At Heart2Heart, we encourage all seniors to learn technology to connect and engage with the outside world. However, the Internet also can leave seniors, and anyone unaware of the dangers, vulnerable.
As you explore online, think of yourself as walking down a busy, virtual street. You face the same types of dangers that you do in real life. Just like you can get mugged on your way to the store, an online thief can steal your money online.
Be cautious and follow these tips to stay safe.
1. Beware calls from the “IRS.”
The IRS will not call you and ask you for your Social Security number. They don’t take payment in the form of prepaid debit cards or gift cards. They won’t threaten you with the police or immigration officers.
Before you give out ANY information to someone claiming to be from the IRS, read this article from the IRS so you know what to look for.
2. Question anyone who calls you for information.
If any company you do business with calls you, they should already know who you are. Be suspicious if they ask to verify your identity when you didn’t initiate the call.
If you aren’t sure, you can always hang up and call the number of the business directly to verify the information they’re telling you.
Read up on the Florida Division of Consumer Services’ list of fraud and scams to look out for.
3. Check that sites are secure.
Before you enter any personal information into a website, check that it’s secure.
Look for a little lock symbol by the address at the top of the page. Be suspicious of complicated site addresses, misspelled words and sloppy-looking sites. Legitimate companies will clearly state their contact information and their company policies.
4. Be suspicious of email addresses you don’t recognize
If you don’t know the person sending you an email, do not trust them.
Even if the email making big promises looks legitimate, you still need to check that it isn’t fake. An email might seem like it’s from your favorite store, but is actually from someone who masked their real email address.
5. Double check invoices if you think you’ve already paid them.
Companies like doctor’s offices sometimes send an automated invoice in the mail, even after you’ve paid the balance. Before you send another check, call the office to verify the charges and the payments you’ve made.
6. Beware shady sellers
Think of the Internet like a flea market, with all sorts of sellers trying to get you to buy.
Sure, that cheap, authentic-looking product looks appealing. However, you have to decide if you want to engage with the knock-off purse seller. In the virtual space, you’re not just giving that person a $20 bill. You’re handing them your credit card numbers.
Proceed with caution.
7. Don’t use your debit card online. Ever.
If you want to make purchases online, use a credit card. If someone steals your card information, they can’t steal money directly out of your bank account.
Your credit card will have fraud protection if you need to dispute any charges. It’s harder to retrieve money once it’s left your account.
8. Ask for help.
Scammers run sophisticated operations these days. If you have any doubts, ask somebody to help you. A trusted loved one can help you research and identify scams.
If you do become a victim of a scam or identity theft, report the crime to the police or call the National Elder Fraud Hotline for help.
Stay safe and happy exploring!