Meeting a Stranger: Safety Tips for Online and In-Person

A simple yet comprehensive guide to staying safe when meeting a stranger in person or dealing with one online.

1SDI have been involved in the security industry for years, and one of the most common questions I get is how to be safe when meeting a stranger online or in person.

Safety Tips for Online Stranger Encounters

  • When online, give out as little info as possible.
  • If possible, meet people on sites that scrutinize their users, though even an extensive profile can be convincingly faked. Do your homework on these sites.
  • Don’t rely only on profiles. Seek out their name online to see what comes up.
  • Use a disposable e-mail address (or phone number) service or app.
  • Speak on the phone first; it’s harder for a man to pretend he’s a woman this way.

In-Person Safety Tips with Strangers

  • Use your smartphone to share where you’ll be with family and friends. There are apps that will let trusted people view where you’re at.
  • Choose more than one meeting place (well-lit, very public). This is because you may want to go to a second location if it’s a date, or if it’s a buy-sell, the other person may get lost.
  • For a buy-sell, bring someone with you.
  • For dating or business, bring minimal cash, only the amount you expect to pay for an item. Keep extra cash (for haggling) separate and unseen by the stranger.
  • If the stranger must come to your home to view an item you’re selling, leave your front door open. Try to have someone with you.
  • Do a background check on anyone whose house you’re going to (such as to clean or babysit).

Safe Strategies with Strangers

  • Never get into a car with a stranger.
  • Arrange a nearby meeting place for you and trusted friends, after your blind date or business meeting. If it’s a blind date, your friends could be across the street having dinner; only one text message away.
  • Stick to your meeting place plans; don’t veer off-course.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com discussing burglar proofing your home on Fox Boston. Disclosures.

11 Tips to Hotel Safety and Security

Can you name 11 tips for hotel safety and security? How about just five?

4HHave you ever walked down the hallway of a hotel and passed by rooms with doors left wide-open by cleaning staff? Ever thought of how easy it would be to enter and pretend the room is yours? Imagine what you could steal.

This is why a hotel that takes security seriously will be very strict about whom is issued an electronic key to rooms, and will issue regulations regarding housekeeping tasks. In more remote hotels or those in less developed countries, the hotel staff itself may be the thieves.

Nevertheless, whether you’re in the ritziest hotel or the shoddiest dump, Schlage locks wants you to know there’s a baseline of precautions you should take.

#1. Never leave valuables in your room unless you’re present. If you must, use the hotel safe and be sure to get a receipt.

#2. When in the room, keep the door locked, including the chain feature.

#3. Always use the peephole before opening the door.

#4. If you anticipate the door won’t have a lock (such as in a foreign country), bring along a traveler’s door lock, a motion detector that you hang on the knob that sounds when the door opens, and/or a doorstop alarm—it wedges against the door’s base.

#5. Don’t open the door to strangers.

#6. If the “stranger” claims to be a hotel service person, call the front desk for verification first.

#7. Consider have all food deliveries made to the lobby. This isn’t convenient, but it’s safer. You never know if the delivery person is actually a predator looking for a target. Men should also practice this procedure; men can be targeted for violent crimes too. The delivery person may also case you as a potential target later on.

#8. Be mindful of what you leave outside your door. E.g., what appears to be leftovers from one person’s meal, indicates you’re alone.

#9. Before going to bed, double check all possible entry points.

#10. Make people think you’re there when you’re not: Place the “do not disturb” sign on the door—after you put the TV on loud. But first make sure this won’t coincide with maid service.

#11. If your hotel wants you to turn your key in when you go out, keep the key so that nobody knows you’re out.

Robert Siciliano home security expert to Schlage discussinghome security and identity theft on TBS Movie and a Makeover. Disclosures. For Roberts FREE ebook text- SECURE Your@emailaddress -to 411247.

10 Lifesaving Smoke Alarm Safety Tips

One minute or less…

6H…is all the time you may have to escape a fire in your home. Schlage, which is dedicated to keeping homes and families safe, sound and secure, and I ask: “Do you have a smoke alarm?” It can double your chances of escaping death. Home smoke detectors have cut fire fatalities in half since they came on the market in the early 1970s.

Nevertheless, fires kill about 3,000 people a year in the U.S. Forty percent of these deaths occur in homes that lack working smoke alarms (40 percent!)

  • If you don’t have a smoke alarm, get one or as many as you need—today.
  • Never deactivate them while cooking.

Did you know that most fire deaths are from smoke inhalation, rather than being burned to death, even though the dead body often becomes burned to a crisp (yes, TMI, but seriously)…? An escape route can be blocked by thick, dangerous smoke, not plumes of fire. A smoke detector can get you responding sooner and thus avoid fatal smoke inhalation.

  • Exit the building when the alarm sounds.
  • Then stay out. (Have a post-escape family meeting place pre-determined.)
  • From a neighbor’s house call 9-1-1.

Smoke alarms can also signal a flashing light for the hearing impaired. Alarms are also available that trigger a vibration under your sleeping pillow.

The Importance of Drills

Plan an escape route, then run fire drills. If possible, figure out two ways to exit every room, even if that means out a window. Make sure everyone in the household understands and can run through the escape route. The practice should include the post-exit meeting place outside.

  • Practice drills during less-than-desirable times: in the middle of the night, in very cold weather, etc., as well as under more ideal circumstances.
  • Tweak the plan as necessary. Who may be capable of actually sleeping through the alarm? This should be addressed. Make sure that an escape plan is in place for physically disabled occupants, babies and pets.
  • Purchas a folding ladder in case an escape through an upper window is necessary.

Maintenance

  • Every month (or at least every 6), clean dust from the alarms and push the test button.
  • Never paint the alarm.
  • Change the batteries every time you change your clocks.

10-Year Lifespan

An alarm that’s over 10 years old needs to be replaced. If you’re not sure how old they are, replace them.

Leave Quickly

Some door handles are fussy when you try and open them. Make sure your home is equipped with door handles that unlock then the door is opened from the inside, like the Schlage F51A. This lock allows homeowners to leave quickly and conveniently in an emergency.

Robert Siciliano home security expert to Schlage discussinghome security and identity theft on TBS Movie and a Makeover. Disclosures. For Roberts FREE ebook text- SECURE Your@emailaddress -to 411247.

Find Missing Kids with SafetyLink

Find your lost car keys, smartphone and abducted child. Yes, you read that correctly: There’s now a device that can locate your missing child (or wandering elderly grandmother). And the device that can do this is TINY.

SLImagine a device that can be used as a keychain and not only locate missing people, but your dog that’s run off. Sanjay Chadha did, and the result is SafetyLink, which uses wireless technology combined with smartphones and cloud sourcing to provide community protection.

Chadha is the co-founder and CEO of Safety Labs Inc., the developer of SafetyLink. Chadha came up with the idea as a result of the much publicized gang rape that had occurred in New Delhi. So disturbed by this crime, he awakened one morning at 4 a.m. and knew it was time to develop a mobile-based solution that could save people in danger.

Enter SafetyLink

The main targets of SafetyLink are children, women and senior citizens. Should a child become lost or abducted, for example, or a hiker take a serious fall, they simply press and hold the coin-sized button of the device. This will send an SOS.

The SOS will then be distributed by a cloud server, alerting individuals who are in the user’s network—who have proximity to the user. Emergency services (e.g., 9-1-1) will also be notified.

And guess what: SafetyLink has key features that prevent prank calls. The device includes GPS technology to locate the user (imagine a child in the car of an abductor, pressing the button—which can be worn as a pendant—the predator would never suspect a thing!

The SOS will make its way to the dashboard of a police cruiser in the vicinity. The police will be on the predator’s tail in no time.

SafetyLink can be used by “anybody and everybody,” says Chadha. It easily clips to a child’s jacket or backpack, Grandma’s fanny pack or your dog’s collar. It needs charging only once a year, due to Blue Tooth technology. And remember, it can also locate missing car keys and phones.

How does Safetylink alert?

A parent, for instance, determines the travel range of their child and sets this up via an online application. If the child wanders out of (or is taken out of) this travel range, the parent’s smartphone will beep.

The parent then registers the child’s SafetyLink with the cloud server: The police and community will be alerted to search for the missing person. Think of this as a wireless leash. It can be switched on and off; the travel range can be adjusted; and people can always be added to the network.

This new product sure sounds like a winner. However, its success depends on community participation. People are encouraged to download the free application. The device costs only $35.

Thus far, 220 have been pre-ordered from the U.S., Canada, Europe, India and Brazil.

Where can pre-orders be made?

Safetylink.org. The product will be officially on the market May 2014.

10 Christmas tree safety tips

My friends at Schlage want you to have a safe holiday season. Did you know that Christmas trees can kill? Not by falling on you, but by burning down your house. Between 2006 and 2010, about 230 home fires per year were responded to by U.S. fire departments, killing an average of four people each year and injuring many more.

6HThough not common, Christmas tree fires usually cause serious and costly damage. Eighteen percent of these fires were caused by a heat source too close to the tree. Improper disposal of the tree is also implicated as a cause. Here are tips to prevent this very preventable type of residential fire.

  1. Choose fresh over cheap and dry. The fresher the tree, the less likely it will pose a fire hazard. Look for flexible needles that don’t break, and a trunk with sap.
  2. Keep the water coming. The tree stand should contain a continuous source of water and be sturdy enough to resist toppling by kids or pets.
  3. Don’t choke the cord. Attach only three maximum strings of lights to any one extension cord, then place cords along walls to prevent a tripping hazard. Never run them under rugs or carpets.
  4. Trees don’t need warmth. Keep the tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces, candles and even a TV.
  5. Not any lights will do. Use low energy, safe lighting that’s been certified by a safety testing lab. Don’t use damaged or frayed cords.
  6. Shut the lights.Never leave the lights on overnight. Same goes for any appliances not in use when you are home or away.
  7. Don’t keep a dry tree around. Dispose of it at this point properly. Don’t even keep it in the garage.
  8. Artificial tree safety awareness. Artificial trees should be flame resistant and have a seal for an approved safety testing laboratory if the tree contains a built-in lighting set.
  9. Death by artificial tree. If the tree is metal, never use electric lights, as they can charge the tree and lead to electrocution.
  10. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby. Make sure everyone knows its location and how to use it.

Robert Siciliano home security expert to Schlage discussing home security and identity theft on TBS Movie and a Makeover Disclosures. For Roberts FREE ebook text- SECURE Your@emailaddress -to 411247.

9 Tips to Protect Your Home from a Summertime Burglar

Nationwide, “burglars made off with $4.6 billion in electronics, jewelry, cash and other items in 2008, according to the FBI. In more than 30 percent of those burglaries, the thief got inside without forcing open a door or window. Many occurred during the day.”

As you pack your car for your next road trip, realize someone’s probably watching.  Neighbors often peek their heads through their windows when they see activity. I’m one of those neighbors. I like to see what is going on and I often keep tabs on who is doing what and when. If a neighbor is leaving to travel, I know about it.

I’m not nosy, I’m security conscious. Nosy is when the neighbor asks questions and pokes around your business. Security conscious is when you observe, adopt situational awareness and try to identify if the rolled up rug your neighbor is stuffing in their trunk is just a rug or if that rug has his wife in it.

Burglars use these same observation tactics. They look for signs you are traveling. They look for outside lights on 24 hours a day. They look for dark homes inside at nighttime. They look for no car in the driveway, mail and news papers piled up or uncut grass that’s three weeks overgrown.  And they look to see you packing your car before a trip. A bad neighbor or his bad seed of a kid may be peering through their windows when you pack. That kid may end up in your house hours after you leave.

The Washington Post reports “but police say there are simple steps residents can take to make it less likely their home will be the next target. “Reduce the opportunity,” District Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said. “People don’t just walk down the street and decide ‘I’m going to hit your home today.’ They do some casing. The key, police say, is securing your home and eliminating signs that you are away. Doors and windows should be locked even if you’re only heading to the park or a neighborhood barbecue for a few hours.”

Here are a few tips to help protect the safety of your home while you are on vacation:

  • Pack your car in your garage or late at night under the cover of darkness.
  • Use timers on indoor and outdoor lights.
  • Let a trusted neighbor and the police know you are traveling.
  • Unplug garage door openers.
  • Have a neighbor park their car in your driveway.
  • Have a landscaper mow your lawn.
  • Don’t share yourhttp://www.homesecuritysource.com/Blogs.aspx?TopicName=Travel travel plans on social media or on a voicemail outgoing message.
  • Lock everything of significant value in a safe.
  • Invest in a home security camera system and home security alarm system.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to Home Security Source discussing burglar proofing your home on Fox Boston. Disclosures.

High School Football Team Player Burglars

I was 17 once. I hung around with good kids, not so good kids and very bad kids. Teens heavily influence one another in ways that can have a direct impact on their futures. When you are young and new to the world, you are seeking out how things are supposed to be. Your gauge is guided by what your parents have become, but kids don’t often think their parents are smart enough to make the right decisions. So even if the kids’ parents are great, the kid may rebel and do stupid things.

At a young age, a kid that seems to have his act together by his peers, may become a leader. That kid may be a great influencer but may not have his act together at all. He may be a leader, but a blind one. As the saying goes, the blind leading the blind.

In California “police have arrested High school football players in connection with a string of street robberies that targeted teenage boys over the past two weeks. The teenagers were wanted in connection with a string of five robberies that began June 30. After police alerted the community via e-mail and local media, someone called and offered a tip that led police to the suspect’s home. Police said the teens in custody told them that the victims were targeted because they were walking alone and distracted, either by listening to music or talking on their cell phones. In each of the reported cases, a vehicle appeared to canvass a street for an unsuspecting teen. One occupant would get out and walk ahead of the victim. He would then turn around and punch or grab the victim and steal his electronics, usually an iPod, cell phone or both, while shouting threats.”

When I was a kid, I saw this. Teens I ran with thought behavior like this was “cool”. Fortunately for me, I didn’t see the fun in that kind of behavior. I think I got lucky. Today, many of those kids I ran with are messed up, dead or in jail. When young and impressionable, even a good kid can go bad when with the wrong crowd. And for the rest of his life he will pay the penalty. My parents were great. As good a parent as you may be, your kid can get caught up in something like this. Have you talked to your kid today?

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to Home Security Source discussing Home Security on NBC Boston. Disclosures.

5 Tips to Help Prevent a Home Invasion

Imagine you’ve lived at your home for a number of years, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore. Home invasions change all that. It used to be a place that was comforting and soothing; a place of security where you didn’t have to “worry.” Not anymore.

There are few crimes as horrific as a home invasion. When a bad guy forces their way into your home and uses violence on you and your family to get what they want, all sense of security is gone. This is a crime that can be combated with common sense and a home security plan.

Posing as a health inspector, police officer or even a secret service agent is commonly used with success. I once posed as a “water inspector” and gained access to people’s homes by saying I needed to “check the colorization of their water”, as I demonstrated on The Montel Williams Show here. A fake badge and a uniform of any kind can do wonders.

Here are 5 tips to help keep you safe and prevent a home invasion:
1. Never talk to strangers via an open or screen door. Always talk to them through a locked door.

2. NEVER let children open the doors. Always require and adult to do it.

3. Install a home burglar alarm and keep it on 24/7/365. With a home alarm system on, when someone knocks on the door, a conscious decision has to be made to turn off the alarm. Most people will keep it on.

4. Not all home invaders knock, some break in without warning.  Just another reason to have that alarm on.

5. Install a 24-hour camera surveillance system. Cameras are a great deterrent.  Have them pointed to every door and access point.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to Home Security Source discussing home invasions on the Gordon Elliot Show. Disclosures

Summertime Scams and Identity Theft

For everything in life, there is a corresponding scam. Scammers spend their energy trying to separate hardworking, law-abiding citizens from their money, and they’ll take advantage of any opportunity to do so. The four seasons provide various opportunities for scams. Summers “hottest” scams include:

Stealing your mail. While you’re on vacation, your mailbox fills up with credit card offers and bank statements. The bad guy can steal this mail and use it to open new credit cards in your name, or to take over existing accounts.

Solution: Get a mailbox that locks in order to prevent thieves from stealing your mail. Have a trusted friend retrieve your mail while you’re away. Opt out of prescreened credit card offers.

Credit card fraud. Paying with cash is so 1800s! Credit cards are convenient and cleaner than dirty dollars. Therefore, credit card fraud is so 21st century! When you are out and about, anyone who handles your credit card can steal your digits and make unauthorized charges, as can anyone on the other end of an online purchase.

Solution: Check your credit card statements as frequently as possible. I recommend that you review them weekly, at a minimum. Federal law requires that credit card companies allow you to refute unauthorized charges for up to 60 days. Keep your receipts and scrutinize those statements.

Internet cafe spyware. Anytime you use any PC other than your own, your identity is at risk. Spyware is software installed on a computer that records every keystroke, username, password, and website visited. Autocomplete is a browser function that remembers your passwords. Autocomplete on a public computer means potential identity theft.

Solution: If at all possible, avoid business center or Internet cafe PCs. Many mobile phones can function as a temporary replacement for a PC, and netbooks are cheap and easy enough to travel with. If you even encounter autocomplete on any computer, turn it off before browsing and always log out and shut down a browser before walking way.

To ensure peace of mind during summertime festivities—and year-round—subscribe to an identity protection service, such as McAfee Identity Protection, which offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your accounts. For additional tips, please visit http://www.counteridentitytheft.com

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss spyware on Fox Boston. (Disclosures)

10 Ways to Prevent Social Media Scams

The trouble with social media revolves around identity theft, brand hijacking and privacy issues.  The opportunity social media creates for criminals is to “friend” their potential victims in order to create a false sense of trust and use that against their victims in phishing or other scams.

It was big news when someone had their Facebook account jacked by someone who impersonated the victim, claiming to have lost their wallet in the UK and begging for a money wire. Now it’s old news, but it’s still happening.

  • Register your full name and those of your spouse and kids on the most trafficked social media sites. If your name is already gone, include your middle initial, a period or a hyphen. You can do this manually or by using a very cost effective service called Knowem.com
  • Get free alerts. Set up Google alerts for your name and kids names and get an email every time someone’s name name pops up online. You want to see if someone is talking about you or using your name.
  • Discuss social media with your kids. Make sure they aren’t providing their “friends” with personal information that would compromise their security or your families.
  • Monitor what they do online. Don’t sit in the dark hoping they are acting appropriately online. Be prepared to not like what you see.
  • Maintain updated security. Whether hardware or software, anti-virus or critical security patches, make sure you are up to date.
  • Lock down settings. Most social networks have privacy settings that need to be administered to the highest level.
  • Always delete emails you receive in social media from those who you don’t know. I’m messaged all the time by scammers and I’m sure you are too.
  • Don’t enter all the “25 most amazing things about you” or whatever other games that extract your personal information. Nothing good can come from that.
  • Always log off social media sites when you walk away from the PC. If you are ever at someone else’s home or on a public PC, this habit will save lots of aggravation. My sister-in-law, a Boston Bruins fan, left her Facebook open on the family PC. I changed her Facebook picture to the Philly Flyers and wrote Go Phillys! as her status. Bruins lost that night. I blame her.
  • Do not activate geolocation services that tell the world your every move. Nothing good can come out of allowing anyone in the world to stalk your every move.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to Home Security Source discussing Facebook Jacking on CNN. Disclosures.