Internet 101: The Beginner’s Guide For Seniors

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The Internet can feel like a vast landscape with so many things to do. Luckily, you don’t have to know everything to be able to use the Internet. You only need to know a few terms so you can follow instructions or properly ask for help if you get stuck.

Also, learning some basic precautions will make sure you stay safe.

This article will cover those terms, explain some helpful ways to use the Internet, and teach you to avoid scams.

Let’s Start With Some Terms

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The Internet is a tool, but it utilizes and runs off of a series of tools. It can sometimes seem to have its own lingo! Never fear, there are only a few terms you’ll need to know for using the Internet or being able to successfully hook it up or follow tech support instructions should problems arise.

Hardware Terms (The Physical Stuff)

Modem: A box-like device, the modem connects your home to the Internet. Depending on your computer, you may be able to link it directly to the modem.

Router: A router, sometimes called a wireless router, is a device that connects to your modem and allows people in your home to connect to your Internet wirelessly. They look like little boxes with antennae sticking out of them. Wireless connections are sometimes called Wi-Fi.

Internet Service Provider (ISP): An ISP is a company you buy your Internet connection from. Common ones are AT&T, Verizon, Xfinity, and more. You may have local providers in your area as well. These are the companies you generally call if you experience problems.

Software Terms (The Stuff On Your Screen)

Browser: The software that provides the interface for engaging with the Internet. Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Google Chrome are some of the biggest names. You can access the same websites with all of them, but they provide different levels of personalization and some different features.

Email: Most people want to use the Internet for email. Short for ‘electronic mail,’ email allows people to exchange messages without the need to send physical letters. If you’ve ever sent a text message, the concept is similar.

Search Engines: A search engine is a webpage that allows you to search for information. Google, Yahoo, and Bing are three of the biggest search engines.

Website: A website is like a miniature digital book. You find them by using search engines most of the time, and each website covers its own topic.

Webpage: If a website is similar to a book, then a webpage represents the pages in that book. For example, if you search for ‘hat sewing patterns’ in a search engine like Google, you’ll be presented with a series of web pages covering that topic. Usually, these pages will be part of a larger website about sewing in general.

Blog: A blog, short for weblog, is like an online magazine or journal that displays a series of articles, or ‘posts’, about a topic. There are sometimes multiple writers creating these articles.

Download and Uploading: When you download a file, you’re moving data from one computer or server to your own computer. This can be images, documents, files, and videos. Conversely, uploading is when you move files from your own computer to another. The Internet is the tool you use to move your files.

Social Media: These are websites or applications that allow you to make your own posts without having to start a blog or stay focused on a single subject. Other people can see what you’ve shared and respond to it. The biggest companies for this are YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

URL: A URL is another term for a web address. Just as houses and businesses have addresses in the real world, websites have addresses that users can use to easily locate them. Examples would be,, and

Things You Can Do on the Internet

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The Internet has a lot to offer and is a great tool for learning, shopping, and communicating. While it can sometimes feel like the possibilities are endless, here are some of the most common ways people use the Internet.

Keeping in Touch with Friends and Family

Email and text messages are great ways to stay in touch with your loved ones, especially if they live far away. You can also use apps like Skype or Apple’s FaceTime to video chat with people. Video chat means you can see the other person using a camera on either your phone or computer monitor.

You can also use social media to stay in touch, although social media is much more public. There are privacy settings you can set to minimize who can see your posts, but it’s best to keep some conversations private.

Tools such as these can go a long way towards making us feel less isolated in general, too.

Checking the News

While there’s nothing wrong with reading a newspaper or watching your favorite news station, it’s awfully convenient to be able to check the news online and see all the different stories being covered at once. There’s a good chance your favorite news source has its own website, so you can still get the reporting you’re used to.

Browsing the Internet

When people say they’re ‘browsing the Internet,’ that usually means that they’re using search engines to do things like research, look up a hobby, find a place to eat, etc.

Search engines like Google exist to put the contents of the world wide web at your fingertips, even if you don’t actually know the URL of the website you want.

When you go to a search engine, just type in whatever you’re looking for in as broad or specific details as you want. Google, Bing, or whatever search engine you’re using will compile a list of web pages that match what you’ve searched for.

You can search for woodworking patterns, recipes, news stories, pharmacies, restaurants, movies, and much more.

Managing Your Finances

Online banking is a popular task to use the Internet for. Not only can you monitor your account, but you can also set up automatic bill payments, set up overdraft protection alerts, and view your bank statements from the comfort of your own home without having to wait for the mail.

Many banks also have apps, so if you use a smartphone, you can do all of this online using your phone. Some banks will even allow you to deposit checks using their apps by snapping a photo of the front and back of the check written to you, taking the hassle out of needing to go to a branch.

Online banking is safer than you might initially think. Many banks take online security very seriously, and there are a few things you can do to protect your accounts as well. Never give your bank information or social security to anyone, use long passwords and update them regularly, and, if it’s available, opt to use multi-factor authentication. This makes it much harder for others to hack into your bank account.

Shopping From Home

Back in the day, everyone used catalogs to order things not found locally. Nowadays, people use the Internet. There are many ways to shop online, and for most businesses, advertising on the Internet has become one of the most profitable ways for them to find new customers and clients.

There are online retail stores, services, and auction sites where you can find whatever you want to buy or whatever professional services you want to hire. You can even buy groceries and have them delivered to your door!

All you need to do is search on Google or another search engine for something you want to buy, such as a ‘hoodie with a pouch for cats’, and see what kinds of web pages come up. There’s a good chance that you’ll find an online retailer who sells such things.

Setting Up Home Security

Many devices use the Internet nowadays, from phones to the many gadgets people use, such as Amazon’s Alexa. However, you can use the Internet to get alerts when someone rings your doorbell or to set up a camera that you can check on even when you’re out shopping, so long as you have a mobile device.

These things can help keep you and your home safe from intruders.

Finding Keys and Other Lost Items

Most people have misplaced their keys at some point, prompting a frustrating search for the little buggers. With a finder device that you can attach to your keys and a smartphone or other mobile device, the Internet will allow you to find your keys if you misplace them.

Of course, you can also use these devices to find other things you find yourself losing.

Remember to Take Your Medications

It’s easy to get caught up in things you’re doing and forget to take your medications. If you have any regular medications or exercises, there are apps for mobile devices that will send you alerts when it’s time to take your medications, perform physical therapy, etc.

Monitor Your Health

There are many devices you can use to monitor your health. These usually come in the form of wearable devices, usually partnered with an app, that uses the Internet to sync information about your fitness, heart rate, and more where you can access it. Such devices will track things like how often you move during the day, how many steps you take, and how many hours of sleep you get, and can even calculate how many calories you’re burning and consuming each day.

Other devices will automatically dispense medication in the correct dosage and alert you or a family member if you miss a dose. They will sometimes even share information with your doctor.

Order Food

Most chain restaurants have their own website nowadays where you can get coupons and order food right from your phone or computer. This way, you can browse the menu and try new things or find deals for your favorites.

Using companies like Instacart and Door Dash, you can also have someone deliver food or groceries from any local restaurant, too. This way, you don’t have to live within delivery distance from a chain restaurant, although the farther away you live, the more you’ll have to pay the gig worker who delivers your orders.

Despite the extra cost, however, it’s a time saver that isn’t possible without the Internet.

How to Protect Yourself Against Online Scams

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Even before the invention of the telephone, there were hustlers and scammers trying to make a buck off of unsuspecting people. As such, just as you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers, you shouldn’t assume that everything on the Internet is true or that everyone is who they claim to be.

Before we get into the most common kinds of scams, there are a few rules to follow to help keep you safe:

•   Never click on links contained in emails you don’t recognize.

•   Use long passwords and update them every so often.

•   Don’t listen to anyone who wants to be paid in gift cards.

Health Insurance Scams

Health insurance fraud was popular even before the dawn of the Internet. This is when someone steals your Medicare plan number and uses your coverage for their own healthcare needs. Inspect your monthly statements and cross-reference them with your own records to ensure that you’re safe from these scammers.

If you see a surprise charge, first contact the provider to find out what it was for. It could be something innocent, such as a forgotten appointment or prescription refill.

Other scammers might try selling fake or unnecessary health insurance to people. Sometimes, they’ll even throw in fake charges to holders’ accounts. They do this by billing you for services that were never rendered, charging you for a higher-priced treatment than you received, intentionally misclassifying services to categories that aren’t covered so they don’t have to pay, or unbundling services to force you to pay a higher cost.

Always purchase health insurance from a trusted source.

Phishing Emails

Phishing emails are messages that scammers send that try to get your personal information. This could be your name, credit card number, investment or banking information, social security number, passwords, etc.

They usually accomplish this by sending an email and attempting to disguise it as a trusted website that many people use, such as Amazon or Medicare. They may ask for sensitive information directly or tell you that you need to sign in at the link provided, usually for your own security.

To tell if an email is legit, check the email address first. If, for example, you get an email claiming to be from Amazon but the email address doesn’t look normal, then this is a scam. If you’re unsure, go to the actual business’s website and contact their customer support and ask. They should be happy to help you avoid a scam and will tell you what their emails actually look like.

If you find a phishing email, you can report it to your service provider and add them to your blocked sender list.

Tech Support Scams

One of the most common scams is when fraudsters impersonate a technical support specialist from a company such as Microsoft in an attempt to get access to people’s computers or other devices.

You might be browsing the Internet when a message appears telling you that they’ve detected a problem with your computer or operating system. There will usually be a phone number that they ask you to call and when you do, the person on the other end of the line will often say that they need to remotely access your machine to diagnose and repair the problem.

If they’re successful, all of the information stored on your computer could be compromised, giving them passwords and other sensitive information. Other times, they’ll claim to have fixed the problem (which likely never even existed) and ask you to pay them a fee.

If you see such a message, don’t click on any links or dial the number. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a technician, hang up.

Lottery Scams

The last and most common kind of scam is the lottery scam. These typically involve receiving a notification either as a pop-up message or an email that you’ve won a lottery. There will also be directions on how to claim your prize.

These are fake lotteries and there are no prizes. Never give your information to someone who claims you’ve won a lottery. If you actually do receive a check, make sure it clears.

Other Tips for Using the Internet

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Unfortunately, it’s not possible to actually walk you through all of the ins and outs of using the Internet in a mere article. To get further help, ask a friend or family member to show you some basic things, such as setting up an email or running a search. Everyone needs a little help when first learning how to use the Internet, especially if you didn’t grow up with it like many of today’s young people.

Luckily, the Internet is a tool that is learned mostly through usage. Take time to familiarize yourself with it, and in no time you’ll be hanging out with friends, finding new hobbies, and managing your finances without trouble. A little patience goes a long way when it comes to learning a new skill, but the rewards of being able to use the Internet outweigh the learning curve.

Just remember to stay safe by following the basic guidelines. If you don’t understand something, don’t hesitate to ask someone and get a second opinion regarding whether something is legit or not.

Remember to ultimately have fun while learning and using the Internet.

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