November 15, 2014

Cyber Monday Security

online shopping security tips

Year after year, Cyber Monday and general online holiday shopping have grown in popularity. You can easily understand why when you think about the convenience of shopping in the comfort of your home in pajamas instead of fighting traffic and long lines to shop at brick-and-mortar stores. However, after the major Target data breach during last year's shopping season along with later stories of other major retailers being hacked, consumers may want to look at adopting security measures to reduce the risk of becoming a future identity theft victim.

Here are some online shopping tips to keep you safe and cyber-crooks at bay during this shopping season.
  • Conduct independent research on sellers. Before entering your personal information on a website, check them out at the Better Business Bureau site to see if they're reputable company. If possible, read reviews by previous buyers to learn how they rate their experience. 

  • Shop on a computer instead of smartphone. Computers have antivirus, spam filters, firewalls, and other software to provide layers of security to alert you to risky sites and protect you from malware. Most smartphones lack this capability, which leave you vulnerable. 

  • Use trusted Interent connection and devices. Using unknown connection points, such as public Wi-Fi hotspots, easily leaves your information exposed to hackers. Unknown devices may have malware, keystroke recorders, or other malicious items hackers use in attempt to obtain sensitive personal information from unsuspecting people. Use only trusted, password protected connection points and devices.

  • Keep your anti-virus, spam filter, and software updated. Routinely companies release updates in attempt to address newly discovered vulnerabilities that hackers try to exploit. Make sure your computer has all the latest updates to keep you safe. Some anti-virus have an Internet add on that alerts you to the safety of the website. While this may slow down Internet searches by a few second, it is a minor time investment in security.

  • Google (as in the verb, not the noun) web address instead of typing in the address bar. Scammers often use similar or common misspellings of legitimate business sites to set up fake sites, which look very authentic. Search engines attempt to correct typos and direct you to the legitimate business website.

  • Use secure sites. The "https://" or a closed yellow padlock displayed at the bottom of the screen are your clues.

  • Use credit instead of debit cards. The federal Fair Credit Billing Act provides credit card consumers more protection than debit card users. Additionally, the debit card is directly tied to your bank account, so you're giving potential cyber thieves direct access to your money.

  • Use a separate card for online shopping. I recommend using a credit card with a low credit limit to be designated for online shopping. Some also use a debit card tied to a separate account  with limited amount of funds specifically used for online shopping. These options reduces your personal risk should the card accidentally become compromised. 

  • Change passwords. Online businesses often store your credit card and mailing information in your online account for convenience. Ensure you change the passwords to these accounts frequently (i.e. every 90 days), make them rather complex, and don't use the same password as your major online accounts such as Facebook or online banking. Read our The commonly common password to learn our password tips.

  • Protect your personal information. Pay attention to the privacy notice to see how the site would use the information you provide. If it is missing, that is your red flag that the site would use your information for other reasons, and you should have second thoughts about doing business with them.

  • Don't fall for high-pressure tactics. Scammers are notorious for using high pressure sale tactics, such as a "limited time only," "only a few in stock," or "buy now." Some legitimate businesses may use these taglines as well, but remember it is your money, you're in control, and it is okay to walk away if it is not something you need. If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. 

  • Keep receipts and check credit card/bank statements. While it may be painful to look at how much you spent, checking your statement is important to spot fraudulent charges early. Compare the charges listed in your statement against your receipts. Scrub your statements for unauthorized charges and report them immediately. 

ADT (2014). Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2014: Your safe shopping list. Retrieved from

Cyber Monday Deals(n.d.).  Cyber Monday calls for extra security vigilance. Retrieved from 

Junker, N. (27 November 2013). So many shoes, so little security: Your guide to Cyber Monday. Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). Retrieved from
Mulpuru, S. (25 November 2013). US online holiday retail sales to reach $78.7B. Forbes. Retrieved from

Tresbesch, L. (27 November 2013). Top 8 tips for holiday shopping online (part II). Better Business Bureau. Retrieved from 
Vancouver Island Better Business Bureau (26 November 2013). BBB offers advice to Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers.  Retrieved from 

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November 12, 2014

Car prowlers turn identity thieves: 4 tips in protecting yourself

This month prosecutors charged three prolific car prowlers in King County, WA with four counts of identity theft. The trio are suspected of being behind a rash of car break-ins near parks over the past four months. It is not uncommon for vehicle break-ins to lead to other crimes such as fraud and identity theft.

In case you think this may be an isolated incident, here are two other recent examples. A woman recently arrested is suspected of being behind a six month car prowling spree in North Spokane, WA. This little spree netted her over 20 theft-related charges, which includes 13 charges of second degree identity theft. Across the Washington State border into Idaho,  members of the 'Felony Lane' gang were caught trying to cash fraudulent checks using identification documents stolen from vehicles in the local area. 

What are the thieves going after?

Typically they look for unattended backpacks, wallets, purses and any documents left in parked cars.  They are after any sensitive information they could use to steal somebody's identity to open lines of credit and obtain quick cash before being discovered. The aftermath can take an identity theft victims years to clean up and recover from. While high-tech cyber-heist reports surrounding identity theft garner media attention, successful identity thieves often resort to low-tech means such as vehicle break-ins.

What can you do to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a car prowler-identity thief? Fortunately there are simple security tips you can use to protect yourself.

Four Tips to Protect Yourself.

-Don't use your car as a storage area. Cars are meant to be driven, not to be used as storage units. Take all valuables, to include paperwork with sensitive personal information, out of your vehicle when you park. 

-Don't leave items in plain view. If you do opt to store items in your vehicle, do not leave them in plain view. Stow them under the seat or in the trunk. This goes for empty backpacks, luggage, or anything that may appear to contain valuables. Most crimes like this are crimes of opportunity, and the criminals are only going to hit where they think they can score a pay off. By removing the temptation, you decrease the likelihood of your car being burglarized. It is best to hide these items prior to parking, since many car prowlers watch parking lots for potential victims.

-Lock your car. This tip seems rather simple, but I cannot tell you how many reports I've read where the thief broke into an unlocked car. This only begs the question, is it really considered breaking an entry if the entry was not locked? Locking and securing your car includes rolling your windows all the way up. Do not make it easy for them; take the extra few seconds to make sure your car is locked. 

-Be visible. Criminals will strike when they think the risk of getting caught is low. Park in areas where it is hard for them to hide such as in well lit, high pedestrian traffic areas. When possible use secure garages. Avoid parking on isolated streets.

If possible, you could try going with the Trunk Monkey anti-auto theft system.
(Note: This is my poor attempt at humor. The Trunk Monkey does not actually exist.)

Brown, E., Effron, L, and Karlinsky, N. (23 October 2014). How to get away with identity theft. ABC News. Retrieved from 

KREM (26 October 2014). Woman arrested for rash of N. Spokane vehicle break-ins. KREM 2 CBS News. Spokane, WA. Retrieved from 

Pulkkinen, L. (9 November 2014). Prosecutor: Car-prowling trio hit dozens of cars at Seattle-area parks. Seattle PI, Seattle, WA. Retreived from 

Sowell, J. (24 October 2014). 'Felony lane' gang of thieves strikes in Boise. Idaho Statesman. Retrieved from 

November 6, 2014

Emergency Management: Where to get training and experience?

After the horrific incidents in the United States on September 11, 2001 and the deadly destruction left behind in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, emergency management became a primary focus in the homeland security arena. Is this just another buzzword? 

emergency management security checks matter posterNo, emergency management is not just another buzzword loosely thrown around. The two mentioned events were catalyst to major US Government reform and legislation strengthening emergency management requirements from federal to local levels.

What is emergency management?
Emergency management deals with the management of risk to protect life, minimize property loss, and limit environment damage. According to the Maine Emergency Management Agency's website, its mission is to protect "by coordinating and integrating all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters." (2008) At the basis of emergency management, it looks at protecting vital assets from a list of  varied threats and hazards that could likely strike, which sounds very similar to the primary purpose of security. Because of this connection, it is only natural that emergency management and security go hand and hand and become intertwined. The five pillars of emergency management (prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery) often blend over to the principles of security (deter, detect, delay, and respond).

Within the past few years, more and more I see multiple security officer job announcements requiring some type emergency management background. This will likely to continue as businesses and government agencies look to streamline and reduce overhead expenses. If you are in the security field, it would be to your advantage to look at expanding your emergency management knowledge if you have not already. I highly encourage it.

Training opportunities. 
There are various of college and for-profit institutions offering emergency management training and certification, but paying for classes is not always necessary. Education does not always require money. If you already have a rather extensive security background, you may be able to expand your knowledge with the free online courses offered below. 
Where can you gain Emergency Management (EM) experience to go along with your training? Volunteering for the Red Cross provides a great opportunity for you to gain worthwhile experience while helping out and preparing your community. It sounds like a great win-win to me! Volunteer opportunities are a way to freely gain valuable experience to easily help boost your job resume.  Check out the Red Cross' website at to learn how you can connect to find valuable volunteer opportunities in your local area. This is the route I am taking in trying to expand my experience and to professionally develop myself. Since my current position will not provide me the opportunity, I looked to help out my local Red Cross chapter, which happened to be looking at revamping their disaster recovery and emergency management program. They are very thankful for any amount of time I give and I get to apply newly learned emergency management principles.  

Emergency Management Institute (2013). IS-1.A: Emergency manager: An orientation to the position. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Retrieved from

Maine Emergency Management Agency (2008) What is emergency management? Retrieved from 

November 2, 2014

Thanksgiving Security Poster

November is here, which means the Thanksgiving holidays will quickly be upon us. In this post, we have some Thanksgiving themed security posters that could be added to any security awareness program for some seasonal flair. 

security checks matter thanksgiving security poster