The continued rise in cyberattacks this year has made headlines. Cyberattacks can happen to anyone but scammers are specifically targeting senior citizens because of the complexities of new devices and memory missteps that allow for an easy opening for these criminals. To give a sense of magnitude of this theft, in 2021, cyber criminals stole approximately $40 Billion dollars from senior citizens via various cyberattacks targeting seniors. My mom who has never “googled” something and only checks email once a week with an iPad is constantly getting phishing texts and emails. The world is changing so fast that it is hard to keep up-to-date with the latest security updates and can be challenging to stay informed about new tools and practices needed to stay safe. In this post, we will walk through a couple of the key action items seniors can be taking to be safer in a digital world, especially when it comes to your online financial accounts. We are not experts but by working with our technology partners and through resources from Schwab and Fidelity, we have organized these best practices.
Weak passwords are the easiest way to hack into someone’s personal life. With a little bit of public information out there on the web, scammers can write programs to guess your passwords to accounts with little to no effort. Most often if they login with the correct password, the account manager may not even alert you of the suspicious activity. Avoid weak passwords that contain birthdays, addresses or any public record details. Keys to developing safer passwords include:
- Have strong and different passwords for each account. In the chart above, it is easy to see why it is important to always use a mix of numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and symbols.
- Change your password frequently and use a password database. Changing passwords frequently is important to stay on top of the latest password requirements. Using a password manager or password book makes it easier for you to remember where to find such passwords.
- Multi-factor authentication. This has the smallest adoption rate amongst seniors but provides the best security. Multi-factor authentication allows you to receive a unique 6-digit code to your phone or email to use along with your password to login to an account. It is important to have multi-factor authentication because this second step ensures even if someone can guess your password correctly, they still cannot access your accounts without the 6-digit code.
Scammers can take information from your social media accounts and use it against you over the phone. Oversharing on social media can provide details in ways you would have never thought of such as specific GPS coordinates of pictures. People that have tagged you or you have been tagged may allow scammers to extort cash for fake emergencies based on data they find online. These cyberattacks targeting seniors can be emotionally and financially draining. Minimize your public sharing and be wary of signing up for subscriptions that require personal information. Here are the top three strategies you can use to stay safe on your phone:
- Do not click on text messages with links. Friends can unknowingly spread unsecure links. Do not click on any links unless you can read the URL and confirm it is a creditable website.
- Do not answer unknown phone calls. Scam calls happen all the time by masking your area code as that of the scammer so you will pick up. Recently, there has been a rise of charity-related scam calls directed towards seniors. For example, if someone can see your connection to the humane society via social media, they may try to scam you by calling for money related to dog adoptions in your county. It is important to do your own research to verify if charities are real.
- Phone calls related to government agencies will almost certainly never call you about an issue that they have on your account. Social security and Medicare do everything via mail.
Emails have become a common method to communicate with friends and family, but they also have become a way for hackers to send malware and phishing data to unsuspecting individuals. Email scams have five mains focus points: romance scams, lottery scams, charity scams, tech support scams, and impersonation scams. Here are some tips to protect you from malicious emails which are another form of cyberattacks targeting seniors:
- Download a good anti-virus scanner that will scan your emails. Some of these software programs can detect fraud even before it even has a chance to impact your computer.
- Block pop-up windows. You can always manually allow pop-ups from websites you know and have vetted but it is a good idea to block pop-ups from a majority of websites.
Most scammers aren’t very creative. There’s a good chance the scam being run on you has been used before. Try copying and pasting the text from an email, or just type in a few words describing your situation in a web search, followed by the word “scam” to see if the same scam has been attempted on other people.
The purpose of this article was not to scare you of all open threats on the internet but to illustrate that criminals are actively betting on you to make a mistake. Cybersecurity is often overlooked and we want to encourage individuals to take the extra step to secure their data, use tools to enhance online safety and to be more vigilante around their sharing. Both Fidelity and Schwab do an amazing job blocking cyberattacks daily. Our belief is that the extra effort of developing and maintaining safe online passwords and presence is well worth the protection that you receive for financial accounts. You are the best defense against cybercrime.