Tuesday, September 25, 2012
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Quick show of hands... how many of you out there use your cell phone strictly to place calls? I only see a few hands going up.
How many of you send or receive text messages? Read email? Download apps? Surf the web? That's what I thought. Almost every single hand went up - and stayed up.
Next question... what other piece of equipment enables you to perform those identical functions?
That's right - your computer. We have some pretty savvy readers.
But are you savvy enough to employ the same level of security measures to your smartphone as you do on your computer?
As mobile devices became the norm, it was pretty obvious that they would become the next target for identity thieves. Folks have caught on to the Nigerian email scams. They're not as profitable for cybercrooks as they once were.
So they started to develop something new. Something that wasn't yet detectable. And that predictable day when smartphones were the target of choice for cyber thieves has arrived.
Mobile malware is here. Big time.
First, we saw increasing incidents of spyware being downloaded, disguised as apps from stores that aren't closely monitored. Android's open architecture made the operating system a prime target. We've covered this in past issues of GCFlash, most recently here. Type "Android" into the search box that appears on every page of GCFBank.com to find other related articles.
The current wave of mobile threats involves SMS fraud. Experts estimate four in 10 mobile users will click on an unsafe link this year. It can be a malicious link sent via text message or one that appears on a mobile website. Either way, curiosity gets the best of people. And thieves use this vulnerability to their advantage.
The goal remains the same. They're after your personal information. Something they can use to steal your identity.
Not every phone carrier practices strict security measures, either. Virgin Mobile USA employs poor username and password requirements, according to one of their developers who spoke to the media after the company failed to fix the problem. Their phones can be more easily hacked than those of other providers. Parent company Sprint uses more stringent security measures on its own website.
Do you own a Samsung phone? A malicious line of code has been found on the Galaxy S3, S2, Beam, S Advance and Ace. As soon as the code is deciphered, the phone automatically performs a factory reset. Wipes out the contents of your entire SIM card, and can destroy the card itself in the process.
The user can watch the code unleash in the dialer screen, but can't stop it. Samsung is currently investigating the issue. The tech community is watching this one closely.
Perhaps the most common threat to mobile devices is loss or theft. They're small, they're easy to drop or leave behind somewhere. And they hold every detail of your life. Login credentials, address, banking information... all available for whoever finds your misplaced device.
Password protect your device. If it falls into the wrong hands, it will be harder for a thief to get to your information. It will at least give you enough time to wipe your device clean remotely. You do have a remote protection service configured, don't you?
Today's Web Highlights section offers valuable mobile security tips. Don't leave home (with your device) without reading them.
Reducing Telemarketing Calls
Remember the Do Not Call List? It made big waves in the news when it first came out, but you don't hear much about it anymore. Millions of Americans finally had a way to stop the annoying telemarketing calls that seemed to always come just as you sit down to dinner. Well, just in case you've forgotten, here is a refresher on the National Do Not Call Registry.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created and manages the National Do Not Call Registry (NDNCR) in order to give consumers a choice regarding whether or not to receive telemarketing calls. By adding a phone number to the registry, you limit the number of telemarketing phone calls you receive. When you register, telemarketers covered by the NDNCR have 31 days to remove you from their call lists. While this does not cover all telemarketing calls, this should significantly reduce the number you receive.
Some of the types of calls that are not covered by the NDNCR include calls from political organizations, charities, companies with which you have a business relationship, and telephone surveys. A "business relationship" would include companies from which you have purchased a good or service within the last 18 months, or made an inquiry or submitted an application within the last 3 months.
If you are receiving calls from any of these types of entities, you can request not to be called again. I find, "no, I'm not interested and take me off your call list" works well in these situations. If you do request not to be called again, be sure to note the entity and the date/time that you made the request. You will need this information if they fail to comply with your request and you wish to file a complaint.
Debt collectors may also call you even if you are registered with the NDNCR. However, if you decide you do not wish to receive calls from that debt collector again, you can stop the calls by requesting in writing that they stop contacting you. For more information on how to do this, see the FTC's Debt Collection FAQ's: A Guide for Consumers.
If you register your phone number with the NDNCR, but are still receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls, you can register a complaint with the NDNCR on their website at DoNotCall.gov or via phone at 1-888-382-1222. You can also register a complaint with the NDNCR if you have requested a non-covered entity stop calling but you continue to receive calls more than 31 days after you made your request.
There are a couple of different ways you can enter a phone number into the registry. You can visit their website and enter up to three phone numbers. You must have an active email address in order to use this method, as they will send you a confirmation email that you will have to respond to in order to complete the registration. You can also call 1-888-382-1222 to register by phone. You must call from the phone number that you want to register.
Once you register a phone number, the number remains on the registry until the number is disconnected, reassigned, or until you remove it manually. If you move and get a new phone number, you will need to register the new number, but you do not need to remove your old number. It will come off the list automatically when it is disconnected or reassigned. If your phone is disconnected and then reconnected, you will need to re-register the number.
Additionally, there are some other changes that a telephone company may make that could cause your number to be removed from the NDNCR, such as a change in calling plan or billing name. If you are ever unsure about whether or not your number is listed, you can always check it on their website or via their toll-free number (both listed above).
One last note about cell phones. In general, you do not need to register your cell phone with the NDNCR in order to protect yourself from most telemarketing calls. You may enter your cell phone if you wish, but it is not necessary since federal regulations already prohibit most telemarketing calls to cell phones. If you do want to register your cell number anyway, use the same NDNCR as your landline. There is no separate registry for cell phones.
Markets continue their sideways skid with the DJIA failing to break out of the $13K range. As previously stated, no decisive move of the markets is expected until after the November presidential elections are over. There is simply too much at stake.
In the meantime, let's look at a broader economic theme.
"Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon." - Nobel Laureate Economist Dr. Milton Friedman
Incredibly, this simple observation is routinely ignored, although mathematically undeniable. The price level is the number of dollars in circulation divided by output. Increase the number of dollars, at a constant output, and prices rise. Period.
But can the number of dollars affect output? Oh yes, Milton Friedman would counsel. Do taxes devour some of the money supply? Oh yes, Milton Friedman would counsel. Are interest rates an accurate indicator of the money supply growth rate? Oh no, Milton Friedman would counsel.
As you may know, the Federal Reserve, led by Chairman Ben Bernanke, has embarked on yet a third round of long term bond buying. Some have called it "a twist," as short term bonds are replaced on the Fed's Balance sheet with long term bonds in an effort to further drive down long term interest rates, already at historic lows.
Surprisingly, few have called it QE3, after the now infamous QE2 conducted two years ago. QE stands for "quantitative easing" - or stated more simply, increasing the money supply.
The media has been frantic that the historically low interest rates for a VERY long period is evidence of the Fed recklessly increasing the money supply. Disastrous inflation is sure to follow. Or so the pundits opine.
But is it true? Depends who you ask. Much of the confusion relates to the different measures of the money supply. Still, the money supply is indeed increasing:
From the Fed website:
"As of November 17, 2011 the Federal Reserve reported that the U.S. dollar monetary base is $2,150,000,000,000. This is an increase of 28 percent in 2 years. The monetary base is only one component of money supply, however. M2, the broadest measure of money supply, has increased from approximately $8.48 trillion to $9.61 trillion from November 2009 to October 2011, the latest month-data available. This is a 2-year increase in U.S. M2 of approximately 12.9 percent."
Although this data is a year old, recently published data from the Federal Reserve indicates M2 continues to grow at about 6.5 percent per year. Get the details here.
This is a brisk rate, but hardly disastrous.
Will inflation follow? Most certainly, with the only question being as to how much and how soon. Even more important would be the question as to whether the inflation "is worth it." Or stated differently, did it spur output? Or drive down unemployment? Again, depends on who you ask.
At a recent banking conference, I was impressed with an explanation that Charles Plosser, President of the Philly Fed, gave about inflation targets. An inflation hawk and free market disciple, I have been a fan of Plosser for a number of years. In response to a question from the audience regarding inflation, the questioner asked that if all inflation is bad, why does the Fed target some low rate of inflation rather than zero inflation? A good question that I have heard asked before, but never had answered to my satisfaction. Charles actually had two answers, both superb.
The first answer was Charles' own. He stated that zero inflation was indeed superior to low inflation. However, the measurement tools regarding inflation were imprecise. As such, targeting zero inflation risked accidental deflation, a much more dangerous phenomena. Therefore, targeting a low level of inflation reduced the risk of a measurement error causing any such calamity. Monetarist almost universally agree that the central bank's tolerance for deflation was the primary cause of the Great Depression. Thank you, Charles.
Charles then stated that his old friend and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan had another, slightly different explanation. Greenspan told Plosser that he also feared deflation, and to avoid getting anywhere close to that danger zone, would be willing to tolerate inflation at a level low enough that "it did not matter in consumer economic decisions". Thank you Alan.
So that is cleared up - finally - at least for me.
I believe that Friedman would agree that QE3 is justified because the money supply, while growing, has not increased at a rate fast enough to "accommodate" the recovery.
Friedman would most assuredly criticize the Fed for the ridiculously low interest rates that have prevailed for half a decade as unfair (borrowers benefit - savers suffer). Friedman abhorred fiddling with interest rates because he did not believe they were a reliable tool to control the money supply, as the recent evidence would seem to suggest. Therefore, Friedman would prefer that interest rates be allowed to float to their natural market level (neither favoring borrowers nor savers).
He would counsel the Fed to increase the money supply by purchasing bonds, or QEing, at a rate sufficient to accommodate the recovery.
I have included a link to an interesting article about Friedman's likely advice regarding QE2, but the principles would apply to QE3 as well. Read it here.
"The surest way to take down a country is to destroy its currency." - Communist dictator Vladimir Lenin
"The surest way to destroy a country is to debase its currency." - British economist John Maynard Keynes
Interesting variations of the same theme.
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