Quick Guide to Online Safety for Seniors

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 66% of Americans over 65 were internet users. That number is getting…

Apr 14, 2022

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The number of online seniors is growing.

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 66% of Americans over 65 were internet users. That number is getting bigger all the time, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the internet became the safest way to communicate with friends and family.

Even before the pandemic, seniors were going online to read the latest news, shop, bank, stay in touch with family, get medical information and access medical records. It’s also a way to stay in the workforce and launch a new career or business for many. And some seniors are going online to make new friends or find romantic partners.

Seniors are increasingly social.

Social networking isn’t just for young people. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that 62% of online seniors use Facebook, and that’s just one of the major social networking services.

The most common complaint from seniors when it comes to technology…

In a word, frustration. Whether it’s an upgraded smartphone or a new streaming service, many seniors find it’s difficult to adapt to continually evolving technology that wasn’t always designed with them in mind.

  • The good news is there are many great places to get help with computers, smartphones, and other technology.
  • Senior centers, schools, or community groups with free or low-cost classes
  • Family members, tech-savvy high school students (they might get community service credit), friends and neighbors
  • Retail stores that sell technology products
  • Online tutorials and support sites (but make sure they’re reputable and don’t download any software or let them take control of your device).

More Ways to Stay Safe

Use strong and unique passwords and never share passwords with anyone unless you’ve designated someone you trust to manage your accounts. One reason for this precaution is to prevent someone from using your account to impersonate you — perhaps asking your friends and family to “help you out” by wiring “you” money in an “emergency.”

Make sure passwords are long — at least eight characters, but longer is much better. Include numbers, upper and lowercase letters and symbols; avoid using names or dictionary words. Learn more about advanced security at ConnectSafely.org/seniors.

Use privacy settings on social media accounts. Most social media services have settings that let you control who can see what you post. For example, Facebook has extensive controls, letting you post to only friends, your friends and their friends, or the public. You can also limit specific posts to a smaller group like only family members or specific people.

Dealing with “spam” or unsolicited email. Simply getting these messages isn’t dangerous, but it can be annoying. The best thing to do is to make sure you’re using whatever spam filter is provided by your email service. Avoid clicking on links in an unsolicited email, as there is a chance they could link to sites designed to scam people or infect computers with malicious software.

Report abuse from anyone, including friends, family and caregivers. We hear a lot about children being “cyberbullied,” but it also happens to adults, including seniors. If you are getting messages on social media or in an email that are threatening, extremely angry, or in any way abusive, don’t respond; reach out for help from someone you trust or from adult protective services or law enforcement, and report the behavior to the site or service.


If an offer, email or message sounds too good to be true or just seems plain fishy, go with your gut and do some additional checking. Here’s a roundup of some common scams:

Personal emergency scam Scammers email or post social media messages that appear to be from someone you know saying they are in distress, such as having their wallet stolen or having been arrested. If you get such a message, find another way to verify if it’s true.

Online dating scam Many people have found love via dating websites, but others have been scammed. Some red flags to watch for: A person who claims or looks to be a lot younger than you; anyone who claims to be from the U.S. but is supposedly traveling or working overseas; someone who pressures you to leave the dating site to communicate via email or text message; or someone who professes instant feelings of love.

Infected computer scam You might get a call from “Microsoft,” saying your computer is infected or vulnerable to hacking, with an offer to fix it for you. Hang up. Microsoft and other reputable companies never make these calls.

Speak out, and don’t be ashamed if you’re victimized. Criminals are very good at what they do and there have been lots of very smart people who have been victimized online. If it happens to you, report it to a trusted person or law enforcement.

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