Many seniors feel apprehensive about getting online, worrying that they won’t have the tech skills to successfully take advantage of computer resources. According to FastCompany, a neuroscientist at UCLA found that when he observed “12 tech-savvy and 12 tech-ignorant people use search engines while inside an MRI machine”the result was“more neural activity in the noggins of tech-savvy users.”Not only does the Internet open you up to a host of new possibilities, the process of learning something new can have a positive effect on your brain—great news for those who are interested in staying in tip top mental shape.
There are host of other benefits to making use of the Internet. It’s easier than ever to connect with others around the world in just a few clicks or a few keystrokes, from family a few states away to new pen pals as far away as Japan or Norway. Even ten or fifteen years ago, the majority of adults weren’t online. Now 87% of American adults regularly use the Internet, logging on to converse over email and social networking sites, look up information using search engines like Google and Yahoo, keep up with the news and their favorite TV programs, or connect with other people who have common interests, like NASCAR, baseball, sewing, chess, and more.
Of course, the flip side to how much the internet brings us together is that it can also connect you to bad people who might want to take advantage of you. While it’s easier than ever to reach out to friends and family, it’s just as easy for criminals to reach out to you in hopes of getting money, your personal information, or even steal your identity. However, there are some simple steps you can take to keep cyber criminals at bay.
Email With Care
First and foremost, you should treat your email with the same care you would your mail or postoffice box. Just as you get unwanted junk letters in real life, you may get spam messages in your email box from strangers. Some scams that online criminals run online are similar to those run through the mail or on the phone—telling you that you’ve won a lottery prize, for example, or posing as a fake charity. Just as you’d be cautious under other circumstances about sending money to strangers or unverified causes or potentially illegitimate businesses, you should be even more so online.
Pick an email program with a strong spam filter like Microsoft Outlook or Google Mail—this will protect you from many inappropriate messages and reduce the number you need to deal with yourself. When you set up your email account, create a strong password that will be hard for anyone else to guess or crack. For example, “123456”is a common password that would be easy for a hacker to figure out because so many people use it. The same for things like your children or grandchildren’s names, “password”or “PW”or even “letmein.”You should use a mixture of symbols, numbers, and both upper and lower case numbers to ensure you have a strong password.
Trust Your Inner Skeptic
Criminals often create stories that seem so wild you couldn’t possibly make them up. People have fallen for all sorts of tall tales, from Nigerian princes trying to find their way home to messages from the supposed Sheriff’s office telling them a missing person’s report has been filed on the recipient’s behalf. Other common tricks include seemingly innocent, minor requests, like trying to find a good time to call you, or simply asking if you’re ok. If you don’t know who sent the email, simply give them a call or check in personally to find out if they originated the conversation. It takes some of the convenience out of staying in touch, but it’s totally worth it to avoid giving scam artists even the slightest details to go on. Never download a file attached to an email if you don’t know who it’s from. The file could be a computer virus that will make your device run slower or will find personal information like credit card or insurance account numbers and send it to the scammer.
A Little Common Sense Goes a Long Way
You never know who’s looking when you post online, and what you say can stick around a lot longer than you think. Friends of friends might see what you post on social media, private details linger on message boards, and you can’t take back what you write. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. So be especially guarded about sharing anything you wouldn’t write down and hand to stranger, or the kind of information you run through a shredder at the end of the month.
Enjoy a Wider World
Despite digital dangers, the Internet has a wealth of opportunities to stay connected and involved in your community and interests no matter your age. Don’t feel intimidated by the possibility of living an online life, instead embrace a new skill, and take proper precautions so you can surf the web with confidence. As with any new skill, it may take time to feel as comfortable and confident as you do in real life, but soon you’ll have street smarts for the World Wide Web!