- Written by Davis Park Davis Park
As we increasingly depend on an interconnected world, we also have a responsibility to practice safe internet behaviors every day of the year.
Unfortunately, as the number of adults 65 and older using connected devices continues to rise, so does the population of individuals most at risk for cyber crime.
Sixty percent of Americans aged 65 and above have reported using the internet. Yet for every incident of violent crime, three incidents of internet crime are committed against seniors. Older adults are estimated to lose $2.9 billion annually to financial abuse.
Although internet “hygiene” may seem overwhelming to people unfamiliar with new technologies, including the older adult population, anyone can feel confident and empowered by following a few easy steps.
This is exactly why the not-for-profit Front Porch Center of Innovation and Wellbeing offers five tips for internet safety for older adults, families, and caregivers everywhere.
1. Choose a Password.
Passwords are important “keys” to give us access to specific resources on the internet (such as email or bank accounts) and inform the websites we’re doing business with who we are.
While it can be a challenge keeping track of passwords, it’s important we avoid reusing them and protect this information.
Instead of changing your password:
• Use a strong password rather than changing passwords regularly.
• Create passwords of 12-15 characters; focus on length over complexity.
• Strategically place special characters or symbols to avoid patterns rather than grouping them at the end.
• Using different passwords on each of your online accounts prevents hackers from accessing additional accounts.
• Add another layer of protection, if available, such as fingerprints or security questions.
• Don’t panic. These guidelines can go a long way to keep you safe. Most websites, applications, and software limit the number of password guesses, which prevents someone from “nonstop guessing” your password.
2. Keep that Antivirus Software Up to Date!
Your antivirus company is doing its part to be a step ahead of hackers. To get the best use of the software, stay current on your updates!
Antivirus software can:
• Help prevent people from hacking your computer, laptop, smartphone, and even, in some cases, your smart home device (like Amazon Alexa or Google Home)
• Alert you to websites and downloads that could be an entry point for suspicious software
• Reduce the likelihood that malicious software is installed on your computer
3. Use Only Trusted Wi-Fi Resources.
Who doesn’t like free Wi-Fi? Many mobile devices come with wireless internet capabilities to help us stay connected while we’re traveling and wherever we go — but be wary. Hackers also love free or less secure Wi-Fi networks because they can use tools to intercept your internet communications.
Not all free Wi-Fi connections are created equal. Confirm that the business Wi-Fi connection you want to join belongs to the business you know and trust. If you aren’t sure, ask.
• Avoid conducting personal business on community devices, such as public computers. Software may have been installed to track what you type and where you go on the internet to steal your information.
• When in doubt, try to use your personal Wi-Fi, hotspot, or the network connection on your smartphone.
4. Google it! Yahoo it! Bing it!
Regardless of what search engine you favor, use it to research an unfamiliar website before giving up your information.
Oftentimes, hackers create a link that may appear, at first glance, to be a legitimate website to trick you into giving up your personal data.
5. Safeguard your personal information.
Personal information, such as date of birth, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, and passwords, are like gold to nefarious hackers, so treat and protect them as such.
Be wary of unsolicited phone calls and emails. Did you know that most banks are not allowed to ask you for passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs)? Asking for password/PIN information is a breach of “terms of service.”
• Ask which websites will have the personal information you have provided.
• Ask who else can access your information.
• Be careful where you put your current or past information. Dispose of everything as safely as possible (whether online or on paper).
The internet is a lively, expansive world of information, resources, and experiences. As many more older adults increasingly go online to take advantage of these conveniences and powerful tools, it’s important to use responsible and safe internet practices!
Davis Park is the director of the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing in Glendale, Calif. FPCIW has an ongoing mission of using technology to enhance well-being among older adults. For more information and resources, visit http://fpciw.org.