Hanukkah is some six weeks away, and Christmas is some two months away – but product shortages and rising prices already have put many people deep into their holiday shopping season. So, as you search for . . .Continue reading
Protect Your Security
Along with avoiding shopping scams, you should take special precautions to protect the security of your financial information and access to your computer – as an individual and a business. This is no time to let your guard down. You know the drill for protection, but here’s a short refresher course.
Be really careful about email. That’s good advice at any time, but it’s especially important at this time of the year. Because of all the ways unscrupulous people have to hijack email addresses, a message from a name you know and trust might be from a scammer.
A new type of malware known as Cryptolocker is being spread by email. It appears to be coming from shippers, such as UPS or FedEx, and it targets personal and professional computers. The virus quickly scrambles or encrypts your data and can lock up your computer. The sender does offer to unlock your computer and restore your data if you pay a ransom. But there are no guarantees that the virus will be removed and that you will get all files back.
If you have your data backed up, we can clean out the virus and restore your files.
Trust your instincts on emails. If the name and email address look right, you still may be getting a bogus email. Look at the subject line. Do you normally get messages like this from the sender? Are there grammatical errors or syntax issues you don’t normally see in messages from the sender? Is there an attachment along with other things that don’t seem right?
If you have a problem with your answers to any of the questions in the paragraph, your instinct likely will be delete the email. Instead of responding it or acting on it, you can send a new email to the sender and ask if they sent you the email in question.
You also may be part of an email “phishing” campaign. Just in case you haven’t come across the term, phishing is a way for scammers to troll using fake or malicious websites and email addresses to get you to sign up for something that isn’t real or that is very expensive. Phishers can also use your response to get access to your computer and either mess it up or steal valuable information – or both.
Phishers generally use an identity related to a financial institution or services organization, such as a bank or PayPal. Two tipoffs that it’s a phishing campaign are: 1.) a domain name that looks similar to a well-known domain but is not the same as an official name and 2.) bad syntax in the subject line, generally a string of words that most native English speakers would not use.
Phishing campaigns rely on busy people not reading the message and its identification info carefully and just clicking through or responding. If you’re not sure about the legitimacy of a link in an email address, you can hover your mouse over it, and it should give you the origin of the link.
If you think you may have a problem with a bank, merchant or other organization, find their customer service information independently of the email and make a telephone call.
When you buy online, make sure the webpages on which you are giving your credit card information and shipping address are secure. The best indication of security is that the pages will have addresses that start with https://www.merchantcompany.com or https://merchantcompany.com. The “s” in “https” stands for secure. The address is usually accompanied by a small gold padlock icon.
If you don’t see a sign of security but absolutely must buy from that site, you might be best to make a phone call. There can be a number of legitimate reasons for security not displaying, but make sure the company knows this is a problem for you. They may need to fix something or make some other changes.
Above all, remember that it’s your money. Don’t let anybody make you feel uncomfortable about spending it.
You should have up-to-date anti-virus and malware-protection software installed on your computer, and it should all be running in the background. Your network should be behind a firewall, and that software should be up to date and running.
You can set up most protection software to run scans and updates automatically, and you can set them for various levels of protection. We can help you select the best systems for your needs and we can help you install them and manage them. Just send us an email request or call – 973-433-6676. No matter what you select and run, always remember that common sense and an occasional deep breath will always enhance your security.
This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.
Make Cyber Monday a Winner
As sure as the sun will come up, Monday, Dec. 2 – Cyber Monday this year – will be the busiest day of the year for online shopping. There are traps and pitfalls all over the place. Here are some ways to avoid them.
- If it’s too good to be true… You know that line: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” Have a healthy skepticism about prices, shipping costs, return policies and the rest of the “fine print.”
- Look for free shipping. There is a lot of competition for your business, and there are many ways for online retailers to put together a deal for you. Once you start to compare the prices, you’ll find some really low prices and prices that are lower than the average of all the places you’ve shopped. Free shipping can be a real deal maker with all things being equal. With all of the competition and all of the deals, you shouldn’t pay for shipping. Besides, shipping costs are one of those blind items when you buy. A retailer can offer you an unbelievably low price and make a ton of money on the shipping charge. So, look for a good price with free shipping, and you’ll likely get a better value.
- Check merchant reviews. I buy a lot of merchandise online and do a lot of research for clients, and reviews hold a lot of weight. I look for places in the middle of a price range, and I look for patterns in recent reviews. Is there a rant or a litany of problems? With the rise of social media, we find ourselves taking the advice of people we’ve never met, so you really need to read them carefully and see if there’s anything going on “between the lines,” so don’t be afraid to drill down to satisfy your good or bad impressions. There are severe penalties for fraudulent reviews. If a merchant has a lot of reviews, most of them should be positive – if not glowing. Major chains with a strong Internet presence and good reviews should be your most reliable source.
- Make sure the item is in stock or available in a reasonable time. If you need to have a product delivered by a specific date, make sure the merchant can make it happen.
- Read all of the website’s policies carefully. Every merchant should have clear policies about returns and any charges associated with returns. Make sure you understand them and they are acceptable to you. You don’t want to buy something – or give something as a gift – and then find that it’s impossible or next to impossible to return the item or exchange it. If you can’t understand a policy or set of conditions or can’t get straight answers to your questions, buy the product somewhere else.
- Use a credit card. Credit cards are the only way to have some recourse when you have a dispute with a merchant. When you use a credit card, the credit card company stays in the middle of the transaction. It gives the merchant faster access to the money from your purchase (for a fee) and collects the money from you, collecting interest on unpaid balances. If you have a legitimate complaint, the credit card company has the clout to reverse the transaction – and it also has a vested interest in making sure the merchant conducts business properly. When you use a debit card, the merchant draws the money directly out of your bank account – just like if you paid cash. If you have a dispute with the merchant, you’ll have to fight that battle by yourself.
- Think about what you’re buying. We discussed a number of points to consider to get the best deal online. You should also pay attention to what you’re buying. We’ll use cameras as an example. Some of you might be thinking about giving somebody a new DSLR. People who really get into the fine art of photography may really appreciate one, but they are likely to be very particular about the camera’s features and capabilities. You might be better off giving that person a point-and-shoot camera if they just want to take pictures and not make pictures bigger than 8 x 10. And, if they just want to take pictures to share immediately online, a better smartphone with built-in camera for stills and videos might do the trick. We’ll be seeing lots of tempting new gadgets, so run your own reality check to make sure whatever you buy is appropriate.
- Don’t feel pressured. Not sure about something? Wait a day. You might pay a few extra dollars over the Cyber Monday price if you wait a day or two, but you might find it’s worth the peace of mind to make sure that you bought the right product from the right merchant at the right price.
We can help you have a better shopping experience. We buy a lot of products online, and we love looking at all kinds of technology and gadgets. Email or call us – 973-433-6676 – with any questions you have for the holiday season. We want to keep the “happy” in the holiday season.
This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.