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Online Safety for Seniors

Table of Contents

Summary: Before you begin spending time on the internet, it is important to understand how to keep your information and finances safe online. In this article, we’re going to discuss online safety tips for seniors such as creating strong passwords and how to spot online scams. We’ll also discuss other cyber safety tips including how to avoid malicious software and how to verify if an online store is legit.

Throughout our Guide to Technology for Seniors, we introduced various forms of technology and explained some of the benefits these technologies can provide for seniors. While technology can provide numerous benefits for older adults, it’s important to understand how to keep yourself safe when online. Below, we’re going to discuss some tips to help seniors protect their personal and financial information online.

When Creating Accounts, Use Long and Complex Passwords

It is important when creating an account to use a long and complex password. Whether you’re making a social media account, or creating a new e-mail account, it is vital to create a password that would be difficult for people to figure out.

Password creation tips:

  • Your password shouldn’t include any personal information such as your name or a pet’s name.
  • Your password should include some special characters such as % or #.
  • Try to make your password as long as you can.
  • Use a unique password for every account you make.

Senior Tech Tip: If you’re worried that you’ll forget your complex password(s), consider keeping a physical journal or notebook that has all your passwords written down in it.

Be Aware of Online Scams That Target Seniors

Unfortunately, there are a plethora of online scams that try to take advantage of seniors who may not be tech-savvy. One of the best ways you can protect yourself from online scams is by knowing what to look out for.

A common online and phone scam that targets seniors and other people who are less tech-savvy are tech support scams. Tech support scams can be very convincing, which is why many people fall victim to them. If you’re browsing the web on your computer and get a pop-up message that claims it “found security threats on your computer” and offers to scan your computer or gives you a phone number to call – don’t click on it.

Scammers will try to convince you that your computer has a problem and will offer to fix it for a fee. If you suspect something is wrong with your computer, contact a legitimate tech support service. Remember: legitimate tech support will not contact you directly when there is a problem with your computer. You will need to contact them first.

Tech support scams can also appear as ads saying things like “Your computer could be at risk” or something similar. Scammers often try to use words that evoke urgency. Whether online or on the phone, if you feel like you’re being pressured to act quickly, you might be dealing with a scammer. Even if the source seems legitimate, it’s best to not act immediately. Take time to confirm the legitimacy of the source before acting, especially if they’re asking for you to pay something.

If you want to get more in-depth knowledge on online scams as well as other scams that are out there, we recommend checking out the Federal Trade Commission’s Scam page.

If you have experience working on computers, then you’ve likely been told to never open e-mail attachments from e-mail addresses you don’t recognize. This still holds true today – you should never open an attachment or click a link on an e-mail from someone you don’t know. You can tell an e-mail has an attachment if it has a little paperclip icon on it.

Be extremely cautious with e-mails that claim to be Amazon, Paypal, or other big online services used by many people. Because these services are so widely used, scammers will often try to impersonate them to get people’s login information or other personal information. Here are some tips for identifying whether an e-mail from one of these companies is legitimate:

  • Most companies will never ask for your login or personal information via e-mail.
  • If the e-mail includes a link, don’t click it. Instead, go to your web browser or app and log in there to see if you have any account notifications.
  • If you’re not 100% sure if the e-mail is legitimate or not, consider contacting customer support for whichever service the e-mail is claiming to be. You’re likely not the only person to have received that e-mail and the customer support representative can let you know if it’s legitimate or not. If the e-mail has a phone number, don’t call that number. Go to the official website of whichever service the e-mail is claiming to be and use that phone number.
  • You can also try searching the web to see if the e-mail is legitimate or not. For example, you could search “Amazon account lock e-mail” or “Is Amazon account lock e-mail a scam”. You’ll likely find information provided by the company itself, as well as first-hand experiences by other users.

Watch Out for Text Message Scams

Unfortunately, e-mail scams and phone scams aren’t the only scams to watch out for – text message scams are also out there. Text message scams are very similar to e-mail scams: they will either contain a link or ask for personal information. Remember: most legitimate companies will not ask you for your personal information via text message.

Never respond to these text messages or click on the links they send. Text message scams can sometimes be difficult to spot. One of the most deceptive text message scams is when a scammer impersonates USPS or FedEx and claims there’s an issue with your delivery. If you receive a text like this, do not respond, and contact USPS or FedEx directly if you need to confirm the status of a delivery.

Tips for Seniors to Avoid Malicious Software like Viruses or Adware

Malicious software includes any software that is designed to be harmful to a computer, network, server, or client. This includes computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, and spyware. These programs can be used to steal information, disrupt core computing functions, or monitor users’ activity. Malicious software is often used to steal login information, payment information, or other sensitive information entered on your computer.

Malicious software can be a serious problem, but there are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting these harmful programs:

  • Consider purchasing virus protection software for your computer. Your computer will likely have some form of virus protection already installed; however, you may consider purchasing a third-party antivirus or anti-malware program.
  • Avoid clicking on ads that seem overly sensationalized. These ads often use phrases like “You won’t believe…” or “Money-making secrets!”. These ads can lead you to an unsecure website that may prompt you to install or download something, which can end up being malicious software.
  • Exercise similar caution when using social media. Clickbait, sensationalized or over-the-top ads, can be used on social media platforms like Facebook to lure people away from the secure social media network to an unsecure website where you may be exposed to malicious software.

Ensure an Online Store is Valid Before Putting in Your Payment Information

As we mentioned above, scammers utilize various methods for stealing sensitive information, especially payment information. This is why you must remain vigilant when shopping online. Before inputting your payment information on any online store, make sure the store is legitimate. Here are a few tips for checking whether an online shop is legit or not:

Review the URL – In the address bar of your web browser, look at the store’s URL. First, you’ll want to look at the “http” portion of the URL. Online stores should have “https” – the “s” at the end of the “http” means that the website has increased security. Next, you’ll want to check the URL for any misspellings, as misspelled words can be an indicator that the website is not legit.

Check for Contact Information – Check the website for a “Contact Us” page. A legitimate online store should make it easy for you to find contact information such as a customer support e-mail address or phone number.

Look for Reviews/Customer Feedback – Search for the store’s name on Google to check if there are any Google reviews. You may also check if the store has any social media accounts and if those accounts, such as a Facebook business page, have reviews. If there are no Google reviews and no social media accounts or reviews, you may not be shopping on a legitimate site.

If you’re unable to verify that an online store is legitimate, it is best to shop elsewhere. Regardless of the product you want to purchase, it’s not worth risking your financial information getting stolen.

Limit the Amount of Personal Information You Share

With social media, it’s often easy to over-share personal information; however, it is important to be selective about which information you choose to share online. This is especially important if you’re not familiar with adjusting your privacy settings on social media.

If you’re going on vacation, consider waiting to post your vacation photos until you return home. When you share your travel plans online, you are letting people know when you won’t be home, which can leave your home vulnerable to individuals with malicious intentions. If you want to share your vacation photos while away, consider texting them to your family instead of posting them on social media.

Make sure you’re not sharing any photos or videos online that have personal information in them such as passport information or your driver’s license number. Always review photos and videos carefully before posting them online.

You should also be cautious about sharing information that can be used by scammers to figure out your passwords. For example, many password reset tools require security questions that are often things such as “What was the name of your elementary school” or “What was your mother’s maiden name”. Exercise caution when sharing similar information online.

For maximum security, you should always set your social media profiles to private. This means only people you connect with can see your content. However, you still need to be careful with what you share online, as even with a private profile, your information can still manage to be shared outside of your connections.

Enjoy Technology – Safely

The threat of online scams and malicious software can sometimes deter older adults from using technology. However, if you want to get more familiar with one or more pieces of technology, it is important that you practice using it. Learning the basics of internet safety is a great way to set yourself up for success when learning to use online devices.

Though this article covered some common internet safety tips, you should also regularly visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Advice website to stay updated on scams and other cyber safety information.


Choosing and Protecting Passwords, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. Accessed April 2024


Thomas Liquori

Thomas Liquori