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Cybersecurity tips for all generations

From malicious software to phishing emails, the prevalence of cyberattacks on the internet has created an urgent need for people of all ages to increase their cybersecurity awareness.

October 1, 2018

Her eyes red from crying, the retired customer stood nervously in the bank lobby, shifting from one foot to the other. It was clear she needed help, said Daniella Szymanski, a personal banker with Wells Fargo in Daytona Beach, Florida.

“I asked her what was wrong, and she started crying again,” Szymanski said. “She told me she had fraud in her account and someone was threatening her. We went to a nearby office, I got her some water and tissues, and told her not to worry, that we’d get to the bottom of this right away.”

The customer said she had called a computer repair company she found online that appeared to be legitimate and had been conned into giving up her bank and credit card information. The man had taken out a $10,000 cash advance, put it in the retiree’s bank account, and ordered her to wire the money to him or he would have her arrested for fraud.

Szymanski quickly reversed the transaction, had the customer’s account numbers changed, issued new passwords, and helped connect her to a real PC repair business. “When we were finished, all the color had returned to her face and she could breathe normally again,” she said.

Szymanski’s decisive action helped prevent her customer from becoming one of the hundreds of thousands of older people who lose more than $1 billion a year to cybercriminals on the internet. In addition to older citizens, like the retiree Szymanski helped, the victims of cybercrime span all generations. In fact, more young people in their 20s lost money last year than older people in their 70s did from internet scams and other fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Cyberthreats across generations

“There’s a perception that older people are more susceptible to online scams, and it is true that elder fraud is on the rise,” said Rich Baich, chief information security officer for Wells Fargo. “But the evidence shows that nobody, regardless of age, is totally immune to the cyberscammer’s tactics.”

From spoof websites and phishing emails to viruses and other malicious software, the growing prevalence of criminal activity on the internet has created an urgent need for people to increase their cybersecurity awareness, Baich said.

Some best practices applicable to any online user, regardless of age, include changing your passwords frequently; shopping online only at secure sites starting with https:// in the address bar; setting up a two-step verification process for signing on to online banking; and refusing to open attachments, click on links, or respond to emails from suspicious or unknown senders.

Another tip for people of any age is to beware of scammers using noninternet means to obtain personal information for committing online or mobile fraud. Scam phone callers or texters, for example, are becoming adept at spoofing numbers that look legitimate and convincing people to share their personal information. As a rule of thumb, never divulge such information to callers you don’t know. Be savvy in recognizing and ignoring suspicious calls, many of which may display multiple phone numbers on caller ID.

Four tips for everyone: Each has illustration to the left. Change your passwords frequently. Only shop online at secure sites. Set up a two-step verification for signing into financial sites. Never click on links in email from unknown senders.
Some cybersecurity tips relate to everyone, regardless of generation.

Other tips may be especially helpful to people of different generations and varying online skills, said Adam Vancini, head of virtual capabilities and operations for Wells Fargo Virtual Channels.

“It’s understandable that some advice would resonate more strongly, depending on where people are in their lives,” he said. “What parents of teens need to know, for example, can differ substantially from their elderly grandparents. Likewise, young workers may need much sharper mobile-savvy skills than long-retired baby boomers.”

Baich and Vancini shared a number of relevant tips for different age groups:

Tips for young professionals

Young professionals are often renting and focusing more on travel and entertainment plans than settling down. Members of this age group need to:

  • Beware of apartment rental scams: Know who you are dealing with and be sure to see the apartment in person before signing a lease or paying a deposit. Don’t wire money for your deposit. Once a scammer has the funds, they’re gone. A wire transfer can’t be reversed.
  • Be travel smart: Exercise caution on the “trip of your life.” Don’t post travel plans ahead of time; thieves browse social media for such burglary targets. Avoid unsecured Wi-Fi spots while traveling.
  • Engage in savvy wedding planning: Resist the temptation to overshare on social media sites about the time, place, attendees, and other details of your wedding plans. Don’t tip off cyberthieves. Watch out for spoof sites that ask for your personal information.

Tips for parents

Like everything else that children learn, education about cybersecurity begins at home with parents setting the example. Set a good example and:

  • Discuss the consequences of posting: Help children understand any information they share online can easily be copied, is almost impossible to permanently delete, and could last a lifetime. Teach them who may see a post and how it might be regarded in the future.
  • Get involved: Be engaged. Pay attention to what your child is doing online; know the sites they are visiting. Help them identify safe and trusted sites and apps, and encourage them to be cautious in what they click, download, or upload.
  • Stay current: Keep up with current technology your kids are using, the latest online scams, and the newest ways to maintain your online privacy.

Tips for seniors

  • Be wary: Generally speaking, it’s important to take a step back and be skeptical about any email, text, or other digital communication — especially if it creates a sense of urgency and asks for money or personal information. Even if you get a message purporting to be from someone you know who is asking for help, reach out to them directly to verify whether the message was legitimate.
  • When in doubt, check it out: The Better Business Bureau provides a useful tool for learning about and tracking the myriad scams that are out there. People can also use the Better Business Bureau’s Find a Business tool to check out whether a business is accredited by the agency.
  • Always make contact first: Delete any suspicious unsolicited email from unfamiliar sources. Don’t buy any software or services through unsolicited phone calls, emails or unverified ads. Don’t give control of your computer to any unverified third party. And never provide financial information, bank account passwords, or other personal information to anyone online unless you are absolutely sure they are legitimate.

The ‘crime of the 21st century’

People of all ages need to protect themselves from cyberthreats, but if there is any single age group that needs to work on their cybersecurity skills the most, it is arguably the elderly. Financial abuse of older people has been called the crime of the 21st century, according to a report by Wells Fargo Advisors.

One of the most frequent online scams targeting older people these days is the tech support scam. It may involve an online ad, unsolicited email, text, or phone call from someone claiming to have special knowledge about a problem with your computer or mobile device. They offer to fix it, may ask for remote access to your computer, try to lure you to a link or website where they can install malicious software on your computer, and persuade you to divulge your personal or financial information.

It was a tech support scam that preyed on the retiree client of Wells Fargo banker Daniella Szymanski in Florida. She said her client will never forget the lessons learned from that experience.

“A few days later, she brought me flowers to show her appreciation,” she said. “I was really glad that things turned out well for her.”

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