Tag Archives: protection

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.

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.

Porch Pirates Now Part of the Holidays: Here’s How You Can Fight Back

It must be the holidays, because porch pirates are in the news again! In the same day, I heard about porch pirates in my part of the country (the Pacific Northwest) and Jersey City, where police are planting GPS tracking devices in boxes that look like Amazon deliveriesin order to catch thieves.

Porch piracy on the rise
Sadly, porch piracy is definitely increasing during the holiday season. One report released says 25.9 million Americans have had a package stolen during the holidays. That number was 23.5 million in 2015. And since Americans are doing more shopping online and will continue to do so, those “porch pirates” have plenty of booty to grab from front porches.

Ways to thwart thieves
Although you can insure packages in case they are stolen, what you really want is the package, right? That means you must take steps to thwart the pirates in the first place. Rather than risking packages getting delivered but never making their way to you, because someone absconded with them first, try these tips:

  • Use your home security system to see who is at your door and to unlock the door if it’s a package delivery. With the right home security setup, you can do this remotely—even while at work.
  • Choose to have your package delivered to a nearby Amazon locker, or have packages shipped to your local UPS store.
  • Have packages delivered to you at work or to a neighbor or family member who will be home when you’re not.
  • Look into getting your own P.O. Box at the post office.
  • Require a signature to confirm delivery.
  • Track packages while they’re en route and change the routing if you need to based on where you’ll be.

And now for the fun part…
The porch pirate topic isn’t all bad news. If you’d like to see someone get revenge on porch pirates, watch this 11 minute video of Mark Rober, a NASA engineer and YouTube star, doing just that. Rober spent 6 months designing and building a device that not only sprays glitter all over the thief when the booby-trapped package is opened, it also sprays fart spray and has four camera phones rigged to catch footage of the events while they unfold. Warning: If you watch the video, note that the thieves often use bad language when the booby trap goes off, although it’s all blanked out.

Porch pirates are now the new normal, but we can take steps to fight back…or maybe that NASA engineer will mass produce his booby trap, and we can put pirates off forever! We’ll only need a lot more glitter and fart spray…

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!

What’s New in Home Security? We Look at the Latest in Locks

If your car is new enough, you probably don’t have a key to unlock the door or even to start the engine. Instead, you have a “proximity key” which means something you’re carrying will unlock your car door for you when you are close enough.

As someone who drives an older car with an old-fashioned key, I can’t quite wrap my head around that yet, but I’d better get caught up soon because door locks for houses are going high tech too!

A home security or home automation system is a smart way to protect your home, but—as we’ve said before—it’s not enough. You must take other steps too, including secure door and window locks. And those locks are getting ever more sophisticated while offering multiple advantages as high-tech locks. You can lock or unlock your door remotely using your smart phone when necessary. You can assign a temporary code to a non-family member who needs to access your house—say a neighbor who’s feeding the cat while you’re away. You can get a notification when the lock is used. And those are just a few of the new-fanged features!

When your lock’s looks count…
Your lock is a security feature, but it’s also prominent on the entry point of your home, so appearance might be of utmost importance to you. If you care about appearance and you want a lock that looks like a lock, you can find them. Some smart locks can be opened with a code on a keypad, as a keyless entry, or with a key, but they have a classy low-tech “lock look” even though they’re high tech on the inside.

When you want high-tech features with a low-tech look
Some new-fangled locks do double duty when they look like a regular deadbolt but are all high-tech. You can even find locks with a place to insert a key, but they work via a biometric scanner that’s hiding behind an innocuous looking lock. You put your finger under the scanner to gain access.

When you want your high-tech lock to have a high-tech look
Other new locks look as high tech as they perform–all sleek and streamlined, screaming they’re high tech and not pretending to be anything but!

Of course, you have other options for locking your front door that are low tech, and those options are fine too, as long as you’re using high-quality locks and the whole family is diligent about locking them. But if you want something more sophisticated, one of these high-tech options might be the best choice for you!

Preparing for the Flu Season in the Wake of a Deadly One

“Flu season deaths top 80,000 last year” read the headline that caught my eye last week. Last year was the deadliest flu season since 1976, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, with 80,000 Americans dying from the flu and flu complications during the winter of 2017-2018.

It was an unusual flu season for other reasons too, according to the CDC. We had a record-breaking 900,000 hospitalizations due to the flu, and we had three weeks during which the entire country was affected by the flu at a high level as compared to the usual region-by-region activity of the virus.

Why was the flu season so bad?
Why was it such a deadly flu season? According to one source, the flu season was so bad for a combination of reasons:

  • The flu vaccine used was less effective.
  • The strains of flu were stronger and deadlier.
  • The number of sick people who passed along the flu to others was higher.

Although we can use hindsight to see why last year was so deadly, we can’t know what the next flu season will bring, so we must be prepared, to keep ourselves and our loved ones protected.

The flu can hurt us financially too
As we’ve written before, the consequences of the flu go beyond being sick or even hospitalized. Many of us are also negatively impacted when kids miss school and parents must stay home from work to care for them. Many of those parents are staying home without pay. And when you’re talking about millions of school days missed and 22% of those days uncompensated for the parents who had to take time off either to care for their children or because they were sick, you can see a huge financial impact due to the flu.

What can you do to prepare for this year’s flu season?
Experts say to assume this year’s flu season will be as bad as last year’s, and they recommend getting a flu vaccine by the end of October. However, getting a flu shot does not mean you won’t get the flu. So in addition to getting your flu shot, you should also follow this advice to minimize your risk:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, and take good care of yourself. This strengthens your immune system. (Plus it’s plain old commonsense for healthy living!)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. The flu virus can survive 24 hours on hard surfaces and you won’t know if someone sick has touched that gas pump handle or ATM machine before you got there.

Also go to the CDC website to learn more about the flu vaccine and prevention.

To read about all those deaths from an illness we consider to be a “normal” one is heartbreaking. Let’s try to prevent another deadly year as we take steps to protect ourselves knowing a new flu season is coming.

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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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