Seniors challenged to stay safe on Internet

WHILE I encourage people to embrace and explore all the Internet has to offer, there are some common sense safety measures which can help to prevent unpleasant experiences, especially for our senior citizens.

Physical safety

Similar to what happens when meeting people on the street, it is possible to have your personal safety put at risk by someone you met on the Internet. As is the case when you are on the street, the key is to be sensible and alert; do not be caught off guard. Do not give your home address, for example, to someone who you just met and have no reason to trust as yet. Even when people take the precaution of getting to know someone first, the odd story still arises of a person meeting another online who turned out to be a completely different person in appearance and personality from what was initially portrayed.

So on the Internet, as in real life, use your head.

Monetary and data safety

Far more common than the person who is physically harmed by someone they met on the Internet is the story of someone who was hacked, which may lead to money being drained from one's bank account, false purchases being made under one's name, or even embarrassing information being leaked to the public.

To protect yourself from hacking, I suggest you follow these four basic rules:

1. NEVER give your password to any account to someone via e-mail. Even if the e-mail claims to be from, say, your bank. Your bank will never ask you for your password via e-mail.

Those of us who are new to the Internet may be especially vulnerable because we generally assume that any e-mail we get is from the person representing to be the sender. But most websites you log on to will inform you that they will never ask for your password, account details or other personal information via e-mail; so if someone does, do not give them the information.

2. NEVER access a bank account or put in credit card information when you are using a public wireless (Wi-Fi) network. If you can help it, do not even put in the password for websites that are linked to your bank account or credit card.

You see, a hacker with the proper skills can see the information being passed back and forth on the Internet by someone on the same network as themselves. So hackers can hang out in, say a coffee shop, or even set up a software programme that they attach to the wireless network and just wait to collect the bank or credit card information of customers who decide to login to their bank accounts from the coffee shop.

3. NEVER respond to an e-mail advising that you have won money in a contest, lottery, or sweepstake you have not entered. Unfortunately, these are popular scams intended to entice you to disclose your personal information and con you into releasing funds purportedly for the payment of taxes, insurance and other fees associated with the “winnings”.

4. CHANGE your passwords frequently and make them good ones.

If your password is hard to figure out and you use different passwords over time, there is less chance that a hacker can steal your password and later use it to impersonate you. The password “6161949” that represents your birthdate may be easy to figure out. On the other hand, the password J#16@49 is much stronger. In this example, I have substituted the capital letter “J” for the 6th month, June, abbreviated the year, and inserted special symbols between the month, day and year. Passwords combining alpha, numeric and special symbols with both capital and common lettering are considered the strongest.

You can have a piece of paper in a cookbook in the kitchen with a listing of all your account names and passwords. Even if your house was robbed, I doubt the burglar would think of looking in a soufflé cookbook to find anything of value. This important information is certainly secure from online hackers who will look for it on your computer's hard drive.

– The above is an extract from Retirement A New Adventure by Patricia Reid-Waugh, author and retirement coach.

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