Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Internet Security Threat

An Internet security threat known as "Heartbleed" is putting passwords, credit cards and other sensitive data at risk for millions of people. The problem lies with an encryption technology used to "securely" transmit email, electronic transactions, social networking posts and other web traffic. Heartbleed apparently remained undiscovered for more than two years, and attackers can exploit the vulnerability without leaving a trace, so anything sent during that time has potentially been compromised. What is not known yet is whether anyone has actually used it to conduct an attack. Read more and find out what sites have been affected in this Associated Press report.

Unfortunately, this discovery comes as Windows XP computers lose their protection. Yesterday, support and security updates for the program are no longer available from Microsoft. The company explains all customer options here.

While some experts say people who use the affected sites should change all of their passwords now, others say there is nothing users can do to protect themselves if they visit a vulnerable website. Its up to the administrators of those sites to upgrade their software befores users are protected. Regardless of whether you are affected by one or both of these issues, it's a good time to change your passwords and carefully consider your Internet use.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tax Scam Awareness Tips

It's tax time, and unfortunately that also means it's the time of year we see a spike in scams that taxpayers may encounter. The IRS releases its Dirty Dozen list each year with a variety of schemes seen during filing season, so read below and beware:

  • Identity Theft - When someone uses your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
  • Persuasive Telephone Scams - These phone scams include many variations, including instances where callers say the victims owe money or are entitled to a huge refund.
  • Phishing - A scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information.
  • False Promises of "Free Money" from Inflated Refunds - Scam artists routinely pose as tax preparers, promising large federal tax refunds or refunds that people never dreamed they were due in the first place.
  • Return Preparer Fraud - Some unscrupulous preparers prey on unsuspecting taxpayers and the result can be refund fraud or identity theft.
  • Hiding Income Offshore - Evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities and then using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds.
  • Impersonation of Charitable Organizations - Scam artists impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. 
  • False Income, Expenses or Exemptions - Inflating or including income on a tax return that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income in order to maximize refundable credits.
  • Frivolous Arguments - Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe.
  • Falsely Claiming Zero Wages or Using False Form 1099 - Filing a phony information return is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes an individual owes. 
  • Abusive Tax Structures - Structuring abusive domestic and foreign trust arrangements as sophisticated strategies that take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions and the availability of credit/debit cards issued from offshore financial institutions.
  • Misuse of Trusts - Unscrupulous promoters who urge taxpayers to transfer large amounts of assets into trusts.
For more detailed information about these scams and contact information to report such crimes, please click here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Awareness Key to Family Safety

Who lives in your neighborhood? While you might know a few families by name, the surrounding streets could also be home to registered sex offenders and predators. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office recommends residents check the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Sexual Offenders and Predators Web site frequently. You can also set up alerts that will automatically email information to you when offenders move nearby. To search go to the FDLE site, click Offender Search then Neighborhood Search (standard). Enter your address and choose a distance parameter. Results will display in either a list or on a map. To create an alert, click on the yellow button at the top of the FDLE page and enter your address and email information. If you have young children, or grandchildren that come to visit, this is good information to have.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

Did you know that Florida has the highest rate of identity theft in the nation, and information obtained could jeopardize your credit, bank account, and your future tax refund?

As part of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, please view the information below that may let you know if you have been a victim.

How do you identify if you've been the target of identity theft?
  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
To view helpful tips to protect yourself from identity thieves during tax season, click here.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Protect Pets from the Cold

As the temperature dips and the forecast calls for protecting plants and outdoor pipes, Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Animal Services wants to remind you that pets need protection too.
Even owners who prefer to keep their pets outdoors have a responsibility to make sure they're sheltered properly, particularly when they can’t protect themselves.
Sarasota County Ordinance defines shelter as: provision of and access to a three dimensional structure having a roof, walls and floor, which is dry, sanitary, clean, weatherproof and made of durable material. At a minimum the structure must be designed to protect the sheltered animal from adverse effects of the elements and provide access to shade from direct sunlight and regress from exposure to inclement weather conditions.

Even pets with a lush coat can become chilled from the pads of their feet and face, so make sure they have adequate shelter while the winter weather is here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Keep It Under Wraps

A major gift item for the Holidays is electronics. Lucky kids and adults receive laptops, HDTVs, gaming systems and other expensive electronic items. If you found one of these under the Christmas tree, remember that you shouldn't rush to dispose of the packaging too early! When you put these types of boxes out to the curb for garbage collection prior to the designated collection day, it advertises what might be found in your home to potential burglars. Place this type of packaging at the curb either the night before the garbage man comes, or better still, the same morning.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Tree Temptation

While the sight of a decorated Christmas tree with brightly wrapped packages beneath it gets people in the holiday spirit, it might also be tempting to thieves. Burglars are well aware that people are out buying holiday gifts this time of year, which makes homes a frequent target. By not putting your carefully wrapped packages all in one place – such as under the tree – you minimize your risk of being victimized. Also, be wary of anyone who comes to your door with a suspicious story. Many times they are criminals looking around to see what valuables are inside. Immediately report anything that seems suspicious to law enforcement. Of course, security systems are a great defense, so ensure it is properly armed and stay safe this holiday season.