How to Avoid Storm Chasers and Common Hurricane Repair Scams

Sadly, September finds thousands of Americans facing unparalleled property damage as a result of Hurricane Irma and Harvey’s recent devastation. If dealing with the toll of the damage alone is not daunting enough, many individuals can fall prey to unscrupulous contractors. These heartless scammers try to take advantage of a challenging, emotional situation for personal gain. While you cannot prevent the path of a storm, you can protect yourself from these far too common predatory hurricane cleanup scams.

Follow these simple tips to help ensure you select an honest, legitimate contractor and avoid the throngs of Storm Chasers just looking to make a quick buck:

Deal Locally:

Folks certainly don’t call these heartless swindlers Storm Chasers for nothing! Unethical contractors must continually seek business in new storm-impacted areas to avoid facing responsibility for their predatory actions. Dealing with established, local contractors, is almost always a safer bet. Spending locally can take more time in storm-impacted areas, but the wait is often worth the result. Remember to ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations based on their own experiences!

Learn Local Licensing Requirements:

Anyone hiring a contractor to work in their home should familiarize themselves with the licensing requirements in their area BEFORE interviewing potential workers. You can find a list of relevant state consumer protection agencies here.

Research Potential Hires’ Licenses:

Once you are familiar with the licensing requirements in your area, ensure that anyone performing work for you is fully licensed.

  • Never sign anything BEFORE you research a contractor’s license.
  • Request a physical copy of their license upon arrival at your property.
  • Don’t trust the contractor’s word alone and always confirm everything.
  • Contact the appropriate license regulatory board to confirm the company’s license is active and in good standing.

Confirm Insurance:

In addition to a license, contractors also need to be insured to protect you from getting stuck with the bill in the event problems arise.

  • Request physical proof of insurance listing their coverage liability limits.
  • Call the contractor’s insurer and confirm any information they provided.

Check, Check, Check and CHECK AGAIN:

There is no substitute for good old-fashioned effort when it comes to researching potential contractors. Following a serious storm, individuals often want damage repaired as quickly as possible to help restore feelings of normalcy. While certain areas must be addressed immediately for safety, the more you research in advance, the less likely you are to fall victim to predatory contractors.

  • Ask all contractors for photo ID and make a copy for your records.
  • Research potential contractors through all available online resources.
    • Including: Google, BBB, Yelp, Angie’s List and RipOffReport
  • Contact your homeowners or renters insurance company and inquire about prospective hires. Insurers often keep records regarding past contractor scam claims.
  • Inquire with your family, neighbors and others in the community for any recommendations or concerns.
  • Hire an experienced private investigator to fully research potential hires on your behalf.

Pay Attention to the Paperwork:

As the old adage goes, the devil is in the details. Predatory contractors hate paperwork because it makes it significantly more difficult for them to exploit potential victims. Always put it on paper.

  • Require all contractors to provide a detailed written estimate BEFORE signing any agreements or performing any work.

Contractor estimates should include:

  • The contractor’s (and or company’s) name, address, phone number and license number
  • An accurate description of the work (including everything they will do and the completion date)
  • A list of all the required materials and estimated material cost
    • Be sure to confirm if this cost is included in the estimate.
  • A detailed bid for the job (including labor and other costs)
  • Fully examine and read all contracts to ensure no blank fields remain. Scammers will often alter these at a later date.
  • Initial every page of the contract and estimate to help prevent alteration.
  • Always ask for a copy of signed documents BEFORE the documents leave your possession.
  • Remember, contracts signed in your home (and some other locations) can be cancelled within 3 days under the FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule. Additional info available via link.

Create Paper Trail Protection:

If cash is a contractor scammer’s best friend, then an easily traceable paper trail is probably their worst enemy.

  • ALWAYS pay by credit card if possible. It creates a solid paper trail and may also provide additional protection in the event of a dispute.
  • If credit card payments are not possible, pay the contractor by check.
  • NEVER pay contractors in cash.
  • Avoid lump sum payments, both in advance and at the conclusion.
  • Pay for services incrementally, over the course of a project to help minimize your potential loss.
  • Keep detailed records of all pertinent items (including invoices, payments, contracts, estimates, conversations and receipts)
  • Photograph all storm damage and contractor work (at varying intervals).

 

Americans will spend billions of dollars in their effort to recover from these recent catastrophic storms. The sheer volume of recovery of makes the potential for predatory contractor scams almost unavoidable. While they will always exist, you can avoid them. Follow the steps in this article and protect yourself and your property from these low-life storm chasers.

If researching potential contractors seems overwhelming, you can always hire a license private investigator to help out with the legwork. Many have experience with fraud investigations and can easily spot scammer red flags from a mile away.

Above all else, always trust your instincts. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.

If you think you are a victim of a hurricane damage scheme you should contact The National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline. They are available 24/7 via phone, fax or email to assist you.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline:

Phone: (866) 720-5721      Fax: (225) 334-4707     Email: disaster@leo.gov

 

Navigating the Online Criminal Background Check Labyrinth

More and more individuals wish to protect themselves, their businesses and their loved ones from the possibility of falling prey to criminal activity. One popular safeguard against unnecessary access to unsavory characters is a criminal background check. Whether performing due diligence on a potential employee, securing safe childcare or vetting a new online love interest, criminal background checks have become a regular part of our interactions. As a result of this increased interest in access to criminal histories, many people turn to the most readily available option, the Internet, in order to obtain the information they desire.

A cursory Google search for “online background check” astonishingly returns over 10 million results. The logic is apparent, if the Internet works for shopping in your pajamas and reconnecting with high school classmates, why wouldn’t it work equally as well for background screenings. However, as is typically the case with most endeavors, quantity does not necessarily directly translate to quality.

Often, clients express their utter disbelief when we uncover evidence of a prior criminal history during the course of an investigation. “But I paid for a criminal search online and it was all clear. How could this ever happen?” or some equally confused equivalent are all too common responses. These reoccurring complications center largely on the quality of the information utilized in the search. The old adage stands true; output data quality is only as reliable as the quality of the input data.

Websites offering statewide and nationwide background searches typically perform searches through one of several available databases and pass along the results to the consumer at a highly inflated cost. Essentially, they act as a middleman, selling you someone else’s services without concern for quality or cost. While this alone is unnerving, under further examination you will often find that the databases they utilize are actually severely outdated and or startlingly incomplete. Add the possibility of spelling and data entry errors into this already maladroit mix and your reliable online criminal background check quickly begins to resemble an attempt to catch fire ants with a butterfly net.

It is true that computer aided searches provide the benefit of speedy access to vast amounts of past criminal case files. This in itself sounds substantial, but the reality is often vastly different than initial impressions. For example, some states do not require their judicial offices to report criminal convictions to database agencies. There is also variance at the county level within individual states for requirements of which, if any, criminal history data is sold to third party vendors.

This situation creates a strange paradox in which you can receive a “clear” criminal check from an alleged “statewide” online search, while the subject could actually have a serious and lengthy criminal record in a non-reporting county within the state. The reality that online searches often only produce records from reporting counties that are available post implementation of computerized record systems only compounds this confusion and further augments the margin of error.

The chaotic mix of contributing factors all greatly impact the accuracy and reliability of online record searches. Consequently, the most secure option for a comprehensive criminal background check available to the public remains utilizing an experienced private investigator to physically research the individual. Investigations of this nature ensure that all areas are fully investigated and greatly reduce the likelihood of unknown records under aliases. In fact, physical research is still utilized for most high-level security clearances and positions directly related to personal safety. While technology does aid these screenings, human efforts remain the gold standard over computerized convenience in this sector.

Summer Vacation Safety Tips

The days are longer, hotter and the schools halls are once again silent and empty. All around sunscreen and pool floats have long since replaced the sweaters and raincoats of fall. As of June 20th, it’s official. Summer is in full effect.

For many, summer represents a time to get away with the family, spend quality time with the kids while they’re out of school and enjoy a good ol’ fashioned family vacation. However, before you throw on your Bermuda shorts and don your sunglasses to head out for some hard earned R&R, remember that you may not be the only one excited about your summer vacation.

According to FBI statistics, the crime rate typically rises approximately 10% during the months of June, July and August. Whether this bump is on account of the scorching heat, criminals’ own lofty vacation plans or an overabundance of idle teens is debatable.

What is clear though is that these numbers provide a sound warning for summer fun seekers; however, it certainly shouldn’t prevent you from making the most of the warmest months of the year.

 

A Guide to Keeping Safe While Away at Play

Keep in mind these simple tips and stay safe this summer.

Preparing your Property

  • Inform a trusted neighbor of your trip and ask them to keep an eye out for any unusual activity.
  • Ensure ALL doors and windows are securely locked. Install locks if needed.
  • Use a security checklist the day you leave.
  • Do not “advertise” your trip on social media or to unfamiliar people
  • Consider installing a security system in advance

 

The Occupied Property illusion

  • This strategy essentially attempts to simulate an occupied property in order to reduce the risk of becoming a target. One only needs to make it appear as if someone is home, in order to make their home less appealing to potential burglars.

Strategies include:

  • Use timers on inside and outside lights
  • Hold mail at the Post Office or have someone collect it
  • Schedule regular lawn maintenance
  • Install motion activated lights, especially near entrances
  • Hire a house sitter to inhabit the property or visit often

 

Ensuring a Safe Stay

Once you’ve covered all the possible issues you can on the home front, remember to use the same common sense and awareness while you are away. Often, theft occurs during a vacation because people are more relaxed than normal and not focused on taking normal safety precautions.

  • Use the room or hotel safe in order to store valuables and cash
  • Do not leave personal electronics visible in your room or in your bags while out
  • Familiarize yourself with the hotel door locks and double check that they are fully secured when you leave
  • Secure and lock all windows and balcony doors when away from the room, in the bathroom and at night
  • Always use the deadbolt lock while sleeping
  • Check online hotel reviews in advance for any possible safety issues
  • Keep valuables close to your person, in zipped pockets is possible, especially when in large crowds
  • Exercise the same vigilance and awareness you would use while traveling in a large city or foreign country

 

So remember that while summer is a time for family vacations, backyard barbecues and sandy feet at the beach, it is also a time of increased criminal activity. This increase however does not need to negatively impact your plans this year. Use these tips to protect your home and ensure a fun and safe summer season for the entire family.

Romance Scammers and the Online Dating World

Love. Romance. A soul mate. These are things almost everyone seek at some point in life. While the quest itself is as old as time, the places people search for love have changed significantly in recent years. More and more love seekers are steering the search for their own Romeo (or Juliet) into the digital realm. Talk to your close friends or family, chances are one of them has recently found, or at least tried, a romantic relationship via a virtual rendezvous.

This may sound like a shiny, wondrously new benefit of our increasingly technological world at first glance. And it is certainly not without its benefits for those seeking romance. It gives you access to more potential matches, the ability to filter your potential suitors by preference and of course the ever valuable sneak peak at their appearance before you meet. But before you set up your account and roll the dice with digital cupid, consider who might actually be lurking behind your new sweetheart’s profile picture.

Online dating sites serve as a virtual goldmine for a growing horde of criminals and scammers panning for victims. These criminals seek to identify, contact, groom and exploit individuals’ emotional vulnerability for financial gain. Essentially, they employ a combination of identify fraud and mass marketing fraud. While victims overall are indiscriminately exploited, the most common targets are older females, widows and the recently separated.

To be frank, these crooks masquerading as keyboard Lotharios are not typically innovative criminal masterminds. Their methods are a field-tested routine that is as simple to spot as polar bear in Time Square once you know their game.

Let’s breakdown this boilerplate strategy:

  • Scammers utilize false photographs to present a potential partner they think their victim will find attractive.
  • After initial contact, the paramours quickly escalate the relationship by over zealously declaring their unwavering love for the victim.
  • The fraudster then moves all communication from the dating site to an email account allowing them to maintain more anonymity.
  • Once email contact is established it increases with a flurry of intensity often over a period of weeks, months or even years. This is the “grooming” period. It serves to create the illusion of intimacy with their victim.
  • Gifts are often used to “test the waters” in terms of the victims willingness to comply with instructions. Criminals may send small gifts to show a relationship is “genuine” however following receipt they will make requests for minor amounts of money.
  • Victims sending money to the perpetrators, even extremely small amounts, is essentially a green light for the large-scale shakedown to begin.
  • Virtual “lovers’ are almost always unexpectedly impacted by a serious event that requires the victim’s financial support to rectify. The events can vary from medical expenses to robbery and everything between, but the solution is always money.

 

A massive fraud of this nature could only previously have been attempted by a skilled and experienced con man and require numerous face-to-face interactions. However, anonymity is readily available on the Internet and the limitations of physical locations do not exist. In turn most of the keyboard Romeos perpetrating these romance schemes fit a similar profile. This shared similarity makes pinpointing would be fraudsters simple.

Consider the following points to help you sort out crooks attempting fraud from the real catches:

  • Scammers claim to be a native-born U.S. citizen, however they have a thick accent and/or display extremely poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker.
  • The overly emotional confessions of love utilized in the grooming phase are often plagiarized completely, if not partially, and presented, as ones own thoughts. A simple Google search of text of this nature can help identified stolen content.
  • This example we identified in an online romance con is clearly found on poemlovers.com: “I live to live, to spend a lifetime with you and to grow older with you, loving you for all times from now to eternity. I love to love you so much and am so happy that soonest we will be together”.”
  • The perpetuators of these crimes often use the same accounts to lure multiple victims. Research any usernames or email addresses used in communication to see if they are routinely used to commit fraud.
  • The unexpected emergencies that inevitably befall these crooks almost always occur outside the US. This requires the victim to send money to a foreign country, which in turn makes persecution and retrieval highly unlikely.
  • Be seriously suspicious of ANY request for money or support. Remember this is a person you have not met in person and in reality you know nothing about them.
  • It is extremely important that you separate yourself from all emotions if you recognize any of the signs discussed. We are all subject to emotional vulnerability, which can seriously impact otherwise sound judgment.
  • Always share information about any new online relationships with your friends and family. Gaining an additional perspective from outside the situation can help you avoid the fog of emotional vulnerability.

 

While there are numerous scammers and fraudsters lurking in wait for their next victim, avoiding them is not difficult once you know their con. Remember these signs and tips during your online search for the new Mr. or Mrs. Right and you can avoid the scheming Internet inamoratos.

If you think you have already been the victim of an online romance scheme we recommend the following actions:

Protecting Yourself from Crafty Credit Card Crooks

The proliferation of technology over the past 10 to 15 years has expanded credit and debit card processing to nearly every aspect of our commercial lives. Previously reserved for large-ticket items or transactions requiring deposits, electronic payments are now regularly accepted by nearly all merchants; from the checkout line at the corner store to the smartphone of a 9-year old lemonade vendor, paying with plastic has become the new standard.

While the unarguably effortless convenience of electronic payments makes them extremely popular with consumers, we are not the only ones celebrating their recent surge. An ever-expanding underground network of data thieves is also singing the praises of our pay-by-plastic culture.  The recent high profile data security breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus prove that no one is truly immune to these criminals’ cunning and calculated attacks. Even though the US is scheduled to convert its current magnetic strip system to the more secure chip-and-pin system by 2015 protecting yourself in the meantime remains critical.

Although the only 100% failsafe against theft of your credit and debit card information remains not having a card at all, utilizing the following tips can greatly reduce your risk:

Pay with Cash Whenever Possible

  • It is a simple matter of volume. The less you use your credit or debit card, the less your information is available for possible theft. Even though carrying cash will increase the physical size of your wallet, paying with it whenever possible will decrease the risk of someone stealing your card info. So think twice before you swipe your card to purchase a pack of gum and a soft drink at the neighborhood bodega.

 

Protect Your Physical Card Information

While a large portion of payment information theft occurs in the digital world, many crooks still mine a wealth of useable info from the physical source:

  • Shredding your financial information (preferably with a crosscut shredder) can prevent you from becoming an easy target for someone sifting through your trash.
  • Store sensitive information discreetly and securely inside your own home. This is especially important if you have a roommate, service workers in your home or other sources of traffic coming in and out of the home.
  • If you are away from your home for an extended period of time, remember to have a trusted party collect your mail or even better, request a vacation hold through the US Post Office.
  • Ensure that the billing addresses and contact information for ALL of your accounts are current and correct.

 

Pay Attention to Your Account Activity

This one sounds straightforward enough but the effortless nature of electronic payment makes it very easy to just swipe and forget. However, early fraud detection can mean the difference between a quick card reissue and a long and often-arduous paperwork process to restore your credit.

  • Check your card activity regularly either online or on your monthly statement. If you use an online interface, only access your account from a secure and familiar network.
  • Remember to change your online account passwords regularly (every 30-180 days) and use a unique combination of uppercase, lowercase, numerals and symbols.
  • If you receive paper billing statements, open them immediately and examine them to confirm that every transaction is legitimate and lists the correct amount.
  • Contact your financial institution immediately if you notice something strange or unfamiliar on your account.

 

Protect Yourself at the Point of Sale

Credit card theft can occur right under your nose if you are not careful and observant. Utilize these simple strategies every time you use your card:

  • Remember to keep your card out of sight until it is required for payment. Thieves have been known to snap pictures of unsuspecting victim’s cards in their hands while waiting in the checkout line.
  • Keep an eye on your card during transactions if possible and always check to ensure that the correct card is returned to you. If you see someone photographing your card or running it through two different scanners alert the establishment’s management and your financial institution.
  • Refrain from signing transaction receipts with blank “tip lines” as additional funds can be added to the transaction. Fully mark through any subtotal lines that you do not use.
  •  Always keep a complete copy of your transaction receipt. It is your insurance in the event you have to dispute the transaction with your financial institution.

 

Carry Your Cards Correctly

Incorrectly carrying your credit or debit card makes you a vulnerable target. Following these simple precautions can significantly decrease your risk.

  • Carry only one credit or debit card with you at a time if possible. Store the other cards in a safe and secure place at home.
  • Keep the card(s) you need to carry with you separate from your wallet. This will help prevent card theft if your wallet is lost or stolen.
  • Consider an anti-RFID wallet or credit card holder. Studies have shown that criminals can easily obtain complete credit card information through clothing or purses by scanning a person in close proximity with a RFID scanner. There are many cost effective and stylish anti-RFID wallets (like Travelon brand) that will protect your cards from unsolicited scanning.

 

CC

 

Private Investigator Dos and Donts

Private Investigator Dos and Donts
It is often extremely difficult for a person to admit that they need the help of a stranger. That is why many people find the process of hiring a private investigator to be an emotionally trying situation. However, this does not have to be the rule by any means. Private Investigators exist to help you get the information you deserve during your time of need. Below is a list of tips to keep in mind when hiring an investigative firm in order to ensure not only your happiness, but also your success:

  • Always check to make sure that an investigator is properly licensed. Believe it or not there are people posing as investigators with expired credentials or worse none at all. Be sure to check with the respective state-licensing agency before you hire someone to make sure his or her license is in good standing.
  • Look for a private investigator that requires a signed written contract. This way both you and the investigator know exactly what the terms of your agreement are. Verbal agreements can be vague and sometimes misleading. A contract is a necessary tool to ensure the protection of you, your investigator, and his or her work product.
  • Ask as many questions as possible. It is not insulting to ask private investigators about their experience and success rates with cases similar in nature to your own. Find out how long they have been in business and in what section of the investigative realm their firm focuses. You should find an investigator who is experienced and capable of addressing every aspect of your needs.
  • Try to choose a private investigator with which you feel exceedingly comfortable. You should be able to discuss all aspects of your situation without fear or hesitancy. If you are comfortable with them, you will be more open, and in turn they will be able to better assist you.
  • Ask any prospective investigators for references who can speak to the quality of their work product. Typically, quality investigators build long term relationships with their repeat clients and these people can usually attest to an individual’s abilities. Be very leery of any investigator who is unable to provide a list of sound references.
  • Private investigator’s regularly take up-front payments in the form of retainers prior to performing investigative work. If you are providing a retainer make sure that it is a refundable retainer. In the event, the investigator obtains the information you require in a small period of time you will want to have the remaining balance of your money refunded.

What To Do If Your Child Is Missing

 

  1. Notify your local police department or county sheriff immediately. Ask them to fill out a normal police report. They will try to gather as much information as possible that will aid them in finding your child. They will follow police protocol and procedures to most effectively proceed in your best interests. Be fully cooperative and do as they instruct.

  2. Call the National Runaway Safeline if you sense your child or teen has runaway. The toll-free number is 1-800-RUNAWAY or 1-800-786-2929. The National Runaway Safeline will assist you free of charge. Safeline has access to thousands of resources throughout the country, including support groups, counseling and drug treatment centers, runaway shelters, and homeless housing. They also have a wealth of information regarding legal issues and medical concerns. Among the services they offer are crisis intervention, and “home free” travel via Greyhound bus. They also provide a message center where you could leave a message in the event your child calls Safeline.

  3. Spread the word to everyone you know that your child or teen is missing. Ask people to report any information, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Let everyone know that you have reported your child missing to the National Runaway Safeline and that this service will act as an intermediary. It could be that your child’s friends know more than they are willing to admit. It is important that you emphasize you are not angry, just anxious to be reunited, and concerned about your child’s welfare.

  4. Contact the media in your area: all local newspapers, TV and radio stations. Create one sheet of information about your missing child with a picture and contact details. Ask for help from the media. Coverage might act as a catalyst to generate more information, to keep people’s attention on your missing child. Also, your child or teen may hear a broadcast or read a story about their case.

  5. Visit your child’s school.Talk with the principle and teachers in person. Ask for any information, anything, no matter how small or inconsequential. Perhaps a teacher might know of some out-of-character behavior or has overheard information that might end up being useful.

  6. Lock down your child’s computer. Turn it off and do not let anyone have access to it except for law enforcement or a reputable private detective. This is important because your child’s computer will have information about their habits, friends, schedule, and emails. Try to construct a timeline of the last days before your child went missing.

  7. Social Networking sites and chat rooms can also provide valuable information about the life your child is living online.

  8. Gather paperwork with potential clues. As you fill in the blanks of what happened, this additional information will add to the picture. It includes records such as phone bills, credit card activity, bus or airline tickets, bank statements, and employment records.

 

Install Caller Identification on your phone and be sure your answering machine or voice mail service is working properly. You may hear from your child, or someone may phone you with an anonymous tip.

How to Use Public Wi-Fi Networks Safely

Nothing Is Private on Open Wi-Fi

In a coffee shop, at the airport, or a library, people connect to public Wi-Fi without thinking much about it. Though using an unencrypted connection to check a baseball score or a flight status might be not too risky, reading e-mail or performing any Web activity that requires a login is like connecting your laptop to a stadium Jumbotron that broadcasts everything you’re doing. Wi-Fi hotspots in public places are convenient, but they’re usually not secure. When using a hotspot, it’s best to send information only to websites that are fully encrypted.

You can be confident a hotspot is secure only if it asks you to provide a WPA password. If you’re not sure, treat the network as if it were unsecured.

How Encryption Works

Encryption is the key to keeping your personal information secure online. Encryption scrambles the information you send over the internet into a code so that it’s not accessible to others. When using wireless networks, it’s best to send personal information only if it’s encrypted – either by an encrypted website or a secure Wi-Fi network. An encrypted website protects only the information you send to and from that site. A secure wireless network encrypts all the information you send using that network.

How to Tell If a Website is Encrypted

If you send email, share digital photos and videos, use social networks, or bank online, you’re sending personal information over the internet. The information you share over the internet is stored on a server. Many websites, such as banking sites, use encryption to protect your information as it travels from your computer to their server.

To determine if a website is encrypted, look for https at the beginning of the web address (the “s” is for secure). Some websites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, your entire account could be vulnerable. Look for https on every page you visit, not just when you sign in.

Don’t Assume a Wi-Fi Hotspot is Secure

Most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt the information you send over the internet and are not secure.

If you use an unsecured network to log in to an unencrypted site – or a site that uses encryption only on the sign-in page – other users on the network can see what you see and what you send. They could hijack your session and log in as you. New hacking tools – available for free online – make this easy, even for users with limited technical know-how. Your personal information, private documents, contacts, family photos, and even your login credentials could be up for grabs.

An imposter could use your account to impersonate you and scam people you care about. In addition, a hacker could test your username and password to try to gain access to other websites – including sites that store your financial information.

Protect Yourself When Using Public Wi-Fi

So what can you do to protect your information? Here are a few tips:

  • When using a Wi-Fi hotspot, only log in or send personal information to websites that you know are fully encrypted. To be secure, your entire visit to each site should be encrypted – from the time you log in to the site until you log out. If you think you’re logged in to an encrypted site but find yourself on an unencrypted page, log out right away.
  • Don’t stay permanently signed in to accounts. When you’ve finished using an account, log out.
  • Do not use the same password on different websites. It could give someone who gains access to one of your accounts access to many of your accounts.
  • Many web browsers alert users who try to visit fraudulent websites or download malicious programs. Pay attention to these warnings, and keep your browser and security software up-to-date.
  • If you regularly access online accounts through Wi-Fi hotspots, use a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt traffic between your computer and the internet, even on unsecured networks. You can obtain a personal VPN account from a VPN service provider. In addition, some organizations create VPNs to provide secure, remote access for their employees.
  • Some Wi-Fi networks use encryption: WEP and WPA are the most common. WPA2 is the strongest. WPA encryption protects your information against common hacking programs. WEP may not. If you aren’t certain that you are on a WPA network, use the same precautions as on an unsecured network.
  • Installing browser add-ons or plug-ins can help, too. For example, Force-TLS and HTTPS-Everywhere are free Firefox add-ons that force the browser to use encryption on popular websites that usually aren’t encrypted. They don’t protect you on all websites – look for https in the URL to know a site is secure.

See more helpful articles on cyber security and safety at On Guard Online, the federal government’s website offering very useful information about your online safety and security.

Couple Woes? Counseling Could be Your Answer

694686_34578692Many people wonder if couples counseling is right for them and their situation. When a marriage or partnership goes off course, whether suddenly or over time, deciding to see a counselor might be the smartest thing you can do to find renewed peace and love. When a partnership has been derailed, couples often hope that things will get better on their own. They continue on the same course, feeling the same anger, resentment or hopelessness.

A couple might feel their relationship is beyond a solution and believe ending the relationship is the only viable option. Counseling will help both parties explore whether each is invested in continuing the relationship, and develop strategies for moving forward. Therapy can teach couples conflict resolution skills and strategies to communicate better, teach the skills necessary to make arguing more productive, with the result of reduced anger and hostility.  Couples can be taught the rules of “fair fighting.”

Marriage counseling can help families deal with stressors such as budgeting problems, parenting differences, or the division of labor around the house.  It can also help families who are dealing with grief or loss issues. Dealing with an affair is an issue that can be addressed in counseling, bringing the couple to a clear understanding of the impact the affair has had on the relationship.

For partners who want to save their marriage, seeking counseling is a constructive starting point. In therapy, partners will be able to address both sides of an issue on a level playing field. Couples have the best prognosis when both partners are invested in treatment.  Both people must be willing to look at themselves and the things that they each can change to help improve the relationship, and not just point the finger at the other.  When a couple agrees to treatment, it can be the first step toward a happier and healthier marriage.