Online Payment Alternatives to PayPal

I’m a little more than a casual online shopper, so I make lots of electronic payments. I prefer to avoid stores, so I buy almost everything aside from food via the Internet. I frequently use eBay. I’m also something of an airline mileage fanatic, so I prefer to pay with a credit card that earns me miles and free upgrades.

PayPal is great but the various fees they charge you to receive payments are not so great. And if, like me, you prefer not to connect your PayPal account to your bank account, they certainly don’t make it easy for you.

You can link your PayPal account to a credit card, but once you’ve spent or received a total of $10,000, you are required to connect a bank account. PayPal will draw funds from that bank account from then on, which means no more credit card rewards. If you look closely, there is an option for PayPal to draw funds from your credit card instead, but it’s an obscure link that most people miss.

PayPal’s ubiquity makes it hard to avoid, but there are a few other options.

Amazon WebPay allows you to make online or mobile payments using your email address, just like PayPal. This is a no-brainer. There are no fees for sending or receiving money, and you can add funds with a bank account or credit card. Not everyone accepts Amazon WebPay, but I use it whenever it’s an option.

Square is an application for Android and iPhones. The app, along with Square’s external attachment, turns a mobile phone or tablet into a credit card terminal, allowing anyone to accept person-to-person payments. I use Square when someone owes me money after a night out. Instead of splitting a dinner check with a large group, I can pay with my card and everyone else can pay me. There is, however, a 2.75% fee per transaction.

Dwolla charges a 25-cent fee for each transaction, which can take place online or at a brick and mortar store. Their mobile application allows smartphone users to find nearby merchants that accept Dwolla.

Take five or ten minutes to investigate each of these options in order to determine which makes the most sense for your particular online payment needs.

Robert Siciliano, personal security expert contributor to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses hackers hacking hotels on CNBC. Disclosures

Signals of PC Failure and Contingency Plans

Has your computer ever refused to turn on when you hit the power button? Or maybe it turned on, but only to display a blue screen? The best (really the worst) is when you’ve been working on a document or presentation all day, and your hard drive crashes.

If this has yet to happen to you, you’re likely overdue. The following signs indicate your computer may be close to death:

  • A blue screen is often a sign of a driver conflict or hardware issue. When your formerly fully functional PC displays a blue screen informing you that a serious error has occurred, it could mean total failure, or require a simple reboot.
  • Lengthy start up or shut down times may mean that your computer is overwhelmed by too much software, or particular programs are not shutting down properly. Or it could mean that motherboards or hard drives are not long for this world.
  • If you hear strange noises, like beeping, whirling, or grinding, during startup or when computing, this may be a sign of hardware failure.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Like a Boy Scout, be prepared. Here are a few things to keep in mind to prepare you and/or avoid issues with your computer.

Back up your data. There are many options for real-time automatic backups to the cloud, as well as for local backup. Combine both, and you’ll never lose your data.

Back up your set-up.  A great way to do this is by using something like Belarc Advisor, a free program, to take a snapshot of all your software and serial numbers. Set a monthly reminder to take two minutes and do this manually. It will provide an easy guide of what to install when you replace your computer.

Replace your personal computer every two to three years. If you are a casual user, you can ignore this. But if you’re on your PC for four or more hours a day, it will need to be replaced eventually. And setting up your new PC will be far easier to do if the old one is still functioning.

Computers are like shoes. They wear out, and replacing is preferable to repairing. And like shoes, once you break your new computer in, you’ll be happy.

Robert Siciliano, personal security expert contributor to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses hackers hacking hotels on CNBC. Disclosures

Bill Would Remove Social Security Numbers From Medicare Cards

The most basic advice for protecting your own identity is to protect your Social Security number. The obvious solution is simply never to disclose your number, but this is silly, since, depending on your age, you have probably provided it to hundreds of people, on hundreds of forms. It now sits in hundreds of databases, accessible to thousands, and possibly even available for sale.

40 million Medicare subscribers currently have their Social Security numbers printed on their Medicare cards. This means that their identities are at risk every time they hand over their cards, and in the event that any of their wallets are ever stolen.

The proposed “Social Security Number Protection Act” would resolve this issue by prohibiting Social Security numbers from appearing on Medicare cards or on any communications to Medicare beneficiaries, as well as requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to eliminate the unnecessary collection of Social Security numbers.

Social security numbers should certainly be removed from Medicare cards and any other cards, for that matter. But while this bill is a step in the right direction, it cannot protect any of those 40 million subscribers from future fraud.

Only identity theft protection, in combination with a credit freeze, will begin to protect citizens from the new account fraud associated with stolen Social Security numbers.

With more than 11 million victims last year alone, identity theft is a serious concern. McAfee Identity Protection offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your financial accounts. Educate and protect yourself – please visit

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss how to protect yourself from identity theft on (Disclosures)

Researchers Say Identity Theft Has Lasting Psychological Effects

Identity theft victims don’t need Jessica Van Vliet, an assistant professor in counseling psychology at the University of Alberta, to tell them that they no longer feel safe when conducting everyday financial transactions, which most of us take for granted. But she did a study highlighting a fact that many of us in the industry have already known: identity theft makes a mess out of your life. reports, “Van Vliet recently conducted an exploratory study on the experiences of individuals who were victims of identity theft. Participants who recounted their experience during in-depth research interviews expressed a pervasive sense of vulnerability each time they use a credit card or a bank machine. Some participants also felt like they were being treated as criminals when they attempted to clear their names.”

Most of the identity theft victims felt they had been taking appropriate precautions to safeguard their personal information, and had no idea how their data fell into the wrong hands. The lack of specifics makes it difficult for victims to attain any closure and move forward. “No matter how well they monitor their financial records for the rest of their lives, they may still feel vulnerable,” Van Vliet says.

I’ve lost count of how many frantic emails and phone calls I’ve received from identity theft victims. These are people who have done all the right things to maintain a respectable position in society, only to be brought down by a vicious identity thief.

Over and over again I have stressed the importance of being proactive. You don’t want this happening to you. McAfee Identity Protection includes proactive identity surveillance to monitor subscribers’ credit and personal information, as well as access to live fraud resolution agents who can help subscribers resolve identity theft issues. For additional tips, please visit

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him explain how a person becomes an identity theft victim on (Disclosures)

Do You Let Your Kids Out Unsupervised?

Back 30-35 years ago there were house break-ins like there are today, but home security systems were scarce and people weren’t all that concerned either. A lot has changed.

When I was in elementary school, my parents would let us walk to school, walk home, play outside all day and my mother or father would scream at the top of their lungs calling us to come in after dark.

My father and I joke about this all the time. He told me one time he was calling my brother who wasn’t answering him and he got a little panicked. He started his hunt and found my brother lying down in the driveway sleeping.

When I was 12 my father let my brother and I go into downtown Boston to do some shopping. When we got off the train 5 kids followed us, surrounded us, I resisted, they smacked me around and took all my money. That was my first real experience with predators. I quickly learned about situational awareness and being aware of my surroundings. Not a day goes by now that I don’t “benefit” from that horrible incident.

Recently news reports of “Brooklyn Missing Boy: Police Arrest Man the Dismembered Child Had Asked for Directions” reminded us about how there always have been predators, there are predators today, and there always will be predators and we have to take steps to protect ourselves and those we care for.

My kids are young, so they don’t leave my sight. Someday I’ll need to let them go off on their own. But by that time I’ll be 85 and they’ll be in their 40’s so it won’t be so bad.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist toHome Security Source discussing Child Abductions on MSNBC. Disclosures

Fake Cop Scam Common Internationally

When traveling, people are generally nice, kind and generally trustworthy. However there are ALWAYS predators waiting in the wings to pounce when you totally let your guard down.

The best defense is a good offense. So keep your head up, pay attention and if it’s too good to be true it is.

Fake Cops: I was in Mexico years ago when I was having some fun in Tijuana with a bunch of friends. The explorer in me that had one too many margaritas decided to take a walk in the local neighborhood. Then 2 “cops” followed me and grabbed my arm and told me I was under arrest. But when I took a hard look at them, their uniforms weren’t really matching and their badges looked like they were from K-mart. So as I was speaking to them (or as they were interrogating me) I broke free and ran to the border. I never looked back and haven’t gone back since. I’m pretty sure they are still looking for me.

These scams are most prevalent in Mexico, India and Spain. But they happen everywhere including the good ole USA.

Get to know what the police uniforms and vehicles look like in the cities, states, country’s you visit. While you must show a degree of respect for authority, don’t automatically trust. If necessary make a scene if you believe you are being bamboozled by fake cops.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to Home Security Source discussing self defense and rape prevention on NBC Boston. Disclosures.

Setting Up A Sentry Big Bolt Safe

FedEx showed up to my house with a good-sized box, and the driver came to my door to request my signature and a little help. The box felt like it weighed 90 pounds, maybe slightly more. It wasn’t too heavy for two adults. A little awkward, but handling it was easy enough.

A safe should be installed in an inconspicuous location. I put mine in a closet, so it’s not in plain view, on the second floor, in case there is a flood. Of course, the Big Bolt is water-resistant, but it’s best to be as safe as possible.

After cutting open the top of the box, the smartest way to remove the safe is to hold open the flaps and flip the box upside down, then pull the box and packing material off of the safe. The manual is affixed to the safe, with the safe’s combination clearly posted. Scan the combination on the manual’s cover and upload the image to your computer.

Once having successfully used the combination to open the safe, fill out the product registration and send it in.

Must you install the safe, or can you just leave it sitting on the floor? Install it. A burglar will certainly be able to pick it up if you do not. If it’s bolted to the floor, the thief will have a hard time removing it without a heavy-duty breaker bar.

To install the Big Bolt safe you need a drill, a 7/16th drill bit, a ¼ inch bit, 2-6 inch x 7/16th bolts and washers, and either a socket wrench, adjustable wrench, or box wrench. Following the instructions, drill holes through two of the safe’s feet to bolt it to the floor. Then, mark the floor with a pencil. Move the safe out of the way and then drill your pilot holes using a ¼ inch bit. Move the safe back and screw in your bolts.


Now your stuff is more secure from fires and burglars.

Robert Siciliano is a Personal and Home Security Expert for SentrySafe. See him Discussing burglar proofing your home on Fox Boston. Disclosures.

Cybercriminals Target Senior Citizens

Cyber scams happen to the young and the old, the rich and the poor. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your credit is, or whether or not you have a credit card. Cybercriminals target everyone, regardless of how much or how little you rely on a computer.

The lowest of the lowlifes, however, tend to prey upon the weak and uninformed. And all too often, that means children or elderly.

Senior citizens are in a unique position because they often have money in the bank, plus access to additional lines of credit. They are less likely to be frequent Internet users, relative to younger generations, and are therefore less likely to be aware of the many scams that may be targeting them.

Many common scams take place using the telephone rather than the Internet, such as “grandparent scams,” in which victims receive calls from their supposed grandchildren, requesting money.

Online, beware of social media and dating scams. Not everyone who contacts you online is your friend, so be cautious before sharing personal information. Never, under any circumstances, should you send money on the basis an online relationship.

You’re most likely heard the term “phishing,” and have certainly received a fake email at some point. But scammers are getting better at creating targeted, personalized emails that include your name, email address, and even stolen account numbers. Never click any links within an email. Instead, go to your favorites menu or manually type the address into the address bar. If you suspect that an email might not be legitimate, hit delete.

Scammers are constantly searching for the information they need to take over your existing accounts, either by hacking into your own personal computer or by stealing data from your bank, credit card company, a government agency, or any other institution that keeps personal data on file. To prevent account takeover, keep your antivirus software updated, and pay close attention to all your bank statements. Refute any unauthorized transactions right away.

Bad guys love your Social Security number, because they can use it to open new credit accounts in your name. You’ve probably disclosed your Social Security number hundreds of times in your life, and can’t avoid disclosing it in the future. But you can protect yourself with identity theft protection and a credit freeze.

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss how to protect yourself from identity theft on (Disclosures)


Protect Your Automobile from Theft

Ever have your car stolen? I have. When I walked into the restaurants parking lot my car wasn’t in the spot where I parked.  At first I thought maybe I forgot where I parked it. Then an empty feeling came over me and I knew it was stolen. When the police arrived I asked them if they were going to put out an “APB” which stands for “all-points bulletin” and the cop said, Son, you watch too much TV, we don’t do that.

A few days later I got a call that the police found my abandoned vehicle. Once I paid for the tow at the city yard, I got my car back. But when I started the car there was a knock in the engine.  The next day it seized. It cost me $4000.00 to fix and the insurance company gave me only $700.00.  I learned right there and then, auto security is my responsibility.

Cars are often stolen because people make it easy for the bad guy. Roll up your windows and lock your doors. Don’t do things like leave the car running while going into a store or leave the keys in the ignition at any time. Keep in mind auto thieves are always looking for hidden keys too. Don’t have valuable like laptops or bags exposed in the front seat.

The idea is to make it difficult by incorporating multiple layers of security.  Newer cars often have “smart keys” that make it difficult for criminals to hot wire a car and kill switches to override a popped ignition. But even these measures of protection aren’t enough.

Doing things like parking in well-lit high trafficked areas may help, but don’t rely on a light bulb to protect your car.

Steering wheel locks and brake locks will deter some thieves help but can definitely be cut.

Many new cars come equipped with an alarm system that emits noise, has a kill switch and shuts off the gas. Service like OnStar can track a stolen vehicle.  If your car doesn’t have a car alarm you should consider investing in one.

Definitely invest in a security system that tracks a stolen vehicle. Third party applications that are monitored by the police can be effective it recovering a stolen vehicle and even catching thieves in the act.

There are plenty of things you can do to reduce the chances your car will be stolen. Deterrence is the name of the game. But keep in mind there is no such thing as 100% security.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist toHome Security Source discussingADT Pulse on Fox News. Disclosures

Online Gamers Risk Credit Card Fraud

The Sony Corporation has been providing consumers with stellar electronics since before the introduction of the Walkman. The past six months have been harsher for Sony, with attacks by hacktivists and numerous breaches of clients’ data.

Many recent breaches involved usernames, passwords, email addresses, and in some cases, credit card numbers. Each compromised data point is another opportunity for a criminal to steal your identity and make money at the expense of your good name.

If a company becomes aware that usernames and passwords have been compromised, they should notify users and prompt them to change their passwords. Users should change passwords every six months, regardless of whether a breach has occurred. Passwords should include upper and lowercase letters and numbers, and should not be used across two or more accounts. I have 700 different accounts and 700 different passwords.

Beware of spear phishing emails. When hackers get your email address from a breached gaming account, they will send emails that look like they are coming from the company that has been breached. Never click on links within an email. Instead, go to your favorites menu or manually type the correct address in the address bar.

Pay close attention to credit card accounts. I monitor my accounts weekly for all activity. Simply log in, look at each charge, and refute unauthorized charges immediately. A new free service called BillGuard scans your credit cards daily and alerts you to hidden fees, billing errors, forgotten subscriptions, scams, and fraud.

If you have provided a credit card number to your child for online gaming, beware of purchases they may make that you have previously approved. Many gaming sites try to upsell their users, and will charge the credit card on file. Spend some time with your child discussing appropriate online behavior, and look for parental controls that will send you email alerts when your child makes a purchase.

McAfee, the most trusted name in digital security, includes proactive identity surveillance to monitor subscribers’ credit and personal information, as well as access to live agents who can help subscribers resolve identity theft issues. For additional tips, please visit

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him explain how a person becomes an identity theft victim on (Disclosures)