The internet can be a great place to socialize, shop, and bank, but in the age of spam, bots, and scammers, sharing personal information with “online friends” can lead to hacked passwords and drained bank accounts. Here’s what you and your parents need to know about keeping private information safe while socializing online.
What is social engineering?
In the most general terms, social engineering is pretending to be someone you’re not in order to trick people into doing something that will harm them. On social networks, in emails, and even over the phone, social-engineering scammers pretend to be their targets’ friends, banks, favorite stores, and even family members to bilk victims out of money or trick them into handing over account passwords.
Why are seniors at risk for social engineering scams?
Anyone with internet access or a phone can be the target of social engineering scammers, but seniors are at particular risk for two reasons, according to information security expert Daniel Miessler. The first is that older people tend to have more money saved up than younger people do, which right away makes them more tempting targets. The other reason scammers go after seniors is because as we age, our judgment may decline, which makes it harder to spot scams before it’s too late.
How can you protect yourself from online scams?
It’s easy to get so comfortable online that we forget it’s still a public place, one where our words can easily be captured for posterity and shared with strangers. The same rules that apply life offline can help you avoid social scammers.
- Choose your friends wisely. Don’t add people to your friends list unless you actually know them.
- Know who you’re doing business with. According to 2016 research, as many as 40% of Facebook accounts claiming to be major international brands were fake. Real pages for brands and stores will carry a blue circle with a checkmark in it. Mouse over this logo to see the “Verified Page” message.
- Know your audience. By default, Facebook posts you make go to your friends list rather than to the whole world. This is much safer than making your posts public, which allows anyone on Facebook to see them. Unless you want complete strangers to know where you bank, shop, and dine, limit your posts to friends or even subgroups of friends.
- Protect your friends’ and family’s privacy, too. Many parents are understandably worried about their children’s privacy in the internet age. Ask permission before posting pictures of your grandchildren, especially if you include their names. Social engineers often use stories about grandkids in trouble to panic older adults into wiring money to pay for hospital stays, bail, or other “emergencies.” By protecting your grandchildren’s privacy, you’re also protecting yourself.
- Keep your schedule to yourself. Unless your social media friend list is a small group of people you’d trust with your personal possessions, don’t announce online when you’re away on vacation, at work, or otherwise out of the house.
- Review your social media settings. Facebook’s settings are complex and can be confusing. If you’re not sure you’ve got them set up correctly, ask a trusted and tech-savvy family member or close friend to review them for you.
If you think your parents have been scammed, contact the police and the social network where you think the scammer found them. You should also inform their bank and the three major credit reporting agencies so they can monitor their accounts for suspicious activity.