Tag Archives: identity

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!

Protect Your Passport! 6 Passport Safety Tips

Do you have a passport? Having one is a good idea for U.S. citizens. It’s identification, it’s proof of citizenship, and it’s necessary for traveling outside of the U.S. In some cases, however, it’s not just necessary for international travel any longer. In nine states, a passport is now required to fly domestically, because the driver’s licenses issued by those states are not compliant with TSA standards. And because the wait for a passport can be several weeks, it’s probably a good idea to get one even if you’re not planning on travelling abroad or you don’t live in one of those nine states targeted by TSA.

Regardless of the reason for needing a passport, you need to keep it safe once you have it. Passports can be lost and they can be stolen to be sold on the black market. And if you’re without a passport in a foreign country, you could be in a very bad way.

To practice passport safety, follow these six tips:

  1. Photocopy your passport and keep the copy separate. That way if your passport is lost or stolen, you have the duplicate for proof of your identity and to speed up replacement. Better yet, make two copies. Keep one with your luggage and one with you—but separate from the original, as in keep it in a different bag or pouch. And to be extra careful, make a third copy to leave with someone back home.
  2. Scan it as well for a digital version. This you can keep on your smart phone.
  3. Keep your passport with you when traveling—and we mean close with you. Don’t tuck it into a backpack or purse that’s easily stolen, but carry it where a pickpocket can’t get it, like in a money belt or a neck wallet that you wear under your shirt.
  4. Regularly make sure you have it with you when traveling, but not in an obvious way. If you do lose it or it gets stolen, you want to know right away.
  5. Don’t hand it over to anyone else, not the hotel staff or tour guide. Keep it with you.
  6. If you’re going somewhere or doing something that makes hanging on to your passport impractical (like bungee jumping or scuba diving), lock it up in your absence.

Are you heading somewhere that requires a passport this summer? I am! And I am looking forward to the getaway! I have my passport and my neck wallet, but I will also be following my own advice and making copies both paper and digital, plus practicing diligence while out of the country. We will have some of our adult children traveling with us too for the first time internationally, and everyone will be getting these safety tips above as we practice what we preach. I hope you will as well, for passport peace of mind!

How Do You Keep Using Facebook but Minimize Your Risk?

Now that the major Facebook fail has come to light and we’re realizing just how vulnerable our personal data can be when using social media, many of us are trying to figure out how to limit our exposure without going so far as to #deletefacebook. After all, it has—for better or worse—become a de facto way of staying in touch, with friends, with community events and with people of like-minded interests.

If you’re looking for ways to limit exposure without deleting your Facebook account altogether, you can. Below are suggestions based on my own experience in taking these steps to protect myself. It takes a little legwork, as you’ll see, but the peace of mind is worth it.

First, change how you use Facebook
According to Facebook, I’ve been a user since 2007. Way back then, I didn’t know enough to be concerned about privacy. I freely shared information both in my profile and through my posts, and accepted friend requests willy nilly. Over time, I did start to think about these issues. I unfriended hundreds of people who weren’t really friends, I shared less, and I removed some of the personal information I had previously included in my profile.

In light of the recent news about Cambridge Analytica, however, I realized I still had a lot of work to do. So I dug deeper to find out what else I could change…

Second, share less information
The data collected about you is provided by you. But you can limit the amount of information you make accessible in two ways: remove some of it from your profile and share less on Facebook.

  • Removing information from your profile: Do you need to include your high school, college or hometown in your profile information? I realized that no, I do not. I went through and cleaned up my profile to remove that kind of information, as well as my phone number and other personal info that was unnecessary.
  • Sharing less often: You create data about you not only by posting on Facebook, but also by sharing and liking other posts and even things outside of Facebook that you share via Facebook. If you cut back on that kind of usage, you’ll cut back on the data collected about you.

Third, don’t use Facebook as your login elsewhere
When you need to create a login at a new site, you’re often given the option of simply logging in via Facebook. How easy is that? I used to do it! Now I don’t. I had to go back to some websites and create new logins in order to remove those sites and apps from my Facebook account, and that was a pain, but worth it.

Moving forward, take a minute to create new login rather than use your Facebook login and this won’t be an issue.

To see where you’ve already allowed access, you can log in to your Privacy Settings and Tools to review what kinds of access you’ve allowed, as well as the Apps you’ve granted access to. There you can remove the apps and sites you don’t want connected.

I was shocked to see the dozens of apps and websites that had access to my account, most of which I didn’t even recognize. Removing them took a while as I had to check the box next to each one at a time (without any “Select All” option) then click Remove. All told, I removed 41 apps and websites: 41!

Fourth, review information in your profile
I went through this exercise, and I was shocked at how much personal information I had shared via my Facebook data, some of it very old. For example, I had written an About description six years ago, in 2012, and I don’t even remember writing it!

I couldn’t figure out how to delete everything I want to delete. For example, I don’t share my birth year because you’re not supposed to as it makes you vulnerable to identity theft. But Facebook has it. It’s in my profile information. It’s not public to the world or even my Facebook friends, but it is readily available to Facebook, and I can’t change that.

Fifth, review your Ad settings
You can also check your Ads settings and delete those interests you don’t want used to target ads to you. I had to laugh while going through this process because so many of the interests Facebook associates with me or anything but! In addition, you can see the categories you’re included in and the “about you” information advertisers are using to target you.

Then there is the information under “Advertisers you’ve interacted with.” For me, I had nothing under the actual ads interacted with, but I have hundreds of advertisers showing up in the category “Who have added their contact list to Facebook.” Facebook says of this category, “These advertisers are running ads using a contact list they uploaded that includes contact info you shared with them or with one of their data partners.” And that’s kind of scary. Because not only do I not recognize most of these advertisers, but I don’t understand how they have my name until I see the words “data partners” and I realize just how much data sharing goes on—which is what I’m trying to avoid. (Notice I said have and not had. That’s because there are so many of these advertisers that I ran out of time to delete them all…and I don’t even know if that’s possible, there are so many—a sobering thought!)

Sixth, download your Facebook data
I didn’t not go so far as to download my Facebook data, but it is an option. For me, what I’ve shared, I’ve shared. I can’t delete it. Even deleting my Facebook account wouldn’t delete the data collected about me. But for someone curious to see what that data is, you can.

I don’t want to #deletefacebook. As people and organizations have moved away from email as a way to communicate, Facebook is how I find out about events in my small town and milestones in the lives of distant friends (because my family and close friends stay in touch in other ways). That said, I don’t want to share any more than I have to, and I hope the steps I’m taking help to minimize my risk—and that my experience might help you to do the same.

Post Equifax Data Breach, It’s Time to Up Our Self-Protection Game. Here’s How…

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about these days, the credit reporting agency Equifax has just revealed that the personal information of up to 143 million consumers was hacked. That information included Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, license plate numbers, credit card numbers and other personal data.

Although the attacks at Yahoo! were much larger in scale, with 1 billion accounts hacked, the Equifax one is far more menacing, because so much personal information was made vulnerable. And, of course, we can’t know for certain what information exactly was stolen, who has it, nor what they plan to do with it.

And it gets worse: Despite the severity of the attack, it was six weeks before Equifax reported the breach, which is another reason to take responsibility for keeping tabs on our credit and personal information. A lot can happen in six weeks!

We’ve covered the issue of protecting your personal information here before, but following this massive and frightening breach, it’s probably time to reiterate the importance of being proactive, and how to go about it. So here we go…

Password1 and Password2 aren’t enough
Change your password frequently and effectively; even switching your passwords up every 6 to 12 months can help protect you from hackers. Try to vary passwords as well, using different words and numbers to help defend from a “domino effect,” where one password can give access to all of your other accounts.

Take credit for your credit reports
Annually check your credit at http://www.annualcreditreport.com/ to look for errors and potentially catch someone using your information to apply for credit.

Watch where your money goes
Keep a close eye on your banking a credit card statements, and notify your bank if you notice any unusual or suspicious activity. Fraudulent charges aren’t always hundreds or thousands of dollars; they could be just a few bucks if someone is testing the waters with your information.

Those are the most obvious steps you can take regarding data breaches, but here are some other proactive ways to protect yourself from identity theft, as well:

  • Check your mailbox: Even your junk mail can have both your name and your address on it, so be sure to shred anything with personal data and remove the address label before disposing of your unwanted mail.
  • Keep your SSN off your person: Anything with your personal information, such as your social security card or a sticky note with your PIN, can be lost if carried with you. Store important data in a safe place so it won’t get lost if you drop your wallet while out and about.
  • Age is but a number: Don’t publish your full birthdate on social media sites. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow you to show your month and day while hiding your birth year, so friends can still know when to post that “Happy Birthday!” without you risking personal information being stolen.

Overall, paying close attention to your personal data and being cautious with your information are the best ways to stay safe from hackers, data breaches, and any unsavory characters online. These are simple steps that only take minutes out of your day and even your year and can help to protect you and your family to the best of your abilities. Because when one of the biggest credit reporting agencies in the world falls victim to hackers, is anyone’s information really safe?

Critical Steps to Take to Protect Yourself Following a Data Breach

I recently came across frightening statistics on data breaches while doing research for an article. Major data breaches in recent years have been far more frequent and severe than I’d realized. Which got me wondering, what’s a consumer supposed to do after the fact when a major company gets hacked and our information is compromised?

Because when it comes to data breaches, we the consumers are the hapless victims. We often have to have our personal data stored someplace. We have no choice. For example, our health insurance provider was hacked and our social security numbers compromised. There is no way to have a relationship with a health insurance provider and not hand over that kind of personal data like a social security number. It’s required. All we can do is hand it over and hope the company or organization we’ve trusted is extremely diligent in their data security.

And often they’re not…or at least, not enough.

What to do after a data breach
So back to my question: What’s a consumer to do after a data breach in order to protect oneself?

Although information I found on the FTC website is specific to a particular data breach, the advice seems applicable to any data breach. If you haven’t yet received a letter from some company or organization informing you of a data breach, you probably will. So review this advice now, and be ready later if and when you do become a victim.

  • Put a fraud alert on your credit reports.
  • Put a freeze on your credit so no new accounts can be opened in your name. Do a credit freeze for each of your kids too.
  • File your taxes right away each year to ensure no one files a fake return pretending to be you.
  • Close any bank or credit accounts and open new ones.
  • Keep checking your credit reports.
  • Be wary of phone calls that threaten you to pay taxes or debt.
  • Change your logins and passwords (something you should do regularly anyway).
  • Keep a close eye on your bank accounts.

In addition to this short list above, you can find a longer more detailed list of advice at IdentityTheft.gov.

Be proactive in other ways
In 2014, 17.6 million Americans were the victims of identity theft. That’s 7% of the population. Although you can’t protect yourself from a data breach, you can take proactive steps to decrease the chances that you’ll become one of these victims in other ways. And this might help in the future if your information is compromised as part of a data breach. So be diligent about changing passwords. Check your credit report annually at annualcreditreport.com.

In particular, stay on top of your banking and credit card statements, watching for suspicious activity. I have twice had strange purchases show up, one in my business checking account for medicine, and one in my personal account for jewelry. The first involved a huge amount of money, the second only a few dollars. But both showed my accounts had been compromised and who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t spotted the fraudulent activity right away and notified the bank?

It’s a sad world that we live in when we have to be continually at risk. But decreasing that risk and being prepared to react to it when adversity strikes can help.

Facebook Foibles: 10 Social Media Safety Tips for Seniors

Senior citizens are the fastest growing demographic among social media users: 35% of senior citizens are using social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and that number is trending decidedly upward. For many older adults, social media makes it possible to be connected with far-flung kids, grandkids and friends in a way never possible before.

Although people in that age group enjoy the connecting with family and staying in touch with friends, social media sites like Facebook are not without risks. If you’re in that 60+ demographic or you have a friend or family member who is, and engaging in Facebook or other social media usage, let’s go over some social media safety tips to keep seniors safe.

Social media safety tip 1: Use strong passwords
First and foremost, people of every age must use strong passwords when doing any activity online, not just Facebook. Accounts do get hacked, and if the password used for Facebook is used elsewhere too, that could lead to even more trouble. Seniors (and all of us, really) should follow advice for creating strong passwords. And, in my experience with older relatives, these passwords should be written down somewhere in case they are forgotten later.

Social media safety tip 2: Use the privacy settings
Seniors might not realize all that they are exposing themselves too when publicly sharing and communicating on sites like Facebook. Therefore it’s a good idea to have some kind of privacy set up. Facebook makes it easy to tweak all kinds of privacy settings. Take a look. There might be some areas you hadn’t considered that you definitely want to make private once you see all of the options.

Social media safety tip 3: Practice self censorship
In addition to using Facebook’s settings to make content private, seniors should be cautioned to practice self censorship as well. Not everything needs to be made public. If it’s information you don’t really need to share, don’t. This includes information about family members and friends too. Sure, you might be concerned about your niece about to have surgery, but sharing that in a public forum such as Facebook might go against your niece’s wish to keep her surgery private.

Social media safety tip 4: Beware scam messages
Just like email will deliver scam messages to your inbox, so will Facebook Messenger do the same. If you receive a message from someone you don’t know, you should probably ignore it. Period.

Social media safety tip 5: Be selective about your friends
Just like in real life, you don’t have to be friends with everyone. Be choosy. Just because someone sends you a friend request does not mean you have to accept it. Ask yourself, “Do I really benefit by being friends with this person on Facebook?” The fewer the “friends” the better, in many cases.

Social media safety tip 6: Keep your time away from home or alone to yourself
Under no circumstances should you publicly post that you will either be away from home or home alone. Even with strict privacy settings (see tip #2), that information could get to someone who does not need to know that your house is empty or that you are vulnerable. This goes for vacations too: Save your pictures until you are back home and then post them.

Social media safety tip 7: Verify before you share
Facebook is full of posts being shared by other users, but that does not mean you should share them too without verifying them first, especially after all of the fake news in the last presidential election. If you’re ever in doubt about the validity of a post, do not share it. Just let it be.

Social media safety tip 8: Don’t click “like,” don’t type “amen”
This same advice about not sharing applies to liking and typing “amen” too. Oftentimes you have a picture tugging at your heart strings encouraging you to click “Like” or type “amen” or do something else. This is probably a case of like farming and will only lead to trouble later. You can see it, you can have your heartstrings tugged, but you’re better off just scrolling right on past it.

Social media safety tip 9: Click less, not more
Sadly, Facebook is fraught with dangers, so be wary where you click. Try to only click through when you know it’s going to take you to a valid site, like a news site that you’re familiar with. Otherwise you are putting yourself at risk for a lot of ads or even malware. Just as with your friends, be selective about your clicks.

Social media safety tip 10: Know this—If it sounds to good to be true, it is
Promises of money, great deals, rewards…even if they come from friends (who might have had their Facebook accounts hacked)…should be ignored. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. So assume the worst and skip the post or delete the message.

There is much good that can come from senior citizens being on social media sites like Facebook. They can be much more connected than ever before, to family and friends. But the Internet is not a place ruled by the innocence of rainbows and unicorns. It has a dark side too. Making sure older adults understand and protect themselves from those dangers is imperative.

Identity Theft: It’s a Real Threat, and One You Must Protect Yourself From

If you think identity theft is no real threat but rather something that can only happen to “that other guy,” think again. It’s a very real threat in part because you’re not likely to even know that it happened until after the fact. Here’s the lowdown on identity theft, and what you can do to protect yourself from it…

What do they steal?
As we’ve published in an earlier post, according to IdentityHawk, the types of data that get stolen online include:

  • Name and address 31.4%
  • Social Security numbers 19%
  • Date of birth 10.5%
  • Financial information 8.6%
  • Credit card numbers 4.6%

And data from 2014 published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) shows just what happens when that personal information gets compromised, because identity theft takes several forms. Although it might sound like someone steals your identity and pretends to be you, that’s not exactly what it means. According to the BJS statistics, most incidents involve someone else using a victim’s credit card or bank account. Of the cases reported in 2014:

  • 86% had an existing credit card or bank account misused
  • 4% had their personal information stolen and used to open a new account
  • 7% experienced multiple types of identity theft

We don’t always know we’re a victim
According to the BJS, about 17.6 million Americans, or 7% of people age 16 or older, were victims of identity theft, but identity theft is not usually immediately apparent. If someone stole your car, you’d notice that right away. But if someone used your bank account to buy very expensive prescription drugs (which happened to me), you wouldn’t necessarily know it until much later.

According to IdentityHawk, only 21% of people know within the first month that they’re a victim, while it might be as long as three months for 45% of the victims and over three years for another 14% of them.

According to the BJS statistics, 45% of victims don’t know about the theft until their financial institution contacts them due to suspicious activity. Another 18% of victims find out about the theft when they see mysterious charges on their bank or credit card statement (which is how I found out). Victims usually don’t know how or when their personal information was stolen. (I certainly didn’t!)

How to protect yourself from identity theft
The good news is, Americans do seem to be proactive in protecting their personal data to prevent identity theft. In 2014, the BJS estimated 85% of us were being careful to check credit reports, shred documents and change passwords. Still, 100% would be a better number!

If you’re not yet fully protecting yourself and your personal data in order to avoid being a victim of identity theft, remember these tips:

  • Carefully deal with the mail. Shred anything with personal data on it, and remove even your name and address or the address label before you toss anything in the recycling or trash.
  • Use a credit for online shopping, rather than a debit card. In addition, follow these tips for safer online shopping.
  • Don’t carry personal information on you, such as your social security number.
  • Stay on top of your credit reports.
  • Don’t publish your full birthdate on social media sites.
  • Change your passwords often and effectively, with the easy-to-follow advice here.

Sure “only” 7% of us were a victim of identity theft in 2014, but there’s nothing that says you or I couldn’t be part of that 7% for 2017! So be proactive and follow these tips, to keep you and your personal data safe and secure.

A New Year, a New You—Wait, That’s not You! 4 Steps to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

I heard a scary statistic recently: In the U.S. alone, about 15 million people are victims of identity theft every year. And as much as I would like to play ostrich in the sand and pretend it could never happen to me (or you!), the reality is, it very well could. In the past year at our household, we received notifications that our social security numbers had been comprised through a hack of our health insurance company and through a hack of a governmental agency tied to the military.

Talk about a helpless feeling! Reading those notification letters about the compromised data made me sick to my stomach each time, because there was nothing I could have done about either attack. My family’s personal data was not put at risk because of any oversight on my part, yet we are all potential victims just the same.

However, this has all added up to my decision to be more vigilant in protecting our identities in 2016, including paying attention so that we’ll know if someone’s identity is stolen. In case it’s useful to you, I offer up four of the steps we’re taking at our house for better identity protection…

Step 1: Carefully deal with the mail
My husband is adamant that we not toss mail with personal information on it into the recycling. I used to think he was being silly. I no longer think that. Now I go through every piece of mail to remove names, addresses and any other information like account numbers and all of that goes into the wood stove while the rest of the mail goes into the recycling bin.

Step 2: Minimize online shopping
My husband has also been adamant about not using debit cards to make online purchases, only credit cards. Since I don’t like using a credit card (because I can’t be relied on to pay off what I put on), I continued to use debit cards, but not any longer. However, I didn’t switch to using a credit card. I have simply tried to be more organized so I am less likely to decide to buy something online in a rush, even if that means going without. I have one trusted place I buy from online and I try to only buy from that place. An added bonus of this is that I am more likely to spend money in my local community as I shop the brick-and-mortars stores instead!

Step 3: Don’t carry personal information on you
I used to carry my social security card in my wallet. Hey, it’s the size of all of the other cards in my wallet, so I thought I was supposed to! Not only that, I used to carry my kids’ social security cards too. I no longer do, and it’s fine for me since I know my own number by heart. I don’t have the kids’ numbers memorized, however, but guess what? It turns out every single time I am asked for the social security number for one of my kids, on a school form or at the doctor’s office, I don’t actually need it. Every time I explain that I don’t carry the numbers on me and every time I am told it’s okay, they have the numbers on file. (Maybe it would help to reduce identity theft if businesses and organizations stopped asking for social security numbers when not needed?)

Step 4: Stay on top of our credit reports
I have heard or read this advice numerous times, and now in 2016 I am finally taking the advice to heart. I have set up a calendar reminder so I will check our credit reports twice a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. I will be checking not only my own credit report and my husband’s but that of my kids too, since they are just as likely to be victims of identity theft as the adults are.

As I said above, my family’s personal data has already been put at risk through no fault of our own, but I still want to minimize whatever risk is within my control—including staying on top of our credit reports in case one of us is victimized. I highly recommend you consider doing the same, since chances are some of us will be among the 15 million victims of 2016. And you can insert a sadface emoji here about that…

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