Staying Safe Online After 50: A Complete Guide to Internet Security for Older Adults

50 Plus Hub Research Team

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Yep, it’s a jungle out there. The internet opens up so many useful and fun things we can do in our 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond. We can connect with loved ones, find old friends, enjoy entertainment, and access all kinds of services and information online.

But… many of us who did not grow up using computers and the internet don’t have enough knowledge about how to stay safe while doing all these activities.

That puts us at risk for scams, identity theft, and hacking.

This step-by-step guide will teach you everything you need to know to protect yourself online and have peace of mind.

We’ll cover topics like safe web browsing, creating strong passwords, spotting suspicious links and emails, shopping securely, using social media cautiously, and much more.

While it may seem complicated at first, just take it slowly. We’ll explain things clearly using real-life examples and visual aids so you can put these tips into practice in your own life. Becoming more secure online may take some adjustments to your routines, but you’ll learn just how easy it can be.

So get ready to make your online experiences worry-free by learning how to avoid the most common mistakes people make. The internet is an amazing tool, as long as you know how to use it safely. Let’s get started!

Part 1: Understanding Online Threats

The first step is knowing about the most common dangers we face online so you can watch out for them.

Here are the major risks:

Viruses and Malware

Just like how people can catch nasty viruses during flu season, your computer and devices can get infected too. These bad programs are called “malware” and they can do things like:

  • Slow down your computer
  • Display annoying popup ads
  • Record passwords you type
  • Show inappropriate images

Malware spreads when you click on links or download files you shouldn’t. Always be careful what you’re clicking or tapping!

For example, you may get an email that pretends to be a receipt for an order you never placed. If you click the link to view the “receipt”, it could download malware onto your device.

Phishing Scams

This is when criminals pretend to be someone else to trick you into giving them money or information. They often use:

  • Fake websites that look real
  • Emails pretending to be companies like your bank
  • Popup windows warning your computer is infected

Phishing scams try to scare or pressure you into acting fast before you realize it’s a scam. Slow down and look for signs it’s fake.

Imagine getting an email that looks like it’s from Netflix, warning your account will be closed unless you verify your information immediately.

This is a phishing attempt to steal your Netflix login details.

Hacking

Hackers look for any way to break into your accounts and devices to access your personal details. They especially target:

  • Weak, easy-to-guess passwords
  • Out-of-date software with security flaws
  • Public Wi-Fi networks that are unprotected

Once your account is hacked, they can lock you out and may steal your identity. Keep hackers away by being proactive.

For example, a hacker could access your online shopping account if you use the same weak password across multiple sites. Unique passwords limit the damage hackers can do.

Online Fraud

There are so many ways criminals try to steal your money online, like:

  • Fake deals that are too good to be true
  • Calls demanding payment for fake issues
  • Links bringing you to stores that don’t actually exist
  • “Free trial” offers that are sneaky scams

Shop only on legitimate sites and never pay unless you’ve verified an offer is real.

Say you get an email with an unbelievable coupon for 90% off an iPad. This “deal” sends you to a site impersonating Apple to steal your credit card information.

Now that you know about these common threats, let’s go over some simple habits to avoid them.

Quick Quiz: Which of the following should make you suspicious of an online offer or message? None, one or all of these?

  •  It offers something for free or at an extremely low price
  •  It pressures you to act immediately
  •  It has spelling and grammatical errors
  •  It asks for personal information upfront
  •  It comes from a sender you don’t recognize

Part 2: Browsing the Web Safely

The internet is an amazing place to learn, shop, work, and connect. But you have to be careful where you click. Here are tips to browse safely:

Stick to sites you know

Go directly to real websites by typing the URL in the address bar or using bookmarks. Avoid clicking links in emails or ads that could lead somewhere dangerous.

For example, instead of searching for your bank’s website, bookmark the page and always type the URL directly to ensure you access the real site.

Look for the “s”

On pages where you enter any personal info, the web address should start with “https://” – the “s” means it’s secure.

Don’t use public Wi-Fi for financial accounts

Public networks at places like coffee shops can be hacked. Only access accounts with sensitive info on password-protected and encrypted Wi-Fi.

Be careful downloading files and programs

Downloading can put malware on your devices. Only download from official stores like the Apple App Store that scan for safety issues.

Use anti-virus software

Reputable cybersecurity software like Norton can identify dangerous sites and block phishing attempts, malware, and other threats. Set it to scan regularly.

Don’t believe every popup

Popups warning your computer is infected are often scams trying to trick you. Close out and run an antivirus scan just to be safe.

For instance, you may see a popup that pretends to be McAfee Antivirus, stating it found a virus and you must download an anti-virus immediately. This is fake and the download infects your computer instead.

Check for misspellings or weird URLs

Scam sites often have slight misspellings or extra numbers/letters in the web address. If it looks fishy, leave.

Web browsing can feel scary at first, but takes practice like any new skill. Be extra careful at the start, and it will soon feel familiar.

Quick Quiz: Which of these tips can help protect you from dangerous websites? Select none, one or all that apply.

  •  Only access sensitive accounts through HTTPS sites
  •  Click every link and ad that looks interesting
  •  Only shop on sites you know and trust
  •  Accept all necessary cookie permissions
  •  Download free games and programs

Part 3: Stronger Passwords

Passwords may seem complicated, but they’re your first line of defense for protecting online accounts. Follow these rules to keep hackers out:

Make them long

Use at least 12 characters – the more the better! Short passwords are too easy for hackers to figure out.

Mix numbers, letters and symbols

Using different types of characters makes passwords much stronger. Replace letters with symbols that look similar, like @ for a.

 

Avoid personal info

Never include things like your birthday, name, address or phone number. Those are easy to find out about you.

Don’t reuse passwords

Unique passwords should be used for every important account. That way one hacked password doesn’t put all your info at risk.

Try passphrases

Combine random words like “basket-lamp-pond-green-chair” for an easy to remember but hard to guess password.

Use a password manager

Apps like LastPass store all your passwords securely behind one master password. This helps create and remember super strong and unique passwords for every account.

Change it up

Update your passwords every 90 days to stay a step ahead of hackers. Make small tweaks vs. reusing the same password.

Passwords protect so much of our personal data now. But you don’t have to actually memorize a bunch of complicated codes.

Start using password managers and passphrases instead for simpler security.

 

Quick Quiz: Which of the following make passwords stronger and safer? Select all that apply.

  •  Using your pet’s name
  •  Making passwords short and simple
  •  Using a mix of letters, numbers and symbols
  •  Reusing the same password everywhere
  •  Making passwords long and complex

Part 4: Spotting Scams

As we get older, scammers increasingly target us with sneaky “cons” to steal our money and information. But once you know their tricks, it’s not hard to spot scams. Watch out for:

Fake calls

Criminals impersonate agencies like the IRS and threaten consequences if you don’t pay immediately. Real agencies send letters first and never demand instant payment.

For example, you may get a call stating you owe the IRS money and will be arrested if you don’t pay right away. This is a scam since the IRS always mails letters first.

Phishing emails

These attempt to lure you to fake sites to enter your login info, often warning your account is compromised. Check the sender address for misspellings and never click embedded links.

Say you get an email from “Netflx” instead of Netflix claiming your account will be closed unless you verify your information immediately. This is 100% a phishing scam.

Suspicious links

From social media messages to texts from unknown numbers, be wary of all links. Rest your mouse over the link to see if the web address looks legitimate.

Alarming popups

Scammers use fake error messages and warnings to scare you into calling fraudulent tech support numbers or downloading malware. Close popups immediately.

For example, a popup may appear on your screen stating it detected viruses and malware on your computer. If you call the number listed for “support”, they will gain access to your computer and steal your information.

Contests and prizes

If it seems too good to be true that you won a big prize or lottery without entering, it’s definitely a scam trying to steal your information or money.

Deals and sales

Only shop deals on legitimate sites you trust, not third-party sellers. Discounted gift cards and difficult to find products are often scams.

Say you get an email with a coupon for a hot new video game console at 50% off. But the link takes you to a website you’ve never heard of that will just steal your payment info.

The golden rule is to slow down. Scammers want you to act before thinking. Verify legitimacy directly with companies before providing any sensitive information or payments.

Quick Quiz: Which scenarios are likely scams? Select all that apply.

  •  An email from your long-lost cousin asking you to wire money immediately
  •  A phone call threatening you’ll be arrested unless you pay back taxes right away
  •  A notification you won a sweepstakes you never entered
  •  A message from your best friend sharing vacation photos
  •  A 30% off coupon to your favorite store

Part 5: Protecting Your Information

Our personal details have become very vulnerable online. Follow these tips to keep it protected:

Secure your devices

Use strong passwords or fingerprint ID to lock your smartphone, computer, and accounts. Never save passwords in your browser or emails.

Limit sharing online

Be very selective about what personal details you share publicly on social media or forum sites. This helps prevent identity theft.

Check privacy settings

On all your social media, ecommerce, and other accounts, check that privacy settings are on the strictest level.

Shop only on secure sites

Before entering any payment information, make sure the site has “https” in the URL and a little lock icon. This means your data is encrypted.

Avoid public Wi-Fi for financial accounts

Only access accounts with sensitive information over encrypted and password protected networks to prevent hacking.

Monitor your statements

Stay vigilant for any unauthorized charges by reviewing credit card and bank statements closely each month. Report issues immediately.

Think before you click

Don’t download files or click links in messages unless extremely confident they are safe to avoid malware. Especially watch out for attachment from people you don’t know.

Securing your private information takes some extra care and diligence. But preventing identity theft and hacking is worth a few minutes of your time.

 

Quick Quiz: Which actions help protect your personal information online? Select all that apply.

  •  Using credit cards instead of debit cards for online shopping
  •  Posting your phone number and address online
  •  Saving your username and password in your web browser for convenience
  •  Checking bank statements regularly for fraudulent charges
  •  Connecting to public Wi-Fi to access sensitive accounts

Part 6: Safe Online Shopping

Shopping from the comfort of home can be so convenient. Make sure it’s also safe and secure by doing the following:

Stick to known sites

Do your shopping directly through retailer sites you know and trust, like Amazon or Target, rather than using a search engine to find stores.

Look for https and locks

Secure sites will have “https” in the URL. Look for the little lock symbol before entering any payment details.

Price check purchases

If a deal looks too good to be true, search the product to see if the price is way lower than everywhere else.

This exposes overpriced or fake goods.

Say you find a popular $500 smartphone listed on an unknown site for only $100. This is likely a scam selling knockoff devices or stealing your information.

Use credit over debit

Credit cards have much better fraud protection. Only use prepaid debit cards on sites you’re very familiar with already.

Check return policies

Know what a site’s policies are for returns and exchanges before purchasing in case the product doesn’t meet your expectations.

Keep records

Save receipts and shipping confirmations until you’ve received and are satisfied with purchases in case you need to dispute a charge later.

Online shopping conveniences like fast shipping and easy price comparisons make life so much easier. Just take a few smart precautions and you can shop confidently.

 

Quick Quiz: Which online shopping tips can help protect you from scams or fraud? Select all that apply.

  •  Research a site thoroughly before purchasing there
  •  Compare prices across multiple sites to spot fake deals
  •  Save your credit card on as many sites as possible for faster checkout
  •  Only shop on secure HTTPS sites
  •  Use your debit card for online purchases

Part 7: Cautious Social Media Use

Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can help us stay in touch with friends, family, and interests. But oversharing or interacting carelessly also poses risks.

Limit personal details

Never post your full birthday, address, or phone number publicly. Share only with close connections, not broader audiences.

Review privacy settings

Take time to update the security and privacy settings on each of your social media accounts to limit who can see what you post.

Don’t reveal too much online

Post updates when on vacation only after you’re back. Avoid discussing schedules or activities that reveal when you’re away from home or not there.

Connect only with real friends

Ignore or decline friend requests from people you don’t know to avoid scams. You have no way to confirm who strangers really are.

Watch for phishing attempts

Links and posts warning your account is in danger of being deleted are often hackers attempting to steal your login info.

Install security software

Cybersecurity programs like Norton Security can also protect your social media accounts from threats. Use solutions made specifically for securing social platforms.

Socializing online comes with some unique risks. But adjusting privacy settings and being selective about sharing can let you interact safely.

 

Quick Quiz: Which social media habits protect your security and privacy? Select all that apply.

  •  Accepting friend requests from strangers
  •  Sharing your address publicly in posts
  •  Posting vacation photos only after you’ve returned
  •  Limiting account access to friends only
  •  Turning off tagging ability so others can’t tag you

Part 8: Protecting Your Mobile Devices

Our smartphones and tablets hold so much of our personal data. Keep them secure with these tips:

Use strong passwords or fingerprint ID

Set up a password, passcode, or fingerprint to lock your phone and tablets so no one else can access them if lost or stolen.

Install app updates

App developers regularly release fixes for security weaknesses. Allow apps to update automatically or do it manually in the app store. Out-of-date apps pose risks.

Avoid “sideloading”

Never download apps from third party app stores, only the official Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Their screening process keeps malware out.

Limit permissions

Pay attention to what permissions you allow each app to access things like contacts and location services. Only enable permissions that seem necessary.

Watch out for public Wi-Fi

Disable Wi-Fi when out and only connect to trusted and encrypted networks. Public Wi-Fi makes it easy for hackers to access your mobile devices.

Delete when done

Apps you no longer use still have access to your data. Delete old apps to limit this risk.

Treat your phone or tablet like your wallet and take precautions against losing it or having it accessed by others. Enabling some key security settings takes just minutes.

Quick Quiz: Which actions help keep your smartphone and tablet more secure? Select all that apply.

  •  Using fingerprint or facial recognition instead of passwords
  •  Only installing apps from official app stores
  •  Allowing every app to access your location, etc.

Part 9: Using Public Computers Safely

You may need to access accounts from public devices like library or hotel business center computers. Take these precautions:

Minimize entering information

Avoid accessing accounts with sensitive financial or personal data. Stick to things like looking up generic information when possible.

Never save passwords or usernames

Check boxes that ask if you want the computer to remember you. Otherwise your login details could be accessed later.

Watch for shoulder surfing

Be aware of who is around you that may be able to see what you enter. Move away from people.

Check the browser

Before entering anything, make sure you are in a legitimate browser like Chrome or Firefox, not on a scam webpage.

Browse in incognito mode

Enabling private browsing prevents the computer from recording your browsing history or cache.

Log out and clear cache

Log out of any accounts before leaving the computer. Also clear your browsing data and cache for an extra layer of protection.

Look for HTTPS and locks

Never submit payment or account info on sites that don’t have “HTTPS” in the URL and a lock symbol indicating encryption.

Public computers may give you the creeps, but are usually fine for quick tasks as long as you avoid entering any sensitive information while there.

Part 10: Protecting Your Home Network

Your home internet connection deserves some security precautions as well:

Password protect your Wi-Fi

Don’t use the default network name and password your provider gives you. Create a custom name and strong Wi-Fi password so others nearby can’t access your wireless network.

Hide your network name

For an extra layer of security at home, disable broadcasting your Wi-Fi network name (SSID). This hides it from people trying to detect networks nearby.

Use a firewall

A firewall monitors traffic on your network and blocks unauthorized access attempts and suspicious connections. They provide an essential additional barrier against hacking.

Encrypt your network router

Make sure you choose WPA2 or WPA3 encryption rather than the weaker WEP standard on your router. This scrambles data to prevent eavesdropping.

Limit access

Don’t allow guests full access to your network. Set up a guest network with restricted privileges if visitors need Wi-Fi access temporarily.

Check router admin settings

Log into your router’s admin console and make sure WPS functionality is off and the most recent firmware is installed for maximum protection.

The right router settings and network tools keep all your connected devices secure from snooping or intrusion by others.

Final Thoughts and Wrap

I told you it was a jungle out there! That covers the essentials of how to protect yourself online after 50! While it may seem involved, each tip only takes a few minutes once you get the hang of it.

Make security practices a habit and they will fit easily into your daily life.

Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from benefiting from all the internet has to offer. Millions enjoy safe online experiences every day.

By being proactive, using protective tools, and applying tips from this guide, you can too!

The most important thing is to get started. Begin implementing stronger habits, tools, and settings right away.

Over time, you will adjust and find just how valuable yet secure the online world can be as you learn and grow. Be safe!

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