Social media outlets are great for connecting with friends, sharing exciting life moments, keeping tabs on the grandkids, playing online games, and more. And today, older Americans are more active on social media than ever. A 2021 Pew Research study found that 61 percent of Americans over the age of 65 own a smartphone, and 45 percent are active on social media.1
While social media can be a great tool to connect with your loved ones and the world, it also poses some dangers to users. In 2021, more than 95,000 individuals reported about $770 million in losses to fraud on social media outlets, which was more than 25 percent of all fraud in the U.S.2
Below we'll look at some common social media safety slip-ups and how to keep yourself protected on your favorite platforms.
1. Password Basics
Passwords are the first line of defense to your online and social media accounts. Not having a strong password for your online accounts is the equivalent of not having a strong lock on your safety deposit box. Below we'll look at some of the most common password slip-ups:
- Your password isn't unique enough.
- You reuse the same password across multiple accounts.
- Your passwords are too short.
- You don't mix and match numbers, letters, or symbols enough.
- You use personal information, like a phone number or partner's name, in your password.
If you need to strengthen your passwords, there are a few best practices you should follow to stay protected. This includes using a unique and long password for each account you own. If you find it difficult to remember each password, write it down and put it in a safe place. Also, feel free to ask a family member or loved one to help you keep track of your passwords.
Pro Tip: You can use a password management app, like LastPass, to manage your passwords and keep them safe.
2. Sharing Personal Information on Social Media
Personally identifiable information (PII) is any kind of information or data that could be used to identify you. With enough PII, scammers can hack accounts, commit fraud, and perform identity theft. Whenever you share a post, photo, video, or any kind of content on social media, you want to avoid including any of the following information:
- Bank or credit card information
- Email address
- Home address
- Driver's license
- Password or username
- Medical records
- Your birthday
With enough personally identifiable information, hackers can open new credit card accounts on your behalf, file your taxes, take advantage of government benefits, and more. The more personal information you share on social media, the more opportunities hackers have to commit fraud.
Pro Tip: Check out our guide to the best identity theft protection for seniors to learn more about how you can keep your personal information safe.
It's also important to avoid sharing information about your location and home. For example, if you post a photo while on vacation, potential thieves will know that your home is currently vacant, making it a prime target for break-ins. We recommend waiting to post vacation photos until you've returned from your trip, and never tag or mention your home's location or address in a post.
3. Neglecting Privacy Settings
Pretty much every social media platform out there will offer some extra protection through its security settings. You can access these settings through your profile and enable the most secure features on your account.
Did You Know? More than 100,000 Americans over the age of 65 were scammed for nearly $1 billion in 2020.3 Check out our guide on seven ways scammers are targeting seniors to find out how you can protect yourself.
If you don't enable your security features, you're leaving your account open for anyone to access. Some accounts showcase information like your birthday, email, aspects of your address, and other key information that can be gathered for fraud. You can set security settings to:
- Make sure strangers can't see your posts, photos, personal information, account, and other content.
- Limit which friends can see specific posts or information on your profile.
- Limit what kind of information people can access from your profile (email, birthday, address, workplace, etc.).
4. Interacting With Strangers
Social media can be a great place to form communities, meet friends, and connect with interesting people all over the world. There are, however, dangers to interacting with strangers online. They may not be who they say they are, and scammers can work to earn your trust before they eventually compromise you and your finances.
Social media groups and communities with admins are generally a better way to interact with people on social media, but we do not recommend accepting friend requests or responding to random messages from strangers.
You should be especially careful of strangers who send you links, ask for money, or try to spread shareable content. Just clicking a link can open you up to phishing scams and other forms of fraud. If you think you're on the receiving end of elder fraud and abuse, report it immediately to the Office of the Inspector General.
5. Interacting With Hacked Accounts
Although this is the last item on our list, it certainly isn't the least important! Hacked accounts are very common on social media, and they pose a danger both to the hacked user and everyone in their online social circle. When a friend's account is hacked, you can receive messages and links from a hacker pretending to be that person.
Pro Tip: If you receive a call, message, or email from someone saying there's a problem with one of your insurance policies, it might be a scam. If you think they might be trying to scam you, hang up immediately and call the number on the back of your insurance or Medicare card.
There are a few ways they may try to scam you.
- They may pretend to be in trouble and request money from you. The person might sound convincing, bring up a mutual friend's name to sound believable, and express a sense of urgency, but do not fall for it! Try calling them or reaching out to a mutual friend to see if it's actually them.
- Some hackers will get into your friend's account and send high volumes of spam (links and shareable content they want you to interact with). If you think that your friend may have been hacked, do not click anything they share. If they sound robotic or send things that feel out of character for them, exercise caution and reach out to them to confirm it's them.
- Spoofing is when hackers pretend to be someone they're not by creating an account or email that has minor differences from the original account. They may change one word or add a symbol but use the same profile picture as your friend. From there, they may try to send you phishing links or ask for information or money.
Final Thoughts on Social Media Safety
This article isn't meant to discourage you or deter you from connecting with your loved ones on social media. Interacting with friends and loved ones on social media should be a fun and fulfilling experience, but we all need to protect ourselves.
With the right precautions, security measures, and safety practices, you can have engaging and joyful experiences with the people who matter most on social media.