How to avoid ATM Thefts

Here’s one way to stay a step ahead of the thieves. If you have your ATM card eaten by the ATM machine, it may be you’ve used the wrong PIN too many times. Or, it may be something else.

Thieves have made “traps” out of X-RAY film – it’s the same black color as the slots on ATM’s. 

This trap is then inserted into the ATM slot.

Once the ends are firmly glued and fixed to the slot, it is almost impossible to detect by unsuspecting clients.

The idea is for the thief to wander up, pretend to help you when your card is stuck by telling you that he can recover the card, if you enter your PIN at the same time the thief presses “cancel” and “enter”.  He’s only too happy to lend the extra set of hands while he eyeballs your PIN. Your card, of course, stays stuck; you leave and he recovers the card and now has your PIN to play with.

Bottom line is, if your ATM card is stuck and you’re really not sure why, contact the appropriate party for the specific circumstances – the bank or police -  from a safe location. Your natural inclination may be to keep the ATM with your card in view but keep in mind there may also be a safety issue with a thief, who may be lurking nearby.

Realize, if you’ve just forgotten your PIN and entered it incorrectly too many times, the bank is the place to start.

Thieves are Throwing a Party - Make Yourself Unavailable

Identity theft is usually a crime of opportunity, so you may be victimized simply because your information is available.  So, make yourself unavailable as much as possible. How do you do that?

While there’s no way to guarantee that you won’t be a victim of online identity theft, here’s how to minimize your risk:

Do business with reputable companies. Before providing any personal or financial information, make sure that you are interacting with a reputable, established company.

Take advantage of security features. Passwords and other security features add layers of protection if used appropriately as well as multi-factor authentication being added now to bank websites. Takes only a few minutes to activate and well worth the effort.

Be careful what information you publicize. It may be cool to have a Blog (an online diary, really). But keep your ego in check and avoid posting personal data in public forums.  Attackers may be able to piece together information from a variety of sources. 

Use and maintain anti-virus software and a personal firewall. Protect yourself against viruses and Trojan horses that may steal or modify the data on your own computer.

Finally, do pay attention to your bank, broker and credit card statements, and check your credit report yearly. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the main credit reporting companies once every twelve months (see for more information).

What does that padlock mean at the website?

Secure website use encryption and display a padlock icon in the status bar of most browsers.   If the company wants to have a secure web site that uses encryption, it needs to obtain a site, or host, certificate.

What can you do to make sure you trust the certificate? How do you check a certificate?

Clicking on the padlock might work but crooks have been able to phony up responses. A good way to find information about the certificate is to look for the certificate feature in the menu options of your browser.  You will get a dialog box with information about the certificate, including the following:

Check out Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7 which includes a new security enhancement that helps you identify malicious sites.  The address bar will turn red on sites that have some kind of security issue and green on sites that don’t.

What information was collected when I went to that website?

When you visit a web site, a certain amount of information is automatically sent to the site. This information may include the following:

If a web site uses cookies, the organization may be able to collect even more information, such as your browsing patterns.

If an attacker can access your computer, he or she may be able to find personal data stored in cookies. You may not realize the extent of the information stored in cookies until it is too late. However, you can limit the use of cookies:

To increase your level of security, consider adjusting your privacy and security settings to block or limit cookies in your web browser.  Some cookies are useful and help make your browsing experience better.

To make sure that other sites are not collecting personal information about you without your knowledge, choose to only allow cookies for the web site you are visiting; block or limit cookies from a third-party. When using a public computer, you should make sure that cookies are disabled to prevent other people from accessing or using your personal information.

An Update On Malware

Malware is short for “malicious software;” and it includes both viruses and spyware. says consumers can minimize the havoc malware can wreak, and reclaim their computers and electronic information.

Your computer may be infected with malware if it:

If you suspect malware is lurking on your computer, stop shopping, banking, and other online activities that involve user names, passwords, or other sensitive information. Malware on your computer could be sending your personal information to identity thieves.

Then, confirm that your security software is active and current: at a minimum, your computer should have anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall.

By the way, some scam artists distribute malware disguised as anti-spyware software. offers a list of security tools from legitimate security vendors. Certainly, resist buying software in response to unexpected pop-up messages or emails, especially ads that claim to have scanned your computer and detected malware.

Once you confirm that your security software is up-to-date, run it to scan your computer for viruses and spyware. Delete everything the program identifies as a problem.

If the problem persists after you exhaust your own ability to diagnose and treat it, you might want to call for professional help.

Keeping you safe in the digital age, online and off, I’m Gary Trapkus.

Where Have All The Smoky Bars Gone?

The smoky bar of previous generations has been replaced by social networking sites where you are connected to new people through people you already know. The purpose may be purely social, while others may focus on establishing business connections.

Generally, they all allow you to provide information about yourself and offer some type of communication mechanism  -  forums, chat rooms, email or instant messenger that enables you to connect with other users. On some sites, you can browse for people based on certain criteria.

In the bar you could protect yourself by eyeballing the person offering to buy you a drink – but how do you do that on the internet. A few quick tips.

Keeping you safe in the digital age, online and off, I’m Gary Trapkus.

When Nonsense Isn’t Nonsense

"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."

We quickly recognize the nonsense in the verse of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” but some of us are not as adept at recognizing the nonsense embedded in seductive emails and spam.

Here’s are two quick tips to – hopefully – help protect you if you have trouble decoding the intent of some of those ubiquitous emails with extravagant offers.

Finally, if you’re having trouble deciding, ask a friend you trust if the offer makes sense.

Keeping you safe in the digital age, online and off, I’m Gary Trapkus.