Keeping privacy golden in your senior years

National Community Safety and Crime Prevention Month
November 2016

You’ve spent a lifetime building your good name and the last thing you need is for your hard-earned retirement to be derailed because somebody has turned that good name to mud. Identity theft is an unfortunate fact of life in the 21st century; one exacerbated by the myriad of new ways data may be compromised.

Smartphones and the Internet have made it easier than ever to access products and services, and staying in touch with the grandkids has never been simpler.

While there are many perfectly legitimate reasons to share your personal information both in the real world and online, it’s important to remember there may be dangers lurking and seniors can be a prime target for fraud or theft.

But you may be more prepared than you think.

November is National Community Safety and Crime Prevention month and this year, the Canada Safety Council and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada want to remind you to stay alert and on your guard when it comes to identity theft and online scams. 

“Protecting your identity is a lot like preparing for a secure retirement. You do your homework, make sure safeguards are in place, revisit your decisions regularly and stay prudent,” says Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien.

“A secure identity is just like the funds you have put aside for your future.”

“Seniors represent one of Canada’s most vulnerable groups of society,” says Jack Smith, President of the Canada Safety Council.

“Unfortunately, this makes you a frequent target for fraud, theft and malicious activity. This reality makes it all the more crucial for you to take steps to safeguard your information and keep a close eye on what you are sharing.” 

Do your homework

Just as you’ve researched your savings and investment options, you need to take stock of your privacy vulnerabilities.

Start with your pocketbook. Take an inventory of the personal information and cards that you carry. Leave items you don’t need somewhere secure, such as in a safety deposit box. This includes your birth certificate and Social Insurance Number, the latter of which is only needed for income reporting and should only be shared when absolutely necessary.

If asked for personal details to participate in a promotion, to return an item to a store or by a charity you’ve made a donation to, be sure to ask questions about the organization's privacy policies and how your information will be protected. Don’t let businesses make a copy of your ID unless it’s for a legitimate reason.

Don't be shy about saying “No thanks,” to that smiling clerk if you're not comfortable sharing your phone number, postal code or email address. You can also check off the “no thanks” box on forms requesting your details or even write a short note on the document.

It’s also important to get acquainted with your technological devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptop computers. Don't stop at knowing how to turn it on and do the basics. Find out how to enable and add security tools as well as how to disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you’re not using them.

Statistics from a 2014 survey done by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner show that seniors over the age of 55 are less likely than the rest of the population to use privacy settings online – only 63 per cent of individuals over 55, compared to 72 per cent of the general population.

But that same vulnerable cross-section is more likely to be very concerned or extremely concerned about the protection of their privacy. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and using security settings on electronic devices is no exception.

Ensure safeguards are in place

You’ve prepared for the worst and have considered the inevitable. In other words, you’ve probably bought insurance and have prepared your will. When it comes to the security of your personal information, there are a number of other precautions to consider, both in the real world and online.

Consider using a locked mailbox or one with a drop slot to prevent theft of mail which could contain all sorts of personal information. Keep track of credit card and other bills and don't hesitate to call companies if they don’t arrive on time.

Check your credit card and bank statements carefully for unauthorized purchases and shred or burn documents that contain personal or financial information once they’re no longer needed.

Don't give credit card numbers or other personal information over the phone unless it is to someone you trust or something you provide during the course of a call you initiated yourself.

When it comes to technology, remember that your devices can be vulnerable to spyware and viruses, so be sure to install programs that will let you know if your devices have been compromised.

Enable the automatic lock and password protection features of mobile devices and don’t leave them out in the open, such as on the passenger seat of your car. 

Revisit your decisions

Circumstances change. It’s a good idea to revisit your investments regularly and to rebalance your portfolio where necessary to maximize your return. The same goes for your privacy protections. Make sure your anti-virus, anti-spam and firewall programs are updated regularly. 

It’s also a good idea to change your passwords periodically and to have a different one for each of your different activities. For instance, don't use the same password you use for online banking when you log into your favourite social networking site. Make sure your passwords are hard to guess and not something obvious like “12345” or “password.”

Also remember to change factory settings any time you upgrade web enabled cameras, grandbaby monitors, routers or other smart devices such as garage doors, thermostats or medical devices, including wireless heart monitors or insulin dispensers.

Stay prudent online

Like the real world, the Internet includes people looking to take advantage of others.

While the online world offers tremendous advantages for our daily lives, it’s important to stay prudent. 

A great rule of thumb for any online activity is to think twice, click once.

Being on a social networking site often brings out our chatty side as we are keen to tell people what is going on in our lives. That said, it is wise to limit the amount of personal information you put online. You should also limit your friends or connections to people you actually know.

Be wary of suspicious attachments that may contain viruses and of individuals you don’t know or even banks, government institutions or other organizations that ask you to provide personal information via text or email. Legitimate institutions generally don’t operate this way and somebody may be trying to fool you.

Avoid activities such as online banking while connected to free Wi-Fi at a coffee shop or public library. Data is vulnerable in public spaces with open wireless networks.

It's also a good idea to educate yourself about Canada's privacy laws. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has numerous online resources that can help, or you can call the Information Centre toll-free at 1-800-282-1376.

Older Canadians are often admired for the good examples they set and they can be role models to their children and grandchildren—anybody, actually—by passing on what they learn about protecting personal data and following good habits.

For more information, please contact:

Valerie Lawton

Manager, Strategic Communications

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(819) 994-5663

Lewis Smith

Communications/Media Program Coordinator

Canada Safety Council

(613) 739-1535 (ext. 228)