I’m Glad my Laptop Doesn’t Have a Built-in Camera

 

This is a detachable webcam

My detachable webcam

In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother—that is, the omnipresent government—uses hidden cameras inside residents’ homes to keep an eye on them.

Well, in case you were unaware, anyone who is proficient at hacking might be able to do the same to you if your computer is on and it has a built-in webcam.

Ergo I’m glad that my laptop uses a USB clip-on camera for the rare times I Skype.

Hackers who are so inclined can manipulate websites and imbed an invisible permission prompt for the use of the webcam. The nefarious no-goodniks place the prompt on top of a video’s “Play” button, or on another button or link, so that an unaware user gives the hackers permission to start taking pictures through the webcam.

The website www.MakeUseOf.com recommends that folks with webcams download the most recent security updates for their cameras. They also recommend that you regularly scan for malware (better yet, have a security program running on your computer). Of course, you should use a firewall. And just to be sure, watch your webcam’s external light (if it has one) to be sure it’s not on unless you are using your webcam.

If all of this is too technical for you, just place a piece of paper over your webcam when you are not using it.

Now, where the hell did I put my camera?

Airline Fees – I Like Them! Say What?

Let’s say that you book a hotel room and the rate includes drinks from the in-room liquor bar, use of the workout room and the pool, in-room coffee, pay-per-view movies, and afternoon tea in the lobby.

Now let’s imagine that you are a person who doesn’t drink alcohol, nor work out, nor swim, nor drink coffee, nor watch movies, and who hates tea. What if you could book that room for, say, a 50 percent lower rate that does not include the amenities. You’d jump at that price, right?

Well, guess what, that’s exactly what the airlines have been doing. In 1954, a roundtrip ticket between San Francisco and New York cost about $200 plus a 10 percent government tax. Not long ago I booked that trip for a little under $400. I took carry-on luggage. I brought my own meal, which I purchased at Trader Joe’s, including fruit and a little dessert, for about 10 bucks. The flight was hours shorter than the typical flight of 60 years ago when coast-to-coast travel was by four-propeller planes.

Let’s calculate inflation. 200 smackers in 1954 would equal about $1,700 today. I would rather not pay for baggage handling, a meal, a snack, extra legroom, etc., and instead save all that moolah. If I want to check a large bag or two, I can pay for it. Same goes for extra legroom, airline food (which is never as tasty and healthful as the stuff I bring along), a movie, or any other airline perks.

So, as with the hotel room example I posed, I would rather pay for only those amenities of which I avail myself. In the old days, we paid for all that stuff whether or not we used it.

So quit kvetching about how little the airlines give us and thank Southwest and other no-frills carriers for bringing a price-saving revolution to the airline industry. Now where’s my neck pillow?

Dangerous Doctors – How can I know if my Doctor is A-OK?

You may have heard that the popular TV host and, more importantly, physician, Dr. Mehmet Oz, received a slap on the wrist from a U.S. Senate consumer protection subcommittee for extolling the virtues of “miracle” diet products that have never proven their efficacy. One such wonder drug is garcinia cambogia, which has been touted to boost weight loss by, among other things, “slowing the body’s ability to absorb fat,” “replacing fat with toned muscles,” and even improving your mood.Oz isn’t going to suffer much for his irresponsible behavior, which he contritely owns up to.

But what about docs who are guilty of shoddy practices that may have hurt their patients?

According to an editorial in a recent Bottom Line Personal, between 2001 and 2011 about 6,000 doctors in the United States had clinical privileges revoked by their affiliated hospitals, but have never had their licenses revoked or restricted.

If you are about to seek advice or treatment from a physician who is new to you, you just may want to check up on that doc’s status.

Here’s how to do it. Type your state’s name and the phrase “medical board” into a search engine to find the governing body for the state in which the doctor practices (example: “California medical board” got me to: The MedicalBoard of California is the State agency that licenses medical doctors, investigates complaints, disciplines those who violate the law, conducts physician …).

You can also look on the website of the Federation of State Medical Boards at www.FSMB.org .

A note of caution: Not every disciplinary action or lawsuit means that a doctor is unsafe. Sometimes lawsuits are frivolous but are paid off to make the problem go away and some disciplines are for minor mistakes.

But as David Swankin of Citizens Advocacy Center points out in the Bottom Line Personal article, you should worry if your doctor’s privileges were revoked by a hospital. “Hospitals don’t do this lightly.”

 

How I Earn More on My Credit Card Than I can From a CD

(Note: None of the companies, credit cards, or investment strategies mentioned below constitutes an endorsement.)

                If you pay off your credit card balance each month, this article is for you. Otherwise, it’s best you move along to another article. I just heard a radio commercial for a bank that pays a “generous” return of 0.7 percent on its certificates of deposit (CDs). Say what?                 For years I used a Capital One Venture® Visa card as my primary charge card. And I charged all purchases greater than five dollars on it. Why? Capital One pays me 2 percent back on all my purchases. Get it? I was making three times as much on my credit card as a I could get from my bank (actually, my credit union). That money is usable for travel expenses, which means the cost of travel, like airfares, hotels, and meals. But I can also use it to payCredit Card - Captial One Venture for any expenses while traveling.                

You can search for other cards that match that deal. I have one that beats it and I’ll get to that in a moment.                

The catch? Capital One charges a $59 annual fee. So, do the math. If not, Capital One also offers a Quicksilver® Rewards card that pays 1.5% with no annual fee for those with excellent credit. If you charge enough to make the rebate exceed the annual fee, you’re in like Flynn with the Venture Card. Otherwise, you can go with Quicksilver, which has no fee.                

I invest with Fidelity Investments. It now has programs that beat even Capital One’s. Fidelity offers an AmerFideltiy American Express cardican Express card that pays 2 percent and a Visa card that rebates 1.5 percent. Neither levies an annual fee.                

My point? If you have a good credit rating and you pay your credit card bills in full each month, find yourself a suitable rebate card and charge away for on the purchases you would be making anyway. You’ll make a lot more with it than “investing” in CDs.

Why I Disagree with the Money Experts About Internet Transactions

 

Locking mailboxes come in many styles at many prices

Typical locking mailbox. Photo: Signature Hardware.

I came across an article in a recent AARP Magazine in which finance reporter Jean Chatzky quotes Neal O’Farrell of the Identity Theft Council. O’Farrell urges consumers to ditch snail mail when it comes to paying bills and doing banking.  

Chatzky says he “calls the U.S. postal system ‘an absolute gift’ for identity thieves, who can reach into your mailbox and grab whatever’s there.”

I stand 180 degrees on the other side of this. Facebook, UCLA, Target Stores, and even the Pentagon have been hacked. I assume that neither Ms. Chatzky nor Mr. O’Farrell are familiar with locking mailboxes. We have one at our home and it’s a piece of cake.

I do not store my personal information, such as date of birth, social security number and the like on the Internet. It’s high-tech Russian roulette.

And there is one big bonus to receiving paper records: You end up with hard copies that cannot be lost or altered by an electronic glitch or a ham-handed clerk. I like being able to whip out paper copies of my accounts any time I need them.

 

The IRS is trying to give away more than $150 million

What? The Internal Revenue Service wants to give away money? Well, sort of. For tax year 2010, about 100,000

Dollar bills

Photo: 401kcalculator.org

taxpayers screwed up the mailing addresses on their tax returns. As of last summer, the Treasury Department had about $153 million lying about that should be refunded. That adds up to about $1,530 per return.You can check out whether you are entitled to a refund at www.irs.gov or call 800 829-1954.Good luck. And let us know if you are a “winner.”***********************The Consumer Gal and I just had our book, Enough of Us – which deals with other subject matter – published. Now we have to focus on marketing our “baby.” So for thetime being, I will be suspending my semi-monthly Consumer Guy full-length blog posts and, instead, providing  brief consumer tips..

If you would like to learn more about our book, which deals with issues of ethics and procreation, please visit our other website, www.enoughof.us. Many thanks for your interest.

Easy Ways to Save on Electronics and Travel

Here are easy ways to track prices online that might enable you to compare for the best deals.

 

For electronics, Decide.com offers an app that you can download from the site. The will let you know when the price for the item you are interested in is likely to drop (it claims a 77 percent accuracy rate – so don’t blindly depend on it). You can check price alerts and compare what items will cost at brick-and-mortar stores.

 

If you are planning a trip, Bing Price Predictor (www.bing.com, then click “More,” then “Travel”) to find the best time to buy plane tickets.

 

After you buy your tickets, go to Yapta.com and enter your itinerary the price you paid. It will let you know if the price drops enough to qualify you for any travel refunds (travel refund policies depend on from whom you buy your tickets and what their policies are). If you didn’t buy your tix through a seller with a price-drop refund policy, at least you’ll know if the price dropped enough to cover the cost of changing you tickets.

 

Hotel room bookings can come with a low cost guarantee as well. If you reserve through Tingo.com you will automatically be rebooked at a lower rate if the cost of your room drops. This only applies to rooms with a “Money Back” designation. Just be sure that Tingo has the lowest price to begin with compared to booking though other sites.

Thanks to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for these tips.

*******************

The Consumer Gal and I just had our book, Enough of Us – which deals with other subject matter – published. Now we have to focus on marketing our “baby.” So for thetime being, I will be suspending my semi-monthly Consumer Guy full-length blog posts and, instead, providing  brief consumer tips..

If you would like to learn more about our book, which deals with issues of ethics and procreation, please visit our other website, www.enoughof.us. Many thanks for your interest.