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How to stay safe online

Read our simple guide to protecting yourself from identity fraud and other potential dangers lurking online.

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Hobbies and interests
Posted 07 September 2022
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How to stay safe online - tips for older people

A massive 85% of identity fraud in the UK now takes place online. It’s a scary thought, but luckily by taking a few simple steps you can feel safe when browsing the world wide web.

What is online safety?

The internet is an invaluable source of communication, information, entertainment and shopping - over a third of all UK shopping was online in 2020 - but while there are huge positives, there are undoubtably risks too. The main hazards are identity theft and fraud. Simon Dukes, Chief Executive of Cifas, the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service, says, ‘It can take months before the fraudster’s actions are discovered and, in some cases, just as long to sort the mess left behind.”

Many of the most useful features of the web (like online shopping and banking) require sensitive information – but you can take steps to protect yourself.

Follow these six simple rules to keep your information secure: 

  1. Use strong passwords – and don’t reuse them
    •    Protect your online activities with strong passwords - and use different passwords every time. You can create complex passwords by picking three random words, then adding or splitting them with symbols, numbers and capitals. For instance, FranceS0n?Cat1
    •    Your smartphone or computer may suggest – and save – very strong passwords for you – which is great as long as you always use the same device (or connected devices).
    •    If you haven’t done so already, make sure you set up hard to guess passwords to protect your computer, smartphone and other devices too. 
  2. Keep your anti-virus software up to date
    •    Install anti-virus software on your laptop, smartphone or any other device that connects to the internet – and keep it up to date (often this just means accepting recommended updates.) This will protect from viruses but also from malware and spyware which can steal your data.
  3. Be cautious before you click on online ads
    •    Ads can contain software that is specifically designed to disrupt or damage your computer. If you’re in any doubt, visit a company’s website directly rather than clicking on a link in an advert.
  4. Don’t get caught by a phish
    •    Look out for ‘phishing emails’ from what look like trusted sources, e.g. your bank - especially if they are asking for financial or personal information. They can be convincing fakes designed to trick you. Links can take you to sites which record information you enter. Attachments can introduce viruses. If you’re at all suspicious, delete the email and contact the company in a different way. Remember: your bank or other institutions like HMRC will NEVER ask for personal/financial information.
  5. Be careful in cafes (and other public spaces)
    •    Public Wi-Fi is more vulnerable to hacking, so avoid making card payments or logging into mobile banking apps when using it.
  6. Back up your computer and devices regularly
    •    That way, if you do get a computer virus – or any other issues, you can restore your data and won’t lose all your files, photographs etc.

What should I do if I think I’ve been a victim of an online scam? 

We asked Ray Walsh, Digital Privacy Expert at ProPrivacy.com to answer some common online safety questions:

“Online scams are incredibly common and often sophisticated and hard to spot. Anybody who believes they have fallen victim to a scam should contact their bank to cancel their card as soon as possible. They will advise you of the next steps to protect you and your money.”

Read more about how to stay safe from scammers, including telephone and face-to-face scams.

How can I protect my computer from online threats?

“When browsing the web your computer should have a ‘firewall’ to protect you from online threats and antivirus software running in the background. This will ensure that you do not run into any threats like malicious malware, adware or spyware that can be downloaded onto your device.”

What should I do if I receive a suspicious email?

“If you’re worried about an email delete it at once. If you do open the email do not click on any of the links or attachments, as this could cause you to be infected with malware.” 

Online shopping and banking

Quick and convenient, doing your banking and shopping online has plenty of benefits – and it is perfectly safe as long as you keep our advice in mind:

  • Check a website is legitimate before making an online purchase
    • Visit trusted websites directly. Be wary of links in adverts or emails
    • A quick way to see whether a website is legitimate is to check the URL. Legitimate websites usually have easily verifiable .com addresses, and a padlock to the left of the address to show that it is protected with HTTPS encryption.
    • If the padlock is missing or the address seems strange, you may want to use a website safety checker like Google Safe Browsing.
    • If you’re unsure about shopping with a business, check reviews using sites like Trustpilot.
  • Never disclose personal information like your PIN or bank details
    No legitimate organisation, including your bank or the police, will ever ask you to disclose PINs or other security details in full.
  • Be very wary about transferring money
    Similarly if you get an unusual request: from your ‘bank’ asking you to urgently transfer money to ‘keep it safe’ or for a loved one (who is supposedly in trouble but has lost their phone, for instance) then it is probably a scam. Make sure you stop, think and check with people you trust before you do anything.

Staying safe on social media

Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or TikTok, social media is a brilliant way to keep in touch with friends and family, share your passions, view inspirational and entertaining content, find out about local events and connect with people with similar interests and hobbies. But, as with any online activity, security is a concern.

Social media safety tips

  • Set a unique and complex password for every social media account.
  • Log out of your account every time you end a session, regardless of whether you’re using a public or private device.
  • Only accept invitations to connect with people you know.
  • Adjust the privacy settings on your account so your profile isn’t fully public.
  • Report suspicious or offensive users/content.
  • Be cautious about giving out personal information to other social media users. For instance, be wary of telling the world that you are about to go on holiday – leaving your house empty and vulnerable. Never share financial information.

Online dating and relationship scams

Online dating is a fantastic way to meet new people and find love. It is an increasingly popular option for older people too. Like most things, there are risks involved, but these can be easily mitigated if you know what to look out for.

Our top tips for avoiding the pitfalls of online dating are:

  • Meet up with people in public places
    Plan to meet up in a busy space where you feel safe – like a café. If you feel uncomfortable with your date or sense that they are untrustworthy, make an excuse and leave.
  • Tell friends and family about your plans
    Not only is it a good idea to share the time and location of your date with your friends and family, but it is also a good idea to talk to them about any new relationships – they can give you a different perspective and flag any concerns.
  • Be wary of people who don’t want to meet face-to-face
    People who appear to want to establish a rapport with you but avoid actually meeting you in person or even via video calls may be ‘catfishing’. This is term for people who create a fictional online persona and use it to lure people into relationships. These fake relationships are not always about money but may lead to financial fraud, which takes us to the next point...
  • Be very cautious about sending money to people you’ve met online
    You may meet someone online who appears to have a genuine need for money – perhaps they want to pay for a plane ticket so that they can visit you or have an emergency they need your help with. Unfortunately this is often a scam. Don’t let them put pressure on you – and confide in a friend/family member about any concerns.
  • Don’t be put off online dating
    It is a fantastic way to meet new people – read our guide to online dating in later life.

Happy surfing!

While online safety is really important, by taking a few simple precautions you can feel reassured that using the internet is overwhelmingly a positive and safe experience with a huge number of benefits - so dive in and enjoy it.

You can you get more advice on staying safe online here: getsafeonline.org

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