Thursday, January 29, 2015

FACEBOOK– Some Things Not to Share

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article asking if you are “over sharing” on social media (January 13). There are some things on Facebook that might seem innocent, but can be used by burglars, ID thieves, etc.


Here are 5 things to keep out of your Facebook profile:


  1. Your home address. We have already talked about oversharing your location when you are at the store, on vacation and other times that you are away from your home. Obviously, you are denying this information from potential burglars. But, others can use your home address against you including ID thieves or people who may want to harass you. So remove your address from your profile. Your close friends should already know where you live. And if you want someone to come you’re your house you can give them the address person to person or via email, mail, or directly via text message.
  2. Anything work-related. Hackers who want to break into your company’s computer system will look for the names of employees as a way to get in. So, don’t make any reference to where you work in your profile. This link talks about some ways that hackers can get confidential information about your company:
  3. Your relationship status. Apparently there are certain relationship statuses that attract cyberstalkers. And if you change your relationship status, that can cause awkward comments or “likes” especially if you change a relationship from “married” to “single.”
  4. Your payment information. Facebook has some incentives for you to store your credit card information with the site. While the account information is no doubt secure online with Facebook, there is a danger that you might have your profile open on your desktop, laptop, or tablet at work or in a public place. Someone can look at your screen and pick up your credit card number. And there is always a danger that Facebook could have a data breach. So try to store your credit card number in as few places as possible.
  5. Your phone number. In Facebook, by default the people you friend can see your phone number even if you don’t want everyone to see it. Also, some of Facebook’s security features require the use of your phone number. You can change who sees your phone number to “Only Me.”


For details on how to remove or hide this information go to this link:








Tuesday, January 27, 2015

IRS SCAMS & ID THEFT– File Your Tax Return Early

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office and AARP have started a full court press to educate the public about ID thieves filing taxes to receive refunds in the name of their victims and of course, IRS scammers who have been receiving publicity lately.

According to a press release issued earlier today by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), some ID thieves will electronically file tax returns in someone else’s name to collect a refund. All the ID thief needs is your birthdate and Social Security number. The AGO says that the prime sources for this information are:

  • Unlocked mailboxes. 34 percent of Washingtonians receive their mail in an unlocked mailbox or mail slot at home. Unlocked boxes make it easy for ID thieves to steal bills, tax forms, and other documents which can have personal information such as bank account numbers and Social Security numbers.
  • Leaving valuables in sight in their car. 57 percent of Washingtonians left at least one valuable personal item in their car in the last week. Wallets, purses, paystubs, or mail all can provide ID thieves with valuable information.
  • Failing to destroy personal information. 19 percent of Washingtonians say that they never shred personal documents that could be used by ID thieves.

 According to AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, the tax-refund scam is difficult to avoid because the ID thieves have time on their side. ID thieves often electronically file tax returns by mid-February to receive their “refunds” early.

AARP recommends that you:


  1. File early. If you e-file, use a computer that is connected to the internet with an Ethernet cable. They say that a wireless connection is not as safe and they say that you definitely should not use a public WI-FI network. If you are filing with paper forms, mail your return from a post office or secure blue USPS drop box. Don’t leave them as outgoing mail from your home mailbox.
  2. Don’t leave your tax returns on your computer. Once you have filed, move the files to a flash drive, compact disk or external hard drive. Store your archived files in a safe place.
  3. Pick up your mail as promptly as you can. This is the time of year that employers, banks and other financial institutions send you W-2’s, 1099 forms, brokerage statements all of which have your Social Security number and other account numbers that ID  thieves can use to impersonate you in an electronic tax filing. AARP suggests renting a P.O. Box or installing a locking mailbox.
  4. After you file, and assuming you are expecting a refund, check for your refund at
  5. Within three months of filing, look for unauthorized credit accounts opened in your name at At that web site you can check your credit report with one of the three credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Repeat this process two more times during the year, several months apart, with the other bureaus. You’re entitled to three freebies per 12-month period.
  6. Consider placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report. A fraud alert is free and can be placed with one credit-reporting bureau, which will share it with the other two credit bureaus. You may be charged to place a freeze and you need to place it with each credit bureau. For more information about fraud alerts, go to For more information about a security freeze go to:
    1. Experian-
    2. TransUnion-
    3. Equifax-



  • Don’t leave anything visible in your car.
  • Shred unneeded documents with personal information such as account numbers and Social Security numbers from time to time. If you do not have a shredder, check the AGO’s web site for free scheduled shred events.


Washington State Attorney General’s Office:




AARP Fraud Watch Network:




Beware of the Tax Scam Man:



Sunday, January 25, 2015

IRS SCAM– Scammers Target the Vulnerable

I think we will be hearing much more about IRS scammers between now and April 15th. Those who follow scams have been saying that as tax time comes closer, scammers will pose as IRS agents more and more.

According to the Treasury Inspector General for tax Administration, an agency that provides independent oversight of the IRS, since October 2013, people have been contacted by IRS scammers about 290,000 times. Nearly 3,000 victims have paid more than $14 million to these scammers. This may not seem to be a big part of the population here is the USA, but if you are one of those victims, you cannot afford to give money that you need to a scammer.

According to the IRS, the prime targets for IRS scammers are elderly people, recently arrived immigrants and people who do not speak English well.

Long time readers of my Hot Sheets probably know the drill very well now. But to reduce the number of victims, we need to reach those may be most vulnerable to the scammer’s pressure. If you have an elderly parent or relative, or you have connections with new immigrants or people who do not speak English as a first language, talk to them about this scam and reinsure them that the IRS does not operate like the scammers.  

Tell them:

  • The IRS will send a bill in the mail, if it thinks you owe the federal government money.
  • The IRS will not call demanding payment.
  • The IRS will not ask for your credit card number over the phone nor will it demand payment by prepaid gift card.
  • The IRS does not send local law enforcement officers to homes or businesses on their way to collect payment or to arrest you.
If you receive a call from an IRS scammer:

  • Hang up.
  • Report the call to:
  • If you owe federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.
  • If you don’t owe taxes, call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
  • You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at  Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.
The Herald:





Saturday, January 24, 2015


KIRO TV News reports a car prowler breaking into several cars in a rural area near Snohomish in the early morning hours of Thursday, around 3:15am.

The car prowler took a large amount of cash as well as cell phones, wallets and credit cards.

One homeowner traced purchases at several stores in Bellevue Square Mall in Bellevue. And she says that she has video of the car prowler making purchases with her mother’s credit card.

According to KIRO, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

This incident demonstrates what car prowlers will do with whatever they will find in your car. If they find cash or credit cards they will make purchases, often very quickly. This car prowl should be a reminder that when you park your car to lock it, and remove anything of value (and things that you may think are not valuable) from your car. Keeping things in view from the outside of your car, only gives thieves an opportunity to steal from you. This is true if you park your car in a parking lot or in your driveway in a rural setting or a suburban setting.

If you recognize this person please call 911. Or the Sheriff’s Tip Line at (425) 388-3845.

To see video of this story, and a good view of the suspect’s face, go to:





Wednesday, January 21, 2015


According to an article in The Herald, published this morning, mail theft was a big problem in Snohomish County especially in the north and east portions of the county over the holiday season. Deputies found mail dumped in the woods, sometimes delivering it themselves.

Mail theft is one way local ID thieves use to gather Social Security, credit card, and other personal information to use in ID theft. According to The Herald, the Sheriff’s Office receives around 3,000 complaints of credit and debit card fraud per year.

Some things you can do to prevent your mail from being stolen include:

  • Use a locked mail box to receive your mail. The box should be made with heavy gauge steel and small mail slots. Some locking units come in four, six, eight or more compartments so that neighbors can get together to protect their mail. These units often have a secure outgoing mail box. You can also find single locking mail boxes.
  • Leave outgoing mail at the post office or a blue postal service mail box. With the typical residential mail box, leaving the flag up when you have outgoing mail is a signal to a mail thief that there is mail to take. This is especially true for checks that you send out or mail with sensitive information.
  • Don’t leave mail overnight whether it is income or outgoing. Pick up your mail as soon as you can.
  • Reduce the number of bills that you receive and bills that you pay via the mail by having vendors email invoices to you and use your bank’s bill pay service to pay your bills. Bill pay is a secure system to pay your bills.
  • When you order your checks from your bank or credit union, pick them up at a local branch. A box full of blank checks is a bonanza for a mail thief.
  • When you are on a trip, have a trusted neighbor or friend pick up your mail while you are gone. You can also have your local post office hold your mail while you are away. And you can easily set this up online at

The Herald:




Friday, January 16, 2015

HOME SECURITY – Deadbolt Locks are Key to Securing Your Home

A recent article published in The Seattle Times notes that FBI statistics show that Washington State has the highest rate of property crimes (burglaries, car thefts, etc.) in the country.

One of the basics of keeping burglars out of homes is to lock outside doors with dead bolt locks. Most burglars enter homes using forced entry, often kicking in a door. A dead bolt lock, which has a steel bolt that extends from the door into a hole in the door jam, makes it more difficult for a burglar to kick in a door. And, with the addition of three inch screws holding the strike plate on the door jam, it can be almost impossible to damage the door or the door frame.

Long time followers already know this and have no doubt made sure that they have deadbolt locks, three inch screws, and they use those locks religiously. If you move into a new home, check to be sure that you have deadbolt locks and three inch screws. Builders often do not use the longer screws in new construction.

For more information about deadbolt locks, see this article from The Herald:


The Seattle Times:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

DRUG ABUSE- Finding Help

People who are seeking help with substance abuse, gambling addiction or mental health issues can call the Washington Recovery Help Line at 866-789-1511.

This is a 24-hour help line that is manned by professionally trained volunteers and staff. Callers can remain anonymous and all calls are confidential. Volunteers and staff provide crisis intervention, referral services and emotional support.

For more about the Washington Recovery Help Line, go to:


Teens between the ages of 13-20 can receive help with drug/alcohol abuse, thoughts of suicide, and many other teen problems by calling Teen Link at 1-866-TEENLINK (833-6546) between 6pm to 10pm. Teen Link volunteers are trained teenagers who are taught to listen to concerns and can provide referral services.

The assumption of Teen Link is that teens will accept help from someone of their own age better than from an adult. Callers can remain anonymous, calls are confidential and volunteers provide non-judgmental help.  

For more information about Teen Link, go to:



The Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force (SRDGTF) has put out an alert on MDMA, also known as Ecstasy. The SRDGTF notes that Ecstasy abuse and trafficking is on the rise in our area. Ecstasy usually has been found only in major metropolitan areas; however, it is expanding to smaller communities.

Ecstasy is taken orally via a tablet or capsule. As a capsule it is referred to as Molly. The drug lasts about 3 to 6 hours. Users sometimes take a second dose as the drug begins to fade from the first dose. Ecstasy often is taken with other drugs such as cocaine, GHB, methamphetamine, ketamine, and Viagra.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

BURGLARY PREVENTION – Are You Over Sharing on Social Media?

Anyone who watched the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day saw the Allstate Insurance “mayhem” man break into a home who, according to a series of ads during the game, learned that the home was empty through postings by the owners on social media. The ads were part of Project Aware Share that Allstate Insurance started to encourage people to be more careful about what they post about their lives on social media.

According to Allstate, more and more burglaries are being connected to people sharing their locations on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. From letting people know that you are at dinner to that big trip to Europe, sharing, or over sharing, what you are doing and where you are at any time of the day, can give a potential burglar the opportunity to steal from you while you are away from your home or apartment. Allstate says that there is no hard data that says this is a trend, but it notes that security and safety experts from around the world are warning their clients to be careful of what they share on social media.

Part of the trick is not posting, tweeting or checking in with your location in real time. Posting those pictures of you on the beach in the Caribbean while you are there can give a burglar the opportunity to break into your home.

The other trick is to manage your security settings so that only a small group of friends, who you know well, receives information about your movements. For example, on Facebook, make sure that you are only sharing with your friends, not with the “public,” which means anyone can see what you have posted.

Other measures that you can take include controlling your Facebook tag settings, cleaning up your friend list, and creating a “close friends” list. For details, go to

The Allstate web site has more tips for protecting your home from burglary and using social media safely at

Before social media, broadcasting our whereabouts was not a problem. We did not have a means to tell the whole world where we were or what we were doing. Now, however, we have that capability. Like leaving your cell phone in your car, where anyone can see it, over sharing can give a burglar the opportunity to steal from you. Many people have learned the hard way about the dangers of over sharing. Take some time to review the Allstate Project Aware Share web site and implement their recommendations.

Allstate Insurance:





Thursday, January 8, 2015

SHORELINE – Package Thieves

Shoreline Police are looking for two men who have been stealing numerous UPS packages in the Shoreline area. Video shows them wearing safety vests and pretending to use a clipboard. This may be a novel way to try to put off suspicious neighbors. While most video of package thieves shows individuals simply taking packages, at least these two guys should get some points for innovation. While they have been active in Shoreline, they could just as easily head a little way north to Snohomish County.

If you recognize the two, contact Detective Cary Coblantz at or call Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound at 1-800-222-TIPS for a change at a reward.

With the holidays past, the heavy period of package deliveries is behind us. However, packages are still delivered to homes every day by UPS, Federal Express and the Postal Service. If you are expecting a package at home, ask a trusted neighbor to pick it up for you. Also, ask that neighbor to keep a look out for and report to 911 any suspicious people who appear to be following delivery vehicles in your neighborhood.


Washington’s Most Wanted:


Wednesday, January 7, 2015


The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office will be holding a free 13-week Citizen’s Academy beginning later this month.

The academy will be held in two locations:

On Tuesday’s beginning January 27
Lakewood High School
17023 11th Ave NE
Arlington, WA

On Thursdays beginning January 29
Cathcart Way Operations Center
8915 Cathcart Way
Snohomish, WA

Classes will be held from 6:30 to 9:30pm with a Saturday field trip.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn about different aspects of the Sheriff’s Office including patrol procedures, collision investigations, K-9 operations, drugs and gangs, domestic violence, crime scene technology, jail operations, search and rescue and special weapons and tactics (SWAT).

If you would like to attend, go online and fill out the online application at Space is limited. Participants must pass a basic criminal background check. For more information, email

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office:




Tuesday, January 6, 2015

SCAMS – 2014 Saw Scammers Taking from the Innocent

2014 was a year when we heard many warnings about scams threatening to steal money from unsuspecting victims. Events during the year seemed to attract scammers to Washington State with the Oso landslide and the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting. The AARP Fraud Watch Network has issued a summary about these scams.

IRS Imposter Scam. The year started in March with scammers posing as IRS agents demanding immediate payment for back taxes often threatening arrest, deportation or seizure of property. Payment was to be made by Green Dot MoneyPak prepaid debit cards, a method of payment that the real IRS does not request.

Arrest Warrant Scam. Throughout the year, scammers tried to extort money from citizens by claiming that they were about to be arrested for missing jury duty if they did not pay a fine by using a prepaid debit card (where have we heard this one) immediately. Local law enforcement agencies do not call to tell you that you have a warrant for your arrest!

Charity Scams.  The Washington State Attorney General’s Office as well as local law enforcement agencies warned of scammers trying to take advantage of disasters and tragedies such as the Oso landslide and the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Scammers will call, send email or use internet advertising to claim that they will give donations to victims of these disasters. Of course the scammers take the money and victims see no money.

Medical Alert Scam. Scammers will call claiming “increasing rates of death and injury from falls” offering a “free” medical alert device. And for signing up, you will get thousands of dollars in free coupons. All you have to do is give the scammer your credit card number for shipping and activation. Those who did give their credit card numbers were charged monthly fees for devices that never arrived.

Grandparent Scam. Thousands of grandparents have been victimized by scammers claiming to be grandsons/granddaughters or great nieces or nephews in some sort of trouble with the law or in a bad accident in need of emergency money quick. The scammer appeals to the grandparent’s emotions and caring for a young relative in order to get them give money quickly.

For more on how the grandparent scam works, go to:


While new scams may show up in 2015, these are scams that we all need to be on the watch for and avoid.

AARP Fraud Watch Network:






Monday, January 5, 2015

TECH SUPPORT SCAMS- Microsoft Files Suit

Scammers claiming to provide tech support to fix alleged problems with your computer have been around for awhile. Some will call, claiming to be from Microsoft, to tell you that they need access to your computer to fix some problem. Others may send spam, while others may advertise over the internet.

Over the Christmas holidays, Microsoft filed suit against a company that does business as OmniTech Support and TechSupport Pro, among other names, who trick people into signing up for “support” through fake web advertising and fake “technicians” who claim to work for Microsoft.

According to Microsoft, a technician asks to take over your computer to check it for viruses and other problems. Then the technician claims to scan your computer and demands $249 to fix the problems that he has found.

In November, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the State of Florida filed their own lawsuits against a company called “PC Cleaner” for using ads to scare people into thinking that their computers have viruses and then selling them worthless services.

In this case, the scammers advertise using internet ads that offer free scans for viruses and malware. The scan then finds a problem. The scammers offer a piece of software that can fix the problem for $29 to $49. The software then refers the computer user to a high pressure salesman who says that the computer has several serious problems that can only be fixed by a support package that costs several hundred dollars.

The thing to do is to not give over your computer or give your credit card numbers to someone who calls you out of the blue offering to fix your computer.

The fact that Microsoft and the FTC and at least one state are going after demonstrates that tech support scammers are a serious problem. While the lawsuits will attempt to immobilize these crooks, you can take away any opportunity to make you a victim by hanging up when they call, or not clicking on ads offering this kind of service when you see them.



Microsoft has declared war on cyber criminals including scammers and spammers who have been defrauding average people and spreading viruses and malware. Through its Microsoft Cybercrime Center it tries to find these crooks and hold them accountable. Here are a couple of stories about Microsoft’s efforts: