Thursday, May 11, 2017

7 Tips for a Safe Summer Vacation

Scotland Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

It’s here! Summertime is upon us once again and it's time to start planning that long awaited summer vacation.

While you are planning to travel consider ways that you can keep your identity safe as well.

Don’t carry all of your cash and credit cards in the same place

Split them up and carry cash separate from credit cards and driver’s licenses separate from passports. If you fall victim to a robbery, the thieves won’t be able to take all of your financial holdings or identification.

If your passport or license is stolen report it to law enforcement immediately. Get a copy of the police report, keep it in a safe place and monitor your credit reports for fraudulent activity. As time goes on, you might also want to pull a background check on yourself and look for criminal charges.

Identity thieves not only look to steal from you financially, but are also willing to commit crimes using your identity. These crimes range from traffic tickets to theft to fraud or worse and correcting a false criminal records can take years!

Don’t post your travel information on social media

Even though we all like to share our adventures with friends and family, sharing vacation plans is a disastrous mistake.

Identity thieves look at social media 24 hours a day 7 days a week looking for people who publicly share their travel plans.You are giving a burglar an open invitation to break into your home and take whatever they like.

Oh...and thinking about posting a picture of your boarding pass? Better think again! The barcode or QR codes on the pass store all of your personal information including your birthdate, social security number and home address.

Infographic Courtesy of Javelin

Be careful with credit card purchases

Vacations mean explore new streets and with that comes street vendors. Whenever possible, only use cash or traveler’s checks when dealing with them. They may have the technology to steal your personal information through card skimming when you use a credit card to make a purchase.

If you are renting a car during your vacation, when you stop at the pump, do yourself a favor and pay for gas inside the store and not at the pump. Card skimmers are prevalent at outside gas pumps.  

Yes I know, going inside takes more time, but that extra five minutes will keep your identity safe and YOU ARE WORTH IT!

Don’t store items your back pockets

Don’t carry items in your back pockets. Streets and tourist attractions are full of people and there is always lots or shoving and bumping into people.

Carry your wallet and smartphone in your front pockets to avoid a pickpocket from taking them away from you. Don't set yourself up to be the victim of a crime! Think carefully before you adventure out into new surrounding and protect yourself and your family.

Don’t use public WiFi

Turn off the automatic wireless connectivity on your smartphone and verify the wireless network name with a hotel employee before you log in.

Thieves try to name wireless network as close to the name of a popular hotel or cafe as they can. Double-check before you connect!

Use VPN when you can and save online transactions such as banking and shopping for times when you can log onto a secure network.

Data Courtesy of  Javelin

Carry US Consulate information if you are traveling abroad

If you are traveling outside of the United States, research your travel destination to stay abreast of current laws and travel restrictions for the area. Also be aware of any necessary immunizations or active health alerts.

Carry contact information for the US Embassy. You can easily find the information on the website.

Washington Passport Agency Address
600 19th Street, N.W. First Floor, Sidewalk Level Washington, DC 20006

Report a Lost or Stolen Passport within the United States

Use Safe Secure Passwords and Passcodes

Always make sure to use secure passwords and passcodes for your digital devices. Passwords should always contain special characters and numbers.

Never use the same passwords for all of your accounts and don’t use passcodes that match your birthdate or anniversary. If you have trouble remembering passwords and need a better solution than the old standard “write it down and keep it in the desk drawer,” check out password management software such as:

Have a Safe & Happy Summer!

Monday, December 19, 2016

5 Shopping Tips for the Last Days of the Christmas Season

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

1. Use a credit card or cash for all of your purchases

Many brick-and-mortar stores have not upgraded to the new clip cards and the use of fake card skimmers increases this time of year. At least of you run into a fake card skimmer, the credit card transaction will be refunded to you, whereas the debit card transaction might not be.

2. Do not use public Wi-Fi spots for online transactions

Yes, we can all say that free public Wi-Fi is great, but the connections are not secure, so it fine if you just want to catch up on your favorite blog or news website, but DON'T use it for purchasing items online. If you do, you run the risk of a hacker capturing your personal information and your credit card number. Instead of ringing in a happy new year, you could kiss your bank account (and many other things) goodbye.

3. Complete face-to-face transactions in a Safe Space

If you are buying items from online services such as Craigslist, meet your proposed seller in a well populated area, such as the parking lot of your local police department. The Hazlet, New Jersey Police Department has been offering this service for a while now and it gives people an extra piece of mind. Contact your local law enforcement agency to see if they offer this great public service.

4. Use 2 Factor Authentication on all of your online accounts

Yeah, I know....2FA is a hassle, but it will keep your accounts secure and with the data breaches exploding like crazy this year, it is better to be proactive in securing your information than to end up getting hacked and becoming part of the millions of people who have experienced identity theft and are still trying to recover from it.

5. Keep your devices safe and secure

Make sure that all of your devices are secure and have the latest software updates. 

Double-check that the firewall on your computer is enabled and your virus protection is updated as well. Don't visit shopping websites that don't have the "https:" in front of their address and consider using password management software such as LastPass or Dashline.

Monday, December 12, 2016

An Ounce of Precaution

Bid Farewell to Another Year

So, here we are ticking away the last few days of yet another year. Boy, time sure goes by fast, as i am sure you will agree. Just as time goes fast, so do hackers who are out to steal your identity.

Even though some of you may think that identity theft could never happen to, just will. On the other hand, for those of you how believe in “a pound of prevention is better than cure” can adopt these New Year’s Resolutions.

A Small Amount of Prevention

First, make a valiant effort to keep your passwords secure. If you don’t you may wind up in the pack of those folks who accounts get hacked in the coming year.

The most commonly hacked accounts are those with dictionary term or common name passwords. Yeah, I know blah, blah,blah. Over and over again we keep hearing that we need to use stronger passwords and it is so true.

According to a recent study by CBTNuggets, the top 10 common words found in passwords of hacked accounts were:

  • Love
  • Star
  • Girl
  • Angel
  • Rock
  • Miss
  • Hell
  • Mike
  • John

The study also states that passwords with elements of account usernames and first names such as Lisa, Amy, Mark and Scott were also high on the list of hackers.

Don’t Become One of Them

If you don't want to become part to next year's possibly 500 million account hack, try using a random password generator to create a strong password. There are several generators on the Internet that allow you to customize the elements of a random password.

Okay, Okay… I can tell that many of you are scowling at me right now...

Yes, I know...random passwords are harder to remember, but think about this, the easier you make your password, the easier it is for the hackers to get to your personal information.

For example, if you keep using easy passwords and you tell all of your friends on social media that you just got lucky and won &10,000 from a lottery ticket and that social media post was public and not just told the whole world!

And that whole world includes criminals that are monitoring social posts just like that and now they have your name and maybe your brother's name and the race is on…

It only takes 2 or 3 small pieces of information to be able to find other pieces of your identity and then WHAM! -- all of a sudden you can’t buy that fancy new for that long awaited vacation to the Caribbean because a thief opened credit accounts in your name and now your credit rating is in the toilet...YES IT CAN HAPPEN that fast.

A Password Solution

There are many companies that offer password storage and encryption services for free or a very nominal fee. Here are links to a few for you to check out.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Federal Tax Fraud Down 50 Percent for 2016

Image Courtesy of Pixabay

A recent article on the Internal Revenue Service website states that fraudulent tax returns decreased by 50 percent last year with only approximately 250,000 fewer taxpayers claiming identity theft on their federal returns.

That decrease is due to group efforts by the IRS and the Security Summit Initiatives. These tactics improved not only the professional approach to filing tax returns but also the taxpayer approach through education in recognizing phishing email and phone calls in which taxpayers previously gave up personal information such as credit card and social security numbers.

Increased Safeguards for Secure Online Filing

The IRS has been working with several state and industry leaders to implement safeguards that will continue to stop fraudulent returns from being processed. Among those elements is the usage of specific data components that will strengthen the authentication process when filing tax returns online and through tax software.

The W2 verification code, a 16-digit code that is entered into tax software to validate the information on a W2, will continue to be used for the 2017 tax season and it will be expanded for use to 50 million W2’s this year versus only 2 million in 2016.

The IRS and the Security Summit leaders have taken action to enforce stronger data protection along with “red flags” that will identify suspicious refunds going to fraudsters and stop the transactions before electronic deposits are made.

New Project Brings Greater Safety

A new center called the Identity Theft Tax Refund Fraud Information Sharing and Analysis Center will share information between public and private sectors including law enforcement. The information includes uncovering the newest identity theft schemes so that stop-gaps can be quickly created with little to no harm to businesses or individuals.

Want To Learn What You Can Do?

The IRS has published Security Awareness for Taxpayers, a fact sheet that shares may ways in which a taxpayer can protect their information and lessen their chances of falling victim to identity thieves.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Who is MBS...and Why You Should Care

Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Here We Go Again…

As if the Yahoo! Data breach wasn’t bad enough..this one may prove to be one of the worst data breaches yet.

This past weekend, data from Modern Business Solutions (MBS) was found on the Internet. Many of you probably don’t know MBS, but they may be storing your personal information.

MBS helps companies make money with the data from their customers and it is a very lucrative business at that.

What Happened..and it May Not Be Over

The number of records affected by this breach as yet to be fully compiled (so far the number is 58 billion, but it could reach as many as 258 billion. The entire database that was not secure on the MSB system contains 258 billion records, pretty scary if you ask me.

Protect Your Accounts

You can go to HaveIBeenPwned and check to see if any of your email addresses appear on the site. If they do, you need to change the passwords associated with accounts or possibly face more trouble ahead. The choice is ultimately yours.

Be Grateful To This Person

Reports say that the breach is the responsibility of a hacker only known by the Twitter name  @0x2Taylor who exposed data on a site called Mega this past weekend.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Your Family Would NEVER Do This To You, Right?

Image Courtesy of
Family is great, right? We all get together during holidays, birthdays and special occasions. We even support each other through the GOOD and the BAD, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our family is our bond, we love and support each other and help out when and how ever we can.

Now, imagine going through the mail one day and looking at bills from credit cards companies in which YOU DON'T HAVE CARDS FOR…

Imagine getting into a car accident one night and being taken into custody for a WARRANT THAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW IS IN YOUR NAME…

Imagine getting phone call after phone call from debt collectors trying to collect…
...back mortgage payments for a HOUSE YOU DON’T OWN
...medical bills for procedures that YOU DIDN’T HAVE

...Now imagine that any of the above scenarios happened because a family member stole your identity and used it for their own benefit.

Don’t think that it can happen to you? THINK AGAIN. It can happen to YOU! It happened to ME, why not YOU? Oh, yeah, it happened to me and approximately ⅓ of all reported identity theft falls under the category of “Familiar Fraud,” according to

To Report...Or Not?

If you find yourself in this situation, talk to your family before you report the crime to authorities. Yes, it is difficult, but if you don’t report it, YOU ARE ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE for everything that is accomplished using YOUR identity.

Protect Your Information

Keep your information safe by following these guidelines.

  • Don’t leave mail lying around, especially those preapproved credit offers.
  • Having company? Store your purse/wallet in a locked closet or cabinet.
  • Going to a relative's? Only take what is essential  (do you really need your bank cards?) and leave everything else at home.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Keep Your Information Safe During the Holiday Season

Image Courtesy of

Halloween is almost here and along with  that comes the start of the annual holiday season. With data breaches, phishing and many other forms of cybercrime on the rise, now is the time to keep your information safe and out of the wrong hands.

Here are a few tips to help keep your personal information safe.

1. Limit What You Carry in Your Wallet (Especially When You Travel)

Only carry the bare essentials and NEVER carry your social security number with you. For those of you who keep your passwords and PIN codes in your wallet, you are setting yourself up for financial disaster (and it WILL happen).

There are password managers available online and offer many awesome features for storing your passwords. Get rid of your scratch paper and sticky notes and move to a safer environment with software such as LastPass or KeyPass

2. Be Phone Savvy

Realize that almost all major vendors, WILL NOT ask for your personal identifying information over the phone. If you get a call from an alleged IRS representative, HANG UP! They never make contact with you via phone or e-mail.

Credit card companies will already have your information in their databases, so DON'T give it out if you receive a phone call or email communication from them asking for your account passwords or balances on your accounts. They don't do business that way.

3. Think the Old-Fashioned Way

Criminals still look through garbage cans for credit card receipts and forms with other personal identifying information.

Invest in a shredder to shred documents or research when your community is hosting local shred-a-thons for free.

4. Protect Your Devices

Password protect all of your devices including your home desktop, laptop or tablet. Use antivirus software and keep all devices up-to-date with the current manufacturer updates and patches.

There are several free antivirus programs on the market including AVG or AVAST and if you feel you need added protection there is a paid version of AVG that offers other features such as remote lock and erase data in the event that the phone is lost or stolen.

5. Clear Your Cache

If you are a frequent flyer on the public Wi-Fi circuit, you should clear your browser's cache at the end of every session. Here are instructions for Chrome and Firefox.