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Beginner’s Guide to Home Automation

DIYSmartHome

Smart Homes for Beginners

Smart homes are a really neat idea, but is automating your home worth the time and money? These days, automating your home is easier than ever -- and if you have a little extra time and surplus income -- then the answer is yes.

Long forecasted to be the wave of the future, advancements in wireless technology and the availability of affordable, reliable smart assistants have rendered setting up a smart home practical for everyone--not just the very rich.

What’s more, you can do it yourself with the right gadgets and a little direction.

Advantages of a smart home

A smart home isn’t just about impressing your neighbors and houseguests. They offer some very distinct benefits.

Convenience

One of the biggest positives of a smart home is how it makes your life easier. Annoying little tasks that you’d once have to perform on your own, like shutting the blinds, setting the thermostat, or even turning off the lights can be automated, leaving you free to focus on important matters.

Cut down on bills

Utility bills can seem exorbitant, especially in the cold winter months when the days are short and the temperatures frigid, or in the peak of summer when you have to blast your A/C to the max just to feel comfortable. Devices like smart light bulbs and thermostats are designed to save energy, and as a result--money--on your electric and heating bills.

Customization

Smart assistants like the Amazon Alexa devices allow you to configure them exactly to your purposes, setting reminders for certain events, turning off lights at your standard bed time and watering your garden when it needs watering.

Enhance security

Heightened home security is another bonus of an automated home. Motion sensors and security cameras integrated with your central smart hub make feeling safe cheaper and easier than before.

Relax

Say goodbye to that nagging feeling you have every time you leave your house that you forgot something --locking the doors, turning off the lights, etc. Setting up a smart home means that all of that is taken care of for you, allowing you to breathe easier when you step out.

Choosing a smart assistant

A smart assistant is essential to a smart home, as many of the additional features and components are run through them. Fortunately, there are many available on the market these days to satisfy a range of preferences and price points.

Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo is the flagship device running the Amazon Alexa platform. With its advertised 15,000+ skills and affordable $79.99 price tag, it’s also one of the best selling and most versatile smart assistants available. Those looking for an excellent central device to build their smart home around need look no further.

Amazon Echo Plus

At $149.99, the Echo Plus does all the great things an Echo can do, but with the added bonus of a built-in Zigbee smart hub. Zigbee allows you to integrate additional smart-home devices, such as smart locks or dimmable bulbs and you won’t have to hook up an additional smart home hub to do it. A great buy for more ambitious smart home aspirants.

Amazon Echo Dot

While the Echo rests in the living room, or de facto center of the home, one or more hockey puck-shaped Echo dots are great additions for placement in bedrooms, the kitchen and other far flung reaches of the home so you don’t have to yell at the top of your lungs. At $39.99, it’s cheap and shares most of the great features of other Amazon Alexa devices.

Amazon Echo Show

A flashy new product running the Amazon Alexa platform, the Amazon Echo Show adds a touch screen, providing visuals to go along with Alexa’s speech as well as the ability to make video calls. Not exactly cheap at 150 bucks, the Echo Show is nevertheless the next logical step in smart assistant technology and highlights the ingenuity of Amazon’s design team.

Google Home

For Google purists, or just those weary of Alexa’s voice, the tech and search engine powerhouse offers its competing smart assistant, the $99 Google Home. Many reviews state that the Home is more personable when you speak to it, with a “follow up” mode that doesn’t require you to say “hey, Google” every single sentence you direct at it. It also intuits what you may say next and remembers personal information that you tell it, like the name of your favorite animal.

The drawback is that it is not compatible with nearly as many smart devices as Amazon products, although it is quickly catching up.

Apple Homepod

Apple’s recently released smart speaker contender, the Homepod offers great sound quality for all types of music, Siri, and terrific integration with all of your iOS devices. Yet, its lacking in compatibility with third-party smart home devices relative to its competitors, and not quite able to justify its $349 price tag.

Third-party smart hubs

Some smart assistants, like the Amazon Echo, need a Zigbee compatible hub (the Echo Plus already works with Zigbee devices) to connect it to certain smart home devices. The Samsung Smartthings and the Wink 2 are both ZigBee compatible ( which is sort of a wi-fi/bluetooth alternative that is ideal for low power devices such as lights and coffee machines and thus important for smart homes), making them worthy additions to your smart home setup.

Where to place your smart assistant

Perhaps this is obvious, but it’s important to state that a smart assistant should sit in a central location where you and your family, or housemates, spend the most time, and where it can hear you and you can hear it back. Don’t put it in a neglected corner somewhere.

Echo Dots actually work best when placed on the ceiling, where it will catch voice commands much more easily. You can do at home using a non-grounded outlet coupled with a petite adapter adequate to power the Dot.

Building a smart home room-by-room

Everything in its right place: each area of your house necessitates its own smart devices. Let’s go from room-to-room and discuss what belongs where, and how you can implement everything.

How to create a smart home exterior

DIY smart home exterior

Monitor smart security cameras through your phone

Security systems used to be very expensive, but smart technology puts them in reach of anyone. The Echo Show allows your smart assistant to double as a monitoring screen for security cameras. Two great ones are the Nest Cam Outdoor, and the Logitech Logi Circle (designed for indoor use). Both are small, hardy, and easy to install and integrate with Alexa, which you can do on your phone with the iOS or Android Alexa app.

Once they are installed, just ask Alexa to bring up the video feed (provided you have an Echo Show) rendering you a silent witness to whatever is going on in the camera’s realm.

The Logi Circle comes with 24-hour backup, will the Nest Cam Outdoor requires the Nest Aware service, starting at $100 a year, to backup footage.

Install a smart doorbell with face recognition

We are really in the future, now. When rung, smart doorbells activate a camera to show you who’s at the door on your Amazon Echo Show or Fire TV. The Nest Hello even offers face recognition, so that Alexa can announce who has come calling without the need for you to go look at a screen.

Another great option is the Ring Video Doorbell 2, which was designed to work seamlessly with Alexa products.

These devices use bluetooth or wifi to send a video to your smart assistant or phone whenever the button is pushed. Most of them are easy as heck to install and compatible with Amazon Echo products and Google Home. Still, you better check to make sure if the smart doorbell you wish to purchase works with your smart assistant.

Open your door with your phone

Never worry about forgetting your keys at the office again. Smart locks serve to guarantee that you deadbolt locks and unlocks every time you enter and exact the house. They allow you to open your door using a mobile app on your smartphone, or unlock the door remotely simply by asking Alexa, or Google. If you don’t always want to use your phone to open and close your door, most also come with a touchpad which you can open with a PIN, and a traditional keyhole.

Installing them is easy: most don’t necessitate that you replace the original deadbolt on the door and usually just require a screwdriver.

The August Smart Lock, compatible with Alexa, Google Home, and most other smart hubs, is one of the best on the market.

Smart motion sensors tell your home when people come and go

Smart motion sensors do more than you can imagine, and are simple to install and coordinate with your smart assistant. They can detect any movement outside your home in the area that they are installed, switching on a camera, and sending a signal to your Alexa which alerts you to the disturbance. They also just trigger lights to go on when you enter a room, and to go off shortly after you leave it.

A cooler aspect is that smart motion sensors like the Samsung SmartThings Motion Sensor can send a signal to your smart thermostat (if you have one hooked up) to switch on the A/C or heater when people enter the room.

How to create a smart living room

DIY smart home living room

Forget about switches, install smart lights

No need to clap: today’s smart bulbs work with a smart motion sensor (a popular tandem is the Philips Hue Smart Motion Sensor along with Philips Hue Smart Bulbs) allow you to control your lights in ways you never imagined. You can set them to turn on and off at designated times, even a week in advance, while the motion sensor detects when people move from room to room.

The Philips Hue smart light system is compatible with Alexa, and you can ask her to dim the lights, change the color, whatever you wish.

They are also easy to install and compatible with most smart hubs.

Cut costs with a smart thermostat

A must for any up-to-snuff smart home, smart thermostats self-regulate and include proximity sensors that adjust temperatures when people are nearby. They are a great way to save on heating costs without resorting to wearing extra layers in the home.

Not only are most compatible with smart hubs, some, like the Ecobee4, actually include a built-in Alexa speaker, rendering it a sort of thermostat and wall-mounted Echo Dot in one.

Voice control your TV with a smart sound bar

For people that wish to avoid the hassle of setting up a complicated sound system for use with their TV, sound bars are a great alternative: cheap and offering decent sound.

Now, they are smart. The Sonos Beam allows you to control what’s on your TV with it’s built-in Alexa, and you don’t need a smart TV to do it. It will also open up apps like Spotify and Audible at your command.

Smarten up old electronics and lamps with mini plugs

Setting up a smart home doesn’t mean that you have to toss all of your old “dumb” electronics and lamps. A cheap $20 dollar mini Smart Socket is a cheap alternative to more expensive smart bulbs and other higher-end smart devices.

It works with Alexa or Google Home to switch on-and-off any plugged-in device via a downloadable app, connection to the same wifi network as a your main smart assistant, and a voice command.

Just plug that antique lamp into the smart socket and it, too, becomes “smart”.

Intelligent smoke alarms can discern between threats

The Onelink Safe & Sound smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector joins the ranks of ordinary household devices upgraded with a built-in Alexa (or Google Assistant) speaker.

Instead of the blanket shrill beep sound for any emergency, the Onelink Safe & Sound gives different alerts based on different hazards, and unlike dumb smoke alarms you can just tell Alexa to shut it off once you get the message.

How to create a smart kitchen

DIY smart home kitchen

Cook your food without setting anything

Smart ovens, like the June Intelligent Oven, that sits on your countertop, are scarily cool. The June has a built-in camera that can tell what foods you put inside of it and cook them the proper way. Still, at over $1400, you may have to stick to regular old food cooking machines for the time being.

Fill your cabinets with smart appliances

Meat thermometers, slow cookers, trash bins, you name it: everything in the kitchen is getting smart these days.

Use Amazon Dash to order specific items with a slap

One kitchen-related smart convenience that does make absolute sense is the Amazon Dash. You can slap these little $5 buttons on the wall, connect them to your wifi and slap it whenever you need to and it automatically orders whatever product its designated to from your Amazon account. 

How to create a smart bedroom

DIY smart home bedroom

Track the quality of your sleep

Smart sleep trackers track the quality of your sleep based on your movement, breathing rate, REM sleep and heart rate through the night. Some you wear on your wrist, while others attach to your bed.

Sleep trackers are made for fitness buffs in mind, but regular people can wear them, too. They will give you advice on how to adjust your sleep and are compatible with iOS and/or Android devices.

Use a smart radio clock alarm to wake up gently

Traditional alarm clocks can be pretty annoying, but the new generation can actually make you feel good about getting out of bed. Smart radio clock alarm is a pretty awesome toy, innovating new ways to get you out of bed in the morning, and require very little effort to install.

The Philips Wake-Up Light With Colored Sunrise Simulation does exactly what its name describes: with a combination of light and sunrise-y sounds that begin 20-40 minutes before your wakeup time, the intensity gradually increases with music or natural sounds, rising you up out of bed, gently.

If you don’t have the money for a fancy clock radio alarm, your Echo or Echo Dot also has a programmable alarm clock function that you can set to music of your choice. Just tell her, “Alexa, wake me up at [time} with music.”

Install smart window blinds and never touch them again

It seems like it’s easier to damage blinds than anything else in the house. Worry no longer with the Alexa/Google Assistant compatible MySmartBlinds Automation kit. They can be timed to close and open at sunset and sunrise, or by your command at any time, and even include the option of a rechargeable solar panel.

How to create a smart backyard and garage

DIY smart home garage

Water your garden from your bedroom

Timed sprinklers are nothing new, but Rachio’s actually adjust their schedule and intensity to account for local weather patterns. They are compatible with smart assistants so you can quietly speak, “Alexa, instruct Rachio to water the yard,” and enjoy the soft symphony of falling water from your bedroom window.

Open your garage door from anywhere

Tired of pressing a button to open your garage, like a chump?

Well, with the current generation of smart garage door openers--which are mostly smart assistant-compatible and can be controlled remotely with your smartphone--you no longer have to.

They won’t break the bank, either, top models like the Chamberlain MyQ only go for $80, plus a $10 annual subscription fee to link your MyQ account to Google Assistant.

Control your pool with your phone

Most modern pool systems like the Easy Touch Control System by Pentair allow you to regulate your pool temperature and other properties with your smartphone. As a bonus, the aforementioned system is totally compatible with Alexa. Just enable a skill on the Amazon Alexa app.

Smart devices for kids

Always know where your kids are with a GPS tracker

It may seem cruel to tag your child with a tracking device, but gadgets like the AmbyGear Smartwatch, give you peace of mind in knowing where your kids are at all times in a stylish package that they will love. It also has fun apps like a reward system where kids get points for doing household chores, as well as learning games and activities.

Kids allergic to pet hair? Get them a robot dog

Just because your child or children are allergic to fur doesn’t mean that they have to be deprived of a loving companion. CHiP is a cybernetic canine that is as intelligent as they come. Like a real dog, CHiP plays fetch, responds to voice calls, and even wakes your kid up in the morning with a loving bark. Use the accompanying bluetooth wristband to give your digital pup positive feedback and treats.

Turn your child’s bedroom ceiling into a movie screen

The Cinemood is a lightweight mini projector that your kids can take into bed. It comes preloaded with select cartoons and movies, as well as the ability to play media from cloud storage. You don’t have to worry about them watching past their bedtimes since you can turn it off from anywhere in the house through a mobile app.

Smart devices for seniors and differently-abled

Never miss a dose with a smart pillbox

Ordinary pillboxs just sit there, never letting you know whether you or your loved one took their medication or not. If you are advanced in age or suffer from a serious medical condition, missing your medication might mean the difference between life and death.

Consider placing a bluetooth-compatible smart pillbox in your bathroom or bedroom to remedy the issue. This one from Tricella that has an alarm to remind you to take your meds and even sends an alert to family members phones if a dose is missed.

Get help quick with an emergency call button

It may be difficult for some to accept, but investing in an emergency call button that can be plugged into the wall, or worn like a beeper or around the neck can distinguish between falls and normal movement. Such a device can be a lifesaver for an elderly or physically disabled family member. Set them to call 911 and alert your loved ones to a fall or injury.

Use smart devices to monitor your health on the spot

A number of smart devices can make life easier if you or your elderly family member suffers from diabetes or high blood pressure, or any condition that requires frequent monitoring of health conditions. They can send timed updates to the family or the doctor on a regular basis, and emergency alerts if vital readings hit cautionary levels.

Guide to Cyberbullying: Awareness and Prevention

cyberbullying awareness guide

Cyberbullying awareness and prevention

What is cyberbullying and why is it so harmful?

By allowing us to share our stories and communicate with friends, family, and strangers all across the world, the internet has changed forever. It would be impossible for many of us to regress to a pre-wired-in age. Yet, the shift towards a social media-centered existence hasn’t been without its downsides, and the increasing prevalence of cyberbullying is one of the most alarming.

Cyberbullying is bullying -- period -- and we must work together to minimize its negative impact on our society.

Defined by Dictionary.com as, “the act of harassing someone online by sending or posting mean messages, usually anonymously”, cyberbullying comes in many forms. It affects adolescents the hardest, but also all age groups.

The effects of cyberbullying can be dire, leading to ostracization and mental trauma. In this guide, we’ll discuss the various forms of cyberbullying, how to identify and prevent it, and the laws and school policies against it.

Types of cyberbullying

Harassment

The persistent bombardment of negative, hurtful, or threatening messages through text messages, or on a social media platform. Harassment attempts to wear down a victim with repeated threats and insults.

Occasionally this form of cyberbullying manifests itself in a group setting with one member of a chat group becoming the target of hurtful messages, or through the victim’s private messages being shared in a group setting.

Example of harassment cyberbullying (source: wikimedia commons)

Cyberstalking

An especially traumatic form of cyberbullying that often occurs after a break-up, or rejection of unwanted advances. It typically involves an assault of texts or direct messages through social media with pleas to get together, sexually explicit messages or taunts, or even threats of physical violence.

Sending repeat automated emails is one form of cyberstalking (source: wikimedia commons)

Exclusion

A different form of bullying that includes cutting someone out of a group, photo album, or social event. Exclusion intends to make the victim feel bad by leaving him or her out of a social circle that they were once part of.

Exclusion is usually coupled with harassment, or another form of cyberbullying. “In-group” members may also ridicule or make fun of the victim amongst themselves as added insult to the ostracized party.

Trolling

Posting malicious and provocative comments in a message board or social media with the intent of inciting an extreme reaction from the victim, often in the form of taunts or insults regarding the victim’s personal opinion or beliefs. Trolling is often done anonymously, and the perpetrator may not have any relationship with the victim or even know them at all.

Impersonation aka “imping”

Posing as another person and sending messages to a friend in order to damage the relationship between them, or making public posts with embarrassing or unflattering statements. Impersonation can be particularly devastating if the cyberbully obtains the username and password of the victim’s Facebook, or Instagram account. The damage make take a long time to mend if hundreds of classmates catch sight of the material online.

Denigration

The posting of mean-spirited gossip and rumors with the intent of harming the victim’s reputation or relationships. Whether the rumors or statements spread are true or not often does not matter, and they can achieve the same effect. Once a group is exposed to a particularly sordid or shocking rumor, it can have a snowball effect wherein the victim is unable to shed the stigma attached to it.

Outing

Sharing personal messages with revealing information, or photos in a public forum or within a larger social group. Outing is frequently practiced in the aftermath of a nasty breakup and may include the public posting of revealing photos intended only for the eyes of a former romantic partner.

Outing can be particularly devastating for an adolescent as it may involve the public reveal of their sexual orientation before they are ready to go public with the information. Cases of outing have resulted in suicides by the victims.

Cyberbullying on social media

Facebook

Despite recently being overtaken by Instagram as the most frequently used network for cyberbullying, Facebook nonetheless remains a hot zone for certain types of harmful online interaction.

As with other social media networks, it is easier for kids to say cruel things about people on Facebook that they’d never say in person. Cyberbullying on Facebook often happens in a “pile-on” situation, where one user will leave a negative comment about another user’s post, which encourages others to follow suit. The gang mentality towards online bullying can have a stronger impact on a child than direct 1-on-1 text harassment, leading to feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Another alarming aspect of cyberbullying on Facebook is that the 13-year old-age limit for Facebook is rarely enforced, meaning vulnerable tweens and young children often create profiles and use the network, exposing themselves to the threat of cyberbullying and other online dangers.

cyberbullying on facebook

15-year-old Tom Mullaney took his own life after an altercation with a younger boy at school extended to heated textual sparring on Facebook.

In some cases, cyberbullying on Facebook has lead to adolescents taking their own life. This is what happened with Birmingham teenager, Thomas Mullaney. The 15-year old, described by his family as a friendly boy who enjoyed sports, got into an argument with another boy a grade below him at school. The fight got physical, and both boys were suspended from school while the administration conducted an investigation. That evening, the argument between Thomas, the other boy and his friends shifted to Facebook. The dispute began with direct messages, but shifted over to Thomas’s main wall. The younger boy and his friends teamed up, posting a barrage of insults and physical threats towards Thomas. At some point, the taunts grew too much for Thomas to bear. He went back into the family shed and hung himself by a telephone cord. This alarming incident illustrates the profoundly damaging effect that the “pile on” strategy of cyberbullying common on Facebook can have on an emotionally wounded teenager.

Instagram

As more and more teens have made Instagram their social network of choice, it has become the most common platform for youths to experience cyberbullying. The image-oriented nature of Instagram makes the network rife with opportunity for bullies to make cruel and hateful comments about the appearance of others.

In addition to posting cruel comments, bullies will also post unflattering or doctored pictures of others on their own account, inviting their followers to mock the victim. These posts can often snowball, getting spread around to an audience much wider than originally intended.

cyberbullying on instagram

The Instagram user @stlukeidiots repeatedly targeted young girls from sixth graders from a Catholic middle school in New York. The victims suffered severe emotional distress and even thoughts of suicide. Law enforcement were called in to investigate the incidents but could not identify the culprit. 

In an alarming example of the potential dangers vulnerable pre-teens face on Instagram, an anonymous user, @StLukeIdiots, went on a cyberbullying spree one weekend in May 2014. The user assaulted the Instagram accounts of 11 middle school girls enrolled at St. Luke School in Queens,NY posting mean spirited and hurtful comments under their pictures. @StLukeIdiots drew more than 130 follows before the account was deactivated. The victims were devastated, with some professing the desire to die. Police investigated the situation but the culprit was never identified. This incident strongly illustrates that preteens do not belong on Instagram, where they are vulnerable to the attacks of predators and trolls.​

Snapchat

Because snapchat messages, or “snaps”, are automatically deleted soon after being viewed (although there is also the option to create “stories” which exist for up to 24 hours after creation), senders are often not as careful with the content of their messages as they would be with other platforms.

However, despite the fact that snaps quickly “self-destruct”, recipients of the messages are able to take screenshots of the messages and save them to their phone. This can lead to the dispersal of private, intimate content that the sender did not intend to be distributed, leading to embarrassing and upsetting situations.

Snaps are also a means of sending hurtful messages directly to another child, with the knowledge that it will most likely be deleted, leaving no evidence of abuse. Exclusion, where one friend is left out of a “Story” or a certain member of a social group is not sent a snap that others received, is also common on Snapchat.

In a horrifying incident caught on Snapchat, a teen in Ridgewood, NJ was brutally beaten by an assailant after coming to the defense of a girl--herself a cyberbullying victim--, fractured his skull in the incident. The bully then posted a photo of the bloodied boy lying on the ground to his Snapchat account. The victim’s aunt claims that the girl he defended was actively being harassed by a large group of students online after her pictures were shared around on social media networks. In the aftermath of the attack, the boy was then ridiculed on social media for coming to her defense. This incident demonstrates the role cyberbullying can play in tandem with face-to-face bullying and how it can exacerbate and magnify a terrible situation.

Youtube

Youtube is another site where cyberbullying occurs in a alarming frequency. Due to the fact that Youtube users are often anonymous, they can post cruel, hateful comments on the videos of others without fear of reprisal. The “pile-on” situation that occurs on Facebook also happens on Youtube, with the difference being that users do not have to be friends with the poster to comment on the video, opening the door for for trolls and cyberbullies everywhere to engage in the taunting.

Twitter

For years, Twitter has held reputation as a haven for trolling and cyberbullying, with many high profile cases making the news, such as when the daughter of beloved comedian Robin Williams was driven off the site following a torrent of abuse and mean-spirited taunts in the wake of her father’s death by suicide.

Cyberbullies on Twitter hide behind anonymous accounts, as on Youtube, freeing them from practicing the restraint they otherwise would if their identity were public. Attacking others for their lifestyles, ethnicities and political beliefs is commonplace. Cyberbullying on Twitter is not just a problem between students and their peers, but a global issue.

cyberbullying on twitter

Attacks on a person’s political views on Twitter

Texting and other forms

Cyberbullying can also happen through text and personal messages. Though the damaging comments may not be posted for others to see, the harassment can be equally damaging for teens.

Tips for parents on cyberbullying management and prevention

How to tell if your child or loved one is a cyberbullying victim

There’s a chance your child, friend or loved one is the victim of cyberbullying but too embarrassed to admit it. Here are some signs:

  • They avoid social situations or groups of friends that they once enjoyed, preferring to spend more time alone.
  • They act out, displaying angry or upsetting behavior in a manner unusual to them.
  • They suddenly spend less time on social media platforms that they once frequented.
  • New, unknown numbers or texts suddenly appear on their phone.

Comforting your child after an incident of cyberbullying

  • Approach the situation gently, allowing them to explain the situation to you at their own speed free of interrogation.
  • Let them know that online cruelty does not reflect their value as a person.
  • Inform them that the cyberbullying may not be personal, and that the bully may not understand the harm they are causing since it is being done from behind a screen.
  • Advise them that retaliation or responding to the bullying can only make the situation worse.
  • Tell them it’s not the end of the world, what seems like a crisis now will inevitably pass.

Counseling

If the damage done by cyberbullying is severe, and the victim feels ostracized from their peers or afraid to go to school, he or she may benefit from professional counseling. Professional counselors, at school and otherwise, are trained to deal with cyberbullying and use specific techniques to manage the situation and help victims overcome their pain and self-esteem issues.

Tips on preventing cyberbullying from happening to your child

  • Educate your child on how to properly conduct his or herself on social media, i.e., don’t pose revealing photos or overly personal information.
  • Friend, or follow, your child on the social networking sites he or she uses. This way you can monitor their activity from afar.
  • Tell your child not to friend strangers, and to allow only trusted friends and family members to view their posts.
  • Don’t openly engage with your child publicly on social media, as this may encourage taunting and bullying. Don’t post potentially embarrassing photos or content, either.
  • Keep your computers and devices in the common areas of the home. Discourage them from using social media in private areas.
  • Report instances of cyberbullying to social networking sites where they take place (links located below).
  • If cyberbullying is a repeat issue, restrict their usage, or bar them from social media, altogether.

Cyberbullying laws and in school policy

Reporting cyberbullying to schools

Often a child will not be able to deal with an instance of cyberbullying alone, and the situation may require intervention by the school in order to put a stop to the behavior.

You may believe that confronting the parents of the bully is a good solution, but they might react unpredictably, denying the charge, or becoming aggressive. Research finds that the bullies are often physically and verbally abused by their parents, and they may not be the best individuals to confront about a cyberbullying situation.

Approaching the school in order to deal with an incident of cyberbullying is the best choice. Even before going to the police, this is the best course of action, as the school will have the contacts of every student, as well as a law enforcement liaison on campus at all times who will best know how to proceed with the situation. If bringing in the cops is necessary, then they will likely do so.

To prepare:

  • Take screenshots of the cyberbullying activity for evidence to support your case. If the bully uses their Facebook or Instagram account to bully your child, rather than an anonymous account, the evidence will be undeniable.
  • Gather any texts, emails or other messages from the bully.
  • Once evidence of the incident is gathered, make a call to the principal’s office to set up an appointment to discuss the situation

Schools are mandated by state law in every state, to have an official anti-bullying policy, with Montana being the last to do so in 2015. Many states have laws that require schools to deal with off-campus behavior as well. Even if cyberbullying incidents take place off school grounds and after the last bell, they may still be forced to take action. Schools are required to keep classrooms a safe place conducive to learning, and off-campus cyberbullying can negatively impact this environment.

Laws against cyberbullying

As yet, there are no federal laws against cyberbullying, however most states have stepped up and passed their own laws against the behavior. State laws against bullying and cyberbullying vary from state to state. An overwhelming majority of states include criminal sanctions for cyberbullying.

The punishments for cyberbullying vary: in California, using an “electronic communication device” to cause someone to fear for their life is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1000 or a year in jail. While in states such as Missouri, a cyberbullying offender may face a misdemeanor harassment charge.

Educate yourself on your own state’s cyberbullying laws in order to be better prepared and aware of your options if and when a situation arises.

This is a comprehensive guide on recent laws passed in all 50 states in order to deal with the consequences of cyberbullying and punish the offenders. Generally, severe bullying is classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor, but in some states, as in the case of South Dakota in 2009, legislators failed to pass a comprehensive law against bullying. In states where this is the case, cases against bullies can be filed under existing harassment laws.​

In an unprecedented case, Michelle Carter, a 17-year-old from Massachusetts, was sentenced with involuntary manslaughter for sending texts encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to commit suicide. Roy, suffered from depression, and Carter repeatedly encouraged him to follow through with his threats to kill himself. In his final successful attempt, Roy filled his truck with carbon monoxide. He told Carter he was scared, and she encouraged him to “get back in”, which he did, and died of inhaling the fumes. The case may prompt Massachusetts to pass a new law which makes encouraging suicide a criminal act.

Cyberbullying statistics

Cyberbullying Infographic

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Additional resources

​Anti-bullying resources

Stomp out Bullying - The leading non-profit organization dedicated to ending bullying for students everywhere.

Love Our Children USA: Kids and Teen Online Safety - Set of guidelines parents of teens and pre-teens should follwo before letting their children go online.

Stopbullying.gov - Government sponsored site dedicated to spreading anti-bullying awareness and prevention tips, with resources and directories for mental health centers.

Mental health resources

Mentalhealth.gov - The federal government’s site of resources for those battling mental illness.

Get Help Now - A guide on how to act in a variety of bullying and cyberbullying situations.

Wellness Everyday: Cyberbullying - Excellent mental health resource on cyberbullying created by the Ventura County Mental Health Department​

Law and policy resources

Find Law - Cyberbullying Laws - Guide to laws against cyberbullying around the country

Reporting cyberbullying

The following are links to each social network’s page where you can report cyberbullying on the site:

Abuse and Spam on Instagram

Report abuse on Snapchat

Report abuse on Twitter

Report bullying on Facebook

Youtube's harassment and cyberbullying policy

Infographic: Summer Safety Tips for Seniors

Summer means we can all get excited about relaxing in the sun and engaging in some of our favorite outdoor activities. However, with the extra sunlight, high temperatures and humidity come added health concerns -- especially for at-risk groups like seniors.


The statistics bear this out: A CDC study found that adults aged 65 and over accounted for 36% of heat-related deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2010, while another study done by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that a mere 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature increases death rates in elderly people with a chronic health condition. When it comes to the health risks posed by summer heat, seniors are the most vulnerable.


With these facts in mind, it’s important for older adults to take extra care in how they conduct themselves outdoors under the summer sun. Family members and caregivers must take heed as well, as seniors may not feel the effects heat-related illness coming on before it’s too late. The best approach is to follow precautionary measures to mitigate the effects of harsh heat rather than wait for the body to tell you it’s time to go inside for a rest. That warning may not come: heat stroke can be sudden and unexpected.


Fortunately, there are simple tips to follow in order to avoid disaster and enjoy the summertime without worry. We want our elderly friends and relatives to live their lives to the fullest, and staying safe in the sun is the best way to make that happen.

infographic: senior summer safety

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Guide to Basic Gun Safety

basic gun safety

Gun safety is the responsibility of the owner, and no one else. It’s also not something that should be taken lightly, since the destructive potential of firearms is huge.

According to the CDC, 77 minors were killed by unintentional gun discharges in the U.S. in 2015. However, when the Associated Press and USA Today conducted an independent review of shootings-related deaths nationwide, the results were nearly double those of the CDC. AP found at least 141 deaths of minors attributed to accidental shootings in the same period. CDC officials acknowledge their statistics are lower because of how coroners classify fatalities on death certificates.

Accidental discharge-related deaths of minors are most common among 3-year-olds. Most accidents follow the same scenario – children pick up unsecured, loaded guns in their homes and shoot themselves.

Former director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Mark Rosenberg, says “it’s crazy” that the government isn’t researching more into how to prevent accidental discharge deaths because the bottom line is – 100% of them are preventable.

Following these gun safety rules is essential in preventing accidental firearm-related injury or death. Avoiding becoming a statistic begins with your conduct at home, at the range, or anywhere you carry your gun.

Basic gun safety tips

  • Treat every firearm as if it's loaded.
  • Always keep the weapon’s muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
  • Give the owner’s manual a thorough read. Know how to use your gun, how to open and close its action safely, and how to remove ammunition from the gun, as well as its magazine. 
  • Don’t rely on safety mechanisms. Mechanical safety isn’t foolproof. Learn the intricacies of the mechanical safety on your gun.
  • Keep your firearms in good working order. Regular maintenance translates into a more reliable, safer firearm. When carried, guns develop rust even faster than when stored at home. So, clean your firearms regularly, even if they are never used.
  • Have your gun serviced by a gunsmith regularly. A qualified technician should do everything that goes beyond basic cleaning. Don’t be tempted to disassemble and reassemble a gun without proper knowledge and skills.​

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) suggests a S.A.F.E. strategy to gun safety:​

S.A.F.E.

S – secure your firearms when not in use​

A – maintain awareness of people in your proximity and prevent unauthorized access to guns​

F – focus on your responsibility as a gun owner​

E – educate yourself and others about gun safety​

Safe gun storage 

Purchasing a gun means accepting the responsibility that comes along with it, and the principle way to prevent gun-related accidents is to ensure that firearms are always properly stored in the home.

See to it that guns are stored where they won’t be accessible to unauthorized persons: hiding a gun in a drawer, closet, or underneath a pillow does not make your house a safer place. Safe storage requires precautions and critical safeguards that create barriers to against unauthorized use and accidents.

How to safely store a gun

  • Store guns unloaded.
  • Good storage places include in locked cabinets, gun vaults, safes, and storage cases.
  • Stored guns must be inaccessible to children.
  • Lock ammunition in a separate location from your guns.
  • When removing firearms from storage, double-check to make sure they are not loaded.
  • Gun-locking devices render firearms inoperable and serve as an additional precaution against accidents.
  • Cable-style locks aren’t a substitute for safe storage. They are simply a way to discourage unauthorized access to guns by young children.​
  • Consider special lockable cases that can be quickly opened by authorized individuals.

Gun owners must commit to learning how to safely use their firearms, especially if they plan on using them for home security. The objective is to keep firearms somewhere where they are readily available to the owner, yet inaccessible to others. Keeping a gun to defend your family is meaningless if that same gun puts your family at risk. 

Children and gun safety

Several studies have found that gun accidents claim at least one child’s life every other day. Sadly, nearly all firearm accidents are preventable when gun owners take basic precautions.

If you have firearms in the home, you need to teach your kids about them. In many cases, children find firearms because they go looking for them out of curiosity or because one of them dared the other to find it.

Provided the firearms in your house are stored safely, make sure your kids:​

  • Never go snooping for guns in your home or at a friend’s home.
  • Never allow other children to go looking for guns in your home.
  • Know that if they find a gun, they are not to touch it or let others touch it, but they are to tell an adult about it immediately.
  • Never touch a firearm, even if it looks like a toy. They should always ask permission first.​

Sleepovers at a friend’s house

  • Whenever your kids are going to a sleepover at a friend’s house, ask the parents if they have a gun in the house.
  • If the answer is yes, ask how the firearms are stored, and where the ammunition is kept.
  • It doesn’t matter if it makes someone feel uncomfortable or offended: the safety of your child and other children comes first.

Carrying a gun safely

​Before carrying a gun, you should know:

  • Safety precautions
  • Federal, State, and Local laws
  • How to maintain situational awareness

A majority of negligent discharges occur when the person handling the gun is not paying attention and doesn’t maintain situational awareness. 

Practice safe handling and situational awareness

  • Practice carrying an unloaded gun first. Get used to its weight, and how it feels in your hand.
  • Develop a sense of protectiveness for the area of your body where the gun is stored. For example, when choosing a seat in a restaurant, sit with your gun side away from the person sitting by your side. When hugging someone, keep your arms low so that the other person puts theirs high and has no contact with the firearm.
  • Use a good holster and a rigid gun belt specifically designed for the gun. Use holsters made of Kydex or leather and fitted to the individual gun model. Holsters made of cloth and generic one-size-fits-all holsters don’t hold a gun as they should, and should be avoided at all possible costs.
  • Use belts made of leather or nylon. Regular belts are too flimsy to hold a gun throughout the day.
  • Consider using a retention holster with a locking mechanism to protect your gun from unauthorized access and theft.​
  • Small children tend to climb their parents, so a retention holster is a must. Be it while wrestling on the floor, or running across the yard, the holster needs to protect your gun from children – and vice versa – at all times.

Keeping a finger near the trigger, and not checking to see if the gun is loaded is a route to disaster.

Practice, practice, practice

  • Practice correct finger placement while drawing your gun – off the trigger. This is paramount to prevention of accidental discharge.
  • Keep the index finger of the shooting hand should be straight during correct gun drawing.
  • Minimize unnecessary handling when the weapon is in a ready state to avoid a negligent discharge. Definitely don’t show it off to your friends at a barbecue.​

Driving with a gun

​When driving with a gun, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Sit properly. Correct seating position improves your driving abilities and also makes it easier to draw your weapon, if needed.
  • Practice your seated draw.
  • Maintain situational awareness and control your emotions. An emotional response on the road can have devastating consequences if both drivers are armed. So, whenever facing danger or confrontation on the road, try to avoid it.
  • Defensive driving is more effective – and important – than defensive gun use.
  • There’s no reason to access the gun while out and about, except for self-defense. So, put it in your holster when leaving home, and don’t touch it again until you’re putting it back in the safe box at night.
  • Sometimes, when entering restricted areas, gun owners must remove their weapon and lock it in a secured container inside their vehicle. If this happens to you, do it without distraction. Then, upon returning to your vehicle, re-holster the gun safely.

Gun violence statistics

infographic: gun violence stats

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Useful resources

Firearm Safety videos from NSSF

Guns in the House

NSSF Ten Tips for Firearm Safety in Your Home

Firearms Responsibility in The Home

Safe Handling

Tips for Safely Carrying your Handgun – Concealed Nation

Concealed Carry Training Is Not The Same As Target Practice

Four Tips for Driving While Armed

Infographic: Home Safety Summer Tips

You’ve made it to summer. Now it’s time to kick back, enjoy the warm weather at BBQ’s and pool parties, and take that much needed vacation. Yet it’s important to remember that crime rates rise during the summer, as do traumatic injuries, so you should follow these tips to keep home safe and your family in health.

home summer safety infographic

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Infographic: Summer Driving Safety Tips

Free from ice patches and frigid temperatures, you might think that driving in the summer is a breeze compared to during the winter. On the contrary, the summer months of June, July, and August see 29% road deaths than winter months, making it the most dangerous driving season.

The hazards of summer driving are less obvious at first glance, so follow these guidelines to keep safe:

summer driving safety

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Infographic: Home Swimming Pool Safety

Smart pool owners understand that safety comes before everything. Having a backyard swimming pool makes your home the perfect place for family and friends to let loose on balmy summer afternoons, but brings its own set of safety risks and challenges requiring constant attention.

Parents must be particularly observant, as drowning is the primary cause of accidental death in the U.S. for children ages 1-4, while thousands more kids are treated for pool-related injuries every year.

To ensure that your swimming pool is a safe area for everyone, follow these tips:

summer pool safety

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Identity Guard Review

Identity Guard Review

Identity Guard provides robust credit and identity monitoring services and flexible plans, but if your identity should get stolen, you’ll be the one doing all the heavy lifting to restore it.


Quality and Warranty

Identity Guard advertises restoration assistance, but it only includes phone support, which isn’t even 24/7, and a $1 million identity theft insurance. If your identity should be stolen, the company covers the recovery costs up to $1 million in legal fees, travel expenses, lost wages, and child care. The insurance doesn’t cover losses incurred during the theft, and its availability varies by state, while the limit depends on your subscription.

It’s worth mentioning the scores are calculated using the data from the three national credit bureaus. But Identity Guard relies on CreditXpert to calculate your score, which isn’t something lenders usually use to evaluate your credit. And CreditXpert scores differ from those provided by FICO. So it comes as no surprise that Identity Guard says the score is provided for educational purposes only.


Features

Identity monitoring covers any suspicious activity on your name, SSN, bank accounts and credit reports.

Note: it doesn’t monitor your driver’s license. And it only allows you to add one email, physical address, and phone number.

Credit reports and scores – the high-tier plans provide access to your credit reports from the three agencies updated on a quarterly or monthly basis, and your credit score.

Credit analyzer is an online tool that helps you simulate how your financial choices might affect your credit.

Lost wallet protection provides up to $2,000 in emergency cash, while the company assists in canceling your lost or stolen credit cards.

Notifications – if your accounts show suspicious activity, the service sends alerts by text, phone, or email. Each time a new account is opened in your name, or your existing accounts are edited, you get an ID verification alert.

Mobile app by Identity Guard is not its strongest point. It provides you alerts and scores, but there isn’t much you can do from it. Plus, the Android app is desperately dated, with the last update rolled out in 2014. The iTunes app was updated in early-2018 but still sports a 1.9-star rating.

Cybersecurity – some of Identity Guard plans bundle computer security software:

  • PrivacyProtect keyboard encryption tool encrypts your keystrokes to thwart keyloggers, but it only works on Windows.
  • ZoneAlarm antivirus suite comes complete with a firewall, anti-malware, and anti-spyware modules.
  • ID Vault password manager encrypts and stores your passwords, credit card information, aliases, etc.

IBM Watson – Identity Guard deploys IBM Watson Artificial Intelligence cognitive computing to sift through news, social networks, and publicly available reports for mentions of your personal details. It also scans the Dark Web marketplaces to detect if your ID is up for sale on the black market.


Price​

Identity Guard has three tiers of individual and family plans available in monthly subscriptions. You can cancel any time without incurring termination fees.

Note: family plans cover all adults and children living in one household.

  • Value - $8.99/mo for individuals and $14.99/mo for families
  • Total - $19.99/mo for individuals and $29.99/mo for families
  • Premier - $24.99/mo for individuals and $34.99/mo for families

All plans include IBM Watson AI, $1 million insurance (its limit depends on your plan), a dedicated case manager, risk management score, online dashboard and mobile apps, alerts about mentions of your ID on the Dark Web, high-risk transactions, potential threats, an anti-phishing mobile app, and a safe browsing extension.

Total adds alerts on monthly credit score from the three bureaus, three-bureau credit changes, bank account takeovers, and requests to open new savings or checking accounts on your name.

Premier tops it off with the 3-bureau credit report, and a social insight report (Facebook-only).

For comprehensive credit monitoring, you’ll have to opt for the high-tier plans. But overall, Identity Guard is a viable solution for families as the rates are affordable when compared to its competitors’ offers.


Support

Identity Guard customer service, unfortunately, generated a slew of negative reviews. If you sign up via one of Identity Guard’s affiliates, for example, you might get a better deal than with Identity Guard itself. But users report the company may fail to honor the discounts provided by affiliates.

One of the disturbing and recurring complaints, however, is the delay in alerts about suspicious activity and credit inquiries.

The customer service is available Monday through Friday during work hours. Good luck if you receive an alert on a weekend.​


Installation

The browser-based dashboard is user-friendly but riddled with promotions to upgrade. The navigation menus are straightforward, and everything is one-click away – your alerts, status of your accounts, and reports.

Identity Guard mobile experience, however, leaves a lot to be desired both regarding updates and usability. The fact that an identity protection company fails to update its mobile app in the last four years speaks volumes about how it handles its customer data. A mobile app that hasn’t received a single security patch this long can’t be trusted.

Not helping is the fact that a good part of the cybersecurity tools is Windows-only, so Mac users paying for high-end plans can’t use the extra benefits.


Things to Consider

  • Not much in terms of identity restoration assistance
  • Negative customer reviews about the company’s support service
  • Insurance limit – the low-tier plan only gets a fraction of the advertised $1 million
  • Alert delays – Identity Guard sends you an alert once an update hits the credit bureau, not immediately after someone uses your credit

Important Tips

  • You might find a better deal with Identity Guard affiliates, but customer reports suggest the company may fail to honor affiliate discounts.
  • The company changes its pricing from time to time, and you can switch plans to get better coverage. But to do so, you have to cancel your current membership, and then sign up again.

Summary

Identity Guard is a feasible solution for families, and its credit monitoring service is solid. But if you’re looking for a company fully-equipped to help you should the worst happen, consider its competitors.

3.4

Pros:

  • Monthly reports
  • Scores from all three credit agencies
  • $1 million insurance (varies by plan)
  • Affordable family plans
  • Antivirus, anti-malware, anti-spyware, password manager, anti-keylogging tools

Cons:

  • The credit score is calculated using CreditXpert
  • The best features are available in premium-tier plans
  • The interface is riddled with promotions
  • Only monitors for one email and phone number
  • Doesn’t monitor driver’s license
  • Sub-par mobile app
  • Alert may come with delays


Privacy Guard Review

Privacy Guard Review

Privacy Guard provides you with comprehensive credit reporting, credit monitoring and identity theft assistance. Top benefits include credit reports and scores form the three national credit bureaus, a credit simulator, and daily credit monitoring.


Quality and Warranty

Privacy Guard subscriptions come with a 14-day trial period. It’s not free, however, but costs $1. Like many other identity protection services, Privacy Guard offers a $1 million in identity theft insurance to recoup losses from theft, including fees and lost wages. But the terms vary by state, so inquire with the sales agent. Privacy Guard doesn’t have yearly contracts, so you can cancel any time without incurring cancellation fees.


Features

Daily credit monitoring – Privacy Guard checks Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion for information that indicates a potential identity theft, such as changes in your address, new accounts, as well as public records and any derogatory information added to your credit file. Should it find something, it contacts you, and if the activity is illegitimate, the company provides information on how you can resolve the issue.

You can also track your scores and set custom alerts for specific changes or milestones.

Assistance in canceling lost or stolen cards – you can register up to 10 credit cards and document numbers. If any of them get lost or stolen, the company can cancel the cards for you.

Identity theft guidance – Privacy Guard does not handle the related paperwork but can provide you with the necessary documentation to file disputes, and advise you throughout the process.

Cybersecurity – the company provides you with computer security software.

Reimbursement – Privacy Guard reimburses you for filing for a copy of your driving record, which could affect your insurance eligibility or employment chances. The company also reimburses you for a Medical Insurance Bureau file, which includes information about your health, medical tests the insurer has paid for, chronic conditions, and your risky activities or hobbies. With the help of this information, you can see if someone is using your medical insurance fraudulently.

Financial calculators and neighborhood reports – the service can provide you with custom reports on neighborhood statistics if, for example, you consider buying a new home. A top-tier Privacy Guard plan provides you with a detailed overview of the neighborhood crime rates, home values, demographics, pollution, and even climate.


Price​

The company offers a 14-day trial period for $1. Beyond that, you can cancel any time without incurring early cancellation fees. There is no price lock guarantee, however.

Privacy Guard offers three monthly subscription tiers, all backed by the $1 million insurance:

  • ID Protection at $9.99/mo includes dedicated ID fraud resolution support, ID verification monitoring, Dark Web, SSN, and public web monitoring, national change of address monitoring, annual public records report and monitoring, online fraud and lost wallet assistance.
  • Credit Protection at $19.99/mo offers triple-bureau credit reports, scores, and credit monitoring, monthly credit score tracking, credit information hotline, dedicated ID fraud resolution support, credit scores simulator, and financial calculator suite.
  • Total Protection at $24.99/mo includes all of the features of ID Protection and Credit Protection plans and adds child SSN monitoring, neighborhood reports, registered offender locator, reduced pre-approved credit card offers, personal records reimbursement, and emergency cash.

Support

Customer service is accessible by phone or email Monday through Friday 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. ET, and on Saturdays 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. ET. Their site also provides useful information on credit and identity theft.

Unfortunately, the Privacy Guard support service has earned a bad reputation due to numerous customer complaints about the lackluster quality, long wait times, and billing issues.


Installation

Signing up for Privacy Guard is simple. After entering your name and address, you need to provide your SSN to verify your identity and submit your credit card information. From there, you can activate your three-bureau credit monitoring, get your hands on your credit report and access other features.

The user interface is a bit dated, but you should have no difficulty finding the information you need. The service also does a good job of providing you highly detailed explanations of your scores, complete with a breakdown of factors that are helping and those that are hurting your score.

On top of that, Privacy Guard gives a roundup of the discrepancies in your credit reports across the three different bureaus. This can help you detect erroneous information one of the bureaus may have on your file.

A nifty what-if simulator lets you estimate how your scores might change based on your actions, for example, if you pay down debt or have a credit inquiry.


Things to Consider

  • No child ID protection – if you have kids, you would have to buy a full-fledged standalone plan for each. Child SSN monitoring is only available in the top-tier plan.
  • No mobile app or mobile alerts.
  • No bank account monitoring.
  • Although the credit monitoring feature is useful to alert you to risks, and the company offers some assistance along the way, it’s ultimately up to you to take care of your identity theft.
  • In 2013, Privacy Guard’s parent company Affinion Group paid $19 million to affected customers in a government action regarding allegations of misleading marketing practices.

Important Tips

  • Privacy Guard regularly checks your credit report for account changes, which is something you can do for free at sites like AnnualCreditReport.com, Credit Karma, or Credit.com. Privacy Guard advantage is you get access to credit reports from all three bureaus in one place, while free sites provide you with reports from two bureaus at most.
  • Emergency cash – if your cards are lost or stolen when you are on a trip more than 100 miles away from home, Privacy Guard can send you up to $1,000 in cash and a prepaid one-way ticket home.

Summary

Privacy Guard provides the usual credit and identity monitoring services you can find elsewhere. But it doesn’t offer some of the useful features, such as child ID monitoring and protection, a mobile app, and bank account monitoring. The service is average at best.

3.0

Pros:

  • Monitoring of all three major credit bureaus
  • 14-day $1-worth trial
  • Identity theft recovery guidance
  • Lost wallet assistance
  • $1 million insurance
  • Financial calculators and neighborhood reports

Cons:

  • Lack of identity theft prevention features
  • No comprehensive child ID protection
  • No bank account monitoring
  • No mobile app
  • Poor customer support


LifeLock Review

LifeLock Review

LifeLock, a Symantec company, is a robust service with many strong features wrapped in plans ideal for individual users. But it’s too pricey if you need to monitor for the entire family, while its basic plans have fairly limited features.


Quality and Warranty

LifeLock offers a $1 million insurance stating it will reimburse you “dollar for dollar” should the worst happen and your identity gets stolen. A closer look at their pricing structure reveals, however, that the company’s reimbursement limit depends on your subscription. In other words, you need to subscribe to a high-tier plan to have that $1 million protection.

The company also offers monthly and yearly subscriptions complete with a 60-day money-back guarantee. You can cancel any time without incurring early cancellation fees, too.


Features

Personal data monitoring – one user can track one Social Security Number, and only one driver's license number, which is understandable. But you can also track your mother's maiden name, up to 10 bank accounts and credit cards, up to five addresses, emails, and phone numbers.

Alerts – whenever the service detects your address in online searchable documents or identifies that someone is trying to open a bank account in your name using your SSN, it alerts you immediately via email, phone, or text, based on your preferences. If a financial transaction is in question, you can approve or reject it from the dashboard or mobile app.

Lost wallet assistance comes handy if you should ever need help getting a new driver's license, credit cards, or insurance cards.

Bank account monitoring is the one feature that makes LifeLock worth the investment. LifeLock will monitor your bank account for any fraudulent activity by using read-only access to view your recent transactions. You can review your transactions directly from LifeLock interface, too, but the major benefit here is the company will keep an eye on your account to secure lines of credit.

You can also customize your alerts and receive notifications for transactions exceeding a certain amount.

Note: LifeLock lets you monitor your 401K account, a feature you won’t find with many competitors in the field.

LifeLock mobile app for iOS and Android gives you access to all the resources you have in your browser-based dashboard. Notably, in many cases, competitors’ mobile apps come with chopped functionality. But LifeLock’s app is polished and advanced, letting you approve or reject financial transactions and chat with LifeLock customer service.

Dark Web monitoring – LifeLock monitors black market sites where identity thieves sell stolen IDs and alerts you if it finds your data is up for sale.

LifeLock can also remove your name from pre-approved credit card mailing lists often targeted by identity thieves.


Price​

LifeLock doesn’t have the easiest-to-digest pricing structure. The three plans on its pricing page may or may not reflect discounts, but the actual roster of plans contains more than a dozen items. It is this list you want to check before subscribing because it includes the prices without the discounts, which is what you get to pay when your next billing period is due.

LifeLock Standard for one user is priced at $9.99/mo or $109.89/year and gets you SNN monitoring, credit alerts from one bureau, and up to $25,000 coverage for identity fraud-related losses.

LifeLock Advantage for one user costs $219.89/year or $19.99/mo and adds alerts about credit card and banking activity, as well as monitoring for crime recors. It also raises cover for ID theft losses to $100,000.

LifeLock Ultimate Plus costs $29.99/mo or $32.89/year and gets you up to $1 million reimbursements for stolen funds, as well as alerts for 401K and investment activities. It also adds three bureau credit reports and score monitoring.

Also, LifeLock Junior addon costs $5.99/mo or $65.99/year, while LifeLock Senior addon is priced at $19.99/mo or $219.89/year for both of your parents. But if you want to add your spouse to your plan, you have to pay the full price. As a result, your LifeLock bill can quickly bloat if you’re going to monitor data of your entire family.

For additional $3-$5/mo, you can get Norton Security Online to any of these plans. It might block malware attacks and protect your Win, Mac, Android, and iOS devices from spyware. Since it’s a Symantec product, which ranks high among consumer antivirus suites, Norton could be worth the investment, but the full Norton Security suite is still more robust than its online sibling.

LifeLock doesn't offer a free trial but backs your purchase with a 60-day money-back guarantee and zero dollars early termination fees.


Support

LifeLock provides 24/7 customer service via toll-free phone number. Its identity restoration agents, however, are only available during business hours, which makes sense because they have to work with banks and other institutions to resolve identity theft-related disputes.


Installation

LifeLock web-based dashboard offers a clean and intuitive user interface complete with credit scores, recent alerts, reports, self-descriptive tabs, and a wealth of useful information in the FAQs section. Its mobile app allows editing information and approving or rejecting transactions, as well as receiving alerts, and contacting the customer service directly.


Things to Consider

  • LifeLock’s reputation is not perfect. FTC fined it $12 million for deceptive advertising practice in 2010, and another $100 million in 2015 for failure to apply critical security measures to protect consumer data – a sequence of ironic precedents for an ID theft protection company.
  • USA Today picked up a story about a woman whose ex-husband opened a fraudulent LifeLock account to spy on her. When the victim contacted LifeLock for assistance, the company tried to blame it on her, refusing to acknowledge the responsibility.
  • LifeLock provides credit report monitoring on a yearly basis.
  • The $1 million insurance is actually a part of the high-tier plan only.
  • Their low-tier plans provide limited protection without financial monitoring.

Important Tips

You have to provide LifeLock with a limited power of attorney for the company to assist you in restoring your identity and credit score, should your identity be compromised.


Summary

LifeLock provides excellent identity theft protection features and 24/7 customer support, but the prices aren’t family-friendly, while the reimbursement insurance depends on your subscription.

4.3

Pros:

  • 24-hour support
  • Monitors Dark Web
  • Bank account and credit monitoring
  • Provides credit reports
  • Scans public records
  • Recovery assistance
  • Robust mobile app
  • 60-day money-back guarantee

Cons:

  • Not suited to families and anyone on a budget
  • Monitors fewer accounts than the competition
  • No free trial
  • Questionable reputation


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