For many reasons, it is increasingly important to navigate the online world cautiously, especially for people over 50. Scammers often target older individuals who may be less familiar with the intricacies of online security. It’s important that you learn to protect your personal data and be safe online, whether you are using your home Wi-Fi network, a Virtual Private Network, (VPN), or using public Wi-Fi.
My name is Peter; I have been programming computers since the 1970s and have been involved with the Internet since the beginning. I’m also a grandad who tries to stay say safe online and help others stay safe. I have also been targeted by many of the scams discussed in this article.
In this article, we will provide you with valuable tools and actions to keep you safe online and protect your privacy. By following these tips to stay safe online, you can protect yourself from scams and dangers of the internet and enjoy a more secure digital experience.
Understanding Online Threats Targeting Seniors – Overview of Common Scams and Tactics:
As technology advances, sadly, so do the methods employed by scammers and cybercriminals. To stay safe online, you must be aware of the most prevalent scams targeting them. Remember, to help you and your family stay safe online, you will benefit greatly by learning some basic internet safety tips and strategies. It’s better to play it safe and avoid the pitfall of online predators. Some common scams include:
These scams involve fraudulent emails, messages, or phone calls that try to trick you into revealing sensitive information like passwords, credit card details, or social security numbers. Scammers often pose as trusted entities such as banks, government agencies, or popular online services. No real agency of this type would ask you to give out information like this to someone who calls you. Hang up and call the agency directly (e.g., the phone number on the back of your credit card) and ask them if they were calling you.
Tax Payment Scams
Similar to phishing scams, these often involve threatening phone calls from people who claim to be with your government tax agency (IRS, CRA, HMRC, etc.). They claim that back taxes must be paid immediately to avoid arrest. The callers are aggressive and have successfully convinced many people to send them money in various ways, including Apple gift cards.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you could never be this gullible – these scams have stolen millions of dollars. The scammers are very effective at creating a sense of urgency to try to override your common sense. Years ago, the author received a series of these calls, and despite knowing that they were fake, they were successful in raising my anxiety level! The key thing to remember is that your tax agency simply would never phone you like this – they would mail you a bill. See this notice from the IRS newsroom – taxpayers beware
Tech Support Scams
In this type of scam, individuals receive unsolicited phone calls or pop-up messages claiming to be from a reputable tech support company. The scammers convince victims that their computer has a problem or virus and offer to fix it. They may gain remote access to the victim’s computer and steal personal information or install malware. Microsoft will not call you about a virus on your PC – hang up the phone. If you are worried about viruses, talk to a local computer retailer.
Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
Scammers target seniors with promises of huge cash prizes or lottery winnings. They typically request payment or personal information upfront, often claiming it’s necessary to release the prize. It is important to understand that legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes do not require winners to pay fees or provide personal details in advance. Here’s what the FTC has to say about these scams: ftc.gov – fake-lottery-scams
Online romance scams exploit the emotions of individuals seeking companionship or love. Scammers create fake profiles on dating websites or social media platforms and build online relationships with their victims. Once trust is established, they request money for various reasons, often concocting elaborate stories. Be aware that not everyone is who they seem to be and that scammers can be convincing and that their goals are to get money and access your personal information. As an example of how convincing they can be, these scams can even fooled an ex-policeman: washingtonpost.com – crypto-scams.
The Importance of Being Aware and Proactive to Improve Your Privacy and Security:
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to online scams due to various factors, such as limited digital literacy and having too much trust in others. However, being aware and proactive can significantly improve your ability to stay safe online. Here’s why it’s crucial:
Online scams can result in severe financial loss. By staying informed and vigilant, you can protect your hard-earned money. This will help you to avoid falling into the traps set by scammers.
Personal Information Protection
Scammers often seek your personal information to facilitate identity theft and fraudulent activities. By understanding the tactics they employ, you can safeguard your sensitive data and prevent it from being misused.
Falling victim to scams can have a significant emotional impact on your well-being. This can lead to feelings of betrayal, embarrassment, and mistrust. By staying alert and proactive, you can maintain your peace of mind and protect your emotional well-being. For more information on the importance of reducing stress as you age, see our post on stress.
Being knowledgeable about online threats gives you the power to make informed decisions and take control of your digital life. It allows you to navigate the online world with confidence and enjoy the benefits it offers while minimizing the risks.
Remember, staying informed and proactive is the first line of defense against online scams. By educating yourself about common scams and tactics, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to cybercriminals.
2. Strengthening Your Online Security
The next step to staying safe online is to strengthen your online security. This can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to cyber threats.
A. Creating Strong and Unique Passwords:
One of the fundamental steps in securing your online presence is to create and utilize strong and unique passwords. Follow these guidelines to strengthen your passwords:
Length and Complexity
Use passwords that are at least 12 characters long and include a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. It is imperative to avoid using easily guessable information like birthdates or common phrases.
Avoid Reusing Passwords
Use a unique password for each online account. Reusing passwords across multiple accounts can leave you vulnerable if one account gets compromised. If you don’t feel comfortable remembering lots of different passwords, think about including part of the website name into a single password.
For example, pick a strong password you can remember, and then rather than using the same password on every website, you take some letters from the website name and add them to your password. Here’s a simple example using the first two letters of the website: for apple.com, you could use “ap<password>”, and for amazon.com, you could use “am<password>”.
You should pick other letters from the website name (second and last, first and third, etc.), and rather than putting them at the front of the password, you should be more creative, but the basic idea is to let you take a single strong password and modify it for each site in a way that gives you a unique password which is still easy to remember.
Consider using a password manager tool (Products like NordPass, Bitwarden, and 1Password) that securely stores your passwords and generates strong, randomized passwords for you. This way, you only need to remember one master password, while having a strong, unique password on every site. These products take a bit of setup, but once you have them running, they are great.
B. Utilizing Two-Factor Authentication:
Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an extra layer of security to your online accounts by requiring you to provide a second form of verification, such as a unique code sent to your mobile device, in addition to your password. This helps prevent unauthorized access even if your password is compromised.
For example, when you try to sign on to your bank account, you enter your user id and password, and then the website will prompt you for a code. You will get the code to enter either via a text from your bank or from an app on your phone. This does make signing on to your account a bit more involved for you, but it makes it much less likely that a hacker could sign on to your bank account.
Here’s how to use 2FA effectively:
Check if the online services you use offer 2FA options. Enable it for your accounts, especially for critical ones like email, banking, and social media platforms.
Consider using an authentication app such as Google Authenticator, Duo Mobile, or Authy. These apps generate unique verification codes for your accounts and provide an additional level of security compared to SMS-based 2FA.
Take advantage of biometric features such as fingerprint or facial recognition offered by devices and apps. If your phone supports these, they can provide a convenient and secure way to authenticate yourself on your mobile device.
C. Keeping your Devices and Software up to date:
Regularly updating your devices and software is crucial for maintaining a secure online environment. Here’s why it’s important and how to stay up to date:
Updates often include essential security patches that address vulnerabilities found in operating systems, applications, and firmware. Keeping your devices up to date ensures that you have the latest security defenses.
Enable automatic updates on your devices whenever possible. This way, you’ll receive important security patches and feature enhancements without having to manually check for updates.
App Store Verification
Download applications only from trusted sources, such as official app stores. These platforms typically vet apps for security and reliability before making them available. Downloading and installing a program from a website is how most viruses and malware get into a PC, so if you don’t know and trust the website, don’t download it!
3. Recognizing and Avoiding Phishing Attempts
Phishing attempts have become a pervasive threat in today’s online landscape. It’s crucial to recognize the signs of phishing. This will enable you to avoid falling victim to these fraudulent schemes.
A. Identifying Phishing emails and Suspicious links
Phishing emails are designed to deceive you into revealing sensitive information. Here’s how to recognize and avoid them:
Sender’s Email Address
Check the email address of the sender carefully. Scammers often use email addresses that mimic legitimate organizations but have slight variations or unusual domain names. Never Click on an attachment if it comes from some one with an email address you don’t trust.
Urgent or Threatening Language
Beware of emails that create a sense of urgency or threaten negative consequences unless you take immediate action. Scammers often use fear tactics to manipulate victims.
Suspicious Links and Attachments
Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails. Hover over links to check the URL’s legitimacy, and be cautious of unexpected file attachments.
B. Tips for Verifying the Legitimacy of Websites:
Phishing websites are designed to mimic legitimate sites, tricking you into sharing personal information. Follow these tips to verify a website’s legitimacy:
Look for HTTPS
Legitimate websites handling sensitive information use HTTPS instead of HTTP. Look for the padlock icon in the browser’s address bar, indicating a secure connection.
Check the URL
Be cautious of URLs with misspellings, additional numbers, or characters. Phishing websites often use deceptive URLs to appear similar to legitimate ones.
Verify Site Certificates
If you’re providing sensitive information, click on the padlock icon in the browser to view the website’s security certificate. Verify that it matches the website you intended to visit.
C. How to Avoid Falling For Phone and Email Scams
Scammers often use phone calls or emails to try to manipulate you into sharing your personal information or to get you to send money. Here’s how to avoid falling for these scams:
If a caller or email sender asks for personal or financial information, be cautious. Legitimate organizations rarely request sensitive data over the phone or email.
If someone claims to be from a reputable organization, hang up or close the email and independently verify their identity. Contact the organization directly using the official contact information to confirm the request. Ask the caller for their name and contact number, but do not call their contact number. Call an official phone number for the organization and give them the contact information. Legitimate callers will be supportive of you doing this, and scammers will not.
Trust Your Instincts
If something feels off or too good to be true, trust your instincts. Don’t be pressured into making hasty decisions or sharing information.
By following these strategies, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to phishing attempts and scams. Stay vigilant and remember that it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to sharing personal information online.
4. Safeguarding Your Personal Information – Internet Safety Tips
As an internet user, protecting your sensitive data is of utmost importance in today’s digital age. Cybercriminals are constantly seeking to exploit your personal information for their financial gain or identity theft. It is crucial to safeguard your data and exercise caution when sharing personal information online.
Don’t be put off by the terminology: an “online transaction” is anything you do online that needs a userid and password or a credit card – from checking your bank balance to buying a scarf.
The Importance of Protecting Sensitive Data:
Your personal information, such as your Social Security or Social Insurance number, financial details, or even your date of birth, is highly sought after by cybercriminals. Protecting this information is vital to prevent identity theft, financial loss, and other malicious activities.
Only use Secure platforms for online transactions:
As online transactions become an integral part of our daily lives, it’s essential to prioritize the security of the platforms we use for financial transactions. Ensuring that the platforms are secure helps protect your sensitive information and financial well-being.
Choose Trusted and Established Platforms
When engaging in online transactions, opt for platforms that have established a reputation for secure transactions. Look for platforms that are well-known, reputable, and have robust security measures in place. Popular e-commerce websites, online banking portals, and payment gateways often invest in advanced security technologies to safeguard user data.
Verify Secure Connection (HTTPS)
Before entering any sensitive information, ensure that the website or platform you are using has a secure connection. Look for the padlock symbol in the browser’s address bar and make sure the website’s URL starts with “https://” instead of just “http://”. The “s” in “https” stands for secure, indicating that the connection is encrypted and your data is transmitted safely.
Prioritize platforms that offer secure payment options, such as encrypted payment gateways or well-known third-party payment processors. These platforms employ robust encryption technologies to protect your payment information during transmission. Avoid providing credit card details or other sensitive information directly on websites that do not use secure payment methods.
In North America, PayPal, Square, and Stripe are very commonly used to securely process payments for a website. Globally, there are dozens of reputable payment processors, but before you enter your information into a payment processor that you don’t recognize, take a moment to Google the name.
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
If the websites you use offer 2FA (described above), turning it on will offer considerable protection. Not every shopping website offers 2FA, but most large ones such as Amazon, Shopify, and Etsy do.
Read and Understand Privacy Policies
User Reviews and Ratings
Before conducting transactions on a platform, consider checking user reviews and ratings. Feedback from other users can provide insights into the platform’s security measures, reliability, and overall user experience. Positive reviews and high ratings are indicative of a platform’s commitment to security and user satisfaction.
Remember, utilizing secure online platforms for transactions is vital to protect your financial information and prevent unauthorized access. By choosing trusted platforms, verifying secure connections, prioritizing payment security, utilizing 2FA, understanding privacy policies, and considering user reviews, you can minimize the risks associated with online transactions. This should help to give you peace of mind while conducting financial activities in the digital world.
Being Cautious About Sharing Personal Information Online:
In the digital age, it’s important to exercise extreme caution when sharing personal information online. From social media profiles to online forms, remember that every piece of information shared can be potentially exploited by cybercriminals. If you cannot think of a good reason for the website to require some information, don’t give it to them.
5. Securing Your Social Media Presence to Improve Your Internet Safety
Social media platforms have become an integral part of our lives. They help us connect with friends, family, and the world. However, it’s important to strike a balance between enjoying the benefits of social media and safeguarding your privacy and security.
Adjusting privacy settings and controlling visibility:
Social media platforms offer various privacy settings to help you control who can see your posts, personal information, and activities. Taking control of your privacy settings allows you to share selectively and minimize the risk of exposing sensitive information to unwanted audiences. After all, you probably do not want to share most of your posts with the whole world!
Limiting the information you share on social platforms:
When using social media, it’s crucial to be mindful of the information you share. Oversharing personal details can make you vulnerable to identity theft, scams, or even physical harm. You must be very careful with the information you share online, as it can be used for nefarious purposes.
For example, a study in 2018 showed that one in 12 people in the UK had reported a burglary after posting details about their holiday on social media, and security firm ADT has also claimed that 78 percent of burglars use Twitter and Facebook to target potential properties.
6. Educating Yourself on Common Scams to Improve Your Online Safety
In the ever-evolving landscape of online scams, staying informed and educated is crucial to protect yourself from falling victim to fraudulent schemes. By familiarizing yourself with common scam techniques and staying updated on emerging threats, you can enhance your ability to recognize and avoid potential scams.
Familiarize yourself with common scam Techniques
Scammers employ a wide array of tactics to deceive you and extract your personal information for financial gain. By familiarizing yourself with these methods, including phishing, social engineering, and identity theft, you will gain insights into how scammers operate and become better equipped to identify and avoid falling victim to their schemes. Here’s a list of common scams: https://www.kaspersky.com/resource-center/threats/top-scams-how-to-avoid-becoming-a-victim
Resources for staying updated on Emerging Threats:
In today’s ever-evolving digital landscape, staying informed about emerging threats is crucial to maintaining online security. As cyber criminals continually develop new techniques, it’s useful for all of us to have access to reliable resources that provide up-to-date information on emerging threats.
Security Alerts and Notifications
Stay subscribed to security alerts and notifications from your antivirus software and operating system updates. These notifications often highlight emerging threats, security patches, and recommended actions to mitigate risks.
Cybersecurity Websites and Blogs
Many reputable cybersecurity websites and blogs publish regular updates on emerging threats and provide insights into best practices for online security. Examples include websites run by cybersecurity companies, technology news outlets, and government agencies specializing in cybersecurity. These sources often offer valuable information on the latest vulnerabilities, malware trends, phishing techniques, and other emerging threats. Some examples:
- Computerworld on security – https://www.computerworld.com/category/security/
- Wired Magazine on security – https://www.wired.com/category/security/
- Graham Cluley’s newsletter – https://grahamcluley.com/gchq-newsletter/
- Brian Krebs’ blog – https://krebsonsecurity.com/
Security Software Providers
Companies that develop security software often have dedicated resources and blogs that focus on emerging threats and provide tips for protecting yourself online. They offer insights into the latest malware variants, hacking techniques, and security vulnerabilities. Subscribing to their newsletters or following their blogs can keep you updated on the rapidly changing cybersecurity landscape. Some examples:
- ESET – https://www.welivesecurity.com/en/
- Bitdefender – https://www.bitdefender.com/blog/
- Kaspersky – https://www.kaspersky.com/blog/category/threats/
- McAfee – https://www.mcafee.com/blogs/
- Norton – https://ca.norton.com/blog
Government Cybersecurity Resources
Government agencies, such as national cybersecurity centers or departments, often provide resources to help individuals stay informed about emerging threats. These resources may include official websites, newsletters, and publications that highlight the latest cybersecurity trends, offer tips for online safety, and guide on protecting personal information. Examples:
- USA – https://www.cisa.gov/
- Canada – https://www.cyber.gc.ca/en
- UK – https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/
- EU – https://www.enisa.europa.eu/
By leveraging these resources, you can stay well-informed about emerging threats and enhance your online security posture. By staying connected to the latest security and update alerts, subscribing to newsletters, and checking security blogs and websites, you will be empowered to adapt and protect yourself against evolving cyber threats.
7. Safe Online Shopping Practices
Online shopping offers convenience and access to a vast array of products and services. However, it’s essential to approach online shopping with caution to ensure a safe and secure experience. By following careful online shopping practices, you can protect yourself from scams, avoid counterfeit goods, and make informed purchasing decisions. Good practices for shopping from large retailers were covered earlier under online transactions, but large retailers are not the only place to shop.
Shopping on Online Marketplaces
Large online stores like Amazon and the official online stores for large brick-and-mortar retail stores like Walmart offer protection against fraud and non-delivery of goods. However, there are many online marketplaces where individuals can list items for sale, such as eBay, Craigslist, Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace, etc.
These marketplaces can offer great opportunities to purchase an item that you want at a good price from a neighbor who wants to get rid of it. However, buying items on these forums can sometimes result in financial loss and disappointment. By being cautious and following some practical tips, you can minimize the risk of falling victim to financial loss and have a positive online shopping experience.
Use Trusted Online Marketplaces
As a first step, consider using only well-known and trusted platforms with policies to protect buyers. Established marketplaces often have measures in place to verify the credibility of their sellers and provide dispute-resolution mechanisms if issues arise. When using smaller online forums, it is up to you to protect yourself, e.g., by physically inspecting the item before handing over cash.
Verify the Credibility of Online Vendors:
Before purchasing from an online vendor, it’s crucial to verify their credibility and ensure that they are reputable and trustworthy. Taking the time to assess the credibility of online vendors helps protect you from scams, fraudulent transactions, and potential financial loss. Here are some important factors to consider:
Customer Reviews and Ratings
Many online marketplaces show you customer reviews and ratings for the online vendor. Look for feedback from previous buyers regarding their experience with the vendor, product quality, shipping times, and customer service. Multiple positive reviews and high ratings are indicators of a trustworthy vendor. However, exercise caution and be wary of fake reviews or ratings that might be manipulated.
Contact Information and Support
Verify that the vendor provides legitimate contact information, such as a phone number and email address. If you plan to pick up the item, verify their physical address.
Secure Payment Methods
If you can pick up the item, it is best to pay with cash. If you are going to pick up the item, never pay in advance or pay a deposit. These are clear indications of a scam.
If the item must be shipped, make sure the online vendor offers secure payment methods. Look for recognized payment gateways or reputable third-party processors that ensure your payment information is encrypted and protected and includes a delivery guarantee.
Avoid vendors that only accept unconventional payment methods or request direct bank transfers, as these can be signs of potential fraud. For example, if a vendor requests payment by PayPal ‘friends and family’, this is a red flag since there is no way to get a refund if the item is not shipped. PayPal’s “goods and services” option charges the vendor a small fee, but the buyer will get a refund from PayPal if they do not receive the item. If it is a good price for a unique item, you can always offer to cover the fee.
Social Media Presence and Online Reputation
Particularly if you are shopping on Facebook Marketplace or a ‘buy & sell’ forum, investigate the vendor’s social media presence and online reputation. A recently created account can be a red flag if you are going to send them money to have an item shipped.
Avoid a False Sense of Community
Scammers often join specific groups that have a high sense of community to offer fake items for sale. Boaters, radio hams, church members, etc. – there are many groups where people feel safe and feel that other members of the group are good people that would not scam them. That is exactly why scammers join these groups.
Scammers sometimes create a new account in the name of a real person who is a member of an associated group. There are many examples of people losing hundreds or thousands of dollars to people that they felt they could trust, only to find that the account was fake. When buying something from a person who is a recent member of a community you trust, and you do not know anyone who knows them, try not to let down your guard. Get their phone number and talk to them so you have more than just an email address. If the item must be shipped, try to use a payment method like PayPal’s “goods and services” that protects you.
By carefully evaluating the credibility of online vendors, you can make informed decisions and reduce the risks associated with online shopping. Trust your instincts and be cautious if something feels off or too good to be true. Prioritize vendors with positive customer reviews, secure payment options, and a long and transparent online presence. These precautions will increase the likelihood of a safe and satisfactory online marketplace shopping experience.
8. Being Wary of Tech Support Scams
Tech support scams continue to be a significant threat, targeting unsuspecting individuals who seek assistance with their computer or software issues. It’s crucial to be vigilant and cautious when dealing with tech support requests to avoid falling victim to these scams. By being wary of tech support scams, you can protect yourself from potential financial loss and the compromise of sensitive information.
Recognizing Warning Signs of Tech Support Scams:
Tech support scams often involve unsolicited phone calls or pop-up messages claiming to assist with computer or software issues. Tactics may include unexpected calls, demands for immediate payment, requests for remote access to your computer, or claims of urgent security threats.
By being able to identify these warning signs, you can protect yourself from falling victim to fraudulent tech support schemes.
The first sign is that nobody will phone you about a virus on your computer. No computer manufacturer or software vendor will phone you to tell you that you have a virus. Just hang up the phone.
The second sign is when you click a link to visit a new website, and suddenly you see browser pop-ups saying that your anti-virus has detected a virus or malware and offering links to fix it or phone numbers to call. Do not click the links, and do not call the phone number. Close the browser, reboot the computer, and do not visit that website again.
Steps to Take if You Suspect a Scam:
Some scammers are more subtle, and do not start right off with “This is Microsoft, and your computer has a virus”. Sometimes it takes a few minutes on the phone before you realize that the caller is trying to manipulate you into doing something online.
If you suspect a tech support scam is targeting you, taking immediate action to protect yourself is important. These steps include hanging up the phone, closing pop-up windows, rebooting your computer, reporting the incident to the appropriate authorities, and seeking assistance from reputable tech support channels. By promptly taking these measures, you can mitigate the potential damage caused by tech support scams and safeguard your personal information.
Stay Safe Online and Avoid Online Scams – Closing Thoughts:
By implementing these tips and best practices to help keep you safe that are outlined in this article, including securing your social media presence and building a support network, you can enhance your online security and protect yourself from scams and threats. Stay vigilant, trust your instincts, and remember that knowledge is your best defense. With these precautions in place, you can confidently enjoy the benefits of the internet while keeping your personal information and financial well-being safe. Additionally, sharing knowledge and supporting others in your community contributes to a safer digital landscape for all. Together, we can create a more secure online environment.