The online world has opened many doors for people of all ages. We are able to shop online, be entertained, continue to learn, and even stay connected with loved ones – all from the privacy of our homes. During periods of isolation, the Internet has really been a lifeline for many people. Unfortunately, along with these benefits come several risks. Predators and scammers often lurk online, waiting to prey on unsuspecting consumers. Sharing financial or other personal information can lead to a hacked bank account or even personal identity theft. Here are some guidelines to help ensure your online experiences remain safe and secure.
Understand the Risks
There are many wonderful online experiences to try: exercise classes, virtual museum tours, movies, online courses, shopping sites and games to name just a few. However, there are also many online hazards that can have costly or disturbing consequences ranging from stolen identities, monetary losses and even scams that are predatory in nature. Many online scams tend to target very young people and those over the age of 65. Here are the most common risks associated with being online:
- Misuse of publicly available information such as dates of birth, voting records, or even names of relatives in order to secure an individual’s trust or commit some form of financial fraud.
- Exposure to predators through certain online dating apps, a chat forum, social media, etc.
- Emotional or financial abuse resulting from cyberbullying.
Follow Basic Security Protocols
Similar to following the “rules of the road” when driving a car, there are security best practices that should be followed in order to stay safe online. Here are some basic guidelines to follow when using connected technology, such as a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop:
- Avoid commonly used passwords. From birth dates to repeating numbers or even names of your children or pets, it is important to avoid selecting commonly used passwords. Secure your accounts and devices with strong, unique passwords that are at least 10 characters in length and contain a mix of letters, numbers and special characters (e.g. “!” or “$”).
- Lock your personal devices. Just like you would lock the front door of your home before walking away, you should also lock your personal devices. Most smartphones, computers and other devices have an outside lock function that will open with your fingerprint or by facial recognition.
- Use a credit card when shopping online, and only shop from secure sites. A credit card is considered to be a much safer alternative to a debit card or bank account when shopping online. Also, make sure you are familiar with the company and check that the URL starts with “https” (not “http”). The “s” in “https” signifies that the website has an SSL security certificate. In order to get an SSL, a company must go through a validation process.
- Store passwords offline, and someplace safe. Scammers can potentially hack into a password list that is stored on a computer and then would have access to log into personal banking accounts, etc. The safest option is to create a handwritten list of passwords and store it someplace safe, away from your computer.
Pay Attention and Be Aware
Scammers put a lot of time and energy into finding new ways to prey on unsuspecting people. Protect yourself by paying attention and remaining vigilant. Here are some things to be on the lookout for:
- Phishing emails. This Is a fraudulent email that may look like it is coming from an online company, bank or online payment site that you know and trust. The email may request that you confirm personal information, offer you something for free, request a payment or direct you to a website with instructions to log into your account. If you have any questions about the validity of an email, pick up the phone and contact the company directly. A bank will never ask you to provide personal information, such as a social security number, through email. Be especially wary of any email that is marked “urgent”. If you have any doubts about the email, your best bet is to simply delete it.
- Spoof websites. A “spoof” website is one that is designed to look like a well known website that you might regularly visit. Scammers create these “duplicate” websites in hopes that an online shopper will try to make a purchase with a credit card. When shopping online, look at the URL and ensure the web address is correct. For example, the URL for Land’s End is www.landsend.com. If you are on a site that looks very similar but has a different URL, it may be a spoof website. Again, if you notice anything questionable, call the company directly.
- Infected computers. Do not click on any pop-up messages that indicate our computer is infected or has been exposed to a virus. This could be an attempt to breach your personal data. Instead, consult a trusted computer expert.
- Online dating scams. While it is very possible to meet new friends or romantic partners online, it is important to be aware that some people may have the wrong intent. In some cases, predators try to take advantage of vulnerable people for financial gain or for other questionable reasons. If you’re interested in meeting people online, be sure to follow safe online dating guidelines.
By remaining vigilant, you can have much enjoyable time online. At Lighthouse Senior Living we offer a variety of in-person activities and events and also encourage residents to connect safely with loved ones online. Contact us to schedule a virtual tour and learn why we are the premier option for assisted living in both Ellicott City and Essex-Middle River, Maryland.