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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Cybersafety for Seniors

By Jean Parks

Are you raising children and caring for aging parents at the same time? Do you worry that your parents will become victims of scam artists who seek to take advantage of the elderly? If so, you are not alone.

According to the PewResearchCenter “today, and every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65.” This exploding demographic provides a tempting target for all sorts of criminals intent on parting seniors from their money and belongings. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to educate, protect and support our seniors. Here are a few tips that may help:

1. Protect social security information and other important accounts

Social Security, Medicare, credit card and other important accounts must be protected. Educate your parents about the importance of not giving out account numbers or access to these accounts in response to random cold callers or dubious emails. Web-based activity, including e-mail, online banking, and any other online transactions must be protected by strong passwords.

2. Install anti-virus software

Computers, tablets, and other devices must have appropriate anti-virus software installed. Make sure the anti-virus software is up-to-date and properly configured.

3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Just like in real life, if it sounds too good to be true online, then it’s usually a scam. Sit with your parents and read spam mail with them, so that they can see the types of con games that are being run. “Make $500 from the comfort of your own home.” “You’ve won 1 million pounds in the UK lottery.” Be sure to also alert them to the tactic of using legitimate company names – like AOL, PayPal, USPS – in phishing e-mails and other scams.

4. Be aware of “authority impersonation” scams

Many people have received e-mails with official-looking subject lines advising that the FBI is seeking their help or that the IRS needs clarification regarding their taxes. These are known as authority impersonation scams and are designed to frighten law abiding folks into giving up sensitive information.

5. Avoid clicking on links

Encourage your parents to avoid clicking on links to sites like PayPal, eBay or Amazon. If they need to reach banking or e-commerce sites, then advise them to type the URL directly into their browser bar.

We must communicate openly with our parents about safety issues, just as we do with our kids. We should also be aware that seniors who are being victimized by criminals are often too frightened or ashamed to turn to family members for support. Look out for tell-tale signs of trouble, like parents scrimping on basic-need purchases, or acting oddly or secretively when mail arrives or the phone rings. Remind your parents that even intelligent people fall victim to scams and they shouldn’t hesitate to turn to you for help.

Some online resources that can help:

The National Council on Aging – www.NCOA.org

AARP – www.AARP.org

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (Identity Theft) – www.FBI.gov

The Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Resource Center – www.FTC.gov

ICSA Labs – www.icsalabs.com – is an independent division of Verizon that provides great info on anti-virus and anti-malware solutions.

For tips, information and ideas on how you can make your home or the home of a loved one safer and more secure, check out Verizon Home Monitoring for a variety of easy-to-use and affordable home monitoring controls.

Have you or a loved one been taken advantage of online? Do you have questions, concerns or safety tips? Please feel free to share!

Jean Parks, aka Geekbabe, is a contributing editor for The Online Mom. Follow Jean on Twitter.

(Disclaimer: The Online Mom and Jean Parks are compensated for participating in certain promotional campaigns for Verizon FiOS.)

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