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How to stay safe online: The ultimate guide for 2024

10 minutes |

Staying safe online is a new concept for those of us over 50 years old. Having spent over half our lives oblivious to the possibility of instant information, communication or virtual recreation, it’s fair to say that we weren’t given a head start when it comes to technology.

But whether or not you have the latest devices, apps or software most of us, in one way or another, use the internet.

This brings with it the problem of how to stay safe online, especially from scams, hackers and fake news.

In this blog, we will share our top tips for staying safe online, including how to protect yourself from scams and spot fake news.

Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover in this article:

  • While many millions of people across the world have access to the internet, not everyone knows how to use it safely.
  • There are also many people out there who actively exploit internet users, especially older people, through online scams and malware.
  • It’s important that you know how to spot internet scams and avoid bringing harmful content or malware onto your computer.
  • If you think you are the victim of a scam, report it immediately and share your experience to raise awareness amongst your network.

Since its creation in 1991, the internet has seen an exponential boom with an estimated 4.66 billion users in 2021. 

That’s a heck of a lot of people. However, with an audience that size, there’s bound to be a few bad apples knocking around. 

Indeed, there are plenty of people who we might think of as scammers or hackers who are able to manipulate the internet for their own malicious purposes.  

Despite attempts by companies to protect their customers from scammers, some still manage to slip through the net. 

Therefore, the best way to keep yourself safe from online scams and malware is to educate yourself as to how to stay safe online. 

Before we even start to think about scams, it’s worth knowing how you can optimise your time online in a way that keeps you and your personal details safe. 

how to stay safe online

Top tips for staying safe online

Create strong, individual passwords

While it may be easier and more time-efficient in the short term to have one password for everything, this makes it far easier for scammers to access your private accounts where details are stored.

You can create much stronger passwords by using a mix of numbers, letters, cases and symbols. Remember to keep a record of passwords, or save them to your laptop to make for speedier access. 

Use two-factor authentication

Many websites such as email accounts, medical records and financial services have doubled the security over your accounts.

Two-factor authentication involves logging in as normal, followed by a code, pin or approval sent via email or text.

This ensures that it is definitely the account holder trying to gain access and therefore keeps your information more secure. 

Secure your internet connection

Ensure you use a password for your home internet to prevent just anyone from accessing it. 

Use secure websites

When using the internet for shopping, banking, browsing and gaming (to name a few of its functions), check you can see a padlock symbol in the address bar.

This tells you that your connection is secure and that information sent over the site is private. 

Download antivirus software for your devices

This is really important to protect your devices such as laptops and computers from harmful content and viruses which could damage your devices or make your connection unstable and prone to attacks. 

How to spot internet scams

Our devices recognise our faces, fingerprints and voices through nifty technology that makes everyday tasks such as online shopping, banking or keeping in touch with family and friends infinitely easier. 

But would you recognise a scam? 

There is a dark side to the internet rife with scammers, hackers and general bad guys who are creating simple yet highly effective techniques to get their hands on your personal information such as bank details and private data. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in ten adults in the US will fall victim to a scam or fraud every year.

Often, scammers will create a domain, such as an email or webpage, that appears to be from a big national company. 

In the UK, people have reported bogus emails claiming to be from HMRC offering a tax rebate or delivery companies such as Royal Mail and FedEx offering a link to redeliver your item.

In the US IRS Imposter Scams work in much the same way. 

The important thing is that you are able to recognise a scam when it comes into your inbox. 

look for the padlock online

How to protect yourself and stay safe from online scams

If you receive an email or text out of the blue asking you to do something to do with your money or private details, it is most likely a scam. 

  • Be critical and cautious. Read things properly and check the sender address as you may notice typos and anomalies when you look a bit closer. 
  • Don’t click on the links or attachments. Clicking these and providing your details may introduce harmful malware to your computer or network and allow criminals to access your data. 
  • Ignore. Never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details. 
  • Don’t assume a phone call or email is authentic based on the fact that someone knows your basic details (such as your name or address) or it seems to come from a branded email address.
  • Know what is normal for your bank to request from you in their correspondence. They will never ask you for your PIN or full details over the phone. 
  • Don’t panic. Just because you have been sent something it doesn’t necessarily mean your details are under attack. However, you should take the precautions listed above and consider doing a password health check on some of your accounts. 

Just to reinforce one point in particular – NEVER click on links in suspicious emails. If you do and realise it could be a scam, DO NOT enter any details. 

Scams and online dating

Check out our blog on online dating for seniors for information on how to stay safe while using online dating sites.

What to do if you’ve fallen victim to a scam

If the worst happens and you realise that you have fallen foul of an online scam it is important to act.

Contact your bank

Let them know what has happened as your details could be compromised. They will be able to advise you what to do, for example, whether to freeze your card. 

Monitor your statements

This will help you to notice any unusual activity in a timely manner. 

Report the scam

There are a number of places you can do this. If you have been scammed under the guise of a legitimate service such as mail, utilities or finance, you should contact the company to let them know that their name is being misused. While they won’t necessarily be able to help you it is important that they are aware of the issue. You can also report scams to Action Fraud in the UK or the Federal Trade Commission in the US.

Share your experience

While it is certainly not something you’re going to want to brag about with your friends, alerting people to scams that are happening is an efficient way to curb their impact. You never know who else might have been affected, so sharing your experience can also be a useful way of finding support in your community from others who have been troubled by scams. 

how to tell if it's fake news

A note on fake news

In an era that has been plagued by political turmoil, a pandemic and a mounting climate crisis, there is, understandably, quite a lot going on in the news. 

To add to this, news from all over the world has become available at our fingertips, accessed on phones, laptops, watches and tablets anytime and anywhere. 

This is pretty powerful stuff and can make us feel all sorts of emotions from despair to excitement. 

However, this appetite for accessible news has opened up channels for those without certified backgrounds, sources and channels to become the bearers of both the good and the bad news. 

Like scammers, low-level broadcasters, content creators and social media influencers can create viewer content that poses as factual information about what is happening in the world. 

These channels have become a breeding ground for what we’ve come to know as fake news. 

It can, therefore, be hard to discern the real from the fake and fact from fiction, especially if you are getting your news from social media sources such as Instagram, Twitter, tik tok or WhatsApp

The COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed that the sharing of fake news is endemic in many developed societies.

This is a problem that exacerbates the spread of misinformation at a time when people are vulnerable. 

Like scams, fake news can be very harmful, especially to those who are vulnerable or desperate and can have devastating consequences for individuals who are misinformed by certain information. 

So, this is a note to remind you to verify all your news sources, especially things that you see on social media, or just hear people talking about before treating them as gospel. 

Be kind and compassionate as always, and stay vigilant while you’re online.