Category Archives: Privacy Central

Five Great Reasons to Avoid Answering That Call

 

We all receive phone calls from unusual numbers, sometimes multiple times per day. Often they come from telltale 800 or 888 numbers, but there are also myriad out of town area codes. Is it your old college buddy Bill from Charlotte who just got a new phone or a robotic voice offering you a discount on mattresses?

Think twice before answering that call from an unknown number. Photo credit: Garry Knight
Think twice before answering that call from an unknown number. Photo credit: Garry Knight

It often feels like more of a hassle these days to answer your phone than it is letting it go to voicemail or risking missing an important call. Yet the temptation to answer can be strong, especially if you’re in a situation, business or otherwise where you could be expecting a call from a number you don’t recognize.

Here are five types of calls where it pays to know where the number is calling from and whom it belongs to before you pick up.

The ex with the new number

You’ve done your best to block contact with your unstable ex, filtered his emails and blocked his number (or changed his name in your address book to DO NOT ANSWER). But exes can be persistent and if they sniff out that they’re being ignored, calling from an unknown number to get you to answer is often an effective tactic.

The debt collector looking for your number’s previous owner

“Hi, is this Maya?” These types of calls often come in spurts and are extremely annoying to field, usually the result of the person who last had your number not keeping up with their bills.

The irrelevant sales call

Bad news: the used car dealership sold your information to a hundred other vendors and now they’re all calling you to offer everything from driveway repairs to gutter cleanings. In addition to being annoying, they’re irrelevant because you live in an apartment building.

The time consuming survey

Surveys can often be sales calls in disguise. In any case you probably have better things to do than answer a bunch of random questions for a total stranger over the phone.

The scam artist

Most worryingly of all, unknown incoming calls can also be from scammers trying to talk their way into your wallet. A recent scam affecting the Pittsburgh area involved con artists impersonating IRS agents trying to collect on phony back taxes.

As you can see, there are a number of reasons to avoid answering your phone right away these days. Take precautions to know who is calling you before you jump on the phone with them and save yourself a potential headache.

What’s the one phone call you wish you didn’t answer? Let us know in the comments.

Russia’s Version of Tinder Hacked—Next Target: USA?

 

 

YourEmail
Thieves have a reason for wanting your email address. Photo credit: Kevin Fitz

Bloomberg reports today that 20 million users of a Russian online dating site Topface had their user names and email addresses hacked and offered for sale via an online black market.

The owners of the dating site, which uses a similar format to Tinder here in the States, were quick to note that no password or payment information was compromised, as the the majority of users log in with their Facebook details.

So what’s the big deal with having your username and email taken by thieves?

According to an online security expert quoted in the story having these details compromised still presents reasons to worry:

Ingevaldson said such personal information usually sells quickly, to fraudsters who use automated software programs to find sites where people used the same information they did to access the dating site… Hackers are targeting popular websites to steal user names and passwords that they later use to try break into electronic-payment and mobile-phone accounts.

Here are our thoughts:

First, in an increasingly connected world, where online dating apps utilize your Facebook details and Facebook increasingly seeks to access your wallet, data security becomes even more important. Managing your passwords, and getting educated about the security the vendors you choose to do business with are essential.

Second, actively managing your online presence via social networks, online dating sites and gaming sites is no longer optional. When you grow tired of apps or social networks ensure you have removed yourself and your data from their servers as much as you can.

Leaving your username and email available across dozens of different sites with varying levels of security is just what cyber criminals want.

If you’re interested in how BeenVerified can help you manage your online presence, check out our previous blog post on the topic here.

Your Stupidly Simple Password Is Begging to Be Hacked

 

 2014 was finally the year that Internet and data security became mainstream concerns from the celebrity iCloud hack to the alleged cyber assault by North Korea on Sony Pictures.

Use a creative combination of letters and numbers for your password. Photo credit: Jhayne
Use a creative combination of letters and numbers for your password. Photo credit: Jhayne

Despite the constant headlines about the importance of a strong password, it seems few of us are taking that imperative seriously, based on the just released list of last year’s most popular passwords, compiled by SplashData.

As Fast Company reports, some of the most common passwords are so simple such as “123456” and the perennial favorite “password” that one wouldn’t need a degree in computer science to hack into your computer or cloud storage account.

While you can see the full list of laughably simple and obvious passwords here, you may need a refresher on what makes for good password hygiene.

According to SplashData, here are three simple steps to make a strong password:

1. Use passwords of eight characters or more with mixed types of characters.

2. Avoid using the same username/password combination for multiple websites.

3. Use a password manager to organize and protect passwords, generate random passwords, and automatically log into websites.

It’s no surprise that SplashData offers one such password manager solution, but others include the well-reviewed 1Password which allows you to use just one password across all sites while it encrypts your information quickly and relatively easily.

Until we reach the days of ubiquitous finger print readers and retina scanners, the traditional password will be dogging our digital lives. Make yours smarter and hopefully you will stay off this map in 2015.

3 Ways to Better Protect Yourself From a Hack

 

The ongoing saga of the Sony hack, from gossip about Angelina Jolie’s acting skills to disturbing threats against theaters planning to show The Interview, has dominated headlines the past couple of weeks.

Amid the North Korean intrigue, one lesser- followed aspect is that many former Sony employees whose data were hacked announced they would sue the company for failing to protect their data.

Old-school solutions still work for preventing ID theft.
Old-school solutions still work for preventing ID theft. Photo credit: Sh4rp_i

Anyone paying attention to the news lately would be rightly concerned about the number of data breaches or hacks suffered by major companies from Home Depot to JP Morgan Chase and Target.

At BeenVerified, we don’t recommend operating from a position of fear. On the contrary, we believe information and awareness are your most powerful tools for managing through today’s environment, which is admittedly filled with potential threats.

While you likely can’t prevent North Korea or Russia hacking your company, favorite retailer or even Uncle Sam, you can take the following steps to minimize the fallout:

1. Know Who Has Your Private Data

This is the most important step. While it’s likely dozens or hundreds of companies have your name and email address, a select few also have access to your social security number, health records, and salary information. Make sure you know which organizations those are.

If you hear about your bank, employer or even hospital suffering a data breach, then you know you need to take immediate action. In the meantime, you can call these organizations to get a clearer understanding of what safeguards they have in place to protect your data.

As for those hundreds of email lists you’ve signed up for, don’t discount what a dedicated thief can do with just those limited pieces of information. Financial losses from phishing attacks were estimated at $1.5 billion in 2012.

2. Investigate Holes in Your Cloud

Many will remember the celebrity iCloud scandal from earlier this year featuring major celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Hudson. While private photos being stolen may not have the same impact as losing a substantial amount of money, the emotional trauma can be much worse.

More importantly, the iCloud hack has left serious questions about the security and appropriateness of cloud storage in general. Many cloud providers, including Apple, have said that the issue is not with the technology itself but rather how users manage their own security settings.

If you’re storing anything more personal than video game high scores on the cloud, it’s a good idea to review your privacy settings and password protocols now. Guard your IDs for logging into your cloud tightly as even the best hackers typically need some personal information in order to break in.

Even as new solutions emerge for cloud security, hackers find ways around them, so think carefully about what you store on the cloud and know the risks.

3. Invest in a Shredder

While the new generation of data breaches that have afflicted companies and consumers alike seem to exist in a world of high-tech software, there are some hardware solutions that can help prevent hackers from getting a leg up on you.

Ensure that all bills, bank statements and even presorted junk mail with your name on it is thoroughly destroyed before being thrown away. Many scams still revolve around obtaining your info through traditional pieces of mail.

Better yet, opt out of credit card junk mail here and switch to paperless billing with all of your bills. It will save trees and give identity thieves less of an opportunity to make you a mark.

If you are especially worried about being hacked or having your identity stolen, regular check ups of your credit report, as well as running a background check can serve as tools to alert you to anything amiss.

One Million Reasons to Be Careful With Your Phone

 

Yesterday GigaOM reported that thieves steal over one million cell phones in the US annually. As the article notes, that means one tenth of all robberies involve a cell phone.

We previously wrote an extensive post on why it’s not a good idea to keep sensitive photos, such as naked selfies, on your phone for this reason among others.

Don't make your phone an easy target. Photo credit: Bernard Goldbach
Don’t make your phone an easy target. Photo credit: Bernard Goldbach

The fact that added protections such as kill switches are becoming increasingly common, doesn’t invalidate the need to be careful with what you store on your phone. It may be many hours until you realize your phone is gone and by then any curious thief could have uploaded the contents of your phone to the cloud.

With cell phone theft so prevalent, it’s a good idea to review some basic steps to help avoid becoming the next victim and minimize the damage if a theft does occur:

Put a complex passcode on your phone—now.

All smartphones have the ability to put a screen lock code on to prevent intruders snooping. What many people don’t realize is that most phone makers offer more complex password options in the settings. The iPhone, for example, offers eight digit passcodes instead of the standard four.

Activate anti-theft measures

Likewise, many providers including Apple and Google now offer added anti-theft measures such as kill switches to lock the phone once you realize it’s missing or stolen, which will make it useless to the thief. Investigate the options your provider offers and ensure you are enrolled now. Insurance is only useful before you need it.

Don’t leave your phone out in public

It’s no coincidence that cell phone theft makes up the majority of all robberies in cities like San Francisco and New York, which feature active nightlife scenes. Avoid leaving your phone out on tables or on the bar. This makes it easy for the observant thief.

Don’t forget about your apps

If you have premium apps on your phone it’s a good idea to immediately reset your password and work with customer service to make sure none of your data has been compromised. In the case of BeenVerified, you can contact our highly rated customer service team to help you with any concerns.

Tell everyone

Do notify the police and also all of your key contacts. As this article notes, the thief may try to use your identity to trick your contacts into sending money or some other nefarious purpose.

Have we forgotten any precautionary steps? Have you used a “kill switch” after your phone went missing? Let us know in the comments.

Who is Your Teen Discovering on Tinder?

 

Last week we shared our thoughts about the potential pitfalls of Tinder, the app that has taken taking the online dating world by storm over the past couple of years. One aspect we didn’t discuss was Tinder’s fast growing population of underage users.

Who is your teen swiping right with?
Who is your teen swiping right with?  Photo credit: Shinichi Higashi

Tinder’s founder, Justin Mateen, disclosed this stat himself earlier this year: over 7% of Tinder’s users are aged 13-17.

As we mentioned in our previous post, one of the game-changing features of Tinder and similar online dating apps is the mandatory use of GPS location services that come built-in with smartphones to connect users in a similar geographic area. With Tinder, that service can put matches within a mile of one another.

While many parenting blogs have since blown the whistle on the inappropriateness of underage kids using Tinder, some calling it “the worst app ever for teens,” Tinder’s founder has since provided some clarity on his original statement suggesting the safeguards that both Tinder and Facebook, which the app uses to authenticate its users, prevents adults and underage users from interacting, as well as unwanted contact between users.

As many sources have noted however, it is extremely easy to create either a fake or secondary Facebook account. In fact, many Tinder users create secondary Facebook accounts entirely for the purpose of trawling Tinder, or to maintain their own privacy and safety.

While the prospect of your 13 year-old using Tinder may terrify you, keep in mind many, if not most Tinder users treat the app as a game rather than a serious dating or hook up site. Tinder itself calls the app a “social discovery” tool. While many of the parenting blogs that raised the red flag on underage Tinder use suggested blocking the app from their teen’s phone, which in many cases may be justified, it won’t prevent them from using the next app that could compromise their safety.

Instead, consider employing these tactics to keep your kids aware of risks:

1. Teach your kids about the importance of their privacy and the internet. They should know which of their phone’s apps use location services like GPS and how to effectively manage privacy settings on social media platforms. If you don’t know these things, then it’s time for you to get educated, too.

2. Learn about the new people in your kids’ lives. It’s not an immediate red flag for your teenager to have a friend over the age of 18, but if you get a funny feeling, consider running a background check and talking it over with your teen.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. The worst thing that can happen is alienating your child and losing the ability to easily keep tabs on their activities, online and off.