How Seniors Put Themselves at Risk for ID Theft Online

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Conventional wisdom has it that age begets wisdom — but being technologically savvy about protecting your identity and money while online is a whole different thing.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, consumers age 65 and up are particularly vulnerable to online ID theft.

"Many seniors spend lifetimes building credit and saving money for their golden years, but the identity thieves steal their hard-earned savings or ruin their reputations," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez at a recent forum on senior identity theft.

You'd think that older Americans would get the message and be more cautious about who they share data with online, then, but in a study tracking the online habits of U.S. adults over the age of 50, they are seen as more likely to engage in "risky behavior" with their identities online, and may well be inviting cyber-criminals to track them down and try to fleece them of their cash.

The study, Fifty-Plus Booms Online, commissioned by McAfee, the Santa Clara, Calif., security solutions firm, says that the 50-Plus generation spends five hours a day online on average, but "are exposing themselves to social media reproach and dangerous security risks."

Eighty-eight percent of older Americans online, according to McAfee, say they are just as tech-savvy as their kids, and grandkids, but they are actually more likely to share personal information recklessly than younger online and social media users — meaning with people they have never met and aren't working with on online shopping or business transactions:

  • 52% of senior citizens have shared their email address online.
  • 27% have shared their cellphone numbers.
  • 26% have shared their home address online.

These are major no-no's, security experts say. That's especially true in online social media groups, which are much easier to crack for cyber-criminals than bank accounts or credit card accounts.