Silver Surfer security tips: Stay safe online through your golden years

Tips & tricks
4 mins
web-savvy grandma

This post was originally published on September 28, 2016.

The internet is a relatively young tool, and popular perception is that most of its users are similarly youthful. After all, social media is dominated by shirtless selfies and emotional accounts of mindfulness seminars held in the girl-next-door’s free trade Cherokee teepee.

But not so fast. While 96% of Americans in the 18 to 29 age range use the web, those 65 years old and up are the fastest adopters, and 58% of U.S. seniors are now online. That percentage is only projected to increase.

The migration to the web has been a boon for the elderly. They are more connected than previous geriatric cohorts–48% of seniors on the internet have Facebook accounts–and have taken advantage of all the services that make the internet so convenient, like online bill-paying, shopping, and Uber.

But the trend has also given an opportunity to a far less amiable population: scammers. Among this unsavory bunch, the belief is that the elderly are sitting ducks, and there is data to back it up. The Stanford Center on Longevity found that seniors are 34% more likely to give money to a financial scam than people in their forties.

Some researchers look to science to explain why seniors might become more gullible with age. However, everyone ages differently, and social factors may also be to blame.

What might be more helpful for older internet users is a strategy for spotting scams before they happen. Just because you’re not a digital native (i.e. grew up using an iPhone as a pacifier) does not mean you can’t be fluent in the ways of the web. Thus, ExpressVPN has come up with four tips to give even the most seasoned among us a leg up on web safety.

1. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet

Is it a cliché? Yes. But do people listen? No. Just look at Twitter and you’ll see ample proof of the slew of conflicting facts and figures people spout online.

False claims get even more dangerous when they relate to pricy products. The FBI warns that expensive goods focused on improving health and quality of life might be aimed at duping seniors.

To make sure you’re not throwing your money down a scam-infested well, verify the legitimacy of the site you are considering buying from. A good way to do that is to check its domain authority.

Domain authority, scored on a 100-point scale, is often used by marketers to see how well their site ranks with search engines like Google. Because Google is designed to bring back quality results, a good domain authority often correlates with legitimacy.

Domain authority isn’t an end-all metric through. Look to see if the product or site has been reviewed in major news publications. Also, don’t hesitate to ask around. Get up from your computer and call your friends and family. Have they heard of it?

2. Don’t sell your heart to a computer screen

Dating sites have given many a new lease on love.  Suddenly a romance can be kindled at the click of a button. That’s a far cry from the days of love letters, carriage rides, and pinafores.

However, online dating has its dangers, especially for seniors. Scammers have been known to target those believed to be older, newly single, and lonely. After building a rapport online–perhaps even professing his or her love–the scammer will suddenly claim they’ve fallen on dire straits and need immediate financial help. One woman lost $180,000 to such a fraudster.

Don’t let the internet change the rules of courtship. Take it slow. If you’ve never met someone in person, there’s no way to know that picture with the winsome smile is real. And always, ask yourself, “Does this feel right?” If there are any doubts in your heart, it could be costly not to heed to them.

3. Don’t give computer access to some guy on the phone

One scam that’s been popping up recently is a man claiming to be from Microsoft calling to state your computer has a virus. To solve it, he might ask for passwords or remote access to your system.

Microsoft is not so omnipotent that it is following your computer at all times. If there is a problem, you will be the one calling them, not the other way around. Giving access to some man on the phone could lead to lost files, an actual computer virus, or even identity theft.

4. Be wary of spam

It’s a common refrain in the digital age: Why do I have to put up with spam? What gets less attention, though, is the spam that does not look like it’s spam.

This includes humorous chain emails, products with compelling promises, and unusual political theories. If you received a letter from a strange person, would you respond? Hopefully not. Use the same caution with email. Even if they know a lot about you (e.g. your hobbies, your dog’s name, your favorite Barbra Streisand movie), they might be using a strategy called “social engineering” to gain your trust.

Similarly, if you receive an email from a person you know but the message is uncharacteristically dire or making strange financial requests, put it in the trash right away. Do not click on any links. Do not respond. Do not pass Go and collect $200. Your friend has more than likely had their email taken over by someone else who is trying to take advantage of the relationship that exists between you and the supposed sender.


Do you have any tips that you want to share? Add them in the comments below. Internet safety is a crowd-sourced effort. We’re all safer if we’re all aware, young and old alike!


Featured Image: Dollar Photo Club