With the many data breaches we’ve seen over the last year, people are concerned and they have a right to be. Taking just a few precautions, though, can really mitigate the impact these have on your pocket book.

  • Check your credit card statement frequently. That’s easy to do online.
  • Don’t use your debit card for purchases.
  • If you don’t have any impending loans you wish to take out, think about freezing your credit. This can be easily done through each of the credit agencies’ websites. It prevents anyone other than you from taking out a loan in your name. Just remember, you need your password in order to unfreeze your credit when you do apply for a loan.
  • Use long passwords with characters, numbers and letters in them. Change them once in awhile and don’t use the same one across multiple sites. That way if an account is hacked, none of the others will be.

Just like locking the doors on your home, these steps make your accounts unattractive to thieves. But none of this helps if you give them your keys. Thieves are always trying old-fashioned ways to get your information: stealing your postal mail or trying to get information from you over the phone. Protect your mail by using a locked mail box and picking up your mail daily. Don’t give information to callers you don’t know, no matter where they are from.

The phone scams are particularly stressing. The callers pretend to be the Microsoft Help Desk or the IRS or the State Department or a collection agency. The try to rattle you with some urgent emergency, telling you that you owe money or your computer has a virus or that your house will be seized. Don’t fall for it.

  • Government agencies don’t call you. They send you real, paper letters.
  • Microsoft will never call you. They have absolutely no way of knowing if you have a computer virus.
  • Collection agencies have to adhere to a set of rules. Consult the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Along with the federal rules, each state has different guidelines, so check them out.

In any of these cases, don’t let them intimidate you into giving them any personal information of any kind, not even your name. A coworker of mine found that a “collection agency” was repeatedly calling company phones lines on the off chance that they could get someone to give them personal information. The “agency” didn’t have the name of who they were trying to contact, but they did have lots of questions. They were scammers.

My coworker did the right thing. She told them to stop calling, that this was a business line and that, since they didn’t know who they were trying to contact, they were not allowed to call back. They kept calling back, leaving messages in the company voice mail over and over. So, she sent all the recordings to Legal.

If this happens to you, know your rights. Consult the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Tell anyone trying to collect funds that they must submit it to you in writing. If they can’t or won’t, they are not legitimate. Don’t let scammers scare you.

One snail mail scam I keep receiving is a request to renew my magazine subscriptions. The scammers always use the same return address: PO Box 2489, White City, OR 97503-0489. If you get this request in the mail, round file it. If you aren’t sure about your subscription, just call your magazine to make sure it’s good. They sent me a renewal notice for the local paper, to the tune of $499.95. Um…no. It is less than a tenth of that. They’re getting stupidly greedy

Be careful out there…


A Warning and a Screaming Good Deal

First, a warning: there is a nasty piece of ransomware that lately been attacking unsuspecting computers. It’s the Cryptolocker virus. It attacks your system by encrypting it and then holding your hard drive for ransom. If you get hit with this, there is not a lot you can do to recover the drive. Some sources online suggest that paying the ransom is the only way to get it back. I say no way!

Prevention is your best ally. There are three things you should always do to keep yourself safe online:

  • Make sure you backup your system to a drive not on your computer. A backup service, such as Mozy, can put your backups on autopilot. Backing up to an external hard drive works quite well, too. Both of these are reasonably priced and really beat the loss of all your data. With a backup in place, you can replace your hard drive with a new one, reload your operating system, and restore your data without too much expense, certainly less than paying a ransom.
  • Download the free version of MalwareBytes and have it run scans frequently. This program finds Trojans and other malware on your system and eliminates them before they have a chance to do their evil deeds. Add this program in addition to your anti-virus.
  • Encrypt your system yourself. This protects you from all kinds of nasty things besides just Cryptolocker. Just remember that if you lose your password to unlock your encrypted drive, there is no way to recover it. Make sure you write it down and keep it, and copies of it, available.

Now, here’s the best deal I’ve found in a long time: Republic Wireless has the best prices on cell phone coverage I’ve ever seen. It starts at $10 a month for unlimited calls, text, and data. (I know!) If you want 3G or 4G, the plans are a bit more, as much as $40. (Again, an “I know!” with exclamation points!)

There are, of course restrictions and stipulations. You definitely need to have broadband at home. You have to use their one phone, Motorola’s Moto X, which costs $299 but is a good Android phone. Over the course of two years, which is how you should always price cell plans, you would only pay $240. That’s amazing! That’s what many people pay for just two months of service.

What makes this possible is the software that Republic Wireless has pioneered. It essentially pushes everything, including your calls, through the internet, if it’s available. If it isn’t, then calls, texts, and data go to cell service seamlessly. This plan isn’t for everyone, but for those who have good access to wi-fi, there’s nothing wrong with saving some green.