pros and cons

The image of a senior staring confusedly at a computer screen, wondering what on earth the contraption does, is about as dated as referencing Gordon Gekko in casual conversation.

Today’s seniors are often just as tech-savvy as younger generations. Baby Boomers text, email, tweet, and post on Facebook with happy abandon, whipping out their smartphones to check the news or the latest stock market developments.

And while many of these same seniors know a fair bit about what to share or not share online, the unfortunate truth is that online scammers often target seniors specifically. This kind of attention means that even the least gullible senior may find him or herself falling prey to an online scheme.

To help you avoid making any inconvenient or costly mistakes, here are some tips on how to protect your personal and financial information online.

What goes up online, stays online

While it’s true that you can delete things from the Internet, it’s hard to know for sure whether you’ve actually, truly made it disappear forever. That includes everything from your old Facebook profile to the personal information you just emailed to the wrong person by accident.

This means that you should always think twice about what you’re putting online. Even if it’s a tweet you delete one second after posting, there’s always the possibility (and oftentimes it’s a strong possibility) that someone saw it. They could even have copied and pasted it, or shared it on a blog, meaning that now it’s living on in perpetuity on someone else’s site.

When it’s a tweet or a Facebook post, the stakes aren’t very high. But if it happens to be personal information, like your name, age, etc., then you could be increasing your risk for being targeted by a scammer.

For seniors especially, this also includes sharing medical information - anything from a condition you’re suffering from, to a caregiver’s information, to your doctor’s name. This will increase the chance that you’ll be targeted with fake solicitations for discount prescriptions or medical devices.

Beware of email hacking

While most of us know not to open emails from people we don’t know, what about strange emails from a friend or family member? These can be more difficult to identify as scams, because they seem to come from people we know.

However, these emails actually come from hackers who have hacked into the person’s email, likely making the account send spam to everyone in the person’s contact list.

So how do you know it’s a fake email? Clues include spelling and grammar mistakes, a tone that sounds different from the one your loved one usually uses, strange, impersonal subject lines, and messages with attachments.

If your email is the one that’s been hacked, there are a few important steps you need to take. First, use another form of contact, like a different email address, to let your friends know what’s happened and that they shouldn’t open any emails from you.

Then, if you can still access your account, you need to log in right away and change your password. Make sure you make it stronger - use a mix of upper and lowercase letters and numbers, and avoid using your children’s names, pets’ names, or any other words that someone could easily guess.

Be alert to any emails that ask for your personal information.

Another thing to be on the lookout for is any emails that request your personal information - retirement account numbers, usernames and passwords, addresses, etc.

Often, these emails can be made to look exactly as though they come from a company you’ve interacted with, like Amazon, Google, or Barnes & Noble. Some hackers even create emails that look like they’re from the government.

The most important thing to remember is that no reputable organization will ever ask you for your personal information through email. If you see an email that does, that’s a big red flag.

Keeping your personal information secure online is vital, especially since hackers and scammers tend to target seniors. To learn more about keeping your finances and identity safe, read our post How to Avoid Financial Fraud Against Seniors.