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July 29, 2015 3 min read

While cybercrime is a threat to everyone, I’m especially concerned for those senior citizens who’ve been slower to adapt to technology. This group is more likely to fall prey to cyberbullying and be emotionally abused, harassed or threatened online. Embarrassed by their lack of knowledge, they’re often reluctant to discuss cyber incidents with family members — allowing situations to escalate.

Cyber criminals target people with offers for free prizes and vacations, discounts on prescription medications, letters that appear to be from government agencies, and urgent emails warning that an account will be closed. These fraudulent emails contain links that install malware on the user’s computer.

Recently, a friend shared a story about her parents who received an urgent call from a cyber-scammer claiming their license for Windows had expired and a credit card was required for renewal. In fear of computer problems, her stepfather provided the scammer with his credit card number and entered information provided by the scammer into a website. With a few keystrokes, he provided the scammer access to his computer.

It’s important to educate our less-tech-savvy loved ones about cybercrime and what they can do to protect themselves. Following are a few things all computer users should be aware of:

  • Phishing emails. These are emails that appear legitimate yet attempt to gather personal and financial information from recipients. In one example, a woman received an email “from” her friend Jack claiming to have been robbed and left penniless in the Bahamas. “Jack” asked her to send money. Luckily, she was savvy enough to realize it was scam. The rule is simple: never click on suspicious links or respond to these emails. Just delete them.
  • Personal and sensitive data should be stored on an encrypted external hard drive, not on a computer or online. Leave the hard drive in a safe location, and only plug it into the computer when documents are needed.
  • Always backup your information. When a computer is corrupted, the backup files can be reloaded after the computer is restored.
  • Make sure your technology is secure. Set passwords on computers, routers, smartphones, tablets and social media accounts — and make sure to update generic passwords entered by a third-party provider, like a cell phone or cable company. Also consider setting restrictions or customizing security options on internet and social media sites.

When talking about technology security, it’s also important to take passwords seriously and never write them down. If a password becomes challenging to remember, consider:

  • Using a memorable phrase. Perhaps something from a song or a favorite book.
  • Reducing the number of passwords by having one password for general accounts and unique passwords for more sensitive ones, such as bank accounts.
  • Where possible, turning on multifactor authentication, which requires secondary authentication like answering a question.
  • For high dollar bank accounts, asking the bank for a secure-ID token which provides a password that constantly resets itself.

Lastly, a difficult but important thing to consider is how you’ll gain access to a loved one’s account after they’ve died. While there’s an established legal process to gain access to bank accounts, the process isn’t as straightforward when it comes to email, social media, and online storage.

People often have directives for family members in the event of their death: how to access financial information, alarm codes, or where belongings can be found. If you’re having this conversation with loved ones, think about discussing the online accounts they may need to access. While I don’t recommend a written list of passwords and account numbers, consider obtaining answers to the questions needed for resetting passwords. You can also look into tools like Legacy Locker, AssetLock and others that allow you to assign a beneficiary to access an account holder’s information after his or her death is verified.

Security is something most of us take very seriously — especially when it comes to our loved ones. Hopefully this information allows you to help your family feel secure in an ever-evolving digital world.

This content originally appeared at crainsdetroit.com and is part of a special blog series on cybersecurity.