Here in Virginia, we’re getting a reminder that Summer is about to begin. (Enjoy those two days of Spring? Seriously, it was in the 30’s last week, and today it was in the 80’s!) Right now, our thoughts are planning for vacations. They could be getaways to places for off or day trips on spontaneous whims. No matter where you might be headed—domestic or international—the excitement of new adventures and new experiences might leave you open and vulnerable to identity theft and data breach. So in the days before hitting the road or checking in with your airline, you might want to stop and consider how secure you are.
Before setting off, make sure to follow these few tips:
- Reconsider geotagging features on smartphone apps and other devices while traveling. Geotagging and Facebook check-in’s are a great way to share your travels, but remember each check-in gives thieves information they need to target your empty home. Photos are fun to post as well, but always remember each tweet, each status update, and each check-in shares GPS coordinates of where you are and where you are not.
- Secure your computer. Protect yourself by making sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date. This will allow you to use hotel hotspots safely.
- Exercise caution when logging into public networks. Avoid free hotspots as they can be insecure and susceptible to viruses and malware. Consider turning your own smartphone into a hotspot, complete with its own password. (The more passwords, and the more varied they are, the better.)
- Be aware of potential phone scams. A popular method for thieves to practice on tourists is to call unsuspecting tourists and claim they are Reception, needing confirmation on a credit card number after a “problem” has occurred. If you receive such a call asking that you confirm a credit card number, tell them you’ll be happy to provide the information at the front desk in person.
- Limit the number of credit cards you bring with you. Carry just one with you when sightseeing, but consider keeping a backup in the hotel safe. (Just remember to collect it when leaving!)
- Back up your documents. Before leaving, scan your identification, credit cards and essential documents. Save the images in a secure folder or file, either on a cloud service, smartphone, or tablet. Be sure to be able to access them just in case your wallet is stolen.
- Carry emergency contact numbers. Keep a copy of emergency contact numbers for your credit cards and bank accounts handy in case you find your wallet lost or stolen. If traveling internationally, keep the address and phone number of your country’s embassy accessible.
It’s okay to relax when you are on vacation, but it never hurts to remain aware of your online security and how your identity and all that is associated with it still matters. Consider these tips outlined above as an investment for you to be able to enjoy yourself and time with your family and friends while away.
Safe travels to you.
Think of the last time you were in a public place—an airport, a coffee shop, or standing in line at the grocery store—and a complete stranger begins having a conversation with someone on their mobile phone. Suddenly, the tenor of the phone calls changes with far too much volume and personal details being shared.
For an identity thief, this indiscretion is a welcomed opportunity.
From Above the Law, a blog covering the realities and business side of the legal profession, comes a story straight from the “Oh come on, you have GOT to be kidding me!” file involving a professional who should know something about the importance of sensitive data. On an Acela train between D.C. and New York, this managing partner of a prominent law firm called an up-and-coming lawyer to present them with a potential job offer. The terms of the offer were as follows:
- Base compensation: $300K in the first year.
- Additional compensation: $50K upon bringing in $1MM; 15 percent of anything over $1MM.
- Equity: Possible equity in the partnership after one year.
The partner then proceeded to call his firm’s Human Resources department, and provided his associate:
- The potential lawyer’s full name
- Home address
- Proper authorization to start a background check.
All these details were overheard by a full-to-capacity Acela express train.
Antivirus software packages and privacy settings applied on your social media outlets, but we as consumers and users of modern conveniences can still do better. We are the best line of defense against hackers and identity thieves. There is still plenty that we as digital immigrants can do:
- Limit the amount of information shared on social networks. Use common sense. Think about what information you want to share, who you are sharing it with, and always assume that others outside of your protective network are going to see it too. Then decide if you want to post it.
- Avoid private discussions in public places. Again, there is no “private” in public places. Voices carry; and when sharing PII during a phone call, your voice carries a lot more than just words.
- Avoid sharing PII on public Wi-Fi networks. As seen in this editorial from CNN Money, many open networks are unsecure. Hackers can easily gain access to your computer this way and mine it for a variety of data. Avoid banking or other financial transactions when using public Wi-Fi networks.
- Also keep your awareness up when surfing the Internet when in public places. Just as people can inadvertently listen in on a phone call, they can also watch your laptop screen from a distance.
- Share with your friends and business associates what is and isn’t permissible to share in public. While you can do a lot to protect yourself online and in the real world, you should also advise your friends, family, and co-workers what you deem as “private.” If they don’t know, what may be perceived as a harmless photo on Facebook or a detail shared over the phone could cross a boundary or two.
When it comes to protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII), we all need to continue to be vigilant about monitoring and protecting our personal data, and sometimes the best way to be vigilant is to take a good, hard look at what we are making public knowledge. A little common sense and taking a moment to consider how much you are sharing with the public can go a long way in protecting yourself and your identity.
Perhaps one of the toughest things to wake up to is being told by a friend and colleague in writing that you are being ripped off.
That was exactly what happened to me this morning when John R. White reached out to Philippa and myself on Facebook to let us know that a website was selling our books, both from our New York publishers as well as our own independent titles, for discount prices and allegedly these sales are neither paid to the publisher nor are they counted in statistics. (I say “allegedly” as I am still researching exactly who is backing this website, but I know that the site content appears to be scraped from Amazon and Imagine That! has not been contacted by this website’s administrators for price negotiations on our titles.) I checked, and sure enough our titles from the Tales from the Archives are on there, at a discount, with no consent from us.
Spending a bit longer and digging a little deeper into this site, I discovered something far more serious (if not sinister): You cannot “buy” books from this site. At least not straight away. You “Join Free” and then this vendor contact you with the lowest negotiated price for the book, almost as if it’s a Priceline for eBooks.
I say “almost” because this site strikes me as a potentially dangerous site. Not just for authors, but for readers. Read the rest of this entry →