Staying connected can be tricky these days, given how jobs, relationships, deployments and other factors have families spread farther apart than ever. However, the Internet is making it easier than ever for loved ones to stay in touch. 277,436,130 Americans use the internet as of March 2014, and those numbers get higher every day. That’s 87% of the population according to the Pew Research Center! Of those almost three million Internet users, a rapidly growing number are seniors who are eager to stay involved in their communities, whether that means their immediate family, extended relatives, town, state, country, or part of the broader global community. More and more, retirees are seeing the benefit to online access, and fewer and fewer seniors feel that they are “too old” to learn computer skills. Of all Americans who don’t use the Internet, just 8% feel it’s due to their age.

Today’s seniors find enjoyment and ease using the Internet for:

  • Keeping in touch with former classmates, far-flung friends, former neighbors, loved ones, grand children, former coworkers or business associates, or childhood pals. It’s easier than ever to stay connected with people from all phases of your life thanks to social media sites like Facebook that function like online yearbooks and make it easy to look up people you went to school with, lived nearby, worked with, or who have mutual friends.
  • Research— whether you’re curious about athletic statistics for your favorite college football player, a new medication you’ve been prescribed, looking into genealogy, checking to see if the library has a new book you’re eager to read, finding out about local festivals, gallery openings, or restaurant specials, or connecting with other people in your area who have similar pastimes and interests, whether that’s knitting, photography, antiquing, or gardening.
  • Keeping up with your favorite television programs, musicians, or favorite movies. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime all make it easy to stream a variety of media, from recently released blockbusters to classic films you remember from your younger years. Streaming online video content is rapidly growing more popular than watching shows on network or cable television, and enables you to pick what you want to watch when you want to watch it.
  • Read online publications from newspapers to magazines to books. Ebooks are often cheaper than their paperback or hardback counterparts, and newspapers publish a myriad of free content that you can access without a traditional subscription, from the New York Times to People and everything in between.
  • Look up information online from local, state, and federal websites, such as the DMV, the health department, the IRS, the National Park Service, and more.
  • Shop online for clothes, medical supplies, hygiene products, books, craft supplies, outdoors equipment, and more. It’s so convenient to have everything shipped to your door, often for a discount, without ever having to make a trip to the store!

That said, there are a number of precautions that need to be taken to navigate the Internet safely. There are criminals online just as there are “in the real world” who would love to get their hands on your social security number, credit card information, or talk you into sending them money, getting involved in an illegal scheme, or giving you access to your retirement fund.

Beware of emails or websites that promise opportunities to work from home, quick weight loss claims, lotteries or sweepstakes winnings, mystery shopper work, debt relief schemes, investment opportunities, or that ask you to transfer money. Sometimes criminals will send you an email appearing as if it came from your bank that asks you to log in, revealing your username and password to the hacker.

Criminals will also come up with elaborate stories that seem too strange to be made up, such as requests for money transfers, or assistance paying off small fees, in exchange for a large sum of money to come later. These requests may appear to come from the heir to the Nigerian throne, a foreign government official, a business man, or a member of a wealthy family. You might receive emails telling you that you are the beneficiary of a will, are soliciting donations, or asking you to make deposits in overseas bank accounts.

The best way to protect yourself is to create a strong password that’s hard to crack. You can find tips and suggestions for how to make a secure password on Microsoft’s website https://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/password-checker.aspx, which also has a feature that tests how hard it is for a bad person to decode your arrangement of letters, numbers, and symbols.

You can also stay secure by never responding to emails sent by strangers or unfamiliar parties. If you aren’t sure that an email is from a friend, family member, or trusted institution, call or ask in person to make sure the message was legitimate. Never share personal information via email, in a form on a popup window, or on a website you aren’t sure is the real deal. Just like you do offline, trust your instincts. If something seems hard to believe, it probably is too good to be true. Don’t be afraid to ask a trusted friend, family member, or dependable computer store for their opinion if you’re unsure how to proceed or if a site or email is to be trusted. An Apple Store in Atlanta, a Best Buy, or iCracked location are excellent resources.

As always, remember that a few bad apples don’t have to spoil the whole barrel when it comes to the Internet. With these few simple steps to protecting yourself from identity theft, fraud, and scams, you can enjoy the even greater wealth of resources the Internet has to offer, from online shopping bargains to quality virtual time with your loved ones. Just a few clicks will take you from Riverwood Retirement Senior Living of Rome, Georgia to all over the world!