Category Archives: Identity Protection

How to Make to Secure Offline Payments

With recent global conflicts threatening cybersecurity, it’s more important than ever to keep yourself and your finances protected. In addition to overarching internet fraud, cyberattackers will frequently target online payment systems. Cryptocurrency in particular has been the talk of potential scams and overseas cybercrime.

Continue reading

Everything You Need to Know About Job Hunting Service Scams

Internet Theft - a man wearing a balaclava looking at computer screen using magnifying glass

By: Jurissa Ayala

What is a job hunting service scam — and how does it harm both employers and employees? Job hunting service scams operate like recruitment or staffing agencies, claiming to place job seekers with prospective employers. Occasionally job hunting services may actually be able to arrange interviews and even procure a job for a job hunter, but it will always come at a considerable and unnecessary cost.

Continue reading

Internet Security : Creating Secure Passwords

metal security lock with password on computer keyboard

By Jurissa Ayala

In our day and age, we have the amazing ability to be hooked up to the Internet and perform our business, our banking, schooling and communication from anywhere we want. However, our security online depends greatly on our ability to protect our personal accounts from unauthorized access, as malicious users try to break into other people’s accounts thousands of times every day. Passwords are the linchpin in our security, and it is vital that we create strong passwords to protect our accounts and our identities.

Continue reading

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Hackers

Large group of people that are seeking security protection , internet , identity theft , home protection concept.


By MJ Plaster

You know the line from King Henry the Sixth even if you’ve never read a word of Shakespeare: “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Here we’re talking about black hat hackers, the ones that wreak havoc with computer networks and Internet sites around the world. I’m probably next on their list after that headline, but how else can I tempt you to read vital information that could save your business?

Continue reading

Is Facebook Making you more Vulnerable to a Grandparent Scam?

Checkworks-Grandparent scam- new img

The grandparent scam has been around a few years, according to the FBI, but numbers have increased dramatically as seniors become more active online and with social media. A typical grandparent scheme involves a phone or email; someone identifying themselves as one of your grandkids will claim to be in trouble and need immediate financial help. Continue reading

How Much Does The Internet Know About You?

Suspicious businesswoman siting on the desk with laptop computer

Our society relies heavily on the Internet for information, commerce, communication and entertainment. Increasingly, though, logging on comes with a distinct Big Brother-style unease. Many people are worried how much the Internet knows about them and would like to limit this information, but can’t find the right answers. Well, here they are. Below we’ve outlined some of the most salient questions Internet users have, as well as the best ways to protect yourself. Continue reading

Phishing for Dollars: Internet Scamsters Gone Wild

Hacker typing on a laptop with binary code background

By M.J. Plaster

Phishing for dollars—it’s an old game that predates the Internet, but it’s more lucrative today thanks to the speed of Internet travel. Internet scams are a growth industry, with innocent people losing $800,000,000 in one decade. The best way to beat the scamsters is to come to the game armed with knowledge, so let’s get to it.

Top Five Internet Scams

1. The 419 Scam

Named for the section of the Nigerian criminal code that deals with fraud, the 419 scam has more juice than the Energizer bunny. The details vary, but generally the email comes from an alleged Nigerian prince, princess, dignitary, etc., who wants to gift you several million dollars to help bring money into the U.S.

The catch? You’ll need to divulge banking information, make a ‘small’ payment and/or make a trip to Africa on your dime to get the goods.

The scam is so prevalent that several dedicated groups have gone on the offensive. The Wall Street Journal reports that scambaiters turn the tables by baiting the scamsters and “eating up their time” to keep them away from naïve victims. While the counteroffensives make for hilarious reading, the scambaiters were born without the fear gene, the same gene that prompts you to delete the Nigerian scam email without answering it.

2. Phishing Expeditions

I almost fell for this one when I opened an email that appeared to be from Comcast. Without thinking, I started to respond and verify some information. All of a sudden, the odd sentence structure and misspelled words set off my radar alerting me that English was not the sender’s native tongue. I realized it was a phishing expedition for identity information, and I trashed my response just in the nick of time.

Today, the scamsters have reached new depths—they send emails that say your bill is overdue and you’re going to be arrested if you don’t pay immediately with a gift or debit card that can’t be tracked. Comcast cannot arrest you for a bill in arrears. Bank, utility, and IRS email scams follow the same pattern.

3. Microsoft/Software Company Scams

If you run Windows, you might not suspect anything if Microsoft were to contact you about a problem with your computer, right? Wrong! Unless you have some relationship with the company or an employee or have made prior contact with a support team member, you won’t receive a legitimate email from Microsoft.

The scam email alerts you to some grave computer danger and contains an attachment—a program to allow a ‘Microsoft technicians’ to take control of your computer and ‘fix’ it. Once installed, the scamsters steal every piece of information they can get their hands on.

A slight twist of the scam involves a keylogger attachment that, when clicked, installs a program to record and report to the sender every keystroke you make—bank account information, Social Security numbers, passwords, etc.

These two scams can appear to come from any software company—and not just through email. You might receive a popup while browsing the Internet with similar instructions and a link to malware.

4. Work From Home Scams

Talk about an equal opportunity employer—this scam targets everyone—college kids, retirees, work-at-home moms and dads and the self-employed. The fraudsters use two methods—push and pull: They will email you, or you will respond to an ad. Either way, the result is the same. There are two variations on the money chase:

  • Direct deposit – Once you turn over your bank information, it’s out there. Unless you’ve done your homework and you know you’re working with a  credible organization, never give out your bank information. Insist on payment through PayPal or other third-party processor.
    • Paid by check – You receive a check for more than you’re supposed to receive, and you’re directed to return the overage. Your bank “pre-clears” the check. When the bank discovers the check is a counterfeit, it comes after the person most likely to cough up the dough—unfortunately that’s you.

    5. Craigslist Buyer Scams

    The Craigslist buyer scam is a spin on the “Work From Home” scam. The only difference is that you’re the seller instead of the email recipient. The buyer sends a counterfeit check in an amount greater than the sale price and asks you to refund the difference.

    Staying Safe in a 24/7-Connected World

    1. Delete any message from yourself without opening it. It’s called spoofing. Just like the crooks can spoof your phone number (that’ll shock you the first time it happens), they can also spoof your email address.
    2. Never open an unexpected attachment. It could be a malicious program or child pornography—good luck explaining that in court.
    3. If you receive an official-looking email, check the address [@company name] against the name of the company. Don’t open it unless it matches.
    4. If there’s a link in an email, hover your mouse over it before clicking it. If the URL isn’t a site you recognize, don’t open it.
    5. When you spot syntax errors and multiple misspellings (not to be confused with text-message speak from your kids), delete the email.
    6. When you receive an official-looking email without a proper salutation, delete it.
    7. Visit the Federal Trade Commission when in doubt and/or sign up to receive scam alerts by email.

    Identity theft can haunt you the rest of your life; so can losing your life’s savings. From college kids to senior citizens, to small-business owners, we’ve all got a bullseye on our backs. Help spread the word to everyone you know, especially to senior citizens. If you’ve been caught in an Internet scam, and who hasn’t, please share the details. For a moment of embarrassment, you could save someone from a lifetime of misery.

Tame the Paper Chase Before You Drown in Paperwork


By MJ Plaster

Back in the 20th century, they promised us a paperless life. Can I get an LOL? Below you’ll find a complete guide to storing important papers and documents. Reading this and working through it will make watching paint dry an exciting alternative, but you know you need to get your papers organized, and I’m giving you a roadmap to do it–NOW.

Don’t leave home without them

Keep the following documents with you as indicated:

  • State-issued ID – Keep your photo driver’s license or state-issued photo ID on you at all times. Sometimes you can run into trouble with authorities for “walking/breathing without ID” even though there’s no law requiring you to carry ID at all times.
  • Gun permit – To carry a gun without a permit is insane and can get you killed.
  • Medical insurance/list of prescription drugs – Keep your medical insurance and drug prescription discount cards and a list of all currently prescribed drugs next to your insurance cards in your wallet. Note any drug allergies on the list of prescribed drugs. Dr. Welby doesn’t meet you at the hospital, so you have to act proactively.
  • One credit card, one bank ATM card and one check You don’t need to bring a truckload of credit cards, and if you need more than one check, plan ahead and bring only what you need. It’s a good idea to keep cards and checks separate from your wallet.
  • Important phone numbers – Keep a printed list in your wallet and a spare in your glove compartment (in case your wallet is stolen). If your phone is inoperable, you won’t be able to access your stored numbers. In addition to your doctor, lawyer, family, neighbors and friends, include numbers for your bank and credit card issuers.

Auto documents

  • Registration – In your glove compartment.
  • Auto insurance card – In your wallet, not your glove compartment. Your car could be gone for hours before you realize it’s stolen. What better way to give the middle finger to a fleeing auto thief if he or she is pulled over and can’t produce the insurance card!
  • Title –Store your car title away from your car.

Infrequently used IDs and documents

Keep originals of these documents in a safe place.

  • Birth certificate – You will need this when you least expect it, so keep a copy of your state’s latest version. Those old white on black birth certificates are no longer valid.
  • Voter registration card – You can’t vote in person without it. You’ll get a provisional ballot, but do you think those are counted?
  • Passport/passport card – The card allows you to enter Mexico, Canada Bermuda and the Caribbean. You’ll need the full passport to travel abroad. Make a color copy, keep the real thing in the hotel safe and keep the Memorex version on your person whenever you leave the hotel. Do not let the hotel desk personnel keep it. Never store documents, cash, etc., in a backpack while traveling. Pickpockets are notorious for robbing backpacks while you’re wearing them.
  • Death certificates (your parents’ or spouse’s) – Order extra copies from the state, not the funeral home. Extra death certificates are a profit center for funeral homes.
  • Personal documents – Keep original and official copies of adoption papers, marriage licenses, divorce decrees. Keep an electronic copy of baptismal certificates.

Home documents

  • House deed and real estate sale documentation – Keep original and electronic copies.
  • Homeowners’/renters’ insurance – Scan into a PDF and run through OCR to make the PDF searchable. When you have a claim, you can find everything you need without reading the entire document.
  • Flood/earthquake insurance, etc. – Same as above.
  • Warranties – Original and electronic copies.
  • User manuals – Keep all major and minor appliance guides together and easily accessible. Keep computer and small device guides together but separate from appliance guides.
  • Home inventory and photos – Electronic copy.

Financial instruments and documents

  • Cash – Keep a stash of emergency cash on hand and well hidden. You might stash a few Franklins and a spare key in a small OTC medicine bottle, place the bottle in a zipper bag and bury it in a planter or in the garden under a rock.
  • Checkbook and checks – Except for the emergency check in your wallet, keep the rest hidden at home.
  • Stock certificates (Yes, they’re still out there) – Under lock and key. Copies are worthless, and you have the only proof that you own the stock.
  • Bank and investment statements – Electronic copies.
  • Loan documents – Electronic copies.
  • Life Insurance and annuity policies and statements/pre-paid funeral policies, etc. – Keep electronic copies of policies and last statements.
  • Tax forms and receipts– Electronic copies.

Business and miscellaneous

For each of the following, store the originals in a safe place, and keep electronic copies indefinitely.

  • Articles of Incorporation/DBAs
  • Contracts
  • Court orders

Directives and estate planning

Keep the following until they are no longer valid. Give a copy of all of these to your attorney, and file a copy of any advance directives with your doctors and hospital. All of these documents except the powers of attorney are DO-ITNOW homework. You don’t need a lawyer; you can do it for a small fee at LegalZoom, or you might find your state’s documents online.

  • Powers of attorney (POA) — You’ll need to file many copies of powers of attorney to interact on behalf of the individual you represent—with banks and financial institutions, utilities, and doctors and hospitals. My father’s hospital required a copy of the POA even before they would accept payment.
  • Advance directives (living wills/health powers of attorney) – The designated agent makes health decisions once the person is no longer able to make these decision and/or in the event of a temporary incapacitation. Everyone needs an advanced directive because you don’t want the doctors, hospital administrators or the state making these decisions for you.
  • Wills and trusts – Give a copy of the will to your executor. If you don’t want the executor and/or heirs to know what’s in the will, give a copy to a trusted friend. Give a copy of trust papers to the trustee and/or alternate trustee.

What’s a Safe Place?

Identity theft is a blossoming business model, and in an economy with few viable business models, it’s big business. Just as you want to make your home unattractive to thieves, you want to make finding important documents an unattractive proposition.

Bank safety deposit boxes are available only during banking hours, and boxes are sealed upon the owner’s death—even if the box belongs to your spouse. And what if a bank holiday is declared? It happened during the Great Depression. Don’t make this mistake.

Some people bolt a safe to the floor. Some people bolt two safes to the floor—one for the thieves with junk and one for themselves with the real stash and well hidden.

A small lockbox is a terrible storage spot for valuable papers because thieves won’t waste time opening it. They’ll assume valuables are in it and grab it.

Keep electronic copies on an encrypted thumb drive, and you’re grab-and-go ready in case you have to make a hasty departure. Don’t keep identity information in the cloud. It defeats the whole purpose of this exercise.