The skinny on screen time: How much is too much?

Now that the CyberSavvy Family is back into the swing of the school year, it means afternoons and evenings are filled with sports practices and games, hanging out with friends after school, homework and meal prep, and then some TV and time spent on devices during what little bit of the day we have left. This is causing CyberSavvyKid #1 (CSK1) to take part in a lot of handwringing and complaining on many days when he feels he hasn’t been allowed enough time on his iPod. CSK1 ADORES his iPod and has basically traded in old habits of watching NickJr. and Disney for almost exclusively watching YouTube videos for gaming tips and tricks.

CyberSavvyDad and I didn’t put a lot of limits on how much time CSK1 was spending on his iPod during the summer. He was busy all day with summer camps and having fun, so the hour or two in the evening on a device didn’t seem like a big deal after a long day of outdoor play.  Our rules for safe online viewing remain the same: We insist CSK1 use his device in a family area. We check in regularly on what he is viewing and doing. We check the history on occasion and make it clear to CSK that we may do this at anytime.

But as the school year schedule has kicked back in, gone are the lazy days of largely unrestricted summer iPod use, and I find myself pondering: How much screen time is too much during the school week? Or any day of the week?

An article published yesterday in the New York Times notes that the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s founding genius and king of device innovation, was, in fact, a “low tech parent” according to the article. Jobs allegedly told the author of the article that he and his wife “limit the amount of technology our kids use at home.”  The article then went on to point to several CEOs working for high tech companies who employ a similar mindset inside their homes.

The risks of too much screen time – both for TV and device screens – have been widely discussed for many years. They include obesity and sleep disturbance.  Some new research even suggests screen time is negatively impacting our children’s ability to recognize human emotion.

On the other hand, reducing screen time becomes increasingly difficult with each year, especially as children age and are actually expected to use devices for research and other educational endeavors as part of their homework.   Also, kids who live in households where Mom and Dad regularly have their heads buried in an iPhone or laptop will likely be reluctant to head off to read a book when a parent points out they are “spending too much time on that thing” and then resumes scrolling their Twitter or Facebook feed immediately after.

While the answer to the question “How much screen time is too much?” will vary from family to family, I think we can all agree that the more time we spend talking and engaging with each other, or moving our bodies with play and sport, or getting caught up in a great book, is undeniably more healthy and stimulating for our brains than zoning out on YouTube (sorry CSK1).

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers these tips for reducing your child’s screen time:

Talk to Your Family

Explain to your kids that it’s important to sit less and move more in order to stay at a healthy weight. Tell them they’ll also have more energy, and it will help them develop and/or perfect new skills, such as riding a bike or shooting hoops, that could lead to more fun with friends. Tell them you’ll do the same.

Set a Good Example

You need to be a good role model and limit your screen time to no more than two hours per day, too.  If your kids see you following your own rules, then they’ll be more likely to do the same.

Log Screen Time vs. Active Time

Start tracking how much time your family spends in front of a screen, including things like TV- and DVD-watching, playing video games, and using the computer for something other than school or work. Then take a look at how much physical activity they get. That way you’ll get a sense of what changes need to be made

Make Screen Time = Active Time

When you do spend time in front of the screen, do something active. Stretch, do yoga and/or lift weights. Or, challenge the family to see who can do the most push-ups, jumping jacks, or leg lifts during TV commercial breaks.

Set Screen Time Limits

Create a house rule that limits screen time to two hours every day. More importantly,enforce the rule.

Create Screen-free Bedrooms

Don’t put a TV or computer in your child’s bedroom. Kids who have TVs in their room tend to watch about 1.5 hours more TV a day than those that don’t. Plus, it keeps them in their room instead of spending time with the rest of the family.

Make Meal Time = Family Time

Turn off the TV during meals. Better yet, remove the TV from the eating area if you have one there. Family meals are a good time to talk to each other. Research shows that families who eat together tend to eat more nutritious meals. Make eating together a priority and schedule family meals at least two to three times a week.

Provide Other Options

Watching TV can become a habit, making it easy to forget what else is out there. Give your kids ideas and/or alternatives, such as playing outside, getting a new hobby, or learning a sport. See more tips for getting physically active.

Don’t Use TV Time as Reward or Punishment

Practices like this make TV seem even more important to children.

Understand TV Ads & Placements

Seeing snack foods, candy, soda, and fast food on television affects all of us, especially kids. Help your child understand that because it’s on TV—or your favorite TV characters/actors eat or drink it—doesn’t mean a food or drink is good for you.  Get your kids to think about why their favorite cartoon character is trying to get them to eat a certain brand of breakfast cereal.



Fear not the hacker!

The term “hacker” has come a long way in the last decade. Once a word that conjured up shady images of a criminal trying to access systems or data for nefarious purposes, hacker has now taken on a different meaning (and, actually, it has several definitions these days). Hacker by today’s standards is actually a complimentary way to refer to someone with an expertise and/or skill. Traditionally, it has its roots in computer programming, but these days the word is used across many areas and topics. Much like the words “nerd” and “geek” have evolved to describe someone with an expertise or passion in a certain topic, so, too, has the word hacker.

Sure, we still see the words “hacked” and “hacker” in the news every day with negative connotations. Companies get hacked, information is stolen, data is breached, disastrous PR ensues for the businesses involved. But it’s not all gloom and doom for hackers. In fact, many hackers put their skills to many good uses these days, too. Computer and systems hackers are now working for organizations in new, ethical ways. Penetration testers, or White Hat hackers, are actually employed by companies in their security departments, or hired as consultants, to help uncover security vulnerabilities and shore up defenses. Being able to call oneself a hacker is actually an honorable thing in many contexts these days.

What does this mean for you as parents? It means hacking is no longer something to be feared. Becoming a hacker is something we should all aspire to. Culinary hacks can help us get tasty, more nutritious meals on the table in less time. Parenting hacks can assist with getting life to run a lot more smoothly (and peacefully) in your home. Math hacks offer clever ways to quickly figure out complex problems. Do you see where I am going with this? Hacking can offer helpful shortcuts to just about anything – and none of it needs to be unethical.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I am challenging all of you to start using hacks in your life every day. The next time you are contemplating how much you despise doing some daily, menial task – like laundry – I want you to search “laundry hacks” and find several, ingenious ways to make your weekly clothes-cleaning ritual more efficient. The next time you and the family are headed out on a long car trip, search for “car ride hacks” and find lists and lists of hacks and suggestions for making a 5 hour ride to grandma’s slightly less tedious. Again, hacking can be applied to just about anything.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of how hacking can play a role in everyday tasks in life, I want you to start applying it to technology, too. I am speaking particularly to those of you out there with a 7 year old that can make his way around a laptop or iPod better than you. If you want to be able to speak openly, honestly and authoritatively about what your child is doing online and on the computer, you need to know how that shiny little box works.

Search for Internet hacks and find fun new ways to browse the Web. Search Microsoft Excel hacks and suddenly you’re making your way around a spreadsheet like a CPA. What type of device is your family using? Search the name of the device and “hacks” and suddenly you’ve opened up a new world of shortcuts and tricks to using your device. For those of you who want to go further and find out what professional hackers are up to, there are games you can play to pretend to be a hacker.

Hacking is cool and fun. It sparks creativity and helps us solve problems. Get your kids involved and encourage them to explore new ways to hack things, too. I’m not advocating for ways to cheat at math homework or break into someone’s computer, but encouraging them to find ways to do things in a simpler or more innovative way when appropriate. When you’re hacking, you’re also learning – and any cyber savvy parent can get on board with that.

Game on! Staying safe (and appropriate) during online play

CyberSavvyKid #1 has grown into quite the game enthusiast in the last year.  It’s been long a journey, actually.  It all started around the wee age of four for CSK#1.  He had one of those Leapster gaming units with the little cartridges for Star Wars math, etc.  So cute!  I remember beaming with pride – both at myself and at CSK – as he played and learned at the same time. How clever!

From there we moved onto a Nintendo DS. And I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of disappointment that a lot of the education was now lost. But it was still a simpler time as CSK dragged his gaming device with him everywhere and was content with it, as he had yet to discover the world of online gaming.

Around the age of seven, we started using age-appropriate online gaming forums. Club Penguin and Pop Tropica were favorites for several years. And while I knew it was time for CSK to start understanding the risks of interacting with others online, I felt comfortable letting him use the child-geared sites with the understanding that I would be monitoring him regularly.

Now we’ve moved up a few years in age and so has our taste in online games. CSK is on Minecraft – a lot. And Minecraft (if you are not familiar with it) is a game that can involve interacting with other anonymous online players. When he is playing on his iPod, he wants access to all manner of gaming apps – many of which I say no to because they are rated 17+. Friends, it is often a struggle. A battle of wits, if you will – and it exhausts me.

CSK knows that, despite his pleas, I will not allow him to purchase and play games that are not age appropriate. CSK knows that even if (insert friend’s name here)’s mom allows him to play it, that I still will not.  This is about more than just the swears, violence and mild nudity that comes with many of the 17+ games. It is about an elementary school kid playing a game that deals in adult themes (Grand Theft Auto anyone?) that he is far too young to understand right now. This is about keeping him in the “Kid Zone” for as long as I can.  There will be time for 17+ games in the future.  And, if I can stick to my guns that long, I hope it will be when CSK turns 17.

For now, here are some other tips from (the National Cyber Security Alliance) for keeping kids of all ages as safe as possible while gaming online:

Keep a Clean Machine:

Gaming systems are computers with software that needs to be kept up‐to‐date (just like your PC, laptop, phone or tablet). Security protections are built‐in and updated on a regular basis. Take time to make sure all the online gaming devices in your house have the latest protections.

-Keep security software current: Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.

-Protect all devices that connect to the Internet: Computers, smart phones, gaming systems, and other web‐ enabled devices all need protection from viruses and malware.

Protect Your Child’s Personal Information

-Talk to your children about what constitutes personal information. Children need to know what is appropriate to share and what is not. Names, birthdays, age, geographic location, contact information, and photos with identifiable information all count as personal information. While it’s fun to engage in games with players from around the globe, children should retain a level of anonymity to protect themselves from those who might not have the best intentions.

– Secure your kids’ accounts: Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many account providers now offer additional ways for you verify who you are before you play games on that site.

– Make passwords long and strong: Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password.

-Help your kids own their online presence: When available, set their privacy and security settings on websites to your comfort level for information sharing. Remind them that it’s ok to limit how and with whom they share information.

-Have your kids use an avatar rather than an actual picture of themselves.

-Use voice chat safely or not at all. If your kids play a game that features live voice chat, make sure they disguise their voice. If the game does not have this feature, do not let them use voice chat.

Be Web Wise

-Stay informed of the latest Internet developments, know what to do if something goes wrong and be aware of what your kids are doing online.

– Stay current. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online. Check trusted websites for the latest information, share with your children, and encourage them to be web wise.

– Think before you act: Teach your kids to be wary of communication that implores them to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or asks for personal information. They should not accept downloads from strangers. This includes cheat programs that may claim to help them perform better in the game, but really could be carrying malware.

-Know how to block and/or report a cyberbully. Keep a record of the conversation if they are being harassed and encourage them not to engage the bully.

-Read and understand the ratings for the games that your children are playing. Some game sites have multiple games with different ratings, so check all of them.

– Participate in the game with your kids.

Be a Good Online Citizen

-It is easy to say things from behind a computer screen that you would never say face to face. Remind your kids to maintain the same level of courtesy online as they would in the real world.

-Safer for me more secure for all: What you and your kids do online has the potential to affect everyone – at home, at work and around the world. Practicing good online habits benefits the global digital community.

-Be respectful of other players. Playing games has always been a ripe setting for engaging in conversation that can provoke other players. Online gaming should be a place where good sportsmanship is practiced.


Help! My kid is searching for inappropriate content online!

It’s been a difficult week here in Cyber Savvy Mom’s house. In the journey to raise Cyber Savvy Kids (CSKs), I’m finding a child’s internet prowess and comfort can also rear its head in a very ugly direction known as “the sneaky web search.” At the tender age of 8, Cyber Savvy Kid #1 (herein referred to as CSK #1) is already Googling inappropriate terms, and it’s scaring the bejeezus out of me.

I know, I know what you’re thinking: “But, Cyber Savvy Mom! You’re the one who is supposed to be the voice of reassurance in these situations. You’re the one who told us all to “Keep Calm and Carry On” in the face of all this internet danger.”

It’s true. I, Cyber Savvy Mom, write about online safety and security for a living. I, Cyber Savvy Mom, interview some of the leading minds in the security industry on a daily basis. I, Cyber Savvy Mom, thinks she can smell an online scam a mile away. But I, Cyber Savvy Mom, have thus far had NO SUCCESS with getting the little 8-year-old sneaky booger living under my own roof to stop looking up words like “sex” and Googling terms like “Sponge Bob looking at boobs.” (Yes, these really are the terms I am finding on his search history.) I am torn between fits of hysterical laughter, confusion and and urge to run into traffic at the thought of it all.

“He’s only 8! This is just going to get worse!” my husband exclaimed last night after we found out he had been at it again. I shook my head silently in agreement.

For now, the devices are banned. But we all know that won’t last. Those of you who don’t allow your kids to use iPods or computers can all smirk sanctimoniously at me and declare that evil, internet-accessing devices are ruining our kids lives and I’d be best served to make the ban permanent. But I don’t buy it. And anytime I do implement a temporary ban on devices, it becomes just as much a punishment to me, as it is to the kids. There are only so many rounds of Hungry, Hungry Hippos a mom can play. There are only so many pages of Harry Potter my voice can stand to read in one day. Let’s face it: I need a break sometimes – and the devices will inevitably be back out soon.

So, short of never letting him use a computer or iPod again, I need to find a long-term strategy for getting my kid to stop Googling words that will inevitably lead him to inappropriate content he is too young to understand.

I’m starting with these strategies:

Open dialogue: Time and again, I’ve heard experts advise that the the most powerful tool a parent has in helping their children stay safe online is a good relationship. Talk to your child about what they might find online if they search certain terms. Don’t get angry. It is natural for kids to be curious. Calmly explain to them and be consistent in your message that many things they find online might be upsetting and confusing to them at their age – and that they need to stay in online places that parents have already pre-approved. Encourage them to let you know if they find something online that makes them uncomfortable.

Device use only in family areas: This is a point I have been lax about lately. I let CSK #1 use his iPod in the morning (he is always the first to get up each day in our house) when I am still snoozing. That can’t be allowed any more. From now on, device and computer use only when mom or dad are in the room and only if we check in on him regularly.

Use the tools that are available to help: There are many tools out there designed to help you control what your child is viewing online. I’ll admit to getting lazy since both of my CSKs got iPods at Christmas. A lot of what I was using on our home computer has been completely over looked on the mobile devices. I need to make a plan now, and start incorporating tools such as mobile security software, as well as directing my kids to search only with the Child Safe Search on Google.

Try and make internet safety fun with light educational games:                                              There are several web sites out there with programs that aim to teach kids of varying ages how to stay safe online. They include Net Smartz Kids by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and The FBI’s online safety web site Safe Online Surfing.

Have your kids been caught searching for questionable content online? If so, how did you respond? Your comments welcome!

Study: Children just “three clicks away” from inappropriate content

Results of a study released earlier this month by security products vendor Kaspersky Lab finds children can be as little as three clicks away from inappropriate or adult content on YouTube.


From the report:

Examining YouTube’s ‘suggested’ videos which sit visibly alongside clips or episodes of popular children’s television programs such as Peppa Pig, Rastamouse and Dora the Explorer, researchers found that, on average, users are just three clicks away from content better suited to a more mature audience.

Music videos featuring violence, guns and nudity, clips of post watershed television programs and car crash compilations are some examples of the inappropriate content just a few clicks away on the video sharing website. These results highlight the potential risks such sites pose if parental controls are not activated or children are left unattended while browsing.

I know I’ve experienced this many times when I have allowed my children to spend some time on YouTube.  One minute they are innocently watching an episode of Pajaminals, and the next thing I know they have stumbled upon video with questionable content, including obscene language and violence.

One particular trend I’ve noticed is the “parody” videos that tend to lead good-intentioned children into suddenly viewing things they are too young to see or understand.  For example, my kids like the very popular internet character Fred Figglehorn (created by teen actor, and now Nickelodeon star, Lucas Cruikshank).  The Fred videos are pretty silly and a bit over the top, but generally age appropriate for my children. Unfortunately, there are many “parodies” (people making fun) of the Fred character, too. These tend to be wildly inappropriate for young children. Same goes for many other popular kids shows, like Sponge Bob or even Sesame Street.

It’s best to allow YouTube viewing only when you can be in the room, too, and with the volume loud enough so you can hear what is going on.  Check in frequently and assist younger children with making appropriate choices.

[Related: 4 tips to help your kids stay safe on Facebook]

David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, offers additional suggestions for protecting your children.

Supervision – This may seem obvious, but supervise your child’s Internet use. Encourage them to visit and stay on websites you’re familiar with. If you have any concerns you can look at their browsing history. Be sure to know about any password protected sites they may be accessing and ask them to share their login details with you.

Be open – Encourage your child to be open about what they are doing online and who they are socializing with. Promote a culture of safety within the home and talk about the possible dangers which exist.

Protect your family – Use parental control on sites you don’t want your child looking at as part of your online security product – it’s an easy way to avoid disaster.

Your kid wants to play with your old iPhone? Consider these tips first….

Loving the tips from this article in The Orange County Register on things to do before you let your child have your old iPhone.

Suggestions include sweeping the device of any old financial or sensitive information and also setting it with age-appropriate restrictions, such as limiting certain sites (YouTube, Facebook) to younger children who may use the device.

The article also points out that you want to make sure you’ve installed the right apps for the child. I think this is important not only because it ensures your kid will be using apps they can handle and enjoy, but also because it will limit any potential damage they can do to the device, and your credit card, when you may not be watching.

For example, downloading free apps isn’t necessarily a great idea. The author notes: “Apps labeled “lite” or “free” often attempt to make money by trying to sell virtual items while a child is playing a game, or link to another related app that requires payment to download. Select apps from trusted, reliable sources, and make sure that they are not trying to market to your child.”

I have had this experience more than once with my children. Several of the child-friendly and free apps I have downloaded for them to play with relentlessly prompt them to purchase other apps, or upgrade the one they are using. I’ve intercepted more than a few potential purchases from my kids who don’t understand exactly what they are doing when they say “yes” to an offer. From now on, I’m sticking to educational, but also non-free, apps that won’t prompt my child to purchase something else.

What tips will you use from this article? Have you given any of your children an old iPhone or other smartphone to play with?


How can you celebrate Data Privacy Day?

Data Privacy Day

The National Cyber Security Alliance, a non-profit public-private partnership focused on cybersecurity awareness and education for all digital citizens, is launching Data Privacy Day.

On January 28th and in the surrounding weeks,several educational events and initiatives will be held on the topic of data privacy and security.

According to the folks at NCSA, Data Privacy Day is an annual international celebration designed to promote awareness about privacy and education about best privacy practices.

“In this networked world, in which we are thoroughly digitized, with our identities, locations, actions, purchases, associations, movements, and histories stored as so many bits and bytes, we have to ask – who is collecting all of this data – what are they doing with it  – with whom are they sharing it?” The group says on their web site. “Most of all, individuals are asking ‘How can I protect my information from being misused?’  These are reasonable questions to ask – we should all want to know the answers.”

Check out the NCSA web site,, for more information and to find out about events.  But even if you aren’t planning on attending anything, how about just taking some time in the coming weeks to consider your own data privacy? Or how about that of your family? With information being shared EVERYWHERE today, how can you be sure your sensitive data is protected appropriately?

Just starting the discussion among your family, your co-workers, your friends is a useful first step. And also has some great educational resources, too, to help you understand more about the importance of this issue.




kID Sure: Can it protect your child’s identity from theft?

There is a product/service being heavily promoted right now called kID Sure, a child identity protection service offered by the folks at Identity Guard.

I don’t currently use or subscribe to any of Identity Guard’s services, including kID Sure, but I have to admit I’m intrigued.

As a journalist who covers cyber crime and identity theft, and as a volunteer who lectures in my community about online dangers, I frequently note that children are very desirable targets for identity theft because they typically have a virtually untarnished credit profile that is just ripe for the picking by identity thieves.

Think about it: Your child’s social security number is a precious item for a con artist looking to take out lines of credit in another person’s name. Chances are the SS number is completely clean, so if the criminal can successfully begin to build a credit profile with it, they can use it for months to pose as your child and buy things illegally, wracking up thousands in credit debt. This usually comes to a halt once they have done enough damage with the number by defaulting on payments. At that point, the SS number is no longer considered useful and the criminal moves on and steals some other child’s SS number.

Meanwhile, your child fails to find out their identity has been comprised for years, usually only becoming aware of the fraud when they apply for college loans, lines of credit or when trying to get a job.

There are many, many things you and your child need to be doing in order to protect their identity and kID Sure seems like a good idea (again, I have not tried the service). I’d love to hear from readers who have enrolled and hear what they think of the services.  According to the Identity Guard web site, the service starts at $4.99 a month. That’s about $60 a year per child.

In the video below, an Identity Guard representative describes kID Sure. And, from their web site, here is a description of the kID Sure service:

From the doctor’s office to school, camp, sports teams, dance class and more, your child’s private information exists in many places. And although those places may seem trustworthy, they may actually be leaving your kids vulnerable to identity theft.

How kID SureSM Helps Protect Your Kids

All-new, patent-pending technology scours thousands of data sources on the Web, looking for information related to your child to let you know if it may be appearing in unsecure locations.

  • Ongoing visibility into potential exposure of your child’s personal data
  • A comprehensive “Digital Footprint” report showing detected data
  • Alerts to certain kinds of activity detected  

2011’s ‘most dangerous’ holiday gifts

From security firm F-Secure:

F-Secure is announcing today its Cyber Monday Cyber-Watch List, its annual compilation of the most ‘dangerous’ holiday gifts to be encountered while shopping online this year based on the prevalence of ‘poisoned’ search results on the web.

Cyber Monday, the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season online, will occur this November 28, 2011, bringing with it throngs of Internet shoppers on the hunt for the best deals and hottest products. Unfortunately, the period also brings with it a similarly motivated group of cybercriminals targeting unassuming shoppers as they use search engines to find gifts for their loved ones.

Google search results for products often include links to ‘poisoned’ sites, or malicious websites that can infect an unsecured computer with viruses, worms and other malware, putting one’s personal and financial information at risk.

The more popular an item is, the more likely it will attract a dangerous search result, which could lead to malware or an unreliable merchant. Here are the products we anticipate will be targeted by cybercriminals this holiday season:

1. Apple iPhone 4S
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 DVD
3. Angry Birds: Knock on Wood Game
4. Steve Jobs biography
5. Fijit Friends Willa Interactive Toy
6. Michael Buble ‘Christmas’ album
7. Apple iPad 2
8. Kindle Fire tablet
9. Silver ‘Heart’ pendants
10. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Here are three tips from F-Secure to ensure you stay safe while shopping online this Cyber Monday, and throughout the 2011 holiday season:

  • Visit retailers’ websites directly if possible (e.g., vs searching ‘Amazon’ on Google)
  • Use Internet security software that features browsing protection (or check links with F-Secure’s free Browsing Protection)
  • Always check a site’s URL before making any purchase (look to make sure you’re at the correct online store and that the page URL begins with https://, which means it’s secure)

5 holiday cyber scams to avoid

As you and your family kick off the holiday shopping season, it’s a good time to review the common scams that circulate this time of year.

Unless you live in a cave, you probably know today is Black Friday, the day when stores try and lure in early shoppers with great sales on many popular items. It is followed by Cyber Monday, the first Monday after the Thanksgiving break when many workers return to their office computers and, presumably, start their holiday shopping online.

But each year, cyber criminals find new ways to try and ensnare consumers with a number of sneaky tricks. Here are some common ones to keep your eye out for, and to warn your older, tech-savvy kids about, as they are also likely to come across them in the coming weeks, as well.

Holiday ‘giveaways’

No, you are not going to get a free iPad or iPhone. Nor is Southwest Airlines going to give you free round-trip airfare. These are the kinds of scams we see on Facebook year round, but they are often repackaged with holiday wrapping and a pretty bow this time of year to seem like holiday-related give-aways. They are no different, or less malicious, than any other Facebook scam making the rounds all year.

What to do? Avoid them. If you see something on Facebook that claims you will get something amazing simply by clicking “like” or by sharing it with other friends? Don’t. Just don’t. Remember my mantra: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Instead of a free iPad, if you click on a link, there is a good chance you have just downloaded some kind of malware onto your computer that can be used to steal data from you.

Fake sales

Hot items, like Apple devices or popular video games and consoles, provide holiday opportunities for crooks to fools consumers. This time of year, ads claiming to have a popular item at a deeply discounted rate can be found. Just because you found it with a Google search doesn’t mean it’s legit. Criminals have been poisoning search results for years now with the hope of getting their fake ads to show up when someone searches for a popular term.

Your best bet? Go directly to reputable web sites, such as or Best Buy or Target. DO NOT purchase an item from a web site you are not familiar with, or even follow a link to a sale that claims to take you to a reputable dealer. Instead of the item, you can end up paying for something you never receive. And since you have likely passed on your credit card information, it sets you up for further fraud down the road.

Bad QR codes

A QR code, or Quick-response code, are those nifty barcodes that are popping up everywhere, attempting to get you to scan them and then find out more about a product or service.

But, of course, now that they are popular, malicious web sites containing QR codes for mobile apps starting cropping up earlier this year, too. The bad codes are being used to lure people into downloading malicious apps. So far, it has been seen primarily on the Android platform.

What can you do? Think twice about QR codes. If you really want to use them, be savvy. There is a free app called Red Laser that you can download and use to check out the web site that the QR code takes you to. If it is a web site with an .exe in the address, do NOT go there.

Bank/credit account alerts

“Your Bank of America account has been compromised! Your Paypal account has been suspended!” the alerts will scream. But have they? Doubtful. It’s just another ruse to get you to “click” on a bad link that will take you to a phishing site. Here they will ask you to enter your account number, password and everything else they need to get the keys to your financial kingdom. Don’t do it. If you think your account has been compromised, look up the bank’s number yourself (do NOT use the phone number the email has provided) and speak to customer service. Don’t click on any links contained in emails warning you your account has been compromised.

Shipping notifications

“Fed Ex deliver failed.” I get these in my spam folder all the time. Do you? It’s another common ruse – but it upticks this time of year, when folks are expecting shipments. Continue to ignore. Please. Don’t worry. If Fed Ex (or UPS, or DHL, etc.)was unable to ship something to you, they will try again.

Blog at

Up ↑