Liz Weston: 4 tech tasks to keep your parents safer online
All of us are vulnerable to fraud. But the ways some older people use technology can put them at higher risk.
That’s where you come in. When you’re home for the holidays, or the next time you visit your folks, offer to help with a few tasks that can keep your parents safer online.
Check privacy settings
Identity thieves glean details from social media accounts that they can use to impersonate others. Unfortunately, many people have no idea how much information they’re exposing to the world.
“If you’ve never changed your Facebook privacy settings, everything you post can be seen by everyone,” says Doug Shadel, AARP’s lead researcher on consumer fraud and author of “Outsmarting the Scam Artists.”
Your mom may love the birthday greetings on her special day, for example. But publicly posting birthdates, full names, addresses, relationship status, hometowns and other key details just makes it easier for someone else to answer security questions that give access to Mom’s accounts, Shadel says.
Facebook offers a privacy checkup link, accessible via the question mark at the top of every page, that allows people to quickly adjust some of their settings.
Also show your folks how to access their privacy settings from the drop-down menu to the right of the question mark. Then, tackle any other social media sites they use.
If you’re not sure where the privacy settings are or what to change, search the site’s name plus “privacy settings.”
Boost login security
Security experts say it’s essential to:
■Use strong passwords of eight characters or more.
■Never reuse passwords.
■Add two-factor authentication when possible.
People older than 65 are actually less likely to reuse passwords than younger people, an AARP survey found. Only 36 percent of the older crowd use the same password on more than one site, compared with 55 percent of those ages 18 to 49.
That may be because older people have fewer accounts to keep track of, Shadel says. Anyone who has more than a handful of passwords quickly realizes how hard it is to keep track of them all. To stay safe, Shadel recommends people use password managers such as LastPass or 1Password to ensure they’re using strong unique passwords, particularly for financial and email accounts.
Not all security experts are convinced that password managers are the solution. For example, Avivah Litan, distinguished analyst at business research firm Gartner, worries about trusting any one company to guard your information. She suggests other methods, such as writing down passwords in disguised form that only the user can translate.
Even strong passwords can be hacked, though, so Litan also suggests people help their parents add two-factor authentication to their important accounts. With this protection, they typically will be texted codes to use in addition to their passwords.
“It really raises the bar,” she says. “It’s much harder for criminal to hack into their account.”
Set up online access, alerts
Only one-third of people older than 65 have online access to all of their financial accounts, the AARP survey found. People should have that access so that they can monitor their accounts for fraudulent activity, Shadel says. Weekly check-ins are a good goal; Shadel says he checks his bank account and credit card activity daily.
“A lot can happen in the 30 days you’re waiting for that statement,” Shadel says.
Once your parents have online access, show them how to set up account alerts that will notify them via email or text of unusual activity, large transactions and other noteworthy events that could indicate fraud.
Freeze their credit
After the massive 2017 data breach at Equifax, one of the three big credit reporting agencies, security experts recommended consumers freeze their credit reports at all three credit bureaus. Credit freezes prevent potential lenders from accessing those credit reports, making it harder for identity thieves to open up new accounts.
Unfortunately, only 14 percent of adults have set up those freezes, even though they are free, Shadel says. It’s also free to temporarily lift a freeze, so consumers can apply for new credit when they want it.
You can help your parents set up freezes and find a secure place to store the log-in credentials or PINs they’ll need for any thaws.
These methods aren’t foolproof. The aim is to be just difficult enough to victimize that the fraudsters move on to the next target.
“If you put up any resistance at all, your chances of being a victim go way down,” Shadel says.
Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email her at email@example.com.