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Online Shopping Scams During the Holiday Season

Online Shopping Scams Are 62% Higher During the Holiday Season; California and Texas Are the Hardest Hit

For the first time, consumers will do more of their holiday shopping online than they will in brick-and-mortar stores. Fifty-four percent of shoppers plan to do their shopping from their mobile devices this year, as opposed to in-store. 

This year marks the first time the shopping scales will tip in favor of online consumerism, according to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

While more people plan to shop online this year, there’s a real threat that consumers have to watch out for: online shopping scams. 

BestVPN.org compiled data and read hundreds of consumer reports to investigate just how prevalent online shopping scams are, and the results are shocking. 

Online shopping scams are 62% higher during the month of December than they are during an average month.

Scams are a problem for residents across the country, but our research revealed several states – California and Texas – are the hardest hit by digital scammers. 

To compile this data, we specifically looked at reported cases of online shopping scams from the Better Business Bureau. Keep in mind these are cases that are reported voluntarily by consumers in an effort to warn others from becoming a victim of the same scam and provide a snapshot of online shopping scams that take place. 

Online shopping scams happen year-round, but they’re more prevalent during the holiday season. This year, consumers should be aware of potential scams as they shop for holiday gifts online. No matter how a scammer pulls it off, every case can result in lost money.

For protection against holiday scams, shoppers must take precautionary steps this season. Be cautious about ordering products from unknown websites, buying products that are priced extremely low, or purchasing a product that you learned about via an email from an unknown company.

What kinds of scams are most popular?

When you think of online shopping scams, several tricks or fraudulent activity might come to mind. However, BestVPN.org read hundreds of reported cases of online shopping scams to find out what the most common kinds of online shopping scams are. Here’s what we found:

Consumers pay for an item, but never get it

The most common online shopping scam happens when a consumer buys something from a website, pays for it online, but never gets the item. Consumers usually inquire about the item only to find that the company’s phone number is disconnected, the address is fake, or the website is no longer online.  Money is never returned.

Consumers buy an item, but are told it ran out of stock

In some cases, consumers buy an item during a flash sale, but later received an email that says the product is so popular that the company ran out of inventory. The company apologizes for the inconvenience and tells consumers that they’ll refund their money within 24-48 hours, but the money is never returned. 

Consumers wire a deposit for a foreign item, but get nothing

There are several cases where consumers bought something abroad, either because the product was such a great deal or because it’s not something that’s typically sold in the U.S. In these cases, scammers asked consumers to pay a deposit for the item upfront and then let the consumer pay the rest upon delivery. However, consumers never got the product and don’t get their deposit back either. 

Scammers preferred method of contact

Most of the online shopping scams were initiated through an email. Shoppers received a message about a great product with a low price and that sent them to a specific website where the scam took place. 

In other cases, consumers stumbled upon the site by themselves while searching for holiday items. Websites run by scammers look legitimate, and even mimic the look and feel of other well-known retailers in an effort to lure you in. 

Online shopping scams throughout the year

Now that you understand what kinds of scams were talking about, and how scammers are reaching shoppers, let’s look at the number of scams that were reported in the U.S. in 2018.

Last year, 10,175 online shopping scams were reported to the Better Business Bureau. On average, 848 people reported online shopping scams each month.

A look at the monthly breakdown of online scams shows the drastic spike in online shopping scams during December.  

number of scams nationwide


The number of online shopping scams in each state in December alone

Knowing that online shopping scams climb nationally during December, we started digging through data from the BBB to figure out which states have the most reported cases of online shopping scams. 

We pulled data for every state and looked specifically at the number of reported online shopping scams that took place in 2018 during the last month of the year. 

As you might expect, the number of scams reported varies across the country. To explore how each state is affected, we’ve created a heat map. States in the darkest red have the most reported cases of online shopping scams. States in the lightest red have the least reported cases of online shopping scams. 

online scams in dec by state heat map

Top 5 worst states for holiday shopping scams online

Our research shows that Californians have reported the highest number of online shopping scams during the month of December; reporting 106 scams. Throughout the year, consumers in The Golden State reported 1,128 cases of online shopping fraud. Texas comes in second place, with a reported 86 online shopping scams in December, and several other states are close behind.

top 5 worst states for scams

Top 5 states with the least holiday shopping scams online

We were also able to find the states with the lowest number of reported scams from online shopping. Surprisingly, there were a handful of states that only had one or two cases of online shopping scams reported. 

The states with the least holiday shopping scams are Wyoming and South Dakota. In both of these states, there’s only one reported online shopping scam in the month of December. Three other states only had two reported cases in December. 

Top 5 least holiday scams states

Tips to prevent holiday fraud

To help consumers stay safe while shopping online this season, here are tips to follow:

Don’t shop over public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi connections can be hacked, which gives scammers easy access to personal data. Add a layer of protection by using a mobile VPN, or a virtual private network, to maintain online privacy and anonymity. 

Shop on known sites

During the holidays, stick to popular sites for shopping. If a new site is a must, read reviews online, look for the company’s physical address on their website and run it through Google Maps to make sure it exists. Read the ‘About Us’ section to validate the company’s validity, and call the company’s phone number to make sure a real person answers.

Check grammar and language use in emails

Consumers should read promotional emails carefully. If an email has grammatical errors or doesn’t seem like it was written by someone who really knows the language, it’s a red flag. Emails written by scammers overseas often have misspellings, grammatical errors, or don’t use words in the right context. These emails could be phishing scams used to steal a consumer’s identity. 

Watch the URL

Consumers shouldn’t make any purchases from sites that don’t have ‘http’ in the beginning. Sites with URLs that start with different letters are likely fraudulent.

Be cautious of contact you didn’t initiate

If someone calls out of the blue asking for personal details, it’s cause for concern. If the contact wasn’t initiated by you, be wary of any information you give.

Guide to Password Security

Guide to Password Security

Security breaches are increasingly common — but for many people, password policy is not a serious concern.

This lax approach to data protection is a big problem. Bad password habits can leave people vulnerable to the loss of credit card details and other personal information.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • Common bad habits to avoid
  • How to enhance online security by using a password manager
  • How to choose a strong but memorable master password

Bad password management habits

There are many easily-avoidable practices that make life easier for cybercriminals. Here are some common password policy problems.

Using weak passwords

Research from the National Cybersecurity Centre (NCSC) shows that millions of people are still using simple passwords, such as “123456” or “password123.” 

Here are some common types of bad passwords.

  • A convenient sequence of keys. According to Use a Passphrase, the password 12345qwerty would take 1 millisecond to guess using common password-cracking software. zxcvb7890 would take 53 seconds.
  • A single word. Password crackers can cycle through the dictionary in a matter of seconds, meaning single dictionary words are not a safe option. However, multiple words, used in a passphrase, can make a robust password.
  • A common word or phrase with numbers substituting letters. For example, whereas newyorknicks takes 1 minute to crack, n3wy0rkn1cks takes 4 minutes — better, but still not tough enough. 
  • A zip code, postcode, or date of birth. Cracking tools can easily guess common number patterns. 98109 takes 2 seconds, SW1A0AA takes 2 hours, 01/06/1985 takes just 8 seconds.

Researchers have published a list of the 100,000 most-breached passwords. It’s worth checking this list to ensure your passwords aren’t included.

Reusing passwords

It’s crucial to use unique passwords for each account — don’t reuse passwords.

Password reuse is a very bad habit. If a person chooses the same password to log into Google, Linkedin, Amazon, etc., they will be especially vulnerable in the event of a data breach. 

Once a cybercriminal cracks a password for one account, they can try the same username and password combination on other online services. This makes it easier to break into high-security online services such as banking and payment platforms.

This is why reusing the same password across multiple online accounts is so risky.

Writing down passwords

Don’t write down passwords. This can easily lead to loss or theft. Passwords must be stored securely.

There are two main ways to securely store passwords:

  • Locally — Physically storing passwords on a computer, USB key, or another device. This is only recommended where the device can be kept completely safe.
  • Remotely — Remotely storing passwords “in the cloud.” Cloud storage services can be hacked, so it’s important to only use a high-security service such as a password manager.

Failing to protect against malware and cybercrime

Cybercriminals can use several techniques to gain access to passwords. For example: 

  • Keyloggers — A type of spyware that records keystrokes on a device. Keylogger software can detect everything a user types on their computer, including passwords.
  • Man-in-the-middle attacks — A hacking technique that exploits public Wi-Fi networks. A hacker can intercept a person’s password data as they log into online accounts.
  • Phishing — A scam involving fake websites and social media accounts. For example, cybercriminals have created fake online banking websites designed to trick people into entering their account details.

It’s possible to defend against such threats by:

  • Installing antivirus software 
  • Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on public Wi-Fi networks
  • Keeping software and operating systems up-to-date
  • Using a password manager

Password managers

A password manager is an application that can generate strong passwords, store them securely, and (usually) autofill online forms.

Maintaining a good level of password security is much easier with a password manager.

How do password managers work?

Most password managers work like this:

  • The user downloads a password manager application, and often an accompanying browser extension
  • The user creates a “master password” used to log into the password manager. This is the only password they’ll need to remember once their password manager is set up
  • During setup, the user can import existing passwords from a browser or anywhere else they’re stored
  • The password manager can generate unique, secure passwords for each of the user’s accounts
  • The passwords are stored in encrypted storage
  • A browser extension can autofill the user’s passwords whenever they wish to log in to an online account

Many password managers optionally allow two-factor authentication (or multi-factor authentication) for an extra layer of security.

To log into a password manager using two-factor authentication, a user must present something they know (their master password) and something they have (i.e., a mobile device). For example, they might be sent a verification code via text message.

What are the benefits of using a password manager?

Using a password manager has the following cybersecurity benefits:

  • They generate strong passwords
  • They store passwords in highly-encrypted storage (usually industry-standard 256-AES) 
  • They provide each of a user’s accounts with a unique password
  • They allow for two-factor authentication
  • They reduce the threat posed by keyloggers

The password manager industry has grown substantially in recent years, and there are now over 50 different password managers to choose from. Many top brands provide bonus features, such as secure cloud storage, to attract users.

What are the risks of using a password manager?

Generally speaking, a password manager is the most secure way to store and retrieve passwords. However, handing over sensitive personal information to a third party always has some risks attached.

There have been some security vulnerabilities exposed among password managers. Most notable was a 2015 hack of LastPass which resulted in some users’ email addresses and certain authentication data being compromised.

No major password manager has reported an incident in which hackers gained access to their users’ passwords. However, some people prefer to keep total control over their passwords by only storing them locally (e.g., on their computer).

Certain password managers, such as KeePass and Bitwarden, allow local password storage. This can make it more difficult to sync and back up passwords. However, for the most security-conscious people, it’s worth the inconvenience.

What’s the best password manager?

Password managers vary in terms of their cost, user-friendliness, and extra features. Here’s a run-down of some of the most popular password manager brands. 

KeePass

KeePass is an open-source password manager that has developed a large and loyal following since its first release in 2003.

There are several reasons why many people love KeePass:

  • It’s completely free
  • It stores passwords locally — a user’s passwords need never leave their device
  • It’s open-source, so software developers and other technically-minded people can develop and customize it

“Out of the box,” KeePass is quite basic. It doesn’t even include an auto-fill function or browser extension by default. Syncing passwords between devices can be complicated.

However, there are many third-party plugins available for KeePass. These are additional tools that expand KeePass and make it more versatile. KeePass apps for iPhone and Android are also available as third-party software.

Unlike commercial password managers, KeePass is not very user-friendly, and there’s no customer support team to help if things go wrong. Therefore, KeePass is only suitable for people who are confident with technology.

Dashlane

Dashlane offers a very user-friendly experience for paying users and an abundance of free features, including:

  • Unlimited access to a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
  • 1 GB secure file storage
  • Dark Web Monitoring service

Like most commercial password managers, Dashlane operates a “freemium” model — the company offers a stripped-down version of its product for free, then gives users the option to upgrade to an annual subscription.

Unfortunately, the free version of Dashlane is extremely limited. Dashlane’s non-paying users are only able to save up to 50 passwords, and can only use Dashlane on one device. 

This means anyone wishing to log into their online accounts on both a phone and a laptop would find Dashlane’s free product virtually unusable. 

However, for those willing to pay a subscription, Dashlane is one of the very best password managers available.

LastPass

LastPass is another popular commercial password manager operating a freemium model. 

LastPass’s free version is one of the best free password managers, providing the following features:

  • Unlimited password storage
  • Use on unlimited devices
  • Password auto-fill
  • Secure notes storage (simple text notes, such as credit card numbers, etc.)

This means LastPass’s non-paying users can generate and store unlimited passwords across unlimited devices.

Premium users get some bonus features, including 1 GB secure file storage, emergency access, and advanced multi-factor authentication options. 

1Password

1Password is a popular password manager operated by Canadian company AgileBits. 

1Password is not a freemium product — it’s only available to paying subscribers (there’s a 30-day free trial available). 

So how does 1Password compete with top-quality freemium password managers? Well, along with offering many of the same features as the rival products, 1Password also has the following benefits:

  • It uses a great-looking, easy-to-use interface that many people prefer to other password managers
  • It has a highly secure master password login method
  • It offers some great features for families
  • It provides a “Travel Mode” that allows users to temporarily wipe sensitive data when crossing borders

These factors make 1Password a top-quality product that its users are happy to pay for.

How to choose a strong but memorable password

A password manager will generate new passwords for each of a user’s accounts, using random letters, numbers, and special characters. This means that there’s no need to remember each password — in fact, it would be impossible to do so. 

Here’s a random password generated by Dashlane, for example — }fn(\]?,64mJ. Not exactly memorable.

However, there are times when it’s necessary to create a memorable password. For example, when choosing a master password.

In such situations, it’s better to choose something complex but memorable, so as to avoid the need to record it.

Here are some tips for creating a strong but memorable password:

Consider adapting the lyrics of a favorite song. For example, DyKtIhItTgV?1968. This password is adapted from a Marvin Gaye line — “don’t you know that I heard it through the grapevine?”. The suffix is “1968” — the year that song was released.

Choose a passphrase, rather than a password. Check out Use a Passphrase, a tool to generate memorable but tough-to-crack passphrases. 

Here’s an example of a memorable passphrase:

  • NineHandedWobbleMobile —This passphrase would take roughly 600 years to crack using common password-cracking software.
  • NineHandedWobbleMobile(9-5) — This passphrase would take over 5.2 trillion years to crack!

Adding additional words and special characters to a password or phrase may not make it much harder to remember — but it could make it millions of times harder to crack.

A Parent’s Guide to Mobile Security for Kids

A Parent’s Guide to Mobile Security for Kids

Our world is more connected than ever, and as a parent, this presents you with some unique challenges and opportunities. How do you embrace modern technology and all of the conveniences it offers, while also ensuring that your children are safe online when using their mobile devices? This is an issue that parents from previous generations have never had to grapple with. As such, there's unfortunately no textbook you can sign out at your local library with proven parenting methods when it comes to smartphone security for kids.

With that said, you aren’t in this alone. There are a number of best practices and resources that you can use to ensure that your children remain safe online when using their iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. With the right combination of education at home and third-party tools to assist you, you can make a huge difference in the number of risks and type of risks your child could face. Most importantly, you can ensure they make smart decisions for themselves online when you aren’t there to supervise.

If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably come to conclusion that simply preventing your children from using mobile devices is not the solution. Kids are using tablets and laptops in their classrooms, as well as getting smartphones for communication at younger and younger ages. Instead of banning smartphones and other mobile devices in your home, it’s important to be prepared to tackle the issue of mobile security head on. This guide has been designed to provide you with all the  information, tools, and advice you'll need so that you're up for the task.

The growth of smartphone ownership amongst children

These days, smartphone ownership among working adults is incredibly high. But the fastest growing demographic for smartphone ownership isn’t even able to vote or buy a drink at a bar. The numbers when it comes to smartphone ownership amongst youth are growing rapidly as more and more families see the value in having these devices for things like texting and location tracking. Parents can stay connected with kids, and kids can use the powerful tools in their smartphone to help manage their increasingly busy lives between school, sports, and other extracurricular activities. A recent study found that 95% of teens regularly use Android phones and iPhones, which means that they either own their own phone or at least have access to one they can borrow. This means that teens are constantly connected to the world through a device in their hands.

Perhaps even more surprising for some is the number of preteens who also have their own smartphones. Nearly half of kids between 10 and 12 year-old have a smartphone of their own. While to some parents, this may seem far too young, it appears that half of all families in the United States feel differently.

Unfortunately, there’s a stark difference between the risks adults face online, and those that children are subjected to. Sure, some online risks affect everyone, regardless of age, like identity theft. Children, however, also face the prospect of online predators, explicit content, inappropriate content, and an epidemic of cyber bullying. With the smartphone ownership numbers amongst younger children increasing, it’s time to consider the unique situations that they may face when they access the world through their smartphone.

What are the greatest risks for kids and teenagers using smartphones?

The Internet is seemingly endless, and smartphones are a portal to a world with virtually unlimited content to consume. And of course, not all of the content and interaction and child may encounter online is positive. 

The obvious concern when it comes to allowing young people online is the number of predators that may seek to build inappropriate relationships with them, including sharing personal information, sending photos, and potentially even meeting in real life. Staying ahead of this problem has proven to be difficult for some parents and authorities as new apps or social networking platforms are introduced all the time. While most adults may simply interact on a handful of popular, well-known social media platforms, kids are often at the cutting edge of the newest social media apps, which can make it hard to keep up with all the changes. It’s important to be aware of the realities of online interactions, however. While stories of online predators often get media attention, they are thankfully becoming less and less frequent as both parents and children educate themselves about online interactions. In fact, unwanted sexual solicitations online have declined over 50% in recent years. While being aware of strangers is important, don't just focus all of your efforts on this one specific danger associated with smartphone use. Have a wide-ranging conversation with your child regarding online safety instead.

Online bullying is a growing concern around the world. As children get smartphones of their own, it makes it easy for bullies to reach out to their victims at all hours of the day. This has lead to an increase in the number of children reporting being bullied online, with 20% of kids saying they have experienced this modern form of bullying that extends well beyond just the schoolyard. Sadly, being bullied by classmates online is far more common than being approached by a stranger online. Worst of all, the effects of online bullying can be devastating, since many children will develop depression, experience other personality changes, and even resort to self-harm in some cases. 

It can also be just as difficult to find out that your child is participating in bullying. This is another danger with owning a smartphone as many children, who were previously not the type to be a bully, find themselves wrapped up in a group mentality that can quickly escalate. Just like being bullied, becoming a bully can have serious social consequences, as some will also develop depression and long-term mood changes that can affect their grades in school, and even their willingness to stay in school. 

Another risk of mobile use in kids and teens is smartphone addiction. This is a growing problem that has not received a lot of attention until recently, as children with developing brains have had more and more access to mobile devices. Research has shown that a majority of teens log a ton of screen time.  Many check their phones on an hourly basis, feel pressure to respond to messages immediately, and 24% of teens report being online almost constantly. The bright colors of the smartphone display, the blue light it emits, and the instant gratification of receiving messages and/or likes can have severe consequences. Some kids may feel sadness when away from their phone, their attention may drift away from important tasks like focusing in class, and using their phone late at night can affect their sleep cycles.  As a parent, setting time limits on cell phone use is critical.  

Finally, privacy is always a major concern when talking about mobile phones. Every Apple and Google app, as well as every service, has some sort of privacy policy that requires information sharing from users. For people under the age of 18, this data can identify them to companies and third-parties. What’s more, your child may never be able to remove their data from these services, and there's no telling how securely the data is being stored. We've seen countless information breaches in recent years, and many people who have had their data stolen are underage smartphone users who didn’t fully consider the consequences of sharing their personal information at the time.

What are the positives of kids owning a smartphone?

Of course, not everything is doom and gloom when it comes to cellphones, and there are many positive aspects to owning a smartphone.  For example, they can help your kids organize their life, stay connected, and learn about the world. And depending on age, they can also help them become more independent and manage their schedule between classes, sports, volunteering, and work.

As children get older, they begin to take on more and more responsibility in their lives. You may have already noticed this already depending on how old your children are. First, they begin walking home from school instead of going to an after-school care program. Then, they may take on extracurricular activities like sports or clubs where they spend additional time at school. They may even start visiting friend’s homes and/or get a part time job.  For peace of mind on your part, location services can be enabled on their phones so that you can keep tabs on where they are at all times, which helps to ensure their safety.

There are also many schools moving towards an online infrastructure when it comes to sharing assignments, grades, and messages from teachers. Students can use their smartphones to easily check up on upcoming assignments, submit their completed assignments, and even communicate with their teachers or classmates. As more schools move to this model and expand the services they offer online, having some sort of mobile device may be an essential thing for students to be able to make the most of the online services available to them.

A smartphone is also a way for teens to show their own responsibility and independence. They may have owning a smartphone near the top of their list of savings goals when they begin their own job. Having a smartphone can be something for teens to work toward and give them an important sense of accomplishment. If they have a service plan, it can be a great way to teach the responsibility of paying a monthly bill on time and keep them focused on keeping up with their responsibilities and work schedule.

What laws protect children online?

Many parents assume there are laws to help keep their kids safe online. If you were hoping that this would be the case, you may be in for some shock. The United States and many countries around the world have laws regarding children online but many of them are woefully outdated and insufficient for the modern realities of the online world.

In the United States, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is in place to outline the rules around collecting and sharing data of minors. Apps and services that operate in the United States must be compliant with COPPA or face fines. The regulations require parents of minors to be able to provide consent before their children sign up for online services and also outlines how consent must be verified. This is a good step but still exposes children to the challenges that come with lengthy and confusing privacy statements that many parents don’t even understand themselves. COPPA also lays out rules for marketing to minors which is important for young people who may be more easily swayed or influenced by online marketing. 

In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes things a little further than COPPA. This new regulation was passed in 2018 and requires parents of kids under 16 to be able to provide consent before their child signs up for online services. GDPR also has rules for all online users that give them a lot more control over their own data.

However, in the case of both GDPR and COPPA, regulations only go so far in actually protecting children from many concerns like bullying, online predators, and smartphone addiction. Privacy is just one part of the overall picture when it comes to children using mobile devices online.

How can you educate and protect your child online?

As a parent, you need to take a leading role in protecting your child online. This can be done through education, frank discussions, and some of the available tools created to help parents manage and monitor their child’s online activities.

When it comes to safety online, it all begins at home with you as a parent. Not only should your children see you as a resource, they should also understand that you’re someone they can turn to when they run into challenges like online bullying or being approached by a stranger. Take time to discuss the risks of being online in a non-confrontational way. Use news stories about experiences of others to help frame the discussion so that your child doesn’t feel like they are on trial. Give them opportunity to share their thoughts and ask questions as well.

There are some third-party tools that you can use in addition to education and discussion at home to help monitor your child’s online activities. Some services will even allow you to set device parameters that determine how long a device can be used or active on the internet. Tracking services are built into many platforms that will locate where a child is even if they aren’t responding to messages or phone calls. Some, or all, of these tools can be utilized by your family to reinforce the discussions you have had. Each family will have unique needs and situations which may make some tools more important to you than others. For example, some parents may simply want to ensure their child isn’t using their device at late hours and disturbing their sleep. Other parents may want to monitor for online bullying which, unfortunately, many children feel embarrassed about sharing with parents or teachers. Online protection tools can be customized and tailored to meet your specific goals.

Finally, there are also education options like online quizzes and games to help kids understand more about online safety. These services are usually targeted at kids as they enter the age where they may start to become more proficient and independent online. Online education services are a great way to introduce the conversation about online safety in a way that’s fun and age appropriate.

What services and tools are available to help keep kids safer online?

You’re not alone when it comes to ensuring your child is safe online. However, you do need to take a leadership role with your child to identify solutions that are right for your family. 

Internet Safe Training offers unique courses for each age range to help schools or parents lead lesson plans for children. This is something that's good for both both adults and children to make use of. For parents and teachers, these courses help create lesson plans and discussions around online safety, including topics like sexting and how much time use is acceptable on a daily basis . There is also information about how to maintain better control over a child’s online experience and ensure that you are always a part of the discussion.

Qustodio is a multi-platform service that provides parents with a sleek web interface or mobile app, which is downloadable via the iTunes app store and Google Play Store, to manage their children’s online activities. This paid service costs as little as $39.95, which means it is more expensive than some other methods available. On the flip side, however, it offers an impressive suite of features. Parents can set time restrictions on devices, monitor web traffic history, block certain websites or services, and even monitor text messages in some apps and on social media networks. Qustodio gives you powerful control in one simple to use package. 

Kaspersky Safe Kids is one of the more popular parental control apps, and also one of the most affordable options. It's easy to set up, and like other services, you'll be able to set time filters on your child's device, as well as monitor location, and keep an eye on online activity. All of this starts at $14.99 per month, and gives you the management controls you’re looking for, all at a price-point that won't break the bank.

How to Identify and Remove Android Viruses

How to Identify and Remove Android Viruses

The growth of the smartphone industry has been nothing short of amazing. Just a decade ago, mobile phones – and smartphones in particular – were luxury items owned by a small group of early adopters. Today, 5 billion people around the world own smartphones and these powerful devices have become intertwined with our lives. Everything from banking to emails to online shopping can be completed on a smartphone.

The popularity and usefulness of these devices have also made them targets for hackers who want to take advantage of the opportunity to access the information we store on our smartphones. Many smartphone users are lulled into a false sense of security, often incorrectly believing that their Android device cannot get a virus in the same way a home computer or laptop could. This misconception has been driven by marketing efforts and the perceived security offered by the official app stores. But make no mistake, your Android phone is just as much a target for hackers as your computer and there are countless Android viruses that could infect your phone, compromise your privacy, and ruin your experience.

In this article, we will outline some of the most common Android viruses, how to identify them, and how to remove them so you can take back control of your own device. In addition, we will also provide some helpful tips to improve your smartphone’s security so that you can feel confident using your device in the future and avoid many of the reasons users find their device has been infected.

Are Android devices more prone to viruses?

There is a sense among many that Android devices are more prone to viruses than iOS devices. Part of this is rooted in an effective marketing campaign by Apple that advertises iOS devices like the iPhone as being more secure than their competitors. It is also true that Android viruses are more common than iOS viruses. Much of this is due simply to the market share enjoyed by Android devices worldwide. 75% of smartphones currently in use run on the Android operating system which makes targeting Android devices a much more fruitful endeavor for hackers. A viruses designed for the Android operating system has the potential to infect many more devices.

The freedom offered to Android users is also another reason it’s more common to see viruses on Android devices. Apple provides a very locked down ecosystem whereby users can only download approved apps through the official app store. If you’re an Android user, however, you have the ability to install and uninstall apps from outside the official Google Play app store which increases the chances an app may contain malicious code. It’s also important to recognize that download apps from official channels are not immune to viruses, either. There have been many examples of popular apps being hijacked by hackers to distribute code to users.

It’s definitely possible for Android users to be disproportionately affected by viruses but much of that boils down to the popularity of the app store and the freedom given to users rather than a flaw in the design of the operating system. Regardless, if you’ve been infected with a virus, your sole focus becomes identifying and removing the virus to take back control over your device.

Identifying and removing ransomware on your Android device

Ransomware is a particularly devastating form of Android malware that has become much more common in recent years. Users are left feeling helpless and hackers use that emotional response to force users into paying money. So, what does ransomware on an Android device look like and how can you manage it?

A ransomware infection may go largely undetected until a hacker chooses to launch the attack. After the malware has been installed on the device, hackers have the ability to encrypt and lock a smartphone’s data. This will display a message to you on your screen with payment instructions and render your device entirely unuseable. In many cases, you won’t even be able to power off your device or turn down the volume if the message is playing a loud tone to grab your attention. Unsurprisingly, in their panic, many people choose to pay the hackers in order to gain back access to their important information. If they don’t pay, the hackers have the ability to wipe the device and cause the loss of all data.

If you have been infected by ransomware, here are some steps you can take to resolve the problem:

  • Try performing a soft reset of your device to see if it clears the message, if only briefly. The method for doing this will vary from device to device but usually involves holding the power key along with another key like the “volume up” key for 10 seconds. Your phone should reboot after doing this. However, some hackers are able to disable this function and it may not work.
  • The next thing to try is booting your device into recovery mode. Again, this method will vary from device to device but many devices will then allow the option to boot into “safe mode.” Using safe mode, you can power on your device as normal but it will prevent apps from automatically launching. This gives you the opportunity to delete any recently downloaded apps that may have infected your device. Once done, try powering on the device normally to see if the ransomware message has disappeared.
  • If this fails, you will likely need to wipe your device and start from factory settings. This will cause the loss of all data on the phone which is why you should regularly be backing up important things like photos, contacts, and more. Booting into recovery mode should allow the option to restore data to factory settings. This cannot be undone so be sure to try all above methods before proceeding. Once the reset is complete, your device should function as normal and you will have to set it up again as if you had just purchased it from the store.

Is adware interrupting your day?

Nothing is more annoying than unwanted popup ads. If your phone has been infected with adware, then you may find constant popups on your display, even when not using an app. These ads often advertise adult content like gambling websites, pornographic websites, or dating services. Not only can they be annoying and embarrassing, they can make using your phone normally a nightmare. If you suspect you are a victim of adware then there are some steps you can take to remove the virus.

  • First, try installing a well-known Android virus scanner security app. Avast Mobile Security and Kapersky Mobile Security are both popular choices that have been trusted by countless Android users. These apps can scan your device for malicious software, identify the culprit, and help you remove the infection. If the anti-virus scanner does not find anything, however, it may be more challenging for you to identify the source of the problem.
  • Your next step is to work backwards through the Android apps you have installed. Begin uninstalling new apps to see if the problem fixes itself. When you feel you have found the offending app, you can begin installing other apps to see if the adware infection has been resolved. Take note of where you downloaded the app, the creator of the app, and file a report against the app if possible.
  • In some cases, apps are able to install malware directly onto the phone’s system storage which means deleting the malicious app will not actually remove the virus. In this case, you may need to consider a complete factory reset of the device data. This should only be done if the above steps have not worked. Luckily, unlike with ransomware viruses, adware viruses still allow some usability of your device. Use this opportunity to back up any important data before wiping the device. This can be done through the recovery mode function or the settings menu. On an Android device, you can tap on the “Settings” app, then select “General,” then tap “Reset,” and finally select the “Factory Data Reset” option.

Spyware snooping on your stuff?

One of the most difficult to identify forms of virus on an Android device is spyware. This type of malware lurks behind the scenes and steals your valuable information like passwords and messages. Since this type of malware isn’t in your face like ransomware or adware, it can be difficult to realize that your device is infected. One red flag that spyware may be present on your device is if you find that accounts like your social media profiles or email addresses are being accessed without your knowledge or consent. In some cases, these services will send an alert email if they detect an unusual login. This could be the sign you need to tip you off that something is wrong and your device needs spyware removal. If this happens to you, here’s what you need to do:

  • Like with adware, one of the first steps to take is to install a mobile virus scanner on your device. Choose a trusted name with positive online reviews. These apps can often find and remove malware from your Android device and, in many cases, this single step will solve the problem.
  • If the virus scanner fails to detect anything, you will want to begin deleting any new apps that you may have installed, especially ones that weren’t from the official app store. The challenge with this is that you may not be aware the spyware has been removed because it’s not immediately clear that it was present in the first place.
  • The sure fire method of removing spyware is to do a complete wipe of your device. Before doing this, you will want to backup any important information that you don’t want to lose. Then, to wipe the device and reset it back to factory settings  you can tap on the “Settings” app, then select “General,” then tap “Reset,” and finally select the “Factory Data Reset” option.

Where did all of these apps come from?

If you’re scrolling through the app drawer on your device and you notice a few suspicious apps that you don’t remember installing, then your Android device may have a virus. Some malicious apps have the ability to download and install other apps without a user’s knowledge. It isn’t until you see these apps that you will realize something is wrong. Worst of all, fixing this isn’t as simple as just deleting the unwanted apps. There are a few steps you’ll need to take for virus removal to ensure your device is safe and secure.

  • As with many other Android viruses, one of the best and most simple solutions is to install a trusted Android antivirus app. Once this had identified the offending app, you may still need to delete the other unwanted apps as they may not be marked as malicious.
  • The next step to try if the virus scanner doesn’t identify an issue is to begin deleting new apps and working backwards. Anything suspicious or apps that have been sideloaded (installed from somewhere other than the official app store) should be deleted as well. Once the problem is resolved, you can test other apps by installing them again to see if they were the culprit or not.
  • Your last resort option is to wipe your entire device. Hopefully this is not necessary after removing the app that is allowing new apps to be installed without permission. However, if the problem persists then it indicates that the virus has installed itself into the system files. Failing detection by a virus scanning app means that a factory data reset is the only option. Open the “Settings” app, tap “General,” select “Reset,” and then confirm you would like to complete a factory data reset.

Prevention is the best protection

Finding a virus on your Android device can be alarming and make your privacy feel violated. Luckily, there are some best practices that you can follow to help ensure your device remains free of viruses and, hopefully, you will never need to perform the above steps ever again.

First, avoid installing apps from untrusted or unknown sources. While it’s not completely foolproof, the Play Store does an effective job of screening apps for malicious code and removing those that may introduce malicious code even after they have been initially approved. When you go outside the secure garden of the Play Store to install an app, you are taking a risk. There is no opportunity for Google to verify the quality or security of the app.

You may also wish to download a virus scanner onto your device. This is the first step we recommend for removing a virus but it can also be one of the best ways to prevent a virus from being installed in the first place. Be sure to read reviews and choose a trusted virus scanner that offers regular updates to identify new forms of malware being developed to target Android users.

Finally, never click on links or download files that you’re not sure of. If an email comes with a suspicious link, avoid it. If a file is sent from an unknown sender or if it has a strange file type extension, don’t download it. When in doubt, reach out to the person or company sending the link or file to confirm that it’s legitimate.

These small steps can help protect your Android device from viruses and save you a lot of time, headache, and stress.

How to Delete Your Google History in 2019

How to Delete Your Google History

If you are one of the people who participates in over 3.5 billion Google searches per day,then you likely rely on the popular search engine to answer a wide range of questions. With the growth of things like personal assistant devices and voice search, it’s incredibly easy to get an answer to almost any question that may enter your mind.

What happens after you have processed a search, though? Does it simply disappear into the ether, never to be seen or heard from again? It may come as a shock to many that Google search history can linger on your devices and profiles long after you have received your answer. With privacy concerns becoming top-of-mind for internet users around the world, Google search history has become a popular topic of discussion. This is especially true if you have ever searched sensitive, personal questions like medical or financial topics.

While others can’t easily see what topics you have searched in the past, if you are using a shared device then this search history is readily available for anyone to see. That can be an alarming wake up call. Luckily, there are several methods to purge your Google search history and keep your searches between you and Google.

This article will break down some of the methods you can use across various devices and browsers to clear out your Google search history and take back control of your own privacy. The good news is that these methods are very easy to follow and, with our step-by-step guide, you can delete your Google history in just a few minutes.

Clearing browser history

One of the first steps most people think of when trying to delete their Google history is to delete their browser history. This is a good first step to take but it won’t fully take care of the job if you were hoping to make your Google search history appear empty to others who may be using your device. After you have cleared your browser history, you will want to follow some of the steps further below in this article to make sure you have done a complete cleaning of your Google search history.

One of the most popular browsers is the Google Chrome browser. Here is how you can clear your browser history if you are using Chrome:

  • Near the top right of the browser window, click the three vertical dots to open a selection menu
  • Click on “Settings” to bring up some more advanced options
  • At the bottom, there is a drop down arrow called “Advanced Settings.” Clicking this will offer more options.
  • At the bottom of the “Privacy and Security” menu, there is an option called “Clear Browsing Data”
  • The window that pops up will provide several options. You can choose to clear browsing data from when you began using the browser or select a custom period of time. You can also check off which types of data you would like to be cleared. Clearing cached files will log you out of any accounts where you have asked to remain logged in so please ensure you have all logins saved in a secure password keeper before moving ahead or uncheck this option.
  • Once you are ready, click the “Clear Data” button

If you’re on an Apple device, you probably use the default browser created by Apple called Safari. Here are the details to manage your browser history with Safari:

  • At the top of your browser window there is a “History” option to click on
  • A selection window will pop up and, at the bottom, there is an option to “Clear History”
  • Another window will appear that allows you to select dates, specific browser data, and more
  • Click “Clear History” to confirm your selections. The popup window will also give you the option to delete top sites.

For Firefox users, these are the steps you will want to follow to clear your browser history:

  • Click on the “Library” button that looks like four books stacked against each other
  • Select “History” and then “Clear Recent History”
  • The popup that appears will allow you to set a date range from when you want to clear browser history and you can also select specific types of data you would like to keep or delete
  • When ready, click on the “Clear Now” button

It’s important to keep in mind that this simply deletes the local browser history which may include some searches entered directly in the address or search bar of the browser. However, this is not a clean sweep of Google search history and you will have to take a few more steps to complete the job if you want to truly secure your privacy.

Also, some browsers provide options to automatically clear history at set intervals. If you want to save yourself from regularly performing the above steps, you may wish to take a few minutes to configure your settings to automatically delete browser history as you see fit.

Deleting Google search history and data

Now that you have cleared out your browser history, you have done half of the work required to secure your privacy. The next step is removing your activity from Google. While this information isn’t readily available for anyone to access, people that share devices with you or have access to your Google account will be able to find this information rather easily. The great news is that clearing out this activity history is just as easy.

If you are using a browser, here are the steps to follow:

  • Type this into your browser: https://myaccount.google.com
  • If you are using Chrome, you can also get to this page by using the three dot menu button at the top right of the browser window, selecting “Settings,” and then selecting, “Manage your Google Account”
  • Select “Data and Personalization”
  • Under the “Activity and Timeline” menu you will see a selection called “My Activity” that you can click on
  • There will be a “More” option at the top right which is shown by the three dots
  • Now click “Delete Activity By” and you will see options where you can set a date range to delete your search activity
  • When you have your settings configured the way you want, click on “Delete” to confirm

If you’re on an Android device, you can also delete your Google account activity right from your smartphone or tablet with these steps:

  • Open the “Settings” app on your device
  • Select “Google” and then in the following menu select “Google Account”
  • Now select “Data and Personalization”
  • There will be another window that shows you the option “My Activity” which you can select now
  • At the top right, you will see three dots that offer more options and selecting this will show the option “Delete Activity By”
  • From here, you can set specific date ranges to delete your activity and confirm your choices by selecting “Delete”

If you’re on an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, Google also allows you to manage your search history with these steps:

  • In your browser, go to: https://myaccount.google.com– Gmail users can also access this option by opening the Gmail app, tapping on the menu icon, selecting “Settings,” then “Your Account,” and then selecting “Manage your Google Account”
  • Now you will want to tap on “Data & Personalization”
  • From here you will see the “My Activity” option
  • Three dots will appear at the top right which you can tap on to reveal more options and then select “Delete Activity By”
  • Using this window, you can set date ranges to delete your Google search history and confirm your choice by tapping on “Delete”

If your Google account syncs across multiple devices, you will only need to perform the above steps on one device. As your data is synced with your account, this process only needs to be performed once. There is no need to do it on every single device you own unless each device is connected to a different Google account.

Protecting your privacy moving forward

Now that you have successfully deleted your browser history and Google search data, you’re probably wondering how you can streamline this process in the future and ensure that your data isn’t being seen by the wrong people. There are a few things you can do to protect your privacy and Google search history in the future.

First, if you want to automate the processes outlined above, Google provides options to do so. When you get to the “Manage Activity” tab in the steps for deleting your Google activity history, you can tap on the three dots to reveal advanced options and you will see “Keep Activity For.” This option allows you to set regular intervals where your activity will be cleared out. For example, you could have Google automatically delete your activity once per week if you feel that suits your needs.

If you would prefer that Google didn’t store your activity at all then there is also an option to have them stop altogether. Under the “Data and Personalization” option in the steps outlined above, you will see an option called “Activity Controls.” Within that menu there is another option titled “Manage your activity controls.” By selecting this, you can determine which types of activity you would like Google to save to your account. Turning off various options means that the data you have opted out of will no longer be stored on your Google account.

Using a VPN is also another effective way to secure your privacy when doing Google searches. Because a VPN encrypts your data between your device and the remote VPN server, no one who may be monitoring your web traffic can see what kind of information you’re sending including Google searches. This is especially important for those who tend to log into public wi-fi networks like those found at airports or coffee shops. Hackers with a little bit of know-how can easily monitor these open wi-fi networks for unencrypted data being sent over the network. Using a VPN makes this data impossible for hackers to analyze and, in turn, keeps all of your data secure. This include Google searches, banking information, online shopping history, emails, private messages, and more.

To keep hackers out of your Google account, you may also wish to enable 2-factor authentication. This is an extra step used for logging into your Google account that requires a code to be entered after logging in before any information is available for viewing. The code can be texted to your mobile device or generated using an authenticator app like Google Authenticator. Even if a hacker were to steal your password and username, they would be unable to access your information without the generated code that is delivered to your mobile device.

Sharing devices can also compromise your security. In many cases, for someone to access your search history, they would have to have access to your password. The exception to that rule is when you share devices where you may be logged in with your Google account. A family computer or shared tablet is a good example of this scenario. If you’re concerned about someone accessing your data on shared device then you may wish to create a separate Google account for the device or, if possible, use different devices entirely.

Finally, if you’re very concerned about the amount of data that Google is collecting about you then you could opt to stop using Google services altogether. This is far easier said than done due to the amount of reach that Google has online and with products like Android smartphones. DuckDuckGo is an alternative search engine that markets itself as the privacy-friendly competition to Google. They give users greater control over their own information and their website claims that, “getting the privacy you deserve should be as simple as closing the blinds.” Their search engine offers private searching and a number of privacy tips to help you take complete control over your data in our connected, digital world.

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