Apr16

Secure Your Trash Cans, Secure Your Identity

by Erica Mace on April 16, 2018

Trash Cans

 

When was the last time you asked Siri or Google a question? Whether you were searching for a random fact or something slightly more important, many of us expect the internet to provide us with limitless information. What we’d often like to deny, however, is how much of our personal information is also tangled up in the world wide web.

We use our credit cards online, receive paperless utility bills, post our location on social media, and log in to our bank accounts from any conceivable smart device. So whether you’d like to admit it or not, your personal information is out there, and it’s hard to know just how secure that information really is. It’s enough to make many consumers worry about identity theft and fraud, and if you’ve lost some sleep thinking about it, you’re not alone.

Though the internet does present some security risks for your personal information, here’s something you may not have considered: many of your risk factors for identity theft aren’t online. Often enough, it isn’t a data leak or a mysterious hacker that causes the headache and stress of identity theft— it’s a trash digger.

Don’t believe me? It’s a common misconception that a suspicious character snooping around your house probably wants your jewelry, medications, or even your TV, but in reality, your personal information is much more valuable than material things. One survey of Australian residents identified, “personal records (75%) and personal computers/laptops (69%) as the two items they would be most concerned about being stolen.”

And concern over losing personal records is valid because it really does happen, either as a result of burglary or because of improper disposal of documents. If you really want to protect yourself, you may need to reconsider how you define “valuables” and make a new plan to protect them.

So how can your trash endanger your identity? Jim Stickley describes how he used a man’s household trash to access his company’s financial database. Stickley is paid by large companies to find their security flaws, and he warns not to underestimate what people can find out about you from your trash. According to Stickley, “There is big business for identity thieves in personal garbage.”

Think about it: when you toss a credit card statement, a hospital bill, or even some junk mail, you’re filling your recycling bin with valuable personal information. And though the legality of trash digging is questionable, it still happens. Those papers intended for the sorting center or landfill could easily end up in the hands of a thief, leaving you vulnerable for identity fraud.

So how can you protect yourself from trash diggers and dumpster divers? Secure your recycling bins and garbage cans.

Amazon offers a variety of trash protection products, like combination locks and weather-tested straps, which deter thieves, cats, and racoons. Physically protecting your trash can or dumpster can save you time and money, so consider investing in some simple preventative gadgets.

Another way to boost the security of your trash can and any discarded documents is to invest in a security system with exterior cameras. There are plenty of options out there, and most can be custom fitted to your home, giving you eyes on anything that might be of interest to thieves, including your trash can. Monitor your property day and night with a good set of cameras, and you’ll protect yourself against much more than identity theft. Not only will your trash go unbothered, but you’ll discourage burglars from targeting your home, helping to protect all the personal information you didn’t throw away.

Finally, there is something else you can do to protect your personal information before you bag it up and throw it out—shred it. With over 9,000 reviews on Amazon, paper shredders like this one will cross cut your important documents, even shredding your old credit cards.  Don’t waste your time ripping all those ads and old bills by hand, especially considering how ineffective that practice is for protecting your information. Jim Stickley, the expert identity thief, even said “When I find documents that have been torn by hand, I take them home and give them to my 7-year-old son and tell him it’s a puzzle. He always puts them back together.”

You might not be able to control all the information on the ever-expanding internet, but you can protect your personal information at home by securing your garbage and recycling cans. With the right gadgets, a good security system, and a paper shredder for personal documents, you can protect yourself and your family from identity theft and fraud. Do you have other tips and ideas for protecting your personal information? Join our community now and share your thoughts.

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Apr4

Young girl using smart phone,Social media concept.

 

The explosion of social media has enabled the almost instantaneous spread of information. Apps like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram—among others—are valuable tools for mobilizing thoughts and actions. They allow people to maintain networks and associations that might otherwise be lost. However, it is not without its dangers.

Social media has now existed long enough for police to analyze its data. After they are caught, many criminals share how social media played a role. In fact, over 75% of convicted burglars believe social media is used to find targets. The following are the three most common property crimes, how social media enables them, and how to protect yourself.

  1. Burglary

Burglary is the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft. The most common example is when someone enters a home or business with the intention of robbing them. Nearly four out of five burglars choose their victims using clues from social media.

When you post a picture of your expensive electronics, gun collection, or fancy jewelry, you are only making yourself a target. Depending on your security settings, the location settings from your cell phone may even indicate where you live. Add a post about how excited you are for your weeklong vacation coming up on Saturday and you’ve shown a burglar what to steal, where to get it, and when your house will be empty. How are you supposed to enjoy your trip knowing what an easy target you’ve made yourself?

How to Protect Yourself

The good news is there are simple ways to minimize your risk of being a target. Invest in at least a basic alarm system to ensure your house is always being monitored by professionals. In addition to an alarm system, follow these social media rules:

  • Post pictures from your vacations after you’ve returned home. If you do it before or during, you’re advertising the vacancy of your home.
  • Change your privacy settings. Keep all of your pictures and posts private and don’t accept invitations from people you don’t know and trust.
  • Minimize the details you share. Don’t offer more information than is necessary. When you share details about your life, leave out when, where, and how long your activities are.

By following those rules, you minimize your chances of becoming a target. Take proper care of your home so you don’t become a crime of opportunity by doing the following:

  • Lock doors and windows when you are away from home.
  • Keep valuables out of plain sight. Put things away.
  • Have someone you trust collect mail and packages while you are away so they don’t build up.
  • Never share your garage code or hide keys in obvious places like under a door mat.
  1. Motor Vehicle Theft

This is obviously the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle such as a car, motorcycle, or trailer. This is a relatively common crime in the most dangerous cities in the U.S. The outline for stealing a car is similar to robbing a home; thieves identify what they want to steal and when is the best time. The more predictable your parking patterns are, the easier a target you become.

How to Protect Yourself

When you post pictures of your new ride or its impressive stereo system, you are giving opportunistic criminals ideas. Follow your instincts when you are parking your car or leaving it for extended periods of time. Avoid dark places and look for highly trafficked areas where thieves won’t be able to take their time. Supplement your instincts with these tips:

  • Change your routine frequently. Avoid parking in the same place every time you run an errand. If you don’t have an established pattern then thieves won’t be able to reliably plan on when to steal your car.
  • Don’t post pictures of your car in front of your house. You don’t want people to know where they can find your parked car every night.
  • Park in a garage as often as you can. That may mean you need to clean out a lot of your stuff or find a new place to store it but it’s worth it. Out of sight and out of mind. Remove your car from even being a temptation for thieves.
  • Keep valuables hidden so nobody walks by and sees a reason to break in.
  1. Larceny

Larceny is the theft of personal property such as a wallet or a bicycle. A common example of this is when someone steals a brand-new cellphone. Property crime was the top reported criminal act in 2016.

How to Protect Yourself

The first step for a potential thief is identifying something to steal. Don’t make it easy for them. Avoid posting pictures of anything worth stealing. Keep your valuable possessions private. Stay alert and aware of your surroundings by following these guidelines:

  • Walk swiftly and with a purpose. Don’t casually stroll as you make your way through crowded areas.
  • Keep your wallet or purse out of sight as much as possible. Keep them close to you and maintain a firm grip. Limit the number of valuable things you keep on you. Only take what you are going to use.
  • Avoid texting and walking or listening to headphones as you travel. Eliminate distractions and analyze your surroundings every few minutes.
  • Avoid posting routes where you run or walk. Don’t advertise when you will be outside alone.

 

Burglars and thieves are becoming more resourceful. If you make yourself a more difficult target, thieves will move on. Follow these tips to protect yourself.

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Apr2

How Do Burglars Decide Which Homes to Target?

by Erica Mace on April 2, 2018

Open window

Tips for Protecting Your Home from Burglars

In 2016, there were nearly eight million property crimes in the US, resulting in $15.6 billion worth of losses. If you’ve ever wondered how burglars decide which homes to target, read on. We dive into this subject and provide you with all the information you need to reduce your risk of falling victim to property crimes.

 

What a Burglar Looks For

Most thieves target homes that look easy to break into. They often pick a house by surveilling the neighborhood and finding the one with the most predictable patterns of when people come and go. They also look for properties in more rural or isolated parts of the neighborhood, and houses that are well maintained or have fancy cars in the driveway.

Former police officer Alexia A. Chianis says, in her experience, burglars look for the easiest way in: through an open window, an unlocked door, or even a pet door (though seeing a dog on the premises can deter a potential burglar). Most burglars enter houses through those entry points as well as the front door, the back door, or the garage.

When a Burglar Is Most Likely to Strike

Burglars want their jobs to be as easy as possible, so if they know you leave for work at 8 a.m. every day and don’t return until 6 p.m., they’re most likely to strike when you’re gone. Summer is the high season for break-ins because many people take summer vacations while their kids are out of school. Many people go on vacations over the major holidays, too, making their homes prime targets for theft.

Savvy burglars pay attention to what you’re posting on social media. Many people love to post pictures and status updates while they’re enjoying their time away, but these insights make your home a prime target for a break-in.

How Burglars Break In

If you leave a door or window unlocked, it’s easy for a burglar to walk right into your home. And a glass front door may look lovely, but thieves can smash the glass, then simply reach in and unlock the door to get into your house.

A burglar can also pull out your window-based air conditioner and climb through the open space. Others will bring tools such as a crowbar, a credit card, or a bump key. A bump key is like a skeleton key and enables a burglar to pick your lock quickly.

How to Burglarproof Your Home

You likely have precious valuables, family heirlooms, and other priceless (or at least meaningful) objects you’d like to keep for years to come, so how do you prevent your home from being burglarized?

The best way to help protect your home from burglars is to install a home security system. Just putting a security sign in your yard can be a deterrent, but a full system is more beneficial. For example, if an alarm goes off when your door or window opens, chances are low that a criminal will continue breaking in to your house. With security cameras, you can keep an eye on your home from anywhere with a live video feed to your mobile device, allowing you and the security company to react quickly if there is a break-in.

Try these other tips as well:

  • Install a steel or metal security door, and make sure you lock it, even if you’re just playing in the backyard with your kids.
  • Don’t leave your pet door open when you aren’t home.
  • Find a good hiding place for your spare key, away from your door or in a lockbox.
  • Put your valuables in a safe and never leave the safe by a window.
  • Double-check your windows regularly to make sure they’re locked.
  • Keep your garage doors locked.
  • Install motion-activated lights around your property.
  • Put up a “Beware of Dog” sign, even if you don’t have a dog.
  • Secure your window air conditioner or put it in an upper-floor window.
  • Don’t give burglars a place to hide—avoid tall shrubs next to your house.
  • Change the locks immediately if you’ve just moved into a new house.

If you’re going on vacation, take these extra precautions:

  • Set up timers for the lights in your house.
  • Hire a house sitter or ask a friend or family member to stop by regularly.
  • Have the post office hold your mail.
  • Don’t post vacation photos on social media until you get back.

 

Thinking about someone breaking into your home can be scary, but the more protected your house seems to be, the less likely a burglar is going to take an interest in it. Whether it’s triple-checking your windows and doors or just being a little quieter about your big vacations, taking a few precautions can go a long way in keeping your home (and your valuables) safe.

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