The internet is incredibly empowering, enabling us to learn, connect and share. But as useful as it is, there is also a dark side. The same internet that gives people the ability to Skype with their loved ones across the globe, or share photos, get medical advice or pay the bills, also opens up new avenues for crooks looking to exploit us to make a quick buck.
While anyone can fall victim to online exploitation, the over-50's can be especially vulnerable, as members of this group are likely to be less tech-savvy than younger generations. With that in mind, here are some areas where over-50's should be especially aware:
It's a good habit to have a healthy scepticism for emails you receive. From spam messages offering cheap prescription drugs to virus-laden attachments and other fraud, email is a popular vehicle for scams and frauds.
Phishing is the attempt to get your personal information by masquerading as a reputable organisation or person. Here's an example of phishing: You get an email that appears to be from your bank (it's not really), saying you need to update your account information, so click this link to log in. You click. The link takes to a website that looks a lot like your bank's (it's not). You enter your username and password. Bang – the crooks' mission is accomplished. You've just given your login credentials away, and now the crooks can access your bank account.
Ever heard of phishing?
Rather than follow links within emails, it's best to just enter your bank's website address into the browser bar. That way you know the site your visiting really is your bank's.
The stranded friend one, where you get an email from someone you know saying they are stranded in a foreign country and need money. (In this case the scammers hack into real people's email accounts and send the message to those in the contact list.) Or the one from a fake charity asking for donations after a real-life disaster. And there are many more. Again, develop a healthy scepticism and if it doesn't sound quite right, just go straight to their website if it's a company or check your friend is OK by calling or texting them.
Other types of email scam
Attaching a malware-infected file to an email is a very popular method for installing malicious software onto a machine, but it's only successful if you open the attachment. Be very suspicious, for example, if you get an email supposedly from the post office with a zip file attached – the post office will never send you information that way. The general rule is don't open zip files and if asked when you've opened a file to "enable content", don't enable content.
In the digital age, fraudsters can try to exploit you digitally using the old-fashioned phone. An example? The Microsoft tech support scam. A caller claiming to be from Microsoft support (or other big tech company) claims your computer has a problem and they can help you fix it.
These kinds of scams may attempt to get your money by claiming you need to pay a fee to have it fixed. Or, they may offer to guide you through a process to "fix" your machine which actually installs malicious software onto it. These kinds of scams may attempt to get your money by claiming you need to pay a fee to have it fixed. Or, they may offer to guide you through a process to "fix" your machine which actually installs malicious software onto it.
These types of schemes typically prey especially on older users. If in doubt, just hang up, make a cup of tea and then call back. If they are legit they will answer and be able to direct you to the right person.
Online dating scams
Online dating sites are a perfect way for scammers to exploit you – because you're already putting yourself out there, offering your age and other details about yourself. If someone contacts you, starts to profess their affection for you, and then proceeds to ask you for money after telling you a hard luck story, don't fall for it.
Guard your sensitive personal information closely – your credit card number, your usernames and passwords. Don't be tricked into giving those up to anyone. A legitimate company will never ask you for these over the phone or by email.
1. Be careful where you enter your personal information
When you get an email supposedly from an organisation, check to be sure the sender's email address matches the organisation's real website address. You can also check what website address a link is taking you to before clicking, by hovering your mouse over the link. From there you can check the website address.
2. Look carefully
Malware and viruses are out there on websites, in banner ads, in emails. But internet security like SuperSafe will watch your back to keep you safe online – so you don't have to worry about every click. And SuperSafe doesn't just protect you from viruses – it has additional features like Banking Protection, which helps protect you from phishing sites (the Banking Protection banner will always appear when you land on a real bank's website – so if it doesn't appear, you know something's up). It also protects your mobiles and tablets too – so you can be extra safe whenever you go online.
3. Run internet security software
TalkTalk is giving customers £75 off the retail price of F-Secure. Called SuperSafe Boostit protects 8 devices: your mobiles, tablets, computers and Macs. For less than a cup of coffee at £2 a month, it's worth the peace of mind. Get it here