Thursday, March 27, 2014

Top 10 tips for staying safe online

Whether playing online games, sending and responding to emails, visiting social networks or checking bank accounts, the average American spends 13 hours per week online, according to a survey taken by Forrester. While the ever-evolving conveniences of online shopping and digital communication often make life a little easier, sharing valuable information over the Internet comes with a considerable amount of risk. Consumers should not only be aware of the dangers of being online, but should also take preventative measures to avoid becoming a victim of online scams or fraud.

Protecting valuable information online is just as important as securing a home, car or personal possessions, says Rebecca Smith, vice president, marketing for Master Lock. It is essential that people educate themselves and take the proper precautions to safeguard their information online, ensuring important account data and passwords are protected within the digital space.

1. Firewalls are your friend: Be sure to activate your computer's firewalls as they are great tools to provide you with a line of defense against hackers and Internet crime. They watch all the communication occurring between your computer, a network (say at the office) and the Internet and can prevent strangers from accessing your information.

2. Surf and shop safely: While online shopping is a great, convenient tool, consumers should be careful when surfing or shopping on a site they've never visited before. Good indicators that a site is secure include checkout pages with lock symbols or sites with the prefix "https," indicating that a page is encrypted or scrambled.

3. Download security software: There is a wide variety of security software available that automatically updates itself and can protect your personal computers from viruses, spyware and other online threats that are constantly in play. Sign on and scan your computer for viruses and other malware once a week to ensure your information stays safe.

4. Create strong passwords: Short, easy-to-remember passwords, are typically not complex enough to prevent being hacked. When creating passwords for online bank accounts and other sites, use passwords with at least 10 characters that are a combination of letters, numbers and most importantly, symbols. It's also a good idea to change your password on a monthly basis to keep it secure.

5. Be cautious - always: Internet fraud and online crime are a constant threat to all Americans who interact online or store anything digitally. Be cautious and avoid posting any personal information online, do not open email messages from strange addresses and never give your browser permission to remember your passwords.

6. Shut it down: We all know that with many advances in technology, one can be connected at all times. However, being online 24/7 comes with risks. Attackers and/or viruses are more likely to target your computer if you are always connected. Therefore, it's good to shut down once in a while and take yourself offline.

7. Back it up: Whether it happens by accident, a natural disaster or because of an equipment malfunction, computers and networks crash and can leave your information exposed or just lost altogether. Consider backing up all of your most important information at least twice a month and rest easy knowing it is stored safely in more than one place.

8. Use parental controls: Children use the Internet as frequently, if not more, than adults. Many Internet browsers offer the option to set parental controls. Check out your options to restrict the websites viewed on your computer and protect the settings you select with a password your kids won't be able to figure out. This way, you're keeping your information, and more importantly, your children safe from various online dangers.

9. Lock up your valuable info: Every time you step away from your computer, you should know all of your most important information is secure. Consider utilizing a secure, online storage application or website, such as the free Master Lock Vault, to house all of your passwords, account numbers and essential information and documents under one easily accessible, yet completely secure location. Storing this information online is safer than keeping hard copies or a non-protected file on your computer. Services like the Vault can act as an encrypted digital safe deposit box and give users peace of mind that their vital information is locked up tight.

10. Two is better than one: User authentication, also known as two-tier or device authentication, should always be enabled if offered by sites that collect your secure or private data at registration. With this enabled, you may receive an email or text message with a verification code to complete your account set-up. While this may seem inconvenient at the time of sign-up, the extra protection is well worth this extra step.

For more advice on online safety and security, visit or

Courtesy of BPT

The safety net that helps Americans with disabilities stay afloat

(BPT) - John Miller never much thought about the possibility that he might one day become disabled; he was too busy building and renovating homes throughout suburban Washington, D.C. For 40 years, Miller (a pseudonym to protect his privacy) worked long days with his brother - until an unexpected illness and injury struck.

Like thousands of American workers who find themselves sidelined by illness or injury, Miller could no longer work. As in many jobs, if you don't work, you don't earn. Miller soon found himself in dire straits, both financially and in terms of his health. He had never accepted any kind of public assistance, but now he desperately needed help just to pay basic living expenses.

Miller knew nothing about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the federal program that provides financial support to millions of Americans unable to work because of injury or chronic illness. Learning about the program and securing benefits took months, but now Miller knows his monthly SSDI benefits will at least help him put food on the table.

"My benefits check is something I can count on every month," he says. "I know that I'll be able to eat and that I'll be able to stay in my house for another 30 days."

SSDI is an important part of our nation's Social Security system for disabled workers, retirees, dependents and survivors. Funded through payroll taxes, SSDI provides vital financial support for Americans with severe disabilities and chronic health conditions. Workers earn coverage for SSDI and other Social Security benefits through payroll tax contributions, and may only become eligible for benefits if they have earned coverage and their health prevents them from working.

Currently about 8 million Americans receive SSDI benefits. While the number of people receiving SSDI benefits has risen recently, the increase was expected, and experts say that influx will level off soon. Baby boomers reaching the disability-prone years of their 50s and 60s account for much of the increase. The growing number of women in the workforce also accounts for much of the rise, as they are now eligible for benefits in greater numbers than ever before. The rise in retirement age has also contributed to the increase.

Benefits are modest. On average, SSDI pays individuals just $1,132 a month and families just $1,919 a month. The requirements to qualify for benefits are very strict. Applicants must present extensive medical proof of significant disability. In fact, qualifying disabilities are so severe that about one in five men and one in six women receiving SSDI will die within five years of receiving benefits, and those eligible for benefits are three times more likely to die than other people their age, according to Kathy Ruffing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Applying for SSDI benefits is a complex process, especially for people who are unfamiliar with how the system works or who are already dealing with significant illness or injury and the emotional and financial strain that accompanies poor health. Many people find that getting help from a disability advocate or lawyer can help ease the process and relieve some of the stress.

Securing approval for SSDI benefits took Miller 35 months. His experience is far from unique. Miller's disability meant that after spending his entire career taking care of the homes of others, he wasn't even able to perform needed maintenance on his own home. After nearly three years of waiting, he is finally able to use the benefits he earned while working on other peoples' homes, to hire someone to repair his own home. "I'd love to go out there today and work," he says. "Now I have to get someone else to do the work on my house that I had done for years."

To learn more about Social Security Disability Insurance and to find help navigating the application process, visit

Courtesy of BPT