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10 Simple and Effective Online Safety Tips for Seniors in 2022

The majority of people in the UK are now online. In 2020, 92% of adults in the UK were recent internet users, according to the Census 2021, and 54% of adults aged over 75 are internet users. This percentage is growing all the time for several reasons, including keeping in touch with family and friends, staying updated on the latest news and weather, accessing online banking and shopping, as well as getting medical information and managing appointments, renewing prescriptions, and accessing medical records.

While the internet has some great uses and can help to make our lives easier and simpler, it does come with some safety risks. In our guide, we cover the main risks posed by the internet, how to spot them and precautions to keep you or your elderly loved ones safe.

1) Protect your device with anti-virus software

Installing security software on your computer will keep it safe from viruses before they can infect your computer. Anti-spyware software stops unwanted adverts from popping up, while also stopping programs tracking your activities or scanning your computer for private data, such as your credit card number or bank information. McAfee and Norton are reputable providers for purchasing a package, or there are free programs available online including AVG and Microsoft Security Essentials.

You should also protect your mobile phone and tablet with an anti-virus app to prevent viruses – many of the top apps are free, such as Avast mobile security and Norton mobile security.

2) Keep your passwords strong

This is one of the most effective things you can do to stay safe online. When setting up a password, try to avoid using common words, numbers, or patterns, such as ‘hello123456’. Also, avoid using personal information like your name, birthday, or details of family members. You should use a different password for each of your accounts too.

3) Set up two-factor authentication methods, if possible

Two-factor authentication strengthens access security to your accounts by requiring two methods to verify your identity. These factors usually include something you know, like a username and password, plus something you have, like a smartphone app, to approve authentication requests. This not only protects against phishing, but also secures your logins from attackers exploiting weak or stolen credentials.

4) Double-check links are safe before you open them

Unsafe links can appear in emails, Facebook posts, instant messages, and website ads. They can also appear as shortcuts to funny videos, ‘like’ buttons, huge deals or news stories to try and encourage you to click on them. Here are some ways to check if a link is safe before you open it:

  • Hovering over the link – on a PC, if you hover over a link without clicking it, you’ll be able to see the full URL of the link’s destination in the lower corner of your screen/browser. For example, this link will take you through to our home page, but you wouldn’t know unless you hovered over it.

  • Use a Link Scanner – There are several free and reliable link scanner websites and plug-ins that allow you to enter the URL of a suspicious link and analyse it for safety. URLVoid and Google Transparency Report are both trustworthy and highly recommended link scanners.

5) Protect your wireless network

Most people use their home Wi-Fi daily for online banking, paying off their credit cards, speaking with family and friends, booking holidays or watching films. In addition, everything from laptops to smart speakers and security systems is connected to the home Wi-Fi.

When not safeguarded, your home Wi-Fi network can be vulnerable to scammers and hackers. With even a small vulnerability, criminals could access many of the devices connected to that network. They may be able to access your online bank accounts or see emails containing vulnerable information.

Here are some things you can do to secure your home Wi-Fi network:

  • Give your home Wi-Fi a new name – wireless routers come with a default name, which in most cases is the manufacturing company’s name. When a device searches for nearby wireless networks, it lists each network name – this gives the hacker a better chance of breaking into your network. It’s best to change the router’s name to something that doesn’t disclose any personal information.
  • Make your Wi-Fi password strong and unique – Most wireless routers are pre-set with a default password, which hackers can easily guess if they know the router manufacturer. Create a new password for your wireless network, making sure it contains at least 20 characters, including a mixture of numbers, letters, cases and symbols. The more complicated the password, the harder it is for hackers to guess or break into your network.

6) Limit who can view your information on social media

Social media networks like Facebook and Instagram are great for keeping up to date with family and friends, or for meeting people with similar interests and hobbies. However, you want to make sure that only your friends or followers can see your posts etc, and you should limit who can see your personal information using the privacy features on the site settings. Also, avoid publishing any information that identifies you or makes you vulnerable, such as your home or work address, date of birth or telephone number.

7) Keep your device updated

All devices have an operating system, which is the software it requires to function properly. Most computers will use Windows or Mac OS while tablets and the majority of smartphones use Android or iOS. If you keep the operating system updated, your device will be better protected from viruses. You can usually allow automatic updates or notifications when new updates are available to ensure your device is up to date.

8) Ensure you’re using safe and genuine websites

There are a couple of ways to make sure that the website you’re using is encrypted over a secure connection:

HTTPS: One of the signs to look for is in the URL of the website (the link at the top of the screen). A secure URL should begin with “https” rather than “http” – the “s” at the end stands for “secure” and offers a further level of protection, encrypting your information before it’s sent to the server.

The lock symbol: Another thing to look for is the lock symbol that is displayed somewhere in the window of your web browser. It should look something like this:

Sure Safe Screenshot

9) Avoiding Online Scams

Online scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and many people are caught out. Millions of people in the UK lose money to scammers or unknowingly share their personal information. Some of the common online scams include:

Email scams

Scam emails can look genuine look genuine and appear to be from official places, such as HMRC or a bank, but there are ways to tell it’s a scam. Look out for:

  • Check the sender’s email address – when you look at the address an email is coming from, you can usually see if it looks fake or suspicious from the spelling or domain.
  • Check for errors in spelling, grammar, or an unusual style of writing
  • Genuine organisations will never request personal information such as your username, full password or bank details.
  • Threats that, unless you act now, a ‘deal’ will expire, or your account will be closed.

Fake websites

Scammers can create fake websites which look official, requesting you to provide personal or financial information, e.g., a fake bank website asking you to update your account or security information. They will usually look very similar and only a few details might be different.

There are also websites set up to look like a copy of a service offered by government websites, such as a page which offers to help you apply for a new driving license or passport renewal. These websites are not illegal, but they will charge extra money if you use them, rather than going through the official government department where the service is usually free of charge.

Computer viruses

Criminals can use viruses to take control of your computer. Viruses can scan your computer for personal information or slow down your computer, send out spam emails or delete files.

Viruses can be embedded in a link or attachment, or you may get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a well-known software company like Microsoft, saying there’s something wrong with your computer and they need to access it. Legitimate IT companies will never contact their customers in this way. Hang up the phone straight away if you receive one of these calls.

Health scams

False and misleading claims may be made around medical-related products, such as health cures, and fake online pharmacies may offer medicines cheaply. However, the actual medicine you receive could turn out to be of poor quality and may even be harmful to your health.

10) Meeting New People

While social networks can be great tools for meeting new people, scammers can use them to trick people into giving them money, usually by telling them a sad or emotional story to get them to feel sorry for them. This can be hard to spot, so always as a loved one to check everything looks safe.

What to do if you think you've been a victim of an online scam

Scams are constantly becoming more advanced and sophisticated, with scammers finding new ways to trick people. It’s not unusual for people to get tricked, so make sure you talk to your loved ones and don’t be embarrassed to report it. If you think that you may have a computer virus, speak to a computer technician. You should also contact the police, and then Action Fraud if you spot a potential scam or think you’ve been scammed. The information you provide to them can help track down the scammer.

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