With Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, tablets and laptops everywhere, free Wi-Fi hotspots seem to be everywhere too. Free Wi-Fi saves you from drawing on your mobile data plan limit, but there are security risks. Hackers on the same free hotspot can make all traffic flow through their computers. They can access websites you visit, your unencrypted passwords and more. They can gather information to use for identity theft and fraud, with severe consequences.

1. Don't use free Wi-Fi unless you absolutely have to. Use your mobile network's data service and pay for higher digital limits if need be. Spending a few more dollars per month for your data plan is cheap insurance for the money you could lose from fraud or identity theft.
2. Use a secure VPN service. A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, encrypts information going from your computer to the Internet, so hackers can't access it. You can surf the Web securely and your personal info is safe. Just double-check that your VPN service is reputable.
3. Don't use free Wi-Fi for anything important. If you want to use free Wi-Fi for some harmless surfing while sipping a latte, fine. Just don't do any online banking, don't use a credit card and don't go to any site that asks for a password. Yes, that includes social media!

This holiday season, hackers stole over 40 million credit and debit card numbers from Target's retail system. This makes all of us extra cautious about protecting our own computer systems. Here's how to hold off those hackers:

1. "ABC" online."Always Be Careful" when checking emails and surfing the Web. Hackers use these online connections to get malware onto your system that gives them access to personal information and passwords.

  • Watch for bad links:  Check a link by resting your cursor on it, without clicking, to see the web address. If you want "" but you see "," don't click on it. 
  • Avoid questionable websites:  Places that push the norms of taste and morality are notorious sources of malware. 
  • Don't fall for phishing scams:  Wiring money to someone you don't know is never a good idea. But also watch for scams that pose as your bank, email provider, social media, or even the IRS. Banks don't ask to reset your password by email and the IRS never emails taxpayers. 
  • Don't download from an unknown source:  Only get files or apps from websites you trust.

2. Use different passwords for different sites and accounts. That way, if one account is hacked, only one is compromised. Write passwords down and keep in a secure place, or use a secure online password manager. 

3. Make passwords hard to hack and change them often."Password" and "123456" are easy to hack. So are your birthdate and your child's name, which can be found online. Experts suggest using a long sentence with numbers and symbols, such as "PumpkinsClimbIntoHurricanes%82&." Or make up an even longer sentence, such as "I came to Dallas in 2011 after living in Atlanta for 4 years", but just use the first letter of each word: "IctDi2011aliAf4y." And change passwords every six months.

4. Watch what gets stored.  Never email your Social Security Number, because it stays in your archives. Delete old messages with bank account info or credit card numbers. Never put your master list of passwords on your computer.

5. Use protection tools: 

  • Antivirus software:  Scans for known computer viruses and some can detect phishing scams and other schemes. 
  • Secure connections:  If a website uses your personal info, make sure you're on a secure, encrypted connection. Instead of "http," the web page URL should start with "https"–the "s" stands for "secure."
  • Two-factor authentication:  This makes sure no one can pose as you. Once you set it up, every login needs two steps. First, enter user name and password. Then you'll get a third, one-time password sent to your phone or other device. This option is offered by Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others.

What to do if you've been hacked.Take these steps immediately:

  • 1) Destroy the computer virus:  Run antivirus software to find and remove the virus.
  • 2) Update all software:  Download the latest versions of all programs, including operating system, Internet browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.), Office, and Adobe programs. 
  • 3) Change all passwords:  Make sure to do this on a different computer from the one that got infected. If the virus had keylogging software, hackers might find the new passwords.


No matter what's happening around you, it's important to stay calm. You'll be happier–and healthier–if you take these approaches:

1. Focus on the big picture.  If a complex project is getting you down, keep reminding yourself of the end goal. This keeps you motivated and prevents you from getting bogged down in the details. 

2. Just relax.  When faced with a challenge, the initial reaction is often to act immediately. This can lead to impulsive decisions that create more challenges and even undermine long-term goals. Instead, when a difficulty arises, don't react. Stop for a moment, and then calmly consider the best next step to take.

3. Do a little exercise.  When it comes to dealing with stress, researchers say short bouts of moderately intense exercise will keep you on an even keel. You don't need to take up a full exercise program; just plan to include a short burst of exercise in your daily routine. As always, check with your doctor first before starting any exercise program.

If you're thinking about buying a home, don't get stressed out over the financing. We can answer any questions, whenever you're ready to take advantage of today's attractive housing market. We can also help with refinancing your existing home or funding home improvements. Please call or email us any time. We're always here for you.... Have a great day!

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