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Don't let your smartphone steal your identity

Robert Siciliano is McAfee’s online security expert.

Robert Siciliano is McAfee’s online security expert. Photo Credit: Handout

From smartphones to tablets, email to social media, older adults have become avid users of technology. And a new survey shows a large majority of these boomer and senior tech users believe they have taken proper measures to remain safe online.

The Fifty-Plus Booms Online survey, from security-software maker McAfee, found that more than 75 percent of tablet and smartphone users 50 or older said they feel protected from hackers, identity thieves, viruses and malware that can harm their computers.

Talk about a false sense of security.

"When you define 'technically savvy,' are they really technically savvy?" says Robert Siciliano, McAfee's online security expert. Siciliano, the author of several books about identify theft and other online hazards, often speaks to groups of older adults and says most overstate their knowledge about what it takes to keep their computers and mobile devices protected. Some of the survey results back up his contention.

"The study was a little contradictory," he says. "The survey showed that 88 percent said they considered themselves more technically savvy than others in their peer group."

The survey found that nearly 40 percent said they don't use a password to protect their mobile devices, a number Siciliano believes is much higher. "Not password-protecting your device is a huge hole in personal protection," he says. If the device is lost or stolen, sensitive and potentially embarrassing data is there for the taking. Many mobile users don't password-protect individual programs, either, so whoever ends up with your device may have unimpeded access to your social media profiles and email. "Once you own the person's email, you own the person," Siciliano says. Within that lost and stolen device "is a nightmare."

There was one surprising, if not shocking, result in the survey, Siciliano says. "A quarter of them are sending emails and text messages with nude photos," he says. "They're sexting!"

As Siciliano notes, and many have painfully learned, a digital image lasts forever and is easily duplicated. "The person who you send it to can easily forward it, easily post it," he says. "And they can easily lose that device." Or, perhaps even worse, your device with embarrassing photos could be picked up by a visiting grandchild.

"It's expected if you're 18 and stupid," he says, "but you're 50, you're 65 years old, and you're sexting? How do you not know that this is not a good thing?"

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