US Consumers of all ages continue to increase adoption of social networking sites, but over the last two years it’s been the boomers that have seen the greatest upsurge in use according to new data from the Pew Research Center.
Young boomers (45-54yr-olds) more than doubled their adoption rate over in the last two years from 20% to 50%, and older boomers (55-64yr-olds) quadrupled from 9% to 43%. Even the oldest users (74+) saw a quadrupling of social networking usage.
Little Internet safety material has been targeted towards seniors
With the dramatic rise in social networking by segments of the population that have received only limited internet safety education, the over 45 crowd makes a prime target for punks, crooks and organized crime rings to leverage – particularly since this group as a whole sits on vast financial assets.
Four key risks for seniors to watch out for when using social networks include:
- Exposing personal information – this goes beyond considering the information you are sharing to include ensuring your privacy protections are in place. For many, figuring out the safety settings seems daunting and if you fall into this category ask someone more confident for help. Consider carefully how public you want your site to be and then share accordingly.Most sites encourage you to reveal information about yourself by creating an extensive profile, and adding your own photos and text, but you’ll stay safer if you limit the information you place in your profile or anywhere that can be accessed by the public.
Don’t trade personal information for “freebies.” Online freebies come in two forms: The free games, free offers, and ‘great deals’. Just as in the physical world, if these types of offers sound too good to be true, they probably are. Not only will these collect and sell your personal information, these ‘deals’, and ‘free’ applications are usually riddled with spyware, viruses or other malicious software.
- Unsolicited contact and ‘Friend’ requests – if you don’t know the person that wants to befriend you, consider if the information you’re sharing is something you want this person to know if they turn out to be a criminal. McAfee’s 2011 threat report indicates we will see an increase in scams and crimes based on misplaced trust, social engineering, and “friendly fire” where threats appear to come from your friends but in fact are sent by criminals who have hijacked or spoofed the accounts of people you know.
- Links – whether the links come in email or as comments on your social site, don’t click! If you really want to the information claimed to be behind the link, search for it yourself. Stay in the driver’s seat by getting to the site independently. Use a search engine and type in the website name, and then use the link from your search engine to go to the correct site.This is the ONLY way to guarantee you land on the legitimate site. If you use the link (or phone number) in an email, IM, ad on a website/blog site/forum/social network/etc., where you land (or who you talk to) is their choice, not yours. The website the link takes you to may be a very convincing copy, and may cause serious harm to your computer and your information privacy.
- Quizzes, surveys, and ‘research’ – are designed for one purpose; to collect information. The use of this information may be for entirely legitimate purposes, or entirely criminal purposes. Think at least twice before participating. You don’t get to see the terms and conditions applied to the use of your information, and they will likely sell whatever they learn to interested parties. Even the most innocuous ‘survey’s learn far more than you imagine, and they may give you malicious software or download tracking cookies. Err on the side of caution and skip these entirely.
To further help internet users over 40, I coauthored the book Using the Internet Safely for Seniors for Dummies. It is the guide you need to steer safely through the hazards so you can shop, visit, invest, explore, pay bills, and do dozens of other things online — more securely. Learn to protect yourself from online predators, create strong passwords, find reliable information, spot e-mail and phishing scams, and much more.