5 safety tips for seniors with smartphones

It’s not a good thing when the first thing you encounter in the morning is your teenager’s excitement about the coming of the iPhone 6 — while also recognizing that this new device comes with a $600 price tag.

Well actually, the only thing more disconcerting than that is when your retired Mom or Dad comes down to the breakfast table and announces their similar excitement about getting a new iPhone.

Of course, you’re glad that your retired parents are embracing technology and exploring the wonderful worlds of information that a smartphone allows them. It’s also good to recognize that unlike your teenager, they’ll be using their own cash to buy the smartphone (maybe there’s a way to connect their excitement by having your parent buy the teen’s smartphone, but that’s too much planning for early morning, at least for me).

However, it’s a concern if your parents aren’t aware of the need to be “safe” when using a smartphone. We’ve probably all addressed the need to be “safe” online with your children, but have you discussed this point with your retired parents?

This should be a concern for them, as well as you, because of the continuing ugliness of scams involving seniors that runs rampant on the Internet. A smartphone connection for seniors opens them up to a wonderful world that they probably never dreamed of, but it also opens them to identity theft, scams and potential financial ruin if they don’t play safely on them.

The reality is that senior use of mobile devices is doubling each year and they are now the fastest-growing segment of smartphone users. This isn’t only good news for those people who like more pictures of furry cats on their Facebook feeds but it’s also good news for scammers who prey on seniors online (no, there isn’t a lower creature on the earth).

Stacey Vogler of Protect Your Bubble, which provides insurance for smartphone and identity theft, provided me with a number of tips for seniors taking the “smartphone dive”:

1. Think of your smartphone as a minicomputer: Today’s smartphones are often a preferred gateway for the web, and people use apps to execute transactions involving financial data. Don’t think of your phone as just a handset; keep in mind that it has valuable data on it and that it is an expensive piece of equipment in its own right, just like your PC and other electronics. Protect it accordingly.

2. Don’t fall for phishing scams: People tend to trust the messages they receive on their smartphones, but remember, an unsolicited email or download received on your phone is just as suspect as one you receive on your desktop or laptop. Never give out personal information via email or text message, and don’t download apps from sources you don’t absolutely trust.

3. Be careful about using public Wi-Fi: Logging onto a social media site like Facebook while using free Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop or airport lounge can help you avoid data charges from your carrier. But be wary of visiting secure sites such as a banking app while using public Wi-Fi. Scammers may be able to use the open stream to steal passwords and account information.

4. Make sure you password-protect your smartphone: About 40% of smartphones are not password protected. This is a huge mistake: If you don’t set up a password, a thief can access your personal account data, contacts list and identifying information in just seconds if your smartphone is lost or stolen. Setting up a password is easy, and it won’t delay you when answering calls.

5. Download and set up a “find my phone” app: Some smartphones (such as iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c) come with a preloaded app that allows the user to remotely activate a “find my phone” feature they can use to track the whereabouts of the phone on a laptop, desktop, tablet or another smartphone. This is a great way to recover a lost or stolen phone, so make sure you set it up before you need it.”

Stacey recognizes that for seniors “smartphones are a great way to stay in touch with friends and relatives while they’re on the go, and seniors are increasingly using them to go online for information and entertainment.” She believes seniors should “take common-sense precautions to preserve their personal information so they won’t fall prey to identity thieves and these tips can help them enjoy mobile connectivity in the digital age more safely.”

I agree. If only I can figure out a way to have grandma buy that new iPhone for little Johnny, I’d enjoy my family’s mobile connectivity even more.

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