Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

There’s no doctor-patient confidentiality on the Internet

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted March 01, 2015, at 10:03 a.m.

Click image for Norton’s information on Internet Privacy

Internet watchers have long been warning consumers about the privacy implications of tracking. Now, one researcher says simple online searches for health information could be much more harmful than previously thought.

Timothy Libert was a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication when he wrote his study last fall. Libert had developed a software tool he used to track Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP, activity between websites and third parties, including advertisers and data brokers.

He found that 91 percent of visits to websites triggered HTTP requests to third parties. Say you were looking for information on influenza and you clicked on “severity in winter” to learn more. The site you visited probably sent your request on to one or possibly several third-party sites interested in your searches.

Seventy percent of the third-party transmissions included information about specific symptoms, diseases or treatments. Libert designed his study to deliver results from all websites, not just health-centered ones.

Libert dug deep into the data and found that Google is the clear winner in third-party requests, collecting user information from 78 percent of pages searched; other leaders are comScore (38 percent) and Facebook (31 percent). He found data brokers Experian and Acxiom on thousands of pages as well.

While many of us still think the Internet can be searched anonymously, Consumer Affairs writer Truman Lewis says the interests people demonstrate through searching might be linked with their names. This could happen if the info is accidentally leaked, if hackers or other crooks get access to the data, or if data brokers collect the information and sell it.

Libert’s research found that a small fraction (3.24 percent) of the pages he analyzed used secure HTTP. The rest used non-encrypted HTTP connections “and thereby potentially transmitted sensitive information to third parties.”

Libert cited a critical U.S. Senate committee report on the data broker industry in 2013. One company was reportedly using “proprietary models” to create and sell lists of “domestic abuse victims,” “rape sufferers” and “HIV/AIDS patients.”

Advertisers like to assure us their data collections are anonymous. But ad tracking can discriminate in subtle ways. Sorting searchers into a category of high spenders on medical needs means those consumers likely will have less to spend on non-essential consumer goods; the trackers might consider them “undesirable” and be less likely to advertise special offers or prices to them.

The ad industry is investing serious money in computer modeling, the better to sort consumers into “buyer” and “other” categories.

Don’t look for existing law to change things. The Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act contains strong language about the ways doctors and insurers handle your health information; those protections don’t apply to web searches.

Libert suggests that nonprofit entities — with nothing to gain from third-party exchanges — tighten systems so data leaks are avoided. For commercial concerns with a profit motive, regulators and legislators might see broad public support for applying rules about how various kinds of data may be used and how long they can and should be saved.

He also urges engineers to spend more time creating intelligent filters that keep sensitive data confidential.

Consumers might do well to use separate web browsers and email accounts with unique, strong passwords when investigating health issues.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Bangor library offers many resources for downloading ebooks – The Weekly

Posted Feb. 16, 2015, at 4:11 p.m.
by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff

Area libraries have many sources for accessing ebooks that can be downloaded to ereaders and other mobile devices.

With the popularity of ereaders on the rise, and the advent of reading books on tablets or other mobile devices, public libraries have added resources that offer free downloads of ebooks, texts, documents, audiobooks and music.

Linda Oliver, head of reference at Bangor Public Library, said that the Maine InfoNet Download Library, a collection of ebooks leased from the vendor, Overdrive, a global digital distribution company, is one source where library patrons can download ebooks. Bangor Public Library is one of many libraries in Maine which participates in Maine InfoNet, Oliver said. “It’s one of the services libraries purchase ebooks from,” she said.

Ebook borrowers must have a valid library card from a participating library in order to use the service. Books may be checked out for up to two weeks. As many as three books may be  borrowed at a time, including audiobooks, or a combination of ebooks and audiobooks. The materials come in a variety of formats, including Kindle and ePub. Borrowers cannot renew a title. Once the two-week borrowing time elapses, the ebook no longer can be accessed.

Brewer Public Library, Edythe Dyer Library in Hampden and Orono Public Library also are Maine InfoNet Download Library participants.

“Bring your device to the library and we can help you through it [the ebook downloading process],” OIiver said.

One of the advantages of reading on a mobile device, she said, is that every book is potentially a large print book. You can bump up the type size or alter the amount of backlighting to suit personal, individual visual needs.

The library also has other ebook resources available, including a link at the library’s website to Project Gutenberg — gutenberg.org — which offers books with expired copyrights, generally books published in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

“I think it [reading on mobile devices] is becoming more and more popular. As the price [of devices] goes down, it has become very popular. We see our stats going up quite a bit,” Oliver said. “We have people come into the library on a regular basis to ask us to help them get started using ereaders. People who are passionate readers read in any format.”

Another source is the Hathi Trust, hathitrust.org, a partnership of institutions that has created a digital repository of items in their collections, Oliver said. It archives public domain materials and those that are still under copyright. The books in the public domain are often available in full view and can be read online. The books still under copyright have a limited view or only the catalog record. Most of these items are books in university collections, but it includes both fiction and nonfiction titles, she said.

Edythe Dyer Library, 269 Main Road North, in Hampden has a handout, “Where to Find Free eBooks,” available to its patrons. It contains this information:

  • Google eBookstore: books.google.com/ebooks. Many free books, though most are available for purchase. Includes new releases.
  • Scribd: scribd.com. Millions of documents including books, short stories, poems, pamphlets, brochures and government documents. Most can be read online. Downloading requires a Facebook account.
  • Participates in Maine InfoNet Download Library. Best sellers of fiction, nonfiction, young adult and children’s books. Requires a valid library card from a participating library.
  • Project Gutenberg: gutenberg.org. More than 33,000 older titles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in many categories including fiction and nonfiction.
  • Smashwords: smashwords.com. More than 30,000 titles from mostly self-published, independent authors. Some titles are free to download, others require purchase.
  • Internet Archive, archive.org. More than 2.7 million titles, mostly nonfiction, contributed by academic libraries. Includes movies, music concert videos, audiobooks, music, podcasts, and the Internet Wayback Machine for viewing archived websites.
  • Forgotten Books: forgottenbooks.org. Nearly 10,000 titles. Some Project Gutenberg overlap.
  • Feedbooks: feedbooks.com. Thousands of ebooks, many free to download. Includes  collection of public domain items that can be read on all mobile devices.
  • Munseys: munseys.com. Offers links to thousands of out-of-print books, with more than 1,500 pulp fiction-era novels.

My favorite find at Project Gutenberg is many of the books by Maine writer Holman Day, whose “King Spruce” is considered his masterpiece. However, his “Rider of the King Log,” “The Ramrodders” and “Blow the Man Down: A Romance of the Coast” are equally enjoyable. Other gems available for free download at Project Gutenberg are books written by James Otis Kaler, who was born in Winterport in 1848. Kaler used James Otis as a pen name and at age 16 served as a reporter covering various battles during the Civil War. His “Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus,” published in 1881; “The Light Keepers,” published in 1906; and “Aunt Hannah and Seth,” published in 1900, are among a long list of his titles available at Project Gutenberg. Even though his novels are aimed at young readers, adults also will find them enjoyable reading.

“Be cautious when searching the Web for free ebooks,” Oliver cautioned. “Be cautious about using credit cards or giving personal information [on the Internet].”

Kidde Recalls Disposable Plastic Fire Extinguishers Due to Failure to Discharge | CPSC.gov

Consumers should immediately contact Kidde for a replacement fire extinguisher.

Hazard:

A faulty valve component can cause the disposable fire extinguishers not to fully discharge when the lever is repeatedly pressed and released during a fire emergency, posing a risk of injury.

Consumer Contact:

Kidde toll-free at (855) 283-7991 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or online at www.kidde.com and click on Safety Notice for more information.

Incidents/Injuries:

Kidde has received 11 reports of the recalled fire extinguishers failing to discharge as expected. No injuries have been reported.

Remedy:

Consumers should immediately contact Kidde for a replacement fire extinguisher.

Sold at:

Home Depot, Menards, Walmart and other department, home and hardware stores nationwide, and online from August 2013 through November 2014 for between $18 and $65, and about $200 for model XL 5MR.

Consumer Contact: Tech Support Phone Scams – WABI-TV

Russ and Joy discussed tech support phone scams that have been gaining popularity. Russ says due to Maine’s older population, our state is a prime target for these phone calls.

One key tip-off that Russ mentioned, is many of these scammers will drop the name “Microsoft,” saying they’ve “detected trouble with your computer.” Right away this should tip you off: Microsoft does not make “cold calls.” They will give technical help ONLY if a customer initiates the dialogue.

Scammers using this technique have been known to:

  • Try to get you to download malicious software that can capture personal information
  • Get you to visit phony websites that connect you to malicious software
  • Ask for credit card information to make phony charges
  • Send you to fake websites to enter personal information

Russ says the number one rule to remember when you think you might be dealing with one of these scammers: “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”

Identity thieves try to cash in during tax filing season

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 01, 2015, at 9:53 a.m.

click image to report scams, waste and abuse

Two headlines top the news near the start of this income tax season.

Thieves who steal Social Security numbers and other personal data do so in order to file phony tax returns and claim rebates they’re not owed.

And crooks posing as Internal Revenue Service officials are calling people and, in many cases, bullying them into sending money they don’t owe.

They use common names and all kinds of tricks. They may say they’re calling from the IRS criminal division. They might have technology that will spoof a caller ID, making it appear they’re calling from a real IRS office. They threaten those they consider easier targets — such as older people and recent immigrants — with fines, jail terms, job loss, even deportation.

The crooks do their homework before calling. They might know a person’s Social Security number — or at least the last four digits — and other personal details that lend credence to their pitch. Demanding immediate payment is a tipoff it’s a scam — the real IRS first would notify you by letter of any official action — and the agency never would demand payment by a debit card or wire transfer.

Losing a one-time payment is bad enough. Thousands of taxpayers have filed their income taxes only to find a crook has stolen their identities, filed fraudulently and collected their refunds illegally.

The IRS says after such discoveries, it takes an average of four months to get a refund to its rightful recipient. That person also needs to go through the hassle associated with identity theft. Perhaps ironically, prisoners’ Social Security numbers often are tempting targets, because inmates are less apt to be on top of their tax or banking activities.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, says it has received reports of 290,000 scam calls since October 2013, and nearly 3,000 victims have lost a total of $14 million. The IRS has been working to curb these crimes, saying it spotted 19 million suspicious returns since 2011 and prevented more than $63 billion in fraudulent returns. Read about ways to spot impersonators and report scams at Treasury.gov/tigta.

Consumers can and should take all the usual steps to prevent fraud: use firewalls and antivirus software, use strong passwords and change them often on all online accounts and reveal your Social Security number only when it’s absolutely necessary.

If you become a victim, the IRS says it wants to help. Read about the agency’s prevention and detection efforts at IRS.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection.

The IRS is also warning consumers about unscrupulous preparers who push filers to make inflated claims. Often, these preparers will demand an up-front fee; they may also refuse to give the taxpayer a copy of the return. Both are things that legitimate tax preparation pros don’t do.

You may qualify for free help preparing your income tax filings. Seniors can check with AARP or the local agency on aging. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program gives free tax help to people who make $53,000 or less, have disabilities, are older or who speak little English and need help preparing their returns.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Sunbeam Recalls Holmes Oil Filled Heaters Due to Scald Hazard | CPSC.gov

Recall Summary

Name of product: Oil-Filled Heater

Hazard: The oil-filled heaters can spray heated oil, posing a scald hazard.

Refund

 

Remedy

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled heater, unplug it and contact Sunbeam for instructions on how to obtain a full refund.

Sold at

Target and small department stores nationwide from August 2014 through November 2014 for about $50.

Description

This recall involves Holmes brand oil-filled heaters that are black or white in color. The heaters included in the recall are about 23 inches tall, 6 inches deep and 12 inches wide and have model number HOH3000 or HOH3000B printed on a label on the bottom of the product. The “Holmes” logo is near the power switch and temperature control. Products affected have a code on the heater plug blade within the following range: G192 through G298.  No other codes are affected.

Incidents/Injuries

The firm has received approximately 40 reports of units that unexpectedly sprayed heated oil, resulting in reports of property damage involving damaged carpet and fabrics. No injuries reported.

Consumer Contact:

Sunbeam Products, Inc. at (800) 515-4715 anytime, or online at www.holmesproducts.com and click on “Oil Filled Heater Recall” for more information.

 

Consumer watchdog says credit reports for 1 in 4 Mainers are wrong

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Jan. 18, 2015, at 9:05 a.m.

Maine’s credit watchdog agency has published the latest in its series of consumer guides, this one focusing on credit reports and credit scores.

Downeaster Guide

Click image to access report

A good deal of misunderstanding surrounds the ways credit scores are figured and the need for continually updating your credit report. Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection (BCCP) just released the Downeaster Common Sense Guide: Credit Bureaus and Credit Reports.

Creditors, employers, banks and others with whom we have dealings use credit report information when making financial decisions. As the guide states, lenders believe someone’s credit report gives the best indication of whether that person will be able to repay a loan. Credit reports are produced by credit reporting agencies (credit bureaus); the findings of those entities may not always agree.

William Lund is superintendent of the BCCP. He says as many as one-quarter of all Mainers may have errors or incomplete information in their credit reports. One reason is because credit bureaus use different formulas to determine credit scores, the numbers that indicate our credit worthiness. The most widely used model is the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) score, ranging from a low of 300 to a high of 850.

Lund said a consumer needs to check his or her credit report frequently to make sure errors or omissions do not negatively affect the person’s credit rating or score.

There are three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. The law allows consumers a free credit report from each of them every year. Request one in January, another in May and a third in September — or another four-month rotation — to keep a constant check on your report status.

You can order your free report online at AnnualCreditReport.com, by phone at 1-877-322-8228 or by writing to Annual Credit Report Request Service, POB 105281, Atlanta GA 30348-5281.

The guide contains several tips for improving your credit:

— Pay loans on or before the due date; set up automatic payment or payment reminders to be sure you’re current.

— Limit yourself to three or fewer credit cards; limit card balances to no more than one-third of your credit limit.

— Try to keep your oldest credit card accounts indefinitely, if the annual fees are favorable.

— Reduce debt on other loans as much as possible.

David Leach is principal examiner at the BCCP and a principal author of the guide. “Through this guide, we encourage all Maine consumers to order free copies of their credit reports each year and to carefully review them for errors and even the occurrence of identity theft.”

The guide offers some cautions, one involving co-signing for a loan. You’ll go through the same credit check as the primary borrower; if that person can’t keep up with the payments, a delinquency will appear on your credit report. You’ll then be responsible to repay the loan, and your ability to get new credit could suffer.

Another caution involves credit repair scams. People may promise to “fix” your credit if you pay up-front fees, tell them your account number and bank’s routing number or wire cash; these are all signs of scams. Trust your instincts and just say no.

You can call the BCCP for help on credit matters. The toll-free number is 1-800-332-8529. You can get copies of all the Downeaster Guides at maine.gov/pfr/consumercredit/publications.htm.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visithttps://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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