Thursday, December 1, 2011

11 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Billions of dollars will be spent online over the course of this Holiday Season and unfortunately there are those that will be looking to steal some of it. Make sure you're not a victim.
There's every reason in the world to shop online. The bargains are there, the selection is mind-boggling, the shopping is secure, shipping is fast and even returns are pretty easy, with the right e-tailers. Shopping has never been easier or more convenient for consumers. But there are those bad guys who lay in wait?  eCrime Reports for 2011 indicate that phishing attacks (where thieves attempt to swindle you out of your sign-in credentials and credit card info by pretending to be a real website, or even an online bank) is down, as much as 11 percent since the third quarter of last year. That's good news, but the same report says  that sites with malware (malicious code aimed at compromising your privacy) has increased by 89 percent since the second quarter.

While somewhat alarming, these stats should not keep you from shopping online. You simply need some common sense and practical advice. Follow the following basic guidelines and you can shop online with confidence.

1. Use Familiar Websites
Start at a trusted site rather than shopping with a search engine. Search results can be rigged to lead you astray, especially when you drift past the first few pages of links. If you know the site, chances are it's less likely to be a rip off. We all know and that it carries everything under the sun; likewise, just about every major retail outlet has an online store, from Target to Best Buy to Home Depot. Beware of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example)—those are the oldest tricks in the book. Yes, the sales on these sites might look enticing, but that's how they trick you into giving up your info.

2. Look for the Lock
Never ever buy anything online using your credit card from a site that doesn't have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed—at the very least. You'll know if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://). An icon of a locked padlock will appear, typically in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser, or right next to the URL in the address bar. It depends on your browser. Never, ever give anyone your credit card over email. Ever.

3. Don't Tell All
No online shopping store needs your social security number or your birthday to do business. However, if crooks get them, combined with your credit card number for purchases, they can do a lot of damage. The more they know, the easier it is to steal your identity. When possible, default to giving up the least amount of information.

4. Check Statements
Don't wait for your bill to come at the end of the month. Go online regularly during the holiday season and look at electronic statements for your credit card, debit card, and checking accounts. Make sure you don't see any fraudulent charges, even originating from sites like PayPal. If you do see something wrong, pick up the phone to address the matter quickly. In the case of credit cards, pay the bill only once you know all your charges are accurate. You have 30 days to notify the bank or card issuer of problems, however; after that, you might be liable for the charges anyway.

5. Inoculate Your PC
Swindlers don't just sit around waiting for you to give them data; sometimes they give you a little something extra to help things along. You need to protect against malware with regular updates to your anti-virus program.

6. Use Strong Passwords
We like to beat this dead horse about making sure to utilize uncrackable passwords, but it's never more important than when banking and shopping online.

7. Think Mobile
You may be one of the 5.7 percent of adults who will use their mobile devices to do comparison shopping before making a purchase. There's no real need to be any more nervous about shopping on a mobile device than online. The trick is to use apps provided directly by the retailers, like Amazon, Target, etc. Use the apps to find what you want and then make the purchase directly, without going to the store or the website.

8. Avoid Public Terminals
Hopefully, we don't have to tell you it's a bad idea to use a public computer to make purchases, but we still will. If you do, just remember to log out every time you use a public terminal, even if you were just checking email.

What about using your own laptop to shop while you're out? It's one thing to hand over a credit card to get swiped at the checkout, but when you must enter the number and expiration date on a website while sitting in a public cafe, you're giving an over-the-shoulder snooper plenty of time to see the goods. At the very least, think like a gangster: Sit in the back, facing the door.

9. Privatize Your Wi-Fi
If you do decide to go out with the laptop to shop, you'll need a Wi-Fi connection. Only use the wireless if you access the Web over a virtual private network (VPN) connection.  By the way, now is not a good time to try out a hotspot you're unfamiliar with. Stick to known networks, even if they're free, like those found at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble stores that is powered by AT&T. Look for the network named "attwifi," then open a browser to click into the "walled garden" to get final access. You can also find free Wi-Fi at McDonalds, Panera Bread, and FedEx Office locations, not to mention libraries and local cafes.

10. Count the Cards
Gift cards are the most requested holiday gift every year, and this year will be no exception. Stick to the source when you buy one; scammers like to auction off gift cards on sites like eBay with little or no funds on them.

11. Know What's Too Good to Be True
Beware of the "coupon scam" offers of a free product with purchase, in particular an iPad (a very coveted gadget at any holiday) or even holiday job offers. Many of these "offers" will come in via social media. Beware even of your friends, who might innocently forward such a thing. Be very wary even if you get a message from friend claiming he or she has been robbed, especially a friend overseas looking for money to be wire transferred, unless you absolutely can confirm it by talking to him or her personally. Skepticism in most cases can go a long way toward saving you from a stolen card number.

Adapted from an article in PC Magazine By Eric Griffith  November 21, 2011

Steve Jobs – 1955-2011 – RIP

This was to be my Nov.'11 Blog message, however some how it never got published. But here it is now...

I was never a fan of Apple, but I must say that the death of Steve Jobs on Oct. 5th at the age of 56 gave me pause. There is no doubt that Steve Jobs was a visionary.  It is amazing to look back on his life in the technology arena.

In 1974 Jobs worked for video game maker Atari and attended meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club with Steve Wozniak, a high school friend. Two years later they formed Apple Computer operating out of a Silicon Valley garage and the Apple I computer went on sale by the summer for $666.66.

In 1977 Apple was incorporated and they unveiled the Apple II, the first personal computer to generate color graphics. In  1980 Apple went public, raising $110 million and in 1982 annual revenue climbed to $1 billion.

In 1983, the Lisa computer (named after his daughter) went on sale with much fanfare, only to be pulled two years later. Jobs lured John Sculley away from Pepsico Inc. to serve as Apple's CEO. And in 1984 the Iconic "1984" Macintosh commercial directed by Ridley  Scott airs during the Super Bowl. The Macintosh computer goes on sale.

In 1985 Jobs and Sculley clashed, leading to Jobs' resignation and Steve Wozniak also resigns from Apple that year.

In 1986 Jobs started Next Inc., a new computer company making high-end machines for universities. He also bought Pixar from "Star Wars" creator George Lucas for $10 million. In 1989 the first NeXT computer went on sale with a $6,500 price tag.

In 1991 Apple and IBM Corp. announce an alliance to develop new PC microprocessors and software amd Apple unveiled a portable Mac called PowerBook. In 1993 Apple introduced the Newton, a hand-held, pen-based computer. The company reported a quarterly loss of $188 million in July and Sculley was replaced as CEO.  

In 1994 Apple introduced Power Macintosh computers based on the PowerPC chip it developed with IBM and Motorola. Apple decided to license its operating software and allow other companies to "clone" the Mac, adopting the model championed by Microsoft Corp and in 1995 the first Mac clones went on sale. Microsoft releases Windows 95, which is easier to use than previous versions and is more like the Mac system. Apple struggles with competition, parts shortages and mistakes predicting customer demand. Pixar's "Toy Story," the first commercial computer-animated feature, hits theaters. Pixar goes to Wall Street with an IPO that raises $140 million.

In 1996 Apple announced plans to buy Next for $430 million for the operating system Jobs' team developed. Jobs is appointed an adviser to Apple and the next year Jobs becomes "interim" CEO. He foreshadows the marketing hook for a new product line by calling himself "iCEO." Jobs puts an end to Mac clones.

1998 saw Apple return to profitability and shakes up personal computer industry with the candy-colored, all-in-one iMac desktop, the original models shaped like a futuristic TV. In 2000, Apple removes "interim" label from Jobs' CEO title.

Apple then went on a tear: 2001saw the first iPod goes on sale, as do computers with OS X, the modern Mac operating system based on Next software. Apple also releases iTunes software. And in 2003 Apple launched the iTunes Music Store with 200,000 songs at 99 cents each, giving people a convenient way to buy music legally online. It sells 1 million songs in the first week.

In 2004 Jobs underwnets surgery for a rare but curable form of pancreatic cancer; Apple discloses his illness after the fact.

In 2005 Apple expands the iPod line with the tiny Nano and an iPod that can play video. The company also announces that future Macs will use Intel chips.  In 2006 Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 billion making Jobs Disney's largest individual shareholder.

In 2007 Apple released its first smartphone, the iPhone. Crowds camp overnight at stores to be one of the first to own the new device.

2008: Speculation mounts that Jobs is ill, given weight loss and in September he kicked off an Apple event and says, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated," making a play off a famous Mark Twain quote after Bloomberg News accidentally publishes, then retracts, an obituary that it had prepared in advance.

In 2009 Jobs explained his severe weight loss by saying he had a treatable hormone imbalance and that he will continue to run Apple. Days later he backtracks and announces he will be on medical leave. He returned to work in June and later it is learned that he had received a liver transplant.

In 2010 Apple sold 15 million of its newest gadget, the iPad, in nine months, giving rise to a new category of modern touch-screen tablet computers.

On Jan. 17, 2011 in a memo to Apple employees, Jobs announced a second medical leave with no set duration but Jobs retained his CEO title and remains involved in major decisions.

On Aug. 24 Apple announces that Jobs is resigning as CEO and named Jobs chairman.

On Oct. 5, 2011 Steve Jobs died at the age of 56; Apple announced his death without giving a specific cause.

Looking back, I am in awe of the technological accomplishments made at Apple under Steve Jobs leadership.