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  • Caroline Hammond

Some simple ways to help elderly family members stay safe online.

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

online safety for the elderly
online safety for elderly people

As elderly people engage more with the online world, they are more likely to become targets for cybercriminals. The best defence doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. There are very simple things we should all be aware of, which will dramatically reduce our risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime. Ensuring you have armed yourself and your family with some simple new safety habits can be the best protection for everyone concerned. Below are some simple suggestions:

Make sure you protect their device and your personal information by using strong passwords and virus protection software. Online hackers use sophisticated apps that can guess passwords in a matter of seconds. Don’t be tempted to use words or names that have an obvious link to you (names of family members, pets etc or words related to your hobbies) and avoid simple number sequences such as 123, 4321 etc. Similarly, don’t use memorable dates such as birthdays. The most secure passwords are at least 8 characters long and contain both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and even special characters, (*, % >). As soon as you go online you become a possible target for online crime, so always make sure you use up to date virus software on your devices and don’t ignore sure systems updates.

If you learn to recognise scams, you will be able to avoid most of them. Many scams are easily recognisable, and as the old saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. The most common scams are bogus lotteries and competitions, aimed at getting your personal data. Similarly, companies offering products at significant price reductions (such as pharmacies). You are unlikely to ever see the product you have ordered, but they may be able to get access to personal information and your bank details whilst you order your product. Some of the most brazen scams are the ‘personal emergency scams’, where you receive a distress call or email from a relative, persuading you to send money.

Some scam emails may appear to have come from your bank. It’s always worthwhile checking the email address used, which can be a giveaway. If it is different to the email address used on emails you have received from your bank previously, you should be careful. If in doubt, call your bank on the telephone number they provided you previously (on your bank card or statements) and ask them whether the email you received is a scam. If you receive an email from a company and you are unsure whether the email is legitimate, try to find their website and look for their contact details. Legitimate online companies and shops don’t tend to hide their contact information and will make it easy for you to get in touch with them. They will also have a business address that includes a street name and isn’t just a post office box. You can even check the business is registered in the UK, by searching for it on the Companies House.

Beware of emails which contain grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. When you receive an email from a company which contains spelling mistakes, or if the logo appears blurry, it’s very likely to be a scam.

Never trust people who contact you online, just because they know a few specific details about you! Cybercriminals will find information about you and case use this to gain your trust. If you don’t feel comfortable, try and call or email the company they claim to be from, by looking up the company contact details separately. If you find out that the call or email is not legitimate, you can block the number, email address and websites of those who are trying to con you.

Take care on social media. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with relatives and friends, but think carefully before you respond to a message and try and stay clear of any competitions that ask personal details from you (such as; what is your pets name, your favourite colour etc). These seemingly innocent bits of information can be used by cybercriminals to gather more data about you and make it easier to steal your identity. Anything you post online will always stay there and can’t be erased. So think before you post something as it could be there for years!

Social Media such as Facebook encourage you to celebrate your birthday and congratulate your friends on their birthdays, but do you really want personal information such as your birthday on the internet? To avoid this, you can change the default privacy settings on social media so that you only display the information that is safe to display. There are a few main security settings that are key to your safety, such as who can see your profile, your location is displayed online and whether strangers can search for you.

These are just a few suggestions to help you and your family stay safe, but there is much more you can do. We have had a look at different sources and found some very helpful guides. Listed below is a selection which can help you, if you have any concerns about protecting yourself or your family online.

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