EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 10, 2013

Hints on how to protect privacy in social media age

Rosanne DiStefano
Elder Q&A

---- — Q: My children bought their grandmother a laptop computer last year for Christmas so she could keep in touch with them on a regular basis. My sons are in college and my daughter lives in Europe so this has been far less expensive for her then long distance phone calls. I am a little concerned about my mother’s privacy and safety since she is on several social media websites. I am clueless when it comes to this subject. Do you have any suggestions?

A: This question is a little beyond our general field of expertise but definitely has merit. So after a little research, speaking with other individuals and using some common sense the following guidelines are being provided which should be useful for your mother. It is important to point out protection from social media identity theft does not just relate to older individuals but impacts anyone who uses their computer for work or pleasure.

Over the years our staff has frequently worked with older adults and their families regarding scams and unscrupulous individuals who have taken advantage of an unsuspecting older adult. In the past this was something that took place over the phone, mail or someone showing up unannounced at a person’s front door. Everyone most likely has been told at one time or another to be careful about shredding or destroying any identifying information before discarding it in the trash. With new technology identity theft and other crimes against the public has taken on a new dimension due to the wide use of electronic devices and how easy it is for criminals to access personal information.

Complex Passwords: Your first line of defense in protecting social media profiles is your password. Using your pet’s name, the street you live on or your child’s name is setting you up to be a victim. While it may be easy for you to remember it is also easy fodder for a professional scammer or criminal. It is often suggested to use the first letter of a favorite phrase or quote and adding a number to the mix as a password. Another poor practice is using the same password for every social media site and account.

Privacy Controls: Always carefully read the explanation of privacy settings on any site accessed. In many instances the standard privacy settings are at a low level, increase them for added protection. The purpose of doing this is to only allow people you trust to view your on-line profile.

Limit Information: Pay special attention to the information you post. Never list your address, phone number, or other personal information that could be used to steal your identity. Just as crooks often scan obituaries to learn when people will be out of the home at a funeral the same can be said of media sites. Inform readers of a vacation after you return not when you are going to be away.

Security Software: Always install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall. If this proves somewhat daunting to do on your own have a professional update your computer.

Take a moment and carefully consider all information and photos before posting them on social media sites. Ask yourself if you really want this to be viewed by everyone who might access the site. Do you really want this to be seen or read? There are numerous Internet sites which can provide additional information on personal protection.

Do you have a question? Call 1-800-892-0890. Direct correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.