Because older Americans are frequently the victims of online fraud, the Department of Homeland Security has created a collection of Cyber Tips for Older Americans. It is called the Elderly Person’s Guide to Staying Safe Online. The DHS guide includes common sense tips as well as specific guidance on how to shop and bank online and use social media without falling victim to fraud.
Beware of these common online swindles
Con artists targeting older Americans send emails asking the recipient to click a link or send money. No matter how polite the person sounds or how desperate their situation seems, do not trust unsolicited emails. You should never provide any of your passwords or personal information.
Every day, thieves launch a multitude of websites created for the sole purpose of stealing from people. These websites may masquerade as dating services or auction sites. They may ask for charitable contributions or offer to sell you prescription medications for a fraction of what you are paying at your local pharmacy.
The fake dating service websites collect your personal information such as name and address, date of birth and Social Security number. They may also ask for information commonly used to answer security questions or to figure out your passwords. Providing the name of your child, your pet, your mother’s maiden name, and where you went to high school may sound innocuous when on this website, but the villains behind the website can use this information to harm you, or sell the data to others who will do so, through identity theft.
Fraudulent websites that request charitable donations or claim to sell cheap medications, will take your money for themselves, and they will either not send you the product you ordered or send you a useless and possibly dangerous counterfeit drug, instead of the medication you ordered. These criminals can also use the payment information you entered into their website to clean out your bank account or max out your credit card.
What should you do to avoid online scams?
When visiting websites, look for a padlock icon at the bottom of your Internet browser. The padlock icon is intended to assure that this is an encrypted, secure site. Be aware, however, that it is easy to get padlock icons and paste them on to a fraudulent website. Do not follow a link to a site. Do your own Google search for the company and verify that you are on the company’s official website. Website addresses that begin with “https” instead of “http” are generally considered secure, but always verify their authenticity.
Never give an online stranger any personal or identifying information. If something sounds too good to be true – it is. Contests, freebies, giveaways and so-called clubs are often disguised as illegal schemes.
Do not update any of your account information directly on an emailed request. Go to the website on your own, not through a link, or call the company’s customer service number to ask if they requested an update from you.
Is social media risky for seniors?
Social media can be risky, but you can control it. You should only post things on social media that could be seen by everyone on the planet, without causing you embarrassment or remorse. Once you post something online, people you know can forward it to total strangers who can send it to more strangers, until millions of people you never met are looking at your photos or videos. That is how things “go viral.”
Never post vacation plans or photos until you return home. People have their homes burglarized while on vacation, after advertising to the world on social media that they were out of town.
The laws are different from state to state. To be safe, talk with a local elder law attorney.
Department of Homeland Security. “Cyber Tips for Older Americans.” (accessed July 17, 2017) https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Cybersecurity%20for%20Older%20Americans_0.pdf
Norton by Symantec. “Top 5 Social Media Scams.” (accessed July 17, 2017) https://us.norton.com/yoursecurityresource/detail.jsp?aid=mistakes_seniors_make_online
Ross Publishing, Inc. “Seniors Guide: Cyber Security Tips for Seniors.” (accessed July 17, 2017) https://www.seniorsguideonline.com/helpful-information/cyber-security-tips-seniors