Shane Thomas

Identity Protection Services–Worth the Cost?

By | 2019, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

It feels like every other week another company announces that their systems were hacked and personal information has been stolen. We are then inundated with ads for identity theft protection services. Do these services really protect our personal information, and are they necessary?

(1) Identity theft protection companies promise to watch over our personal information, usually for a fee. Though many companies offer limited services for free, a service that provides alerts, watches all three credit bureaus, includes identity theft insurance, or offers identity restoration services often charge between $9 and $30 a month, depending on the services.

These services alert you to a potential problem so you can hopefully get it resolved before it gets out of hand. They may also provide restoration services, which can save you many hours and phone calls to clear up your name.

(2) You could monitor your own personal information by keeping an eye on your credit reports and tracking your credit score through various websites for free. This needs to be done often to be effective.

(3) The only thing that can truly help prevent identity theft is freezing your credit with each credit bureau: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. This helps prevent new loans or accounts in your name, and there is now no cost to do it. However, if you have a freeze on your credit and are applying for a loan (home, car, cell phone, etc.), it can take several days to “thaw” your credit before you can apply.

Are these services worth it? Well, it depends on your situation. Check with organizations that you are already doing business with. Costco, AAA, banks, credit unions, credit card companies, and the credit bureaus themselves offer free or discounted solutions. Whatever you choose to do, do something to watch your credit.

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Tax Scams Oh My!

By | 2019, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

The tax season is upon us, and there is no shortage of nefarious individuals looking to make money. Here is a list of potential scams to watch out for–not only during tax season but all of the time:

(1) Phishing emails – these are typically unsolicited emails sent to you posing as legitimate IRS emails. They may contain links taking you to fake websites that ask you to provide personal information. The IRS will never initiate contact with you via email or social media.

(2) Phone – beware of individuals calling and claiming they’re from the IRS. They may threaten you that you owe money and that you will be arrested. They may even say you are entitled to a large refund from the IRS.

Don’t be fooled if the Caller ID on your phone even says the IRS. They can spoof that information. These bad guys are that good. Don’t give them any information. Reach out to the IRS for assistance at IRS.gov.

(3) Tax return preparer fraud – during tax season these scammers pose as legitimate tax preparers. They often promise unreasonably large refunds. They take advantage of unsuspecting taxpayers by committing refund fraud or identity theft.

(4) Fake charities – scam artists sometimes pose as a charity in order to solicit donations. Often these appear after a natural disaster hoping to capitalize on the tragedy.

(5) Tax-related identity theft – this happens when an individual uses your Social Security number to claim your refund. This may not even be discovered until you try to file your return. The IRS may even send a letter to you indicating that they’ve identified a suspicious return.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of identity theft, the Identity Theft Resource Center offers free help and information to consumers at idtheftcenter.org.

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Become Cyber Aware

By | 2018, Money Moxie | No Comments

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is kicking off Cyber Security Awareness Month with the following online safety tips:

Always enable stronger authentication. Stronger authentication goes beyond a password to help verify that a user has authorized access. For example, multi-factor authentication can use a one-time code texted to a mobile device. For more information visit the Lock Down Your Login Campaign at

Make your passwords long and strong. Use complex passwords with a combination of numbers, symbols, and letters. Use unique passwords for different accounts and change them regularly, especially if you believe they have been compromised. Check out LastPass.com.

Keep a clean machine. Update the security software, operating system, and web browser on all of your devices. Updating software will prevent attackers from taking advantage of known vulnerabilities.

When in doubt, throw it out. Links in email and online posts are used by criminals to compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, delete it, don’t click on it.

Share with care. Limit the amount of personal information you share online and use privacy settings to avoid sharing information widely.

Secure your Wi-Fi network. Your home’s wireless router is the entrance for cybercriminals to your devices. Always change the factory-set password and username.

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Just for Women – Follow Up – Cybersecurity

By | 2017, Money Moxie | No Comments

The recent outbreak of the “WannaCry” ransomware confirms the responsibility each of us has to protect our personal information. In today’s world we use technology for photos, communication, transactions, and learning. Unfortunately, criminals are getting more sophisticated in their efforts to defraud us.

Stephen Olsen, FBI Special Agent, warned us to be vigilant in the use of electronic devices and gave us many tips to follow:

• Back up your data regularly on another drive. Then unplug the drive. If your backup drive is plugged in then it will be compromised along with your computer.

• Opening an email should be safe. However, links and attachments may not be. Its links may lead you to a nefarious site. Instead of clicking the link, go directly to the correct company website in your internet browser.

• If you were not expecting an email from a friend or associate, contact the sender to verify before opening any links or attachments. This may seem like overkill, but criminals are very adept at enticing unsuspecting victims to open links and attachments. One click could give them access to all your personal information. When in doubt, delete the email.

• Be diligent in creating and changing your passwords. They should be a minimum of eight characters. Use combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Use different passwords for your accounts. If you store the passwords on your computer, consider using a password management program instead.

• If you become the victim of a ransomware attack, do not pay the ransom. Criminals often don’t release your computer files after they receive your money and there is little recourse to get your money back.

Protect your personal information by keeping your computer software, including security software, current. Apply updates, upgrades, and patches when they are made available by the software vendor. Please call us with any questions.

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Ransomware Gets Personal

By | 2017, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

It was an ordinary Tuesday late afternoon for John Doe; catching up with friends and family on Facebook and sifting through his email before dinner. As he was scrolling, he noticed an email from an old acquaintance he hadn’t heard from in a while. Normally, John is hesitant to click on an email that is unfamiliar as he knows it typically is junk, but he hadn’t heard from this person in ages and was curious what the email was about. John clicked on the attachment and that is when the problems began.

When opened, the attachment appeared empty and didn’t include any information. John responded to his friend. While waiting for a reply, he noticed his computer was really slow and then a large pop window appeared on the screen with an ugly picture of a clown and the words, “Your computer files have been encrypted…you must pay the ransom or your files will be deleted.”

What just happened? John was hacked with a malicious file by cybercriminals under the guise that it came from someone he knew. He subsequently paid the ransom to the hackers to get his files back.

Does this happen often? Alarmingly, YES! Cybercriminals are no longer just going after companies, but individuals like you and me, and they are doing it at an alarming rate. These online scams infect your computer in different ways including opening email attachments, clicking on links in emails, or sometimes even visiting a valid website that has been compromised by cybercriminals.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from these attacks?

Backup all of your files religiously. Use an online backup that does it automatically for you like Backblaze, Crashplan, or Carbonite.

Ensure that you are doing updates on your computer for both Mac/Windows operating systems and the various software programs that you have installed including Java, Adobe Reader, Flash, etc. This will ensure that any vulnerabilities that have been discovered and pose a threat are eliminated.

Handle email with caution. Cybercriminals are getting better at disguising their phishing emails.

No matter how authentic the email looks, don’t open attachments or click on links inside unsolicited emails from friends, businesses, the IRS, or your bank. If it seems strange, call that person and verify they really sent you the file or link. Is it inconvenient? Yes, but it’s better than paying money or losing all of your files. It’ll be worth the extra precaution in the long run.

If you have been hit by ransomware, you have some difficult decisions to make. If your files are not backed up, you can either pay the cybercriminals for an encryption key to unlock them, or lose all the files and start over.

If your files are backed up with an online company, you can have someone help you wipe the hard drive and download your backup files. All of this takes time and is extremely inconvenient. It’s better to be cautious and verify the sender before clicking on attachments or links. If you are a victim of an attack, the FBI asks that you file a complaint through their IC3 site at IC3.gov.

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Don’t Make Yourself an Easy Target

By | 2015, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Identity theft seems to be always in the news and people want to make sure they are mitigating the risk.


Just this last week, a student at the University of Utah discovered he was the target of identity theft. The thief applied and was approved for multiple accounts in the victim’s name and was making purchases. The individual even updated bank information using a new email address he created, unbeknownst to the victim.

What can we learn from this?

  1. Shred anything with personal information.
  2. Check your credit report for suspicious activity.
  3. If you feel you have become a victim, place an immediate freeze on your credit. This prohibits someone from applying for a loan or credit card in your name until you remove the freeze.

Another place identity thieves love is the junk yard. They search through the wrecked and totaled vehicles that potentially contain mountains of papers that can be used to steal your identity.

KSL News recently investigated and found a lot of information that had unknowingly been left in vehicles: bank information, medical records, checkbooks, and tax information,1 all of which contained the perfect recipe for identity thieves: names, address, Social Security, and bank account numbers.

What can we do to make sure our vehicle isn’t a potential jackpot for identify thieves?

  1. Clean out your vehicle regularly.
  2. Don’t store sensitive documents in your vehicle.
  3. Double check all locations, i.e. console, glove box, trunk, and underneath seat, before selling or letting your vehicle be towed after an accident.

An additional item that must not be overlooked is your online presence. It seems like every website requires a login. Some ask for a user ID. Others want your email address. The password requirements differ: letters, numbers, special characters, or all three.

The best passwords are longer than 8 characters; include a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters; and are changed every 3 months.

How can you keep track of and secure your passwords?

  1. Memorize them.
  2. Write them down and keep the list secure.
  3. Use a phrase you can remember that is hard to guess. Add variations at the beginning or end.
  4. Have your Internet browser remember them.
  5. Use installed software that remembers them.

Do not make your passwords the same. If one of your logins is compromised, the hacker will try it on your other logins. Another tip: do not write them on a sticky note next to your computer.

We have had many clients ask us about purchasing an identity theft protection product like LifeLock, IDShield, or LegalShield. You can do many things they do for free to protect your identity, such as monitoring your bank accounts, credit card statements, and your credit reports. However, this can be time-consuming.

For a monthly fee, these services monitor your personal information and send you alerts if any suspicious or fraudulent activity ensues. Each of these differs in price and the services they provide.

If this is something you would like, do your homework and research them to find one that offers the right balance of features for the price you are willing to pay.

Identity thieves work around the clock. Unfortunately, they’ve made it their job. Follow these steps to make it harder and don’t make yourself an easy target.


1. Mike Headrick and Tania Mashburn, “Piles of Personal Data Discovered in Salvage Yards,” KSL.com, November 9, 2015.

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Untimely Disasters – How to Protect Your Home

By | 2015, Money Moxie | No Comments

Disasters are going to happen. There have been a number of them this year. Unfortunately, we don’t know when or what will happen next. It might be a forest fire, electrical fire, hurricane, tornado, flood, or earthquake. You can’t protect yourself from every disaster, but there are steps to help you put the odds in your favor.

Start by making a checklist of all the items you feel cannot be replaced. Save this list where it can be located quickly. This will help avoid an important item being left behind as your mind is racing during an emergency.

Examples of items for your list:

  • Home and auto insurance paperwork
  • Automobile titles
  • Healthcare information
  • Passports, marriage and birth certificates
  • Wills and trusts
  • Memorabilia, keepsakes, heirlooms
  • Photos (not already backed up digitally)
  • Statements: banking, mortgage, credit cards
  • Investments and retirement information
  • A few years of tax returns

Many of these are available online. Of the items that are not available digitally, scan them to your computer and save them on your home computer and in your backup location (preferably off site or in a fireproof safe).

If your home is destroyed, the insurance company will want a list of damaged items. The best way to do this is with pictures or video. Start with the exterior of the home and yard. Then move through each room, closet, and storage area. Label the pictures or videos and save them to your computer (and your backup). Remember to update as necessary.

This might be a good time to check with your insurance to make certain you have proper coverage to rebuild or repair your home in the event of a disaster. Go through scenarios that concern you to confirm you are covered. (Many policies do not cover floods or earthquakes.)

As we have seen, disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. Take time to be prepared should disaster regrettably strike.

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“Your Wallet Without the Wallet”

By | 2015, Newsletter | No Comments

The days of searching for your wallet are getting shorter now that Apple has introduced Apple Pay. There is convenience and security that comes by passing your iPhone over the payment terminal with your finger on the Touch ID sensor.

Apple Pay works with the newest iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, once you’ve stored your credit and debit cards inside of the Passbook app. Apple Pay is supported at over 700,000 locations across the U.S., with more added every day.2 Many iOS apps are also being updated to allow payments right from within an app.

Besides being easy to set up and use, Apple Pay makes payments more secure. This is welcomed news following the Target, Home Depot, and numerous other data breaches where millions of customers’ information was stolen.

Apple Pay is different. Its payments are made with a unique device number and a transaction-specific, dynamic security code.1 In other words, your credit card number is not shared with every merchant.

Of course, you have to be careful who you release your information to, but with Apple Pay that list can be much smaller.

You can secure your phone by using a passcode and the Touch ID fingerprint scanner. What if you lose your phone? You can remotely use Find My iPhone to locate it and put it in Lost Mode which suspends Apple Pay. You can also choose to wipe all data from the device.

If you haven’t used Apple Pay, give it a try. Take advantage of the security features and see if you can avoid continually searching for your wallet.

For those that are non-iPhone users, Google and Samsung have recently upgraded or are introducing new services to encourage mobile payments.3

At this time, your wallet is not completely useless, but it appears the end is in sight.

  1. https://www.apple.com/apple-pay/
  2. http://bgr.com/2015/03/12/apple-pay-coke-etsy-kickstarter-gamestop-marriott-jamba-juice/
  3. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/03/14/samsung-pay-vs-google-wallet-vs-apple-pay-drawing.aspx
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Do I Really Need A Backup?

By | 2014, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

The holiday season is upon us and with that comes gatherings of family and friends. Chances are there will be plenty of opportunities for pictures. Before you head over the hills or through the woods, take a moment and save the pictures you have taken with your camera to your computer.

Saving photos on your computer will free up space on your memory card to capture all the fun memories this time of year brings. For any of you that love to take pictures with your smartphones, remember to save those pictures off to your computer as well. You will be glad you did if your phone doesn’t make it through the season.

There are even options to have the images stored in the cloud as a backup.

It’s also a good time of year to make sure all your other files are being backed up. Can you afford to lose everything on your hard drive?

It’s not a question of if your computer hard drive will crash, but when.

There are many ways to back up your important documents and pictures from your computer. You can purchase an external hard drive and have it automatically backup the requested files or you could use a cloud service like Backblaze or Crashplan.

There are pros and cons to purchasing a hard drive versus using a cloud service; however, the most important thing is to back up your information and have it be automatic. If you have to think about doing it, it won’t happen. Feel free to call us if you have any questions.

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Passwords, Hacked!

By | 2014, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Nearly every website you visit wants you to create a login and password. Unfortunately, passwords are the only type of security that most sites are using to verify your identity. So if you want to protect your personal information then you need to make a habit of creating extremely strong passwords.

Some sites want the password to include letters and numbers. Others add the option of special characters. A good password is longer than 12 characters, and includes a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. It should also be updated or changed every 3 months.

An example of a secure password could be: Xvot$Put=qi3. If that sounds complicated, then we’re on the right track. The more complicated, the harder it will be to crack.


That sounds great, but how do you keep track of all these logins and passwords AND still keep them secure? There are several ways to do this and it all depends on your personal preference. Some of these suggestions are more secure than others. You can:

Memorize them all.

Write them all down in a notepad that you keep somewhere secure.

Use a phrase you can remember, but would be hard for others to guess.

Have your Internet browser remember them all.

Use a third party installed software on your computer that remembers them all for you.

Install an App on your smartphone that generates/remembers passwords for you.

Do NOT use the same password with multiple logins. If one of your logins is compromised, the hacker could try it on any of your other logins with success. Take the time to make good passwords and change them every three months to try to avoid getting hacked. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.

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