According to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, social media has almost doubled among seniors over 50 years of age – growing from 22 percent in 2010 to 42 percent in 2011. Today, more than 27.4 million seniors are actively logging onto social networking sites.
As fun as social networking can be, seniors should definitely be aware of a few potential pitfalls. As caregivers, friends and family members, we should all encourage our older loved ones to stay safe when it comes to social media. To start, here are a few tips.
1. Maintain strict privacy settings on each social site. Facebook and Twitter gives you options on who can see your personal details, and these should be set with care. Don’t assume that everyone online has good intentions when it comes to seeking out your friendship. Be smart when it comes to filling out your profiles and think about what you want complete strangers to know about you.
2. Be aware of scams. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Although most scams come in the form of emails (telling you that you’ve won millions if you’ll just reply with your social security number), scams can strike anywhere – including social networking channels. Be vigilant about not opening emails or attachments from people you don’t know, or clicking on unfamiliar links posted to your social pages.
3. Never accept a guarantee unless you know the source. This goes hand-in-hand with avoiding email scams. Just because you’ve received an instant message or post on your social site that seems like a legit offer, it may not be as trustworthy as you think. The internet, unfortunately, is filled with predators looking for vulnerable seniors who take everything at face value.
4. Don’t give out your credit card or checking account information unless you are 100% certain your information is safe and protected – normally through verified shopping sites or PayPal. Don’t be enticed by “Get Paid for Tweets” offers that ask for your personal banking details. Although the internet does employ legit “Cash for Click” type jobs, not all are on the up and up. This goes for many “Free Trials” as well. If it’s free, why are they asking for your credit card? Always err on the side of caution.
5. Keep your virus scan programs and spyware current. This will protect you if you do accidentally click on an infected link or open an attachment that contains a virus.
According to Sgt. Kern Swoboda of the New York State Police, the common frauds directed towards seniors are phishing scams (where con artists send you emails asking you to update your personal information with the intent of stealing your identity), foreign or domestic sweepstakes, foreign money exchange offers, Internet auctions, charity frauds or work-at-home scams. Before you buy into any of the above, hedge your bets by having a caregiver or family member verify its authenticity.