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IRS Admits To A “Sophisticated” Theft Of Taxpayer Data
There’s been another IRS hack, and this one took place between February and May of this year. However, it wasn’t a hack in the traditional sense—the thieves already had the information they needed to login to the IRS site posing as the taxpayers’ whose accounts they accessed. This week, CNN Money reports:

A “sophisticated” organized crime syndicate used the IRS website to steal tax forms full of personal financial information on 104,000 taxpayers, the agency said Tuesday…Until the IRS discovered this latest data leak, its website provided a service called “Get Transcript.” It’s an easy way to download several years of tax forms for tasks like applying for a mortgage, or college financial aid.

 

 

Theft Not Limited To ‘Get Transcript’ Service Users
Note that while the data thieves used the IRS’s Get Transcript service to commit their crimes, it was not an attack on users of that service specifically. Remember, these criminals already had the social security numbers and other identifying details of the taxpayers whose records they stole. In its own report on the incident, dated 5/26/15, the IRS says:

In this sophisticated effort, third parties succeeded in clearing a multi-step authentication process that required prior personal knowledge about the taxpayer, including Social Security information, date of birth, tax filing status and street address before accessing IRS systems. The multi-layer process also requires an additional step, where applicants must correctly answer several personal identity verification questions that typically are only known by the taxpayer.

On the Get Transcript application, a further review by the IRS identified that these attempts were quite complex in nature and appear to have started in February and ran through mid-May. In all, about 200,000 attempts were made from questionable email domains, with more than 100,000 of those attempts successfully clearing authentication hurdles.

 

What Happens Now?
From the same IRS report quoted above:

In addition to disabling the Get Transcript application, the IRS has taken a number of immediate steps to protect taxpayers, including:

– Sending a letter to all of the approximately 200,000 taxpayers whose accounts had attempted unauthorized accesses, notifying them that third parties appear to have had access to taxpayer Social Security numbers and additional personal financial information from a non-IRS source before attempting to access the IRS transcript application. Although half of this group did not actually have their transcript account accessed because the third parties failed the authentication tests, the IRS is still taking an additional protective step to alert taxpayers. That’s because malicious actors acquired sensitive financial information from a source outside the IRS about these households that led to the attempts to access the transcript application.

– Offering free credit monitoring for the approximately 100,000 taxpayers whose Get Transcript accounts were accessed to ensure this information isn’t being used through other financial avenues. Taxpayers will receive specific instructions so they can sign up for the credit monitoring. The IRS emphasizes these outreach letters will not request any personal identification information from taxpayers. In addition, the IRS is marking the underlying taxpayer accounts on our core processing system to flag for potential identity theft to protect taxpayers going forward — both right now and in 2016.

These letters will be mailed out starting later this week and will include additional details for taxpayers about the credit monitoring and other steps. At this time, no action is needed by taxpayers outside these affected groups.

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So, long story short: there’s not really anything potentially affected taxpayers can do at this point, other than wait to see if they receive one of those dreaded letters.

If you’re among the unlucky victims:

Immediately change all your online passwords, credit card PINs and online security questions/answers. If the thieves had enough information on you to access your tax records, you can’t know for certain they don’t also have your logins, PINs and security questions/answers for other sites.

Definitely take the IRS up on its offer of free credit monitoring because that letter is a sure sign your social security number, address, birthdate and other personal details that can be used for identity theft are already in the hands of criminals.

Contact the holders of all your credit card and financial accounts to inquire about adding additional security measures, such as limiting use above certain dollar limits, limiting the number of transactions per day, or even “locking” accounts such that they cannot be used at all unless you call in to the financial institution personally and request a temporary unlock or approval for a specific transaction.

Pay particular attention to any financial accounts you used to pay taxes or for receipt of refunds: remember, the thieves have those account numbers now. If you paid by credit card, report the card(s) you used as lost/stolen and order replacements.

Consider closing any accounts you don’t use regularly.

Finally, according to the CNN Money article linked above, “The IRS said…all 200,000 people who might be affected by this..will all be placed on a list of Americans whose tax profiles are more closely monitored next year.” If you’re one of those victims, you’ll want to take extra care to ensure next year’s return is complete and accurate. If you were considering taking any questionable deductions, next year is definitely NOT the time to experiment.

 

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And now, a word from our sponsor…

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Fire Post of the Week: Where’s The Instant Video Chapter List On Fire TV?

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Laptop Suddenly Turns Off?

Posted May 26, 2015 By Mom
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What Just Happened?!

You’re using your laptop, not doing anything special or unusual, and with no error message or warning of any kind, it suddenly shuts itself off.

If it only happens the one time it’s probably nothing to worry about, but you should still run a virus scan anytime your computer does anything unusual. Assuming the virus scan doesn’t find any problems, what if it happens again?

Repeated, sudden power offs without a proper shutdown can corrupt stored files or even the entire hard drive, so if this is something that’s happening to you on a frequent basis you don’t want to put off addressing the issue and you definitely want to run frequent backups of all your important files. Fair enough, but how can you fix the problem?

 

It’s Usually An Overheating Problem
All laptops are sensitive to heat, some more than others. This is why they all have built-in fans, and why the manufacturers say you shouldn’t run them on soft surfaces (like the beds, couches and shag rugs you often see them resting on in TV shows and movies). The problem is that these kinds of surfaces can block the laptop’s fan vents.

Any surface soft enough that the laptop can “sink in”, or that can block the fan vents, is not a good place to put your laptop while it’s turned on. In general, sticking to hard, flat surfaces like tables and desk tops is the safest way to go.

 

 

What If It’s Not A Surface Problem?
Even if you only ever use your laptop on hard surfaces, vent blockage can still be a problem. Ensure there are no books, papers, mousepads, or anything else placed such that they could block or cover your laptop vents.

Also, over time the vents can become clogged with dust and other tiny particles and this can also interfere with the fan’s proper operation, so it’s a good idea to blast them with some canned air every few months—but only do this with the laptop turned off!

If you’re sure it’s not a blocked vent problem and a virus scan comes back clean but your laptop still keeps shutting itself off, it may be a bad battery problem.

Overheating/Failing Battery: After the laptop has shut itself down, feel the bottom surface with your hand: is it too hot to comfortably touch, especially over the battery compartment? This could indicate a damaged battery that’s overheating. But even if you’re not feeling excessive heat, a bad battery could be the root of your problem.

With the laptop turned off, try unplugging it, removing the battery, plugging in the AC adapter and running it on AC power only. If this resolves the problem, replace the battery. It’s safest to buy a replacement direct from the manufacturer, to ensure compatibility and quality construction.

 

If All Else Fails…
…and it’s a laptop that’s three years old or less, you can call in some tech support. I always recommend going with a local mom n’ pop store instead of a big box store, because the mom n’ pop operations are usually run by more knowledgeable tech experts and won’t generally try to upsell you on products and services you don’t really need. Big box store tech departments typically have very high turnover and employ technicians without as much training or experience.

Since tech support can easily cost a hundred dollars or more, if the laptop is older than three years you might want to consider buying a new one. If you have no backups and the laptop simply won’t stay on long enough to allow for backups, after you’ve bought a new laptop take both it and the old one to that little mom n’ pop computer store and ask to have your files transferred from the old hard drive to the new one.

 

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And now, a word from our sponsor…

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Fire Post of the Week: Where’s The Instant Video Chapter List On Fire TV?

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Welcome To Free Music Monday!

I’ve been holding off on sharing these albums, firstly because I’m not sure Heavy Metal is a popular genre among my readers and secondly, since I’m not a big fan of the genre myself I don’t have much to say about it. Still, it’d be a shame to let four entire free albums go unnoticed by those of you who are headbangers, especially when all four score 4.5/5 stars or better in average customer review ratings, so this one’s for you: Here’s The Metal Sampler albums from February through May of this year. Note: the January album isn’t missing from this list; so far as I can tell, no January edition has been released.

 

Here’s The Metal Sampler – February 2015

 

Here’s The Metal Sampler – March 2015

 

Here’s The Metal Sampler – April 2015

 

Here’s The Metal Sampler – May 2015

 

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And now, a word from our sponsor…

The iXCC® 3Ft Male to Male 3.5mm Universal Gold Plated Tangle-Resistant Thin Audio Cable is one of those things it’s always handy to have on hand, whether for connecting your smart phone to your car stereo to listen to your music through the car speakers, connecting your ereader to your home stereo to listen to audiobooks with richer sound and at higher volume, or any time you need to get one audio device with a 3.5mm jack to “talk” to another audio device with a 3.5mm jack. Right now, this 4.5/5 star rated cable is priced at just $5.99—that’s 70% off its usual price of $19.99—, and it’s eligible for Prime Shipping, too.

 

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Fire Post of the Week: Where’s The Instant Video Chapter List On Fire TV?

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#FreeApp Friday for 5/22/15

Posted May 22, 2015 By Mom
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Free App Friday!

Here are some of the top 100 most downloaded AND highest-rated apps (4/5 stars or better) from Amazon’s Android App Store as of this writing. Note that where a given app has already been included in a Free App Friday post, a different one (still with a minimum 4/5 star rating) will be subbed in. Remember that free apps may include in-app purchase (IAP) options or be ad-supported, but given that these apps have been given very high ratings by MANY consumers, where IAP links or ads are present they must be pretty unobtrusive. Descriptions below are from the apps’ product pages.

Monster Blasters: Hexa Blast – a brilliant puzzle game which is brand new yet familiar match 3 style with a hexagonal twist. Match three or more of same colored monsters to defeat them to save Gingerbread friends on a board composed of hexagons.

Police Car Race & Chase! – Drive your favorite police car and awesome custom emergency vehicles in an open 3D city!

Puzzingo – learning puzzles for toddlers.

Zoo Story 2 – Build the Best Zoo to ever live on your Android device. Raise families of cute animals and watch them play with their unique babies.

Nemo’s Reef – Nemo and his dad, Marlin, set out to build the coolest reef in his class. Help Nemo create a best-in-class underwater retreat, and discover the secrets to building a permanent home for his friends!

Taichi Panda – A Dungeon Crawler like never before! With over 30 million downloads across the globe, Taichi Panda is an exciting adventure waiting for you! Discover the mystery upsetting the cosmic order, and become the hero in an exciting free-to-play online adventure!

Asphalt 8: Airborne – The best Android arcade racing game series reaches a new turning point! Perform dynamic, high-speed aerial stunts in an intense driving experience powered by a brand-new physics engine!

Angry Birds Transformers – Angry Birds and Transformers collide in this action-packed, 3D shoot ‘em up adventure!

Midnight Castle – A Free Hidden Object Mystery Game for Fire! Find objects and solve puzzles!

Madden NFL Mobile – It’s MADDEN season! Dominate your friends in intense head-to-head shootouts. This is MADDEN NFL like you’ve never seen it on mobile. Collect current and legendary NFL stars, then put them in action on your favorite NFL team. Play all season long – we’ve got live events and fresh challenges to connect you to the action anytime, anywhere.

 

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And now, a word from our sponsor…

The Canon PIXMA MX922 Wireless Color Photo Printer with Scanner, Copier and Fax is not a bad deal at all at its usual price of $199.99, but right now (as of 5/22/15) you can get this 4/5 star -rated gem for HALF OFF: $99.99. The Canon PIXMA 850 I owned was reliable and printed cleanly for over four years. The ink tanks are individual, so you only have to buy replacements for each color as each runs out. Whether for printing kids’ homework assignments or high quality photos, this machine won’t let you down.

 

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Tech Tip of the Week: How-To: Copy Your Silk Bookmarks To A New Fire

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I Really Love PayPal, But…
I’ve been a satisfied PayPal member/customer for YEARS, like going all the way back to when eBay first became a thing. And despite what I’m about to report here, I will remain a PayPal customer and will continue to trust them with my online payment processing. However, I’ve never used their “Bill Me Later” feature, which is at the heart of the recent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finding that PayPal acted fraudulently in signing up customers for credit accounts without those customers’ knowledge.

What Did PayPal Do Wrong?
PayPal introduced its “Bill Me Later” service some time back, and I was only really aware of it because anytime I tried to complete a purchase using PayPal from then on, I was first prompted to use the new “Bill Me Later” service. I always selected “No,” because it seemed likely to me that this was a credit account of some sort and I didn’t want to sign up for a credit account, I just wanted to make a PayPal payment.

Well, it seems a lot of other consumers weren’t as suspicious as I am and selected “Yes” for Bill Me Later, not realizing that in so doing, they were opening a new credit account. The accounts weren’t actually being held or processed by PayPal, but a company called Comenity Capital Bank.

Once those accounts were open, customers who have them reported that it was not made clear to them that they’d opened a credit account, the terms of the account were never properly disclosed, their payments were not processed in a timely manner (leading to late fees and other charges), and that closing the accounts was very difficult.

While these problems were the fault of Comenity Capital Bank, and not PayPal, because PayPal had partnered with the bank to offer these credit accounts to its customers PayPal is being held responsible for the failures to keep customers fully informed and ensure their accounts were being properly serviced. After all, the affected customers didn’t seem to understand they were dealing with any company other than PayPal.

 

What Happens Now?
As reported on Slate, the CFPB “has slapped PayPal with a $25 million penalty, which the company has agreed to pay. The first $15 million will go to consumers as refunds, with PayPal also ponying up a $10 million fine.”

 

How Do Affected Consumers Get Their Refunds?
PayPal is working on its refund/redress plan, which must be approved by the CFPB before it can go into effect. In the meantime, see the Wall Street Journal’s 5 Things to Know About PayPal’s Settlement of Credit Claims for more information.

 

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And now, a word from our sponsor…

The VideoSecu ML531BE TV Wall Mount for most 22″-55″ LED LCD Plasma Flat Screens – up to 88 lb has an average review rating of 4.5/5 stars across over 5,300 customer reviews and normally sells for $125, but right now (as of 1/29/15) you can get it for just $29.59! Believe it or not, the package even includes a bubble level and 10′ HDMI cord. At the current price, even if you don’t need this item right now it can make a lot of sense to pick one up in anticipation of a future flat screen TV purchase. Eligible for free Prime shipping, too!

 

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Tech Tip of the Week: How-To: Copy Your Silk Bookmarks To A New Fire

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