With just about everyone connected online these days, it’s no surprise that hackers, scammers, and more are even more prevalent than ever. So how do you keep yourself safe while browsing on your computer, your tablet, and your phone? Here are 5 easy ways that seniors can make sure they stay safe while online.
1. Be Careful When You Click
Your computer’s anti-virus software doesn’t guarantee you protection from phishing and scamming, and it won’t protect you from all viruses either. Whenever you’re online, be careful when you click. Spam emails, fake ads and offers, and scams designed to look like fun online quizzes are all designed to steal your personal information. Whenever you’re browsing, here are some great things to remember:
- Delete all emails from people you don’t know. If you don’t know the email sender, don’t open it, and certainly don’t click on any links inside the email. Banks, credit card companies, and other businesses will never request your personal information through email.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You won’t make any money by first sending your money to a person who requested it through email, so don’t do it. Don’t click on wild ads and offers that appear on the sides, bottom, and top of many sites that you visit. While social media sites like Facebook and Instagram try to monitor their sponsored ads that appear in your feed, you should still stay wary of those as well. Many companies that offer great deals on “expensive” clothes and jewelry for cheaper prices are scams.
- Don’t take that quiz. While some online quizzes really are just designed to be fun, a majority of them have been created in order to gather personal information from you. If they ask anything too personal (full name, birth date, etc.), don’t answer.
2. Don't Over-Share
It’s easy to get caught up in oversharing these days. We all do it. We take photos of our food, check-in to places where we’re eating or hanging out with friends, and post vacation photos when we’re out of town. While it’s fun to share our lives with our family and our friends, try to hold back on letting out a lot of details about when you’re not at your home and where you are specifically. You never know when someone you don’t know might be watching. Still, we all want to be able to share fun times with the people we love who live far away. Here are some great ways you can share and still stay safe:
- Only add friends who you know personally. Do you know everyone on your friends list? Have you met them in person? If you don’t or haven't, you should start deleting the strangers, even if your sister’s co-worker’s daughter said she knows the guy. Never add someone if you’re not sure if you’ve met before, or if you know you haven’t met before. Be wary of adding people you do know if you don’t trust them. It’s ok to deny a friend request from a person who makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason.
- Don’t accept friend requests from people with whom you are already friends. This is an easy way that scammers can get your personal information. They will copy the profile of one of your friends and start adding all of the people that person is friends with. Once you add them back, they can see all of your personal information and posts on your page.
- Make sure you have all of your social media profiles set to private. Most social media profiles are, by default, public. This means that anyone and everyone can see your page and information without having to follow you or add you as their friend. The moment you join a social media site, go to your Settings and change your account to private. Find more information on privacy settings here.
- Share photos after your trip. Your friends and family want to see those vacation photos, but just to be on the safe side, save your uploading for after the trip. Not only will you not give away that you’re out of town, but you can spend your time enjoying your vacation rather than being focused on posting a bunch of photos to social media.
3. Use Complex Passwords
You should have a strong, unique password for all of your online accounts in order to protect your personal and financial information. If you can find any of your current passwords on this list of most commonly used passwords, you should change your passwords immediately. For each of your accounts, come up with a unique password that contains both upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and at least one symbol. You can use a trusted password generator if that makes things easier. Many browsers will offer the ability to save or store information so you don’t have to type it in every time. This may seem like it makes your online life a little easier, but just to be on the safe side, you should never save/store:
- Credit card information
- Personal information (full name, street address, etc.)
You’re going to have a lot of passwords that you need to remember, but don’t write them down in a notebook where anyone can find them. If you want an easy way to save all of your passwords, use a secure password manager like Keeper or True Key.
4. Keep Your Systems Updated
The easiest way to keep your devices protected is to keep your operating systems, software, and all of your apps up-to-date. Many times, an update will include an important bug fix that helps to keep cyber criminals from getting into your system. If it helps, you can turn on automatic updates on your computer or phone. Just know that turning on auto-updates means that the moment there’s an update, your device will start downloading it no matter what you are doing, unless you set specific times during the day when downloads are allowed. Make sure you run your virus software regularly to double-check that your system is still running smoothly.
5. Always Be Cautious
At the end of the day, the best thing you can do to make sure you stay safe online is the same as staying safe in a public place: constant vigilance. Be aware of your surroundings, and keep your guard up. Be skeptical, and don’t trust everything that you read online. Don’t click links if you aren’t sure of the source, and don’t give strangers information about where you live or where you are at that moment. Backup all of your data regularly just in case, and change your passwords every few months.
If you’re still unsure or uncomfortable about going online, sites like ConnectSafely and The National Cyber Security Alliance have tips for staying safe and post regular articles about recent online scams. Some colleges offer classes geared toward seniors about going online and using smartphones. Ask your local senior center or college if they offer similar groups or courses.