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The Elderly, Internet Fraud and Identity Theft

The Elderly & Internet Dangers

By: Jeff Absher, CarePathways.com

Each and every day more and more elderly get on-line for the first time to experience the vast universe of the Internet. Often their own children have pushed this idea in an effort to enhance communications, send pictures of the grandchildren, etc... Unlike their younger counterparts, our elderly are usually not familiar with the dangers involved. Thankfully however, they are generally much more cautious about doing business without face-to-face contact whether it be over the phone or especially over the Web. I put together this article to help enlighten our elders as to some of the more common dangers they may face while exploring this brave new world. I don't mean to scare anyone, just inform them of the pitfalls. Knowledge is power.

Surfing The Web

ALWAYS have an up-to-date anti-virus / Internet security package running on your computer. It can pay for itself many times over in protecting you from illegitimate sites, viruses, "phishing" emails, and many other threats.

A few of the most popular are: Norton Anti-Virus, McAfee Anti-Virus, and Trend Micro PC-Cillin

Stay away from "bad neighborhoods". It may seem like a simple matter but you should be especially aware when searching for subject matter of less than main-stream topics and be particularly cautious about the sites you visit. Even popular topics can result in results that yield harmful sites. If you stumble across a questionable site that does not establish instant credibility, leave immediately. Simply viewing a "bad" site may expose you to extremely harmful viruses or other programs that can expose much of your private information if you are not protected.

Keep your operating system up-to-date. All modern operating systems have a mechanism to automatically update themselves as critical security updates become available. Use this feature!

Below I've listed just a few simple things easily identified by any site just for fun:

Your IP Address: 54.91.120.148
Your Browser: CCBot/2.0 (http://commoncrawl.org/faq/)

Ordering On-Line

First and foremost, it is critical that you only deal with reputable companies when purchasing products or services over the Internet. Often however, it may be difficult to determine the legitimacy of a particular company not to mention the methods they use internally to prevent identity or credit card theft.

Many people look at the way a site appears to give them a feeling as to the creditability of a particular company. This is a mistake. You cannot determine a company's credibility by the slick or professional appearance of their site. It is extremely easy to publish a credible looking site today with little effort. Some questionable companies employ "boiler plate" designs and reuse them with few changes over several domain names to appear credible and to support a variety of schemes.

One simple yet fairly effective technique to limit you risk is to call a company before providing any personal information. Do they have a phone number listed? Do they answer? Do they return your message? Do they sound credible? Can they provide you with a U.S. based phone number that is not toll-free? - toll-free numbers can be redirected to just about anywhere.

There are several places to check to see who a domain is registered to, how long they have been in business, and if they have any complaints registered against them. In short however, if it doesn't feel right for any reason, move on.

Today it is too easy for almost anyone to setup an on-line business. You should be very sceptical of the hundreds of "fly-by-night" operations that pop-up monthly. Will they be there if you need to return a product, have questions, need parts or warranty work? These businesses close daily. Will they go out of business before they even ship your order or before you need their help? There are "companies" that just take orders, only supply excuses, never ship anything, then go out of business. Keeping all the money they collected.

Our company for example has been in business for over a decade, an eternity for on-line businesses. We have been recognized by Forbes Magazine® as one of their "Best of the Web" picks, have credentials with Wells Fargo Bank, PayPal and Verisign payment services and are validated by Trustwave for information security and comliance. A simple test is to type-in "CarePathways.com" into Google, Bing or Yahoo (as examples) and see what comes up. We have witnessed many operations come and go. We will be here when you need us.

Email

Again, you really need good security software. A package that also eliminates spam and phishing emails preferably. This ability is usually sold as part of a Internet security package as I mentioned above. About $50 a year for piece of mind, believe me it's worth it!

If you do not have this type of software however, there are a couple things to do that may save you some grief. These are only broad suggestions. Most email programs (ie: Outlook) will have these features. I cannot go into the particulars for each brand.

  • Set the option to only receive emails in Plain Text. This will help eliminate hidden programs and expose links for where they actually point.
  • Set the option to block attachments. This will also however eliminate the ability for your friends to send you photos for example. There may be an option to "whitelist" your family and friend's email addresses so that you can receive attachments from people in your list only.
  • Scrap your desktop email altogether and use an on-line / web based program. There are many FREE ones such as; Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc... They provide much of the security for you including filtering out spam. Another advantage is that you can get your mail almost anywhere you travel by just hopping on any computer. My personal favorite is Gmail by Google.

More information may be found at wikipedia.org

Also look at the FBI Internet Fraud page where they detail many common schemes.

I hope this article has helped, even if only in some small way, in understanding the potential dangers inherent on the Internet. Hopefully you have become a little more skeptical about doing business on-line and maybe have even saved yourself from the nightmare of identity theft and Internet fraud.