August 22, 2015

Online Security

Scammers, hackers, and identity thieves are looking to steal your personal information and your money. There are steps you can take to protect yourself, like keeping your computer software up-to-date and giving out your personal information only when you have a good reason.

Use Security Software That Updates Automatically

Scammers, hackers, and identity thieves constantly develop new ways to attack your computer, so your security software must be up-to-date to protect against the latest threats. Most security software can update automatically; set yours to do so. You can find free security software from well-known companies. Also, set your operating system and web browser to update automatically.

Don't buy security software in response to unexpected pop-up messages or emails, especially messages that claim to have scanned your computer and found malware. Scammers send messages like these to try to get you to buy worthless software, or worse, to "break and enter" your computer.

Treat Your Information Like Cash

Your Social Security number, credit card numbers, and bank and utility account numbers can be used to steal your money or open new accounts in your name. So every time you are asked for your personal information — whether in a web form, an email, a text, or a phone message — think about whether you can really trust the request. In an effort to steal your information, scammers will do everything they can to appear trustworthy.

Consider obtaining a credit card to dedicate for online and daily use and request a low available balance that matches your weekly or monthly spending habits. If your account information is stolen and used fraudulently any charges to the card over the spending limit will be denied. Most credit card companies also let you set up text or email alerts to notify you of charges that are made over a set amount.

Check Out Companies to Find out Who You're Really Dealing With

When you're online, a little research can save you a lot of money. If you see an ad or an offer that looks good to you, take a moment to check out the company behind it. Type the company or product name into your favorite search engine with terms like "review," "complaint," or "scam." If you find bad reviews, you'll have to decide if the offer is worth the risk. If you can't find contact information for the company, take your business elsewhere.

Don't assume that an ad you see on a reputable site is trustworthy. The fact that a site features an ad for another site doesn't mean that it endorses the advertised site, or is even familiar with it.

Give Personal Information Over Encrypted Websites Only

If you're shopping or banking online, stick to sites that 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, the entire account could be vulnerable. Look for https on every page of the site you're on, not just where you sign in.

Many phone and tablet apps are not secure and there is really no way to insure that they are. When banking or conducting sensitive business, use your phone or tablet's web browser and check for https security.

Protect Your Passwords

Here are a few principles for creating strong passwords and keeping them safe:
  • The longer the password, the tougher it is to crack. Use at least 10 characters; 16 is ideal for most home users.
  • Mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Try to be unpredictable — don't use your name, birthdate, or common words.
  • Don't use the same password for accounts. If it's stolen from you — or from one of the companies with which you do business — it can be used to take over all your accounts.
  • Never share your passwords with anyone. Legitimate companies will not send you messages asking for your password. If you get such a message, it's probably a scam.
  • Set up software like browsers and phone apps to require a password each time you login. Turn off and never use any "remember my password" features.
  • If you print them out or write them down keep your passwords in a secure place, out of plain sight.
  • Use 2-step login verification for online accounts if it is available. When you login you can get either a text message or a voice message with a verification code that is required to complete the login process. It's unlikely that a scammer will have access to the device required to get your verification code.

Back Up Important Files

No system is completely secure. Copy important files onto a removable disc, an external hard drive, or jump drive, and store it in a safe place — you can also use a secure cloud drive. If your computer is stolen or compromised, you'll still have access to your files.

Cloud drives have varying degrees of security. Some are notoriously insecure. You need to research your options and choose the one that best fits your personal security plan.

August 14, 2015

Guns and Safety

Guns are a controversial subject, but that doesn't change the fact that everyone needs to know about guns to be safe if they are around. You can be certain that even if you don't have a gun someone you know probably does.

Whether you have one or not and no matter what your opinions are regarding guns, they must be acknowledged as representing a potential danger to you and others whenever they are present.

Guns and Kids

The fact its that guns are kept in many households. That's why it's important to educate kids of all ages about the potential dangers of guns, and what to do if they find one.

If you keep a gun in your house and kids are around, it's vital to keep it out of sight and out of reach of kids. It's best that the gun should be kept locked and unloaded, and the ammunition should be stored separately.

Guns and Pretend Play

Allowing kids to play with toy guns is a personal decision, as is how to respond to a child's pretend shooting action during the course of play. Remember that even if you don't allow your kids to have a toy gun, their friends may have them. So spend time to teach your kids that real guns — unlike toy guns or those shown on TV, in movies, or in video games — can seriously injure or even kill a person.

Talking to Kids About Gun Safety

Teach kids of all ages to follow these rules if they come into contact with a gun:

  • Stop what they're doing.
  • Do not touch the gun.
  • Leave the area where the gun is.
  • Tell an adult right away.

It's particularly important for kids to leave the area to avoid being harmed by someone who doesn't know not to touch the gun. A child as young as 3 years old has the finger strength to pull a trigger. It's also important for kids to tell an adult right away about a gun that has been found.

If You Have a Gun in Your Home

Many kids are raised with guns in the home, particularly if hunting is a part of family recreation. If you keep a gun in the home, it's your job to teach your kids to act in a safe and responsible way around it. To ensure the safest environment for your family:

  • Take the ammunition out of the gun.
  • Lock the gun and keep it out of reach of kids. Hiding the gun is not enough.
  • Lock the ammunition and store it apart from the gun.
  • Store the keys for the gun and the ammunition in a different area from where you store household keys. Keep the keys out of reach of children.
  • Lock up gun-cleaning supplies, which are often poisonous.
  • When handling or cleaning a gun, adults should never leave the gun unattended.

Safe and Responsible Gun Handling

If you have a gun, each and every time you take a gun out of storage or handle a gun you should ALWAYS follow these four rules for safe gun handling. You want these rules to be natural habits; holding yourself to them each and every time helps make them so.

1. Treat every firearm as if it's loaded.
Even if you're absolutely certain a gun is unloaded don't change the way you handle it. ALWAYS assume the gun is loaded and ready to fire.

2. Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.
Accept the mindset to always keep your gun pointed in a direction that would safely stop the bullet should it discharge. If you will be cleaning or handling your unloaded gun at home, find a safe direction ahead of time, because bullets penetrate floors, ceilings, windows, roofs, and walls. Good options miught be masonry, a full bookcase, a full freezer, or downward if you're on the ground floor. Best might be a five gallon bucket full of sand.

3. Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
You are responsible for the entire path of every bullet you fire from your gun. If you hit your intended target, the bullet may still continue through.

4. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target and ready to fire.
This means to keep your trigger finger straight, and to raise it up to rest flat alongside the body of your gun. Whenever you are not on target and ready to fire, your trigger finger should always be outside the trigger guard and resting straight and flat alongside the body of your gun.

August 1, 2015

Doing Crime Watch

Every resident of the L Streets Neighborhood can do Crime Watch. It starts individually by making a conscious choice to take action when needed for the protection of people and property. For each person that makes that choice, L Streets Crime Watch grows, eventually becoming a significant number of like-minded people.

If you make a conscious choice to take action when needed for the protection of people and property, doing Crime Watch is about these three things:

  • Being willing to call 9-1-1.
  • Being observant.
  • Being in communication.

Being In Communication

This is about the third Crime Watch fundamental, being in communication. In other posts we have covered the two other fundamentals, being willing to call 9-1-1 and being observant. You can review that info in the L Streets News Crime Watch Tips Archive:

Most of us have to work at being good active communicators, however if the goal is something like safety for ourselves and others it may be a bit easier for us to do. Here are some things that may help you be a better and more active communicator when it comes to Crime Watch:

  • Get to know your neighbors that live around you. At least share contact info. Then you can let each other know if something is happening after the 9-1-1 call that you've made.
  • Remember that it's not "being nosy" to be familiar with your neighbors' habits and vehicles — instead, it alerts you when something is out of the ordinary.
  • Let your neighbors know if you'll be away and the best way to get in touch with you. Remember to make sure they know if someone is dropping by to check up on your place while you're away or house sitting.
  • Don't think about it and try to decide if you should make a 9-1-1 call. Just make the call. Don't worry that you're bothering the police or about being wrong if your suspicions turn out to be unfounded. Think about what might happen to people or property if you don't act.
  • Social Media like Facebook and Nextdoor L Streets are two ways you can be a be a part of a community that is larger than just the L Streets Neighborhood and at the same time communicate with all that are there participating from the L Streets. Know that sometimes there is a lot of "noise" to filter out and that everyone there has their own opinions and version of things, but social media can be a valuable source of information about what is going on around us.

About getting to know your neighbors. That may be easier said than done. If it is difficult for you it may help to think of it in another way, "If my barn is on fire I don't care who helps me put it out." Now our L Streets "barn" is not on fire, but hopefully you get the gist of that sentiment. The Crime Watch version could be, "If a criminal is after me or my property I don't care who calls 9-1-1."

July 24, 2015

Robbers Are Equal Opportunity Criminals

From the National Crime Prevention Council this is info reproduced from the brochure Robbers Are Equal Opportunity Criminals.

Most of these tips may seem like common sense. But if you follow them you may ward off an encounter with a robber. If you are unfortunate enough to be accosted, stay calm and comply with the robber's instructions. In most situations it isn't worth it to fight back. Then, when he or she is gone and you are safe, call 9-1-1 as soon as you are able.

It isn't that robbers are around every corner. But they do take us by surprise and they can target anyone. The FBI defines robbery as "the taking or attempting to take anything of value under confrontational circumstances from the control, custody, or care of another person by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear of immediate harm."

That's a pretty grim definition. However, there are lots of things you can do to reduce your chances of being robbed and there are ways to react while being robbed and after. The most important thing to do in all circumstances is give the robber what he or she wants: don't fight back and risk your life. It simply isn't worth it.

Personal Safety Tips for the Street
  • Don't walk alone late at night or during early morning hours. Instead, walk in groups whenever you can—there is safety in numbers.
  • Let a family member or friend know your destination and your estimated time of arrival or return. That way, the law enforcement can be notified as quickly as possible if there is a problem.
  • Stay in well-lighted areas as much as possible. Avoid alleys, vacant lots, wooded areas, and shortcuts or secluded areas.
  • Wear clothes and shoes that give you freedom of movement.
  • Don't talk to strangers.
  • If you are wearing headphones, don't turn up the volume so high that you cannot hear outside noises.
  • Never hitchhike or accept rides from strangers.
  • If someone or something makes you uneasy, avoid the person or leave.
  • Don't display expensive jewelry in public.
  • Know the neighborhoods where you live and work.
  • Check out the locations of police and fire stations, public telephones, hospitals, and restaurants or stores that are open late.
Personal Safety Tips for Home
  • Don't allow strangers into your home, even if they are hurt or say they need help. Keep the door locked and call the police for them.
  • Don't advertise that you live alone.
  • Don't be afraid to call law enforcement to investigate suspicious circumstances, unusual people, or strange noises. It's better to be safe than sorry.
  • When you move into a new home or apartment, change the locks if you own it or ask the manager to change them if you rent.
  • Don't leave notes on your door announcing when you will be home.
  • Keep outdoor lights on at night.
  • If you arrive home and your door is open or things appear to be out of place, don't go in. Leave and call 9-1-1.
  • If you are accosted by a robber, follow his or her instructions.
  • Don't argue or attempt to fight with your assailant.
Automobile Safety
  • Always park in well-lighted areas.
  • Always be alert to people just sitting in their cars.
  • If you are alone at a shopping mall, ask a security guard to escort you to your car.
  • After checking around your car, enter it quickly and lock all the doors. Teach your children to enter and exit the car quickly.
  • If your car is bumped in traffic, don't get out of the car. Use your cell phone to call 911. Many times carjackers use this technique so that they can overpower you and steal your car.
  • The last thing you should do is argue or fight with a carjacker. You could be seriously injured or killed. It isn't worth it.
  • Never agree to be kidnapped. Either drop the keys or throw them away from the car as far as you can. When the carjacker goes for the keys, get out of there as fast as you can.
Automated Teller Machine (ATM) Tips
  • Try to use machines you are familiar with and try to use terminals located inside banks rather than independent terminals.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Look around before conducting a transaction. If you see anyone or anything suspicious, cancel your transaction and go to another ATM.
  • If you must use an ATM after hours, make sure it's well-lighted.
  • Never walk away from an ATM with cash still in hand. If you are going to count your money, do so at a secure spot.

July 17, 2015

Recognizing Suspicious Activity

This information about signs of suspicious activity comes from Dallas Police Department training materials. It is focused on what to be aware of while on a patrol, but it does provide all of us with some ideas we may not have thought about.

What is Suspicious Activity?

"Am I witnessing a crime?" Most of us have found ourselves wondering this at some time or other. However, because we are not really sure, we tend to hope it wasn't something bad and continue about our business. PEOPLE AREN'T SUSPICIOUS, BUT ACTIVITY MIGHT BE!
Here are some signs of suspicious activity:
  • Unusual noises, including gunshots, screaming, sounds of fighting, barking dogs, or anything suggesting foul play, danger, or illegal activity.
  • A person running would be suspicious if he or she were looking about furtively, as if he or she were being watched or chased.
  • A stranger carrying property at an unusual hour or location, especially if the items are television sets, stereo equipment, office machinery, a locked bicycle, or lawn care equipment.
  • A person going door-to-door in an office building or a residential area may be looking for an opportunity to steal.
  • A stranger trying to gain entry into a residence, especially through a rear entrance, garage door, or window.
  • Any person forcibly entering a locked vehicle, especially at night and in a driveway, is highly suspicious.
  • Property in vehicles. This may not be suspicious unless the property is of an unusual nature: television sets, stereo equipment, lawn care equipment, or auto parts. Possible significance: could be stolen property.
  • Transactions being conducted from vehicles, especially near schools or parks. You may be witnessing an illegal drug sale or sale of stolen property.
  • One or more persons sitting in a parked car closely scanning the area around them may be lookouts for a burglary or robbery in progress, or for a crime being planned.
  • Certain moving vehicles, such as vehicles moving slowly, running without lights, or one that keeps passing the same area. It could be casing a building or house to burglarize, someone pushing drugs, or someone planning another crime such as a robbery, kidnapping, or sex offense.
  • A person (especially a juvenile or female) being forced into a vehicle may be a kidnapping.
  • A person exhibiting unusual mental or physical symptoms may have been injured in an accident, be under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medications, or otherwise need medical or psychiatric assistance.

You Can Protect People and Property

When you observe suspicious or criminal activity it should be reported by calling 9-1-1 as soon as you are able. Anything that seems slightly "out of place" or is happening at an unusual time of day might be criminal activity. Don't worry that you're bothering the police or about being embarrassed if your suspicions prove to be unfounded. Think about what might happen to people or property if you don't act.