Internet Safety Tips for Adults

Get safely acquainted and more comfortable with computers, the internet, email, and social media.

Top Three Adult Internet Safety Tips

  • Share with care: Never share passwords or personal information with anyone you don't know or trust. If someone contacts you over the internet asking for your password, bank information, home address, or any other personal bit of info, you may want to block, ignore, or delete their message.

  • Don’t take the bait: If an offer seems too good to be true, it usually is. Scams and attacks can reach you in many ways—a phone call, text message, pop-up on a webpage, email, or chat message on social media. Clever criminals will often send attachments or links within messages that incite emotions (for example, by saying an account or a loved one is at risk) or entice you (by offering more about a product or saying you’ve won money).

  • Back up your data: Always back up important documents and files, especially anything you can’t replace, like family pictures. If a hacker gets access to your data or if your computer breaks, you’ll need to have backups of important information, so it won’t get lost forever.



Internet Safety for Adults

This guide can help anyone develop a better understanding of how to safely use computers, the internet, email, and social media. As you read along, if there is a term or phrase you don’t recognize, refer to the glossary of terms at the bottom of the page.

Computer Basics

Before diving into the intricacies of the internet, email, and security, it’s important to cover the basics.

Desktop vs. Laptop vs. Tablet

The three main types of common computers are desktops, laptops, and tablets—each offering a unique design and way to use it.

  • Desktops: A desktop computer fits on or under a desk. Unlike a laptop, a desktop is generally made to stay in one location because it uses a tower to host the main power supply to the monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
  • Laptops: A laptop computer is a smaller, portable personal computer (PC) with a screen and keyboard. Laptops can be folded or flipped shut for transportation. The name laptop refers to how it is used, as it is often placed on a person’s lap. A laptop has a built-in track pad that can be used as a mouse. Users move their finger around the square track pad and can click either on the track pad or on the buttons next to it, depending on the laptop’s setup. A separate mouse can also be used instead of the track pad.
  • Tablets: A tablet is a mobile device, typically with a touchscreen display and a rechargeable battery all in a single, thin package. A tablet doesn’t require a mouse or even a keyboard. Users can tap or drag their fingers along the screen as needed.

Parts of a Computer

Your computer system is made up of a few basic parts:

  • Monitor: The monitor is the screen through which you view everything you do on the computer. The monitor may have its own set of buttons, found on the side or bottom, including a power button (to turn the screen off and on) and other buttons to adjust brightness and contrast.
  • Keyboard and mouse: The keyboard and mouse are the main tools for you to tell the computer what you want it to do. You use the keyboard for typing letters and entering website addresses and passwords. The mouse allows you to click anywhere on the screen to go from page to page, open an email, or select an area to type in using the keyboard.
  • Tower/chassis: If you have a desktop computer, the tower will contain the processor, which is the brain of the computer. If you have a laptop computer, the processor lives in the chassis, or base of the laptop, located under your keyboard. The tower/chassis may have slots for DVDs and CDs and ports for memory sticks, headphones, and speakers. Most importantly, it has the power button that turns on the computer.

Backing Up Computer Data

Backing up your data is the most important task you will perform on your computer. While it’s a personal choice, the risk of losing your data—even permanently—is not a matter of if, but when. Data loss can happen by accident or intentionally, from an accidental deletion to a hard drive failure, power surge, or even a virus attack.

One way to simplify backing up your data is to store all your data in one place, like your “Documents” folder. Whenever you create a new file, you can save it in a subfolder with a specific name, like “Tax returns,” “Bank records,” or “Pictures of the kids.” Once everything is stored there, all you need to remember to do is to back up the entire “Documents” folder. When you want this entire folder backed up, you can copy it onto a thumb drive or a separate hard drive or upload it to a cloud service.

You can also reach out to for guidance on how to back up your data or visit this page at Stay Safe Online: Back It Up.

Why Security Is Important

All sensitive information must be protected. There are so many scams, unsecure applications, and viruses out there that can steal your data or harm your computer. Keeping your computer up to date is vital to help prevent hackers and other criminals from getting access to your data.

Computers can usually update automatically with the latest software improvements, many of which include better security. Be sure your computer is set up to allow automatic updates or follow instructions to apply them.

However, there are still plenty of scams and common traps that cannot be prevented by security updates because they rely on human mistakes. That’s why it’s important to be on the lookout for these tactics.


Like a medical virus, a computer virus is a program that spreads by inserting copies of itself into vulnerable code or documents. It is one of several types of malicious software (malware), and there are many different viruses. A Trojan horse is a type of computer software that pretends to do one thing (like present an image on-screen), but it can actually do damage to your computer (like deleting all your documents) when you click on it. Worm software uses computer networks and security flaws to create copies of itself and spread throughout a network.


Spyware is software that performs actions such as advertising, collecting personal data, or changing the configuration of your computer without obtaining your consent. However, not all software or online services that provide ads or track your online activities are malicious. Most websites use cookies to record data on how you use the site so they can be more relevant or function better. Many sites give you an option to accept what level of cookies you are willing to allow. Make sure to read the cookie or privacy settings to learn more.

Before you install something onto your computer, it’s important to first make sure it’s trustworthy. While it can be overwhelming to carefully read all disclosures and license agreements for a service or application, try researching the application or company to see how well it’s rated by others. Reach out to friends and family who know more about the application. Then after installing, be sure to adjust its privacy settings to make sure your personal information is being handled the way you prefer.

Exploiting Human Behavior

Probably the greatest threat to the security of your computer system often hides in plain sight. Criminals are experts at exploiting typical human behaviors and emotions. Even the smartest of us can fall for common hacker tricks. To stay safe while surfing the internet, it’s best to follow some of these tips:

  • Pop-up windows can contain malicious links, so don’t click on pop-ups unless you trust the source.
  • Emails or text messages that ask for money transfers or credit card information are likely fraud, so try calling the sender to ask them if they really sent that message.
  • Similarly, messages that ask you to help recover money or purchase goods with a “generous” reimbursement are often scams, so don’t follow their instructions.
  • Attackers may use attachments in emails to pass along malicious code, so unless you’re absolutely sure they’re from someone you know and trust and they are written in a way that person would normally talk to or email you, don’t open attachments in emails.
  • Do not respond to or click on links that look eerily similar to (but not the same as) your bank, your credit card company, your insurance company, or retail stores where you shop. This is called phishing, and once you visit their site, they will try to gain access to your private data.
  • Your personal information like personal IDs, social security numbers, or bank account numbers are like currency for malicious people on the internet, so be very cautious when sharing that information.

Navigating the Internet

The internet is an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world. Billions of people use the internet every day to send emails, look up information, and stay connected with friends, family, or other communities.

Here are some common key terms to be aware of when using the internet.

  • Web browser: A web browser is a computer program that you use to view websites. Examples of web browsers include Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari. Open any of these web browsers to start accessing the internet.
  • Search engine: A search engine is a software system that allows you to search for information on the internet. Usually, a search engine will be the first thing that appears once you open a web browser. Examples of search engines are Yahoo! and Google.
  • Address bar: The address bar is where you type the address of a website you’d like to visit. Often a browser’s address bar is connected to a search engine so you can also enter a search term if you don’t know what address to visit.
  • Home page: When clicking on a website, the home page is the introductory page that can also serve as a table of contents for the website. From the home page, you may click on other pages to explore more.

Email Safety Tips

Email (short for electronic mail) is one of the most popular ways of communicating with people. Emails can be sent from one person to another in a matter of seconds and are often used for communication between coworkers, businesses, customers, family members, and friends.

How to Send an Email

To send and receive email, you’ll first need an email address. You’ll need to sign up for an email service from a provider like Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo Mail and create a username and a password—be sure to use a long password that you can remember, and don’t share it with anyone!

Once you’ve signed into your email account, you’ll see your inbox, which will contain all the emails that you receive, like a digital post office box. To send an email, find the Compose or New Email button. This will pop out (or take you to) a screen where you can write a message. Once you’ve written your message, make sure you also enter the email address you’d like to send the message to—the email address recipient box is found near the top of the message box. When you’ve finished your message, press Send. You can also add attachments, including photos, videos, and documents to your email.

Password Security

Your email address will often be used to identify you in your online accounts. It can be considered a bridge to your personal information and data, so using a strong password is important. It’s also crucial to use a unique password for all your accounts (especially email) because if one of your online accounts gets hacked, reusing passwords makes attacking your other accounts very easy.

How to Avoid Email Scams

Hackers and other criminals often send scams in email form—often called phishing—with the goal of getting you to click on a malicious link or open a bad attachment. It’s best to know some of the most common tactics they use and how to avoid them.

  • Slow down. Scammers want you to act first and think later. If you receive a message from someone you don’t know and it conveys a sense of urgency or pressures you into taking some action, be skeptical. Don’t let their urgency influence you. Additionally, being financially stressed, lonely, angry, sad, overly happy, or looking for romance makes a person more likely to fall for a scam. Make sure to put your emotions aside when reading or responding to emails.
  • Look for errors. Fraudulent or phishing email usually contains a lot of spelling, grammar, and layout errors. If you see obvious errors in the email address, a company name, or any other part of the email, the email is most likely a scam. However, a lack of errors does not make the offer legitimate. Smart scammers can make a fake email look as good as a legitimate one.
  • Research the facts. Never believe unsolicited messages that offer financial solutions, hot stock tips, refinancing, or beyond-belief medical tips. Especially if the email looks like it’s from a company you use or would use, still do your research. Use a search engine or contact the company directly (over the phone or in person) to learn more.
  • Delete or ignore any requests for financial information or passwords. If you get asked to reply to a message by providing your bank account, bank routing information, credit card numbers, or passwords, don’t reply. This is a common scam. Sometimes people with malicious intent may ask for less-sensitive information at first and follow up with more personal questions, so it’s best to avoid responding.

Intro to Social Media

Social media is a digital tool that allows users to quickly create and share content with the public. Social media encompasses a wide range of websites and apps like Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, or TikTok. Some specialize in sharing links and short or long messages, and others are built to optimize the sharing of photos and videos. Anyone with internet access can sign up for a social media account, but it’s important to make sure to adjust your privacy settings so that only friends and family—or anyone you choose—can see your profile, pictures, comments, or post history.

Safeguarding Social Media

While social media is used as a great tool to share photos, write messages, and find friends online, there are a lot of people who try to take advantage of others via social media.

  • Know who you’re talking to. Never give someone money or personal information based on who they claim to be. If you’re unsure of the person you’re talking to, ask if they’re willing to have a Skype, FaceTime, or other live face-to-face call so you can know if they’re genuine.
    Some scammers can also disguise their profiles as people you may know, so make sure the person you’re chatting with is your real friend, family member, or coworker. A common trick is when scammers pretend to be family members or close friends who need money or assistance immediately. Never give them your bank information or give in to any other claims or demands; they are trying to take advantage of you.
  • Be careful when sharing. Social media sites allow you to publish photos that anyone can see. If you’re on a trip and you’re taking amazing photos of landmarks or tourist attractions, that lets everyone know you’re out of town. Either make sure your privacy settings only let friends see your profile or just wait to post your pictures once you’re home.
  • Keep your information secure. Hacking into social media accounts is incredibly common, but a secure password can help protect your information. A strong password will have at least eight characters with uppercase and lowercase letters, special characters (examples: @, #, %), and numbers. If you have an option to enable two-factor authentication—a second method of verifying your identity—for an account, it is an excellent way to keep your information secure.