Screening emails, a Google ‘breakup’ and more

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By Kim Komando

Signal Contributing Writer

Vetting email

Q: My email has gotten so loaded up with junk that I am skeptical when I get any messages from my bank, utilities, and even you. What do I do?

A: Spam takes many forms, and many of us face a tidal wave of vague threats, phony offers, creepy solicitations, and unsettling photos before we’ve finished our first cup of coffee.

You’re right to be skeptical. Use common sense and never respond to an email asking for account numbers, password resets, or personal details. When in doubt, call the company in question. You’re not alone. If you’d like a more personal reflection, take a look at my own inbox.

Cut through customs

Q: I’ve heard there is an app that helps you get through customs easier after you’ve traveled internationally. Is it safe?

A: I used the Mobile Passport myself the other day coming back from Italy, and it’s great. Enter in your passport details, answer a few questions, and when you land back in the United States, tap Submit. You’ll get a QR code to expedite processing.

At Customs and Border Control, look for a sign that says, “Mobile Passport.” That line will be a lot shorter than any other lines! The free version works fine. I don’t think you need the pay version unless you travel internationally once a month.

Google breakup

Q: I hate that Google tracks me. Are there ways to have a Google-free online life?
A:
There are, but you have to jump through a few hoops to get to nirvana. One way to protect your personal information while browsing online is to download Tor, which encrypts your every movement and grants you access to the Dark Web. That may be overkill, which is why you need to first try free and easy to use browsers that offer a privacy-focused alternative to Google.

Amazon audit

Q: My wife spends too much money on Amazon. She uses multiple credit cards to hide her purchases. Can I get a total of all her orders?

A: Before I go into the technical details, I urge you to stage an intervention because what you’re describing sounds like addiction, and there may be more at stake than an outstanding credit card debt.

Okay, that said: If you share an Amazon account and have full access, you can review every purchase anyone has ever made. This will be trickier if she has her own account, but Amazon makes it very easy to revisit your complete transaction history. This way, you can tally up exactly how much was spent (and on what) and you will have hard evidence to present if you decide to intervene.

Routing ransomware

Q: I’ve been hearing about cities that pay big bucks to get out of ransomware. How do they get it in the first place?

A: LooCipher is probably the scariest ransomware to date, and you’re right, cybercriminals behind it are targeting city services, which could result in any number of injuries and deaths.

Major U.S. cities are panicking over this issue, as well they should. Because the “weak link” isn’t a failed firewall or a turncoat on the inside; it’s just a regular employee, opening his email and clicking the wrong link. One corrupted folder can wreck an entire network, and it can cost enormous amounts of money.

This is a far cry from an individual user getting locked out of his personal computer. Sometimes agencies will decide to pay the ransom; sometimes they try to figure it out internally. Either way, the ransomware can cause unspeakable damage, and city governments may reel from its effects for years.

Online auctioneers

Q: What’s the best online auction site?

A: eBay is still the reigning champion of online auctions. The 24-year-old company has managed to stay current, and its gross merchandise volume is $94 billion per year, which is nothing to sneeze at.

This is good news for people who like eBay’s format and don’t mind its wild west atmosphere; many entrepreneurs run entire businesses through eBay and do not need for a “regular” job. That said, eBay is cluttered with junk and scammers, and it’s easy for some stranger to dupe you into a flawed or falsely advertised product.

For information on Kim Komando on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks, visit her at Komando.com.

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