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Saturday, October 31, 2015

How to keep the money in your bank account safe — online and offline

Is Your Bank Account Safe?

How to keep the money in your bank account safe — online and offline

Internet ScamBusters #92

Today’s issue was inspired by a very disturbing statistic we read last week. According to the research organization, Gartner Inc., illegal access to bank accounts is one of the fastest-growing financial crimes today.
Gartner estimates that during the past year, almost 2 million people in the US have had money stolen from their bank accounts! The average loss was $1200, with a total of more than $2 billion in losses for the year.
Today’s issue explores this problem — and shows you how to keep the money in your bank account safe — online and offline.
Before we get going though, we wanted to address a question by a subscriber about our recent issue on florist scams. The subscriber asked us if we include companies like FTD in florist scams.
Answer: No. There are a number of companies like FTD that are certainly not scams. These companies let customers know what the charges will be (so customers do not get bogus and unexpected charges).
If you missed that article on florist scams, check it out. We also include a new link to a site on roses that includes some interesting information on growing and enjoying roses that was recommended by our local florist.
OK. Let’s get going…

How Safe Is The Money in Your Bank Account?

Today’s article is not about what happens if your bank fails. Although this can be a real problem, most bank accounts in the US are insured by the FDIC to cover losses up to $100,000.
Action: We certainly recommend that you always make sure that your bank is financially sound and that your bank account deposits are fully covered by the FDIC.
However, today we focus on how to keep the money in your bank account safe from scammers and thieves. We’ll talk about keeping your money safe through both online and offline banking.

Online banking

Let’s start with online banking, since that’s where the problems are growing fastest.
Online banking certainly provides great convenience — and can save you a lot of time. Online banking lets you check your balances, transfer money between accounts, and pay bills.
However, you need to be vigilant and protect your online bank account. Here are some tips on how you can protect your bank account and keep it safe from theft:
1. PAY ATTENTION. Log in to your account on a regular basis, even if you don’t have any transactions to do. Simply take a look. It only takes a moment to review your information so that you know what’s going on — and to make sure nothing is wrong.
Action: If you do discover a problem or a discrepancy, contact your bank immediately.
2. KEEP IT PRIVATE. Don’t be tempted to do your online banking in the library or the local Internet cafe. You have no way of knowing who has access to that information — or how they’ll treat it.
Plus, there may be keystroke loggers on the computer, which make it very easy for a thief to steal your private information.
(A keystroke logger is a hardware device or software program that monitors each keystroke a user types on the keyboard. This information can then easily be transmitted to the scammer, who then can have access to user names, passwords, and other confidential information.)
Action: Never use public computers for transactions that involve private information.
3. INITIATE CONTACT YOURSELF. Don’t ever try to access your account through an emailed link — no matter how much that email looks like it came from your bank.
These kinds of emails that request you to log into your bank account are most likely ‘phishing’ scams. We’ve written quite a bit about these scams in past issues. For more info onphishing scams, click here.
Plus, don’t give out any personal information if someone who claims to be from your bank contacts you, by email or by phone.
Action: The best way to be reasonably sure that you really are dealing with your financial institute is to always initiate the contact yourself.
4. CHECK FOR SECURE CONNECTIONS. When you visit the bank’s site, make sure that the page where you type your info always starts with https: The ‘s’ means that the URL is on a secure server.
Action: Never type confidential information or passwords into a non-secure page.
5. CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD REGULARLY. And don’t tell anyone what it is, or allow anyone else to use it. Even people you trust should not have access to your online banking password.
Action: Change your password at least once a quarter. If you suspect there may be a problem, immediately change your password and call your bank.
6. INSTALL BARRIERS. If you are doing online banking, your computer should have the following software installed:
– A firewall. Firewalls ‘block the door’ to your computer so ‘hackers’ can’t access the information on your hard drive. To learn more about firewalls, click here.
– Spyware blockers. Spyware is any program that secretly downloads onto your system when you access the Internet, often through pop-up ads or attachments.
The software gathers information about you from your computer and sends it to ‘third parties’ — who could be scammers who will steal your money. You can learn more about spywarehere:
– Anti-Virus software. Scammers sometimes send virus ‘trojan horse’ programs by email, and anti-virus software installed on your system can stop these. To learn more about anti-virus software, click here.
Action: Install a good firewall, spyware blocking software, and updated anti-virus software program.
Action: Report all problems and suspicious activity immediately.

Offline Banking

There are lots of ways that thieves can gain access to your bank account info offline as well. Here are a few precautions for you to take:
– As with online banking, pay attention. Don’t just get your bank statement and toss it on the ‘to-do’ pile on your desk. Your to-do pile is probably way too big, and it might be days before you get around to opening that envelope. You can’t spot a problem if you’re not paying attention — and if you don’t spot an existing problem, it could cost you a great deal.
Action: Read your bank statements as soon as you get them.
– Be very careful with your ATM card. Don’t lend your ATM card to anyone or share your password. And never write your PIN number on your ATM card or have it anywhere near your ATM card (in the event that your wallet gets stolen).
– Shield your transactions when you use your ATM card so no one can see what you are keying in.
– Check to make sure that no hardware devices have been added to an ATM machine you’re using.
These devices, called ‘Skimmer’ devices, can record the info from the magnetic strip on your ATM card along with your PIN number. They take less than 15 seconds for the scammer to install and uninstall them.
Some Skimmer devices are installed over the keypad on an ATM machine — and may include warnings, supposedly from the bank, about how this equipment is being tested. If you see anything like this, do NOT use the ATM machine.
– Shred old and unused checks, as well as any unwanted paper that has your bank account number on it.
– Never give anyone a signed blank check.
Check out our article on credit card fraud: 21 tips to protect yourself. Much of this article is also useful to help you avoid bank fraud.
For more on the Gartner study, visit:
If you do find a fraudulent transaction, report it to your bank immediately. Your bank is required to refund your money as long as you notify the bank within 60 days of receiving your statement. However, the sooner you begin the process, the faster action can be taken to stop the fraud.
If you follow these suggestions, there are no guarantees (since these folks are very, very clever), but you will have a very good chance of keeping your bank account safe from scammers and thieves.
Time to wrap up. We have a really important issue for you next week that’s a bit different, so be sure to watch for it.

5 Scams That Target Your Bank Account


A bank customer making a transaction with a bank teller in a retail bank.

5 Scams That Target Your Bank Account

Don't fall for these frauds that will wipe out your cash reserves.

A bank customer making a transaction with a bank teller in a retail bank.
It should go without saying, but never cash a check for a stranger "in need."
By + More
With numerous data breaches affecting millions of people, many Americans are on alert about credit cardfraud. But not as many are aware when it comes to bank account scams. Bank account scams target a victim’s cash, and the damage can be much more detrimental to one’s finances than other scams – including credit card fraud.
Under the Fair Credit Billing Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, you can be held accountable for a maximum of $50 if unauthorized purchases were made on your credit card. In the case of bank account fraud, your liability will depend on when you report it. The bad news is, you are accountable for all fraudulent charges on the account if you report them more than 60 days after the statement is sent.
With the potential danger of getting your whole cash reserve wiped out, it’s crucial that you are aware of the most common scams that directly target the funds in your bank account and how to avoid them to keep your money safe.

10 Ways to Protect Yourself From Online Fraud

Check Overpayment Fraud
Check overpayment fraud is a popular sales scam that targets sellers from online auctions and classified advertisement websites. During a transaction, the fraudulent buyer will pay the seller with a non-cash payment for more than the amount of the item. In this case, scammers need to move quickly in order to prevent the seller from verifying the check. The seller will be asked to immediately deposit the full amount and wire the difference to the buyer.
The phony check will eventually bounce and be returned unpaid, which will cost the seller an average of $12.85 in a deposited item returned fee, according to a 2014 MyBankTracker analysis. This is in addition to an average of $27.40 the seller will be charged for the outgoing domestic wire transfer made to the criminal. The worst part? The seller will be fully accountable for the fraudulent check and the wired amount, which cannot be reversed.
How to avoid this scam: If you receive any non-cash payments, such as a check, money order, U.S. postal money order or other similar items, you should take appropriate steps to protect yourself. Even if you’re not an expert at spotting a counterfeit check, you can avoid becoming a victim by calling the bank where the check was issued or asking your own bank teller to verify its legitimacy.
Charity Fraud
Anyone who still uses a landline may have experienced this once or twice. You receive a call asking for donations to the local police department or to military families. After you’re hooked, the crooks elicit information about your bank account or debit card to make the donation over the phone – giving them full access to your checking account.
How to avoid this scam: To make sure your good intentions do not go to waste, the safest way to give to a charity is by choosing an organization you are familiar with. Be cautious about giving your information to individuals who reach out to you first by telephone or email.
Cashing a Check for a Stranger
No one wants to turn his or her back on someone who needs help. This scam involves strangers conveniently stopping you at the bank and asking if you can cash a check for them since the bank won’t allow them to because they do not have an account at that bank. In exchange, they’re willing to give you some cash for your time and trouble. Here's the catch: Although the check is deposited, it hasn’t actually cleared. So even if you think you pulled the money from their check, you actually pulled money from your funds and handed them over to the criminal.
How to avoid this scam: In general, it’s not a good idea to cash a check for anyone, much less a stranger. While it is possible to cash a check at a bank as a non-customer, there is still a fee. It is often less than $10 and therefore would not make sense for someone else to pay you such a high incentive to do this favor for them – unless they have ulterior motives.
Work-at-Home Job Scams
The economy is still recovering, and the recession resulted in a surplus of people looking for ways tomake quick cash. Some crooks take advantage of this situation by offering jobs that require people to transfer funds through their personal checking accounts. The scammers offer victims a “commission” in exchange for facilitating money transfers through their personal accounts.
How to avoid this scam: If you are asked to work at home for minimal work and high pay, it’s probably a scam. Do not accept any work-at-home opportunities that involve sending money in advance and sending a portion to a third party via wire transfer. Also, when receiving a check, make sure there aren’t discrepancies or typos that may cause the check to be flagged as being fraudulent.
Award Scams
Many situations that seem too good to be true usually are. That’s not to say these things don’t happen – but winning a lottery or sweepstakes without actually participating? It’s probably not very likely. In these scams, you are told that you’ve won a foreign lottery. Crooks will send you a very large check to deposit into your personal checking account. You will then be asked to immediately wire a portion of the funds to pay for government taxes and administrative fees.
How to avoid this scam: If you didn’t apply for it, you didn’t win it. Note that it is illegal to participate in a foreign lottery via mail or phone in the U.S. Additionally, when winning a lottery, you will not be responsible for paying taxes or fees directly to the government.
Protect Yourself 
Scammers will continue to come up with creative ways to get into people’s bank accounts, which often involves victims pulling cash out of their own accounts to hand over to the criminals.
Keep in mind that scammers often target people who are searching for jobs, dating, selling products and even do-gooders looking to help someone in need. Be sure to keep these common scams and tips in mind before you put your funds at risk.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why I Love Wearing A Smartwatch, And Why You Should Wear One As Well


Why I Love Wearing A Smartwatch, And Why You Should Wear One As Well

While they were never the headline stars of Mobile World Congress last week, smart watches are rapidly becoming the accessory to have, both for manufacturers and consumers. Strapping a second screen to your wrist, with either a touchscreen or some well thought out buttons, is the new geek fashion. The Fossill Wrist PDA and SPOT watches failed to capture enough love, but the current crop of Samsung GearsSony SmartWatches, andPebbles, are ready to win over the general public.

I make no bones about the fact that I’m happy to try out every bit of early adopter technology that is going. From the early days of the PDA, through smartphones, and the rise of the tablets, I’ve been out there on the edge. Having a smartwatch is something that fits with my tendency to experiment with the latest technology.

The last few months have seen more people interested in my smartwatch. The chirps and alerts from my social networks, breaking news from the BBC, and the fitness applications are all starting points for enlightened questions. Smartwatches are no longer branded with the pocket protector or the propeller hat, but are becoming fashionable and mainstream. This change in attitude will help drive sales over the next year, and this will be helped by the utility that the current crop of smartwatches exhibit.
Samsung Gear 2 and Gear Neo smartwatches (image: Samsung Press)
Samsung Gear 2 and Gear Neo smartwatches (image: Samsung Press)
Thanks to my smartwatch, I’ve found myself picking up my smartphone far less during the day. There’s no need for me to keep checking my social networks, my email inbox, or any of the important connected services I subscribe to. If there is something important, then my smartwatch will give a little chirp (and in most case a quick vibration) and a quick glance will let me know who is reaching out to me, and I can decide very quickly if I need to interrupt my current task and switch focus. The advantage of the smartwatch is I only have to deal with that single interruption, there are no further distractions, alerts, or graphics trying to catch my attention. For the majority of alerts, my smartphone stays in my pocket and I can keep writing, reading, or researching. The time to make the decision on an incoming alert on a smartwatch is typically less than a second, which is a magnitude faster than checking my smartphone’s screen.

The smartwatch gives me a feeling of connectedness coupled with independence. It puts me back in control of the messages that are coming at me throughout the day. It’s all very well saying ‘just have some discipline’ but it’s human nature to be distracted and to see who is reaching out to you. I can be confident of not missing anything important, while removing all the other distractions that soak up my productive time during the day. The smartwatch unchains me from all but the most important moments online.
There there is the smart watch application scene. Smartwatches are already being used by the fitness app suppliers. RunKeeper supports the Pebble smart watch, Runtastic works wonderfully with Sony’s SmartWatch, and Samsung has highlighted the in-build sensors in the Gear 2 range to measure your heart rate, count steps, sleep, and stress levels. I might not be the greatest runner in the world, but having my MP3 controls on my wrist is far more accessible than pulling out the latest five-inch screened smartphone. Developers are only just getting to grips with the smartwatch revolution, so these wrist based apps, while being incredibly useful, are still on touching the tip of the creative iceberg.

It’s not just the technology, because smartwatches are now  entering an era where fashion is just as important as function. With the launch of the Pebble Steel at CES this year the smartwatch moved out of square boxes and into a more acceptable look. While the smartwatch class of 2014 will improve on the software and functionality on our wrists, the biggest impact will be in the design of the watches and an adoption of a contemporary look from the manufacturers, from all-encompassing macho metal designs to taking on the explosive colors of the Swatch range.

I’ve never been one for fashion, so I’m going to claim the ‘retro’ label and let everyone else get on with it.
Pebble Steel
Pebble Steel
The point is this. Although smartwatches have been trailed as the next big thing for a few years now, they have finally reached the point where the physical hardware such as screen technology and battery usage; the software, both the first-party watch OS and apps, the smartphone clients, and the third-party apps; and the practical designs for the modern world are all meshing together to create a compelling package that has a positive impact in the real world.
SmartWatches are now at the tipping point of being genuinely useful. As 2014 continues, this situation will only improve. Now is the time to start enjoying yourself on the new frontier.

The American Information Consumer: SMARTWATCH METADATA

Ernest Karhu
Bear Market Economics


Now that I've had my own smartwatch for about a week now, I wouldn't part from it for one minute.

Why is a smartwatch a valuable adjunct to the smart phone? The answer for me is META DATA or META INFORMATION that my smartphone cannot and does not provide. Just imagine if your smartphone acted like your smartwatch does. It would be absolutely useless or non-functional (as a smartphone).

If the primary reason that you have a personal computer, laptop, tablet and/or smartphone is connectivity to information (which saved me trips to the library or having the latest and greatest version of the Encyclopedia Britannica in your home, which I had as a kid, plus my regular trips to the local public library). Today you can have it all and more, at your fingertips and on your wrist. I do.

But now I have direct access to the metadata along with electronic subscriptions and my smartwatch provides the META DATA I've never had access to in all those years. I would hate to lose this new vital step.

How did I accomplish this? I found an Android smartwatch application  that essentially connected to every notification that my smartphone already accessed. Now my smartwatch is humming and providing the metadata for the data my phone accesses. That's not something my phone can tell me nor would I want a phone that did. But this is why I bought my smartwatch and why I need it now more than ever.

The next step in the evolution of information technology WILL BE a META DATA ORGANIZER, but I know now that I will still NEED, PREFER, WANT and USE mt smartwatch.

This might not obviously make sense to you if you've never had or worn a smartwatch. It didn't occur to me until I had one on my wrist.

Although I've read most of those articles providing 100 reasons why you should NOT buy a smart watch and the articles suggesting the top 10 reason why you need one, none of them suggested or mentioned METADATA.

Well now I have...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Inside the Prison Walls of Consumerism

 The Minimalists

Inside the Prison Walls of Consumerism

jail cells

There’s a shopping mall in San Diego that used to be a prison. Restored, repurposed, and redecorated, it’s hard to imagine that this place once imprisoned hundreds of inmates.

One might argue, however, that it’s a different kind of prison now. A voluntary incarceration, caged by the invisible walls of consumption.

This might sound hyperbolic, but it’s an apt analogy. After all, consumption isn’t the problem; compulsory consumption (consumerism) is the problem. We’ve trapped ourselves by thinking that consumerism will make us happy, that buying shit we don’t need will somehow make us whole.

We’ve gotten good at fooling ourselves, too. We’ve overdecorated the jailhouse walls—walls we’ve built around ourselves—and we’ve made our cells so comfortable that we’re terrified to leave. But a prison cell with a view is still a prison cell.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

FTC Announces Top National Consumer Complaints for 2013


FTC Announces Top National Consumer Complaints for 2013


Commission’s Annual Report Shows Identity Theft Continues to Top List of Complaints; American Consumers Report Losing Over $1.6 Billion to Fraud Overall

For Release

Identity theft continues to top the Federal Trade Commission’s national ranking of consumer complaints, and American consumers reported losing over $1.6 billion to fraud overall in 2013, according to the FTC’s annual report on consumer complaints released today.

“Americans of all ages are vulnerable to identity theft, and it remains the most common consumer complaint to the Commission,” said Jessica Rich, director, Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We urge consumers to visit for tips to prevent and mitigate the damage from identity theft.”

The Commission received more than two million complaints overall, as reported in the agency’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2013, of which 290,056, or 14 percent, were identity theft related. Thirty percent of these incidents were tax- or wage-related, which continues to be the largest category within identity theft complaints.

The highest reported age group for identity theft is 20-29, with 20 percent of complaints. Rich says that educating consumers on this topic is a top priority for the agency. Some of the FTC resources include Signs of Identity Theft, Immediate Steps to Repair Identity Theft, and How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure.

Of the more than 1.1 million fraud complaints (classified separately from identity theft) the Commission received, 61 percent of consumers reported an amount of money they had paid, which collectively added up to more than $1.6 billion.
The top 10 complaint categories include:

Number of Complaints
Identity Theft
Debt Collection
Banks and Lenders
Imposter Scams
Telephone and Mobile Services
Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries
Auto Related Complaints
Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales
Television and Electronic Media
Advance Payment for Credit Services

The report details national data, as well as a state-by-state accounting of top complaint categories and a listing of the metropolitan areas that generated the most complaints. This includes the top 50 metropolitan areas for both fraud complaints and identity theft complaints. Florida is the state with the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft and fraud complaints, followed by Georgia and California for identity theft complaints, and Nevada and Georgia for fraud and other complaints.

The FTC enters complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database that is available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies across the country. Agencies use the data to research cases, identify victims and track possible targets.

The Federal Trade Commission advises anyone who spots a scam, is the victim of identity theft or other fraud-related issues to file a complaint online with the agency’s Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).

Other federal and state law enforcement agencies and organizations contribute consumer complaints to the Consumer Sentinel Network. The FTC provides information to entities interested in becoming a member to have access to data.

Contact Information


Cheryl Warner
Office of Public Affairs

David Torok
Bureau of Consumer Protection

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Our Technology Addiction: Who, or What, Creates It?

The Vital Edge

Technology Addiction

There is a sense that we humans are in control of the technologies that we create, and in a way, that is of course true. We code the software. We design the shape and the function of the tool.
And yet, there is a deeper sense in which we are very much not in control.

The Icy Grip of Our Tools

TV's Addictive Grip

To make this argument, I must first fully admit that I myself am wrapped in its seductive grip. There is a pull that our technology exerts over us, a kind of compulsion that is hard to deny. We see it in how difficult it is to draw our young ones away from the gaming console, from our obsessive checking of Facebook and email – first at our desktops, and now everywhere we go thanks to the super handy convenience of our mobile devices. Even our less compelling earlier media device, the television, with its lack of interactivity or connection to others, is still responsible for engaging four and a half hours of the average person’s day in the United States.

So, there is a design to technology and it is one that, for various reasons, is quite good at harnessing our compulsive behaviors in order to attract us into using it. What is behind this design, this “planned stickiness”? The answer, at one level, is quite simple. We humans design our technologies to be this sticky ultimately as a way to make more money for our businesses.

Drive up engagement, drive up usage, drive up share of mind. The more hours computers steal from television, the better. The more minutes mobile takes from desktop, the better. And don’t forget the escalation of attention-grabbing antics amongst direct competitors within a product category, as Apple works to beat Microsoft, and now Google at how many of us buy, embrace and eventually recommend their machines.

Even the content flowing to us through these devices competes with other content, each hoping we’ll just love what the experience. Joanie Loves Chachi and I Love Lucy, and now my attention is so Mashable I’m simply Wired to want more.

Perfecting Our Technology Addiction

Oh yes, at one level, our compulsive attachment, our addiction, to our tools is very easy to understand. It’s simply an outgrowth of our competitive enterprise system – the marketplace, perfectly tuned to breed the most compelling user experience possible, a kind of extension of nature’s evolutionary forces.

But here is the interesting question for each of us to pause and reflect upon. One day, these systems will learn to design themselves. They will have the “business intelligence” to analyze our “big data” and configure themselves in ways that are so responsive, so compelling, so addictive, they’ll make what we have today seem as quaint as listening to The Lone Ranger on an old-fashioned 1930′s radio broadcast.


Our user experience will be fantastic. We will be so customer delighted, we won’t know what to do with ourselves. And all of it will come through the magic of automation and the wondrous weaving of algorithms without a huge degree of human agency or oversight. We will be programmed by the program, so attracted to the flame that we will not notice a little singe to our wings here and there.
And it all leads to the interesting question of who – or what – will be doing all the programming.

And the I Love Lucy copyright goes to CBS.