The internet can be a wonderful, informative, and entertaining place. It can’t be all bad — the Shop & Enroll blog is there, right? But for all the cute videos of dogs and clever Twitter accounts, it can also be a dangerous place. While it isn’t always hazardous to your health, it’s fairly easy to put your well-being and privacy at risk. That may not seem like that big of a deal in the age of oversharing on Facebook and displaying what you ate on Instagram. However, we’d argue that this exact type of oversharing may not be the best idea.

One option is to avoid the internet at all costs, but in the modern world, internet citizenship is becoming more and more important. It’s where we communicate, interact, and learn. It’s primarily where we apply for jobs or even go shopping. With that in mind, it’s important for seniors to stay safe online, and you can protect yourself with these tips.

Improve Your Digital Literacy

If you’re going to be safe on the internet, the first step is to understand it. That means buffing up on what’s called digital literacy, or your ability to use computers, the internet, and technology. It’s an essential skill in today’s highly technical world and goes beyond simple usage of the devices. For example, you need to be able to evaluate and comprehend the platforms you’re using.

Much like a trip to a foreign country, you’re a lot less likely to be scammed and more likely to get around with ease if you know the language and local customs. This is the same for understanding digital literacy. In this example, you’re less likely to fall for fake news and more likely to spot the signs of an online scam before falling victim. Digital literacy is a base level skill that plays a part in every other tip in this article, as well as any you’d see elsewhere.

Don’t Overshare on Social Media

When you’re on the various social media platforms, it’s tempting to share every little detail of your life and thought that pops into your head. Most platforms are set up to encourage this exact thing. As tempting as this may be, you should be careful about what you share online. A study found that one fifth of adults regularly put themselves at risk for fraud and identity theft with the information they share. For example, most people share the names of their pets online, but this also happens to be a common password choice. This is only one way that cybercriminals can take fairly innocent information you share online and use it to figure out your passwords. Smart scammers can even use posts like photos or content tags to pretend to be people you know to get even more data out of you.

Most platforms let you set who can see your posts, preventing some scammers from getting the personal information.

In the physical world, thieves can use publicly shared information to guess when you’re on vacation, knowing your house could be empty and prime for a break-in. In the case of vacations, sharing your photos when you get home can prevent some of the risk that may come from thieves. Another other option is to limit who can see your social media posts. Most platforms let you to set your privacy to allow only certain people to see your posts, preventing some scammers from getting the personal information they could use.

Secure Your Surfing

Speaking of being more secure with your internet habits, you can take this mindset and extend it to all your activities online. The more personal or important the activity is, the more secure it should be. If you’re doing online banking or checking into the status of your health care information, you’ll want your internet browser more secure than Fort Knox. There’s a lot of highly technical ways you can do this that look like alphabet soup, with terms like VPN or HTTPS, but you don’t have to be a tech wizard to master the basics.

For a start, while you can be safe while using public WiFi, it’s highly suggested you don’t use it for activities like personal banking or other highly-sought-after personal information hackers and online criminals may desire. It can wait until you get home. While on the topic of online banking, you should ensure that your banking account is fully secured. Give it a strong, unique password and enable two-step authentication if you can, which means you’ll have to confirm you’re trying to log in through a different format (usually email or on your phone) before you can sign in.

It can also be safer to only shop online with a credit card.

Shopping online is another vulnerable platform, since it gives the store access to your banking details to complete the transaction. For this reason, you should really stick with online stores you trust. You don’t have to only shop on Amazon but be careful when purchasing from a small unheard of online store promising massive discounts. It can also be safer to only shop online with a credit card. While both a credit card and a debit card can be used in similar ways, a debit card is connected directly to your bank account. If it gets stolen, thieves can drain your account. While you can challenge the charges, your bank account will remain empty until the challenge goes through. With a credit card, the charges are frozen during the dispute, meaning they don’t count against your credit limit.

Pick Strong Passwords

Having a weak, easily guessable password is a highly probable way you put yourself at risk. You’d be shocked, but most of the top 10 most common passwords were 12345 (plus or minus a few numbers in sequential order). Rounding out the rest of the top 10 were picture1, 111111, and senha (Portuguese for password). It goes without saying that these are incredibly weak passwords. At the same time, a more personal password can be weak, too. Let’s say you’re a big fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, using the password PhillyEagles would be fairly weak. Even adding numbers, like Eagles2018 (the year they won the Super Bowl) would be easy to guess for an experienced e-criminal.

The most secure way to create strong passwords is to use a generator (usually that combines a random assortment of letters, numbers, and symbols) to make a password for each site you use and saving those to a secured password manager. If you’d prefer to create your own password, instead of using a single word and number, try a phrase. These tend to be longer, but still easier for you to remember. For the Eagles fan we mentioned earlier, GoBirds2018FlyEaglesFly!, which combines letters, numbers, and symbols that are easy to remember for you, but harder to guess exactly for anyone who doesn’t know it. Don’t use this password, though, since it’s been shared online. The general rules for creating a strong password are:

  • At least eight characters long, the longer the better;
  • A mix of upper and lower case letters;
  • A mix of numbers, letters, and symbols;

It used to be suggested that you periodically change your password, but Microsoft now believes this can do more harm than good, since changing it too often can cause you to pick weaker, easier to remember passwords.

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For some, the internet is like a new frontier, with its own language, culture, and risks. While we should all be good netizens, we can’t always trust that everyone online is there for good reasons. Protecting ourselves online is the digital equivalent to locking our doors when we leave the house. It’s a common sense move to ensure that the hackers and thieves can’t take advantage of you and you can feel free to enjoy the internet for what it was meant for — adoring dogs.