As a senior citizen, the internet affords you the ability to connect, to stay in touch and to become independent in many ways. However, the hyper-connectivity that comes with these advantages also comes with risk. In this guide, we’ll tell you how to safely navigate the internet, from getting set up and understanding basic computer security to recognizing online scams and taking advantage of online banking and healthcare.
The internet continues to play an increasingly central role in connecting people of all ages to news and information, health resources, government services and opportunities for social support. As a senior citizen, the internet is a place where you can stay in touch with friends and family, reconnect with former acquaintances, keep up with the latest news and happenings, and more. The internet also can also provide you with medical and financial independence.
These are just a few of the reasons that internet usage among seniors has steadily increased in the last years. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of seniors own a smartphone, and 34 percent of those 65 and older are active on social media.
As many benefits as the digital world might afford, there are also significant dangers in using the internet. From phishing scams to identity theft, there are plenty of ways for those who may be less familiar with the inner workings of the online world to be taken advantage of. A 2016 Internet Crime Report shows that the largest group of victims of internet crime in 2016 were over 60. Total loss of collective victims over 60 was also much larger than younger groups before them.
The Pew Research Center also reports that there are a number of hurdles to older adults adopting new technologies. Physical challenges like failing eyesight or arthritis can make a computer difficult to use. Skeptical attitudes regarding the benefits of technology can also contribute to lack of technology adoption, with 35 percent of older non-internet users believing they are better off without it.
Difficulties learning to use the new technology can also provide a barrier for some—77 percent of seniors indicate they would need assistance learning to use a new technology device like a laptop or smartphone. Learning to navigate the internet safely is something everyone should know and this guide is designed to do just that.
Click through the sections below to learn about everything from setting up your internet safely to creating strong passwords.
The first step in online security is connecting to the internet, and understanding the basics of the web/web security.
The first step to ensuring your online security is getting set up and connected to the internet correctly. If you’re unfamiliar with the internet it can seem laborious to complete all the steps necessary to guarantee safe browsing, but it’s absolutely necessary. Use the below steps to setup your machine and ensure it’s safe to use.
When your computer is turned on a sign in screen will appear, allowing you to type in this username and password in order to use the computer. This screen will vary by device, but will almost always lead you straight to your computers dashboard.
Browsers can vary: for Microsoft computers the default browser is Internet Explorer, but you can also use Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. On Apple/Mac computers the default browser is Safari, but you can also download Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox as well. Every website has a unique address or URL that must be typed in at the top of the screen.
Fortunately, most internet service providers will help you set up a wireless router, which includes setting up a unique username and password for the device. Your router should also come with encryption capabilities built in. Ensure that these are turned on. Turning on the encryption settings can vary by device and carrier, so don’t be afraid to ask for help setting this up.
Since every router is different, here is a list of some of the most popular ones and links to their support pages for setting up and securing your router:
For example, if you have vision issues you can use your device without a screen by using a narrator, use the built-in magnifier, or make apps and text bigger. There’s even a way to read in braille. For the hearing impaired, you can transcribe voice to text, which allows you to hear what’s being said in videos.
There are options for mono audio as well as notification timing and closed captioning. There are also modifications for the physically impaired like voice commands and a voice-command activated digital assistant. A numeric keyboard can be used instead of a mouse or you can personalize your keyboard to make it easier to use.
There are numerous adaptations to make your device more accessible, and it varies by computer make and model. The guides below can show you what is available on your computer!
The most popular social media sites are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, and they all have different features and specialties. To access these, you will need to create a username and password.
There are many free email providers like Gmail, Yahoo or Microsoft Outlook.Simply go onto their website, choose a unique login and password (learn how to choose a secure password) and submit some basic information. Once you’re set up, you should be able to compose and send an email, as well as receive those that are sent to you.
Passwords are a large part of what keeps online information secure. Once you’ve set your internet up, you will need to know how to create strong passwords to keep yourself safe online. Simply using a familiar word or phrase is not enough, steps need to be taken to ensure your password cannot be cracked by a human OR a computer.
Creating a strong password is key to keeping your online information secure.
These days, our computers house a wealth of personal and confidential information. It’s incredibly important that this information stays private and out of the hands of potential criminals.
Follow this basic protocol to keep your computer, and the information on it, safe.
As such, ensuring that basic computer security is implemented is especially important if you’re not as familiar with the digital world.
There are some basic steps to take on the road to internet security which everyone should take.
Most anti-virus software companies release updates regularly and are constantly developing new ways to keep your computer safe. Having significantly out-of-date anti-virus software is almost as bad as not having any at all.
This is particularly useful when using open access points, VPNs also provide added privacy on familiar networks, as they block entities, such as your internet service provider, from gathering—and possibly selling—your data.
Practice safe surfing and shopping techniques so that they become second nature, and ensure that you remain cautious about what sites you’re visiting and what you share online. You can type “online data scams + the year” into Google’s search bar to get some good resources. Here are some resources to start with:
Social sites like Facebook are important tools for communicating with family and friends. They make it easy to stay connected to the outside world and current with pop culture. Through a simple search, you can reconnect to old friends you may have lost touch with.
Social media sites make it easy to stay connected with the outside world, but it’s important to be careful with how much information you share.
Staying close with your loved ones on social media is one of the greatest benefits of connecting to the world wide web; however, it’s important to be cautious of what and how much information you share with the public. Here are some tips to stay safe on social sites.
On Facebook, you can control this by setting your privacy settings from “Public” to “Private” or “Friends Only.” That way only people you know personally will be able to see where you are, what you’re doing, and any other identifying information you happen to post. Follow the step-by-step instructions below to set up your Facebook privacy settings.
To be safe, it’s best to keep your online social circle restricted to people you’ve met in person.
For example, certain articles—if not from reputable friends or sources—can lead to websites that install viruses onto your computer.If you see a “giveaway,” “challenge” or “sweepstakes” that looks enticing, but you don’t recognize who it’s from, avoid clicking it, and certainly never enter any personal data if prompted.
If it looks too good to be true, it likely is and should be avoided. Additionally, avoid clicking any links contained in private messages if you do not know the sender personally.
One of the more common ways people steal data online is by enticing people to click malicious links through fraudulent emails. Known as “phishing attacks,” these scams are one of the most common threats to computer users. As such, it’s important for you to understand what phishing attacks are and how to recognize and avoid them.
Phishing scams usually come in the form of fraudulent emails appearing to come from a legitimate source. The message may appear to come from well-known company, bank or your internet service provider. They will usually say something indicating that your account has been compromised and you’ll be directed to click a link to resolve the issue. When you enter your information to “log in,” it is stolen by the attacker.
Phishing scams, often in the form of fraudulent emails that appear to be from a legitimate source, are one of the most common ways people steal data online.
Often these emails will aim to create a sense of panic or urgency, encouraging the reader to click the link immediately for fear of losing something. They come in several different forms, but the most common include:
Learning how to spot a phishing email is the best way to protect yourself against them. These emails usually look like a normal email from a reputable brand. Sometimes they have logos, email addresses that look legitimate, and may even have your name and some account information. If you’re at all suspicious, things to look out for include:
Common file attachments that contain malicious macros can be .doc, .xls, .ppt or .etc, and they will often look like regular attachments. Again, if you’re not sure that the sender is legitimate, avoid downloading until you’ve verified.
Unfortunately, as a senior citizen, you’re often vulnerable to online scams. While seniors are using technology more than ever, they are assumed to be less proficient with technology, and are targeted by criminals target them online. There are several different kinds of prevalent online scams that target more mature age groups. They can range from minor to serious, and usually have the intent of stealing money or personal data. In this chapter, we’ll cover some of the most prevalent scams and how to identify them.
There are several online scams you should be aware of, which specifically target adults in mature age groups.
Scammers will pretend to be someone you know—a friend or family member—in distress. They may call or send messages urging you to wire money immediately. They will often say they need help with an emergency like getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill or getting out of a foreign country. It’s their hope that you will panic and send the money before verifying the information.
Social networking sites make this relatively easy, as criminals can sleuth out personal information about people close to you, or create a fake profile to impersonate them. They can even hack the email account of someone you know. To make their story more legitimate, they may involve multiple people in the scam.
Be cautious if anyone insists money be sent right away, and always verify with another close relative before sending money to anyone. Avoid wiring money if at all possible, as it’s similar to cash. Once it’s gone, it can’t be returned. If contacted by a loved one in trouble, resist the urge to act immediately and verify the story with someone or ask them questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
They will often claim that the you owe money or back taxes. This is usually done in the form of a phone call or an official-looking email. These communications will be aggressive in nature and will often label the matter as urgent. The criminals are trained to sound convincing and can sometimes become hostile and insulting if you push back.
The IRS issued a statement warning about these fraudulent communications and assuring that “the IRS doesn’t do business like that.” They urge users to safeguard personal information at all times and to not give their personal or credit card information out.
Remember, the IRS will never call or email to demand immediate payment or ask for payments to be made out to third parties. They will never threaten to immediately involve law enforcement or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
One example of this is the “sweetheart scam” in which criminals contact individuals (often older women) and establish a bond. They will often persuade the victim to take the conversation off the site, bypassing any safeguards the dating site may have.
The scammer will proclaim their “love” for the victim and then make up an emergency for which they need money. Similar to the personal emergency scam, they will say they have medical bills, are trapped in another country or are dealing with some other urgent issue.
Avoid being the victim of these scams by never wiring money to anyone you’ve met online, no matter how dire their situation seems. If someone you have bonded with online is asking for money, chances are they are not who they say they are.
This can lead to victims allowing the scammer remote access into their computer, which enables the hacker to download malware or viruses onto the computer, or steal sensitive information.
The best way to avoid coming into contact with these malicious links is to stick to reputable websites from companies that you trust. Be aware that scams abound that entice people to click a link by offering a “once-in-a-lifetime” prize or experience. Anything that seems too good to be true online likely is.
Installing a strong anti-virus program on your computer can ensure that you are alerted to and protected against ransomware, viruses, malware and other online threats.
The world of online banking is more prevalent than ever. It can provide flexibility and convenience, especially for people who have limited mobility. These online banking systems provide a way to pay bills without physical challenges, and offer financial independence from caretakers or family members.
Online banking provides flexibility and financial independence, but comes with risk.
Online banking allows you to view your bank accounts online, pay bills, transfer funds and even deposit checks remotely. All you need is a computer or a smartphone, and the knowledge of how to conduct the transactions. While banks are working hard to make online banking safe and enjoyable for everyone, the convenience comes with a risk. To properly protect your information, ensure that the following steps are taken and best practices implemented.
Additionally, these apps are typically a more secure way of accessing your banking information than using a mobile browser, particularly when you’re in a public space and accessing public Wi-Fi.
There are some extremely helpful and useful websites and apps that provide medical information or advice (see some here). With the click of a button, you can find more information about a certain medication or illness, or get information about insurance providers or perks.
Online healthcare resources can provide valuable information and needed support, but are often not medically vetted and should be treated with caution.
Do be aware that there are also commercial sites that are just trying to sell their product, and people on unofficial forums who might not be qualified to give medical advice.
Always consult a medical professional before buying products or implementing advice. Not all sites, even if they look legitimate, have been written/vetted by medical professionals.
Double check the URLs of these websites if you arrived at them through a link and did not type the address into the address bar yourself. Avoid leaving your healthcare or insurance websites open when you’re not at your computer, especially if you’re on a public or shared computer.
If you’re ever in doubt, call your doctor, insurance provider or the Medicare office directly. Medicare representatives can be reached at 800-633-4227.
Follow these tips to stay safe online.
Being less familiar with the online world can leave you open to attacks by scammers and hackers. To recap the information briefly, there are several basic steps you can take to ensure your safety online.
Use these verified resources to vetted information online.
There are several online resources that you can use to gain information and understanding of the online world. These websites have been vetted, are from reputable sources and contain valuable information. Use them to verify information or simply make your life easier!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Citizens for Health
Citizens for Patient Safety
Consumer and Patient Health Information Section (CAPHIS) of the MLA
Consumer Health Information Corporation
Empowered Patient Coalition
Health Care For All’s Consumer Health Quality Council
Hospice Patients Alliance
Institute for Safe Medication Practices
Institute of Medicine
National Coordination Counsil for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention
National Council on Patient Information and Education
National Empowerment Center
National Institute of Health
National Institute on Aging
Partnership for Patient Safety
Partnership for Patients
Center for Medical Consumers
Patient Safety Institute
While the internet can be an incredibly useful and convenient place, it can also be a dangerous one. Now that you’re familiar with the basics of the internet, password safety, social media and email safety, banking and online healthcare safety, and know how to spot scams, you will be able to browse with confidence!