Keep the Change, You Filthy Animal: Home Security Tips From Kevin McAllister

In the iconic 1990 John Hughes-produced film, “Home Alone,” eight-year-old Kevin McAllister is accidentally left behind when his family frantically takes off for a Christmas vacation in Paris. While his mother desperately tries to get home to her unattended son, Kevin, played by Macaulay Culkin, has to defend the family’s home from a pair of blundering burglars, Harry and Marv. Kevin’s creative security devices and traps are hilarious and inventive and end up saving the day.

“Buzz, I’m Going Through All Your Private Stuff! You’d Better Come Out and Pound Me!”

Today, more than two decades later, the type of scenario in “Home Alone” could be solved instantly with cell phones, Internet, high-tech security and other technologies. Unfortunately, we also have more to worry about, like the valuable information stored on our phones and computers. While home security has come a long way over the years, we can still take a page out of Kevin’s book when it comes to protecting our homes, along with utilizing the tools we have today.

“This is My House, I HAVE to Defend It!”

Kevin tried to keep the bad guys out with rigged doors, creative traps and psychological confusion. Before realizing Kevin was left behind, his mother, Kate, tries to remember anything she forgot like turning off the lights and shutting the garage door. Thankfully, home security today isn’t so exhausting. The newest security technology even lets you turn off lights, lock doors and even see into your home when you’re not there. A resource from the LifeShield home security systems blog suggested using alarm sensors not just on your doors and window, but within your home as well. They can sound an alarm and/or send a text message to your phone. Many security companies offer apps that you can easily access your settings and monitor your home.

“When I Grow Up and Get Married, I’m Living Alone!”

Although we have many conveniences today when it comes to protecting our home and family, make sure you prepare for any situation. Talk to your kids about what to do in emergencies. In “Home Alone,” although Kevin was only eight, he obviously had the sense not to answer the door to strangers and to call the police (eventually). Talk with your family about emergency plans and teach your kids how to make emergency calls and how to set the alarm system. Keep phone numbers, addresses, medical information, etc. easily accessible and visible for everyone in case something unfortunate happens.

“Had Enough? Or are You Thirsty for More?”

To keep Harry and Marv from pilfering his family’s valuables, Kevin came up with some creative schemes to hold them at bay. He strung together cardboard cut-outs and played loud music to make it look like a party was going on. He even played a violent movie to scare the burglars into thinking there were already thieves inside the house. Realistically you don’t have to come up with such elaborate hoaxes, but you still might want to take a cue from this crafty kid. Leaving a light on and maybe some music or the television can make robbers second guess if someone is home or not. Again, home automation is a convenient development that can save you from a break-in and also save energy. You can use a single screen to control alarms, water sprinklers, lights, heating and air conditioner, according to technorati.com.

“It’s Only My Imagination, It’s Only My Imagination.”

If you have a bad feeling, don’t disregard it; go with your gut. In the movie, Harry poses as a police officer to get invited into the McAllister’s home and learn about their trip. This gave him information he needed in order to plan a heist. If you are suspicious, take measures to ease your mind. Unlike in the early 90’s, there are simple Internet sites that give you background checks instantly. If there is an instance of you inviting a stranger into your home, even a maintenance person, maid or babysitter, you have the right to know their history. Sites like Angie’s List and Care.com are good resources when looking to hire someone you can trust. In this digitally dependent age, information is key.

Traveling for the holidays? Prevent Credit Card Fraud and Save Money

The holiday season is one for joyful celebration, thankfulness, and traveling to visit loved ones. During your travels, you might be tempted by a low posted price at the gas station, but make sure to pay attention to what your fuel is really costing you.

Debit and Credit Cards Can Increase Prices

Often, fuel prices posted on the main signs show the cash only price, and the station could charge as much as 10-15 cents more per gallon for the convenience of swiping your card at the pump. While stations are required to post the increased price of credit and debit card transactions, the label is usually as small as a normal 4×6 photograph!

Gas stations often will put a hold on your card when you swipe for fill-up, and this can be as much as $75 for several days. You can avoid the hold if you go inside and specify how much you want the card run for.

You can avoid the higher cost by using only cash, or you can purchase prepaid cards from the gas station before you go. If you do opt to buy the prepaid cards, make sure to map out your route and make sure you’ll be able to find those stations along your route.

Be Watchful For Signs of Fraud

Electronic skimmers have been around for a long time, but the devices are well camouflaged and often pass unnoticed. Thieves install the small devices into existing card readers, which collect card information whenever a card is swiped. Don’t use any card reader that appears to be loose or damaged, and look out for signs of tampering. Going inside to pay minimizes the risk of having your card numbers stolen by these devices.

Some gas stations have added special stickers that are designed to show if a pump or card reader has been tampered with, so be sure to pay attention to these also.

Cash is Safest

Not only will cash get you the low price that attracted your business in the first place, but it will protect your identity and avoid problems with your accounts being overcharged or overdrawn. It might be inconvenient to go inside to pay, but it’s far better than the work of repairing your identity.

Your holiday travel plans don’t have to increase your risk of credit card fraud or identity theft. With a little pre-planning and a healthy dose of caution, you can enjoy your trip and protect your good name.

 

Safer Online Shopping: Tips for Protecting Yourself This Holiday Season

With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, many shoppers are planning to shop online. Online shopping can net you some great deals, but it can also lead to identity theft. With a little caution, you can protect yourself and still get great deals!

How to Protect Yourself

Ideally, the least amount of personal information you share is best, which is why using prepaid cards works well. You can purchase these cards in most stores, either with cash or credit. They aren’t connected to any of your personal accounts, so they limit the amount of information a hacker can access about you.

If you do use your credit or debit cards online, don’t wait for your bank and credit card statements to come in the mail. Log on often to check for any charges you haven’t authorized, and if you see questionable activity, even for a small amount, call the bank or credit card company right away. Thieves sometimes do a test run with a small purchase to see if they can get away with it before really racking up the bill. The faster you catch them, the less damage you will have to work to undo.

One of the easiest ways to protect your information is to use better passwords. Your password should be difficult to guess, and shouldn’t use personal information like names and birthdays. Also, use a unique password at each site you use so that if one is compromised, only that site is affected.

Use only sites you trust when shopping online. Nearly every big name store has a website now, making it easier than ever to shop online without going to questionable vendors. Just be sure to verify the site address is correct, because hackers can make some pretty clever copies and fool shoppers by using a slight variation in the URL.

Avoid deals that promise too much for too little. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Deals that offer you expensive things for almost nothing are usually a phishing attempt to get your information. No, you most likely can’t get an iPad free, and these are usually scams to try to part you from your money and personal info.

Finally, use a quality anti-virus and malware program. Not keeping your computer protected exposes anything you do on it to possible thieves, meaning they can track your every digital movement. There are several quality programs that can protect your computer, even some that are free, and they can save you a big headache. Not only will preventing malware from infecting your computer help you protect your information, but it can also keep your computer running.

Tips for avoiding Sandy scams by so-called repairman and contractors

Hurricane Sandy caused billions of dollars worth of damage. If you’re one of the unfortunate homeowners to be affected, you need to be careful when looking for someone to rebuild or repair your home. There are a lot of corrupt contractors looking to make a quick buck by scamming those affected by the hurricane. This can make a bad situation even worse. Let’s take a closer look at what to look out for when hiring a contractor and how to find the best contractor for the job.

What to Look Out For

First of all, you want to make sure a contractor is licensed and has experience. This doesn’t guarantee that the contractor won’t rip you off, but it will give scammers pause when you ask to see credentials. You also want to watch out for contractors that ask for a complete upfront payment. A legitimate contractor will not do this. You may be asked to pay 10-25% of the total up front, but never 100-percent. Scammers are also very likely to point out damage that needs immediate attention. Don’t let this fool you. The contractor is only trying to get your money. Always get more than several opinions when getting work done. You should also be wary of contractors offering prices well below other estimates you’ve received. Remember, if it sounds too good be to be true, it probably is. Last, but not least, understand how long projects will take and how much they will cost. If a contractor says he can replace the roof in less than one day for $500, run! (And we don’t mean straight into the contractors arms)

What to Look for in a Contractor

Chances are the contractors in your area are in high-demand, especially if the damage in your area was severe. This means you may have to wait up to a week or longer to get estimates, but you should get several before moving forward. A good contractor will be able to look at your home and give you a list of work that needs to be done along with a price rundown and a final estimate. A good contractor should also be able to provide a good list of references. However, you need to do more research to find out if you’re making the best decision. Ask for referrals from friends and family who have had work done in the past and search websites that review local contractors.

The damage from a hurricane can be devastating. Unfortunately, scammers can make the experience much worse. If you’ve experienced damage to your home, make sure you make an informed decision before hiring a contractor.

5 Steps To Safely Buy Or Sell A Used Computer

Our computers and mobile devices increasingly carry our whole lives—work files, personal photos, tax information, and more. This makes used computers a powerful tool for opportunistic cyber-criminals; but there are ways to keep yourself and your data safe when it’s time to swap out your old computer. Here are a few rules to follow, whether you’re buying or selling, so you can move forward with confidence.

1. Never throw an old computer away

Not only are landfills a prime target for identity thieves, but most computers contain extremely toxic chemicals that can leach into groundwater. If your old computer is unusable and not worth the trouble of selling, drop it off at a local e-waste processing facility. They’ll responsibly dispose of the chemicals, recover valuable metals from the computer’s components, and ensure that the device is destroyed so that any residual information is completely unrecoverable.

2. Back up your data

Before scrubbing your old computer, make sure to back up all of your files—you might be surprised at what you find yourself needing later on, and hard disk space is getting cheaper every day. For this reason, you should try to keep your computer’s data organized, so you can just grab a few folders and transfer them to a flash drive in the event of sudden computer trouble. Just remember to wipe the flash drive once you’ve transferred the files to your new computer—having your backup on a portable device that you carry around regularly is a recipe for identity theft.

3. Carefully read any paperwork from a computer retailer

Just like buying a car, new is safer than used, so carefully read any contracts or agreements you’re asked to sign when buying a used computer. In many cases, small retailers may not accept any responsibility for malware that might be left over from the previous owner, so you won’t have any recourse if a registry key infection or other deep-rooted malware causes financial harm. To be safe, take the new device to a computer specialist you trust, and have them give it a thorough wipe. Make sure that the cost of these security measures doesn’t offset the savings from going used—sometimes you’re better off just looking for new laptops for sale online.

4. Don’t just reformat your hard drive

If you intend to sell your computer, reformatting your hard drive is a good way to make your personal information less accessible to identity thieves, but it isn’t foolproof—skilled specialists can often recover credit card numbers, account numbers, and passwords even from a reformatted hard drive. For the best possible results, AutoClave or DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) are the best freeware erasure options. If you want a software provider that guarantees their work, you’ll have to find a paid option, but DBAN and AutoClave are extremely secure.

5. Be wary of used computers with pre-installed software

You should be careful about any used computer with “free” software, particularly if you’re buying the computer from a private party online. A deal that seems too good to be true may be a Trojan horse for virus authors to access your personal information. A used computer that seems way beneath the price range for models with comparable specifications should raise red flags. Having said that, you can safely purchase almost any working computer as long as you completely clean it out before using it. For best results, install the erasure software from a flash drive or via a public wireless network to avoid passing malware to other devices connected to your home network.

Buying or selling a used computer can be a great option. When it’s time for an upgrade, practice good identity protection by keeping these security tips in mind.

 

Patricia Shuler is a BBGeeks.com staff writer from Oakland, California. She’s an admitted tech-junkie who’s quick to share her honest opinion on all things consumer electronic—including up-to-date news, user reviews, and “no holds barred” opinions on a variety of social media, tech, computer, and mobile accessories topics.

You’ve Got Mail And Someone Is About to Steal it: What You Can Do To Prevent Mail Theft

My grandmother called me about a week ago and asked me if I had received the birthday card that she had sent. I told her I hadn’t and she became immediately concerned that someone had stolen the card from my mailbox to get the Best Buy gift card that she had sent with it. She then called back and asked, “Your address is still 88 Spring St, correct?” I told her that she had the right address (after I made her verify that she was in fact my grandmother – she laughed and so I knew it had to be her).

Fortunately, the card was sent back to her because she had neglected to place a stamp on the envelope, but for a moment I was concerned that I had been the victim of mail theft, not only because someone else was potentially spending the gift card my grandmother had sent me, but because if someone was able to steal my card sent in the mail, then there was a strong possibility that the same thief could steal a letter containing private information pertaining to my credit card, bank account or even mail that contained my social security number.

Although the experience was a false alarm, it made me think about how important it is to protect my mail from possible theft, and in doing so, prevent identity theft from becoming a reality.

According to FiscalGeek.com, in 2005 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took a survey that showed over 8.3 million adults were victims of identity theft. Last year, the FTC reported that 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft and that many cases were directly related in some way to stolen mail. In response to the increasing threat, the U.S. postal service has teamed up with USPS officials to create rock solid strategies that will hopefully deter thieves from stealing mail in the future. Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of mail theft: Continue reading You’ve Got Mail And Someone Is About to Steal it: What You Can Do To Prevent Mail Theft

Father of McAfee Antivirus become “person of interest” in Belize

Many of you reading this article right now may have the popular McAfee Antivirus Security System on your computer.  John McAfee,  father of this online security program and pioneer in anti-virus protection, is now under investigation in Belize for the alleged murder of Gregory Faull, an American expatriate and builder from California.

Faull is a neighbor of the now reclusive John McAfee, was found with a gunshot wound to the head, in a pool of blood.  Faull was found in his home on Ambergris Bay, and the police are searching for McAfee as a person of interest.  Although there were no signs of forced entry, Faull’s computer and phone were missing.   “We are looking for him in connection with the murder,” says Robinson, who adds that another suspect is currently in custody – although no charges have been filed yet,” says Vienne Robinson, assistant superintendent of the Belize’s San Pedro police department, when he spoke to Fox News.

This is not McAfee’s first time to be a person of interest with the Belize government.   Faull had called the local authorities regarding McAfee after disputes with him involving guns shots.  The GSU (a special forces and SWAT type team) raided his home to find  $20,000 in cash, a lab stocked with chemistry equipment, seven pump-action shotguns, one single-action shotgun, two 9-mm. pistols, 270 shotgun cartridges, 30 9-mm. pistol rounds, and twenty .38 rounds.  None of which is illegal in Belize.  Apparently neither is a 67 year old man with a 17 year old girlfriend who was seen leaving his bedroom with him as the raid occurred.   Gimzodo, reported last week on McAffee’s purportedly bizarre activities in Belize, stating that his behavior “has become increasingly erratic, and by his own admission he had begun associating with some of the most notorious gangsters in Belize.” Continue reading Father of McAfee Antivirus become “person of interest” in Belize

One amazing giveaway! Amazon $40 Gift Card and One Year Kids Email service free

We recently had a chance to share with you our experience with KidsEmail.org. Now you get a chance to try them out too – for FREE! Thanks to KidsEmail.org for sponsoring this generous giveaway you can enter to win one year free KidsEmail service program as well as receive a $40 Amazon Gift Card! 

Hmm with Christmas just around the corner I wonder what you will spend it on?

kidsEmail.org is an email service (just like your hotmail or gmail accounts) but designed just for kids and their parents. Parents can use the tools available to teach their children responsible online and email habits while keeping them safe from cyber bulling, inappropriate ads, language and images, and yes, you can even set it to detect “stranger dangers.” Read our full review of the service to find out more.

Entering is easy. Just use the Rafflecopter form below. This contest runs Nov. 11-18, 2012. Entries will be verified.

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Do your kids need a safer email account? KidsEmail.org may be the answer

As parents we have been warned of the increasing risk of identity theft to our children, often because information is so easy to access. But there are also a number of other online dangers that parents need to address as our children use the Internet more frequently. These dangers include cyber bullying, stalking, pornography, spam, viruses and inappropriate email messages and pictures. With children ranging in ages from 17-6 I’ve found that somethings work for keeping the older children safe online and some things work well for keeping the younger children safe online, especially while they are sending and receiving email. One of my favorite tools so far I have found for the younger children is Kids Email.org.

Kids Email is an email system that is designed with kids ages 6-12 in mind, but there is also a teen tool available. Here is what Kids Email does in a nutshell:

We decided to give Kids Email a try, since I refused to give in to the younger children’s request for a cell phone and email is one of the ways that they can easily keep in touch with grandparents which live far away.  Here are some of the features mom liked:

  • privacy, security and safety online
  • filters out all the “stuff” and just offers the kids a clean and easy to use email system
  • several different features that I can tailor towards our family’s specific needs and concerns
  • easy to set up and use
  • free trial with no credit card required
Kids Email.org is easy to use.  You simply register (no credit card required) and then answer some simple yes or no questions about the security settings you want to use.  These questions include things like do you want copies of emails sent and received sent to your email or who do you want to allow emails from?  You can set up more than one email address so you can tailor made your security settings age appropriate for each child.
One of the things I liked about these settings is that I can manage the kids email accounts down to the minutes they spend on there as well as even ground them from their email and set the dates and times of the “grounding.” I hope I don’t have to do that, but it is nice to know that these options are there if I need them.  I can also run reports of the activity on the accounts.
Next the girls got to jump in and have some fun.  They selected from 10 different templates that gave them a specific look whenever they signed into their email.  My middle daughter selected the princess  fairy template which gives her a cute pink and purple background for her email account.   Then the emails began!  Just to test drive they sent emails to grandma, grandpa and dad and once they received responses I think that they were hooked!  (I recommend sending all those who may be getting a message from the kids a message about the new account so that they recognize it and can add it to their safe list).
I like that I can design each email account to do what our family needs it to do for security, safety and fun.  KidsEmail provides a safe way to teach my children about email and Internet responsibility and use as they learn all those rules that even the most mature adult has trouble remembering sometimes, because after all “my friend sent it to me” so it must be safe.
There is a one month free trial available, but after that it is a paid service.  I know what you are thinking, but guess what you don’t have to give your credit card to get the free trial.  That was a big plus for me right at the beginning.  The current price is 13 months with up to six email accounts for $38.95.

 

FBI Warns Of Superstorm Sandy Donation Scams

Father saves son from Hurricane Sandy.Hurricane Sandy absolutely ravaged the east coast, but there are scammers out there that are hoping to ravage your bank account. While donating to the cleanup and recovery efforts is certainly a good thing, the government is warning people to watch out for scams. If you want to help the recovery efforts, there are legitimate ways to do so.  Find out how to avoid Sandy-related scams and how you can help Sandy victims without getting caught in a “storm” of theft, fraud and hoaxes.

What to Watch Out For

There are a number of scams being sent through email. If you receive an unsolicited email asking for donations to help the victim of hurricane Sandy, there’s a good chance it isn’t real. These emails have been arriving from people claiming to be victims and even from those claiming to be elected officials. Scammers are also using social networking sites to lure in those that want to help those in need. If you live close to an affected area, you may even be approached on the street or at your home. Be wary of those asking for cash donations and never give out personal or financial information.

How to Help Continue reading FBI Warns Of Superstorm Sandy Donation Scams