VACATION SECURITY CHECKLIST

VACATION SECURITY CHECKLIST

According to the FBI, a burglary happens every 20 seconds in the U.S. However, vacation season brings out burglars looking for empty houses. Use this vacation security checklist as a way to ensure that you find your home just the way you left it, once you return.

Vacation Security Checklist
Travel is good for the soul!

 

MAIL: Put a hold on your mail via the post office or submit a change of address if necessary. An overloaded mailbox is a sure sign that nobody’s home. Contact your Post Office 30 days in advance.

CANCEL: Place a hold or cancel newspapers, magazine subscriptions and other deliveries. Or ask a neighbor to remove such items promptly from your property.

DRIVEWAY:  Ask a neighbor to park their vehicle in your driveway periodically. You want to maintain the illusion that someone is around.

OUTSIDE: Hire a landscaper to keep your property trimmed and looking lived-in. Set your watering schedule to provide enough water for the current weather. Secure or store your outside valuables like your bar-b-que, bicycles and patio furniture.

LIGHTING: Use motion sensitive light fixtures in front and back. Set your indoor lights and even a radio or TV with a timer to automatically turn on or off at set intervals. Or use smart technology that can remotely control fixtures.

KEYS: Never leave a spare key hidden outside your home. Burglars know exactly where to poke around to find them. Instead give your spare key to a trusted neighbor for emergencies. A friend or family member should also have an extra key to your residence.

SET: Set your thermostat at a reasonable temperature. Set your hot water heater to vacation mode.

UNPLUG: Unplug appliances including your refrigerator, washer/dryer, dishwasher, toaster, coffeemaker, TV’s and computers. You may also want to shut off your gas or water.

VALUABLES: Lock your valuables and sensitive information in a safe or hide them well. Alternatively, you can place them temporarily in a safe deposit box.

LOCK: Be sure all windows and doors are locked, including a doggie door. Lay a broom stick in the track of your sliding glass door and/or something in your window tracks. Arm your security system if you have one. Disengage garage door opener an manually lock garage door.

NOTIFY: Your bank and credit card companies should be notified of where you will be – especially if you intend to use an ATM or your credit/debit cards.  (This avoids them ‘flagging’ your account for unusual spending activity). Provide them with more than one contact number, just in case.

LUGGAGE: Write down just your phone number on all your luggage – instead of your address. If your luggage is lost/stolen, then burglars won’t know where you live.

EMERGENCIES: A neighbor and/or trusted friend or family member should be designated as your emergency contact person. They should be given authority to make decisions on your behalf should an emergency arise. Your home security company should also have a way to contact you in case of a burglary, fire or other emergency.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Limit what your share about your vacation on social media websites. Never mention when you’re leaving, where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone.

Happy Vacation
Happiness is being on Vacation!

Travel is good for the soul. So, before you leave for your dream get-a-way, be sure to use this vacation security checklist. Then, you can relax and enjoy.

Here is a good website source for home safety tips

FACEBOOK PRIVACY SCANDAL

Facebook Privacy Scandal  –  Who’s at Fault?

The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg faced a grilling during Capital Hill hearings about the recent Facebook privacy scandal. It appears that Facebook allowed a third-party company, Cambridge Analytica, to plunder the personal information of 87 million Facebook users. This is one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history.

Cambridge Analytica was able to pull off this data harvesting, under the guise of an app, that appeared to be just an innocent social media quiz.  The app “This is Your Digital Life” paid Facebook for the ability to invite users to take quizzes.  Downloading the app resulted in you granting them full access to your public profile information. If that weren’t bad enough, once a user granted them access, the app was able to view the information of the their Facebook friends too.  Any and all information that was available in a user’s public profile was likely compromised.

Next, the collected data (via the quiz app) was in turn shared with the political research firm Cambridge Analytica.  So, they were able to extract all that Facebook data, under the premise that they were collecting information for academic purposes.

Facebook has since banned the app and is in the process of informing users if their personal information was wrongly accessed.  But, whether your information was accessed or not, the lesson learned here is that you should always be mindful of what you share on your social media profiles.

 

Facebook Privacy Scandal
Why is he so smug?

YOUR PERSONAL DATA IS THE PRODUCT BEING SOLD

During the Joint Commerce and Judiciary Committee hearing, Zuckerberg is quoted as saying: “I would hope that what we do with user data is not surprising to people”.  It was however, a surprising revelation to most Facebook users. Facebook users hadn’t considered the fact that they are NOT Facebook’s customer.  Advertisers are in fact Facebook’s actual customers.

When a user doesn’t pay a fee to use an app or a social media platform, then the user’s personal data is the ‘product’ being sold. Everything we click on and everything we buy or read is tracked, catalogued, analyzed and then sold.  All the information that is collected about us is being harvested and then sold to advertisers, research firms and data brokers.

ON THE INTERNET – NOTHING COMES FREE

Users actually pay for the ‘free’ use of Facebook, by giving up their data. That is why it’s so important to examine your profile privacy settings.  Realize that there is a big difference between Facebook’s “profile privacy” settings and their “application privacy” settings.  Always be aware of what personal information any downloaded app or social media platform can view and use from your account.  Never put too much info about yourself out there. AND read those “Terms and Policies” notices before clicking “Yes”.

Lastly, I would refrain from clicking on those Facebook “LIKE” buttons.  Consumer lawyer and privacy expert Joel Winston wrote an excellent must read article in a column for NBC.

Here’s what he had to say about “Likes”

“On the basis of ten “Likes”, researchers from Cambridge Analytica have demonstrated that Facebook knows you better than your work colleagues. After 70 “Likes,” Facebook knows you better than your friends. Accumulate 150 “Likes,” and Facebook knows you better than your parents. Complete 300 “Likes” and Facebook knows you better than your spouse or partner. Record more than 500 honest “Likes” and Facebook can even know you better than you know yourself.”

You can learn how you can remove apps and websites, if you no longer want them to have access to your Facebook information, by logging in to your Facebook account and going to their help section.

 

 

TECH SUPPORT SCAM EVOLVES

Here’s the low down on the Tech Support Scam

In a nutshell, the tech support scam aims to freeze your computer or internet browser in order to trick users into calling tech support scammers. These scammers then try to steal your personal data by either scaring you into providing your credit card info – to fix the problem; OR even worse, letting them have access to your computer.

First of all, Microsoft, Apple or any other legitimate company would NOT contact you to tell you that your computer has a virus. Secondly, it’s never wise to trust a total stranger, who asks for your personal info or requests access to your computer. If your computer appears to be problematic, it’s always best to have a legitimate company or someone you know and trust to troubleshoot the problem.

In the tech support scam, the scammer will try to convince you that your computer is infected with a virus by offering you to visit their website and do a virus scan. The result of that phony virus scan will always show that your computer is infected. This is part of the ruse to convince you that there’s a problem. As a result, you are more willing to cough up your credit card information or allow them computer access. Many times, if you just restart your computer, the problem will go away on its own (especially if you clicked on a popup).

Tech Support Scam

 

BEWARE OF A NEW TWIST TO THE ORIGINAL TECH SUPPORT SCAM!

Now there’s a new way these con artists are pulling off this tech support scam that is even more convincing! It infects your internet browser, whether it be Google Chrome, Firefox or Brave.  While browsing on the internet, your computer suddenly locks up for no apparent reason. An error message appears on your screen, which has hidden malicious coding (Malware). This Malware is the reason your browser locked up in the first place.

The resulting error message has a phone number for you to call. When you call the number provided in the error message, the imposter poses as a technology firm representative. The imposter proceeds to convince you to provide personal & financial information, so they can fix your computer. Do NOT fall for this scam and do not ever give them access to your computer!

I use and recommend a wonderful company called Malwarebytes to help protect my computer from Malware. According to Malwarebytes’ leading intelligence analyst, Jerome Segura, the bug in the error message renders your browser “unresponsive” and makes your windows operating system “unstable”. When the browser is locked by the malicious code, hidden in the’ fake’ warning, the message then attempts to deceive you into calling them to fix the problem.

The warning message you get on your computer will look legitimate and is designed to make you feel helpless to remedy the problem yourself. The idea behind this scam is to render your browser so unstable – that you panic and decide that you have no other choice but to seek their support.

SCAM EASILY BLOCKED –  HERE’S WHAT TO DO

If you use Google Chrome, you can block this scam by pressing CTRL-ALT-DELETE simultaneously and selecting end-task. This will terminate the browser. For Mac users, the best solution would be to “force-quit” the browser.  Unfortunately, I am unable to tell you how to fix this on any of the other browsers. If you use a different browser, then you should look a solution to this scam by doing further research.

Just always remember that legitimate firms like Microsoft or Apple would never call you or send ‘unsolicited’ emails asking for personal information. Additionally, they would never freeze your browser and then ask you to provide sensitive data.

Lastly, always be wary of ‘popup’ messages. They are usually traps for the Tech Support Scam, as well as other types of scams. So, avoid the urge to click on them. Use your browser settings to block Ads and Pop-ups. On Chrome, go to Settings and scroll down to the bottom and choose Advanced. Next scroll down the list and choose “Content Settings”. Be sure Ads and Popups are blocked.

Here is the link to the Malwarebytes Blog if you want to read more about this and see graphics of what your computer screen would look like during this new twist to the old tech support scam: https://blog.malwarebytes.com/malwarebytes-news/2018/02/tech-support-scammers-find-new-way-jam-google-chrome/

P.S.: Malwarebytes users are already protected against this redirection mechanism used in this type of attack. It’s just another reason to check out this great company. I have been very happy with their service. In this day and age of ever-evolving scams, it’s important to gain as much help, knowledge and awareness as possible.

 

 

 

IRS PHONE SCAM

IRS PHONE SCAM – Scammers Continue to Evolve

The Internal Revenue Service sent out a warning about a new twist on the old IRS phone scam. Criminals are using telephone numbers that mimic the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) to trick taxpayers into paying non-existent tax bills.

I have always urged taxpayers to remain alert to IRS scams all year round, because even though tax season ends – tax scams don’t!

IRS Phone Scam Imposters
IRS won’t call, text or email you

 AN IRS PHONE SCAM CAN ALSO COME VIA AN  EMAIL OR TEXT 

Impersonation is the most common technique used in most scams. Therefore, in the latest version of the IRS phone scam, criminals claim to be representatives calling from a local TAC office. To help things look legit, scam artists ‘spoof’ what you see on your Caller ID. When calling you, they manipulate your Caller ID to display the TAC office phone number. The scammer does this by programming their computer to make you see whatever they choose – displayed on your Caller ID.

Be aware that fraudsters have been similarly ‘spoofing’ your local Sheriff’s offices, the Department of Motor Vehicles, other Federal agencies, charities, Microsoft, banks, credit card companies and many other organizations to convince taxpayers the call is legitimate.

IRS IMPOSTERS WILL  DEMAND PAYMENT OF OVERDUE TAX BILLS

If the taxpayer questions their demand for tax payment, they direct the taxpayer to IRS.gov. They are directed to look up the local TAC office telephone number to verify the phone number. The crooks hang up, wait a short time and then call back a second time. After the taxpayer has “verified” the call number, the fraudsters resume their demands for money, generally demanding payment on a debit card.

 

NOTE TO SELF:

IRS employees at TAC offices do not make calls to taxpayers to demand payment of overdue tax bills. The IRS typically initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

There are special, limited circumstances in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business, such as when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or to tour a business as part of an audit or during criminal investigations.

Even then, taxpayers will generally first receive several letters (called “notices”) from the IRS in the mail.

 

Always Remember: THE IRS DOES NOT:

  • Demand that you use a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS will not ask for your debit or credit card numbers over the phone. If you owe taxes, make payments to the United States Treasury or review IRS.gov/payments for IRS online options.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement to have you arrested for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into buying into their schemes.

Lastly, if you received a call from anyone claiming to be from the IRS, you should report it here: https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml