Protecting Senior Citizens from Phishing, Viruses, and Malware

As noted in my previous post Protecting Senior Citizens from Online Scams, scammers can use Social Engineering (or Phishing) in the form of false emergencies, financial scams, or tech support scams to steal personal information from unsuspecting seniors, such login credentials for bank and brokerage accounts. They can also use links in emails or web sites to deliver a payload and infect an unsuspecting senior’s computer with viruses or malware. Viruses and malware are types of malicious software that can damage your files (and possibly your computer), hijack your computer without your knowledge for nefarious purposes, or steal personal information for identity theft.

Social Engineering (Phishing)

Social Engineering or Phishing is when a scammer or hacker poses as a trustworthy source in an email or on a web site, such as an email from your bank, a tech support scam, or a social media message or campaign. The purpose of social engineering is to extract usable information from the target. Often this is personally identifying information useful in identity theft.


  • Read your emails very carefully.
    • Verify the sender’s email address.
    • Is it from the company that claims to have sent it?
    • Hover (point, don’t click!) over any links in the body of the email. Does the URL (website address) appear to be legitimate and point to the website it says it does?
    • Read the email carefully and note any strange language usage or line breaks.
    • Know the customary notification methods for the IRS, your bank, healthcare provider, or any vendor or service provider with whom you conduct business. For example, the IRS would never email you about an official matter.
    • Not sure? Call the agency, bank, brokerage, or other service providers to verify any suspicious contacts.
  • Avoid calling customer support numbers provided in emails.
    • Unless you are certain of the source, never call the support phone numbers provided in suspicious emails – especially from a pop-up window or overlay on a website.
    • A pop-up with a 1-800 number stating you have a virus or malware infection and asking you to pay to fix it is a scam trying to infect you. Avoid clicking anything in these types of pop-ups at all costs.
  • Cybercriminals have attempted to scam unsuspecting persons by posing as banks via text messages or fake banking apps.
    • Never confirm or transmit personally identifying information via text messages, especially social security numbers.
    • Not sure? Contact the agency, bank, brokerage, or other service providers directly.
  • Tech Support Scams – please see this section in my post Protecting Senior Citizens from Online Scams.
  • Use Web Sites Safely
    • Use strong passwords. A strong password is more than 8 characters and uses as many allowable types of characters as the website or service allows (letters – lower and uppercase, numbers, and special characters).
    • Never use the same password on multiple web sites. Just don’t.
    • Use a password manager.

See my post on Managing Passwords.

Virus and Malware Infections

A computer virus is a piece of code that is capable of copying itself and typically has a detrimental effect on the infected computer, such as corrupting the system or destroying data. Malware is software specifically designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. Scam emails typically use some kind of bait that is enticing to seniors, leading them to click on website links that can infect their computers with viruses and malware.


To avoid a virus or malware infection on your computer, seniors are advised to do the following:

  • Install Antivirus software on your computer.
  • Keep your Antivirus software up to date.
  • Keep your operating system and applications up to date.
  • Secure your home network.
  • Do you trust your sources? Think before you click on links in emails or on web pages.
  • Never give out personally identifying information to anyone online. This includes birth date, social security number, driver’s license number, or home address. This information could be used by an identity thief.
  • Don’t use open Wi-Fi networks – only use a secure Wi-Fi network for conducting any business online that requires you to log in.
  • Back up your files.
  • Use strong passwords.


This post is part of the series Protecting Senior Citizens Online.

Copyright © 2019 Patrick M. Baker