Navigating the Online World: Are You and Yours Safe and Secure, or Scammed?

Step aside, telephone scammers – there’s a new kid on the block wreaking havoc on consumers of all ages: cyber scams. And most dishearteningly of all, it is we and our fellow elders who are often particularly susceptible to being taken for a ride.

The majority of us seniors have now begun to move beyond tentatively testing the world wide waters (with an estimated 60% of adults over age 65 online) and into the realm of shopping, banking, socializing and more, right along with our younger counterparts. Yet, many are still learning the dos and don’ts of the Internet, and miss some of the subtle clues that distinguish verifiable content from phishers.

Take, for example, the latest scam that appears to come from everyone’s favorite go-to online marketplace – Appearing in your inbox as a harmless-looking follow-up email to your recent Amazon order (and who doesn’t have one of those, hopefully Prime so you get all those free benefits?), the message alerts the recipient to a problem that requires re-entering information related to the order; including, naturally, credit card information. Become tech-savvy with some simple ways to spot the wolf hidden beneath the sheepskin through these nearly imperceptible signs:

  • HTTP vs. HTTPS: All reputable online merchandisers will utilize an SSL (secure sockets layer) connection when sensitive information is being transmitted. That little “s” could mean the difference between a safe online transaction and an invitation to phishers to help themselves to your personal information. You look on the browser line to see what the URL is that is associated with the email link.
  • Return address verification: This can be trickier than it seems. Obviously, if the return email address from what appears to be a communication from Amazon doesn’t end in, beware; but in highly advanced scams, phishers can even create fake domains that appear legitimate. Best to just not click on a link or reply to an email, and just do #3….
  • Go directly to the source: If everything seems to check out and you’re feeling confident that an email received is truly from the genuine source, it’s always a safer bet to pull up the company’s authentic website directly in your browser, rather than clicking through links provided in an email.

To compound the dangers further, so many seniors are battling loneliness, and just as in phone scams, may be prone to want to engage in communications with this seemingly caring person who has reached out to help them solve a “problem”. And we all know, there’s no time like the holiday season to compound feelings of isolation, which can lead to compounded vulnerability as well. ARGH!

Although I’m certainly not recommending that we all disconnect and run for our lives, a little caution is definitely in order. If you have older loved ones who play on the Internet, perhaps the best solution is to sit down together with those beloved seniors in your life to go over the pitfalls swirling around the Internet. And then set the mouse aside, and spend a little quality time together, arm in arm, strolling through quaint little local shops, taking in the holiday lights, or take a walk in the woods and simply enjoy each other’s company: an experience no email scammer can steal!