It is important for seniors to understand how to use technology safely. From being aware of scams to choosing strong passwords, there are several factors to consider when it comes to technology use and safety. With these tips, seniors can learn different ways to ensure safety and security while using technology.
Do Not Click Suspicious Links
Links included in emails, texts, or social media posts may be dangerous. Clicking these links can lead to websites that obtain your financial or personal information – even if you’re smart enough to not supply them with that information. They could also cause malicious software to damage your device, or allow for unauthorized access to it without your knowledge or approval. Be careful when clicking links, and be especially cautious of emails or messages that encourage you to visit a website and provide information about yourself. Even if you receive a message with a link from a sender who seems familiar, it is a good idea to double check with that individual if you suspect it may not be from them.
Best practice – if you receive an email with a link, instead of clicking on that link, go to the website on your own (not through the email) and locate the information there. If you cannot find it, call the phone number that is on the real website, not the one listed in the email.
Use Strong, Unique Passwords
It is important to choose passwords that are more likely to keep your online accounts or devices safe. Passwords should ideally be somewhat long, such as eight or more characters. Passwords should also be made more secure by including both capital and lowercase letters and by adding special characters and numbers. It is best not to use personal information, like your name or birthday, in your passwords. You should also try to avoid using the same password for more than one account or device. Additionally, where offered, add two factor authentication. This authentication will ask for your password (one factor is a secret that you know), but then require additional proof of who you are that is not based on a secret. This second factor is often proving that you have access to a familiar device, such as a cellphone, by sending a request for account access to the cellphone. The second factor should not be asking for personal information, such as your mother’s maiden name or your childhood best friend.
Best practice – use a password manager, such as Bitwarden, Lastpass, 1password, or Dashlane which will randomly generate the password for you and store an encrypted version of the password for you, allowing you to only remember your one master password for the password manager. (Conversations to Remember does not endorse any specific password manager program and is only providing examples of the type of program that you will want to use).
Be Cautious About Texts/Calls From Unfamiliar Numbers
If you receive a call or text from an unknown number, it could be a scam. Always be careful if you answer a call or text from an unknown number. Many scammers will try to manipulate callers into providing information, such as their credit card number. For example, a caller may try to insist your computer is at risk for hacking and that they can fix it. Often, scammers will try to make you think there is something wrong and that you need to act urgently. Sometimes the scammer will tell you that they are from a company that you do have business with (e.g. your bank, Amazon, etc.) and may want to to provide them with information that may appear innocuous – such as your address, birthdate, etc., telling you that they need to verify your information in order to speak with you. Do not provide any information to someone who has called you. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up and do not continue communicating with them. You can also block phone numbers from calling or texting you.
Best practice – Do not give anyone information on the telephone if they called you. Ask them where they are from, and then call the company directly (do not ask them for the phone number – independently find the phone number so that if it is a scammer, you are not calling the scammer back).
Install Security Software
Security software is a great option for making devices safer. These types of software can be downloaded to your computer or other devices. Security software is meant to make your device more secure and add further protection. It can scan for viruses, for example. Ensure you are using a reputable and trusted security program before downloading it to your device. Note that both Windows and Apple operating systems ship with malware protection built into them, but you must ensure that this protection is enabled.
Stay Safe on Social Media
Privacy settings can be used on social media to keep your account and information private. Make sure to check through privacy settings on all of your social media accounts. For example, if you do not want strangers to be able to see your Facebook account, you can change the settings so that it is private. Always be mindful of what you are posting on social media, even if your account is private. If one of your social media connections writes a comment, that allows their connections to see you post. If you post in a group, what you post in that group can be seen by everyone in the group. It is not advised to share certain personal information, such as your home address or phone number, on social media sites.
Best practice – never post anything on social media that you would not be comfortable sharing with strangers. Always expect that others could share what you have posted with people whom you do not know.
Do Not Click on Suspicious Pop Ups or Advertisements
Often, pop ups and advertisements are used to scam internet users. Pop ups are messages or full pages that will suddenly appear on a website and prompt you to click on them. They are often designed to encourage you to act quickly, because adding a sense of urgency can cause even the most cautious person to let down their guard. A pop up might say that you have a virus on your computer, or that you have won a vacation. Do not click on these suspicious pop ups. Close the website by exiting your browser and be extra cautious when revisiting that site.
Best practice – Most browsers contain some level of protection against pop ups, called a pop up blocker. This typically protects against website browsing being interrupted by new pop up windows. Ensure that this protection is enabled. When necessary, you can always override it.
Be Careful With Making Payments
It is important to be cautious when making payments online or over the phone. When you are making a payment online, ensure the website is trusted and secure. One way to check that you are on the correct site is to look at the URL in the browser bar. This is the link to a website and it can be found towards the top of the browser window. If you are ordering products from Amazon, for example, the URL should be https://www.amazon.com. Never provide your credit card information through technology unless you are certain it is a trusted site or caller. It is also important to recognize when websites are using secure communication. A symbol in the browser bar, typically a closed padlock indicates that encryption is being used to protect your personal information. Do not enter any personal information or payment information unless you are confident that the information is being sent encrypted.
Best practice – use a credit card that allows for virtual cards, and pay using the virtual card for all online payments. Virtual cards are legitimate credit card numbers that you can create with the credit card vendor, but they can be limited to a single vendor and even to a limited pay period.
Keep Passwords Safe
Keeping your passwords safe is essential. A password manager is recommended, because it allows you to store your passwords once across multiple devices, and even share some of them with your family members. An alternative to that is storing passwords on your device. Many devices, such as Apple products, include a feature that allows for passwords to be stored safely. You can find your saved passwords through the settings on your device. To access them, you will have to enter your passcode, or use Face ID or Touch ID. Another way to keep passwords safe is to not share them with anyone unless they are a trusted individual. In addition, if you ever receive a suspicious message asking for your password, do not reply to it.
Best practice – Always make sure that you are storing your passwords in the repository that you intend, and that when you’re retrieving your passwords, you’re accessing the repository that you intend. If you enter your password manager’s password into a rogue pop up window, your whole password vault may be compromised.
Ask for Help if Needed
Seniors who have concerns about online safety should not be afraid to ask for help. You can talk to a friend, family member, or other trusted individual about online safety and ask for help if needed. Other resources, such as technology classes through senior centers or libraries, may also be an option. Learning how to use technology safely can be challenging, and it is okay to reach out for help.
How Older Adults Can Improve Their Personal Cyber Security. The National Council on Aging. (2021, October 14). Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/how-older-adults-can-improve-their-personal-cyber-security
Person. (2019, May 7). Strategies for Staying Safe and Secure Online. AARP. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/info-2019/privacy-for-seniors.html
The Senior’s Guide to Online Safety. ConnectSafely. (2021, August 25). Retrieved from https://www.connectsafely.org/seniors-guide-to-online-safety/