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There was a time when a letter had to have a stamp on it in order to get anywhere. Then along came the Internet and everything changed. Suddenly, postage was no longer a problem when people wanted to communicate over long distances thanks to email. These days it is the Web 2.0 that seems to have everyone connected. And while there is a younger generation that may never know what life is like without Facebook, the fastest growing population on social networks is older adults. These web users, aged 55 and over, are still outnumbered by the young ones on major social networking sites, but are coming up quickly.

Social networking opens up the opportunity for identity theft in any age bracket, but seniors are at an additional risk. Not only are they vulnerable to financial exploitation, but they are often not as comfortable and knowledgeable of using social media as a form of communication. This leaves them as a high risk target for identity thieves. So,  when Great Aunt Gertrude decides that she is going to start tweeting, make sure to give her  the below tips to keep her safe.

  • Use the least amount of information necessary to register for and use the site. Use a nickname or handle (although this is not possible with certain sites),
  • Create a strong password and change it often. Use a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and characters that are not connected to your personal information (such as birth dates, addresses, last names, etc.).
  • Use the highest level privacy settings that the site allows. Do not accept default settings.
  • Be wise about what you post. Do not announce when you will be leaving town. Other things you should never post publicly: your address, phone number, driver’s license number, Social Security number (SSN), student ID number and even your hometown. Thieves can figure out your Social security number by what town you were born in and what year. It’s OK to post what year or how old you are, but with this information combined with where you were born, they can figure out your SSN.
  • Only connect to people you already know and trust. Don’t put too much out there – even those you know could use your information in a way you didn’t intend.
  • Read privacy and security policies closely – know what you’re getting into. Some major social networking sites actually say they will use or sell information about you (not individual data necessarily, but aggregate information based on your personal information and that of others using their site) in order to display advertising or other information they believe might be useful to you.
  • Verify emails and links in emails you supposedly get from your social networking site (e.g., the recent Facebook scam emails that asked customers to re-set their passwords). These are often designed to gain access to your user name, password, and ultimately your personal information.
  • Unclick the privacy settings that display the time stamps of your posts.
  • Install a firewall, reputable anti-spam and antivirus software to protect your information– and keep it updated!
  • Use common sense. When in doubt, don’t open it, download it, add it, or give information you may have doubts about sharing.

Make sure that older adults are knowledgeable about what sites they are using and also about privacy issues that the younger generation may take for granted. This way, while it may still be weird that your grandpa just sent you a friend request, it won’t be too dangerous.

 

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.