Category Archives: Cautionary Tips

These tips are suggestions for staying safe.

Identity Theft and Fraud

Here we are, in the income tax preparation season. (Didn’t we just suffer through this?)

As usual, there are people so willing to help you. They offer all sorts of tips and tricks to save you money. But wait–are they asking for things like your social security number? How about your email login credentials? Most likely they are helping not you, but themselves. They are trying to gain your trust so you will give them personal information so they can become rich at your expense.

One of the scams that they run this time of year involves someone trying to contact you from the IRS by email claiming either you owe a ton of money or that the IRS owes you a ton of money. Either way, it’s a scam. The IRS will NEVER contact you by email. They want your personal information. Similarly, they will not contact you by phone. Hang up on people telling you they are IRS officers. Report them to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.

Another thing to be looking for: a website that looks like it may belong to the IRS. The real website has an address of www.irs.gov. That’s it. Very simple. If you get an email with a link to the IRS, remember to put your mouse over the link and check the real address of that link by looking at the lower left corner of your screen. The true link will show up there.

I closing, here’s a useful link to use if you want to know more from the IRS about identity theft: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Taxpayer-Guide-to-Identity-Theft.

Keyless Car Access

Here’s one that should interest those of you with who have vehicles that don’t need a key to unlock the door:

Many new cars just require that you have the key on your person and the door automatically unlocks when you approach it. Likewise–the ignition does not have an ignition key. You just have to have the key with you. So what’s the problem? Seems like there are a number of reported incidents where unknown persons have obtained access to locked cars of the type mentioned. There is no evidence of forced entry and it has puzzled many a law enforcement organization. Now we know what is happening.

The newer cars are always wirelessly scanning for the proper key. When you approach it with the proper key, the car unlocks itself and can be started. (The distance may be 50′ or so). The bad guys have a power amplifier that they carry with them and turn it on as they approach the car. It extends the distance that the car can search for the proper key. So–if you need to be within 50′ then the amplifier allows the distance to be increased to maybe 100′. If you key is in the house on the kitchen counter, the car can most likely find it easier and unlock the door. Note that the distances used in this example are guesstimates and are used only to give you an idea of how it works.

So what do you do? According to a writer with the New York Times, just put your keys in the refrigerator at when you are not driving your car. Why? The ‘fridge acts as a Faraday Cage (well, not a perfect one, but close enough) which will not allow the wireless signal to get in or out.

Free Email Accounts

Many folks have been using hotmail.com, msn.com,  and live.com accounts for a while now.  Microsoft has been directing all these users to outlook.com and they log on there. There are several problems with this service.

When you set up these accounts, it’s with the understanding the account is free and you will have very limited access to tech support.  Every so often I am called by a client who has tried to log onto a Microsoft mail account only to get the message that there might be someone else using the account and you need to confirm that you are the owner.  If you have not provided for this eventuality, you are going to be in trouble.

Everyone who sets up one of these accounts needs to have an alternate email address.  There is a place to list that alternate address when you set up your Microsoft account.  If there is any requirement to confirm that you are the account holder, the confirmation link or code will be sent to your alternate email.  If you don’t have an alternate email, you will have to answer a lot of security questions and most people have a problem doing this.

So–what do you use for your alternate email?  If you are a Centurylink customer, you have a Centurylink email account.  Same goes for Comast.  You may just have to go to their site and set it up.  You also have the option of setting up a Gmail account to use for that purpose.

Who is Watching

Many people nowadays have laptop computers that have a nifty little webcam.   It’s that little camera just above the screen.  Look up there–see it?  Do you know it can see you?  It can.

In case you think that the camera is off until you turn it on, think again.  There are bad guys out there that can get into your system and turn the camera on.  This raises an interesting question.  Where do you keep the computer?  College kids keep it in their dorm room and the cover is most likely open.  Adults may keep it in the bedroom or possibly an office.  If someone turns on the camera, what will they see?  Only you can answer that question!

This is not science fiction.  It has happened many times.  I had a client who got the “FBI Virus” and the screen he saw included his picture.  Needless to say, he was upset.  He actually didn’t even know he had a camera.

There is supposed to be an icon or maybe a light that appears when the camera is active.  Trust me–the bad guys can turn that icon or light off so you are not aware they are watching you.

The easiest thing to do to thwart this?  Use a low-tech solution.  Put a piece of tape over the camera unless you need it!  Yes, there are ways of disabling it, but why not keep it simple?

Urban Legends and Other Hoaxes

You’ve probably received emails warning you that if you use your cell phone while fueling your car that you’ll be blown up.  Or maybe that if you forward this email to 10 of your friends you will be given lots of money by Bill Gates.  Heard that there are bedbugs in new clothes that are made overseas?  How about the warning about a new virus making the rounds that not even the anti-virus people know about (really?) You get the idea.

I’m always amazed at the number of mails that I receive from friends and relatives that are not true.  Some say that they’ve been checked on Snopes.  I recently saw one that said “Snopes Approved.”  Wonder what that means?  Don’t believe them! I must admit that I sometimes fall for this stuff.  I just tell myself that it sounds true and I don’t have the time to look it up. So—what should you do if you receive one of these emails?

Check the truthfulness of the statements.  Use one (or more) of these sites:

www.snopes.com
            www.scambusters.org
            www.truthorfiction.com
            www.urbanlegends.about.com

One thing that I’ve decided is that if the email is written in bold-faced type and is in color and just screams for your attention, it’s probably not true.  Someone is going to a lot of trouble to get you to read it and figures if it looks sensational (think “National Enquirer”) then you’ll believe it.   Now delete the mail and don’t forward it to anyone else.  There!  You just stopped a rumor.

Smartphone Security

I have written many times to make everyone aware that the bad guys are out there trying to infect your computer with bad stuff (malware).  People are starting to take action to protect themselves.

With the increasing popularity of smart phones, the bad guys are out to make a buck where they can.  They have written some pretty nasty stuff that can infect your phones.  Some of this stuff is just meant to steal your data–like passwords, account numbers, etc.  Others do to a phone what the software like CryptoLocker does to a computer.  One such piece of malware is called Android/Simplocker.  This malware, after gaining access to an Android device, scans the SD card for certain file types, encrypts them, and demands a ransom in order to decrypt the files.   Needless to say, it could ruin your day.

Much of this bad software comes along with downloaded apps that are downloaded from unofficial sites.  So a word to the wise–apps can be very useful for things from tracking your exercise history to showing you the best places to buy gas.  Just watch where you get them.  If in doubt, remember that Google is your friend–look for problems reported by other users and learn from their mistakes.

Oh–and another warning–you can also infect your iPhone!  This is done mostly by clicking on questionable links on websites.  The resulting malware spies on you and reports your vital stuff to those who can profit from it.

Security Questions

You have all seen this:  You create an account online and you are asked to enter a password and answer some security questions to be used later if you forget your login credentials.  They offer many standard questions, like “What is your mother’s maiden name” and “What is the name of your favorite pet.”

So what should you do?

First, create a password that is unique and hard to guess.   We’ve addressed this in a previous article.  Stay away from kids’ names and pet names.  As for the security questions, here are several suggestions:

A good security question should:

be easy to remember
have thousands of possible answers
not be something you  would use on social media
be simple one or two word answers
not change over time

If a site lets you make up your own questions, so much the better.

Don’t use things like birthdays, school names, etc.  These are easy for the bad guys to find.

I’ve talked with clients that just make up answers that aren’t true.  This is helpful, as someone who really knows you won’t be able to guess the answer.  Hey–anything to keep your data and identity secure works.  Be careful, though.  If you make up questions, you better remember the answers!

Another tip–if the site allows you to request a password change, they will usually email you. So be sure you give them a current email address.

Scareware

In the past, we discussed rogue anti-virus programs.  They are still around.  They call themselves things like “Antivirus 2014.”  I’m frequently asked why, if there is an internet security program installed on the computer, do these things keep showing up?  Well, they are not technically a virus.  Many are programs created with Flash and act like a movie playing.  The problem is it’s a movie that you can’t turn off!  No matter how many times you click on the “X” the windows keep appearing.  Some versions open 10 or more windows in a really short time.  Annoying, to say the least.

While many of these programs aren’t harmful (they aren’t busy deleting data), they can ruin your day and make your computer useless—they just fill up the screen and try to get you to pay money to get them to go away.  They can also prevent you from navigating to an antivirus site where you might find a utility to remove them.  When you try to access one of the many antivirus companies’ sites, you’ll be blocked.

There are a number of ways to get this junk to go away, but ror right now, restarting the computer in safe mode and doing a system restore may help.  Once you do the restore, run MalwareBytes (you can get it from www.malwarebytes.org).  This should pick up the bad stuff.  If you don’t scan for malware, you will probably find yourself right back where you were at the beginning of the day. If this procedure makes you uncomfortable, just give us a call and we can assist you.

Remote Access Scams

I just spoke with a member of our community who related a phone call he received.  Out of the blue, he was called by a person who said that he was working with Microsoft and wanted him to know that there were a lot of viruses going around in this area.  He then asked permission to log onto the person’s computer so he could help out.

The first mistake the user made was saying “OK.”  After the caller logged onto the computer, he went to a website and proceeded to start downloading a virus scanning program.  At this point, the computer owner started questioning the guy about his affiliation with Microsoft and how he knew there were viruses on his computer.  The caller, of course, tried to keep him on the line and sell him a service.

The whole thing ended with the owner telling the guy he was not interested and hanging up the phone and, I believe, restarting the computer.

I, too, have received these phone calls.  While the caller didn’t say he worked for Microsoft, he did say he was part of the Windows Support Group.

Object lesson:  No one is legitimately monitoring your computer unless you allow them to do so.  Do not fall for any caller claiming to be able to remove viruses or tune up your computer unless you specifically ask for this service.  Allow no one to log onto your computer unless you know who they are and trust them.  Once they are in your machine, who knows what type of software they will install or what data they will steal? Remember—your first line of defense is your common sense.

Protecting your Data

In a previous article, we talked about safeguarding your data in case of a problem where your hard drive crashed or you lost files (maybe with the help of grandkids).   You now know to back the data up frequently.  Perhaps you are doing that.

Here’s something that might happen, though—for some reason Windows stops responding.  You try to restart and you get the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death).  Maybe just a black screen that says Windows is missing important files.  You are desperate!  You haven’t recently done data backup.  You need your computer.

You have system restore disks, so you try to use them to get the system up and running.  This might not be a good thing to do.  Many system restore disks will wipe the hard drive before restoring.  This will cause all your programs and data to go away.

Unless you know what you are doing or like living on the edge, it’s best to call a computer professional to see if Windows can be repaired instead of restored.  If you can get the computer working again without losing your stuff, you’ll be a lot happier.