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Stay-Away-Cation! Travelocity Hotel Gift Card Scam

A few months ago, as most of us trudged through the gray days of winter, I wrote about the “American Airlines Fly Away Promotion” postcard scam I’d received in my snail mailbox during the holidays. I didn’t bite on that offer but I’m happy to report, with Spring Fever upon us, I’ve got another chance at a fabulous vacation—for FREE! Just this week, I received another incredible notification on a postcard. This one had a slightly different twist because it was from “Travelocity hotel gift card!” Here’s what it said…

Despite the logo, this postcard has nothing to do with Travelocity.

Despite the logo, this postcard has nothing to do with Travelocity.

Congratulations! You will receive 2 round-trip airline tickets on Southwest, Jet Blue, United, or a comparable airline, plus a 3-day/2 night weekend getaway at a hotel such as Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton.

This postcard also included a picture of a commercial jet airplane — this one was a Boeing 747 – adorned with the Travelocity name and logo. It instructed me to,

Call within 48 hours. You will also receive as a bonus a $50 Travelocity Hotel Cash Card!

All good stuff, but I needed to act quickly this time, according to the card. It said they had attempted to contact me several times and that this award must be claimed no later than 7 days after postmark. I must have missed their message on my answering machine and my caller ID failed to record the missed calls from Travelocity or the phone number provided, 1-888-263-6463.

Luckily, I got the postcard in time! “Hot Diggity!” This offer was even better than the first one because twice they used words like “will,” which sounds like a guarantee to me! I’m thinking my next vacation is all but a done deal. Heck, I don’t even care if I have to sit through a 90-minute travel club presentation to claim my prize. I’m OK with that, especially since I have more time than money. I’m willing to sit through a short sales presentation in exchange for saving hundreds of dollars on plane tickets. Then I’m booking my seats on that “Freedom Bird” baby! And the tickets are FREE!

F – R – E – E !…Right?

Well, they’re free after I pay the applicable taxes, deposits and/or fees, which are usually about $100 per ticket. But once I’ve done that, I can fly almost anywhere, whenever I want. In the words of Lynyrd Skynyrd, I’ll be free as a bird, now…”

…except not during the blackout dates or other restricted times and if those times are already full.

But even if this prize/promotion isn’t actually sponsored by Travelocity, what’s the big deal with that? Just like the other postcard notification, they were honest enough to provide that information in the fine print, as follows:

Certain restrictions apply. Call for details. Taxes, deposits and/or fees are the responsibility of the recipient. This promotion not sponsored by Southwest, Jet Blue, United, Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt or Travelocity. Not
applicable to Alaska or Hawaii.

Don't let the strong language fool you... The only thing you "WILL" get for sure, is the runaround.

Don’t let the strong language fool you…
The only thing you “WILL” get for sure, is the runaround.

ALL RIGHT! ENOUGH ALREADY! It’s time to stop kidding myself, trying to convince myself that this is a good deal for me. And you should stop trying to convince yourself, too. THIS IS A RIPOFF!

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’d be better off just round filing that postcard if ANY of the following apply:

  • You’re told that you must provide personal information, such as your age, marital status, or household income in order to be eligible for the prize or promotion.
  • There’s a charge for anything you’ve won.
  • More conditions or requirements arise as you move along in the process.
  • You encounter hard-sell tactics pressuring you to join a costly travel club.
  • Special deals, rates, or vacation packages are good for a limited time or one day only, creating a sense of urgency for you to quickly make a decision to purchase.
  • The representative on the phone informs you there will be a “small service fee applied to your card” for accepting the prize or special offer.
  • The old “ Bait & Switch” occurs, where you’re told about the “catch” after you’ve provided your credit card information, such as a requirement to buy an additional ticket or night’s stay at the regular (often inflated) price in order to get the freebie.
  • You’re told you will have an opportunity to review the vacation package before your credit card is actually charged, when in fact, your card is charged immediately.

If you do take a company up on their vacation offer, be aware of these red flags:

  • The charges add up to more than the cost of the airfare and hotel had you purchased them on your own.
  • For the discount travel package all you receive are coupons or discounts you could obtain elsewhere for free.
  • Your vacation materials are slow to arrive in the mail, if they arrive at all.
  • The promised materials do arrive in the mail but not until after the booking period has passed or possibly not until after the “review period” has elapsed.

Finally, take these precautions ahead of time:

  • Directly contact the company whose name appears on any promotion (Travelocity in this case) to verify that they are, in fact, offering the promotion or prize.
  • Don’t sign any agreements that don’t spell out all of the promised services and conditions for obtaining them.
  • If you do provide a credit card, debit card, or bank account number, for ANY reason, expect to be charged. DO NOT provide the information until after all of your reservations are confirmed, in writing, with a reservation number.

You can ask all the questions you want to about cancellation policies and the availability of trip insurance, but if you’re dealing with scammers, fraudsters, liars, or thieves, they’ll tell you EXACTLY what you want to hear, and they’ll take more of your money to do it. Victims of vacation scams don’t usually discover they’re being taken until they try to make their reservations, only to find out they cannot reach the “travel agency” because their phones are disconnected, the company has moved, or it’s out of business altogether. And of course, the travel company didn’t contact them to notify them of these “unfortunate circumstances” or to offer a refund.

BOTTOM LINE:  Be very wary of any vacation or travel “prize” or “award” – especially from a contest or promotion you didn’t enter or other unsolicited source. Don’t be like the facetious me above and ignore the warning signs just because you really want to be a “winner!” Shred those “Stay-Away-Cation” postcards and save your time and money, while avoiding the headaches.


Other Related Articles:

Free Vacation Give Away Scams
Scammers Lure Victims with Fake Free Plane Tickets

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Near Field Communication: What is it? What are the risks?

Near Field Communication (NFC):  Is the great convenience safe?

Near Field Communication (NFC):
Is the great convenience safe?

Image courtesy of

With all the coolness that smartphones have to offer these days, it’s hard to imagine there’s more to come with yet-to-be added technologies.  One that’s already been on scene for a few years already is just now really getting our attention. It’s called “Near Field Communication” (NFC). Many of today’s smartphones are designed with NFC chips installed, enabling apps to act as many things, most commonly allowing them to be used as debit or credit cards for point of sale transactions. Users can do things like pay for products or services by simply waving their phone or mobile device in front of a compatible scanner. NFC-enabled devices can be held up to an ATM machine or cash register and a transaction is completed. This trend is leading towards the consolidation of everything you need to carry into one device, effectively removing the need to carry a wallet or pocketbook containing your credit or debit cards, or even cash!

NFC data exchange takes place when devices are within a few inches of each another. Like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, NFC allows wireless communication and data exchange between digital and mobile devices. NFC enables communication with other devices or hardware that contain a near field communication tag. Users initiate the sharing of information between devices by swiping within a few inches of the two devices or by literally performing a bump. “Bump” is also the name of a popular mobile app that utilizes the NFC technology: it’s developed by Bump Technologies, Inc. The Bump app lets users share pictures, files, music, and contact information. It also lets users wirelessly share information from their mobile device with their PC. Other NFC applications in Europe allow travel papers and passports to be stored and paid for using the technology. Other uses of NFC technology include NFC-activated locks, which offer a different way to secure buildings. There are also NFC applications to facilitate emergency management.

NFC lets users obtain and exchange information with amazing ease. Neither Internet connectivity nor cellular services are needed. NFC uses electromagnetic radio fields instead of radio signals used by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communications. This growing technology establishes a secure channel and uses encryption while sending sensitive information. The design of NFC minimizes security concerns for several reasons. First, because the signals do not carry very far, a thief would have to be in very close proximity to the smartphone transmitting the data in order to intercept the signal. Plus, the devices with NFC tags rely on the power supplied by the mobile device in order to interact. Also, the channels used for sending sensitive data are secure and the data is encrypted, which is not easy to decode, and scrambles the information for a would-be thief. Finally, smartphone manufacturers are constantly improving the cryptography and authentication protocols used in NFC-enabled devices. But in spite of all of these safety features, NFC technology is not without security risks.

When a third party intercepts the signal sent between two devices and gains access to the data being transmitted it is referred to as eavesdropping. It’s possible to obtain bank and credit card numbers, personal information such as driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, and other personal information without the owner’s knowledge or permission. The information can be obtained if a data transmission between a smartphone and a credit card reader, or between two smartphones, is intercepted. One safeguard is to encrypt the data being transferred.

Data can be intercepted by a “man-in-the-middle” (MITM) security attack, and then read, recorded, modified, altered, or corrupted, and sent it on to the receiving party. The hacker may not intend to steal the information but might just want to stop the accurate data from reaching the intended recipient by blocking the channel. This is often referred to as a “denial of service” attack. It’s usually difficult for these types of attacks to be successful on an NFC link because of the short distance capability of the communications. A secure communication channel is the most effective way to protect against this type of attack.

Mobile malware and viruses could have the ability to read nearby NFC tags and send data, such as credit card numbers, to the hackers. And as more people utilize digital wallets and NFC transactions, mobile malware and virus outbreaks will be on the rise to take advantage of the increased opportunities. Like bees to honey, the more users choose to store sensitive financial and banking information on their phones, the more those devices will be targeted by digital thieves — all with the ability to detect and steal that sensitive data.

Although less common, some attacks can cause the mobile device to crash or uncover vulnerabilities that enable and attacker to gain full control of the device.

Users can and should also take their own precautions to protect their personal information. One of the most overlooked, but probably the greatest source of vulnerability, occurs when smartphones or mobile devices are left unattended for short periods of time. That’s when information can be stolen from smartphones. A little more attention and care can go a long way to protecting your information. Some other suggestions include:

  • Password protect your smartphone and make sure your phone screen is locked when not in use. That way, if your device is ever lost, stolen, or misplaced, your information can’t be accessed and unauthorized purchases or sharing of your information can be prevented.
  • Use an additional pin or password when making any NFC transaction for increased security.
  • Don’t choose to store your username or log-in ID in apps on your mobile device.
  • Be careful when choosing which apps to download, depending on the operating system your device uses and its respective app store. Far more malicious applications are found in the Google Play store than the Apple iTunes AppStore, mostly because of the differences in app review and approval processes between the two (none vs. very stringent).
  • Use mobile antivirus software and keep it up-to-date at all times.
  • Install security apps. Some can automatically take a picture of a thief attempting to access your smartphone’s contents and either store it for you to see once the device is recovered or possibly to automatically email it to you.
  • Only open links to sites that you know are safe and trustworthy.


Now that you’re aware of NFC technology and the things you can do because of it, enjoy the convenience it affords us — just beware of the potential risks and exercise a bit of caution. Mobile app developers will continue to improve NFC security through their coding, development practices, and by continuously testing the security of their apps. Meanwhile, it’s widely believed that the risks of NFC technology really aren’t any greater than those associated with typical credit card transactions. So, in that case, embrace the future and swipe and bump away.

Bump ya later!

Related Resources:

The Risks of Near Field Communication



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Take Off, Eh? Fly Away Promotion Scam

Here’s hoping you enjoyed the recently concluded holiday season. The new year brings many things and, depending on where you live, you may be longing for it to bring some fun in the sun. This may be especially true if your weather is cold and gray or
wet every day. Thankfully, despite the gloomy weather, my post-holiday season remains merry and bright. This is partly because I decided to stick around the almost Great White North rather than falling for the “American Airlines Fly Away Promotion” scam, which arrived in my snail mailbox during the holidays.

The postcard included a picture of a commercial jet airplane, adorned with a happy holidays wish and a pretty red bow. The message read,

“Congratulations – In celebration of our new fall packages we’ve selected you to receive 2 round trip airfares to most major airports in the contiguous United States – good for the next 12 months!”

Me? For me? Someone who rarely flies or travels, let alone on American Airlines? Pretty exciting, huh? But wait! It gets even better. It says,

“Call within 48 hours and receive a 3 day 2 night hotel stay at major brands.”

It said all I had to do was call the toll-free phone number and mention the promo code on the postcard. Wow! How exciting. I’ve never been to major brands, wherever that is.

But there was fine print. At least they included fine print.  Better to have a tip that’s hard to read than no tip at all.

“All trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners. Offer void where prohibited by laws. All components of this offer are fulfilled by a third-party. Certain restrictions apply. Recipient responsible for all applicable taxes. Please call for details.”

OK. That’s not a deal breaker, is it?

Next stop, Google search. Articles and readers’ comments from Connecticut to Southern California quickly indicate the “promotions” range from gimmicks for getting people to sign up for expensive travel or vacation clubs, to paying for website subscriptions, to making a no obligation visit to the travel agency so they can show you how they can save you money.

Ahh, these are the third parties. Oh yeah, and there’s often more fine print in the promotional materials. It informs you of what you actually receive — a certificate to claim your gift BUT charges for deposits, shipping and handling, processing, reservations, taxes, etc. are your responsibility. Not surprisingly, these charges can up to more than the value of the airfare and hotel accommodations.

Any and all of these stipulations may apply. Worse yet, you may also need to sit through an informational seminar about the travel agency’s fantastic promotions, travel packages, or vacation club benefits.

All applicable conditions often don’t become clear until it’s too late to change your mind, possibly after you’ve signed some sort of binding agreement.

One more thing…anytime you’re asked to provide a credit card or bank account number to hold a reservation, for a deposit, or for verification purposes, BEWARE! That’s a red flag for an almost certain ripoff.

Remember, any scammer can use a legitimate company’s logo illegally or without permission. And even if they use it legally, it may be nothing more than a marketing ploy dressed up as a free prize from a major air carrier.

So if you value your time and dislike being disappointed by things that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, follow the wise words of Bob and Doug McKenzie and tell ’em to, “Take Off!”

Related Articles:

Stay-Away-Cation!  Travelocity Hotel Gift Card Scam

Free Air Travel Getaways Postcards: Don’t Believe It
Consumer Alert: “Southwest Escape” Offer Grounded

Travel postcard deal too good to be true


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Prepare for the Scare! What is Scareware?

Don't Hit the Panic ButtonWhen Scareware Strikes

Don’t Hit the Panic Button
When Scareware Strikes

Image courtesy of
Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Scareware! What is it? Oxford Dictionaries defines it as:

Malicious computer programs designed to trick a user into buying and downloading unnecessary and potentially dangerous software, such as fake antivirus protection.

Scareware is not a new concept but it appears to be in vogue again…or “rogue” again…as the case may be. Scareware is also referred to as rogue security software. The key is to understand that it’s fake computer security software, disguised to look legitimate in order to fool you into believing your computer is infected and at risk. The objective, of course, is to get you to pay money for the fake service to remove viruses that don’t really exist. Scareware generates notifications that resemble Windows system messages or warnings that look like they’re from legitimate antivirus or antispyware software, firewall applications, or registry cleaners. The fake security software can look pretty convincing and uses familiar sounding names that seem legitimate, such as:

  • ErrorSafe
  • Virus Shield
  • XP Antivirus
  • Registry Cleaner XP
  • VirusRemover
  • Antivirus
  • WinAntivirus
  • WinFixer
  • DriveCleaner

Once on your machine, scareware can overwhelm you with persistent notifications and fake alerts, which are difficult to close and can reappear quickly. The scareware software will badger you in hopes that you’ll relent and enter your credit card information to purchase the security product to clean the infections — viruses that don’t really exist.

Best Defense
The most effective defense against scareware is a combination of best practices techniques. A good first step is to gather a little knowledge about scareware before it lands on your computer. Expect to get hit with it sooner or later and have a plan for how to react. Doing so can keep you from overreacting when that scary message pops up with a “Security Warning”, “Alert”, or “Update”. Sometimes it’s difficult not to overreact, especially when media hype and news headlines have heightened our awareness and anticipation of an impending malicious computer attack.

Do Not Click
When a scareware popup window appears, DO NOT click on it anywhere. If you panic or react instinctively, you might take hasty actions, like trying to click the “X” on the upper right-hand corner of the window in an attempt to close it. That’s what the scammers want you to do. Often, clicking the “X” not only fails to close the window, but it results in a duplicate windows appearing every time you click. Another possible outcome is called “clickjacking”, which launches your Internet browser and directs you to an unknown website, likely one featuring fake security scan. Finally, clicking the window could simply download rogue security software onto your machine, launching an executable file that could contain an actual virus or other malware. All are good reasons to not click anywhere on a scareware message.

However, if you’ve already done the clicking, try the following:

  • While hovering your mouse over the scareware window located down in your system tray or task bar, right-click and then left-click on “Close”. That doesn’t always work, in which case you’ll need to manually close your Internet browser, as follows:
  • Hold down the “Ctrl” & “Alt” keys simultaneously while pressing the “Del” key. This will open the Task Manager window. From the top left tab (labeled “Applications”) click on the name of the scareware program to highlight it and then click “End Task” to shut it down.

Know Your Antivirus Provider
Hopefully you have an antivirus or Internet security software installed on your computer and it is turned on. (Don’t laugh! You’d be surprised how many people have it but unknowingly aren’t actually using it.) Make sure you know the name of the product you are using, as well as its look, feel, and functionality. That way, when your already-installed legitimate antivirus software notifies you of an infection or security threat, you’ll recognize it and know it’s authentic. Conversely, if a message comes from a program that’s not the one you recognize, you’ll know it’s most likely an imposter, aka scareware.

Keep Your Antivirus Software Updated & Scan Regularly
Once you know your antivirus software, check to make sure it automatically updates with the latest security definitions on a regular basis. If it does, you can be reasonably certain that any popup messages you receive, saying you’re infected, are scare tactics by scareware scams. It never hurts to manually update your antivirus software to retrieve their latest virus definitions, followed by the running of a full system scan.

Anytime a message from a supposed antivirus company claims that only their product can detect and remove a particular infection, run for the hills! That’s an indication of scareware. In that case, whatever you do, don’t cough up any cash.

Keep Software Applications Updated
Be sure to regularly update all of your computer’s other software programs, starting with the operating system. From the Control Panel, ensure the Windows Update is set to download and install updates automatically. Be sure to also update the following software applications:

  • Adobe Reader: Used for reading PDF files.
  • Java: Used for viewing certain websites and pages.
  • Flash Player: Used for videos, ads, and games.

Install a Popup Blocker
To prevent scareware popup windows from tempting or tricking you, install an effective popup blocker program and set it to prevent popups from opening if they are from any websites other than ones you’ve approved. A popup blocker will stop most scareware attacks but some may still get through via other methods, such as Flash Player.

Don’t Download Antivirus Software from a Popup or Email
Go directly to the website of the antivirus service provider to download computer security software. It’s risky to trust a link in a popup or email message, even if it appears to be from a trusted source. There are many convincing look-alikes that are bad news!

Exercise Safe Internet Surfing Practices
Scareware exploits vulnerabilities in code that can be present when viewing PDF files or visiting even a legitimate website. To minimize the opportunities for bad things to happen:

  • Consider using an Internet browser other than Internet Explorer, such as Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, or Google Chrome.
  • Do not open attachments or click on links or messages when using social networking sites, like Twitter or Facebook. If you do, be absolutely sure of where they came from and that they are safe.
  • DO NOT automatically click, open, and/or download anything when prompted by a popup window or other message.


Under the best of circumstances, the term “scareware” can be used to describe any computer application that is used to prank users by causing anxiety or panic. Sometimes that is the only objective of the scareware, but more often than not, conning you out of your money and/or obtaining your personal information is the goal.

According to some Internet security experts, scareware is actually on the decline. “Ransomware“, may be overtaking it as a threat. Whatever the case, scareware and ransomware both exhibit similar characteristics for infiltrating your machine. And both are bona fide threats to your safe computing.

A little knowledge about, and familiarity with, scareware can help you “Prepare for the Scare!”

If you think you’ve been the victim of a scareware scam, you can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Related Articles:
Should you be Afraid of Scareware?
Watch out for fake virus alerts

Payment Processor for Scareware Cybercrime Ring Sentenced to 48 Months in Prison
WhatIs.com: scareware

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5 Things (Spam Emails) to Ignore This Year!

Spam Defined

Learn to Identify and Delete Spam Email
Image courtesy of
Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Another year is in the books and a new one has begun. Yeah, I know, it’s hard to believe but here we go! With a new year comes a new To-Do list for wrapping up last year, while checking off the items for kicking off the new year in fine fashion. But rather than add to your list, here are five examples of emails you can ignore all year long!

1. From: Facebook (Security) Team
Subject: You have received a new comment

Don’t fret if you receive an email stating you have deactivated or closed your Facebook account when you know you haven’t. Some indications that these emails are fakes include:

  • The message is sent to an email other than the one you used to create your Facebook account.
  • The message lacks a personal greeting. Instead of addressing you by your name, as listed in your Facebook account, it uses your email address to greet you (i.e., Hi johnny@workemail.com).
  • The email address displayed next to the From name gives it away (i.e., Facebook Security Team [arbitrary@name.com]. NOTE: Even if it does say it’s from @facebook.com, that doesn’t guarantee it’s legit. But if it doesn’t, that’s a dead giveaway that’s it’s fake!).
  • The email includes a call to action like clicking a link within the body of the message (e.g., If this wasn’t you follow the link below: http://www.fakeurl.com).

2. Your Direct Deposit Payments Were Rejected
Do yourself a favor and save a lot of time and energy by ignoring any email you receive that starts out with pathetic writing like,

Please be notified, that your latest Direct Deposit via ACH payment (Int. No. 6478944817996) was rejected, due to your current Direct Deposit software being out of date.

If that’s not enough to cause you to hit the delete button, then do it when the email asks you to,

Please visit the secure section of our website to see the details.

If you still don’t delete it at that point, whatever you do, DO NOT click on the Details link provided in the body of the email. If you’ve read that far in the email, hopefully it’s only because you actually were expecting to receive a direct deposit. Or, as is more frequently the case for most of us, you had scheduled an electronic payment to go out.

3. The Electronic Greeting or E-Card
For the most part, you can ignore the email you receive from the well-meaning friend that warns you of the impending arrival of the worst computer virus ever. These types of emails are recycled and rehashed every year, and quite frankly, are all but worn out! It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. Regifters at the holidays rewrap presents they’ve received in the past and give them to others. Spammers rewrap their emails and send them along with love, like a holiday fruitcake or familiar white elephant gift at the annual holiday party. The message usually keeps with tradition by including a warning from someone’s relative, who supposedly knows a thing or two about these computer things. One version of the message refers to someone’s brother, who is a

very advanced programmer


does computer work for a living


has a high up status with Microsoft.

This so-called authority warns of a virus that is coming. The message often insists someone has checked with (insert name of preferred antivirus software company) and they have verified that their company is

gearing up for this virus.

The message goes on to say they’ve checked Snopes.com who says it is real. If you receive an email like this, DO proceed cautiously before clicking on or opening an electronic greeting card or other attached file. But do everyone in your contacts list a favor and DON’T

send the message around to all of your contacts ASAP

as the email instructs you to do. DON’T do it even if the email warns that the file will…

burn the whole hard disc C of your computer

or if it claims that…

this is the worst virus announced by CNN.

4. Contests and Giveaways
Don’t forget the adage, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That’s even truer online. When you see a promise that the first (insert number) people to Like or Share a post or a page on Facebook will receive a gift card worth (insert dollar value), don’t waste the effort of lifting your index finger to click or tap. Whether it’s a gift card for a popular electronics store or a prepaid Visa debit card, chances are you’ll be redirected to another website, where you’ll be asked to enter personal information — something you never want to do if you’re interested in protecting your identity. The chances are slim you’ll ever receive a gift card. If you’re still tempted, go directly to the company’s Facebook page or website to verify whether the offers are legitimate.

5. Fake Charities and Fundraisers
Whenever there’s a natural disaster or catastrophe, charities spring into action to help those affected. Unfortunately, the online crooks and scammers mobilize too, preying on people’s compassion and generosity. Beware of requests for donations via text messages, emails, or websites. The con artists are good at tugging at your heartstrings and taking your money, but your money never makes it to your intended party. Verify the validity of any professed charity or fundraiser on your own. Initiate your own search online to find organizations and their websites. Donate directly to a charity like the American Red Cross or United Way by visiting their website. When in doubt, use reputable resources like The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, The Federal Trade Commission, and Charity Navigator.

Knowing the signs of scam and spam emails can help you to quickly identify ’em, ignore ’em, and better yet, delete ’em.

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Are You Raising a Cyberbully?


Cyberbullies Can Strike Anywhere
There’s Digital Media
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you have a preadolescent, moody, hormonal kid, also known as a teenager, pre-teen, or “tween”, you should be aware of cyberbullying. In our digital, mobile, and social world, cyberbullying is a very real issue and a concern for parents.  Cyberbullying is much more than just a modern version of the good-old-fashioned schoolyard bullying.  In general, “cyberbullying” is the term used to describe online activities between minors that can range anywhere from text messages of a teasing nature, to digital harassment, and even threats of physical harm.  Usually it’s deliberate and repeated behavior with the intent of causing physical, psychological, or emotional harm to the victim by way of computers and cell phones.

“Egads!” One more thing for parents to worry about! As if there aren’t already plenty of social minefields that parents need to help Junior traverse during his teenage-angst years, now it’s necessary to know how to recognize when he may be the victim of a digital bully?

Indeed! And it’s precisely that picture parents typically associate with cyberbullying — protecting their little angel from the harm of online meanies.  Most parents are working hard to raise a “good” kid, who’s kind and considerate of others. But all kids, even good ones, make mistakes and bad choices. They need our guidance. It’s important for parents to realize that a child is just as likely to be the cyberbully as they are to be the victim of one. Parents need to be aware of this possibility, even as heartbreaking and devastating as it could be to learn that your kid is the one behaving badly. Sometimes the child has no clue their actions could be classified as cyberbullying. Kids can also switch between roles, from victim to bully and back again, as part of a digital exchange.  Whatever the case, parents need to address the issue head-on and not wait for it to just go away.

It’s anyone’s guess why your offspring might get caught up in the role of the cyberbully. Surely contributing factors are the ubiquitous and oh-so-easy-to-use digital toys of today, which make for an abundance of opportunity. Because communications are merely typed online and not face-to-face, kids can feel less encumbered, making them much more likely to write shocking or mean things they wouldn’t ordinarily say in person. The writer feels a sense of detachment and anonymity, making the comments seem not so personal.

But why would any kid, especially your child, bully another online, regardless of ease and opportunity? The reasons are many and varied:

  • Attention – Looking for laughs , trying to be funny or look “cool.” Attempting to elicit some sort of reaction from the intended target or onlookers.
  • Power-Hungry – Harassing others is a cheap and easy way for a kid to boost their ego.
  • Mob Mentality – It’s easy to pile on or be a “me too” when you can get lost in the crowd. It’s safer, especially if a kid knows the behavior is questionable in first place.
  • Mean Girls – It’s a way for kids to establish or improve their social standing in a group or clique. Reinforces the cyberbully’s place in social circles.
  • Entertainment – It could be as simple as boredom. Too much time on their hands, not enough to do, and too many tech toys available to them.
  • Revenge, Frustration, or Anger – It can start as “vigilante justice” defending themselves from bullies or standing up for others.
  • Vicarious Tough Guy – It’s an easy way to be the tough guy or gal.
  • Accident – Let’s face it, a kid could mistakenly send a message to the wrong recipient or not think something through before they sent it.

So what are the signs that a child might be doing the cyberbullying?

  •  Uses several online accounts or ones that are not their own.
  • Avoids talking about their online activities or what they’re doing on the computer.
  • Quickly switches screens, minimizes windows, or closes programs when someone approaches or walks by.
  • Appears to always want to hide their cell phone or computer from you.
  • Uses the computer excessively or late at night.
  • Becomes angry, upset, or irritated when they’re denied use of a computer, cell phone, or mobile device.
  • Displays increased levels of aggression.
  • Is unwilling to accept responsibility for their behavior.
  • Laughs excessively while using the computer or other electronic devices.

What’s a parent to do if and when they discover their child is a cyberbully?  Do you use the old potty training for dogs technique of rubbing their nose in it by cyberbullying your own child? Although that might teach them empathy for the cyberbully victim, it’s probably not the most constructive method. Besides, if two wrongs ever do make a right, this probably isn’t the time. Try the following:

  • Talk to your kids about the power of words and how damaging and hurtful they can truly be.
  • Talk to your child firmly about his or her actions and explain the negative impact it has on others.
  • Force your child to really reflect on what they did, why they did it, giving serious thought to what the actual impact was on their victim.
  • Try to find out if they themselves have ever been bullied.
  • Require your child to do research on cyberbullying and the long-term damage and trauma it can cause people.
  • Consider restricting your child’s cell phone and Internet privileges until behavior improves and then monitor their activities closely. Remind your child that the use of cell phones and computers is a privilege.
  • Consulting with your child’s teachers, guidance counselors, and other school officials could help you understand why your kid would bully another.
  • If your child has trouble managing anger, talk to a therapist about helping them handle strong feelings in a constructive manner.
  • Also consider seeking professional counseling to help your child combat the urge to harm or harass others.
  • A final next step could be to consider reparations, which take into account the victim and possibly their family. (Keep in mind that a victim of bullying may not be able to readily accept an apology right away.  The victim might question the sincerity of the apology or may suspect an ulterior motive. Sometimes the apology is best made several months after the incident.)

The time to address cyberbullying with your kids is before it occurs. Talk to them about what cyberbullying actually is and what forms it can take. Give examples and explain to them that joking around and teasing might seem like good clean fun, but it can hurt people’s feelings and lead to serious consequences. Also, don’t rely on the school system to educate or intervene when it comes to cyberbullying. There is limited guidance available about whether schools should intervene, or whether they legally can, in bullying situations that occur off-campus, outside of school hours, and/or that involve digital or electronic communications.  Further complicating matters, cyberbullying occurs most often on weekends, when kids have more time and opportunity to be online.

Bullying in any form is unacceptable. It can have severe and long-lasting consequences. When one kid bullies another, it can be devastating.  When dozens of kids bully another, the emotional damage can last a lifetime. The more involved you are as a parent, the greater your ability will be to recognize cyberbullying and put a stop to it. Tech-savvy parents can model good online behavior and help their kids understand the benefits and the dangers of life online in the digital world.

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