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Many older adults, even in today’s internet-centric world, still have difficulty working with computers and doing things online. Still, it’s a great way to keep in touch with family and friends, read news, run finances and much more. So being prepared to maintain privacy and avoid fraud and scam is certainly worth doing. If you or perhaps a relative is not entirely confident online – and prone to trusting those who claim to “want to help” — read on.

First, remember that the internet is forever. Once a photo, a letter, an angrily typed post goes online – there is no taking it down completely. Even if you remove it from your site, your mailbox, your facebook page – it’s out there. So remember to always think before you post.

Another reason to stop and think comes with receiving odd communications, such as an unsolicited email about fraud, or a text regarding a recent purchase. Be extremely cautious anytime you receive communications about issues with your taxes, your bank account, your credit cards – really anything financial. Before clicking on a provided address, stop and contact the institution at a known number (such as the number on the back of your credit card).

In fact, the vast majority of unsolicited communications can be deleted. Like we used to say about unanswered phone calls: “if it’s important, they’ll call back”. This even goes for your connections: if you receive an email from one of your friends, but it sounds odd or impersonal, it could be fraud. Reach out through an address you know to double check if they were trying to reach you.

For online account passwords, consider switching to a passphrase.  A passphrase is a short nonsensical sentence like “ButterfliesSwimWithFrogs!48” It’s also better to use a different one for each account; keeping them written down in a place away from your computer, in case you forget. There are some who swear by “password manager” software, but it can be a bit confusing.

These are basic steps you can take to protect your privacy. It’s also good to know how to spot and avoid online fraud and scams. One of the most prevalent scams today is the “tech support” scam. It starts when an ominous looking pop up appears on your screen: “Virus Detected! Protect your computer now! Call this number!” It can be frightening and there’s a temptation to call “tech support”, lest your precious photos of grandchildren are lost.

Well, it’s likely there’s no virus and no fraud – that is until you pick up the phone. On the other end of the line, you’ll find a trusting voice who is ready to provide a quick fix; for a price of course. The fraudster may want to sell you virus tracking software. Or they may want to share your screen (!) to see what’s the matter. The worst comes when they are sharing your screen and they ask to look through your bank accounts to see if there has been suspicious activity. If there was actually no fraud when you first saw the pop-up, if you are sharing your screen with someone you don’t know you may be experiencing it now.

The lesson here is if you suspect a virus, or fraud – don’t follow the path laid out in front of you. Don’t call their number. Don’t buy their software. And if you’re already not paying attention to suspicious communications, you’ll already be ahead. With a savvy eye, you can usually detect when fraudsters are trying to take advantage.

Another scam to avoid involves gift cards. They can seem like an easy means to transfer money online. If anyone ever asks that you make a payment using a gift card – beware. Gift cards are for gifts to people you know. They are not a great way to transfer money, as they are virtually untraceable. Scammers might tell you it’s the easiest way – don’t believe them.

Get help from trusted resources. Delete even remotely suspicious emails and texts before clicking on links. Never share your information with those you don’t know, especially financial information. You’ll foil most would be fraudsters and privacy invaders this way.

If, in your vigilance, you wind up deleting or ignoring a message from a real source or a real contact, remember what’s gotten you this far: “If it’s important, they’ll call back.” Indeed.

If you would like more information, especially as it relates to online financial scams, please visit our Security Page https://www.unionsavings.com/security/

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