Police Blotter

Internet Safety; Protecting our Seniors

March 6, 2013 1:59 PM

The internet creates excellent opportunities for seniors to meet people, conduct business, plan travel, access records, stay in touch with friends and family, and support hobbies and entertainment interests.  You can learn how to take advantage of the opportunities without falling prey to predators so you can have peace of mind when you go online.

Factors that contribute to increased risks for seniors:  Every age group has unique vulnerabilities in addition to general internet risks, and seniors are no exception.  Few entirely new types of crime are created to target seniors; the issue lies in how existing crimes are tailored specifically to exploit older internet users.

For example, while an online scam targeting minors is going to promise trips to Disneyland or cool toys, scams aimed at seniors are more likely to offer discount drugs and low-cost insurance.  Phishing scams frequently target seniors with 'bank notices' or official looking 'government documents'.

In addition to being targeted for different types of crime, seniors may share characteristics that make them vulnerable online.  Here are some of the major factors that make seniors vulnerable.

Lack of computer skills:  Though many seniors are very computer savvy, many more are not. Often their computers are not properly secured. Even when you have installed security software, it is critical that you set up automatic updates, turn on a firewall, use secure passwords, and so on.

If you do not feel that you are able to set up your computer's security, it may be well worth hiring a computer technician from a reputable company to review your settings for security and fix any problems you may have. Make sure you have checked the company through the Better Business Bureau and that whoever comes to your home is fully licensed and bonded.

However, keep in mind that giving access to your computer may put your private information at risk. Because you may be anxious about using the computer you may be more likely to believe someone who claims that there is something 'wrong' on your computer and more willing to follow the instructions they give you to 'fix' it. Sometime scammers ask for remote access to your computer so they can help you.

Unless you trust someone such as a friend or family member to keep your best interests at heart and respect your privacy, do not give them access to your computer.

Lack of Internet skills:  Though many seniors are cutting edge users of Internet services, most of you are beginners when it comes to computer technology.

Just spending more time online will help you feel more comfortable with the ins and outs of navigating online and interacting on Web sites. Once you've familiarized yourself with the tricks scammers and some less reputable companies use, you can simply avoid them.  There are many websites, books, and courses offered for every level of user. Many of these courses are offered at low cost through colleges across the state.

An important thing to note is that people who are computer savvy, perhaps because they worked with computers before retiring, are sometimes more at risk online because they believe that being computer savvy means they are Internet savvy – but in reality navigating the Internet safely is more a matter of understanding human behavior than understanding technology.

Understanding the reach of content posted online, how criminals try to deceive you, or the trustworthiness of a site for example, has nothing to do with how well you can use a computer.

More Trusting:  You have a wealth of experience in judging the character of people you meet in person, but you have probably developed fewer skills for assessing the character of the people and companies you meet online. You are typically more trusting and respectful of official looking material than younger generations, so are more apt to fall for scams. And you are more worried about notices that claim there is a problem with your information that might somehow sully your good name.

In the online world, unless you know for sure with whom you are dealing, you must assume that you could have landed on a 'look-a-like' site trying to scam you.

No one can build a fake bank or store on some street corner for a few days, so you never have to worry about whether the bank or store is real. When you enter, you quickly get a sense of whether it is a reputable place or not. If you have a problem with a purchase you can march right back through the door and demand service.

On the Web, those physical attributes and clues are all gone. Anyone can build a Web site that looks as official and legitimate as any other site for very little money. They can scam search engines to make their Web sites show up as one of the first results when someone runs a search. Anyone can copy the exact look and content of any other Web site. This means that the fakes are sometimes very, very hard to identify no matter what your age.

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