Six Mistakes Smart Seniors Make OnlineMichelle V. Rafter
Not long after Kathleen Jasper first got a computer back in 1998 and started using email, the Estherville, Iowa grandmother's family warned her: don’t open messages from strangers, and don’t fall for scams asking for money.
Jasper, 74, took their advice to heart. That’s why when she got an innocent-looking email not long ago asking if she could help someone out of a jam by wiring money overseas she rightly guessed it was a hoax and didn’t respond. “Those are the ones I’m sure to delete,” Jasper says.
Smart lady. Although not all seniors follow in her footsteps. One of the biggest mistakes seniors make online is being too trusting. It’s a generational thing, says Jeri Sedlar, author of Don’t Retire, REWIRE and a consultant on older Americans in the workforce for The Conference Board.
When it comes to protecting yourself online, the best defense is a good offense, Sedlar says. Whether you’re using email, surfing the Internet, or using other online services for work or just for fun, be cautious.
Here are six of the most common mistakes smart seniors make, and how you can avoid them:
- Forward jokes or links to YouTube videos. When a friend sends you an email with a link to a website with a funny joke or to a YouTube video. It may look harmless, but if you click on the link it could take you to a website that tries to harvest your account passwords or other personal information that could be used to make you a victim of identity theft. And if you pass on the email with the link to a friend, they could fall for into the same trap. If you have any doubts about links in an email or who sent it, don’t click on anything. Delete the message and empty your email program’s trash folder so you don’t inadvertently open it at some other time.
- Reveal too much on social networking sites. Sites like Facebook and Twitter encourage you to share “What are you doing?” But it’s easy -- and dangerous -- to over share. Avoid announcing dates of vacations because it can be an open invitation to thieves to break in while you’re away. Don't list your birth date or your city of birth for everyone to see -- that information can be used to help identity thieves figure out your Social Security number and possibly open accounts in your name.
- Include your email address when posting comments online. If you include your email address in a comment on a blog or other website, you leave yourself open to getting spam or more malicious emails in the future. That’s because hackers use software programs to “scrape” email addresses off of websites and harvest those names for spam lists or worse. They may even target your email to spread computer viruses, worms or botnets. Protect your email address from being captured by spelling out the “at” and “dot” instead of using the symbols so it won’t be picked up by the software scraping programs.
- Shop on unsecured websites. Going online to buy books, movie tickets or airfare for a vacation is as easy as hitting “Enter.” But credit card numbers and other financial information might not be safe if the website you’re using doesn’t have strong security measures built in. Before starting any kind of financial transaction, check if the website uses a widely recognized security protocol called SSL (you’ll know it’s there if you see a small padlock in the bottom right-hand corner or elsewhere on the Web page). Or look for an even stricter security protocol called EVSSL that turns your Web browser’s URL address bar green if it’s activated. You can also tell if a site’s safe if it has a trust seal from an organization such as VeriSign, TRUSTe or the Better Business Bureau, which award these symbols to companies that meet stringent security requirements.
- Fail to backup your computer data. The more time you spend online, the more important it is to back up your computer. Think of how devastated you’d be if your hard drive crashed and you could no longer access those digital pictures of your grandchildren or if a virus wiped out all your email contacts or your digital music collection. To keep email addresses, digital photos, videos, and music and other valuable data safe, back up your computer on a regular basis, either to CDROM disks or to an online backup service.
- Ignore security software upgrades and patches. Antivirus and antispyware programs are the first lines of defense against viruses and other malware that could infect and damage your computer. They won’t do any good, though, if you don’t use them. When you get notices that upgrades or patches are available, download and install them immediately. Better yet, set your program to auto update so upgrades happen automatically. If you’re unsure how to do this, ask a more tech-savvy relative or friend, or consult with a tech expert at a local computer store or computer repair service: they should be able to walk you through the steps so the next time you can do it yourself.
Jasper, the Iowa grandmother, learned the hard way about the importance of keeping antivirus software updated. Some years back, Jasper hadn’t kept up with antivirus program updates and her machine caught a bug that messed up the hard drive so badly she had to get it wiped.
Now she says she has “top of the line” protection and has taught herself online safety measures through trial and error -- a smart move given how much time she spends online emailing with family, organizing volunteer work and shopping.
When it comes to the Internet, Jasper knows she’s still got a lot to learn, but she says: “I just keep working with it.”
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