(FinancialHealth.net) – When you don’t have much experience with the Internet, your first few forays into web surfing can feel a lot like traveling through the Wild West. There’s so much to see, do, learn, and experience! Yet, it can be difficult to know what sites to trust or how to find what you need, much less how to avoid scams. This can make surfing the web feel stressful and confusing, rather than the fun and exciting learning opportunity it really is.
If you can relate, or you’re simply new to surfing the web yourself, there’s no better time than right now to learn how to use it effectively. We’ll tell you what’s possible, how to learn, and what to avoid in this primer.
What Can I Do on the Internet?
The answer to this question is “just about anything.” Thanks to technological advances, you can now read books, watch movies, enjoy plays, get fast answers to burning questions, or connect with people from all over the world in seconds over the Internet. But if you’re looking for a place to start, try checking out some of these simple and functional options.
- Research – Wondering what Donald Trump said at the last press conference? Curious about how to get rid of a wasp nest on your front porch? You can use Google.com to find quick and easy answers to all of your burning questions.
- Banking – While you shouldn’t necessarily give your banking information out online, most major banks now have highly secure systems available for clients to use. These portals can be used to review transactions, pay bills, shuffle money around, or even keep a close eye on potential credit fraud from the comfort of home.
- News – There’s no need to wait for 5:00 p.m. to watch the nightly news anymore. You can tune in live in seconds by visiting any of the major news outlets online. For local events, social media outlets such as Facebook often have reports faster than major newspapers or magazines, which can be useful in a crisis.
- Shopping – Our world is changing. With so many of us limiting how often we’re around people, sites like Amazon and Walmart help us shop without leaving home. Have your purchases delivered directly to your front door after leisurely strolling virtual aisles. You can even order food and groceries locally if you live in a town where they’re available.
- Security – The Internet now makes it easier than ever to keep a close eye on your home with devices like the Ring Doorbell or WiFi cameras. Tune in from your computer, phone, or tablet and instantly see whether your loved ones and treasured items are safe.
- Daily Planning – Internet smartphone apps can help you track and plan out your day from start to finish. Get medication reminders, schedule appointments, or just toss in a reminder about the next airing of your favorite show. It’s as easy as finding the right app and learning how to use it.
- Communication – Chat with your kids, video call with the grandkids, or just reach out a friend over social media. Communication is easier than ever with the web — in fact, connections often take only seconds! You can even use sites like Babble to help others learn English or learn a new language yourself.
- Learn Something New – Want to learn how to knit? Always wanted to know how to make cheese at home? From YouTube to Skillshare’s more structured courses, the web can help you learn, grow, and develop as a person.
Where to Strengthen Your Internet Skills
If you’re already reading this article, it means you have at least some experience with surfing the World Wide Web (WWW). But you can strengthen your skills with free education from trustworthy sources. Here are a few of our favorites:
- AARP: Internet literacy training designed specifically for people over 50. This includes basics for complete newbies and more advanced information.
- Eldy: A computer program designed for easy use and simplicity. This is a great option for people who are totally new to the Internet or who struggle to understand the web.
- GCFLearnFree.org: Learn about basic Internet skills, what a browser is and how to use it, how to stay safe, and how to make the most of social media. GCFLearn also offers lessons on how to search with Google.
- Skillful Senior: Learn how to do just about anything online, be it how to type or even just how to sit at your computer without getting a backache.
- The Senior’s Guide to Computers: An excellent option for anyone who considers themselves a true beginner. This resource is particularly good at explaining concepts in simple terms without leaving you more confused than when you started.
Feel more comfortable with in-person learning opportunities? SeniorNet hosts learning centers all across the country where you can get help in person. They specifically target education to people over the age of 55, too.
How to Avoid Scams
For as much as the Internet is a place of learning and wonder, it can also be a dangerous place where criminals seek to take advantage of others. The good news is that staying safe is often as simple as understanding that you should question everything and always be on the lookout for the most common scams.
Medicare fraud is surprisingly common in the online world. Sites should never ask for your health insurance information unless they are providing you with a direct health service (e.g., your GP’s office or MyMedicare.gov). Unrelated sites or people who ask for your information may be trying to abuse your insurance for their own needs. Be skeptical whenever someone asks for your info, and don’t be afraid to call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to check.
Counterfeit products are also a real concern these days, especially in the health and beauty industries. The FDA’s site, BeSafeRX, can help you find reliable health products and online medication resources. The FBI has a second resource on fake cosmetics here.
Phishing is also common. Someone sends you an email or social media message that seems real, yet is only an attempt to steal your identity. These messages might seem like they come from a real company or even a relative, but they’re fake. They almost always have something in common: asking for money, credit card numbers, or your SSN.
Fake tech support offers may be encountered as a pop-up while you’re surfing or via telephone. Often, the scammer will tell you something is wrong with your computer and that you must pay them a fee to fix it. This may include claims that you have a virus. Know that companies never reach out to customers proactively like this. If you think you need tech support, find a local service instead.
Lottery and/or sweepstakes can also be fake or fraudulent. Remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And you should never give out your financial information or have to pay to receive a prize.
Learning to use the Internet safely is one of the best things you can do for yourself. There’s a whole world of information out there, and all of it is available with the click of a button. Just remember to be skeptical of what you read and to be wary of anything that seems “off.”
~Here’s to Your Financial Health!
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