June 23, 2024

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How Seniors Can Protect Against Modern Online Scams and Digital Theft

By guest contributor Jean-Paul Schmetz, CEO of Ghostery

The latest advancements in GenAI targeted advertising and other online services have brought new challenges to the internet. Unfortunately, bad actors now have new ways to take advantage of internet users. While there’s been a recent push to protect children online, senior citizens represent another highly vulnerable group at risk for internet scams and digital theft.

Our parents and grandparents now use connected devices every day and are specifically targeted when it comes to sophisticated online scams. In recent years, seniors have experienced serious privacy breaches and been conned out of thousands after third parties gained access to their personal information. According to the FBI’s 2022 Internet Crime Report, digital theft is on the rise, with total potential losses growing to more than $10.2 billion in 2022.

In addition to protecting your own privacy on the web, individuals should conduct an internet safety check-up with their elderly loved ones to educate them on the latest scams and safeguard them from modern cybercrime.

Beware of online tracking

Credit: Mikhail Nilov via Pexels

All eyes are on GenAI as the new tool for cybercriminals, but online trackers still pose the biggest risk. For context, tracking pixels follow users around the web and collect extensive user data in the background of most websites.

Online tracking remains unregulated at the federal level, so it’s vital for seniors to take responsibility for their own internet safety. Left unchecked, these trackers create a digital log of their activity on the web. Data brokers can then access this log and collect sensitive user information – like their health records, finances, location, home address and actual identity.

For example, if a senior googles a health challenge they’re experiencing and does not have privacy software installed, they’ll likely start to see “solutions” or “treatments” for this condition advertised on other websites via banners and pop-up ads.

Once these trackers have collected details on your loved one’s internet activity, there’s no stopping bad actors from leveraging this information against them. So, what may look like a targeted ad for something of interest could actually be clickbait to collect their personal info, hijack their browser or hack their private accounts. And with the increasing use of GenAI to build online ads, these targeted scams are becoming harder to detect and even more enticing.

Malicious ads are already very common. In Google’s latest Ads Safety Report, the company confirmed that it had to remove 5.2 billion “bad” or malicious advertisements from its platform in 2022.

Automating your online safety

To safeguard against falling victim to malicious ads and online tracking scams, seniors must:

  • Avoid clicking on all online advertisements. No matter how legitimate the product or service looks, interacting with online ads could invite more third parties to follow them around the web and give cybercriminals access to their browser, saved accounts and passwords. This includes ads sent or appearing in email.
  • Install an ad/tracker blocker. Available across Chrome, Edge, Safari and Firefox, ad blockers and anti-tracking browser extensions automatically block and remove trackers from the websites they visit. These tools hide user data from all third parties, so your loved ones can get back to browsing without the stress of being followed.
  • Reject “cookie” pop-ups. While it might seem faster to “Accept” the privacy policies and pop-ups on various websites and start browsing, it’s important for seniors to reject all advertising cookies. This action limits the number of companies collecting their personal information. Various online privacy tools can also automate this process for you.
  • Use strong passwords and update them on a regular basis. In addition to using a unique combination of letters and numbers, seniors should never use easily searchable information for their passwords, like their mother’s maiden name or their birthday. Installing a password manager will help them securely store all these logins and eliminate the stress of remembering a range of different combinations.
  • Stay informed. Education is key to avoid becoming a victim of the latest sophisticated online scams. Regularly check trusted news sources for reports on phishing attempts, data hacks and instances of digital theft and share this information with your loved ones.

Online safety should be an ongoing conversation with users of all ages, but particularly seniors who too often are the target of devastating hacks or digital theft. Conducting a regular privacy checkup for your loved ones will make a significant difference in safeguarding them from cybercrime amid the rapidly evolving online landscape.

Jean-Paul Schmetz is the CEO of Ghostery, a digital privacy company giving users back control over their online experience.

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By I&T Today

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