Friday, October 31, 2008

Spybot Search & Destroy

As promised, sooner than I thought, here is my write up on Spybot Search & Destroy. I first learned about this software from a dear friend of mine (Hi Toni) and it really is amazing. This fantastic freeware by Safe-Networking Limited is used for protecting your computer. The protection is from spyware and other kinds of malware, short for malicious software, which refers to software design to cause damage to computers. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, dishonest adware, etc. are included in this catch-all word.

There are two operating modes available with Spybot S&D. The first one is the easy mode option which has basic features for the new user. The second is the advanced mode for those who want more control over the features available. The features link below will take you to the features page on the Web to allow you to make a more informed decision.

Part of the support of this product includes a tutorial that walks the user through the download, installation and first scan process. It also instructs you on how to do a scan, interpret the results of the scan, and make a decision on the exceptions, how to remove the threats found and information about the Resident, which are three different types of protection (Immunize, Helper, and Tea Timer) that Spybot S&D offers. Though I feel it would be redundant to go into detail here on these types of protection since they are specifically detailed in the tutorial, Tea Timer warrants additional mention. Tea Timer is always running in the background and if an attempt is made to change critical registry files, it will notify you and give you options to deal with the threat.

In addition to the download of this freeware, there is a wealth of information for the user on the site. If you decide to download Spybot S&D, please take the time to read the tutorial and some of the information about other security issues. There is also information on other products developed by the same group.

I currently use Spybot S&D in addition to the anti-spyware feature that came with my security suite so this write up is from personal experience. As mentioned in my article “Home Computing Security”, more than one anti-spyware system is better protection for your computer. I thank the people at Safe-Networking for making this type of software available in freeware format to those who cannot afford to purchase this type of protection. In addition to my testimony, there are write ups in PC World and PC on the efficiency of this software. Finally, as it is freeware, there is the ability to donate to the cause of keeping the software up-to-date against the bombardment of new threats.

As always, email me with your topics and let’s have a good time learning together!

Helpful Links

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Automatic Maintenance

We have covered this topic previously, but to make things easier we are going to automate some tasks through programs like Windows Live OneCare, McAfee Total Protection Suite or through a preventive maintenance plan.

Windows Live OneCare is a service that helps protect your computer by always working in the background and in conjunction with Microsoft Update for up-to-date changes. The protection consists of anti-virus and spyware, firewall, online Id theft protection, performance tune up, multi-pc management (up to three (3)) and data back up and restore. Once a problem is found, it will automatically show you how to take care of the problem and all this is done through a one-click solution. This is a paid service, with a 90-day trial and a $49.95 purchase price for the year. To find out more about this service, visit Windows Live OneCare at this link

McAfee Total Protection Suite 2009 also runs in the background to protect your computer without slowing it down. The features consist of anti-virus, spyware, spam and phishing, two-way firewall, advanced Web site safety rating, identity protection, parental control, data backup, and Quickclear to safely remove junk files that take up space in your hard drive and slows down your computer. As with other software of this caliber, automatic updates and upgrades are automatically sent to your computer via the Internet. The cost of this service is $69.99 a year for three (3) computers and $129.99 for a two-year subscription. To find out more about this service, visit McAfee at this link

A free alternative in conjunction with your Windows firewall, automatic updates, anti-virus and free spyware such as SpybotS&D* is to set up an automatic preventive maintenance plan through Windows Scheduler Task Wizard. This plan will clean up your hard disk of temporary files (Disk Cleanup) preferably on a weekly basis; Rearrange the hard disk (Defragmenter), preferably on a monthly basis; and check your hard disk for errors on a weekly basis. As mentioned before, this is free so all it cost is the time to set up the automation. Let’s get started!

The following are the steps necessary to set up these tasks to run automatically:
1. Set Disk Cleanup to run automatically
  • On the start menu, click Control Panel
  • In Control Pane, double-click Scheduled Task
  • Double-click Add Scheduled Task
  • The Scheduled Task Wizard opens
  • Click Next
  • A list of programs are shown, scroll down to Disk Cleanup
  • Click Next
  • Select a time and day you know you won’t be using your computer
  • Click Next
  • Enter your username and password – this is the name and password used to sign on to your computer
  • Click Next
  • You will see “You have successfully scheduled the following task…”
  • Click Finish to add the task to our Windows Schedule

2. Set Disk Defragmenter to run automatically
  • Repeat the above steps except you cannot select this task from the list but you have to click on Browse. Go to windows\system 32 and select defrag.exe
  • Click Open
  • Continue to schedule the frequency, time and date to start the task and select month since this is for a monthly schedule and select 1 day
  • Click Next
  • Enter your username and password
  • Click Next
  • You’ll see the successfully schedule disk defragment screen
  • Click Finish

3. Set your hard drive to be automatically check for errors
  • Repeat the same steps for Disk Defragment except select chkdsk.exe
  • Select weekly for frequency
  • Follow the remaining steps as noted above

Take the time to choose automating your maintenance process for a proactive instead of a reactive approach to your computer maintenance. In addition, take advantage of your Windows Help and Support Center to keep abreast of what is new on the security scene via Windows. I hope this information is of help to you and will allow you to take steps necessary to keep your computer running at its peak.

As always, email me with your topics and let’s have a good time learning together!

*Will do a write up on Spybot Search & Destroy at a later date.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Memory Lane

Feel like taking a trip down memory lane? has a weekend open forum
( ) where you can write your answer to the question: What was Your First Computer? You can also read about others’ experiences as well. There is some interesting stuff there and I’m sure it will only get better with your addition. Enjoy!

As always, email me with your topics and let’s have a good time learning together!

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Friday, October 24, 2008


Microsoft released an urgent security update yesterday for all supported versions of Windows. The alert is for vulnerability in Microsoft Windows which could spread to your computer without your knowledge via the Internet. This vulnerability will allow code to be executed on your computer remotely.

The vulnerability is deemed critical (**A vulnerability whose exploitation could allow the propagation of an Internet worm without user action) on Windows 2000, XP and Server 2003 and important (**A vulnerability whose exploitation could result in compromise of the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of users data, or of the integrity or availability of processing resources) on Windows Vista and Server 2008.

Please visit Microsoft's Web site for more information on this vulnerability in Microsoft Windows if applicable:

**The definitions for “critical” and “important” are from a November 2002 Microsoft bulletin

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What to Look For When Purchasing a Laptop

For the person on the go who needs access to a computer, this is a reasonable question to ask one’s self. Most computer users are familiar with the features of a desktop, but lack experience with laptops. For me, I have always purchase my computers directly from the company, customizing to my specifications. For some, purchasing directly from the local store may be their preference which will enable them to test drive before purchasing. With the later you lose the ability to customize when you purchase off the shelf. In either case, you can always include store visits as part of your research project to actually test drive what is available and see what features you like in a laptop. I don’t think the brand matters because you can have a bad or good experience with any manufacturer’s product unless research specifically shows a trend on the negative side. The key is to do thorough research prior to making any major or unfamiliar purchase.

Below is a list of what I looked at when I purchased my laptop and you should consider this in conjunction with your usage. If any of you have other areas to consider or additional input, please share.

Battery usage –How many hours does the battery last? They last between 6 to 12 hours and your choice is dependant on the type of work you will be doing. Make sure the manufacture specifies the standard battery usage life

Monitor – make sure it is large enough for you since this feature cannot be upgraded. Yes, you can attach a monitor but, after all, your are purchasing this for portability

Operating system (OS) – Windows or Apple are the popular available choices and more than likely you would purchase the OS you are use to using with your desktop

Drives – Make sure the types of drive(s) you will be using or need are included (**see drive options below). A lot to consider as they all don’t do the same thing (see below). If you are still using a floppy drive, this is not a standard feature with newer computers so you would have to specifically add this feature

Ports – Make sure you have at least 2 USB ports, multiple USB ports adaptors can be purchased separately if the need arise, Ethernet or PCMIA port

Hard Drive – Always get the maximum size hard drive because this is where all your files reside

RAM (Random Access Memory) –The more memory the more efficient the laptop will be especially in handling large files. Determine if the memory can be upgraded or has it been optimized

Modem – Determine if it is an internal modem or PC Card. Wireless capability is important otherwise what is the sense of having the portability and not the availability of the Internet? Laptops usually come with an internal wireless card or a PCMIA card may be purchase – I purchased the Linksys wireless-G for my first laptop as it did not come with an internal connection. There are other brands available

Processor – Pentium II and III are sufficient for the typical user’s needs. For the more avid game player Pentium IV and Pentium with MMX (suppose to increase performance…lightning speed) would be more appropriate.

Sound Card – Most standard sound cards will suit the typical person’s needs. The typical laptop requires external speakers or headphones to enjoy the full affect of the sound. Advance sound cards can be purchase to increase sound quality for games and programs that require this

Weight – The lighter the laptop the easier it is to carry making this an important consideration in the purchasing decision

Video Card – Produces the visual output from your computer. Games and graphic programs depends the most on the video card’s ability to support their software. The video card along with the monitor determines the quality of what you see so it is a very important aspect of the purchase decision.

Software – See if the suite of software you want is included i.e. MS Office or whatever your preference. Is it the full version or trial? Make sure the copies are legal with the certificates included---Genuine Windows! Also see blog entry on OpenOffice as an alternative

Peripherals – Research these devices prior to purchasing as it may be more costly in the long run or may not meet your needs. (Printers, cameras, scanners, PC cards, etc.)

Used Laptop – Compare the cost of the used laptop to the cost of a new one. Look for the same features as when purchasing a new one

Service – What type is offered? On/off site; local authorized service centers; is international service available if purchased in a different country than where you live?

Manufacturer’s support – 24/7 support; contact options

Manufacturer’s warranty – the length of the warranty time should be at least one (1) year.

To ascertain a more in depth understanding of the preceding features, various articles are available on each individual feature. The purchase of a laptop computer is a big decision, therefore, take the time to research it thoroughly and test drive the available models to get a feel for what you like and don’t like. If what you want is available off the shelf, go for it!

As always, email me with your topics and comments, but more importantly let’s have a good time learning together!

**Drive Options:
• DVD-RW and +RW – you can burn and re-write DVDs multiple times
• DVD – you can watch DVDs and listen to CDs
• DVD –R and +R – you can burn a DVD only once
• CD – you can listen to CDs
• CD-RW and +RW – you can re-burn music on the same CD
• CD-R and +R – you can record music to a CD only once

Computer Hope
WYFF Technology
Love to Know

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Monday, October 20, 2008


This is the first of a two-part series on OpenOffice which is an open source office application suite consisting of six basic components. The second part will be written after I have used the software. The development of this suite was aimed at reducing Microsoft Office dominating the market by providing an alternative for users that is good quality and free to users for any purpose (domestic, commercial, educational, public administration) -- it is free of any license fees. As you can see via the components descriptions below, these applications were designed to work similar to those available in Microsoft Office. is the formal name for these applications which was originally released in 2000 and is primarily sponsored by Sun Microsystems.

The following are components of 3 (After reading various articles, my understanding of these components’ similarity to MS Office are listed in parenthesis):

Writer – This is a word processing and HTML editor. (Word)

Calc – is a spreadsheet. (Excel)

Impress – is a presentations program. (PowerPoint)

Draw – is a graphics editor. (Publisher)

Base – is a database application. (Access)

Math – is an equation editor (articles say this is similar to MS Equation Editor- I have not used this feature in MS Office)

For additional information on OpenOffice, visit the official site at There is a lot of information on this site including links to articles, blogs, testimonials, monthly newsletter, awards, projects, how you can get involve in the project as well as downloading of the suite.

If any of you have used OpenOffice, I welcome your input. For those of you who have not used it yet and decided to after reading this article please let me know your thoughts.

As always, email me with your topics and let’s have a good time learning together!

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Saving Energy, Saving Time

To do our part to help protect the environment through home computing, we can change how we use our equipment as well as the decisions we make on new purchases. Some tips and/or reminders to help in this endeavor are:

• Turn off your computer when not in use. Better yet, unplug it! Try using a power strip to switch off all equipment at once when you are finish using them or that will turn off automatically. There continue to be a drainage of power since most devices consume electricity even when in their turned off state.

• If possible, use a laptop or upgrade to one instead of a desktop since the former uses less energy. According to Cool Citizen by Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), laptops use about 15w compared to a typical desktop’s 140w. This 19 page brief gives households numerous ways to do their part to save energy. If you have the time, give it a read

• When purchasing new equipment look for the Energy Star label to also enhance your goal of saving energy. Enabling the sleep mode on your desktop and monitor will drastically contribute to your conservation effort. Check out Energy Star instructions on how to enable the power management system on your particular operating system (

• Use a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) monitor if possible or make this your next monitor replacement purchase for your current Cathode Ray Tube (CRT). This will save you money in your electricity bill as the LCD uses less power than the CRT.

• Use recycled computer paper

• Refill ink cartridges

• Recycling your old computer and other equipment can also add to your effort in helping to protect the environment. Many manufacturers and retailers offer take back programs or sponsor recycling events as well as city sanitation departments. If still usable, donate to a charitable organization. SNAP (Strategic Neighborhood Action Partnership ) is one such organization I recently learned about. It is a non-profit organization formed for the purpose of improving the quality of life in Fort Greene and the surrounding communities. I also found a very helpful article titled “Ten Tips for Donating a Computer" at

• Recycle disks. Ideas and instructions for the crafty at heart can be found at

• for bags, binders, wallet, note pads, pen holder and also at

Let’s do our part to help ensure a cleaner environment for future generations.

As always, email me with your topics and let’s have a good time learning together!

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tid Bit

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) – IT security awareness for short. This campaign started in 2003 and according to a press release from Homeland Security October 1, 2008 it is design to educate all citizens, key public and private sector partners on cyber threats and how to safeguard against these threats.

In this same press release the following tips were listed for staying safe online (Press Secretary. 2008):
  • Install anti-virus software, a firewall, and anti-spyware software to your computer, and update as necessary.
  • Create strong passwords on your electronic devices and change them often. Never record your password or provide it to someone else.
  • Back up important files.
  • Ignore suspicious e-mail and never click on links asking for personal information.
  • Only open attachments if you’re expecting them and know what they contain.
If you have been following this blog or Gracious Times Newsletter, the above tips should be quite familiar to you as it reiterates the tips given in previous blog postings and newsletter editions.

Interested in further information on this topic? Visit the links listed below for an expansion on this info and a few games along the way. (tells how you can contribute to cyber awareness, who they partner with to get the word out as well as the events schedule to promote cyber awareness this month) (all about the National Cyber Security Division) (this site gives a security tip of the day) (has interactive quizzes to test you cyber smarts, videos about online safety and tips for computer security) (online safety tips)

As always, email me with your topics and let's have a good time learning together!

Homeland Security, Office of the Press Secretary. (2008, October 1). Fact Sheet: National Cyber Security Awareness Month:

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Home Computing Security

In past issues of Gracious Times Newsletter, I stressed the importance of safety online and steps to take to help prevent or minimize identity theft. In this article I will continue in this vein of thought but deal with programs on your computer to help with safety. While at a sister’s (Sister in Christ) home over the weekend, the topic for this issue’s Web Byte came to me as her computer was totally unprotected and vulnerable to attacks after the expiration of her anti-virus software suite. My sister did not know about a computer firewall or its need to be operable. Because of this, here is this month’s Web Byte.

Home Computing Security
As an underwriter I learned a firewall was a physical device that stopped or slowed down a fire from spreading to other buildings. A computer firewall operates in the same fashion. It is software or hardware that verifies information coming from the Internet or a network to your computer and in some cases information leaving your computer and prevents or permits it through based on the selected settings of the firewall. Only one firewall software program can be protecting a computer at a time. The firewall that is included software from the factory is turned off while third-party firewall software is running. Once this third-party software is turned off, either because of contract expiration or manually, the computer is no longer protected. To again protect your computer with the Windows firewall software, you need to turn this feature on again. This can be easily done by accessing your Control Panel. Click on Start, then Control Panel, and select the Security Center icon. This action would show the firewall as being off and have a note stating “Windows does not detect a firewall”. Next you would click on the recommendations in the same box with the firewall option. When the Recommendation window opens you would click “enable now”, click Okay and the Recommendation window will close placing you back on the Security Center screen. This action will display a message “Windows firewall was successfully turned on”, click Close. Your firewall will once again be operable. You can also go to the Windows Firewall icon and turn it on there. While in the Security Center, there is also a resource box with topics to educate you on security. Additionally, there is a link to keep you abreast on what’s new to protect your computer.

The firewall alone is not complete protection. Nothing can protect your computer 100 % if it is connected to the Internet or a network. Matter of fact, in a knowledge base article by Microsoft (Microsoft, 2006) and National Cyber Alert System (2007) it states what Windows firewall software would not protect against are viruses and spyware. Based on this, you still need anti-virus and spyware programs. In addition to the security suite I have running on my computer I also use a free downloadable program that scans my computer for spyware which works quite well. Of course, like any other housekeeping task you have to run these programs periodically for them to do their job.

Added protection is gleaned from the firewall hardware feature in wire or wireless routers used in home networking and the broadband gateways from cable and DSN modems. If at all possible set up a hardware firewall also…two layers of protection is better than one.

Regular maintenance of your computer includes running the utilities on your computer such as disk defragment (this may take several hours) and disk cleanup as well as setting your computer to either receive automatic updates for any changes to the operating system and office programs or visit the update center often. Also, deleting files and programs no longer used, disconnect unused network connections, backup important files and folders and strong passwords (see useful links below). These housekeeping tasks will help you minimize computer vulnerability and increase usability of your computer. While in the Control Panel, you can schedule the disk defragment and disk cleanup utilities to run automatically through the “Scheduled Tasks” folder.

I pray this information was of interest and help to you and again, please send computing topics that you would like to see written about in Web Bytes to For those interested in more information on this topic, see “Useful links” below.

Thank you for your patronage and I look forward to receiving topics to research that titillate and illuminate all my readers as a whole, instead of me in particular. Thanks again, folks!

Some Useful Links on the Topic (This article is a little more technical) (Strong Password)

Microsoft (August 15, 2006). Using Windows Firewall.

National Cyber Alert. (February 28, 2007). Cyber Security Tip – ST04-004 Understanding Firewalls.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008


It is unbelievable how one person’s tragedy becomes another person’s opportunity. While researching a topic for this issue’s Web Bytes, I came across mentioned of phishing (pronounced fishing) scams to exploit the massacre at Virginia Tech (VT). This is base on the increased number of domain names recently registered associated with the shootings at VT (Kaplan, 2007). One needs to be extremely security conscious, not only in light of this, but as part of your normal everyday Internet interaction. Phishing emails appear to be from a legitimate Web site. This being the premise of the scheme, the unsuspecting recipient click on the links in the email which takes them to a bogus site that mimics a reputable company. Divulging private information on this site – in this case one that appears to be associated with the VT tragedy - most likely would be used to steal your identity. This is just the latest scheme to take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities during a tragedy. Prior to this it was a spike in the number of Tropical Storm-Ernesto related domains and before that it was an increase in fraudulent Web sites asking for donations to help the victims of Katrina (Kaplan, 2006).

We are sure there are legitimate fund raising sites to help the victims and families of disasters and would not want to divert from this goal. The purpose of this Web Byte is to call your attention to how people are always scheming to take advantage of one’s generous nature. In general, one must be security minded while dealing with unsolicited emails and in particular, be more diligent in light on this information.

For readers who did not read our previous issues dealing with Phishing and Pharming (pronounced farming), please visit the following Web sites for more information on these two topics:

Federal Citizens Information Center at

5 Steps to Keep From Being Victimized by Phishing Scams

How Not to Get Hooked By a the ‘Phishing’ Scam

Identity Theft and Credit Monitoring Services

National Internet Fraud Watch

To report suspicious email to the US Federal Trade Commission, visit their Web site at (The old email address listed in our Phishing article has been phased out).

As always, if you are interested in reading Web Bytes on a particular topic, please email your request to

Kaplan, D. (2006, August 29). Hike in Ernesto-related Domains could be a Sign of Scams.

Kaplan, D. (2007, April 18). Virginia tech massacre may spawn phishing scams. SC Magazine US.

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The July/August issue of Gracious Times Newsletter featured Phishing (pronounced fishing) as the first Web Byte. As mentioned in that article, Pharming (pronounced farming) will be the Web Byte topic in this issue.

Pharming is a new twist to an old scam. It redirects Internet users, as many as possible, from the sites they intended to visit to bogus ones. These bogus sites usually look like the legitimate site the user intended to visit. The object of the redirection is to capture the user’s login name and password and to use this information for financial gain.

Pharming out scams phishing in that is involves a large group of users being redirected to bogus sites at the same time. This is DSN (domain system name) poisoning. The DSN translates web and email addresses ( into numerical strings known as the IP address ( for the Internet. If these strings are poisoned, the IP address associated with it will cause users to be redirected.

As previously mentioned, pharming has been around for quite sometime, but the increase in incidences is cause for concern. The popularity of Internet banking, online shopping and electronic paying of bills have created more opportunity for criminals to capture personal information (credit card and bank account information as well as login information) than previously.

The issue of concern is the user thinks he/she is at the legitimate site as the bogus site looks like the legitimate site. There is no indication on the user’s computer screen that he/she is not on the site typed in the browser and personal information is divulged which will be used by criminals. Additionally, the user’s other transactions for the legitimate site can also be redirected if the pharming works.

Experts say improved browser security to prevent address spoofing or crypto plug-in which verify the digital certificates of sites can help combat pharming. If browsers would authenticate websites’ identities — display the true physical location of a website’s host, users may not be too quick to enter their personal information into a site located out of the area of operation for businesses they are contacting.

As mentioned in the previous article, more information on this and other Web security issues can be accessed at the Federal Citizens Information Center at or call 1-888-873-3256.

The National Internet Fraud Watch

If you are interested in reading Web Bytes on a particular topic, please email your request to

Information for this article was gathered from various sources including Wired News (wirednews .com) “Pharming Out-Scams Phishing” by Michele Delio and The Register ( “Phishing Morphs into Pharming by John Leyden.

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Phishing (pronounced fishing) is an attempt to get unsuspecting victims to divulge personal, confidential information under the guise of a legitimate request. This has been around for a long time via telephone, in person or through regular mail. In addition, several computer viruses have been used in an effort to silently capture information from infected machines. This article will discuss email phishing.

Whether through traditional means or email the bottom line is the same—be very careful providing your personal information.
• The scam begins when you receive a legitimate looking email from a reputable company. The links in the email would take you to bogus site that mimics the real reputable company. If you provide your personal information on this bogus site, you are most likely giving it directly to someone who will use it to steal your identity.
• Sometimes the email actually claims you may be a victim of identity theft if you don’t confirm your information.
• Another thing to notice is most phishing scams originate internationally and written by people who are not fluent in English ---misspelled words, incomplete sentences, awkward phrases and the like.
• In some instances the automatic downloading of images are turned off.

If you suspect that an email may be a phishing scam, you can view the service code of an HTML email message to see where a link actually goes (click on the View menu and then on page source on the drop down list).

If there is a link in the email, do not click on it, copy and paste the link to your address bar. You can still get tricked by URLs that look legitimate but have one or two letters switched.

1. No legitimate company would ask you to provide personal information to them in this manger
2. View source Code of a HTML email message to determine where the link actually takes you
3. Be wary of emails that contain misspelled words, incomplete sentences, and awkward phrases
4. Don’t give your personal information to anyone unless you trust them and have initiated this contact yourself via a telephone number or address that you know to be valid.

To learn more about phishing visit the Federal Citizens Information Center at or call 1-888-873-3256. To learn more about identity theft visit To track down suspicious IP addresses or host, try a free online service such as You can send suspicious email to the US Federal Trade Commission at or you can click the “Report Spam” (or similar) button on your email program.

If you are a victim of phishing:

1. Report it to your financial institution
2. Put a fraud alert on your credit report
3. Keep a close watch on your mail and your accounts…if statements stop or if you see unusual activity, call your financial institution immediately.

The Federal Trade Commission provides useful resources:

How Not to Get Hooked By the Phishing Scam

How Not to Get Hooked by a ‘Phishing’ Scam

Next article will be on Pharming (pronounced farming).
Information for this article was gathered from various sources including American Express Company and Justin Pritchard “Your Guide to Banking/Loans”.

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