Month: March 2016

IRS Email? Definitely not!

With tax day approaching it’s important to have your scam-dar raised and alert. That’s scam-dar as in scam radar, as in don’t fall prey to these ploys.

If you receive an email the looks very official from the IRS, trust me, it’s not from the IRS. It may sound threatening and most likely will ask for information, or demand that you call a number to clear up some matter. Just delete the message. You will get a mailing from the IRS if they have a real issue with you.

The same holds true for telephone calls. These can sound even more threatening. And if the scammer is good they will trick your phone so that the caller-ID reads “IRS”. Please, just hang up. The IRS does not call for collections or past taxes due.

If you really feel concerned about any email or call, you can phone the IRS and ask if they have any issues to be resolved with your account. Just make sure you find the real IRS number, not the number in an email or given to you by a caller on the phone.

You can read more about IRS scams here.

Evil Barbie. Bad TV. Everything is Listening.

Barbie received a lot of good publicity lately over her new body types. Another addition to the Barbie family is the Hello Barbie doll. Think of it as Siri in a Barbie. The doll listens and responds to your child. The problem is that Barbie, when on, is always listening and sending everything your child says to some cloud based server over Wi-Fi and the internet which makes all the things your child says vulnerable to hacking. You can read about some of the vulnerabilities here.

And then there is that smart TV sitting not so benignly in your living room or bedroom. In the interest of making TVs, and other devices, easier to use, voice control is increasing being built in. Like Barbie, the TV is always listening to you, and by listening, I mean it is recording your every word and sending it across the internet for processing. Additionally, more TVs are coming with built-in cameras. Furthermore, your TV can be hacked.

Here’s an article about Samsung TVs and how to disable the voice control. For TVs with a camera, a piece of tape is a great low-cost solution.

And speaking of devices listening to everything, you may have seen some articles about Amazon’s Echo, a small device that acts like a personal assistant. As with Barbie and the TVs, these devices are always listening in some capacity, unless you explicitly turn them off. One side-effect is that the devices are also listening to each other. If your radio is on, for instance, the Echo does not know that it is not you speaking. Read about the real-life consequences of that here, it’s kind of funny in a what-else-could-go-wrong way.

Let’s Talk Contacts

Two things here: how to easily enter business card information into your address book, and how to clean up your contacts.

If you are like me, at meetings, networking groups or when introduced to a new interesting person, I collect business cards. Afterwards, it’s been a tedious task of entering this new contact information into my address book.

I am an Evernote user, and with Evernote, this task becomes super-easy. However, the feature I am going to describe requires Premium, and I do it on my phone.

First, you create a new Notebook titled “Business Cards”.

Next, you go to Settings -> General -> Camera -> Business Cards -> Turn on Save to Contacts.

You are now basically all set. Go to the Business Card notebook. Select new note and select Photo. Take a picture of the business card and it will figure out all the proper fields for you like magic. If anything is incorrect, or needs editing, you can do so before saving. And that is it. The business card is saved in Evernote and, more importantly, a new contact is created in your address book.

Now, what about all those duplicate contacts and contacts with missing information. I recently came across an app called Contacts Cleanup & Merge. There is a free version and it is easy to use. It looks at all your contacts and then groups them by issues like Duplicate Contacts, Duplicate Phones, Duplicate Email Address, etc. You can then go into each list and choose what action you want to take, like delete or merge or do nothing. There are many other programs that do similar tasks, including apps for the Mac, Android, and Windows.

One note of warning about this: whenever you give an app permission to view your contacts, it’s hard to know for sure if your contact information is or is not being used for some other purpose.

FBI vs Apple — The FBI Blew it!

The New York Times has reported on this issue, but otherwise, the FBI’s mistakes and Apple’s effort to initially help the FBI, has received little coverage.

(FYI, if you have an iPhone and it has a passcode, your data is automatically encrypted. If you don’t have a passcode here’s how to turn it on.)

As you most probably know, the FBI wants Apple to provide a method to unlock and decrypt an iPhone. If you own an iPhone, you also know that it can be backed up to iCloud. Apple told the FBI that they would not unlock the phone but if the phone were connected to Wi-Fi it could backup to iCloud and, as Walt Mossberg points out, iCloud data is accessable.

So what went wrong? The FBI thought they were smarter than Apple, thinking that if they changed the Apple ID password they could get access to the phone’s data. Wrong! Not only did this tactic fail but it then prevented the iPhone from backing up to iCloud, thus putting the FBI in the position of having no access to anything.

If you want to keep you iPhone data hidden from almost any possible hack (or FBI subpoena) then you should not backup your iPhone to iCloud. You should back it up to your computer, with encryption, using iTunes. Here’s how.

Mac Ransomware

I’ve written about ransomware in the past. Ransomware is malicious software that threatens to erase all your data if you do not pay money. Up until now, this has been a Windows problem.

The first known instance of Mac ransomware was reported here, here and here.

Although this seems pretty scary, and if you get attacked — it is, it’s of little risk to most people.

Firstly, the bad software was embedded in a program called Transmission which is used for streaming torrents. If you don’t know what a torrent or bit-torrent is, then you are probably safe. Torrents and software like Transmission are used for downloading content on the web like illegal music, movies and games (there are legal uses for it as well, but seriously, this is it’s primary purpose).

Second, Transmission has been cleaned and no longer contains the bad software.

Third, Apple issued a security update to block this bad software, which highlights the need to keep your operating system up to date. This is the main point I want to make: keep your OS and software up-to-date.

Printer Maintenance Tip

I do my best to run a paperless office. The only paperwork I have for my business is one folder for government notices. I do all my banking online, Quick Books for sales and expenses, and payroll is handled through the online service Gusto (check it out, it’s easy and great).

What this translates to is that I do not use my printer very often. When you don’t use your printer a lot, the print heads get dried out and clogged. If your ink levels are good and your printing looks terrible, this is usually the problem.

This issue is usually fixed by running the maintenance procedure to clean the heads. Most printers now have a small display where you can scroll to something titled Settings, Setup or Maintenance. Usually under this you can find a selection for cleaning the print heads. Select it and let it run. It usually takes a few minutes. Select print a report when it completes and you can visually inspect it for clean, clear printing. If it still does not look perfect, try running the cleaning procedure again. I’ve sometimes had to do this as many as three times before getting clear printing.