Dear Carrie: My 75-year-old mother is pretty independent. She uses email and is comfortable online getting news and even making some purchases. Lately, she's been telling me about offers for things such as insurance and investments, and I worry she'll be the victim of a scam. How can I help without seeming over protective? --A Reader
Dear Reader: There's no doubt that Internet usage by seniors is growing dramatically. A recent Pew Internet Survey showed 30 percent of people 75 and older use the Internet. Of that group, between 50 and 89 percent go online for email, searches, purchases, news, and travel reservations. Thirty-five percent bank online. This age group also had the fastest growth in using social network sites.
While this is good news in terms of seniors embracing new technologies and keeping connected, it does open the door to more and more folks being vulnerable to online scams. And there are plenty out there. From (SET ITAL) phishing (END ITAL) in order to steal personal information to offers of too-good-to-be-true investment opportunities, Internet users of all ages need to be aware of how to protect themselves.
Since you say your mother is pretty independent, she might be a bit sensitive if you question her about her Internet use. But seniors are a definite target for scammers, so your concern is justified. It may just require a bit more tact in addressing it.
START BY EXPRESSING YOUR OWN SECURITY CONCERNS
Have you received a suspicious email recently that you can show your mother? Or perhaps, as seems to be happening more often these days, have you received bogus messages from someone who has had their email hacked? While the plea for money from a friend who's supposedly been robbed while traveling may now feel familiar, having your email hacked can lead to serious financial loss. Share these stories and concerns with your mother. Make her aware that anyone using the Internet is a potential victim.
TALK ABOUT COMMON SCAMS
Online scams take all forms, from lotteries and sweepstakes to weight loss and miracle cures. Those that seem particularly targeted to seniors are investment opportunities that prey on an older person's fear of running out of money, offers of insurance policies that will pay your bills should something happen to you, or emails pretending to be from a well-known source, such as a bank or other familiar financial company, claiming the need to verify account information.