Five Things You Need to Teach Your Parents/Grandparents About the Internet

On Monday, potentially tens of thousands of people will lose their Internet access thanks to malware that is lurking on their computers. The FBI has been warning people for several months about the crackdown, but not everyone has gotten the message -- if you are unsure if you are infected, you can check your computer here.

Of the 67,000 people estimated by the FBI to still be hosting the malware despite repeated warnings, my guess is a bunch of them are older people without the technological savvy to understand what such warnings mean. Unfortunately, many people who did not grow up using computers still fall for hoaxes and scams because they are unaware. Some of them are probably relatives, even your parents.

Here is a list of five things everyone should teach their technologically disinclined friends and relatives.

5. How to avoid phishing scams.

The phishing scam is one of the most devastating scams run online. Con artists send e-mails out to random victims pretending to be a bank or other type of financial institution. They ask victims to visit the Web site and change their credit card number. What victims don't realize is the site is not actually the bank, it's a fraudulent site designed to steal their information. Everyone should be super wary of any organization that requests financial information via e-mail. In fact, most banks and other services that require credit cards will purposefully not send e-mail with those requests in them, so it's a safe bet if you get one of these e-mails, it's a fraud. If there is even the slightest question as to the validity of the request, call the bank.

4. How to use Snopes.

Often, Snopes can be handy just to debunk the crazy uncle's theories about Obama or your nervous aunt's concern that Febreze will kill her puppy. But there is also a ton of useful information on the Internet myth-busting Web site about all sorts of scams. I've found that when relatives learn about it, they make good use of it almost immediately.

3. Don't do everything e-mail or banner ads tell you.

Requests from strangers should always come with a healthy dose of skepticism and that goes double for the Internet. If a flashing banner says it has "ONE NEW MESSAGE FOR YOU" but you aren't on a Web site where you get messages, don't click on it. If a total stranger writes you via e-mail asking for money, he's probably not real. For some reason, the mystery of technology often causes otherwise well-reasoned people to make some really questionable decisions.

2. Use more complicated passwords.

Few things about technology baffle me as much as when I hear a friend or family member uses the same simple password for everything including bank accounts, credit cards and other critical Web sites. Even people who are pretty well versed on the dos and don'ts of technology still seem to make this mistake. I wrote about how to manage your passwords and what not to do back in March. It can help. Read it.

1. When in doubt, ask for help.

Tech support is something that has, as a general rule, dramatically decreased in usefulness over the years. Huge corporations spend less and less all the time on staff to help their customers. Your best bet when you need help is to ask for recommendations from friends, particularly those on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. You'd be surprised how many nerds hang out there.

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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke