don’t always trust official emails, links or notices. Your bank, financial institution or any reputable company will not ask you to reply with or correct your personal information, password, etc. (they should already have it they need it). Contact your bank immediately to ensure you or they have not become the victim of a cyber-threat.
  4. Don’t fall for Scams! A rich prince is not in financial trouble needing a direct wire transfer or real cash in exchange for a (fake) check. Your utility company is never going email or call you and insist you to immediately pay with cash transfer or a prepaid credit card or they will cut off your power, water, etc. If you opt-in for online contests or lotteries, the company won’t ask for your bank account information – they should send you a check. The result of these scams are an empty bank account, sometime bad credit and legal fees – you don’t want that!
  • It is better to be rude than ripped off. Demand validation, verification, and authentication (sometime from multiple, credible sources) before giving your information to anyone.
  • Employ some safe computing practices:

Use Strong Passwords with capital letters, symbols and numbers – “P@ssw0rd”…”PR0T3CT”…make it hard for hackers but not so hard you have to write them all down so someone else can find them.

Keep your internet firewall on at all times (usually located in your Internet Options Control Panel or Security System Preferences).

Install automatic updates on your computer systems and security software to have the latest protections.

The best way to stay safe on the Internet is to actually get on the Internet. Sounds strange, I know, but the more familiar you are with modern technology and the behavior of individuals or businesses online, the easier it will be to avoid cyber security and identity theft scams. Learn more about protecting yourself and pass on that knowledge to other retirees and seniors in need of some cyber safety procedures.

And remember to ask for assistance from friends, family and professionals. A computer technician can review your computer settings to fix any problems and set up security measures. Most reputable computer companies have customer service available to help walk you through tools and applications. And a family member can be there to help you practice cyber safety all year round.

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