Everyday Tips from the ComputerMom 

December 2015
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Can you believe we are almost in 2016? I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving, and are looking forward to more festivities to come!

There's no getting around it - the shopping season is in full swing. With that in mind I've written a little guide with some tech gift ideas for you, and revised and updated my advice for shopping safely online. Also a warning, to watch out for phishing emails, which seem to be getting more and more sophisticated every day.

Wishing you all a wonderful, safe and warm holiday season, and a Happy New Year!

Julie Marto 

508-333-8176 (cell)

P.S. Don't forget to call me if you have any questions about computer/printer/tech purchases during the holiday season!
gift_box_red.jpg Tech Gift Ideas

The other day I got a call from a long-time client asking my opinion of a tech gift she wanted to give to her son. I didn't have a very high opinion of the product she was interested in, but it did give me the idea to write an article about some tech gifts everybody might enjoy, so here goes!
  • Portable battery charger - Who hasn't had their phone run out of charge at the worst possible time? A portable battery charger like this one from Amazon can bank several phone charges for up to 6 months, providing you with backup power when you don't have access to an electrical outlet.
  • Mini Bluetooth speaker - I bought my husband one of these last year, and my son immediately went and chose one for himself! A small, rechargeable Bluetooth speaker lets you easily share the music on your phone or iPod at a party or gathering, or listen to it yourself without a headset.
  • Subscription Backup Service - give the gift of peace of mind! An annual subscription to Carbonite, Mozy, or Crashplan ensures your precious pictures, documents, and other data remains safe even if your computer doesn't.
  • Video streaming device - a Roku, ChromeCast, Amazon Fire Stick, or Apple TV device allows you to watch Netflix and other streaming services from any TV in the house. You don't have to rely on pay subscription services to use these - my go-to channel to stream is the free PBS channel, where I watch my favorite documentaries from Nova and Nature on my own schedule!
Happy shopping one and all!
Shopping Safely Online (Revisited)

I originally published this article in 2012, but all of the information in it remains relevant. 

With the holiday season upon us, it's a good idea to review some basic safety tips for shopping online. I am often asked if it's "safe" to shop online, and I answer that it's probably safer than driving to the mall, as long as you follow these simple guidelines:

  • Always make sure you are using a secure website before you enter any personal information.  Check the address bar in your browser and make sure the web address starts with "https" not "http" and that somewhere on the web page there is a padlock symbol.  This means that any personal information you enter will be transmitted over the internet in a secure, encrypted format, rather than in an open, readable format.
  • Never use a debit card online.  Even though you should be safe shopping online if you follow the rest of my tips, there is always the chance that things will go wrong and your card information will be compromised.  If you use a credit card to shop, you have an entire billing cycle to straighten out any issues.  If you use your debit card and it is compromised, criminals can wipe out the entire balance of your checking account before you even know there is a problem.  Although your liability is limited if you report unauthorized transactions immediately, you can find yourself in a position where you are bouncing checks and without funds until the problem is resolved.
  • Buy from trusted merchants. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  Remember, Google is your best friend.  I often search online for a specific product and am presented with a long list of vendors sorted by price.  Frequently the least expensive options are from companies I have never heard of.  I always use Google or another search engine to do a quick investigation of the vendor and see if they are reputable or not.  This small extra step can save you from ordering a gift that will never arrive, or worse, giving your personal information to a crook.
  • Create a separate email address just for shopping. You need to get email communications from merchants about your orders, and you might want to hear about future sales or promotions.  But who wants their personal email inbox cluttered with that type of communications?  Also, less scrupulous online sales sites sometimes sell your information to spammers, or leave email addresses vulnerable to harvesting by hackers.  If you set up an email account that you use exclusively for shopping you can limit your vulnerability to spammers and keep control over your "real" inbox.
  • Check your credit card accounts frequently.  Don't wait until you get a statement to check accounts you use for online transactions.  Log into your credit card account online periodically, or call the number on the card to see what charges have been made.  Remember, the sooner you report any unauthorized charges the sooner any problems can be nipped in the bud.
  • Don't shop online from a public WIFI hotspot. Public WIFI is inherently insecure, as you are basically sharing a network with everybody else around you.  The person drinking coffee next to you could be using very simple "sniffing" software to track your keystrokes and try to steal your personal information.  Wait until you are home and on your own network to do any type of e-commerce, or use your phone as a personal hotspot.
Phishing Alert - New "chip" Credit Cards

Many of us got new "chip" credit cards just in time for the holiday shopping season. Scam artists are taking advantage of that fact to try to steal your credit card credentials. Watch out for fake emails purporting to be from your credit card company, telling you to click a link and enter your credit card information to "verify" your account.

Remember, if you get an email from your financial institution and you are not sure, you can always call the number on the back of your card and talk to customer service. Additionally - don't click on any links! Type the web address of your credit card or bank directly into your web browser to access your account!