Whether you had a digital or analogue upbringing, you are probably now an avid user of technology and social media platforms. Learning new technologies as an adult can be difficult, especially when technology companies’ user guides seem to require an advanced degree in law to read. There is no numbers as of today for Europe or Asia, but the US provide us with some interesting feats.
- Social media users over the age of 65 are the fastest growing demographic in the United States. By 2021, 45% of seniors over 65 will be using social media.
- Seniors are the most common victims of fraud in the US. In 2021, the FBI recorded approximately 92,000 senior fraud victims with losses exceeding $1.6 billion.
- According to the FTC, one in four Americans who lost money in 2021 reported receiving their initial contact via social media.
- Americans lose about $770 million a year to social media scams.
Even the savviest social media users are finding it increasingly difficult to understand privacy and security settings and how to spot a scammer. As an older person or carer, you may feel overwhelmed, but social media safety is achievable.
Social networking sites do not have to be a privacy nightmare. Strong passwords, reliable anti-virus software, the ability to spot phishing scams, and other online safety guidelines all contribute to a more informed internet user. From the much-discussed TikTok to Meta’s main platform, Facebook, we examine methods for keeping your sensitive information private on social media.
1. Don’t overshare personal information.
This is probably the hardest advice to remember, as social engineering attacks that start on social media can seem like innocent fun.
Links where you give a website access to your profile and it generates a fun qualifier like “Which Avengers characters are your friends?” or “What kind of bread are you?” are probably there to steal all the information you’ve listed about yourself in your profile – and you’ve just given them access.
Quizzes, games and even popular memes such as “What’s your elf’s name?” and “What’s the first sentence of your autobiography?” can be a trap to collect your information.
If you provide information such as the name of your first pet or the make and model of your first car, you may be sharing the answers to your password recovery questions with other websites. This may seem like a fun way to interact, but it could lead to identity theft. If you find yourself in this situation, there is an excellent guide to identity theft that will tell you what to do. Sharing travel photos is a great way to connect with your peers, but you should wait until you’ve returned home to do this to avoid alerting thieves that your property is unoccupied and unattended.
2. Enhance account protection
Two-factor or multi-factor authentication is the darling of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Body (CISA), the federal agency that sets security standards. Two-factor authentication requires login or authentication from an additional device.
For example, if you have two-factor authentication enabled on Facebook, you may need to enter a code that was emailed to you or connect to Facebook from another device to prove your identity.
This is often displayed in the “Messages” section of your Facebook profile. Typically, this happens when you log in from a device you haven’t used before or haven’t used in a while. This second layer of security verifies that you are who you say you are.
3. Change your passphrases
Changing your passwords frequently has been shown to reduce the likelihood of being hacked. We’ve all received bizarre private messages from someone we’ve connected with on a social site – suddenly they don’t seem to know anything about you. Almost certainly, their social media account has been stolen and the sender of the message is a hacker. Social media hacking is a common and easy way to distribute malware-infected files to large numbers of people.
Changing your password frequently is a good idea for several reasons. Your previous account details may have been taken without your knowledge, and resetting your password makes it much harder for hackers to access your bank account, credit card details and social security number.
It also allows you to sign out of your account and sign back in on all of your devices. If one of your devices is compromised or stolen, this is an excellent way to prevent the hacker from accessing your internet accounts.
4. Watch out for strange ‘friend requests’.
Is Linda, your new colleague, sending you an Instagram request to follow her? She probably is, and she may just want to share her potato salad recipe. However, the lady with minimal online personality who is “new to the site” is probably a scammer.
This applies to anyone you do not know directly. If the potential new friend’s page seems new or oddly curated (for example, a US veteran with mostly photos of them with military equipment and troops), there’s a good chance it’s a fake account trying to get your personal information.
You can add someone as a friend if you have met them in person or if you can verify their identity. If someone is trying to connect out of the blue and you have never heard of them, you should delete their request.
Unless you are an influencer trying to cultivate a following, your social media profiles should be set to private.
5. Beware of social media scams
There is no such thing as a safe social networking platform. From Snapchat stalkers to TikTok scammers, all social media platforms are susceptible to criminal activity.
As mentioned above, a friend who sends you a link that appears to be spam may have been hacked and the hacker may be trying to trick you. A duplicate friend request from someone you’re already connected to is almost certainly a scam. Offers of romance and friendship in the comments section of blogs that have nothing to do with romance and friendship may be honeytraps (a common social engineering scam).
We have different levels of familiarity with the people we know, and these levels do not change because of online engagement. If someone is acting strangely, they may be a robot or a foreigner who is uncomfortable with your local language. These can be indicators of a scammer.
If an encounter looks or feels unusual, it could be a scam. Verify with people off the platform that what they’re sending is authentic.
6. Six typical social media scams
Once you’re aware of common scams, it’s easy to spot them. There are likely to be similarities between these scams and other or more sophisticated scams. Understanding the specifics of a scam can help you stay safe online.
a. Fraudulent account takeover
When a cybercriminal gains access to your social media accounts, this is what happens. They start by changing location-based information such as your email address and password.
They can then impersonate you to fool your friends and followers, or try to take over your more sensitive accounts, such as your bank, credit card or utility accounts.
b. Fraudulent account authentication
This scam begins when you receive a text message or email informing you that your account has been hijacked and that you need to share the authorisation code provided to validate your account.
A hacker knows your username and password but is unable to access your account because of multi-factor authentication. They try to gain access by getting you to reveal the code, which is designed to prevent this type of fraud. Never give this information to anyone.
c. Fraudulent online stores and goods
It’s easy to set up a fake business and start ‘selling’ things in less than 30 minutes. While social networking platforms allow small businesses to advertise on your profile, they are unable to check each and every one of these shops.
If you’re going to buy from one of these businesses, it’s always a good idea to use a credit card or a service like PayPal, which will refund your money if the goods or business turn out to be fraudulent. And beware of Facebook Marketplace scams, which may look innocent but are actually fraudulent buy/sell/trade situations.
d. Giveaway scams
Who doesn’t like winning a prize? Companies use giveaways to attract new customers and raise awareness of their products and services. They are also a great way for fraudsters to get your personal information.
The scammer creates a fake account that looks like a legitimate company and then contacts you to tell you you’ve won something. They will then ask for personal information that will help them steal your identity, bank details or other credentials.
The most effective way to avoid them is to confirm with the real company.
e. Investment scams
Investment scams have evolved from pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing companies. Social media investment scams may appear genuine; the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has published a comprehensive guide on how to avoid them.
As with any Internet material, make sure you can verify the source. Scammers may pose as real investors or pay individuals to make it appear that they have benefited from these scams.
Legitimate investment opportunities should provide a cost and risk analysis and should not urge you to invest without providing full transparency.
f. Link scams
Links can be one of the most harmful ways to infect your device with malware or steal your login credentials. Link scams thrive on clickbait stories, flashy advertisements, and highly opinionated “news” sources.
You may think you are doing due diligence by doing your own research, but all you are doing is handing over your information (or worse) to a hacker. Examples include links with headlines such as “This one strange trick reduces belly fat overnight” and ads for sweatshirts with cheeky phrases such as “It’s wine o’clock someplace”.
Start by blocking Facebook ads and avoid clicking on anything that looks suspiciously designed to lure you in.
g. Watch where you click
How many times have you been looking at something online when moving your mouse or scrolling your screen suddenly takes you to another website? This is not a direct scam, but a way to trick you into clicking on links that could lead to downloading malicious software.
Often, these links and advertisements take up a large part of the screen in an attempt to get you to click on them by accident.
Paying attention to the position of your mouse, the part of the page you are scrolling on, and the position of your fingers will help you avoid accidental clicks. Be deliberate with your clicks to avoid unintended results.
7. Update your security configuration
While it may seem that only younger generations understand social media security, it is possible for everyone to be security savvy. You should start by reviewing your security settings to make sure you are not sharing with more people than you want.
The next step is to set your account to private and authorise follow and friend requests. In addition, disabling Facebook Surveillance can act as an additional barrier to advertisers trying to steal your information.
Depending on your goals, you can configure your profile to show certain information to certain people. You can create groups of trusted friends to see your personal shares if you’re doing outreach for an organisation but still want to post photos of your grandchildren or nieces and nephews. There are several ways to personalise your social media experience.
8. Check your sources before you share
This advice focuses on protecting your reputation. You do not want to lose the trust of your friends and family by becoming known as the person who always forwards spam, or worse.
As mentioned in the introduction, social media is like the Wild West. Anyone with internet access can create a profile or website and pose as an expert.
Whether you’re sharing news, competitions, videos, memes, health information or anything else, make sure your source is reputable and vetted.
The University of Washington Libraries website has a useful tool for checking sources. The resource is designed for writing students, although the information is applicable to everyone.
9. Don’t fall for a catfishing hoax.
Especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been in the dating pool, online dating can open up a world of possibilities. It is a low-stress, low-commitment way to meet other singles. However, social media is full of honeypot and romance scams that you need to avoid.
These people appear to be interested in a romantic relationship in order to obtain your personal information, gifts and even money. Use a certified dating site, such as Bumble or Meetup, if you’re looking for someone to date online. You can also use social media to find groups of people who share your hobbies and interests and then meet them in person. Many relationships begin with the discovery of a common interest.
10. Additional advice for families and carers
Please read the additional guidance below if you’re looking for a strategy to protect older people from deceptive social media tactics. It may be difficult to have these conversations with someone you care about but remember that concern and courtesy can co-exist.
The person you’re trying to protect should understand that this is coming from a place of concern, not blame. If you are still worried about being rude or insensitive, suggest that you and your partner use these ideas as an opportunity to grow together.
a. Practice strong affection
Remember that social media can be a means of combating loneliness, especially for people in the midst of a major life transition such as the loss of a partner, an empty nest or retirement. Ensure the safety of a loved one through openness, education and mutual respect for each other’s expertise and interests.
b. Educate them about online scams
Even the most tech-savvy people are susceptible to fraud. Together, you can stay informed by researching different scams, reading tips like this one, and reviewing official government warnings about social media scams.
c. Enable password protection on their devices
Help your loved one create complex passwords and equip them with a password management solution to ensure their security.
d. Help them protect their Internet and Wi-Fi
Learn together how to protect their modem and router, including how to keep their network secure and how to change their Wi-Fi password.
You can also set up a virtual private network (VPN) together. A VPN encrypts your data and disguises your location, preventing fraudsters from determining your identity and location based solely on your online activity. This protects your online information and prevents thieves from tracking your location.
e. Help protect your smartphone and applications
Smartphones are capable of far more than we understand, yet most of us never discover all of their capabilities. Searching directly for smartphone security recommendations can help you and your partner understand the different security options.
Also, read the terms and conditions of any programs you download. If you’re not sure what you’re agreeing to when you sign up, go to the app or service’s Terms of Service; Didn’t Read website for a summary.
Install antivirus software and run a scan on your device.
Download a reliable antivirus program and check your devices regularly. Show your friend or relative how to do this and how to run scans in your absence.
11. What to do if you are a victim of social media abuse or fraud
Social media fraud can be committed by anyone. Regardless of your age, technology skills, education level or security awareness, there is always a chance that you could fall victim to a scammer. If this happens, most social networking platforms have ways to report the scam.
Facebook offers a reporting centre with advice on how to report scams and harassment. (You can also request security checks).
Instagram, another platform owned by Meta, also provides an easy way to report scams and abuse.
Twitter’s reporting page explains in detail how to report abusive behaviour.
TikTok completes the top four, as it not only allows you to report scams, but also provides knowledge and resources on a range of topics.
To find reporting for other platforms or applications, do a web search using phrases such as “report scams on [name of app or website]” or “how to report scams on [name of app or website]”, substituting the name of the application or website.
Social networking is a way to have fun with friends, be active and fight loneliness. It is a great and valuable resource for anyone looking to connect with others or learn new skills.
While there are some scams out there on social media, there is just as much information on how to stay safe. It may be important to help a loved one with online safety from time to time, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a rewarding experience for both of you.
You can use these platforms to improve your life or the lives of others you care about if you learn together and remain vigilant about internet safety. Using strong passwords and being careful about what you click on can go a long way to keeping social media safe.
As social media and the internet as a whole are ever-changing entities, it’s important to keep learning about how they work and what they do to protect you.