Ask Joan: Protecting your passwords from scammers
March 27, 2023

Q: I try to keep up with technology and be smart about sharing personal information online, but every day it seems I read stories about hackers and scammers stealing data. What advice do you have about staying safe online?

Joan Hatem-Roy, CEO of AgeSpan

A: So much of our lives are online today so the need to protect yourself and your loved ones is key, especially when it comes to passwords. According to AARP, there are three basic tenets to remember when it comes to password safety:

• Don’t share them

• Change them often

• Don’t leave them lying around

If you’re used to writing down passwords on sticky notes, you’re not alone. About a third of people say they put their passwords on a piece of paper, according to the nonprofit A little more than 1 in 5 people use the same few passwords for all their online activity, a huge mistake. If an app or website suffers a data breach, cybercriminals have access to all or a good portion of your accounts.

Here are tips from AARP to keep you safe online:

1. Be random, not predictable

Weak passwords leave you vulnerable. Last year, the most common password was 123456. When creating a password, avoid using the names of your kids or pets, and dates such as your birthday or anniversary.

2. Don’t repeat yourself

Don’t repeat letters or numbers to make it longer (ex. paaaaassword). Never use the same passwords for all or really any of your online activity. If a site or app is breached, fraudsters will try it for your other accounts.

3. Use special characters

Make sure it has at least eight characters but using 12, 15 or even 20 characters is better. Don’t limit yourself to lowercase and uppercase letters and numerals. You can use punctuation marks and other symbols.

4. Consider using a phrase

As you create longer passwords, a phrase can be easier to remember than a bunch of random, mixed characters. The phrase should be at least four mixed words without spaces and be something meaningful to you, such as myc@tFx#1! which loosely translates to my cat Felix is No. 1.

5. Store passwords safely

Instead of writing your passwords down, keep the list on your computer in a spreadsheet, word processing document or on a notes app on your smartphone. Make sure you encrypt, or lock, the file with a master password or passphrase in case someone gains access to your computer, phone or tablet.

6. Change passwords regularly

Changing passwords may be tedious, but it’s a good idea. Put it in your calendar as a reminder every few months, say every 60 or 90 days, and remain vigilant.

7. Use two-factor authentication

You can make it much harder for cybercriminals to access your online accounts by adding a second layer of defense. Two-factor authentication adds a layer of security with a one-time code that’s typically sent as a text to your mobile phone.

Keeping your accounts and passwords organized and up to date will help your loved ones deal with your affairs when necessary.

Are you caring for an older adult or need help finding programs and services to support healthy aging at home? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at, call 800-892-0890 or email Joan Hatem-Roy is the chief executive officer of AgeSpan, formerly Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.

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