Did your DNS change for the worse? Make sure you aren’t getting the wrong Internet address

Don’t want to lose your Internet services?  Then check your DNS for malware.  Sound “Greek” to you?  Then this statement from the FBI should get your attnetion.

“To assist victims affected by the DNSChanger malicious software, the FBI obtained a court order authorizing the Internet Systems Consortium (ISC) to deploy and maintain temporary clean DNS servers. This solution is temporary, providing additional time for victims to clean affected computers and restore their normal DNS settings. The clean DNS servers will be turned off on July 9, 2012, and computers still impacted by DNSChanger may lose Internet connectivity at that time.”

As part of a two year long investigation, the FBI arrested and charged six Estonian nationals with running a sophisticated, and fraudulent Internet ring.

The indictment, said Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of our New York office, “describes an intricate international conspiracy conceived and carried out by sophisticated criminals.” She added, “The harm inflicted by the defendants was not merely a matter of reaping illegitimate income.”

This cyber band of thieves used malware called DNSChanger to:

  • infect approximately 4 million computers in more than 100 countries.
  • 500,000 infections in the U.S. (individuals, companies and even NASA)
  • using and manipulating Internet advertising they generated at least $14 million in stolen fees
  • some instances kept the users’ anti-virus software and operating systems from updating, pulling those machines infected by DNSChanger at risk for more malicious software.

DNS  (Domain Name System) is an Internet service that converts domain names into IP addresses.  It’s what causes the computers to “talk” to each other so that you may use your computer to visit a site.  Without them you would not have any Internet service including email, social networking or access to websites.  Criminals have learned that if they can control a DNS, then they can control where you visit, even sending you to sites that you had no intention of visiting or phony sites set up to shadow a real one and collect information and private data from you.

Sometimes those computers that have been subject to DNS malware (software that is malicious) find that that is not the only malware on their computer or hacking its way into their systems.

Checking your DNS to make sure that it is safe from malware is important because without it you could lose your Internet services.  While it is best and most effectively tested through a computer professional,  it is possible to check you DNS yourself for malware.    The other forms of malware may be stealing your username and passwords and sending them off for others to use for fraudulent reasons like identity theft, credit cards and even medical treatment.

You can visit the FI website to check your DNS and make sure that you continue to have the “all clear” to use the Internet.    There are testing sites available in a variety of languages.  For those that want to test their systems on their own there is a helpful PDF instruction booklet available that will walk you through the various steps needed to test your DNS no matter what time of system you may be operating.

So I did just that.  I thought better safe than sorry and while I didn’t consult a professional I did use the site http://www.dcwg.org/detect/ to check my DNS.   It was easy, there is no software to download and no looking around to find information that I would need to complete the more intricate steps needed to test my laptop.  Actually I didn’t have to do anything but “click” the link provided.  Here’s the image you should see and the message =GREEN. Your computer appears to be looking up IP addresses correctly.

If your DNS does show malware or suspicious activity the FBI would like to hear from you. Visit their website and file your complaint using this form. 

Jail time for unpaid debts: Debtors prison making a comeback?

Jail time for unpaid debts?  Debtors prison?  These sound like something straight out of history and a Charles Dickens novel.   Unfortunately it isn’t only the ghost of debts past, but for some it also be be ghost of unpaid debts in the present and the future.

Do these facts and figures bother you? 

Robin Ebersohl had a loud muffler, but no money to fix it.  Instead of getting pulled over because of her car she was arrested and spent three days in jail before her father could pay the $500 to get her released.  What was her crime? Unpaid medical bills.  She was a truck driver who came down with cancer.  She lost her medical insurance when she could no longer work.  Medical bills piled up. Eventually she got disability benefits but still couldn’t pay off the bills.

A 53 year-old woman named Vivian Joy was stopped for a broken tail-light in Champaign, Illinois.  When the police discovered that she still hadn’t paid $2,200 to a collection agency, she was cuffed and carted off to jail.

Breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay didn’t even owe the money.  This twenty something teaching assistant received a medical bill that was incorrect. After being told she didn’t have to pay it, it was turned over to a collection agency and she ended up in jail.

How does debtors prison happen? 

A credit files with the court.  A notice is sent to the person owing money.  Does everyone always receive this mail?  No probably not.  The hearing is held and if they don’t appear then the judgment is filed.   A warrant is then issued for the person’s arrest.  After bond is made, the money from bond goes straight to the collection agency (sort of like a wage garnishment) because after all if you can pay bail, you should be able to pay your bills right?  What about the family member that posted your bail for you?  Too bad, so sad, sorry about your luck.

In Pennsylvania, the criminal court charges for police transport, sheriff costs, state court costs, postage, and “judgment.”  Now you not only owe your debt, but you also out the court system.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

  • More than a third of all U.S. states allow borrowers who can’t or won’t pay to be jailed.
  • Judges have signed off on more than 5,000 such warrants since the start of 2010 in nine counties with a total population of 13.6 million people.
  • AIG got a $122.8 billion bailout from the federal government.  Jeffrey Stearns happened to owe AIG $4,000 on a loan for his pickup truck. Jeffery was picked up and arrested.  He was strip searched, sprayed for lice and spent two days in jail.

AIG wasn’t the only bank to receive a bailout.  Many others did too, but consumers are spending time in jail, even after government bailouts and selling unpaid debts to collection agencies actually “make them whole.”

Debtors’ prison is actually illegal, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t spending time in jail for unpaid debts.  In this NPR article, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says she thinks more can be done. It’s illegal in Illinois for people to be sent to jail because they’re in debt. But Madigan thinks some creditors are abusing the law.
What do the experts say about debtors prison?

“You wouldn’t be in that predicament if you didn’t have debt,” Madigan says. “But for being in debt, you wouldn’t be in prison. And that essentially equates to being thrown in jail, debtors’ prison.” “Creditors have been manipulating the court system to extract money from the unemployed, veterans, even seniors who rely solely on their benefits to get by each month,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said last month in a statement voicing support for the legislation. “Too many people have been thrown in jail simply because they’re too poor to pay their debts. We cannot allow these illegal abuses to continue.”

“The law enforcement system has unwittingly become a tool of the debt collectors,” said Michael Kinkley, an attorney in Spokane, Wash., who has represented arrested debtors. “The debt collectors are abusing the system and intimidating people, and law enforcement is going along with it.”

“It’s just one more blow for people who are already struggling,” said Beverly Yang, a Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation staff attorney who has represented three Illinois debtors arrested in the past two months. “They don’t like being in court. They don’t have cars. And if they had money to pay these collectors, they would.”

A 2010 report by the American Civil Liberties Union that focused on only five states — Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington — found that people were being jailed at “increasingly alarming rates” over legal debts.

According to the ACLU: “The sad truth is that debtors’ prisons are flourishing today, more than two decades after the Supreme Court prohibited imprisoning those who are too poor to pay their legal debts. In this era of shrinking budgets, state and local governments have turned aggressively to using the threat and reality of imprisonment to squeeze revenue out of the poorest defendants who appear in their courts.”

Think arrest should be stopped for unpaid bills? Tell Your Lawmakers: Shut Down The New Debtors’ Prisons.   What’s next breaking legs?

Or maybe you agree . . . maybe you think “you do the crime, you do the time” as some comments on the articles referenced here state.   Some call it “stealing” while others say that in today’s economy you would be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t have unpaid bills.

Watch this video on Debtors’ Prison  and let us know what you think.

Bodacious babe caused FBI to nail alleged Anonymous hacker

They are nameless, faceless and anonymous.   They are hackers extraordinaire.   Some refer to them as a modern day “Robin Hood” as they steal from the data wealthy and give to the poor.”  Others disagree and say there is nothing heroic about their efforts.   But recently one of them turned “traitor” to stay out of jail and another one was “nailed” by the FBI all thanks to one “bodacious” babe.

Higinio Ochao III, was recently charged as one of the Anonymous, CabinCr3w, that hacked into law enforcement databases, collecting and releasing the names,  addresses and telephone numbers of police officers across the United States.  This could have put a number of law enforcement officials, as well as their families in danger.

This Linux administrator is also being accused of hacking the websites of the Alabama and Texas departments of public safety in February in support of the occupy movement.   This  criminal complaint alleges that Ochoa, who went by the Twitter handle @Anonw0rmer and that while hacking in the County of Houston’s website in Alabama  Agent Scott Jensen says,

“The attacker created fake events on their online calendar, posted images representing Anonymous and CabinCr3w, deleted all the administrator accounts except the one created by the attacker. All of this was accomplished by gaining unauthorized administrator access to the site’s control panel.”

Ochao strongly denies working with the FBI and other law enforcement officials, but seems to have no problem sharing his disdain for their organization and their interrogation techniques.   You can find what appears to be his full statement on PasteBin.

So how did this protestor extraordinaire get busted for hacking?   It’s a tale as old as the Bible.  Some would say it’s a modern day version of Samson and Deliliah.  It’s hard to tell if it was a beautiful woman that caused him to be busted, but law enforcement officials are claiming it to be one great big “bust” based on a bodacious babes boobs.  Yes, that is some of the evidence against Ochao.

Apparently Ochao tooks some pictures of his Australian girlfriend and posted them on his Facebook account, Twitter feed and on his websites.  If you can look past her size to the sign you will see the statement “PwNd by w0rmer & CabinCr3w <3 u BiTch’s !” 

The Twitter account directed followers to a website on which they could find more information about the  ”oppression by police departments around the world … EVERY police department is at risk and will remain that way …”  Another featured a picture of a woman with a sign stating ”We Are ALL Anonymous We NEVERForgive. We NEVER Forget. <3 @Anonw0rmer”.

You can not see the woman’s face in any of the photos but that doesn’t stop the FBI, which claims in the affidavit, that the same woman seems to be appearing in all the photos. (Photos available at Daily Mail News)

Most of us aren’t hackers, but we have been warned of the dangers of our location being found as we take, upload and share photos taken from our Smartphones and iPhone.   For most of us the danger of doing so probably won’t lead to an arrest, but for many it could lead to it’s own set of problems.


Cell phone tracking becomes common practice by law enforcement

Geotagging dangers 



Taxes and identity theft: Tax day approaches the risk increases

With just days left to file your taxes in a timely manner, law enforcement agencies across the United States are reporting an increase in tax refund identity theft.

During an interview with Hampton Police Captain Derrick Austin on WSB Radio Captain Austin reports, “The suspect’s are getting the victim’s information, filing the return as if they were that person, and then getting the refund.”   “Victims don’t know they’ve been targeted until they file their own return and get notified by the IRS that someone has already filed a return in their name.”

ABC news reports,0 “Tax-related identity theft has doubled over the past two years and now makes up the single largest category of the crime. In 2009, only 12 percent of identity theft was related to taxes. Now tax identity theft makes up 24 percent of all ID theft crimes reported to the Federal Trade Commission.”

CBS News reports . . .  “Stole identities and filed about 2,000 tax returns and received or attempted to receive about $1.8 million in fraudulent refunds,” said Special Agent Bryan Thiel with the IRS Criminal Investigation Unit. “The Federal Trade Commission says it’s now getting about 50,000 identity theft complaints a week, mostly tax refund thefts. In the end it could cost the federal government billions of dollars.”

One of the most common scams this year involved the American Opportunity Tax Credit.  The Washington Times reports, “The IRS says this is how it works: the con artist tells the taxpayer he or she can file for a tax refund based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This is an education credit. The scam artists falsely convinces the victim he or she can still file for the refund even if they went to school years before. They offer to help file, then get the taxpayer’s personal information, and file a bogus refund.”

Other scams are more simplified.  Identity thieves simply use your name and social security number, their address and a prepaid, reloadable debit card and fill out the paperwork, online.  Because they are filing an electronic return it is much easier to manipulate the payments and information in order to guarantee a return.  They then accept the “credit card” return that some services offer or they use their own prepaid card information that they bought using the fake name and have the tax refund credited to the card. Some have even received checks!

The main problem is that you don’t know that you have been taken advantage of until the deed is done.   When you file, you receive the notice that you have already filed for this year and all the warning bells and signs start to go off.  You now have to prove your identity, which sometimes is easier said than done. Money that you may have been counting on is no longer available to you and won’t be until the false filing is resolved.

How can you protect yourself from identity theft of your tax return?

  • protect your information
  • if you are filing your taxes on a public computer, such as the library make sure you don’t save it to the computer, are using a secure network and save your return to a flash drive so you can take it home for later reference.
  • avoid links or images that you receive in email, especially from those you don’t know. They may contain keylogger, malware or other types of virus programs that provide opportunities to steal your information.
  • Verify any phone calls, letters, or fax  from someone claiming to be with the IRS, by calling 1-800-829-1040.
  • Remember the IRS never contacts taxpayers by email.
  • File early.
  • You should always get your refund within one month of filing it electronically. Ninety percent of all refunds are issued within 21 days. You can check its status at this IRS webpage.
  • Call  the IRS at 1-800-908-4490 if you suspect or have been a victim of tax related identity theft.
  • Visit the IRS online  here  for more information about tax related identity theft and the latest scams on its website.


Cell phone tracking becomes common practice by law enforcement

Cell phones are wonderful things.  It’s my calendar, my address book, my phone, and Internet.  I can read books, check the weather, play games and stay in contact with all my friends and family.  Last minute plans can be changed and pictures can be shared.  But we also have some dangers and privacy issues associated with cell phones, including the use of tracking tools by law enforcement agencies with little or no protection from this use.

We know that there are some risks associated with using our cell phones like:

The New York Times, using 5,500 pages of law enforcement documents received from an ACLU study on this topic, in this report reveals that the very organizations that are supposed to be keeping us safe, may be gaining information from our cell phones without us even knowing it and with little, if any rules or regulations governing this practice. Continue reading Cell phone tracking becomes common practice by law enforcement

Social networking passwords requested by prospective employers

It’s a tough economy out there. There are plenty of people looking for jobs, and if job applications and competition among other applicant’s wasn’t tough enough now potential employers may be adding one more line to that form; one that says “What is your Facebook/Twitter/Other social networking site password?” Would you provide it?  Continue reading Social networking passwords requested by prospective employers

5 Ways to Make Sure Your Teen Is Using Their First Credit Card Safely

If there’s one thing teenagers are good at, it’s wanting. They want later curfews with fewer check-ins, they want to take the car out on weekends without telling you where they’re going, and most of all they want a credit card to call their very own. Now, there’s nothing wrong with teaching your teen how to build and use credit responsibly, but if you’re going to pick up a piece of plastic for your kid these days, you need to be extra-vigilant about how they use it. Why? Because credit card theft has changed since you were a kid.

These days, a thief doesn’t even need to pick your teen’s pocket to steal that first credit card. They can just skim it with a hidden device on a gas pump, or read the information wirelessly from a hacked cell phone. So if you want to make sure your child’s first foray into the world of credit is a safe and happy experience, try following these 5 steps to make sure they’re using their credit card responsibly.

1)    Don’t just give them your premier credit card. If you’re going to give your teen a copy of one of your credit cards instead of signing them up for their own, make sure it isn’t your ultra-exclusive credit card with the $10,000 limit. That’s like handing your kid the keys to a new Corvette the day they get their license and telling them to step on it. Instead, start them out with one of your low-limit cards – like the one you use for online shopping. This way, if and when they lose the card, you can cancel it before any serious damage is done to your credit score.

2)    Monitor their credit scores. Under federal law, everyone is entitled to a free annual credit check from each of the three major monitoring services – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. You should use these free reports to check up on your teen’s credit score every four months. Not only will you be able to see if they’ve been using their card responsibly, but you can also check the charges for suspicious activity.

3)    Teach them to use a shredder. One of the most common ways for thieves to get hold of personal information like credit card numbers is by sifting through trash cans and dumpsters for old statements and bills. That’s why it’s important to get your teen into the habit of shredding all of their bank statements and credit card bills before throwing them away. It’s a cheap and easy way to ensure that sensitive information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

4)    Make sure they’re using their credit cards online, not their debit cards. It can be hard for teenagers to tell the difference between a credit card and a debit card, but they’re going to have to learn if they ever want to shop online. Why? Because credit cards offer a number of protections under the CARD Act that will limit your teen’s liability if their information is ever stolen from a merchant database. Debit cards, on the other hand, don’t offer these protections at all.

5)    Keep their computers clean. Even if your teen uses his or her credit card responsibly, information can still be stolen by malware hidden on their computer. It only takes one wrong click on a phony email or website link to download this dastardly software, and once it’s on a computer it can transmit personal information to hackers for years. That’s why you should install malware removal software on any computer that your teen uses to transmit credit card information. By running regular checks and removing suspicious files when they’re discovered, you can make sure that your teen’s computer stays as safe as it was the day you bought it.

Nowadays, credit cards are as much a risk for teens as they are a resource. Thieves are waiting around every corner, so it’s important to keep an eye on the way your teen  is using that first credit card. By teaching your teenager how to check credit reports, shred personal documents and use credit cards online, you can help your child develop healthy habits. You’ll be teaching your son or daughter how to spend safely well into adulthood. Then the only thing you have to worry about is that whitewater rafting trip the gang is planning for next summer.



Thank you to our guest author Bill Hazelton of CreditCardAssist.com! 

Bill Hazelton is the founder and CEO of CreditCardAssist, a leading pro-consumer credit card resource. Since 2004, he’s been providing American consumers with all the tips, tricks and news they need to navigate the world of personal finance. His on-site reports have been cited by the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Post, Yahoo! News and more.