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How retirees can avoid mounting cybersecurity threats

  • Older Americans are becoming more digitally savvy, but with that comes the increased risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime.
  • Here are tips to help seniors — and everyone — stay safe online.

Older Americans are increasingly digitally savvy — but they are still a prime target for online scams.

Nearly half (42 percent) of adults ages 65 and older now own smartphones, a number that's quadrupled in the last five years, according to a report by Pew Research Center conducted last year. Internet use by seniors has similarly jumped — and for the first time, half of older Americans have broadband at home.

But with all that access to technology comes the increased risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime.

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In fact, internet scammers disproportionately target older Americans because they tend to be wealthier, more trusting and less likely to report fraud, according to the FBI. Another 2015 report estimated that older Americans lose $36.5 billion each year to financial scams and abuse.

Davis Park, director of technology outreach program Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, offers these tips to seniors – and everyone – for staying safe online:

Choose a strong password. Passwords should be 12 to 15 characters long with strategically placed special characters or symbols. You should have different passwords on each of your online accounts. To help keep track of them all, use a password manager, like 1Password, Dashlane or KeePass.

Keep your antivirus software up to date. That will help prevent hackers from accessing your computer, laptop and smartphone, as well as alert you to websites and downloads that could be suspicious.

Use only trusted Wi-Fi resources. Free Wi-Fi seems convenient, but hackers can also use it to intercept your internet communications. Before joining a network at say, a coffee shop or retailer, confirm that the Wi-Fi connection you want to join belongs to the business you know and trust. When in doubt, use your personal Wi-Fi hotspot, or the network connection on your smartphone.

Google it. Research any unfamiliar websites or email solicitations before giving up your information. Often, hackers create a link that may appear, at first glance, to be a legitimate website to trick you into giving up your personal data.

Don't give your personal info. Be particularly wary of any request to provide information such as your date of birth, Social Security number or bank account.

There are an increasing number of scams perpetrated by professional thieves who target vulnerable seniors, but you can protect yourself by knowing what to watch out for.

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