Category Archives: Personal Security

Getting Fit This Spring? 5 Tips to Keep You Safe While Running

The weather is warming up, the days are getting longer, and it’s time to get out there and get in shape for summer! If you’re one of the millions of Americans who run, either competitively or for fitness, make sure you’re staying safe while getting fit with these five tips:

1. Run with a buddy
If you can avoid it, try not to run alone, because being alone makes you an easy target. If you don’t have a neighbor or friend to run with, see if you can join a local running group and run with them.

2. Run out in the open
If you are running alone, avoid trail running or any other kind of running that’s not in the open. Running on a busy road sucks, but at least you have a lot of people around who provide a deterrent to anyone with bad intentions! Also, running in a neighborhood or business district means you have homes or businesses to turn to should something bad happen.

3. Run in the daylight
Many people have to run after dark because of their work schedules, but avoid that if you can. The more daylight, the more safety! If you do run after dark, try to partner with a running buddy to prevent being attacked. Also wear reflective clothing and some kind of light or lamp to help cars see you.

4. Run with your ears wide open
Music makes running better! But when your ears are plugged up with your playlist, you can’t hear cars—or a potential attacker. Now, if you’re running with a buddy, you’ll probably be talking and you have the safety of numbers. But if you’re running alone, keep at least one ear bud-free so you can hear what’s going on around you.

5. Run with your eyes wide open
Also pay attention with your eyes. Don’t assume the passing cars see you. Try to make eye contact with drivers if you’re not sure, and still assume the worst. Only cross the street in designated areas. Be careful driving past parked cars when a door might suddenly swing open. Watch the sidewalk for cracks and the height of the curbs to prevent falls. Yes, you want to go into a zone, but you still must stay aware of what’s going on around you and under your feet.

You want to be fit, but you also want to be safe. These five tips should help. Happy running!

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Stay Warm—and Safe—with These 6 Ride Sharing Tips for Uber and Lyft

With no end in sight to this winter’s cold and icky weather, sometimes that walk to the grocery store or bus ride to work just doesn’t seem worth it. With ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft becoming commonplace (even in our very small town), more and more people are calling up cars with their smartphones.

As with all new technology, some people are more wary of it than others, but they have good cause to be, and scary Uber driver stories get shared all over social media. But these six tips below will help you stay safe.

  1. Keep your rating high and you’ll get a safer driver. A rider with a 4.9 rating won’t get a driver with a 4.4 rating, so you’re getting a safer driver. To keep that high rating, be ready to head out the door as soon as possible when you call your car. Make sure that your coat and shoes are on, your tab is paid, or your bag is packed. Forcing a driver to wait could give you a bad rating or even cause them to drive off after 2-5 minutes.
  2. Check the license number on your phone and make sure your car’s plates match. Your driver will understand if you take a few seconds to peek at the back of their car to make sure you’re getting in the right one.
  3. Speaking of, make sure this is actually your car! I have watched people hop into the back of my Uber or Lyft and travel a few feet before the car stops and they sheepishly hop back out. Your driver will know your name, so ask who the car is for before actually climbing inside.
  4. Some drivers provide water, snacks, candy and even phone chargers for their passengers. This is courteous and can really bump them up to a 5-star rating! If you do accept, do not consume anything that is not 100% sealed and untampered with. When in doubt, just politely decline.
  5. Use the app’s features to increase your safety factor. Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft have tons of great ways to be informed about every aspect of your ride. Check the wait time before the car arrives, send an ETA to a friend so they’ll know your whereabouts, tip your driver ahead of time to prevent delays, or even learn how many rides your driver has done. If using UberPool or a Shared Lyft, you can also check where your driver is picking up and/or dropping off the other passengers so you’re aware of your surroundings at all times.
  6. This isn’t a safety tip, but some rider etiquette that could help your rating: Talk to your driver! Ask how their day is going, when they started driving, etc. If they don’t seem interested in a conversation, you don’t have to push it, but you can at least treat your driver like another human being and try to interact. Do not be one of those rude people who sits in the backseat on their phone acting like the driver isn’t even there.

Our world is changing and evolving every day because of technology. You can order food through Uber, online retailers now offer same-day delivery, and some phones can unlock by just using your face. With all this rapid change, it can be tough to stay on top of staying safe—but safety is always worth the effort. Always.

Data Privacy Day Is January 28: Time to Prepare and Protect!

Did you know that January 28th is a day dedicated to safety and security? It’s National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day! Yes, there really is a holiday for just about everything. However, January 28th is also Data Privacy Day, and that might be more important to observe than popping bubble wrap.

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) promotes international Data Privacy Day to raise awareness of the importance of privacy and protecting personal information. In today’s always-connected world that’s threatened by data breaches and data mining, it’s more necessary than ever to be aware of how your personal data is captured, stored and used.

In celebration of Data Privacy Day, here are three areas you can protect yourself and your personal information when it comes to data security…

In Your Home
Your “private” information may be more public than you realize. Now is the time to check privacy settings on your social media sites, apps and smart devices like phones or tablets. Also talk to your family members about what they share online, and how their information can be bought and sold without their knowledge. Yes, your personal data has a monetary value, so be sure to protect it.

In the Workplace
Data security is just as important at work. Make sure all systems or devices are up-to-date to help protect your company’s privacy. This includes any virus or malware protection you may (and should) have. Also check that your personal devices aren’t syncing to work devices, such as onto the same cloud. This helps to protect you, but it also protects the network at work, should your personal device get compromised.

In Your Community
Help members of your community by spreading the word and providing resources about Data Privacy Day. This could mean asking your elderly neighbor if they need assistance protecting their technology, or sending information to the parents of your children’s friends. Anyone lacking experience with cyber security is sure to benefit from your helping hand, especially if you educate them on the risks.

Knowledge is power, and in this case power means protection. Try to set some time aside on January 28th to secure your personal data, even if it means finally accepting those updates that have been popping up on your computer for weeks. Speaking of popping, maybe pop some bubble wrap too, because we could all use a little stress relief now and then.

Review These Shopping Safety Tips Before You Whip Out Your Wallet This Weekend…

Thanksgiving is early this year. No, it really is. It falls on November 22nd, which is the earliest date it can fall on. So, it’s not your imagination. Thanksgiving did sneak up on you! And on us too, we admit, and because of that, we are all of a sudden realizing it’s time to talk about safe holiday shopping before the buying frenzy begins.

It’s going to be a big year for holiday shopping
And a frenzy it will be! Last year 174 million Americans parted with their money during the Thanksgiving weekend shopping, which includes Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You can expect that number to be higher this year because the economy is booming and consumer confidence is high. As a result, eMarketer predicts 2018 holiday season will bring strong retail sales: offline sales are expected to increase 4.1%, while online spending will increase 16.2% to $123.39 billion.

Will you be one of the confident consumers coughing up cash this weekend? Before you whip out your wallet this Thursday, Friday or Monday, review these safety tips first, so your holiday won’t be more expensive than you’d planned.

While shopping online
More money will be spent online than in person this Thanksgiving weekend, so be ready to be safe for any shopping that involves your laptop or mobile phone:

  • When at a website, check the URL and look for https:// rather than just http://. You can also look for a lock or similar symbol, showing that the site is confirmed secure.
  • Change up your passwords on a regular basis.
  • Pay with a credit cardinstead of a debit card.
  • Have a plan for any packages that will get delivered to your house, so they’re not sitting on your front porch and easily stolen.

While shopping in person
Despite the allure of online shopping, many of us still like to go spend our money in person. If you’re going to be hitting the Black Friday sales, pay attention to these safety tips:

  • Don’t flash any cash and only pull out your wallet when you’re ready to pay.
  • Keep your purse close to your body or carry your wallet in a front pocket.
  • Only purchase what you can carry at one time.
  • Keep your phone charged.
  • Set up meeting times and places if you’re shopping with others.
  • Park under a light if you’ll be shopping until after dark.
  • If you put packages in your car and do more shopping, keep those packages out of sight by hiding them in the trunk.
  • Once you’re back home, don’t advertise expensive purchases. Don’t leave boxes on the front porch and break down large boxes as soon as possible to keep your buys to yourself.

Don’t spend what you don’t have
Although the buying and giving is fun, and these tips should help keep you and your property safer, we offer one caveat to all this: Avoid the debt. Consumer debt is set to reach $4 trillion by the end of 2018. You might think that’s unrelated to home security and safety, but when debt affects our physical health, marriages, and financial futures, it’s totally related. No matter how good the Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal might be, if you have to borrow to buy it, you’re going to end up paying more for it anyway.

And on that note, have fun, buy smart, and stay safe this Thanksgiving weekend!

Shocking Survey Results: 60% of Us Are not Prepared for a Disaster

Why are we so ill-prepared for disasters in the U.S.? This isn’t just anecdotal. A new survey by Farmers Insurance shows how many of us are vulnerable to a natural disaster, due to lack of planning alone.

For National Preparedness Month last month, Farmers Insurance conducted a survey and published the results as both a list of findings and a planning resource. Among the shocking statistics, Farmers Insurance learned:

  • 70% of people living in the U.S. have experienced some kind of natural disaster.
  • One-third of those say they’ve been in a hurricane.
  • 60% of households do not have an emergency plan in place in case of a natural disaster.
  • 55% of people living in the U.S. don’t have an emergency kit.
  • 35% of those who do have an emergency kit and are pet owners don’t have any pet supplies in their emergency kit.

The results of that survey gave me a jolt because I fall into the “don’t have” category every time. We haven’t discussed emergency planning around here since we became empty nesters, which makes no sense, but is sadly true. So I am more than ready to tackle the emergency plan and kit as outlined in the document.

Your emergency plan
Are you also ready to get prepared? If so, the following suggestions offered by Farmers Insurance should help you develop your emergency plan for starters:

  • Know how you’ll receive emergency alerts. If the power goes out, as well as the Internet, how will you stay informed? A hand-powered or battery operated radio might be in order.
  • Know your evacuation route and shelter plan. If you have to evacuate, where will you go? Think about which roads might or might not be open in the event of a disaster. For us, for example, we really need to figure that out because we are three miles down a dead-end road. We could easily be cut off and unable to evacuate without a plan. If you have pets, research pet-friendly shelters ahead of time.
  • Know how you’ll get in touch with each other. Make sure everyone in the family has phone numbers memorized or written down in case a cell phone is lost and you can’t access your contacts. Then consider choosing a friend or family member who lives outside of the area as the contact point in case you can’t get in touch with each other.
  • Know where you’ll meet. If one person is at work and another at school and a third at home, and when disaster hits, meeting at home won’t be an option, where will you meet instead?

Your emergency kit
If you need to evacuate, you will need a grab-and-go emergency kit that you can take with you at a moment’s notice. Farmers Insurance recommends your kit include:

  • Water
  • Drinking water tablets
  • First aid kit
  • Canned food and can opener
  • Blankets, preferably the space saving emergency kind
  • Warm clothes
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Medication
  • Dust mask
  • Extra eyeglasses
  • Bleach
  • Baby items such as diapers and baby food
  • Pet items such as food, water bowl and leash
  • Hygiene products such as tissues and hand wipes
  • A plastic bucket in case toilets aren’t available
  • Battery-powered radio (and extra batteries)
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Multifunctional axe/knife
  • Whistle
  • Trash bags
  • Small tent
  • Cooking stove, fuel and pot
  • Heavy gloves
  • Shovel
  • Rope
  • Wrench
  • Cash
  • Copies of important documents
  • Phone numbers

You can see the full list here. Note that most of these items are things you should have on hand, even if you don’t need to evacuate. So have this stuff handy regardless, okay?

Are you one of the 60%?
The year 2017 was the costliest ever, with natural disasters causing $306 billion worth of damage. As we near the end of 2018, it seems we had an easier year, but one thing is for certain: Natural disasters will always be a threat. We can’t do anything about that or the destruction they will do, but we can take steps to keep ourselves and our families safe by preparing ahead of time. And according to Farmers Insurance, 60% of us need to get our acts together and get ready!

This Checklist Makes a Workplace Security Self-Audit Easy

There’s something about September that makes me want to get organized. Maybe it’s the start of the new school year, which I’m still in tune with even though we’re empty nesters. I still get a thrill walking past the busy school supplies aisle while at the store, for goodness’ sakes!

Whatever it is about this time of year with the golden light and the cooler mornings, I get the urge to tackle projects, wrap up loose ends, and start anew. And that includes thinking about safety and security as the days get shorter, both at home and at work.

While perusing the Internet in search of good workplace safety tips, I came across this handy checklist:

Admittedly, we’ve done a few blog posts on workplace safety and doing safety audits, like this post on being disaster ready at work and this one on doing a home security review in the fall. But this checklist jumped out at me for three reasons:

  1. It’s easy to use! Print it out, work your way through it, and check the items off.
  2. It’s applicable to work too!
  3. It’s about everyday security.

In the wake of yet another hurricane (hello, Florence), we can get wrapped up in disaster preparedness and thinking about emergency situations. But the reality is we are more likely to get hurt or burgled during a normal day than we are to find ourselves caught in a natural disaster situation. And that’s why a simple safety audit like this one is a good way to go, to take steps to increase safety and security at all times.

If you own a business or work offsite at one, take a look at this checklist and consider printing it out, doing a walk-through, and fixing some of those little issues that put you at risk.

If you want to do a more thorough job and address disaster preparedness too, you can find a much more detailed workplace safety checklist offered by the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. There you’ll also find hundreds of checklists, forms, job descriptions and other resources, all focused on workplace safety.

Because the kids are back in school and they’re not the only ones with projects to tackle this fall…

6 School Safety Tips to Protect Your Teens and College Kids from Theft

Your teens are heading back to school, and they’ll be even more distracted than they were this summer because, you know, teenagers. That means now is the time to review some basic school safety tips, before they get wrapped up in classes and homework and sports—and don’t have time to listen. OK, they might not listen anyway, but you can at least try while they have time.

Last time, we went over cyber safety tips. This time, we offer six school safety tips designed to help your teen not to become a victim of theft. As we’ve done before, we’ve written it directly to your teen…so maybe have them read it, and we’ll nag them for you:

  1. If you don’t want to lose it, leave it at home
    Leave anything you don’t want stolen at home. Yes, your new jacket is to be admired and you want your iPod near, but taking them to school means losing them to theft or forgetfulness.
  2. Lock the car and keep valuables out of sight
    Just as you would when parking your car in any public area, hide anything of value under the car seat or in the trunk of your car if you drive to school—or carpool with a friend. If you leave a purse, backpack, iPod or some other tempting thing in plain sight, you invite a break-in.
  3. Lock your locker
    It sounds like commonsense, right? But my own kids confessed to leaving their lockers unlocked for a whole list of reasons. Sometimes it was because they forgot the combination. Other times it was a sticky lock they didn’t want to mess with during the short time between classes. Or there was the time one of them was sharing a locker with a friend. Your locker has a lock for a reason. Use it.
  4. Lock your gym locker
    When it comes to the gym locker, kids assume they’re coming back soon, so why bother? When one of my kids was in high school, she told me phones were stolen from gym lockers on a regular basis. As with the advice above, it locks for a reason. Lock it.
  5. Do a double-check before leaving the classroom
    When my youngest was still in high school, she suggested this safety tip because forgetting a jacket, purse, cellphone, charger or other piece of property can mean it disappears forever. Teens are distracted anyway, but even more so when in class trying to keep up with the lessons and homework, and then thinking about where they need to be next. If they can get into the habit of doing a double-check before leaving a room, that’s a safety habit they can use anywhere, even when out on their own.

Personal safety and security don’t just happen except through luck. And who wants to trust to luck? Instill good habits in your teens and college students now, and those habits might just stick into adulthood. Now that’s a lesson learned!

Real-Life Lessons Learned When Scammer Uses My Password

So this happened: I received an email with my name and one of my passwords in the subject line. And the first words of the email are “Lets get straight to point. Neither anyone has paid me to investigate about you.”

Guess who got the latest sextortion scam email? Yep! Lucky me!

The email goes on to make accusations and to threaten exposing me unless I pay an extortion fee via bitcoin. You can read the text of the email here, as it’s making the rounds and plenty of people have received it. Warning: It’s nasty.

What set this email apart? My password
So it’s a scam. So what, right? Why didn’t I just delete it? Why was it such a big deal to get this email? There were two reasons why this email surprised me: One, I have my spam filter set very high, so I almost never get spam in my inbox. How did this one get past? I don’t know. And two, the subject line included a password that I’ve used a lot and no one would be able to guess. That got my attention right away, believe me!

As soon as I started to read the email, I knew it was a scam, but still: my password! How did they get my password? That’s when I started digging, and learned that more people are paying off these scammers because they see the password and think there might be some validity to the claims made. As Brett M. Christensen at the Hoax-Slayer website says, “The scammers know that if you receive an email that actually includes one of your passwords – even an old one that you no longer use – you may be much more inclined to believe the claims and pay up.”

So again, how did they get my password? When it was stolen as part of a data breach, it turns out.

Has your data been compromised? Find out
One very good lesson was learned with this disgusting email: I found out I could go to https://haveibeenpwned.com and see which data breaches have included my data. I strongly advise you to do this as well. I was shocked to see that my data had been compromised in eight (yes, eight!) different data breaches. That’s where the scammers got my old password.

I reviewed the list and made sure I had updated any necessary passwords or deleted accounts for each of the breaches. Sadly, one was a marketing firm that collects information on people to sell, and there isn’t anything I can do about that—except be annoyed that the information is collected and sold without my knowledge.

Changing old passwords
More good came from this: I then went through and discovered I was still using that old password in some cases. I was able to both change the password where necessary and delete old accounts that I don’t use any more. It was like cleaning out a digital closet! That felt good!

And finally, getting stricter about passwords
The final benefit to this experience was a renewed commitment on my part to using stronger passwords, as well as keeping up with changing passwords on a regular basis. To be more vigilant about your own passwords, follow this advice.

The sense of violation I felt to have this email in my inbox, the fear caused by the threatening tone even though I knew it was bogus, and the sorrow in knowing that there are people out there who will pay the extortion money are all still with me. It’s hard to shake off that negativity, and that angers me more than the actual email. But the scammers gave me a gift: new insights into keeping me and my data safe. I hope you’ll put these insights to work to protect your information as well.

Sometimes Safety Simply Requires Putting Away the Smart Phone

We have just returned from an amazing trip to a foreign country and I have bad news: I saw as many people glued to their smart phones there as I see in the U.S. On the one hand, you might argue that that’s a good thing, because it shows we live in a global, connected world. I say it’s a case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that has us all glued to our phones, but we should have another fear instead: the consequences of staring at our small screens.

What does it matter that we have home security systems and fancy car locks and smoke detectors if the real risk to our safety is the phone in the palm of our hand? Because if you look at the research, those phones are causing accidents and even deaths—and they would be less of a threat if we could simply put them away sometimes.

Let’s start with the obvious ones: accidents
We’ve all heard we shouldn’t text and drive, and it’s illegal to do so in many states. But still people do it, causing 1.6 million accidents per year. If that number doesn’t scare you, how about these statistics: 3,500 people were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2015, and another 391,000 were injured. Still not scared? How about this: 11 teenagers die every single day due to texting and driving. (You can find a whole lot more scary texting while driving statistics here.)

And it’s not just teenagers who are guilty of the crime. Nor is it just car accidents that are a regular occurrence due to smart phones. This short video demonstrates just how dangerous it is to walk down the street while on your phone. (Do you see the guerilla??) When people are on their phones while walking, they walk into walls, into fountains, into a loose bear, out into the street where they are hit by cars, or even right off a pier requiring a Coast Guard rescue. (I am not making any of this up!)

And then there’s our health
If reading that section above didn’t make you want to spend a little less time with your smart phone, let’s talk about the consequences on our physical well-being. Smart phone use is bad for our eyes, our posture, and our sleep. People who spend a lot of time on their smart phones are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, pain, muscle spasms, and chronic diseases. We can get eye strain and even dry eye syndrome. Our necks are bent down and our arms are uplifted in unnatural ways for long periods of time. That’s gotta hurt at some point! And bright phone screens suppress melatonin levels, making it harder to go to sleep.

Finally, our mental and social health
Spending so much time on our phones is dangerous as we drive and walk. It’s bad for our physical well-being. And, ironically, it’s bad for our mental and social health too. Kids and teenagers disconnect from the world around them—we’ve all witnessed that. But adults can do the same when too caught up in those tiny screens. Heavy duty cell phone use also reduces our brain activity and makes it harder to pay attention, either to a task at hand or to a conversation. Socially, we’ve seen a huge increase in depression and suicides among teens, and convincing research links those increases at least in part to smart phone usage because of social media.

I am as thankful for my phone as the next person. I can keep up with my kids, find my way to a restaurant, check the weather, and stay on top of work email when out of the office. With some apps, I have no choice but to use my phone—like if I need to buy a train ticket. But we all must be aware that there is a time and a place to have that phone out and our attention focused on that, and a time and a place to be focused on what’s going on in the world around us—no matter where in the world we live.

Facebook Faux Pas: Giving Away Your Privacy When You’re Getting Away on Vacation

Are you planning a getaway this summer? Don’t answer that! Or at least don’t answer it publicly. Because you really don’t want to make your vacation vacancy public knowledge, although it’s easy to be tempted to do so.

Maybe you’re not one of those people who share just a little too much on Facebook. You know, the ones with no filters and apparently no need for privacy as their every mood, whim, argument and meal is documented on the social media platform. But when it comes to your vacations, you could be just as guilty of over-sharing, because you’re sharing information that puts your home and you at risk. To avoid giving away too much, follow these tips for protecting your property and your privacy when going on vacation:

Keep it to yourself
It’s shocking how much information people will reveal on Facebook, including details about their upcoming trips. Sure, you’re anticipating that getaway, whether you’re headed to the annual family reunion or you’re going to the beach. But posting about it ahead of time puts your home at risk when someone who does not need to know your house will be empty finds out your house will be empty!

Postpone your pics
Once you’re gone on your trip, post your pictures after you get home rather than advertise to the world that your house is sitting empty. This also gives you time to sort through the pictures so you only post the best of them, not all of them, because really, no one wants to see all of them.

In addition, not posting means no geotagging of photos, which can happen automatically without your knowing. Geotagging tells people wherea picture was taken, and not everyone needs to know your exact location at every minute of the day. Even if you don’t think you have reasons to keep your location to yourself, wouldn’t you rather err on the side of just a little more privacy than a little less?

Speaking of tagging…
If you simply can’t help yourself and you’re going to post pictures while away, avoid tagging the people you’re travelling with just in case they have different views about privacy. What’s fine for you to share might be too much for them.

Enjoy telling your tales after you’re home
None of this is to say you shouldn’t be allowed to do some bragging once you’re back! Of course you want to talk about the wonderful time you had and share your favorite pictures…and you should! It’s just the timing that we’re concerned with. Wait until you’re home again and your home is no longer vacant before you tell your vacation tales.

P.S. For tips on posting pictures people will like and respond to (while avoiding pictures you might regret later), see this useful advice.

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Customer Reviews

I feel so much better knowing my family is protected! I spoke with SafeStreets USA in the evening and a technician was able to come install the system for me then for my parents first thing the next morning. Very impressed with his knowledge and care!

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We had our ADT system installed by SafeStreets USA and were really impressed with the service we received from our technician. He was very friendly and answered all of our questions on the system and how it worked. He set everything up in a couple of hours and was a real pleasure to talk with []

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