Quick Bytes: Tech Tips for Real Life

binary-code-475664_12801. Where not to use your debit card: Although your debit card may look just like a credit card, there are some key differences and places you really shouldn’t use it:

  • Online or over the phone. If your card information is hijacked, your bank account could be wiped out and you might have a cash flow problem until your claim is processed and the funds are reimbursed. If the same thing happens with a credit card, the worst case scenario is you can’t use that card until it’s sorted out.
  • Use a credit card for big ticket items, recurring payments, or anything else you might potentially have a dispute over. Besides rewards program benefits, credit cards offer dispute rights that debit cards typically do not.
  • Don’t use your debit card for future travel or hotel reservations because they will keep your information in their system until your trip and it will be at risk of a data breach for an extended period of time.
  • Lastly, don’t use your debit card anywhere ‘risky’. Restaurants, businesses you haven’t dealt with before, and self-checkout or ATM equipment that looks like it’s been tampered with can put you at risk of having your information stolen and account drained.

2. What ever happened to my Social Security statements? Remember when you used to receive a report from Social Security with your yearly earnings history and estimated benefit in the mail each year? It’s been a while since the Social Security Administration stopped mailing those, but you can still request one by completing a form. Better yet, go to socialsecurity.gov/mystatement to set up an account. (Be prepared- they ask some very specific questions to help prevent identify theft.) With an online account you can keep track of your earnings, get estimated future benefits, update your address, start or modify your direct deposit information if you’re receiving benefits, etc. We urge everyone to verify your earnings annually and monitor your estimated benefit so you don’t have any surprises when you’re ready to retire.

3. Scams- not just for email anymore: Most people who have used email for years are pretty savvy when it comes to avoiding common scams. (I.e. when you receive an email riddled with grammatical errors, from an unknown person in another country, claiming someone left you $10MM or that you won a lottery you didn’t enter, you don’t open it). However, scam artists are always adapting. Many have started using more believable angles like ‘delivery failure notification’ emails that look like a well-known carrier is notifying you they weren’t able to deliver a package. If you click on the tracking number or attachment, you will inadvertently download malicious software. They also target certain groups who are likely to be interested in a certain ‘opportunity’, such as the work from home scam recently targeted at university students. Other recent scams include:

  • Fake (but familiar sounding) charities soliciting donations after a natural disaster,
  • Notices of unpaid parking tickets or other government fees or taxes (where the user may be directed to an official looking website and enter personal information in addition to paying the ‘fine’), and
  • Family/friend in distress emails where it looks as if your friend or family member is stranded in another country and needs money to obtain new documents and get home.

Always verify before you do anything. Have established charities you give to- don’t accept solicitations. (You can verify their worthiness through websites such as CharityWatch). Received a notification of an unpaid parking ticket or IRS back taxes you didn’t know you owed? Look up the phone number of the city or agency that allegedly sent it and call them to inquire. (Don’t rely on contact information listed on the notice). Didn’t know your friend was in Spain? Call them. The Federal Trade Commission, FBI, and Snopes are good places to check if you’re suspicious of something.

In the last few years, as social media has rapidly grown in popularity, scammers have followed. Scams can be found everywhere: LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+; you name it! Because most users aren’t as experienced with these platforms as they are with email, they may be more likely to fall for a scam. Countless people on Twitter and Facebook forward chain letters they would have deleted immediately had they shown up through email. (Apple is not giving away the newest iPhone to the first 500 people to repost/retweet the message. Sorry). Other common, more malicious scams, include being directed to fake homepages that look like the real thing. For example, shortened URLs are common on Twitter. But since you can’t see the actual address, you don’t know what site it’s really taking you to until it’s too late. If you enter your login information you just inadvertently gave it to a scammer. You’ve been phished. Now they can use your account to post friend/family in distress messages (see above) and take their money and information, and so on. Other than verifying before acting, make sure your spyware, malware, and antivirus are always up to date. Scams are nothing new but they are always changing to take advantage of the latest news, trends, apps, and seasons (ie tax season or holiday giving). They use psychology to appeal to our charitable, greedy, religious, social, or law-abiding nature.