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Senior Citizen's Guide to Washington County (PA)

Senior Internet Safety & Scam Awareness

Though there continues to be a notable divide in technology adoption amongst US seniors and the younger generations of the population, Internet use has definitely increased amongst seniors. The number of seniors who use the internet has risen from just 14% in the early 2000s to 67% today. While more seniors are online than ever before, there continues to be a lack of knowledge with using technological devices. Many older seniors, especially those with lesser educational attainment continue to distance themselves from technology.

There is a world of possibilities online for the senior community. It is important that we encourage our elderly loved ones to explore and learn about technology. Having Internet access can provide them with ease of life and give you peace of mind in many aspects of life. For example, as shopping in a physical store becomes increasingly difficult with mobility concerns and decreased energy over long periods of time, online shopping can be a wonderful resource. There are also many emotional and mental benefits to the Internet. Playing games online have shown success in improving hand-eye coordination and maintaining healthy brain function. Additionally, online tutorial videos can help older adults explore new hobbies, and social media and email services can be a great way to help them stay in touch with their loved ones.

Unfortunately, however, there can be a lot of potential dangers that come with using the Internet, ranging from viruses and online predators to a variety of scams. Some of the most common scams that seniors face include the following:

  1. IRS/Tax Scams - This is when scammers pose as the IRS and leave messages for seniors claiming that they filed their taxes incorrectly and owe money or risk being arrested. These are becoming increasingly common and often require payment to be sent through a wire transfer. The IRS will never contact you by way of email or text message, so be wary of these.
  2. Tech Support Scams - Knowing that seniors don’t always feel comfortable using their devices to their full capabilities, scammers will send victims an email stating that their computer has detected a virus. If malware has already been installed, they can create pop-up messages that instruct the user to allow remote access or click on a malicious link to contact “tech support” to fix the issue.
  3. Online Dating Scams - Online dating sites can be popular among seniors who have lost their spouse and are looking for a companion. Scammers will create fake, yet seemingly real, relationships with seniors prying on their emotions to take advantage of them. They will use fake dating profiles to connect with unsuspecting seniors, chat with them and develop a connection before asking for money for bogus reasons or stealing their personal information to steal their identity.
  4. Personal Emergency Scams - Similarly, scammers often send emails to seniors posed as a loved one in danger. They will typically say something along the lines of, “Help, I’ve been arrested and need bail money” or “I’m currently in the hospital due to an injury and have no money.”

Because of these dangers, it’s important to educate yourself and your loved ones on the best ways to stay safe online.

Important Things to Remember:

  1. Protect your personal information - Educate yourself and the senior in your life on the information that is safe to share online and what information should be kept private. Giving away your personal credentials can lead to identity theft, an issue that affects millions each year.
  2. Teach your loved ones to use their computer - You may be surprised to find that your senior will adapt to technology over time with just a few lessons and simple help setting the device up. Not only does it help them feel more comfortable knowing how to use it, but it can also be a great way to spend time together. Knowing how to use a device can help them better distinguish potential dangers as they come about.
  3. Be wary of suspicious emails - If any email seems to be sketchy in any way, it likely is. Delete the email immediately (without opening it) and block the address that it came from.
  4. Install up to date software - Protect your devices by installing antivirus software. This is the best way to protect your device from anyone accessing your personal information, and viruses and other malware from downloading. Check your software regularly to ensure that it is up to date.
  5. Use strong passwords - Secure each of your devices with strong and unique passwords. Never use the same password twice for another account. It can be difficult to manage multiple passwords, so it helps to use a website that keeps all of your passwords in one place securely. For more information on the top password managers of 2019 read this article.
  6. Be cautious on public wifi - Hackers will often hang out in public wifi areas where it can be easier for them to hack into your computer. Therefore, it’s important that you avoid going on any sites that compromise your safety during this time. Consider asking a loved one to set you up with a virtual private network which will encrypt your data while on public wifi servers to keep hackers out of your private internet activities.
  7. Carefully monitor - If you are a loved one of a senior, educate yourself on the best ways to be their media mentor. Help them to feel comfortable using their devices and monitor their activity periodically if you are concerned. One thing that many loved ones forget about can be the importance of paying close attention to the Internet activities of those with memory loss and dementia. While the Internet can be a fun place to explore, those with impaired memories have a higher chance of unintentionally placing themselves in danger. Releasing too much personal information, overspending on retail sites, or simply get confused while using the Internet and become frustrated. Many seniors with memory loss and dementia find comfort in having a loved one or home care provider assist them when they want to go online.
While it may be concerning to think about the dangers of the internet that seniors could find themselves in, the Internet can also be a wonderful resource for them. There are a variety of websites and software that are set up specifically for their use. With a few lessons and education on the ways to best protect themselves online, you may find that you or your loved one will truly enjoy your experience.


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