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How older adults can protect themselves from the most common cyber security threats

At Get Cyber Safe, our goal is to make cyber security easy and simple for all Canadians. We believe that with the right advice and guidance, anyone can take control of their cyber safety. This blog post may be especially useful for older adults, who we define as Canadians over the age of 50, but we believe that the information could help anyone at any age, in any stage in their cyber security journey.

Learning how to get cyber safe can seem like a complicated task. After all, there’s lots to keep track of between staying safe online and maintaining your devices and accounts. It could understandably make you feel like staying on top of your cyber security is too time consuming.

The thing is, being cyber secure could actually save you time in the long run. The consequences of a cyber attack could be serious and result in a loss of your time, your money and even your identity. Fortunately, there are a lot of small but impactful steps you can take that will help keep you secure. Understanding some of the most common risks that you can avoid online and simple solutions that you can take to protect yourself against them is a great first step.

Here are some of the most common cyber security threats you should be aware of:

Phishing scams

Phishing is one of the most common tactics that cyber criminals use to steal your information. Phishing messages are often sent as emails, text messages (known as smishing) or phone calls.

They’re created by cyber criminals who try to impersonate legitimate companies or organizations in order to trick you into clicking a link, downloading a malicious file or sharing sensitive information. These scams are dangerous because victims often mistake them for real messages.

There are some   signs of phishing scams that you can look out for, like typos, pixelated images and email addresses that are misspelled.

You can protect yourself by deleting messages that look suspicious and following up with the organization sending the message if you aren’t sure. For example, you should call your bank or internet service provider through the contact information on their official website if the message they’re sending you seems unusual.

Malware

Malware is a common method that cyber criminals use to infect your devices and steal information. Malware is hidden in attachments, downloads and links either found on the web or in messages. You may even find malware in phishing messages.

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to install and use anti-virus software. Anti-virus software scans your device’s files and software to detect and remove malware. Just make sure that the anti-virus software you’re downloading comes from a reputable source. There are many spoofing scams that have fake software. We recommend downloading anti-virus software from a reputable vendor’s official website.

Be cautious of what you download online. If you suspect that a virus has been downloaded onto your device, disconnect your device from your Wi-Fi network (to stop the malware from spreading to other devices connected to the same network), turn off the device and bring it to a reputable IT service provider.

Identity theft

Canadians are sharing more personal information online than ever before, which means there’s a lot more for cyber criminals to steal. You can help protect your identity by being cautious of how much you’re sharing online and staying vigilant against common scams like phishing. Phishing messages are one of the most common causes of identity theft online. Never click on a suspicious message or share personal information with someone that you don’t know.

You can also stay safe by securing each of your accounts with a strong and unique password or passphrase. We recommend organizing these strong and unique passwords with a password manager. You should also enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) on your accounts.

Keep your money safe

Your bank takes extensive steps to protect the personal information and money you entrust to it and to help you protect it as well. The realities of our connected world, however, mean that cyber threats are not limited to a bank’s systems and technology. There are some simple ways to protect yourself and your bank accounts from frauds and scams targeting older adults and the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) has helpful resources and tips:

  • Fraudulent emails – Phishing scams are attempts by criminals to trick you into revealing sensitive financial information by sending convincing-looking emails that appear to be from a legitimate company, such as your bank. Learn how to spot a phishing scam and if you’re ever in doubt, contact your bank directly using a contact method you know is correct.
  • Gift card and pre-paid phone card scams – Gift cards scams can take several forms but typically you’ll receive a phone message or an email from a criminal posing as a bank or government agency. Using threatening and aggressive language, the message informs you that you have an overdue balance, or an outstanding debt, and demands payment in gift or pre-paid cards. Banks and government agencies will never request gift cards or prepaid cards in payment of a debt or bill. The CBA has more tips on how to spot and avoid the gift card scam on their website.   

The CBA offers a free, non-commercial financial literacy seminar program for older Canadians, Your Money Seniors, developed in collaboration with the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. The fraud prevention module of the program includes more information about the above scams and more. Seniors’ groups can request a seminar through the CBA’s website: https://cba.ca/about-your-money-seniors.

Romance scams

The romance scam is a type of financial scam that preys on your emotions. Many older Canadians make friends online and chat with them through social media and dating websites. Cyber criminals will use these platforms to steal information or money from you. This video and article from CBA explain how the scam typically works with tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.

The best way to protect yourself is to stay vigilant. If someone who you’ve recently met online asks you for money or a suspicious amount of information early on in your relationship, consider leaving the conversation and blocking them. Never send “gifts” or sensitive information like your social insurance number (SIN), passwords or security questions to someone who you’ve recently met online or don’t know in real life.

Conclusion

Getting cyber secure will help save you time and can prevent a cyber attack. Understanding common cyber threats will help keep you safe from potential online scams so you can protect your time, money and identity.

If you’ve fallen victim to a scam or fraud, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has helpful tips  to follow.

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