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Comprehensive guide on Internet safety for seniors in 2021

How to protect seniors and the elderly from the dangers of the Internet, and explaining to them how they can protect themselves from Internet threats.

Updated: September 15, 2021 By Rakesh Naik

Title image for How seniors and the elderly can protect themselves on the internet to avoid scammers and other internet dangers with a happy older gentleman using a computer with ease

Image source – freepik.com

Have you ever been scammed out of hundreds by a stranger on the Internet? Kids too busy to help you with these things? Don't worry anymore, I'm here to help!

In the US alone, more than 5% of the senior citizens adding to around 2-3 million citizens, fall victim to cybercrimes and scams. In 2020 alone, such scams against senior citizens added up to a few billion US dollars, with an average loss of $500 for each individual.

In this article, we explore just how senior citizens can identify and prevent such cybercrimes and scams. We explore the steps of making your computer safe, as well as improving your awareness of cybercrimes and scams.

Dangers of the Internet

The Internet is home to various threats and dangers with the intent of bringing harm to you or other people at your expense. These threats or dangers are used by users with the malicious goal of gaining personal benefits.

Most such threats are simple scams done over the phone or email by someone, usually in a foreign country, while a few others are viruses called malware which is usually created by hackers.

A news article about the man who ran the whole Nigerian prince scam getting caught

Image source – twitter.com

As an example, imagine that you're looking for a recipe on the Internet or trying to purchase from a random website. Suddenly you see a notification in your browser telling you that you’ve been hacked and you need to download software or call a particular number to fix your computer.

In another scenario, you receive an email from someone claiming to be royalty from a foreign country who would offer you a share of their inheritance but would need you to send them your personal information or require money for a flight ticket to your country.

You may even receive calls from someone claiming to be the IRS or your bank, telling you that you are behind on your payments, and if you don't make the payment over the phone, you will be arrested, or your bank account will be frozen.

All the scenarios listed above are prime examples of threats or scams on the Internet. Most such dangers would involve any one of the following steps:

  • Provide your banking details to make payments
  • Provide your social security number and other personal details to confirm your identity
  • Download a file or software that would fix your computer

These threats, while seemingly harmless, will end up costing you a lot of money and sometimes even misuse of your identity where someone performing a crime could claim to be you.

At the end of the day, none of these threats, be it a scam or malware, aim to bring you happiness & joy. They only have the intention of causing harm or stealing resources and don't usually care who the victim is.

In the next sections, we will be looking at just how you, too, can protect yourself and your computer from such dangers without having to ask your kids or grandkids for help!

Keeping your computer safe

First, before we move on to talking about various types of internet dangers, we need to make sure that your computer has enough security to defend against such threats.

In this section, I shall only be focusing on direct threats to your computer, where a hacker may try to install a virus or malware on your computer and steal important information from it.

1. Install an antivirus

The McAfee antivirus displaying all the different security features to protect a computer

 Image source – mcafee.com

First and foremost, if you use the Internet on your computer, you definitely need to install antivirus software on your computer. Antivirus software will alert you if you accidentally download or install a virus on your computer.

Antiviruses could be free or paid, and while I recommend you use a paid antivirus as it offers more protection, you can easily make do with a free antivirus as well. A few of my personal favourites are listed below:

Avast Antivirus – A free antivirus that protects against most of the viruses that can be installed on your computer and is also very easy to use

Bitdefender Total Security Antivirus – A paid antivirus that offers you all-round protection with protection against software threats as well as online payments

McAfee Total Protection – A very easy to use antivirus that lets you know whether or not to trust a website, whether the online payment you are making is malicious or not, and so on.

2. Use secure & complex passwords

An image depicting a secure password protected with a padlock

Image source – dreamhost.com

Now, that you have an antivirus installed, it is time for the next step of security, which is the use of secure passwords. Rather than requiring the installation of any software, this aspect of security is more of a need for awareness.

Password security is of paramount importance in any information system that has any data that, if compromised, could cause a lot of damage.

You too can set up a secure password if you keep a few tips in mind while creating the password.

  1. Use a long password with a minimum of 8 characters
  2. The password should be a combination of alphabets, numbers, and special characters
  3. No personal information should be used in the password
  4. Change your passwords regularly
  5. Use a different password for every different account

Finally, as an added precaution, you should use a password manager that can safely store all your different passwords and protect them from being stolen. Some such password managers can even autofill your passwords when you require them.

My favourite password managers in the market are Dashlane, LastPass, and Keeper that use advanced encryption algorithms to keep your passwords encrypted and safe from attackers.

3. Install adblockers

The Adblock Plus logo

Image source – adblockplus.org

When you're browsing the Internet trying to find something, you are bound to come across quite a few ads for multiple products. This could include electronics, accessories, different consumer products, and sometimes even "sexual" content.

While a majority of these are employed by the website owners to generate revenue from their websites, quite a few others are deployed with malicious intent and can lead to the download of malware or viruses.

This is why you need to also install an adblocker in your system or your web browser that will block all ads on the Internet.

I would personally recommend you install one of the popular adblockers in the market, such as Adblock Plus, or AdGuard which block almost all ads that you come across while browsing the Internet.

You can simply visit the official website of these adblockers, follow the steps and instructions listed there to install these.

Common scams and how to avoid them

Now you should pretty much have a general idea of the potential dangers that the Internet poses, and we have also covered how to secure your computer from these dangers. But that is not enough in a lot of cases where attackers would try to steal your personal information.

It is also necessary that you remain aware of the potential scams and dangers that you could come across and how to avoid them successfully.

1. Email scams

A scammer using an email on a fishing line to bait a victim for his scam

 Image source – stiganmedia.com

The most common threats or scams that you will find in the world of the Internet are email scams which are exactly what they sound like; a scam through an email. In such a form of attack, the attacker sends the victim an email containing false information while demanding personal information from the victim.

The email from foreign royalty trying to share their inheritance with you is one of the prime examples of such email scams. Commonly named the “Nigerian prince scam”, the scammer sends the victim an email claiming they have inherited millions from their parent.

They'd claim that due to some issue in their home country, they wouldn't be able to hold on to the inheritance and so randomly chose you to receive it until they can move out of their country.

But in exchange, you would either have to give them your personal and sensitive information or send them money for a flight ticket or sometimes both.

Just remember, no stranger on the Internet or the entire world for that matter wants to give you free money. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is a scam.

Some other email scams would include someone claiming to be from a “reputed” company, contacting you, asking you to download and install the software attached in the email. They may claim this software benefits your computer or you personally.

Such downloads are usually viruses or malware whose only objective is to allow the scammer access into your computer to steal your private information.

2. Banking scams or IRS/Tax scams

A cartoon depicting a scammer calling a victim claiming to be the IRS and stealing money from them

Image source – cnn.com

The next most common form of scam is when a scammer calls you, claiming to be from your bank. They usually try to scare you by claiming that your bank account isn’t secure and might be hacked, leading to you losing money.

They usually follow this up by asking you for your banking credentials such as account number, security questions, date of birth, etc., which they then use with your real bank to steal your money.

If you refuse to give them the information that they require, they will try to threaten you that they'll freeze your bank account or remove all the money from it. These are always false threats and just fear tactics to get you to cooperate with them.

An alternate form of this scam is when the scammer claims to be calling from the IRS or your national tax department. They then go on to tell you that you haven’t been paying your taxes, and the total pending amount has accumulated to a few thousand.

They then give you an “easy way out” where you can pay the tax over the phone either by giving them your credit/debit card. They may otherwise also ask you to buy gift cards from your local shop for the equivalent price and send them the gift card codes.

These guys usually use the scare tactic of issuing an arrest warrant against you for tax fraud if you don’t cooperate, which are yet again only false threats.

Just remember, a government agency or financial institution or company, for that matter, will never ask you to pay over the phone without proper verification. Moreover, they will definitely not ask you to pay with gift cards from your local shop.

3. The “your computer is infected” scam

A windows infected with virus warning displayed on the web browser by scammer websites

Image source – malwaretips.com

Ever come across a pop-up in your web browser telling you that your computer is infected with a virus and asking you to call a number to remove these viruses?

This is yet another popular scam designed to gain access to your computer and steal your money and private information such as banking credentials.

This scam starts as a pop-up in your web browser that doesn’t disappear and claims that your computer is infected with a virus and that you are in danger. These pop-ups usually provide a phone number that you can call to “fix” your computer.

Once you call this phone number, you will be greeted by a seemingly well-mannered employee working at Microsoft or Apple or any such popular company. Once they learn of the pop-up you received, they will very patiently guide you on how you can install some special software that will allow them to remotely access and fix your computer.

Once they have access to your computer, they can virtually steal all the data stored on your computer, which includes private information and/or banking credentials. Such information can be used to misuse your identity as well as steal your money.

4. Catfishing scams

A scammer catfishing a victim by pretending to be a pretty girl and making money from the victim

Image source – socialcatfish.com

Another scam that tries to exploit the anonymity side of the Internet, where scammers pretend to be a good-looking woman/man and strike up a conversation with a potential victim.

These scammers pretend to be romantically interested in the victim and promise a sexual relationship with them. Once they set up a good relationship with the victim, they start asking for favours, small at first but building up to larger ones eventually.

Such favours are almost always financial requests for the victim to send them money for an "emergency" or buy them the latest smartphone and electronics.

Some of these scams may even include sextortion, where the scammer manages to secure compromising images or videos from the victim, which they then use to extort money and favours off of the victim.

Again, simple common sense can save you from such scams. Don't form friendships with online strangers that involve you giving them money. No good-looking woman or man is randomly going to strike up a conversation with you, a complete internet stranger, and immediately hopelessly fall in love with you.

5. Lottery scams

Scammer claiming that the victim has won a huge lottery and asking them to pay a small fee to collect the winnings

Image source – thelottolife.com

These scams work by sending you an email or a text message declaring that you have been randomly chosen by a lucky draw and have won a lottery in a few million. To claim the winnings, all you have to do is give your bank details or credit card information to the “lottery authority”.

The scammers then use the information to access your bank account without your permission and withdraw funds from your account to empty it.

The email will instil in you a sense of urgency, stating that you won't receive your winnings if you don't respond with the necessary information quickly. Fortunately, they don't threaten your finances or security but just threaten your "winnings".

You can avoid these scams simply by the power of common sense. Just remember, no one will randomly select you as a winner for a lottery that you haven't purchased yourself. No random stranger is going to contact you one fine day to give you loads of money.

Phew! Now you are safe, aren't you? You know how to protect your computer, identify & avoid scams, maybe even better than your kids. You are almost ready to go out in the world of the Internet and browse your favourite media and content to your heart's content.

But there are a few more points that I need you to know to keep you safe on the Internet, and while these aren't scams per se, they can be dangerous if not careful.

Picking the right websites and download links

Ever tried to download something off a website, and you weren't sure what download button you should click because there were at least 5 different ones? Or unsure what link to pick in your Google search results?

Several fake download buttons along with the real one, trying to get a user to click on them

Image source – NerdAlert YouTube channel

The former usually happens when you're trying to download some tools or software on an off-market website.

You follow all the requirements of the website, created a free account, shared it with your friends. When finally, you get to the download page, there are several different buttons for downloading the file.

This also happens when you search for anything on Google, and the search engine shows you tonnes of result links of which you're unsure which to click on to get what you were looking for.

In such scenarios, it is detrimental to know wrong from right failing which you may end up clicking on a malicious link that may harm your computer by downloading a virus.

To help you with this, just keep the following points in mind.

  1. Stop using off-market and dodgy websites. While I understand that you can’t always buy music, media, or other software, try and use verified sources for these downloads. Torrent websites especially are infamous for having such dodgy links.
  2. DO NOT click on the first download button that you see. Just because it looks good and attractive doesn't mean it is the right one. You first need to scroll around on the website to find the actual download button and only click on that.
  3. If you still can’t distinguish between the proper link that you want to use, simply hover your mouse over the link, don’t click. You will see the website that the link forwards to on the bottom left corner of your web browser, and you simply need to ensure that it is the website you want to use.

Safe payments

Click on the option ‘Click here to install browser extension’ and complete the browser plugin installation

If the extension is turned off by default, meaning that the slider on the extension page is at the 'Off’ position, change it to the ‘On’ position

Next, towards the bottom of the page, select the right version of the application and the extension and when prompted, select ‘Install', which completes the installation.

An authentic looking email from Netflix asking for payment while the actual sender email is a fake one that isn’t from Netflix

Image source – investopedia.com

Next on the list is the mode of payment that you use online while trying to purchase any product or service. If you choose the wrong payment method or gateway, you can end up exposing your banking credentials which the malicious parties may use to steal your cash.

The fake payment gateways are usually set up on a fake website to look quite similar to the real deal. Sometimes even trained professionals wouldn't be able to distinguish the two at first glance.

A few points that you need to remember while making online payments are as follows:

  1. Check the website address in the address bar of the website and make sure that you are using the right gateway
  2. Make sure that there is a green lock symbol right next to the website address, which confirms that you are using a secure connection
  3. Check the reputation of the website that you are trying to make your purchase from
  4. Finally, keep track of your bank transactions to ensure that your money wasn’t stolen

Some antivirus software that we looked at in the earlier sections shows you whether the payment gateway that you're using is real or fake. They are even able to set up a secure layer outside the payment gateway that you're using, even if it is secure enough.

Social networking platforms

A malicious attacker trying to steal victim credentials over a social networking website

Image source – igscleaner.com

Lastly, one of the most important aspects to remember in today's world is being safe on social networking websites like Facebook. Everyone is on Facebook and other social media these days, posting about their personal life and private events for the entire world to see.

While you may be posting your personal information or pictures for your friends and family to see, there might also be malicious parties looking for this information to bring harm or steal your identity using this.

There are many ways in which you can stay safe on social media, but few points to keep in mind while using such websites are as below:

  1. Keep everything private and visible only to your friends. By default, Facebook sets your privacy to the public, making everything you post visible to anyone using the website, which might include scammers as well. So, make sure that everything you post is set to the privacy of just your friends.
  2. Only add friends on such websites who you know personally in real life. Do not add strangers who you don't know personally as they might not always have the perfect intentions in befriending you.
  3. Be cautious of all links that you come across on such websites. Being a social media platform, these websites are like a sowing field for scammers who post various links and ads as a contact point for their scams or malware.
  4. Don’t give money to anyone that you’ve met on such websites. While these people might always seem to be not very dangerous or fake, there are chances for a few such people to turn out to be scammers who pose a threat to you.
  5. Finally, always remember that whatever you post to these websites is permanent. Nothing ever disappears from the Internet and will be stored somewhere even after you delete the original that you posted.

You got Breached?

A victim figuring out that they have been victim to a theft

Image source – appdevelopermagazine.com

Yes, you read that right. I am sorry to say this, but no matter how hard you try to protect yourself from hackers and scammers, there is a chance that you will fall victim to them.

But not all hope is lost, there are still some steps that you can follow to minimize the damage caused by these scammers or attackers.

Step 1 - Find out what you lost

First things first. You need to figure out what was stolen. Whether it was any money from your account, passwords of your online accounts, or maybe even used your identity to commit any crimes.

Go ahead and check your bank accounts, credit, online accounts, and everything that you think might have been exposed to a scam/attack.

Step 2 - Freeze all your bank accounts

Next, go ahead and freeze your bank account even if you think it can’t be compromised and keep it that way until you can get a new credit/debit card or transfer all your savings into a new account or until the problem is solved.

You should contact your bank for this ASAP, and they will be able to assist you with the entire process until they establish that you are safe.

Step 3 - Change all your passwords

Whether or not your passwords were compromised, just go ahead and change them all for all your online accounts to new ones. This is just to be safe because you never have a proper way of knowing whether or not passwords were stolen after such an attack.

This process would be much easier and streamlined if you use password manager software, as mentioned in the earlier sections.

Step 4 - Use your antivirus for a system scan

Remember the antivirus? Use it! Use it to run a full system scan on your computer. If there were indeed any viruses installed on your computer, the antivirus software will find them and take necessary action to remove them and protect your computer.

Ideally, you should have your antivirus active at all times so that it can detect any virus as soon as it is downloaded or installed on your computer.

Step 5 - Contact the police

Finally, to ensure that the law enforcement is aware of the situation and also so that you stay protected in case your identity is used to commit any crimes, you should file a report with the local police or the cyber-crimes department, which is more efficient in such cases.

They will gather all details from you and any evidence that proves such a malicious attack. A police report would also be necessary to claim any insurance money in case the damages were too high from the attack.

Infographics

The following infographics were created, taking into account various statistics and facts related to the Internet. The intention of the infographics is to give you a better understanding of Internet scams.

Infographics for the scams that take place on the internet with various statistics

Feel free to share the code of infographics

<iframe width="574" height="2597" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="overflow-y:hidden;" src="/sites/default/files/pictures/security/internet-safety-for-seniors/internet-safety-for-seniors-14.jpg"></iframe>

Conclusion

Congratulations! You are now pretty aware of all dangers on the Internet and have above-average know-how on how to combat them if faced with any. Now put this newly gained information & skill to good use and browse a few websites online.

Keep in mind all the points we learned and explored in this article. As long as you remember the basic point – “No stranger on the internet is innocent or has the best intentions for you”

If you liked this article and found it useful or have any more points to add to it, please let us know in the comments below.

Tags: 
Security
Author
Rakesh Naik
Freelance Cyber Security Analyst and Writer practicing in Infosec Assessment.

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