With more elder adults online and engaged in social media, seniors are at an ever-increasing threat that their financial and other personal information will be compromised. What’s more, some family caregivers don’t know how to protect their loved ones from these risks.
The internet requires awareness. Just as you use locks to keep criminals out of your home, you also need safeguards to secure your computer.
Many scammers target older adults via emails and websites for charitable donations, dating services, auctions, health care and prescription medications.
Be extremely careful online, because what you say and do is visible to others, and it’s not erasable. Don’t communicate or reveal any personal information to strangers online.
Personal information includes your name, address, age, phone number, birthday, email address, social security number, and insurance policy numbers – even your doctor’s name.
Most organizations – banks, charities, universities, credit card companies, IRS, etc. – don’t ask for your personal information through email. When using a public computer, at a library for example, avoid using your personal information. Look for the padlock icon at the bottom of the browser that indicates the site is encrypted to protect information.
Why are seniors targeted online? Seniors are most likely to have a “nest egg,” making them attractive to con artists. Those who grew up from the 1930’s to 1950’s were generally reared to be polite and trusting, making it difficult for them to say no or just hang up.
According to a 2016 survey of seniors by Home Instead, Inc., only 32 percent are confident about how to safely engage in internet activities. One in five doesn’t have anti-virus software. Half of the seniors surveyed do not use a password. Of those who do, 68 percent use a single password on multiple sites.
The majority of those surveyed use social media, with 38 percent reporting someone has tried to scam them and 67 percent having been the victim of a scam.
According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, here are some of the current scams to avoid:
- Tech support scams: Receiving a call that your computer isn’t working correctly that seems like a legitimate offer for computer service or help.
- Tax scams: One IRS scam being perpetrated by email as well as mail is an official-looking notice CP2000 for the current tax year. If you get a notice like this, delete it immediately and call the IRS at 1-800-366-4484. The IRS will never contact you by email or call demanding payment.
- Ransomware: Ransomware is malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. Be sure your system has a current anti-virus system to avoid this.
- False debt collectors: An official-looking email document that is threatening and urgent. Don’t respond. Contact any creditor directly to see if they sent the email.
- Sweepstakes: This scam often will want you to pay to receive your prize. If you think the charity is legitimate, look up the number and call to verify.
Practice cyber safety to protect your identity and sensitive personal information by securing all your devices with a strong password; adjusting privacy settings on social media; logging out of apps and websites when you are finished; and ignoring “urgent” emails and those that offer something too good to be true.
Rachel Carson, Certified Senior Advisor, is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care, serving the Lowcountry since 1997.