Tag Archives: prevention

Your Data Is Priceless: Protect Your Privacy

It’s usually good news when a world record is broken, whether it’s during the Olympics or something on a smaller scale like the most pieces of gum chewed at once (in case you’re curious, it was 98 pieces!). Unfortunately, not all world records are cause for celebration.

Email marketing service Verifications.io recently, with an estimated 2 billion records exposed. While no passwords or social security numbers were involved, the platform had collected data including full names, phone numbers, dates of birth, physical addresses, IP addresses, and even estimates of credit scores.

According to Verifications.io, the databases were only exposed for a short window of time, but who knows what data was compromised for sure? And what about the next big data breach? Here’s a refresher on how to protect yourself and your data before the next news breaks of another big breach:

  • Change your password: Although this latest breach didn’t expose any passwords, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Update your passwords every 6 to 12 months, and ensure that they aren’t easily guessed. It might seem more convenient to use the same password for every site, but you risk exposing all of your info if a hacker gets a hold of that one password.
  • Check your credit: Keep an eye on your credit score for any drastic changes or signs someone is using your own information to apply for credit.
  • Watch your bank statements: Not all fraudulent charges will be hundreds or thousands of dollars. An unfamiliar $2.50 purchase on your card could be someone testing your information before making any large purchases.
  • Take proper care of your mail: Although it’s tempting to just toss old junk mail into the recycling bin and not think about it again, you could be putting personal information such as your full name and home address at risk. Shred any paper with your name on it, or use a sharpie to cover any important information.
  • Keep personal information at home: Do not carry your social security card in your wallet! Unless you need to provide proof of your identity at a government office or when starting a new job, keep your card or copy of your card in a safe place at home. The same should be said for post-it notes with your PIN, or any bank information that has your routing and account numbers on them.

One last step to take is to change your privacy settings. You may not even be aware of how much information companies like Google and Facebook are collecting on you. We need to take our privacy into our own hands, because large corporations aren’t going to do it for us. Sure, we take steps to protect our homes and property, but are we doing the same with our data?

The Potential Pitfalls of Mobile Wallets–and How to Avoid Them

Every time I watch someone pay for their coffee with their watch, I stop for a moment to think “Wow, this is really the future!” Even though I use my phone to make payments all the time, like sending money from Paypal or using Uber, mobile wallets are still new to me. From Venmo to Zelle, Apple Pay to Google Wallet, mobile wallets and payment apps are on the rise. While convenient, is this new financial technology harming our money management skills?

A new study suggests that Millennials who use mobile payment transactions are more likely to be at risk for money mismanagement. They are “more likely to hold nearly all forms of debt, including auto loans (34 versus 29%), be charged credit card fees (58 versus 45%), overdraw their checking accounts (33 versus 19%) and turn to pawnshops or payday loans (50 versus 23%).” Fret not, for it is possible to embrace the convenience of mobile wallets without breaking the bank.

Conscientious of Your Cards
If you tend to carry around multiple credit, debit, or even gift cards in your physical wallet, it may be tempting to just add all of them into your mobile wallet. This can be great for getting reward offers for different purchases, but can also be confusing if you’re storing too many. While you may be able to keep track of two or three balances in your accounts, the more cards you add the easier it will be to forget. You also add the risk of using the wrong card for the wrong app. Maybe you link your business card to Uber, but that doesn’t mean you should link it to your personal Venmo as well. Only add necessary cards into your mobile wallet, and be sure to check an app’s settings for adding and removing payment options as needed.

Avoid Carrying a Balance
Cash can be a controversial form of payment. Some people find cash harder to spend than using a card since they have to physically hand it over and watch it leave their wallet. Others see cash as disposable, that it’s too easy to spend since it’s right there in front of you. The same could be said for keeping a balance in a mobile payment app. If you have $20 sitting in Paypal, maybe that Amazon impulse item is easier to buy since the money won’t leave your account. To avoid keeping balances, make sure to transfer your money into a bank account as soon as you receive it. This can also help you keep track of your spending if it’s confined to one place.

Don’t Forget Your Budget
Perhaps most importantly, stick to your budget. No matter how you pay for your transactions, keeping a budget will help you manage your money and actually save what you have extra. Taking a $10 Uber may sound a lot more appealing than taking the bus, but not if you only budget $20 for ride-sharing for the whole month. Consider linking your mobile wallet to a budgeting app, so you can easily learn your spending habits and keep them in line. Mobile payment transactions aren’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean we have to leave healthy financial habits in the dust behind them.

Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

Spring Cleaning Isn’t Enough: 3 Tips for Making a Household Inventory (Just in Case)

With spring fast approaching, the urge to clean follows close behind. Sure, you throw out clutter and unwanted clothes, but what do you do with the stuff you’re planning on keeping? This is where a complete inventory of your home comes in handy. In the event of an emergency, an up-to-date household inventory may save you thousands of dollars in insurance claims.

For new homeowners, itemizing all your possessions may only take up a single afternoon. Yet for those of us that have been living at the same residence for many years, a home inventory can be intimidating and easy to keep putting off. Don’t get overwhelmed! We’re here to help: Check out these 3 tips to overcome your inventory insecurities.

One: Starting With The Basics
Narrowing your focus to one room of the house at a time is essential. Giving your attention to only one contained area, such as a bedroom closet or a bathroom, can break up what seems to be one large task into several smaller tasks. Once you’ve begun organizing items room by room, it’s important to make sure to include relevant information like estimated value or the make and model of the item. If you know where you purchased the item, be sure to include that as well. Start with closet or room, and don’t move on to the next one until that first one is done. Soon, you’ll have worked your way through your whole house!

Proving With Pictures
In the digital age, our phones can do a whole lot for a homeowner’s day-to-day peace of mind. Creating and saving a photo library of your items could help immensely with replacement in the event of a fire, theft or other disaster. Make sure to include these images with the notes you took while itemizing everything.

Habits for Your House
Now that we have a more complete and compiled list, there’s no reason to let it go to waste. Get into the habit of recording any new purchases and your household inventory will stay up-to-date. Storing receipts and recording serial numbers will also do you a world of good in keeping proof of value. If you happen to purchase a new item that is particularly valuable, it might be a good idea to have the item appraised so you have proof of the estimated value. Practicing these habits now may even help your family members to do the same later, and soon it could become second nature to update your inventory.

Although no one wants to think about a potential theft or disaster and the insurance claims that will follow, it’s best to be prepared. If you’re not sure where to start even after these tips, check out this list of different home inventory apps you can use right from your phone. Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. An entire home inventory may seem daunting, so don’t be afraid to piecemeal the list and leave it incomplete if you need to step away from the clutter. Let’s welcome spring more organized than ever before!

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Memorize Your Card Number so Your Favorite Retailer Can’t

I’m working as a receptionist at a salon for extra money, and guests have to use a credit or debit card to book their appointments. Some people don’t want to give that information over the phone and question why I need their card number at all. (The salon has a 24-hour cancellation and no-show fee for 50% of the service charge, that’s why.) When they realize they do have to give me that information, some must rummage around in their purse and wallet to find their card to read off the numbers. But others rattle off their card number without skipping a beat because they memorized all 16 digits. And those people are on to something…

The booking system at the salon deletes card numbers after a few weeks, so the information does not stay in our computers for long. However, many online retailers can store your credit and debit card numbers for years for your convenience—but at what risk and potential cost? Here are 3 reasons why you should choose security over convenience, and what you can do instead.

Credit Card Theft
Saving your card information on sites like Amazon and Target can save you time while checking out, but are those 2 extra minutes really worth risking your card’s security? If your account for any of these online retailers were to get hacked, someone would just need to select your card and they’re good to go. Some sites don’t even require the card’s security code! Taking the time to grab your wallet and pull out your card may even help prevent impulse buys, giving you an extra moment to reconsider that possibly unnecessary purchase.

Rather than saving your card information online, memorize the number, like some of the salon’s customers mentioned above. This still cuts down on time of trying to find your wallet or purse, but it also prevents the information from being stored anywhere other than your own head. If you happen to lose or forget your card and you’re in an emergency situation, you won’t be stuck penniless either. Some retailers will allow you to give the card numbers without the card in a pinch.

Data Breaches
There were over 1200 data breaches and 440 million records exposed in 2018 alone! With the number of data breaches rising year after year, keeping your personal information safe is more imperative than ever. While it may not be practical to create a new account every time you purchase something online, you should use a guest account on any site you don’t regularly use. This allows you to prevent your data from staying in the system, protecting you from breaches.

Little Ones
With smartphones and tablets a part of our daily lives, many children have grown up with easy access to this new technology—and put it to use. In 2017, Amazon had to refund $70 million worth of in-app purchases made by children without their parent’s consent. Apple has also had to refund money to angry parents. Parents do have ways to stop in-app purchases, but why not keep your card information off the child’s device in the first place? If they need to make a purchase, they can come ask a parent to input the card information for them.

I, for one, am not a perfect person. I have subscriptions that charge my card every month (say “Hi” to Ipsy and Netflix), but I have become more aware of just how many online retailers have my information stored without my making a purchase in months. No one is suggesting that you go completely off the grid and delete your information from everywhere, only to prioritize your time and safety. To save yourself the extra stress of a fraudulent charge on your card, just input the information yourself. When making a purchase, spending 2 minutes now may save you from someone else spending your $200 later.

3 Ways to Make Theft Prevention Part of Your Daily Routine

When leaving for vacation, we take all kinds of precautions. We hire a pet-sitter and have them bring in the mail every day. We pack a huge suitcase with enough clothing to survive the apocalypse. We make sure every door and window is locked and secure for the two weeks we spend getting away. All this effort for less than 4% of the year is great, but what about the other 96% of the time that we aren’t traveling? Because burglaries don’t just happen when you’re clear across the world

Three out of every five home burglaries happen during the day while people are away at work or school. You probably won’t think to take as many precautions before you go to work as you do before you go on a vacation. So here are three easy ways to make theft prevention part of your daily routine.

One, Don’t Be a Show-Off
Now, this doesn’t mean you should be ashamed of having nice things, only that while you are away from home, valuables should be stored and put away out of sight. While cleaning up any clutter, make sure that jewelry, cash and small electronics can’t be seen from any windows. If you’ve recently made any large purchases, such as a new TV or gaming system, break down the cardboard boxes they came in before putting them out on the curb for recycling pick up–so no one sees the evidence.

Two, Knock Knock…Anyone Home?
Making it appear that someone is home is a great way to deter break-ins. Leaving lights on a timer not only fools potential burglars but also allows you to come home to a nicely lit environment. (And a home automation system makes this incredibly easy to do.) If you’re out running errands and will be back in a few hours, you could leave the radio or the TV on for noise. If you have an extra car, consider parking it in the driveway instead of the garage for the day when you’re gone, to trick any would-be burglars into thinking you’re there.

Three, Invest in Home Security
There’s no shame in getting some help from professionals! Only 17% of homes have a home security system, and yet 90% of convicted burglars say they would avoid a home with an obvious alarm system. Whether you’re doing a quick grocery store run, heading to work for the whole day, or heading halfway across the world on vacation, you can have peace of mind that your home is safe with a professional home security system.

It may not be New Years, but it’s never too late to make some changes to your routine. By incorporating just a few small habits into your morning before heading out the door or investing in a home security system, you can help keep your home safe and secure. And maybe with all the comfort you get from a burglar-free home, you can push through that work stress until it’s time for your next vacation…

Safe at Home: 4 Reasons to Keep Fido out of the Kitchen While Cooking

Our family recently got a new addition: an older, untrained rescue dog named Smokey. Even though he is a senior dog, he is still extremely active for his age. This means there are plenty of opportunities for our family members to get out and run with him! But it also means that he can get himself into trouble, especially in the kitchen.

Smokey has already made his way through two loaves of home-made bread, and two and a half marinating steaks. Now, food theft is one concern, but there are actually several safety reasons to keep your dog out of the kitchen while you’re cooking.

Below are four safety hazards that can be avoided when you keep your dog out of the way during meal prep:

One, Forbidden Food
Whether it’s tonight’s dinner sitting on the counter or an ingredient that dropped on the floor, you probably don’t want either to disappear into your dog’s mouth. Keeping Fido out of the kitchen helps protect any food you’re preparing as well as protects your furry friend from eating something that could be harmful to their doggy digestion. See this list of “human foods” you should avoid giving your pets.

Two, Hot Liquids
Between boiling water and hot oil, there are plenty of ways you can get burned while cooking. If it would hurt you, it would hurt your dog too—or both of you if the dog causes you to trip while carrying something hot. Then there’s the danger of a spill. Fido doesn’t have your kitchen awareness of what’s hot or not. To be safe, keeping your dog out of the kitchen and away from any potential spills would be your best bet.

Three, Sharp Objects
As careful as we try to be with sharp knives or scissors, accidents happen. Sure, you watch out for your own toes when you drop that carving knife, but in that split second you have to react, are you also paying attention to where your underfoot dog is? There’s also the potential of your furry friend trying to grab food off the counter, only to bring down a knife with half of a pot roast. And, again, the tripping hazard: Tripping over your pup while carrying a sharp knife sounds like a recipe for disaster to me!

Four, Tempting Trash
Even with a covered trash can, sometimes those smells from the garbage are just too tempting for your dog to resist. Although there’s a chance of Fido eating food that he shouldn’t if he gets into the trash, there are also other dangerous materials like aluminum foil and plastic that he could ingest. If everything smells like chicken, then in his mind wouldn’t it all taste like chicken? “Might as well eat it and see,” says doggy logic.

When you have a dog has part of your home and family, training is important to keep everyone safe: humans and hound. Yet the kitchen isn’t always a part of that training. To make sure your kitchen does become a safe haven during meal prep, find a solution that works for you and your family, such as making your pet stay on a mat or dog bed in an area of the home where they can still see you while you’re cooking. The goal isn’t to isolate them away from you, only to set boundaries for them. This way when they do get a treat during meal prep, it’s one that you choose to give them, and not an entire steak they steal from the counter.

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.

Kids Stuck Inside on a Snow Day? Check Your Home for Hazards

As many schools’ winter breaks come to an end, children are heading back to their classrooms and out of the house. But even with school back in session, some states can have up to 50 days of weather-related school closures. So on days when the weather is too crummy to even play outside, how can little ones stay safe indoors with all that bottled up energy?

If your young children are stuck inside on a snow day, here are some safety tips to keep in mind while preparing for their time off from school:

Slipping or falling opportunities
Cabin fever could mean your kids are more rambunctious than usual, which could mean running inside the house (even if they aren’t supposed to). Look around your home for anything that might present a tripping or falling hazard, such as area rugs, cords or even corners of furniture. Also remind your kids about the dangers of horseplay on furniture, since a fall from a table or sofa would be worse than from their own two feet.

Falling objects
If falling children isn’t a concern, check for any potentially falling objects. Any heavy objects like televisions or stereos should be securely fastened to a wall or stand. Other hazards to scan your rooms for are objects that could be bumped into and broken if they fell, like vases or picture frames.

Hot water in cold weather
With dropping temperatures, your heat could be on all day and all night, posing a potential problem for kids out of sight. Try to keep an eye on little ones around hot water heaters, radiators, and even stoves and microwaves. Children are most likely to be scalded by hot water in drinks or baths, so be sure to be mixing cold water into anything too hot.

Even when your kids are stuck inside at home, they can be just as safe as if they were back in their classroom. When in doubt, if you think your child might get into something they shouldn’t, assume they will and prevent it. Whether the weather is stormy or snowy, wet or simply your typical winter, check your home for these hazards to ensure your child’s safety. Maybe tomorrow it will only be a late arrival instead of a whole day off…

Winter Storms Are Coming–Have You Checked the Roof?

Even though the holiday season is over, winter only started a month ago. While some areas have been experiencing a milder winter than usual, we still have a long stretch to get through until we can put away our snow tires and heavy coats. The storm that hit the Midwest and moved East last week caused hundreds of thousands of homes to lose power. Central Missouri reported up to 17 inches of snow!

Those of us outside the Midwest might not be so concerned with winter storms, but are you and your house protected in the event of one coming through your region? Because your roof is prone to damage during winter weather, the time to fix any existing issues and prevent any future problems is now.

Here are four ways to check for signs of damage or potential damage:

Clean Your Roof
Prevention starts with cleaning. If you have a dry day to check out your roof, look for clogged gutters or loose shingles. Leaving leaves or other debris in your gutter can block water from flowing through and cause ice dams when the temperature drops below freezing. And if frozen temperatures aren’t your concern, clogged gutters still leave a buildup of water that can cause rust and other water damage. This is also the time to replace any loose shingles, as shingles are your roof’s protection against water, and you don’t want them blowing away in the next storm!

Trim the Trees
This is a risk to check for whether the weather is dry or not. Look to see if there are any tree branches (or trees!) that could fall onto the roof under the weight of snow, rain or ice. Branches could also bend lower under a heavy weight, touching the roof. Trees and branches that fall during a storm can damage the surface and the structure of your roof, so clear away any that could cause problems later on.

Fix Faulty Flashing
If wet weather is more of a concern than snow and ice, then flashing around anything on your roof is at risk. Loose flashing can–and will–let water in. Now is a good time to check for flashing on other areas of your home too, to make sure everything is secure and watertight.

Examine Your Attic
There are two ways your attic can help with winter weather protection: ventilation and water damage. If your attic is cool and well ventilated, it can prevent snow from melting and creating ice dams. Also check for any water damage visible in the attic, such as mold or damaged insulation. This could be a sign of leaks in your roof and needs to be repaired before a big storm comes rolling through.

Winter roof protection might mean no spring roof repairs, leaving you more time for fun spring cleaning around your home. Just kidding! But it can save you time and money by preventing any major problems from arising. So give your roof a check-up, grab a warm beverage, and try to stay dry and warm until April finally arrives…

The Top 10 Safety and Security Posts of 2018—to Guide You into a Safer New Year

Another year has come and gone. And we are doing our usual looking backwards to review 2018 and decide what to bring forward into the new year…as well as what to leave behind. Which brings us to safety and security, of course!

During the past year, we served up over 50 blog posts on home security and safety topics. To wrap up 2018 with a flourish, we’ve sorted through those 50 posts to make this list of the top 10. The criteria? The topics we consider of the highest priority based on what poses the greatest risks to us, our loved ones and our homes. Without further ado, here are our top topics for the past year, those we consider still high priorities as we move into 2019:

As mentioned above, we delivered over 50 posts over the past year, covering everything from online shopping to college campus safety tips. You can find every safety and security topic at our blog, so take a look and discover all the other ways you can keep yourself, your family and your home safe and secure in 2019.

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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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