Staying Safe Online

two people looking at computer screen displaying security lock and password fieldsWith the average American spending 24 hours a week online, internet safety is more important than ever. A hacked or compromised computer can put you at risk for money loss, phishing scams or even complete identity theft.

It gets worse: If your computer’s security has been breached, it can be turned into a “middle man” for online theft. Criminals may remotely control a computer with weak security and use it as a patsy for large-scale crimes against hundreds or thousands of other computer users. An unprotected computer can commit awful crimes without its owner even knowing about it!

Fortunately, keeping your privacy, money and sensitive information safe when browsing the internet is simple; all it takes is awareness, some proactive steps and lots of common sense.

Read on for steps you can take to keep yourself safe online.

Avoid fake sites
The easiest way to get scammed online is to visit a fraudulent site. If you’re browsing a site you don’t usually use, ask yourself these questions to make sure it’s safe:

  • Does your browser warn you against visiting the site? Whether you browse with Chrome, Firefox or Safari, your browser will warn you about certain sites based on actual data and user reports.
  • Is the web text riddled with grammar mistakes and typos? Reputable website owners are careful to present a polished, professional look. If a site looks like it was written by a second-grader, leave it.
  • Is the site secure? Only visit sites with an “https” and not just an “http” in the address bar.
  • Does the digital footprint check out? Google the company’s name to see what the internet and Better Business Bureau are saying about them.
  • Is there a legitimate “Contact us” section? There should be an authentic physical address and phone number for the business.
  • Is there an excessive amount of ads? Ads are intrinsic to the online world, but if a website seems to be covered in intrusive ads, it’s likely a fake.
  • Check the shipping and return policies. If you can’t find this information, the site probably doesn’t really sell anything at all – though they are happy to take your money.
  • Is there a trust seal? Companies that deal with sensitive information make an investment to earn your trust. A trust seal, like the PayPal or Norton Secured seal, tells you the company has worked hard to deserve your trust.
  • Is the URL authentic? When redirected to another site, check the new URL to see if it matches the original company.

Practice password safety
It’s your key to almost every online board and gated site; do your best to keep it safe! Here’s how:

  • Use a password generator. The best way to ensure that your passwords don’t get hacked is to use a password generator like Sticky Password, LastPass or 1Password. These services generate a super-secure password for every site you visit – but you’ll only need to remember your one master password.
  • Change your password. If you don’t like the idea of using a password generator, experts recommend changing your passwords every 30-40 days.
  • Never double passwords. Using common passwords across multiple sites is easy on the memory but hard on your safety and security.
  • Use strong passwords. For optimal security, choose passwords that include a mixture of capitalization use, numbers, letters and symbols.

Update your browser
Perhaps the most neglected and simplest step of internet safety is keeping your browser updated. With just one click, you’ll increase your browser’s security and improve your computer at the same time.

Here’s why you’ll want to keep your browser running with its newest version:

  • Increased speed. Each new version of your browser is an improvement on the old one. Why lag behind when you could be using a faster browser?
  • Improved website compatibility. Lots of websites rely on updated browsers to share all of their graphics and features.
  • A better experience. A newer browser will offer you added features, customizable extensions and sleeker graphics.

Above all else, an updated browser will provide better security. Internet companies are constantly looking for ways to protect you and keep you safer; take full advantage of their efforts by always using the latest version.

An updated browser offers stronger protection against the most recent scams, phishing attacks, viruses, Trojans, malware and more. Newer browsers have also patched up security vulnerabilities that may be present in your older browser.

Updating your browser is super-easy and super-quick. Late model computers will update automatically as soon as new iterations are released to the public. If your computer is a little older, you can choose the “auto-update” feature available on some browsers for the same results. Otherwise, you can update your browser manually by following the instructions on your browser. These are typically easy to follow and take just a few clicks.

Follow these tips for safe online browsing. A few small steps now can save you heaps of aggravation and money lost down the line. Don’t let those hackers get to you!

Your Turn:
How do you keep safe online? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Advertisements

Beware The Blackmailing Scam!

man looking at laptop screen with hands at temples. Floating danger symbols all around himBlackmail and extortion are some of the oldest tricks in the book—and for good reason: They work. When a criminal threatens to share potentially explosive information with everyone they know, the victim easily panics and is willing to pay any price to protect their privacy and their pride.

In a fresh twist on this age-old crime, scammers have taken to the internet. Online blackmail is nothing new, but a fresh wave of these scams hit the web last month, and it’s already ensnared dozens. Learn how to spot these blackmailing scams and you’ll get to keep your privacy, and your money, too.

Here’s what you need to know about the most recent blackmailing scams.

How it works
The victim gets an email from an alleged hacker claiming to have cracked their passwords, broken into their computer and used their webcam to watch their online activity. They may threaten to reveal that the victim has been visiting disreputable sites or to use their personal information to empty their financial accounts. The scammer then shares a willingness to back off—for the right price, of course.

As proof that they are “legitimate” hackers, the scammers will share an actual password that the victim has used many years ago. They may even include the password in the subject line of the email to grab the victim’s attention and ensure they actually open the email. Often, they’ll also include other bits of stolen data in their message to appear authentic.

If you receive an email like this, don’t panic. There’s no professional hacker behind the scam, no one has watched your online activity, and there’s not much the scammer can do with the information they may have.

The inclusion of the password might give you a scare, but there’s a simple explanation for how the scammer got hold of it. Over the last decade or so, there have been lots of massive database breaches within major corporations, sites and retail stores like Yahoo, eBay, Target, Macy’s, Sony PlayStation and dozens more.

Thanks to these breaches, there are now huge amounts of personal data and passwords floating around the internet. This data can be easily nabbed by a partially skilled hacker or bought on the black market. Once a scammer gets their hands on a password, they’re free to exhort the victim to pay a steep price in exchange for their privacy or security.

How to spot the scam
Many potential victims recognize this scam for what it is as soon as the hacker claims to have dirt on them. For many others, though, the outdated password is their clue. However, for victims who have been using the same passwords for years, this old code might still be in use and the scam can seem legit.

Now that you are armed with the knowledge that this scam is making its way around the internet and may contain an actual password you once used, or that you may still use, you are already a step ahead. If you receive an email with your password in the subject line, stay calm. Simply ignore the message. Better yet, delete it from your inbox and give it no further thought.

How to protect yourself
There’s not much you can do about any bits of your sensitive data that may be loose on the internet. However, you can do your part to protect yourself from falling prey to this, or a similar scam.

Here’s how:

  • Update your passwords frequently and use strong, unique codes for each site you visit. You can use a password generator like 1password or LastPass to make this simpler.
  • Choose two-factor authentication when possible.
  • Never open emails from suspicious or unknown sources.
  • If you are targeted, alert the FTC at ftc.gov.

Don’t let those scammers fool you! Be alert, be aware, and learn how to spot these scams for what they are.

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a blackmailing scam? How did you spot the ruse? Share your experience with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/23/technology/personaltech/phishing-password-email

https://tech.co/online-scams-to-watch-out-for-2018-07

https://www.theguardian.com/money/scamsandfraud

Online Resources For College Students

Young man sitting next to bicycle and leaning against tree while studying on laptop in parkKeeping up with all your classes, reports and exams is no simple feat. And while we can’t make your classes easier, we can help lighten your workload with this awesome list of online resources for college students. Take advantage of all the internet has to offer!

The Rapid E-Learning Blog
Blogger Tom Kuhlmann shares loads of practical tips that can help every student succeed. You’ll find updated info on all sorts of educational topics, with helpful discussions following each article. Join the discussion and get lots of helpful advice along the way.

Saylor
This online resource is a treasure trove of free, open classes that you can take at your own pace. It’s great learning, at no cost!

Study Guide Zone
On Study Guide Zone, you’ll find helpful tips and study guides for all standardized tests, including SATs, ACTs, GEDs and more.

Getting Smart
Join an animated, learning-focused community that will show you resources to increase your studying effectiveness and overall academic success.

Coursera
Coursera is a brilliant resource that offers educational material on lots of common university topics. All the materials were prepared by real college tutors from prestigious institutions, so you don’t need to worry about credibility here! Look up your chosen topic today, and walk away that much wiser!

RefDesk
Looking for reputable sources on a specific topic? Don’t spend hours feeding keywords into Google and seeing what it spits out for you – instead, try RefDesk and have what you need in minutes! The site’s highly specialized search engine will provide you with all the reference materials and information databases you need on any topic. You can also fact-check the info you already have using this handy site.

EasyBib
Hands down, the most annoying part of writing a paper is putting together that bibliography of sources. Don’t sweat it! Next time you need a bibliography, let EasyBib do the job for you. You can choose from all sorts of writing and citation styles, including APA, Chicago and MLA. The site will ask you for the words you’re quoting, and then draw up the source for you. It’s easy as pie!

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite online resource for hacking college? Share it with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/15-best-online-resources-for-college-students.html

http://blog.noplag.com/14-best-online-resources-for-college-students/

http://blog.valorebooks.com/14-free-online-resources-for-college-students/#sthash.YeLT9cMi.dpbsr:

How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Computer hacker staring through computer screenChances are, you or someone you know has had their identity stolen at one point or another. It can be expensive, stressful and extremely complicated to recover from. Here are seven ways to help protect yourself and your most important data from identity thieves.

1. Secure Your Hardcopies
Most of us think of identity theft as a digital crime, but many thieves are just as eager to get their hands on your paper documents. While online accounts are password-protected, important paper documents are often left in a drawer or simply tossed in the trash, where dumpster-diving thieves can find them.

What’s the solution? Buy a safe and a shredder. What’s not shredded goes in the safe. Of course, the same level of care should go into protecting your physical credit cards. Don’t put your wallet in your back pocket. Make it a habit to check to see you have all your cards and IDs when you get home at the end of the day. This will help you be aware of missing items earlier so you can cancel lost or stolen cards before too much damage is done.

2. Examine Your Financial Statements
Reviewing your financial statements is a good practice. Not only will this help you track financial habits, it will also alert you to any fraudulent charges. Credit unions and banks do a lot to protect consumers from fraud and identity theft, but only you know what you purchased and what you didn’t, so look closely at those statements!

3. Choose Good Passwords
Many people have one simple password they use for all devices and platforms. This is convenient, but dangerous. Yes, there is reason to worry that having multiple hard-to-remember passwords may make it more difficult for you to access your own accounts, but potential identity thieves will have a more difficult time too.

If you’re worried about remembering your own passwords, check out these easy and safe ways to store your passwords from Gizmodo.

4. Protect Your Computer
Malware is just one way identity thieves steal your data. Invest in a good and reputable antispyware program to make sure your hardware is safe from invaders.

Another way to protect your computer is to encrypt your hard drive. Apple computers and PCs alike will offer the option to encrypt all data in your hard drive. Go to your security settings and choose to activate the encryption option.

5. Be Aware of Suspicious Emails and Websites
If an email looks suspicious, it probably is. Make your email inbox a tightly curated collection. If you have too many promotional emails, start clicking the unsubscribe button. This will help you spot suspicious, unsolicited mails.

The same goes for websites. Your browser or antivirus software may try and warn you about suspicious websites before you enter them. Don’t disregard those warnings.

6. Use Two-Factor Identification
The most convenient option is not always the most secure, but given the choice between convenience and security, your best bet is the more secure one. Two-factor identification for email accounts and other important online accounts will add an extra step to the security process for log-ins, most often making use of your phone number as well.

7. Secure Your Wi-Fi and Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is often insecure and can be a great way for thieves to get to your data. Steer clear if you can. If you have no choice, be sure to avoid all online banking or password logins while using public Wi-Fi. Additionally, be sure to secure your own home Wi-Fi with a unique and hard-to-guess password.

SOURCES:
http://www.identitytheftkiller.com/10-ways-to-avoid-id-theft.php
https://www.wikihow.com/Prevent-Identity-Theft

Student Discounts You Can Use

College girl laying on floor using laptopBetween astronomical tuition bills, piles of textbooks to purchase, foods costs and supplies, being a college student is definitely not cheap.

Lucky for you, there are loads of companies out there that think you deserve a budgeting break.

Here are five of the best student discounts out there.

1. Amazon
Amazon’s got it all – textbooks, supplies, gadgets, you name it! And, as a college student on a strict schedule, you want to get it all as soon as possible.

But who wants to shell out a hundred bucks a year for Amazon Prime?

Fortunately, you can have your super-speedy delivery service at half the price! Amazon Student offers all the perks of Amazon Prime for just $49 a year, providing you with free 2-day shipping, access to Prime Video streaming, unlimited photo storage with Prime Photos and various other student discounts.

You can even try out Amazon Student free of charge, for a full six months. When your six months are up, Amazon will ask if you want to join the student program at just $49 a year, and all you need to cash in on this bargain is a valid .edu email address. Doesn’t get much easier than that!

2. Spotify
You need your favorite tunes at your fingertips when tackling your schoolwork, but those Spotify ads take “annoying” to a whole new level. And, as a buck-watching student, you’re not paying the steep price for Spotify Premium.

Luckily for you, Spotify is happy to join the ranks of companies trying to save you money. Just for being a student, they’ll slash the Spotify Premium rates in half, to just $4.99 a month, for up to a year.

You’ll need to submit a recent transcript showing that you are currently enrolled in a school and attending classes, but then it’s hello ad-free jamming sessions!

3. Microsoft Office
Are you a fan of Microsoft Office? As a college student, you can download it for free! Just log onto Microsoft’s webpage and input your valid student email address to download Office 365, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Your coursework just got a whole lot easier!

And it’s no free trial – once you’ve downloaded Office, the program is yours to keep.

4. Adobe
Are you pursuing a career in graphic design? Want to learn how to navigate Photoshop? It just got easier and cheaper for you! Adobe is offering eligible students access to Lightroom and Photoshop for just $9.99 a month! If you want to explore Adobe’s apps, you can do that, too, for just $19.99 a month. It’s more than just spare change, but when stacked up against the usual price for Adobe’s full package at $49.99 a month, it’s a true bargain!

5. Amtrak
Traveling home for the holidays and summer break can get expensive. Choose Amtrak for your next visit home and save big!

The transport company’s 30 train routes run through 46 states, making them a super-convenient choice for those who’d rather not fly. And lucky for you, they offer student discounts, too! You can save up to $155 on every Amtrak trip you take, as long as you’ve got a valid student ID. Make sure to book your trip three days in advance and to bring your ID – you’ll save big with every trip!

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite student discount hack? Share it with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://college.usatoday.com/2017/06/30/the-best-student-discounts-you-can-and-should-get-with-an-edu-email-address/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.yahoo.com/amphtml/finance/news/20-college-discounts-never-knew-existed-191653108.html

Don’t Get Caught In A Free Trial Scam!

Four fingers pointing towards a free trial button on a keyboardYou know what they say: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” And yet, dozens of people fall for scams that promise them the moon — and they don’t realize they’ve been played until it’s too late.

Because of this truism, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning of an uptick in free trial scams. The scams come in several shapes and sizes, but most will look something like this:

You see an ad from Netflix or a cosmetic company saying you’ve been granted a temporary subscription to their service or product. They say it’s absolutely free. The only catch? There is none. They say that, anyway. That is until you’re asked to pay for hidden fees in addition to shipping and handling at a time when it’s too late to back out. Or, you might be asked to share all of your financial information even though you’re officially not obligated to pay anything.

In other words, there’s hardly a “free trial” that won’t cost you big.

In one such scam, a company aggressively advertised “free trials” for skin care products, dietary supplements and e-cigarettes on various popular websites. The lucky consumer would only need to cover the cost of shipping and handling and the product would be delivered – absolutely free!

Of course, the product wasn’t free and the unlucky victims sometimes paid close to $100 in fees before the first shipment was sent out. Worse yet, they were charged this same fee each month for the next year, with no way to back out of their contract until the 12 months were up.

In another scam with a similar setup, consumers were asked to share payment information for the $1.03 to cover shipping and handling for the “free” products. After their order was placed, another screen with a “Complete Checkout” button appeared. Shoppers who clicked that button unwittingly agreed to pay for monthly shipments of the product to the tune of $94.31 each month. And when that button was clicked, yet another “Complete Checkout” button appeared.

Again, those who clicked this button were subjected to a $94.31 charge each month. Consumers who’d taken the bait twice ended up with a total monthly charge of $188.62 – plus shipping.

In a third “free trial” scam, shoppers were lured into signing up for a 12-month trial subscription to a popular service, like Netflix, absolutely free. Unfortunately, though, the company advertising for the free trial wasn’t Netflix at all; it was a group of scammers. Victims were redirected to a new webpage where they were asked to share their sensitive information to qualify for the trial.

You can probably guess the ending: The scammer made off with the consumer’s information and emptied their accounts, went on a wild shopping spree or stole their identity.

Don’t let this happen to you! Here’s how to steer clear of free trial scams:

Do your research.
A quick online search of the company name with words like “scam” or “negative review” should give you a basic idea of what the business is all about.

Read the fine print.
Too often, there’s no way to refute charges relating to this scam because the consumer agreed to pay them. Don’t click anything without reading all of the terms and conditions attached to the offer. If you can’t find any, or you can’t understand them, opt out of the offer immediately.

Look for an exit strategy.
Is there a way to cancel the offer? Can you change your mind about the product? If you only have a small pocket of time to cancel the trial, you might be looking at a scam.

Always review your credit card and checking account statements.
This way, you’ll immediately spot anything suspicious and you’ll be able to determine if you can back out of a shady deal.

Never share sensitive information online.
Unless you’re absolutely sure you know who you’re dealing with, it’s difficult to know if a website is 100% secure.

Check URLs.
When signing up for a free trial, you’ll usually be redirected to a new site. Check the URL of the webpage and determine if it matches the company you are allegedly dealing with.
Ignore urgent calls to action. If an ad urges you to “Act now!” or claims an offer will expire momentarily, it’s likely a scam.

Read the fine print and only sign up for free trials that won’t cost you in more ways than you’d imagined.

Your Turn:
Have you ever been duped by a free-trial, or similar, scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.lovemoney.com/news/amp/69117/netflix-free-trial-subscription-scam-warning-fake-1-year-offer-email

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/taxonomy/term/858

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/07/dont-let-free-cost-you

What Can I Do About Robocalls?

man holding smartphone screen displaying unknown callerAre you sick of grabbing your ringing phone five times a day only to find yet another robocaller on the other end?

If robocalls are getting to you, you’re not alone. Those super-annoying automatic calls have recently exploded, and it’s enough to make anyone go bonkers. More than 30 billion robocalls were made in the United States in 2017, and the Federal Trade Commission answered a whopping 375,000 complaints about robocalls each month. Unfortunately, those numbers are only rising.

If you feel like your phone is ringing off the hook from robocalls and you’re just about ready to throw it against the wall, read on. We’ll give you the inside scoop on these dreaded calls and show you what you can do to put a stop to them once and for all.

How do they have my number?
Many people ask how so many businesses and scammers have their number. It’s because robocallers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and the internet is making their job easier. Scammers and telemarketers can scrape almost anyone’s phone number off the web.

They might find it on your Facebook page, another social media platform you frequent, or even drag it off your business’s website. Robocallers also buy phone numbers from popular companies or websites that require visitors to log in by submitting some basic personal information that includes their landline and cellphone numbers.

Or, robocallers may simply be dialing thousands and thousands of numbers at random, with no rhyme or reason at all.

Who’s on the other end of the line?
Robocalls come in many forms. Sometimes they’ll be trying to sell you a product or urge you into signing up for a service. Other times, they’ll try to scam you by appearing to represent a government agency, like the IRS.

You might think no one’s buying the marketed product, or that whoever actually believes the robotic voice telling them they’re about to be arrested is super naïve. Remember, though, that even if just a few people agree to buy the product or are taken in by the scam, the minimal cost of running the calls is more than worth it for the person behind the calls.

Here’s how the robocalls take a stab at appearing authentic:

  • Spoofing. Using software, the robocaller can tweak the way their number shows up on caller ID. They can make it look like the IRS is on the phone, that your electric service company is calling you or like a representative from Apple is seeking you.Recently, scammers have been using neighbor-spoofing, in which their caller ID looks like a local number. This throws victims off and can help robocallers gain their misplaced trust.
  • Disguised identity. Robocallers may also choose to appear mysterious and show up on your caller ID as “private number,” “unavailable” or “unknown.”

Steps you can take
Thankfully, you don’t have to be bombarded by those irksome calls for the rest of your life. Here are several steps you can take to keep most robocalls from reaching your landline or cellphone:

  • Don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers – If you don’t recognize the number on your caller ID, let it go to voicemail. If the ID shows a local number or the name of a recognized company you have no reason to believe is calling you, ignore it as well.
  • Block unwanted numbers – It’s time to get offensive and start intercepting those numbers before they reach your phone. First, if there’s any specific number that calls you persistently, use your phone to block it and you won’t have to hear from them again.Next, check with your phone service provider about possible technologies you can download to block anonymous calls or those from specific area codes. Some systems allow you to create your own blacklist of numbers that will be blocked or sent directly to voicemail. You can also create a “white list” of numbers you allow to go through and stop every other number from reaching you.You may also want to enlist the help of a robocall-blocking app that can offer you a stronger defense against unwanted calls.Here are some apps that provide this service along with their prices:
    Nomorobo: 14-day free trial. $1.99/month or $19.99/year
    RoboKiller: Free 7-day trial. $2.99/month or $24.99/year
    Hiya: Free. Hiya partners with Samsung, AT&T and T-Mobile and also has standalone apps.
    TrueCaller: Free
  • Require caller input – To keep all automatic calls from reaching your phone, you can set up a call-blocking technology, such as the Sentry Active Call Blocker, that greets all callers with a message requiring them to enter a number before the call can proceed. That’s something robots can’t yet do.
  • Don’t share your number – Never share your phone number on your social media profiles or pages. If a business asks for your number, do not give it out unless you absolutely must.
  • Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry – Visit www.donotcall.gov to add your landline and cellphone numbers to the list of registered callers who don’t want to be bothered by telemarketers. Scammers won’t pay much attention to this list, but law-abiding companies that ignore the listed numbers risk being fined and will usually abide by the registry’s rules. This service is free and your number will never be taken off the list.
  • File a complaint – If you’ve signed up for the Do Not Call Registry and, after a month, you are still receiving robocalls from specific companies, file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov. When the agency receives enough complaints about a number, it will take action.If you’re constantly receiving unwanted calls from a known business after signing up for the Do Not Call Registry, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

You don’t have to let those robocalls overtake your life. Take action today and reclaim your peace!

Your Turn:
What’s your best defense against robocalls? Share your favorite tip with us in the comments.

SOURCES:
https://www.consumerreports.org/robocalls/how-to-deal-with-robocalls/

https://www.moneytalksnews.com/7-tips-stop-annoying-robocalls/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2018/3/6/17071478/spam-calls-how-to-stop-block-robocalls-robots-scam-iphone-android

https://www.robokiller.com/blog/why-do-i-receive-robocalls/