Three Simple Steps to Protect Your Identity

In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission reported that identity theft was third on their list of complaints. Bottom line, it’s harder and harder to keep our identities safe. We get caught up in how easy it is to organize our lives with our phones and computers, from ordering online, to banking and paying the babysitter. Many of us are unaware of the dark web or how people steal our identities.

Every other day you hear about data breaches, Uber’s hack of 57 million accounts, Equifax affecting 145 million consumers and the latest Forever 21 a retail store that was infected with malware that hacked their customers’ credit cards.

Recently, I signed up for  Kim Komando’s newletter, Known as “America’s digital goddess”  Kim has a radio show on public radio and writes articles on technology so you and I can understand. Her emails are loaded with information, usually too much and too often that I consider them information overload. Consider yourself warned if you plan to sign up. When I do finally have the time to read them, I usually find useful information. I highly recommend her site if you’re looking for more in-depth information than what I present here.

You can do three simple things to secure your personal information. Don’t take anything for granted when it comes to your identity.  Be vigilant and know that what works today may not work tomorrow. The information highway is always under construction.

First, review your password inventory. The average person probably uses the same password for most of their apps because it’s easy and simple, and we all know I’m for simple. You may also use a spreadsheet or list to keep them all straight. I currently have over 75 entries on my spreadsheet. That’s a lot of passwords, and probably not safe from hackers if they really wanted to find them.

It’s time to clean up that list with a simple yet almost hack-proof method that is easy and requires little bookkeeping.

Reset Passwords

Choose a phrase that describes you, something that you won’t forget, such as “I love to travel,” or “stud muffin.” From there, choose how you will format it, lovetravel, stmuffin. Now choose a number to add because most sites will require a number. Again, choose something easy like your birthday, lovetravel9, stmuffin9. I would also choose a character so you’re ready if the site requires one. You can choose to add it to all your passwords or just the ones that require it. Make sure you notate that on your list.

Now, you have your basic phrase that you will use for all your passwords. With me so far? Don’t worry, it’s still okay to do this. You will still have a different password for every site, because you’re going to add to that password based on the site.

If you’re on Amazon for example, you can choose the first two letters or the first and last letter of the company name. Using the latter will probably be more cryptic, but may be more difficult if your company has more than one name. You might forget which part of the company name you took your second letter from.

Choose where you’ll add your extra letters. I think it’s easiest to put your site name in the beginning and then add your character at the end if needed, but again, it’s up to you. For your Amazon password you would have ANlovetravel9 and ANstmuffin9. I chose to capitalize the first two letters because passwords usually require capital letters.

The passwords are very clear to you, yet make little sense to the hacker. When you make your list of passwords, you won’t have to write down the actual password because you know your basic phrase. This is much safer than keeping the actual password. Just note how you formatted if it’s something that you might forget.

I’ve already changed the most important passwords, such as my financial websites and most frequented shopping sites. It’s a little awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it. If you find that this is still too confusing, you could try a password manager program. Check out Kim’s site for her recommendation.

Pick Your Protection

Another line of defense to consider is anti-virus software. Remember to treat your phone like a computer. This past year Kaspersky, a leading software firm made the news because of alleged ties to the Russian government. In September, Congress passed a bill to ban Kaspersky software being used on all government computers and Best Buy, Office Depot and Staples removed the software from their shelves.

I have used Kaspersky for years and have had no problems. It’s easy to use and covers three devices for the price of one. Be sure to sign up for Ebates first to get 10% back. Use my referral, and we’ll both get a little extra. After my subscription is up, I’ll do more research into the alleged accusation to see if I want to change.

There are many anti-virus software packages on the market. I wouldn’t use anything free. Fork out the money and purchase something reliable. Consider it identify insurance. PC Magazine provides some recommendations here.

Follow HTTPS Protocol

Lastly, when you are perusing your websites, make sure that the institution has an encrypted website. Look at the address and make sure the address starts with https. Some sites don’t start the encryption until after you log in. The problem with that is that hackers can steal your password.

If you’re one to sit in the coffee shop and do your shopping or banking, Kim Komando recommends a VPN (virtual private network). Free wi-fi now means free to obtain identity. Go to her site to find out more. There is a free one available. This would be a hassle for me, so I would avoid using the free wi-fi and use data. If you do choose VPN,  make sure the company website is using https because the VPN only safeguards from you to the server.

Changing your passwords may seem like a daunting task, especially if you have as many website logins as I do, but it needs to be done. At least take the top five most critical and get those out of the way. When you’re shopping for that software, change your password on your shopping sites. You’ll be killing two birds with one stone.

If you already have anti-virus software, make sure that you have everything updated and you have your phone covered.

Lastly, don’t forget to practice safe surfing by making sure your website is encrypted. Let’s start off the new year getting organized and keeping our identities safe.

What Are You Giving This Christmas?

It’s that time of year when bells are ringing, and I don’t mean the jingle bells on Santa’s sleigh. I’m talking about the Salvation Army bells. Every year I go digging into my pockets for loose change to put in their buckets while admiring these volunteers who will stand in the cold for pocket change.

I knew the Salvation Army was a good organization, but I realized that I knew little about the reach of their charity. So, as any curious blogger does, she researches.

Of course the first stop was their website, and I was amazed. I had no idea that the Salvation Army did so much in so many areas. They provide disaster relief, help veterans and the unemployed, combat human trafficking, work to cure hunger and provide shelter, to name a few. I encourage you to go to their website to see how much they do.

We mainly think of the Salvation Army bringing happy holidays to the less fortunate, but they work year round.

The Salvation Army has an interesting history.

William Booth founded the organization in 1852 when he left the traditional church to take the Gospel to the streets. He preached to the poor and destitute in the streets of London. Disagreeing with the church’s methods of not allowing certain people in the church, Booth wanted to administer to the unwelcome and to those who couldn’t make it to church.

Along the journey he trained evangelists throughout England and within 10 years, his organization then known as the Christian Mission had 1000 volunteers and evangelists.

In 1878 while reading the church’s annual report he decided to change “the Christian mission is a volunteer army” to “the Christian mission is a salvation army.”

His wife, Catherine Booth co-founded the organization and worked alongside him as an evangelist and preacher, something the traditional church would not have allowed.

There are probably thousands of charities that you could choose to donate to, but I urge you to do some research first.

Charities can prey on your heart strings, but it’s up to you to make sure your money is going to the proper organizations. Find out how much of the money donated goes to the program versus administrative and fund-raising costs.

On the list of worst charities were organizations that had as little as 2% going to the programs that they were supposed to support. The Salvation Army sends $.82 out of every dollar back into the community where it is donated.

I found three very good websites to help you evaluate charities that you are considering: Charity Watch, Guidestar, and Charity Navigator. The last has a tool where you can create a list of charities to compare.

When evaluating charities, research the administrative costs, fund-raising costs, and CEO salaries and benefits. Decide what value you put on each before you make a decision to donate.

For me, I put considerable weight on what the CEO makes. If there’s a CEO making over a million dollars to run the charity, and getting a Rolls Royce I would eliminate that charity as fast as I could put my dollar back into my pocket. I might soften my stance when I considered what percentage his or her salary is compared to the total expenses. Not likely, but there’s always a chance.

Watch your emotions!

Perhaps you are one who only values the emotional aspect. I hope that if you’re one of these, you’ll reconsider and find the charity where your money will do the most good. But, ultimately it’s your decision.

Christmas is the time of giving, especially when many of us are so blessed to have so much. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and to give wisely in the new year.

This Thanksgiving, Think About a Do-Over

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and as usual, we find ourselves thinking about what we’re thankful for. At this stage in my life, I think about what I’m thankful for on a daily basis, so the meaning of Thanksgiving isn’t special any more. I’m on the other side of 50 and thankfulness has now become an everyday acknowledgment.

I’m thankful I got out of bed this morning with no more aches than I had yesterday. I’m thankful for this lousy, I mean great job that I have only a few more years to be thankful for. I’m thankful that I get to eat bacon and eggs every morning with a delicious cup of coffee made from the best coffee machine I’ve ever owned. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forgot about the big things that we’re expected to be thankful for, family and friends, and health.

Somewhere in between mulling over another Thanksgiving menu and adding another task to my “when am I going to get these things done” list, I got to thinking about what I would have done differently if I got a do-over.

Some may think about treating certain people better, or taking a different road in their career or deciding not to marry. If you could live your life over, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently? Really examine your life and contemplate every decision you’re going to make. These would be major decisions that would alter the course of your life. I share with you my list below.

For as long as I could remember, I wanted to know how to blast out a whistle. I’m not talking about the pucker up and whistle a tune kind of whistle. I do that all the time. I want the finger-less, roll up your tongue, loud whistle that you use to call your dog or your kids. I never had a dog, so maybe that’s why I never learned, or maybe my mouth and teeth aren’t shaped right. I know I could probably learn to do this now if I had the time to find a You Tube video. But at my age, what would I whistle at? My kids are grown and gone, and I don’t have a dog. My cat would give me an aloof stare and continue on its path of doing whatever he wants to.

My sister-in-law could do this, and used it to round up her five kids for dinner. You should have seen the kids’ ears perk up when they heard it, just like a German shepherd ready for chow time.

Another thing I would have learned to do is ride a horse. Ever since my father told me how much your muscles would hurt the next day, I shied away from the adventure. It’s too bad that I developed that fear because I think I would have really liked the activity. I feel a great sense of freedom when I ride my bike. I imagine that being on a horse would be ten times greater. And you look really cool when filmed in slow motion riding on the beach. I know I wouldn’t have been a 10, but I think I could have pulled off a strong 7.5. At this age, it’s not the pain I’m afraid of any more; it’s what am I going to break when I fall off.

That sense of freedom is probably why I would have done the next thing on my list. I would have bought land. It wouldn’t matter if I was planning to build a house, I would be able to claim a piece of property as mine, just like the early American settlers.

When I met someone. I could weave into the conversation the bit about owning a piece of land. Whenever I heard someone say that, I envied them. They sounded savvy about money and knew how to plan for the future. I’m sure owning land would have made me feel secure. No matter what happened in life, I could always say, I own some land.

High school shouldn’t really be considered in this endeavor because you’re not really an adult, but in this case, I have to. Doing this would have changed my approach to taking chances in the future. I would have tried out for the tennis team. Many years ago, you had to try out for a team. Not everyone made it onto the team, like today, and believe or not, horrors of all horrors, not everyone got trophies. I thought I was a pretty good tennis player, but now I’ll never know. I was much too afraid of failing, and as a result never learned to compete. The fear of failing has traveled with me throughout my life getting in the way of trying new things. I’ve led a play it safe kind of life.

Finally, I would have changed my major from English to computer science in college, knowing how easy to find a job it would have been. Although I admit, this would have been extremely difficult since this was the only subject I earned, yes earned, a D in. Those were the days of producing a program on punch cards. Each line of the program had a card that the computer would read. Carrying around boxes of cards with incomprehensible lines of programming and hanging out in the noisy computer lab until 4 am was not my idea of fun. College was supposed to be fun, right?

Alas, we know we can’t change the past. We can only learn from it. As I peruse my list, I notice that there would be considerable work involved. And we all know that I don’t like complicated and anything that involves a lot of work. Why not keep it simple with this solution. Marry a rich, old man, preferably one who was frequently out of town on business. I wouldn’t have to worry about a career. I could fill my days with lunch with the girls, reading, writing, horseback riding, whistling for my dog and making appointments with a handsome real estate agent in search of a great piece of land.

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