Phishing fears drove a recent warning for those downloading any of a number of seemingly helpful smartphone apps made for both Android and iPhone users.
The apps were 0stensibly designed to gain access to Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) accounts, which are retirement savings accounts for federal government employees and those who serve in the military.
The apps, however, were not developed by the TSP.
Officials at TSP have recommended that account holders not use these apps, as there is evidence that those who have downloaded and are using the apps to view their accounts may open themselves up to be scammed through what is known as phishing.
Phishing is when an unscrupulous person or organization pretends to be trustworthy, puts on the fascade of a known and trusted organization, or uses seemingly trustworthy apps or websites in order to obtain your passwords, user names, credit card data and other personal identity information and even your money. It is most often done via official-looking emails with links to the scammers’ websites.
The “lures” used in phishing look so real that people enter their personal information, inadvertently turning it over to scammers.
Using Apps and the Web Securely
- Set web browser security settings to reduce risk – the web browser connects a computer to the internet. You may want to set the security at the highest level. This may affect some websites functionality but can be enabled temporarily to allow certain sites. Remember that many, especially computer novices, may not be comfortable adjusting browser settings themselves. You might suggest they limit themselves to known safe sites until they can get assistance from their (family?) tech support.
- Use and maintain anti-virus and anti-spyware software – especially if shopping, checking banking accounts or performing other activities that require the entry of sensitive information.
- Do business only with reputable vendor sites – just because it is online doesn’t mean it is safe. Some smaller sites route transactions through bigger retailers or secure payment sites so the most sensitive part of the transaction can be completed with comfort.
- Check credit card and bank account statements when buying online (or buying anywhere, really) to be sure that all charges are accurate. Keep all confirmation emails with your purchases to be sure the charges are accurate. If you find discrepancies, report them immediately to the business. Avoid using debit cards online and try to use only one credit card for online purchases to make it easier to track.
- Be wary of emails – if an email message asks you for personal information, do not respond. Bank, credit card companies and other businesses, such as shippers (i.e. Fedex, UPS, USPS), will not request sensitive information via email. You can roll your cursor over the sender’s email address before you open it to be sure you are familiar with the address. When in doubt, call the business using a known number to determine if they need information from you.
- Keep your mobile devices secure – do not leave them unattended so that they are easy targets. Someone could pick them up and have access to personal information. Urge senior loved ones to use the most secure passwords they can remember and use different ones for different sites to make it more difficult to hack (you might hold a list securely if they are concerned about forgetting). Keep the mobile connectivity (wifi and Bluetooth) off when not in use.
- Don’t advertise that you are not home – don’t use auto responders that say you’re gone and especially not when you’ll be returning.
- Use caution with email attachments – even from people you know. Attachments can put your computer and personal information at risk. You can scan attachments for viruses before you open them. Turn off the automatically open attachment setting to avoid risky files. One policy for safety is to only open attachments you are expecting from known senders.
- Only download apps created by reputable companies into digital devices – check to be sure – and don’t enter personal information into an app unless you are absolutely sure that the app is trustworthy.
The explosion in technology makes our lives more connected and convenient, providing opportunities to enrich the lives of our senior loved ones. They can learn new information, get connected to friends and family, conduct business and have some fun.
While enriching seniors’ lives, it can also open them up to risk because criminals are more connected as well. This risk can be reduced with careful planning and caution.
Have you had any experiences with technology and your senior loved one that you would like to share? We would love to hear from you!