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Protecting Yourself in the Digital World: A Comprehensive Cybersecurity Guide for Older Adults

two older adults looking at a tablet

Anybody, no matter their age, can fall victim to scammers. In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in scammers, a large portion of which tend to target older adults. Arm yourself and your loved ones with the knowledge to combat these cyber criminals and safely exist in a digitized world.


Common Scamming Techniques


Social Engineering

Social engineering is the use of false pretenses to extract personal information or receive money from the victim. For example, someone may pretend to be your child or grandchild in need of immediate financial help. Do not send your personal or financial information in these situations. If someone is claiming to be your grandchild, give your grandchild a call and ask them directly. Predators may use online dating sites in the hope of receiving financial help or your personal information. You can still use dating sites! Just be cautious when chatting with strangers online.


Suspicious Links

Scammers will often send links through emails that, when clicked on, download malware to your computer or take you to a phishing site. Malware is malicious software that can cause problems with your computer and steal your personal information. Phishing emails take you to sites that may gather your personal and financial information.


You can avoid malware and phishing scams by avoiding clicking on links sent via email, text message, or social media from people you don’t know. Even if a link is sent by a person or business you recognize, check with them before clicking the link if it looks suspicious. Scammers can impersonate people and legitimate businesses. Be especially wary of messages that request personal information or say that you must act fast. Scammers often will pressure you into acting fast and making a rash decision.


Suspicious Attachments

Attachments can also contain malware, so you should be equally wary of attachments from unknown contacts or that you may not be expecting. These can be disguised as normal files, such as Word Docs, PDFs, e-files, and even voicemails; but be especially cautious of files ending in .exe and .zip. Even password-protected attachments can contain malware.


Pop-Up Windows

Sometimes, a message may pop up on your device, which, if clicked on, may download malware to your device. Sometimes the message may contain a security alert or an alert that your device is compromised and needs to be repaired. Do not click on these pop-ups or call any repair numbers listed on them. These windows may even use a deceptive “Close” or “x” button that, when clicked, installs a virus to your computer. If you accidentally download malware such as a virus, delete the file immediately.  


Public Networks

If you are connected to a public or unsecured network, don’t enter your personal or financial information into websites. Even if the sites are legitimate, scammers can use public networks to intercept your personal information, passwords, and financial information. If you are on your device somewhere with public WiFi (for example, a coffee shop), avoid entering your personal information.


Responding to Scams

So you’ve figured out that someone is trying to scam you…What is your next step?


Emails – Never respond to a scammer. Immediately delete the email and mark it as spam.


Phone calls – Hang up immediately and consider reporting the scam to authorities. You can also screen calls using caller ID. If a number comes up as “Spam Risk” or a number you don’t recognize, consider letting it go to voicemail.


Text – If a scammer is texting you, (For example, you receive a text saying “Click here to claim your prize”), you should block the number so they can’t send you any more texts. On an iPhone, this can be done by clicking the “i” next to the number and clicking “Block”. For most Androids, you can select the number you want to block, click details, and choose an option like "Block number" or "Reject call" or maybe "Add to blacklist."


Social Media – If you notice a scammer on social media, report and block the account.


Report instances of elder fraud to the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311). If you suspect someone is a victim of elder abuse or financial exploitation, report it to Adult Protective Services (APS) at 530-661-2727 or 1-888-675-1115.




Everything requires a password nowadays, and it may seem that the easiest solution is just to use the same password for everything; however, this can put your personal and financial information at risk. It may feel overwhelming to memorize a new password for every account. Consider investing in a secure password manager service, which can automatically create unique passwords and securely stores them. Password managers can usually also autofill passwords, so you don’t have to go looking for your password each time.


Multifactor Authentication adds another level of security for your accounts by sending you an additional step to verify your identity when logging in. For example, it may send you a code via text.




Hopefully after reading this article, you feel more confident in spotting scammers and remaining safely connected in the digital world.


Our Senior Technology and Resource program provides devices and technology training to older adults. Find out more at


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