How Safe is Your Identity?

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One scary moment of my life was answering a call from my credit card account manager who asked, “Mr. Lucas, did you recently purchase a dozen roses and four bottles of wine in New Jersey?”  Well, considering I’ve not been to Jersey, I had never used that card, and I don’t drink wine, my answer was, “No!”  I began immediately thinking about how bad this could be. Would I have to cancel my cards? Would I spend hours on the phone trying to clean this up? Luckily that’s all the further that theft went. I didn’t have to pay for the charges, and none of my other accounts had been compromised.

It is becoming increasingly harder to stay safe. In a world that’s wired to the internet and a culture dependent on a variety of electronic gadgets, identity theft is thriving. “You can’t prevent identity theft! No one can!” says financial expert Dave Ramsey. Even Todd Davis, the CEO of a large identity protection company, who shared his social security number publicly had his identity stolen 12 times, says the Phoenix News Times. While this may be a bit unsettling, understand that you can make it extremely difficult for the prowling identity thief. Don’t become the feeble gazelle faltering at the rear of the heard. When it comes to identity theft, there are three areas to consider.

Minimize the risk–There are a number of ways we can lower the risk of attack, and they all limit access to your personal data.

Get a shredder and properly dispose of old documents that have sensitive data; don’t just throw them in the trash. Anyone can drive around in the early morning hours and pilfer through your garbage. Don’t give out personal information to someone who calls you. If you need to give the info, then hang up and call their publicly listed number. Never trust that the person on the end of the line is who they say they are. And finally and most importantly, be cautious of what you put on the internet. From a person’s Facebook account or website it’s often easy gather all kinds of personal information. Even something as simple as, “Here’s my cat named fluffy!” Many people use their pet’s names as passwords.

Monitor your accounts. –Another big way to keep yourself safe is to monitor your existing accounts. If you can catch illegal activity when if first happens you can limit the damage.

Watch your monthly reports. Keep your receipts and match them with the report item for item, and if something appears that you didn’t buy then call. You can also check your annual reports for free at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. You can get reports for all three (Trans Union, Equifax, Experian) of the reporting agencies from them. Another simple step to take is reduce the number of accounts you have. It’s easy to miss unwanted activity if you have 10-15 different accounts to watch.

Maximize your protection. –One final way to reduce the time and money spent on costly clean-up is to purchase identity theft insurance.

You must change your mindset. No person or company can prevent an identity theft from occurring, but a good company can help manage the aftereffects, and repay stolen money. You insure the things that are valuable to you, your homes, and your cars, so why not insure your identity?  You can find a good identity policy for around $6.75 a month. Dave Ramsey recommends the Zander Insurance Group as a good provider of identity theft protection.

A picture may be worth more than a thousand words

a_picture_is_worth_1000_words_by_refrigeratorbingo-d465awbYou’ve probably heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well, when it comes to your cell phone photos it might be more.  As most of you know, when you take a photo with a digital camera it will save the data from the image into a image file on the camera, and this file can then be copied to your computer or uploaded directly to a number of popular social media sites.  An image is made up of thousands or millions of little dots called pixels and the data file stores the location and color of each dot, but what you may not know is that these image files can contain a lot more information.

Some of the data embedded into this file might be things like: type of phone, lens used, exposure used, colors used, and even the GPS location where the image was taken, and with the right tools anyone in the world can view this information if it’s stored online.

Earlier today I took a picture with my phone, then uploaded it to a website that can extract this information to see what it would show.  The image below shows some of this data.

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So far, it’s not too bad, and many of the images you find online and on facebook will show no more info than this.  However, if an image is taken on a phone where geo-tracking is turned on, then the image file will contain the exact GPS coordinates, and this website will show those coordinates in google maps.  When I scroll down to the bottom of the page this is what I see.

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Wow, now that is revealing.  With google maps,  you can zoom down to the exact house where the image wast taken.  I have edited the image above so that you won’t know my exact location, but the point is, you could unknowingly be putting unwanted info about yourself on the internet.

There is a bit of good news though.  It is possible to turn off the geo-tracking on you camera.  It may be different for different cameras, but on an android you need to start the camera, then open the settings, then uncheck the icon that looks like an upside down tear drop.

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Writing to remember

Communication-SkillsA memory conceived among many senses will not be easily forgotten (Tweet That!).  The goal of communication is to deliver a message to a recipient in a way that it can be received and comprehended, but I think communication should go beyond that.  We should communicate to be remembered.  If it’s worth saying, it’s worth remembering.

Memories are more than words and concepts, they are life experiences.  Try thinking of an emotional event in your, life like an argument with a close friend. You probably remember it more in terms of how you felt than the words that were said.

Have you ever gotten sick while eating a certain food?  Once, when I was a teenager, I got extremely intoxicated.  I was so out of control that my mother gave me a bath and I didn’t know it. That’s probably a good thing. I still have no memory of what happened to me that night, but I remember how I felt.  For years the smell of any alcohol would make me sick.  The reason I remember it so well is because the event is tied to several senses – smell, taste, touch, etc.

I’ve had many opportunities throughout my life to speak before various groups. I’ve spoke at churches, community settings, in front of children and adults.  I enjoy speaking and writing, and helping others understand things.  When I speak to a group, I try to employ methods that will touch as many senses as possible.  I was speaking some years back on the topic of sharing and half-way through my speech I had a pizza delivered to the podium.  I stopped for a moment, paid for the pizza, picked up a slice, took a few bites, and began speaking again.  Seven years later someone approached me and said, “Hey I remember that time you spoke, and gave me a slice of pizza”.  Why did they remember?  Because they heard, they saw, they touched, they tasted, and they could smell what I was saying (Tweet That!).

This same principle applies to us as authors. You may not be there when the reader picks up your piece, but you can trigger memories they’ve stored away.  Don’t just tell them what happened; drop your reader smack dab in the middle of a scene (Tweet That!).  Let them experience your writing through their memories.

Protect yourself

I’ve just spent the last few days at work fighting a nasty virus…several days and some long hours.  I thought I throw this post out there to help anyone who might be listening.  So what exactly is a virus?  Well that term is often used loosly to describe several different types of computer threats.

A virus is a computer program that attaches its self to another program or file allowing it to spread from computer to computer causing varying degrees of damage.  They ususally sit dormant until activated by someone.

A worm is similar to a virus, but can travel without your help….there’s no need to double click it to get it going…it goes all by itsself.  Some worms have been known to replicate themselves by contacting everyone in the users address book…and sending a copy of itsself.

A Trojan Horse is just like it sounds….its a program that caims to do one thing, but does something else.  I have seen some programs that claim to be virus removal software, but are actually programs that just open your system to more attacks from other nasties.

Spyware is software that usually does no harm to your system, but just tracks your actions…and sends that info to others.  This is where we get a lot of those anoying pop-ups, and this usually makes our computers run slower.

So how do you protect yourself?  It’s impossible to be 100% protected from everything that comes along, but there are a few steps you can take to eliminate a vast majority of existing threats.

1.  Don’t open attachments.  Never open an attachment unless you know what it is ahead of time.  Even emails from your friends can contain malware, and no you will not die if you don’t forward it to 10 others.

2.  Keep your operating system up to date.  If you’re a windows user, you can do this through Internet Explorer.  Those who create viruses look for vunerabilities in operating systems, and when found write harmful programs that take advantage of those loopholes.

3.  Keep your anti-virus up to date.  I’ve had a lot of people ask me which anti-virus is the best.  Honestly,  I think there all pretty good.  Trend Micro, Symantec, McAfee and AVG do a nice job of keeping computers clean.  To be quite honest….if you don’t want to use an anti-virus, then why spend your money on a computer?  It’s like driving your car without insurance….actually a bit worse.  If you don’t use an antivirus, and you connect your computer to the internet, you will become infected……