Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How to Create and Keep Strong Passwords

Your passwords are like the keys to your life. And when it seems like there’s another big security breach every week, you want to be absolutely sure your passwords are strong and safe.

After all, with just a few keystrokes, a scammer can have full access to your personal information, financial accounts, social media pages and so much more. But creating those perfect passwords – and remembering them – can be difficult. We’ve outlined 6 steps for creating and keeping super-strong passwords that will keep scammers guessing.

Step #1: Choose a password manager
With so much of our lives accessible online, it’s more important than ever to keep passwords secure. One way to do this is to use a password manager. These services will generate strong passwords for all of your financial accounts, favorite websites and social media platforms and keep them safely encrypted. You will only need to create and memorize one master password, which you will use when logging into all of your accounts. There are lots of password managers on the market, but the ones that come most highly recommended are Lastpass and Keepass. You’ll want to note that LastPass is online-based while KeePass is offline-based, so there are advantages and disadvantages to using both.

Step #2: Create an unbreakable master password
Once you’ve chosen your password manager, create a strong master password. This code can open up every password of yours to potential scammers, so be extra careful about choosing one that is super-secure and virtually unbreakable. Follow the rules below and you’ll have a strong password.
  • Make it long. Many sites require a password that is a minimum of 8 characters long, but a 12-character password is even stronger. 
  • Be creative. Avoid using names, places and recognizable words because these are easily cracked. 
  • Mix it up. The best way to keep your password unbreakable is to mix up your capitalization and the kinds of characters you use, switching back and forth from letters to numbers to symbols. 
Bonus tip: Worried about creating and remembering a long, unbreakable password? Turn a sentence into a password by using mnemonics, misspelled words and symbols that only you will understand. Here are a few to get you started:
  • WOO!TAwonTWS = Woohoo! The Astros won the World Series!
  • D:’(OspldMlk.JdreenqOJ = Don’t cry over spilled milk. Just drink orange juice 
  • 1tubuupshrtsin2Mpnts = I tuck button-up shirts into my pants. 
Once you’ve created a super-strong master password, work on memorizing it. Don’t store the password anywhere online or on your phone; write it down on an unmarked piece of paper. Rip up the paper as soon as you’ve committed the password to memory. This should happen fairly quickly since you will be using it quite often. 

Step #3: Update all your passwords
Next, you’re going to sync all the websites and accounts you use with your password manager. Follow the guidelines on your password manager for this step, as they differ with each service. When you’re through, you’ll only be able to log into these sites by using your master password.

Step #4: Use two-factor authentication
Add another layer of protection by choosing two-factor authentication whenever you have that option.

Step #5: Be careful with security questions 
Ironically, security questions are extremely insecure. Anyone can Google your dog’s name or your mother’s hometown. And, if all a scammer has to do to retrieve your password with the “I forgot my password” tab is answer a security question, the strongest passwords in the world won’t do you any good. Protect yourself by treating security questions like passwords. Never answer them truthfully. Instead, make up mnemonics or nonsensical answers that are hard to crack but easy for you to remember.

Step #6: Don’t let your browser or phone “remember” your passwords 
Don’t be lazy; keep your passwords in your head and not on your devices. Otherwise, you’ll be in deep trouble if your computer or phone is swiped. Keep your passwords strong and safe. You don’t want to be an easy target for scammers!

Your Turn: What’s your best tip for creating a super-strong password? Share it with us in the comments.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

6 Times a Bargain is Not a Bargain

With the biggest spending season of the year looming ahead, it’s time to brush up on your shopping smarts. Don’t get caught springing for something you can’t afford! This year, give yourself the gift of an intact budget and a credit card balance that doesn’t haunt you for months or years to come. Here’s when that steal of a deal is not such a bargain after all.

1. When you don’t need it 
The price might be right. But, if the heavily marked-down item is one you don’t need, you’re just blowing money you could be using for savings or to purchase the stuff you actually do need.

2. When it’s a faulty product 
Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be cheap. If an item is retailing at a ridiculously low price, hold it up to this checklist to determine its quality:
  • Where was it manufactured? If the product has a designer label, but also has a “Made in China” tag, you’re looking at a cheap knockoff that isn’t such a bargain after all. 
  • Are there any noticeable defects or missing parts? 
  • Does the item look worn out? 
  • Is the material cheaply made? 
3. When it’s going to go bad before you can use it 
Before buying in bulk at your local warehouse store to snag a great deal, be sure the food won’t go bad or get stale before you can eat it.

4. When the “sale price” is the highest the item has ever been sold for at this location 
Retailers sometimes feature an item’s price as a “sale price” when, in reality, the store has never sold it for more than the tagged amount. The store might be basing its sale price on an inflated Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). But, if the MSRP was artificially inflated to begin with, you’re not getting a bargain.

Other times, the item will come with a pre-marked-down MSRP. The manufacturer’s label might read: “Original price: $49.99. Our price: $39.99.” Of course, the item was never sold at $49.99. If an item is really marked down, you’ll see another price tag slapped on top of the manufacturer’s label with the newer, lower price.

5. When you need to mail in a rebate 
Rebates are a retailer’s best friend. Most of us are too lazy or forgetful to mail them in. We instead end up paying full price with the retailer getting the last laugh. Only pick up rebate items with an instant at-the-register rebate.

6. When it’s part of a liquidation sale 
Avoid liquidation sales. While shoppers sometimes snag great deals, they are riddled with rip-offs. Retailers post signs claiming “Everything Must Go!” – but that’s where the honesty ends. The “Rock Bottom Prices” they advertise are often as high as the original MSRP – or even higher. The store owners are depending on shoppers to assume that all items are bargain-priced just because they’re at a liquidation sale. Proceed at liquidation sales with extreme caution.

Your Turn: Have you ever snagged a great deal only to realize later that it wasn’t quite the bargain you thought it was?

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