BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
Older people marvel at how easy youngsters use computers and how computer difficulties unfaze them. It's also surprising to find senior citizens who have a good command of the internet and aren't afraid to use the computer. But what should you know about the reliability of information found on the internet?
Don't Believe Everything Online
When you open a book, you can generally feel comfortable that someone at the publisher's office has confirmed the information is reliable, especially if a well-known book publishing company publishes it. Don't assume the same is true for information found on the internet, even if it's on a sharp-looking web site or seems to come from a college or university.
You might find research papers, outlines and reports prepared by college students. Sometimes other students plagiarize these writings for their assignments. Other times they reference citations to the title and author in their reports, to give credit to the source.
In any case, you can't be sure who the author is, nor whether the information is accurate. Just because it's online, doesn't mean that it's true and complete.
Cross-Check to See Whether Information Is Correct
The well-known web site "Wikipedia" has thousands of authors. Most voluntarily write content on a myriad of topics. There are times when blatantly false or outrageously irrelevant (or irreverent) information appears. Sometimes it stays there awhile before someone alerts the editors that it needs to be removed or corrected.
Cross-check facts in books, magazines or elsewhere on the internet if you're reading something on an unfamiliar subject. If a phrase or idea seems strange, try to find it elsewhere, and see if other sources say the same thing. Above all, if you're preparing a report, presentation or assignment, give credit to the source of your information, but try to check its accuracy first.
Health Information Abounds
Among senior citizens, health care information is probably the most sought-after information online. The Center for Medicare Advocacy estimates more than 100 million Americans looked for health care information on the internet last year.
Carefully review health care articles found on health sites. And be particularly skeptical if the site contains product advertising. Also carefully look for the date of the information to be sure it's current (if there is one). Above all, finding articles on the internet is never a substitute for a face-to-face discussion with your own medical provider about health concerns.
Beware of Scams and Misleading Information
You're an especially vulnerable population. Scam artists like to target offer rewards, money, comfort or companionship because of a more trusting - at times - nature.
It's extremely difficult to trace the identity of computer scam artists, buy very easy is to get important confidential information, such as bank account information, and money, once it's on the computer.
Beware of letting strangers set up or repair your home computers. You might be opening yourself up to identity theft, file corruption or computer viruses if an unsavory person has unrestricted access.
Take the normal precautions with your online activity as you do offline by deleting "cookies," not sharing passwords and not trusting offers too good to be true. With a little savviness, the internet world is exciting and full of incredible things.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My identity was stolen and I think it was the person who set up my computer. How do I go sue them?
- I received an e-mail from a friend who said they were in another country and needed money. I wired them money and now I think I've been scammed. Can I get my money back?