When commenting on a website or blog do your comments keep going into cyberspace? Why can’t I comment on that blog or website? Banned from a website or blog?

For weeks, months or years you have been happily participating in the comments section of your favourite blog or website.  Suddenly, you try to post a comment and find your comments keep going off into cyberspace.  Thinking the website or blog is on the fritz, you try posting your comment several times to no avail.  Alternatively, you may try posting other comments and  find those comments may or may not go through either.  Wondering what is going on?  What are the things you may want to know...when your comments don’t go through?

Technical Problems – There can be genuine technical problems with the website or blog.  Are other users commenting that comments are not posting too?  Are there no comments posted  on the site whatsoever or does this situation involve your comments only?

Censorship – The owner of the blog or website has the ability to enter key words that can block certain comments from being published.  Your comments have not gone into cyberspace, the comments are waiting for approval in the background of that website or blog.  The owner makes the choice whether to approve (publish) or delete your comment. Sometimes the censorship words are obvious like swearing, other times it may be more obscure like words not to tick off their advertisers. The censored words can be based on the owners experiences or just plain paranoia too.

Jealously – Yes it can rear its ugly head, as over time your posts or comments may be getting more attention than the blog or website owners.  The owners can block your IP address so you can’t make any comments again.  Limits can be set on the number of posts, the number of words, etc. you can post on their websites too. One way or another they will try to get you off their site.  Owners will not make public comments that they want you off their site because it makes them look unstable or bad to their advertisers and/or other users. If this is happening to you, take the hint and find another blog or website that appreciates your contributions.

Pre-approval – At any time, the owner can set up  a new commenting system that requires comments to be approved by them before they appear on their blog or website.  Are they being mean?  No.  I do this myself because I receive more pieces of spam on a daily basis than genuine comments.

Abandonment – Due to health issues the owner may have abandoned the blog or website. There could be nothing wrong with the comment you submitted, it’s just stuck in pre-approval limbo land.

Off the Deep End – Personal issues might have gotten the best of blog or website owner. Divorce, death in the family, fighting with their spouse, depression, etc.  Instead of recognizing that they should take a breather away from their blog or website, they operate in a overemotional, overstressed mode.  Comments are deleted at random, IP addresses are blocked out of the blue, their comments are odd, mad or completely non-existent, etc.  It is best to lie low and not comment when you see this happening.  If you absolutely have to comment, keep it too a bare minimum so you don’t aggravate them. You don’t want to be permanently blocked from their site, do you?

Self Destruction – The owner of a popular website or blog may be unable to tell its advertisers and users that they are fed up with their website or blog and want to shut it down.  Odd things are done on purpose over time to drive down traffic and have advertisers leave so they can eventually shut it down.

Remember…Don’t fall in love with a website or blog who doesn’t appreciate your contributions and wants to divorce you.  It may take a bit of effort to find a new website or blog that suits your needs, but you will be better off in the long run.

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What do I need to know about gift cards and gift certificates? Are there gift card scams? Is it safe to buy gift cards second hand?

Gift cards or gift certificates keep growing in popularity.  It is not unusual to receive one or more as a Wedding gift, Birthday gift, Christmas gift or Anniversary gift.  They are considered an alternative to giving cash.  Sometimes the gift cards/gift certificates are welcomed and other times not so much if that person doesn’t shop at that store, eat at that restaurant, use those spa services, etc.  But, what are the things you may want to know… about gift cards and gift certificates in general?

Expiry dates – Check the fine print for gift card/gift certificate expiry dates. Sometimes they can expire in one year and other times they may have no expiry date at all.

Use ASAP – Try to use the gift card/gift certificate as soon as possible. That way you don’t misplace it or throw it in some drawer only to find it after it has expired.  Plus, businesses change owners, business owners retire, go bankrupt, etc., so they may not be around to honor the gift card/gift certificate if you hold on to it for too long either.

Buying second hand – Meet the seller directly at the business the gift card/gift certificate is for.  This way you can verify the balance left on the card at the cashier or customer service desk and make sure the card is genuine.

Fakes – Looks like the real thing, but is a fake.  Fake gift cards/gift certificates have been sold door to door, second hand and directly on bogus company websites.  When you try to redeem the company doesn’t exist and/or there is no cash balance on the gift card.

Internet scams – Includes selling fake gift cards, selling used gift cards with no cash balance left on them and phishing scams that send out letters randomly to millions of people telling them they have won a $500.00 gift card at major department store.  Unfortunately, a lot of these phishing scams were used on My Space, etc. and a lot of younger people gave these thieves their personal information for identity theft purposes thinking they actually won a contest.

In store scams– This can happen with gift cards that are on a display rack in the middle of a store away from the cash register or employees eyes.  Thieves can obtain the gift card serial number before it is even purchased.  Then they monitor the gift card serial number online and watch the balance.  By the time the person actually receives the gift card the balance may of already been depleted.

User fees – Some stores charge a user fee if a gift card/gift certificate has not been redeemed by a certain time period like one year, etc.  

Entire Malls – Gift cards/gift certificates for entire malls that are redeemable at many stores usually have expiry dates.  Even if your municipality has “no expiry” date laws on gift cards/gift certificates this usually only applies to “one” store only, not multiple stores.

Balance remaining – Gift cards/gift certificates are not redeemable for cash.  They can not be used to pay off your credit card balance with that particular store.  So, even if you have fifty cents left as a balance on your gift card you will have to use it towards another purchase. 

Sending by mail – When sending gift cards/gift certificates by mail request a signature and/or get the envelope/package insured.  Some express mail services automatically include $100.00 worth of insurance, so it may be cheaper to send it that way than insuring it through regular postal means.

Remember…

Before purchasing a gift card/gift certificate make sure the receiver has that particular franchise/business in their neighborhood so they don’t have to drive a long distance to redeem the gift card/gift certificate you sent them.

Read the fine print for expiry dates, user fees, etc.

Do not purchase gift cards that look like they have been tampered with. 

Try to find out what businesses the receiver likes to shop at, what restaurants they like to eat at, what services they like to use, etc. Consider what their taste is before purchasing a gift card/gift certificate, where you eat, shop, etc. may not be their style/taste at all.

Some municipalities have gift card/gift certificate laws or are in the process of changing them.  You should be aware of these laws and make sure businesses are following them when your purchasing gift cards/gift certificates.

If you are receiving a lot of gift cards/gift certificates, cash by regular post consider a locked mail box to avoid possible mail theft.  (read more on mail/identity theft on an older thread I posted here)

(BC residents please read comments for further information on new laws coming into effect in November 1, 2008)

Using Craigslist? Is Craigslist dangerous? What do I need to know before buying or selling second hand merchandise?

Perhaps, your saying what is Craigslist?  Craigslist is an online community forum partly owned by Ebay. Craigslist is in numerous countries, cities, states and provinces worldwide.  Basically you can consider it a gigantic free classified ad service.  Many people use Craigslist to sell their second hand merchandise, some even place ads to give it away. Others use Craigslist to find housing/accommodations, jobs or even a partner by placing a personal ad. You can even get involved in discussion forums too.  

But, before you use Craigslist or if you are currently using it, what are the things you may want to know…

Fraud – Even bank drafts that look realistic can turn out to be fake. Wire transfers, cheques and money orders also fall into the same category. Even counterfeit cash was passed at garage sales people advertised on Craigslist.  It is best to deal in cash and check the cash over.  If you are selling a diamond ring that is worth thousands, don’t meet the person in a public place or at your home, meet them directly at their bank, see the withdrawal or bank draft being made up directly in front of your eyes.

Scams – People who ask for personal information and/or personal financial information from you because they wish to wire you money from other city/country because they want to buy your item is a hoax. They are only trying to glean personal information from you for identity theft purposes.  

Brand new – People will try to pass items off as “new” and sell them as such.  Ask sellers questions.  If the item is new or nearly new the seller should have receipts, warranty information,know if the warranty is transferable, what store they purchased the item from, etc.  A seller should be able to answer any questions about the item in a timely manner.  Making excuses or not answering questions about these so called “new” items should alert you immediately to the following:  item could be stolen, reconditioned, damaged, written off, decommissioned, not new (older than stated) or someone could be trying to sell a cheaper version or knock off as a high end item to make extra cash.  

Thieves – Post only the photo of the item you are selling not the entire room.  Photos showing the rest of your possessions like your large plasma tv, computer, antiques, etc., can be enticing to thieves. If you are selling expensive items it is best that you are not home alone when someone comes to view them.  

Fake ads – Unfortunately, some people get a kick out of posting fake ads.  Usually other Craigslist users will flag the ad for removal and post an ad of their own telling everyone else it is a fake.

Fake pictures – Some people will post a photo of a item in perfect condition, but what they are selling is in poor condition or the item their selling doesn’t look anything like the photo they posted.  You may want to verify condition before going to see the item.  If a seller says it is hard to describe the condition, it has wear/damage/fading of some sort.

Stories – Down on my luck, etc.  It is hard to separate truth from fiction here. Be careful, you can be dealing with someone who is supporting a drug addiction, etc.  If you wish to be charitable then offer to drop the items off at the persons home directly with a friend in tow.

Anonymous – If a buyer or seller doesn’t want to leave a message on your answering machine, give you their name, telephone number, etc. beware.  Communication should flow freely, not be like pulling teeth. 

Vagueness – I lost the receipt for my six month old fridge.  I don’t have the warranty, I got it from my cousin, etc.  Don’t let a good price cloud your judgement.  Decommissioned appliances have been sold on Craigslist.  Decommissioned appliances are appliances that the manufacturer has deemed as non repairable and are supposed to be junked.  Unfortunately, someone picks up these decommissioned appliances at the dump or along the way and tries to resell them. Missing or scratched out serial numbers should be your first clue.  If you call about a fridge and the seller asks which one or has multiple appliances for sale in their garage these can be extra clues too.

Remember…

Although many transactions off Craiglist go off with out a hitch and you can meet some very nice people; you can also run into problems if you are too trusting. One only has to google Craigslist scams/fraud to see all the problems people have run into on these websites you will get over a million hits.  I have investigated this site myself and you can read about my findings in the comment section.

Why should I have a locked mailbox? What do you tell people about yourself on the internet? Do you shred your mail?

A couple weeks ago one of our local TV stations did a news story on mail theft and offered this test to see if you are at risk of identity theft.

No matter where you live identity theft is the fastest growing crime worldwide. It is estimated by 2003 that 11.8 million Americans were victims of identity theft, shockingly that is 1 in 20 people.  

Since a two or three minute news blip doesn’t do this important subject justice or cover other areas on how to protect yourself in general; I thought I would expand on the subject further because there are things you may want to know… 

How to protect yourself from identity theft:

Safeguard your wallet and purse.

Try not to flash your cash no matter where you are, whether on vacation or at home. You never know who maybe watching you.  Even professional thieves and pickpockets have been known to wear business attire to fit into a crowd. I’m always amazed when I see men counting a wad of money in a public place or pulling out a big wad of cash out of their wallets.  Perhaps, they think they are safe in their environment? I know someone who was mugged in a swanky hotel washroom near a banquet hall where a wedding reception was taking place.    

Store your personal information in a secure location.  

Are you a clutter bug?  Do you carry do too much personal information in your wallet or purse?  Do you leave important papers, pin numbers, etc. laying around at home, just thrown on top of a table or in a dresser drawer?  Do you know during a home break in that thieves head to the bedroom first? Try to store personal information in a secure place in your home, a place that would not be obvious to a thief if you ever had a break in.

Safeguard your post mail.

Is your mailbox locked?  If not, invest in a new mailbox with a lock on it.  Mail theft is rampant and it is just one of many ways thieves can steal your identity. Even if you have a locked mailbox already make sure you pick up your mail on a daily basis.  I lived in a condo building where some people didn’t pick up their mail for days or weeks at a time, until our mailbox got broken into, then everyone became more vigilant after their mail was stolen. 

Mailing personal letters.

Unfortunately, thieves also steal mail out of regular postal mailboxes too.  If you are mailing personal information by post, sending greeting cards with gift certificates in them, etc. make sure you are not dumping the letters in the mailbox overnight, on the weekend or after the mail pick up times.  Sometimes you are better off mailing important letters directly at your local post office instead.

Safeguard yourself on the internet.

Do make purchases on the internet with a separate credit card or do you use your main credit card that offers thousands of dollars of available credit on it?  If you purchase items on the internet you should use a separate credit card with a lower credit limit on it for security reasons. Many websites have gotten hacked into and personal credit card information for identity theft purposes has been stolen in this manner. 

Online banking, online stock trading, etc.  Although convenient and many companies claim their systems are secure, hackers and fraud still occurs.  Online accounts with large cash positions can be at risk. 

Are you a website/blog owner?  Do you have a listed telephone number?  Be careful what kind of information you reveal about yourself on your blog or website. Telling your bloggers you are going on vacation, away for a few days, etc., can expose you mail theft, a home break in, etc.

If you use facebook or my space be careful what personal information you reveal on these sites too. The same holds true if you are a blogger using your real name, revealing personal information and you have a listed telephone number too.

Select intricate passwords to protect yourself on the internet in general.  Try not to use simple personal passwords like your telephone number, your mothers maiden name, etc. 

Interac, ATM’s, debit cards. 

Never tell anyone your pin code or write it down on the back of your card. Cover your hand over your other hand or block another person’s view when entering your pin code as you never know who can be watching you entering your pin number.  

Shred all personal information.

Credit card applications, envelopes with your name and address on them, etc., etc.  It pays to invest in a good shredder.  The shredders that shred paper into dust like particles are best.  Cross cut is okay, depending on how big the shredding strips are.  Remember the smaller the shred the harder the information would be to put back together again. Strip shredders are no longer recommended because information can be put back together quite quickly.  Sifting through dumpsters, paper recycling bins and garbage cans are ways identity thieves can gather information on you.

Protect your Social Insurance number/Social Security number and birth certificate.  

Are you caring these items around in your purse or wallet?  This is not recommended because if you ever lost your purse/wallet or had your purse/wallet stolen an identity thief would have all the information they need to become you really fast.

Pre-approved credit card applications.

Rather than just shredding these pre-approved credit card applications when they arrive by mail, call the company and request to be removed off their mailing list completely.  Pre-approved credit card applications are what identity thieves look for.

Check your credit report.

Usually for a small fee or for free you can you check your credit report.  It is recommended you check your credit report annually.  This will allow you to see anyone who is accessing your credit information and get on top of anything unusual like a family member taking out a credit card under your name without you knowing, etc., etc.

Make sure your bills show up when they are suppose to.

Pay attention that your credit card bills are showing up on a regular basis.  If a credit card bill doesn’t show up one month, get on top of it right away, as the first thing identity thieves do is have your bills redirected to another address.

Envelopes that arrive open, damaged or look like they have been resealed.

Not all identity thieves steal mail, some open mail and write down information on you instead.  If your mail is arriving opened, damaged or the envelopes look like they have been resealed this can be a sign of an identity thief at work.

Remember…

If you have an odd charge on paypal, a credit card, debit card, etc. get on top of it right away. Sometimes identity thieves will test an account out by charging seventy five cents or a dollar or two before proceeding with more charges.

How tech savvy is that blog/website owner on the site you are chatting on?

When chatting on various websites/blogs we assume the owner of that website/blog is somewhat tech savvy and their website/blog is safe. We take for granted that the owner can catch problems or handle problems when they occur, but are we lulling ourselves into a false sense of security?

Things you may want to know…

The safety of the blog/website you are chatting on is heavily dependent on how tech savvy the owner is. Will the owner even notice whether their website/blog is being hacked into, whether there is a virus on their site, etc.  

Some people assume Ewwww! that website/blog has had problems so they decide not to bother with that website/blog again, but is this the wrong reaction?   Summing the answer up in one word, Yes!  When a website/blog owner notices a problem and is honest enough to tell you about it, realize the owner has taken steps to protect their website/blog from any future problems like that again.  Other owners may have problems on their website/blog, but may choose to keep it a secret from you.  Still other owners whose tech knowledge is limited, may not even notice when someone is attacking their website or blog.  

Whether the website/blog owner is 12 years old or 90 years old, basically your security depends on how tech savvy the website/blog owner is, how tech savvy you are and what kind of security measures you have installed on your own computer.  

Remember…

Just because you don’t hear about a website/blog owners problems doesn’t mean they don’t have any.

Suffering from the heartache of annoying telemarketers? Overloaded with junk mail?

Junk mail by email, junk mail by post mail, annoying telephone calls from people trying to sell you something at dinner hour, etc., etc. Help!  I’m being bombarded from every direction by people wanting to sell me some product or service.  What should I do?

Things you may want to know…

To get rid of junk post mail, don’t open the envelope, cross out or put a wavy line through your name and address on the front of the envelope (make sure the marks are not so thick/heavy that you can’t still see your name & address through the pen marks). Beside your name and address on the envelope write “Return to sender.  Moved. Remove from all mailing lists.”  then draw a nice big arrow up to the companies return address.  At this point, pop the envelope back into the mailbox, basically your sending the junk mail back to the sender. The company is not going to waste postage sending you mail that is going to be unopened and returned back to them.  You can also call the company and ask to be removed from their mailing list.  I find the return the junk mail by mail process works more quickly and effectively in comparison though.

To get rid of telephone marketers calling you, interrupt them as fast as you can, tell them your not interested and say “please remove me from your calling list”  it is very important you say these words to them. Once you tell them remove me from your calling list, the company is not allowed by law to contact you for 3 years.  If they call you again remind them once again that you requested to be removed from their calling list several months ago and there is government laws and fines associated with calling someone who has requested to be removed from the calling list.  

In the U.S. you can register on national do not call list – link here

For the UK – link here

In Canada the national do not call list will not be available until September 2008. So in the mean time you will have to tell every telephone marketer that calls you to “please remove me from your calling list” instead. If any telephone marketer continues to call you after you already requested to be removed from their calling lists, you can remind them you asked them months ago to remove you from their calling list and tell them you will contact the CRTC and they will have to pay a 15k fine because they are in violation of telemarketing laws if they call you again. If they are still calling you past this point, keep track of the dates and times they are calling you and contact the CRTC directly to lodge a formal complaint against the company. To register a complaint with the CRTC link here

To get rid of junk email.  Well, handling this one can be a little tricky as a lot of junk emails come from fake addresses. Sometimes, once you open a junk email it triggers a ping back to the sender that you opened it and then they keep send you more and more junk. Sometimes you recognize the sender of the junk mail and you can successfully unsubscribe to receiving any more mail from these particular companies.

You can also track junk email senders by looking up their IP address and complaining directly to their email server, but this is very time consuming.  You can also complain to your own email server too, but what they do with your complaint, depends on how seriously your email provider takes spam complaints.

Some large email providers, like Yahoo and Hotmail have very dismal spam control.  Plus, the hackers try to obtain email addresses from these sites on a regular basis because they offer such a large email address base.   Some smaller email providers offer great spam control in comparison to the larger email ones, but you will have to search for which one you should use and see if they are suitable for your emailing needs. 

 

Who has your email address and what are they doing with it? Why do I get so much junk mail?

Practically every day someone is asking for our email address in one way or another.  From entering a contest online, to getting a quotes from businesses, to sending an e-card, blogging, to your work, to warranty/product registrations, to charitable organizations, to buying a house, to dealing with your bank, etc., etc…..

We don’t even think twice about hearing the words, “What’s your email address?”, but should we think twice about who we are giving out our email address to?

Things you may want to know….

Although most people you give your email address out to will not sell your email address or ever send you spam, unfortunately, there is a lot of companies and people that do.  Usually, a lot of these sites are identifiable because the site is usually promoting a service or product. The site may have a lot of advertising/pop ads, but if your pop-up blocker on your computer is turned on then you may not notice this. On some other sites after you have given them your email address, a list of subjects will pop up and they will ask you to click on the subjects you are interested in.  

Several months go by and you notice that your getting a bunch of emails from places and companies you have never dealt with before and your baffled where all this email is coming from.  Actually, a lot of times it is originating from sites you gave your email address willingly to in the first place.  The company in turn takes your information and sells it to 3rd parties, so other parties can send you their product information, etc. But…how do you know who does this sort of thing and who doesn’t?  

You will usually find this in the fine print/legal jargon and it is referred to as a privacy policy.  On some sites you can easily see this information and on other sites you may have to look for it harder. Within the pages of all that legal jargon is the sites policies on privacy. If you take the time to read it all you may see the words the company has the right to send you information from other parties or the company has the right to send you information from 3rd parties, etc. This is your red flag/warning light that this company is going to pass on your information onto other parties.

Remember…

The practice of passing on your information onto other parties and/or selling your information to other parties is very common now a days. Unfortunately, this practice is not only limited to the internet.  Even major banks also have it on their mortgage/loan applications, etc., you will have to tell them you wish to opt out of them passing your name onto third parties and/or receiving other product information from them. 

Although, it may take time to read all the legal fine print, it maybe worth it if you don’t want to end up on every junk mailing list in town.