(This article previously appeared on Tech50plus.com.)
Technology benefits us in many ways. However, it is crucial to know how to move through cyberspace to avoid being a victim of online scams, viruses and malware. Older generations don’t always pick up on these best practices natively, so here are seven practical tips that can protect you or your parents on the Internet:
1. Install security applications and a pop-up blocker.
Just like installing security alarms for your house, setting up Internet security software and a firewall for your computer is a smart safeguard. Malware comes in many forms — viruses, Trojans and other programs can infect your devices, steal personal information or even gain access to your video camera. In addition to anti-virus applications, be sure to install a pop-up blocker for your Internet browser to reduce the temptation to click on shady ads and links.
2. Only open emails from trusted sources.
Viruses and identity theft scams most often lure unsuspecting users with seemingly personal emails. Therefore, if you do not recognize an email address, do not open the email — just send it directly to the trash.
Secure passwords are made up of 8 to 14 characters, with a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.
Many scammers warn that something is wrong with your computer and that you need to buy their service for the fix-up. If you did not request the email, it’s best to ignore it. If you’re ever unsure whether an email is safe to open, call your security software company and verify the email’s source through them.
3. Double-check the web address when online shopping.
Although online shopping is more convenient than going to the store or calling in, always be cautious when an online purchase requires credit card information. Trustworthy vendors will take steps to protect your data, including secure web protocol. Make sure to only purchase with sites that use a secure web address, meaning the address starts with “https://”.
4. Be highly skeptical of any money exchanges, requests or pleas.
Older people are most susceptible to financial scams and, unfortunately, have become the number one targets for online scammers. Never wire money to an individual you haven’t met in person — including anyone who insists on wire transfers for payment, an online love interest who asks for money or someone who claims to be a friend or family member in dire need of help. These are the tactics scammers use to gain your trust and steal your money.
5. Log out of websites, apps and webcams after use.
Social media sites and email programs will often keep you signed in, which is convenient. However, it can also be dangerous. For these and other sensitive websites (online banking, PayPal, shopping sites), it is safer to log out each time instead of just exiting the page. This makes it harder for anyone to access your information in the event that your computer is stolen. Also, always double-check that your video camera is turned off after video chatting or using Skype.
6. Regularly update your passwords.
Simple, easy-to-remember passwords are a bright welcome sign to hackers who want to steal your information. Secure passwords are made up of 8 to 14 characters, with a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Be sure to create different passwords for sites such as online banking, Facebook and email. If you have trouble remembering passwords, write them down and keep them in a safe place.
7. Be careful when sharing on social media.
Keep in mind that once you put something online, you cannot ever take it back. Avoid revealing information about your whereabouts, whether you will be out of town or if you’re home alone. Criminals use social networks, too, and they can use these posts to plan malicious behavior.
Whether you’re new to the online world or you’re already a tech savvy boomer, always take smart precautions when surfing the web. If your email or social media is hacked, delete any strange activity and send a warning your friends not to click on any links that may come from your account. The key to guarding against online scammers is regularly updating your anti-virus software, privacy settings and passwords. Most importantly, never hesitate to ask a trusted technology adviser when you have questions or concerns.
Seth Bailey, is an entrepreneur and member of the board of directors of Bask Technology (formerly iTOK), which provides remote technology support, online protection and computer repair. He is a founding member and former CEO of iTOK.
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