Seniors on social media is a growing trend. Business Insider reports the number of seniors on social media has tripled as recently as 2010, and a report released last year by the Pew Research Center found only 2% of seniors used social media in 2005, compared with 35% today. A teenager made headlines recently for volunteering his time to help seniors understand Facebook and mobile devices, and the AARP even offers free resources for social media users aged 55 and older.

The most common reason seniors sign up for social media is to connect with their families, since seniors would like more than just the occasional phone call but frequent travel can be costly. Social media offers seniors a way to connect for free with their families, anywhere in the world, on a daily basis. Of course, with every new opportunity comes risk. If you are a senior and new to social media, here are some tips to avoid getting conned by social media snake oil salesmen.

The ABCs of social media: Always Be Cautious

Major social networks make priorities out of user privacy and security, but even then security risks are present and breaches still occur. Not all social networks are created equal, and even generally safe networks can still have their vulnerabilities and dark sides. Reporting on social media scams is getting better every year, but some of the slickest con artists still find their way into seniors’ wallets.

Some scammers may pretend to be IRS agents, calling on the phone to demand immediate payment for back taxes. Others will find a mark, glean information from their social media profiles, and then create fake profiles featuring the name and stolen photos of somebody their mark trusts. The scammers will then reach out and make contact, pretending to be a loved one in trouble and asking for financial assistance.

These and other scams are all avoidable by paying attention to detail.  If a profile claims to be a family member, call them directly to confirm the friend request. Ask for specific memories of events you both attended, or how you first met. Do not ever share your Social Security number, banking or healthcare info, or any passwords in a private message or over social media channels.

If somebody ever calls demanding immediate payment, trust your gut. Get their contact information, and run it past a trusted professional or loved one first before doing anything else. Never, ever post personal data or full legal name/address on a public area of any social network.

Know how to spot phishing and similar tricks

Scammers are constantly evolving their tactics, and phishing, the online equivalent of running a con game, is another common one. A scammer will trick users by posing as a legitimate online shopping, charity or service that requires your debit or credit card number, and days later, huge charges you never authorized show up on your account statement.

Phishing can be avoided in a few ways. Learning how to spot the tell-tale signs of a bogus profiles or download offers is a great starting point:

•Scam profiles usually just have a few photos or posts and have been created very recently, just like a real-world con artist has an “empty office” or “is out of town this week but has a great deal available only if you sign up today.”
•Some scams mimic actual business names or logos, but the colors or spelling is incorrect. Pay attention to details before trusting anything that links to a website asking for financial info.
• Phishing can rely on downloaded software, so do not download anything you are unsure about.

With the digital age now fully upon us, it’s important now, perhaps more than ever, to be aware of what scams there are and how to protect you or your senior loved ones again them. For more tips on how to protect seniors from fraud, check out the top five senior scams and tips for how to avoid them.

Robert Seitzinger is an advocate for seniors on social media at Holiday Retirement.