Being Most Thankful for Family (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Happy Thanksgiving! (Retrieved from www.vintag.es, November 27, 2014)

Happy Thanksgiving! (Retrieved from http://www.vintag.es, November 27, 2014)

On Thanksgiving, what I am always most thankful for is my family.  My family is always there for me in thick and thin.  My family has weathered many storms and enjoyed sunny days together; I can count on my family for love, compassion, and support, and I provide the same to them. I don’t have a very large family, nor do I have much money, but I have a big heart, full of lots of love. My love is shared with and among my family, for whom I am most thankful on  Thanksgiving and every day.

Other things for which I am thankful include food, faith, community, freedom, education, technology, career, and health.  I am thankful for food, though it is not easy to get by from month to month with food prices continuing to rise.  I appreciate my faith because, if it was not for that, I would not be where I am today, and things would likely be much worse.  I am grateful for community, such as organizations that provide fellowship, to my family.

I am always thankful for freedom and I remember my grandmother’s stories about when she lived in Communist Poland, with people fearing for their lives when homes were raided in the middle of the night and people were never seen again.  I am grateful for education, though the large debt required to pay for it is a hardship.  I appreciate technology that makes life easier.  And, I am thankful for career in many capacities, including that of being a mother, as well as for the potential of a stable gainful and enjoyable employment in a workplace with decent people, if that is ever attainable.  I am thankful for my good health so I do not have to pay out-of-pocket to see the doctor as a result of being without health insurance.

So often, organizations such as colleges, churches, and charities have fundraising drives to help give to those in need.  When I am asked to donate, I reply that I could benefit from some assistance, myself.  As a poor single white mother, so often such places overlook people such as myself, as has occurred again this year.  People in my shoes are reduced to begging for even a little bit in return.  People may maintain the perspective that whites have privilege and that is definitely a stereotype that hurts poor white single mothers such as myself because the majority of any aid, as I observe, goes to people of other races.

I am also thankful for the holes in some of my shabby clothes and worn-out shoes, the place that I live even though it is not my own, the student loans that provide opportunity, my nearly decade-old vehicle that is still in great shape, and that sacrifices that I am able to make for the benefit of my family.  I am thankful for the $15 haircut that I get every two months instead of going to a salon and spending loads of money, and the $3 bottle of fingernail polish that I can use for a manicure or pedicure instead of going someplace to have it done for me.  I am grateful for the free lunch that I eat twice each week at my apprenticeship, and for the store closing sale at the local KMart where I can save a few dollars on Christmas gifts for my son.  I am thankful for what little I have because more is always spent than saved.

These are additional reasons why I am thankful for my family, particularly at Thanksgiving.  Every so often, there is that rare person who comes along who might be caring and/or supportive, but with my family, I know they will always be there, in good and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer.  People should be more important than money and possessions, and indeed, my family is most important to me.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I invite you to think about family, values, and people in need.  Think about and be thankful for people who are close to you.  Think about people whom you see at work or in church every week who have little or nothing, and who are usually overlooked in their need.  Take action on what you can do rather than what you cannot.  Open your heart and mind to see what you do not want to see, and take action for what you otherwise would not have done.   A little bit goes a long way, especially for folks who don’t have much.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Remember what you are thankful for!

[Author’s Note: Within one day of posting this article, I was solicited by a man on LinkedIn, out-of-state, to contact him by whatever means necessary.  People really need to get their heads out of the gutter, and be open to simply being helpful to those in need without being offensive and/or wanting something (inappropriate) in return.  Solicitation is so offensive, degrading, and dehumanizing to me; is nothing that I have ever done; and it is incredible to me that so many men (I’ve experienced this many times on LinkedIn) do it.  It is unfortunate and tragic for humanity that there are those who attempt (and succeed) in taking advantage of people in need in a sexual manner.]

Recognizing and Protecting Oneself from a Cyber Fraud (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

There are countless ways out there that cyber frauds and hackers can attempt to trick people, online, for whatever reasons.  In the past two years, I have become very active, online.  During that time, I have also observed a number of my contacts’ e-mail accounts to be hacked, as well as having experienced several attempts by cyber fraudsters to try to trick me and/or gain my trust in regard to doing business for them, meeting them, and beginning an intimate relationship with them.  This week, after having been contacted by an individual through LinkedIn, and realizing after one communication after having connected with “him,” online, that he is a cyber fraud, I have been inspired to share some suggestions regarding how to identify such people, and how to protect oneself from them.

We live in such a computer and technology-based society now that it is difficult to imagine what life may be like without it.  This week, I did a mental count of the number of online accounts that I maintain, and those that I use with regularity (from at least once per week to once per month).  For different banks, organizations, associations, educational institutions, e-mail providers, retailers, and other entities, I realized that I have 40 online accounts, using 30 of them with regularity!  The other 10 online accounts are maintained, but I might check them only once per year because they do not hold extremely sensitive or financial information.  Two other accounts that I have are only accessible by phone, through an automated system.  So, in all, I currently have 42 technologically-based accounts!  Only a few years ago, I did not have any online accounts, so the number “40” is staggering!

So, that means there are at least 40 online accounts that I have within which cyber frauds and/or hackers could potentially access my personal and private information.  Knowing that, I am aware of and do my best to screen contacts and/or connections as much as possible.  Regarding LinkedIn, for example, I am an open-networker, which means that I am willing to connect with most anyone.  My personal conditions are that the person should have at least 20 or so connections, as well as a profile that is thorough, at least somewhat verifiable, and relatively legitimate in appearance.  I have about 1,100 connections on LinkedIn, which is great for professional networking, however I have received a number of requests to become intimately involved with some male connections.

These requests are typically from men whose account is “based” in another country, such as the United Kingdom, Pakistan, and Iran, for examples.  Usually, I respond to the men that I appreciate their interest, but that such a relationship is quite impossible because they live outside of my country (the United States), or I just ignore their communications and/or sever connections with them.  These are a few ways of protecting oneself from a potential cyber fraud.  There are always those men who believe that a single woman will fall for any man who wants to become romantically involved with her.  It never ceases to amaze me.

Another way of recognizing a cyber fraud is one who e-mails you and wants money, after having hacked and used a contact’s e-mail address to make his or her request.  This has happened to three of my professional connections, that I know of, through LinkedIn.  Typically, the unsuspecting individual’s account is hacked, and is used to send a mass e-mail to all of the contacts of that person.  What I have noticed that is usually in the hacker’s message is something like, “urgent, need help” or “please send money immediately,” etc.  Another hacker who used the e-mail address of one of my contacts included a link in the message regarding registering with a work-from-home business (scam) that was supposed to “phenomenally” increase one’s income by six-fold.  After receiving both of those e-mails, I contacted the authentic holders of those e-mail accounts and asked them if they had been hacked, and surely enough, they had been.

One man who was hacked also runs a non-profit, and stated to me that all of his contacts had been compromised due to the hacking.  The person who hacked his account stated that “he” was vacationing in another country, lost his passport, and was at the consulate, needing $2,000 to return to the United States.  I knew this man would never ask any such thing, and that is why I contacted him, through a separate e-mail message, to inquire about whether or not he had been hacked.

Also take care to notice that hackers and/or cyber frauds typically have poor or very poor English.  While I always receive spam mail from people asking me to be a financial intermediary for them to transfer countless $1,000s as a third-party to their bank account, if one ever notices, those messages typically use poor and incorrect English.  Just this week, the connection that I made through LinkedIn “appeared” to be legitimate on the surface, however his “base” location is in Minnesota, while he identified that he graduated from college in Canada (from a degree program that is not offered at that school), and that he works at a bank in the United Kingdom.  Apparently, his wife died of cancer, and he is a single parent, but his cousin has custody of his young son in Wisconsin, while he visits him only occasionally because he lives and works in the UK.  How ridiculous is that?  I suppose it could happen, but the biggest identifier of a cyber fraud in that situation is the person’s extremely poor use of English, with many errors.

Additionally, I also have a contact whose e-mail address has been hacked by an eBay vendor in New Zealand.  Apparently, this person purchased an item from the UK, but the original vendor for the item is in New Zealand (or the buyer’s information was sold to a company in New Zealand).  This individual’s e-mail address has been hacked and used in attempts to gain business for the hacker in New Zealand.  This has been discovered by the person whose e-mail account was hacked printing out the html information and codes that can be found by clicking on the “view sender” portion of the e-mail message, without even having to open the message.  Reading the “view sender” information without actually opening an e-mail is a wonderful tool for protecting oneself from cyber frauds and hackers, particularly when receiving messages from individuals who are unknown, or even those who are known, but who appear to be sending suspicious messages (because their accounts have actually been hacked and used by the hacker).

Lastly, some of the most risky situations, online, may not only be through the hacking of financial information, but by people attempting to connect on dating websites.  One often sees commercials on TV and advertisements, online, about the joys and wonders of online dating websites.  Give me a break!  I have been a member of several such websites within the past five years, and am no longer a member of any of them.  First of all, no membership fee should be required to join such sites – they are just another way to take one’s money.  Next, many such websites do not verify the identity or authenticity of their members, particularly those that do not require membership fees.  And, lastly, one does not actually know whether or not the person whom one may be trying to connect with is representing himself or herself correctly, and/or whether or not he is honest.  Those are the biggest downfalls of online dating websites – you really don’t know what you’re getting, and you wonder if it is really worth the risk to find out.  Often, the risk is not worth the rare reward that may be acquired, particularly if someone is seeking a serious, long-term partner with similar values.

Therefore, a further way to protect oneself, online, is to sign out, log off, and shut down one’s computer when one has finished using it.  This is imperative in a public place, and/or even in one’s place of work.  In the privacy of one’s home, there is greater protection because strangers do not have access to one’s information.  However, in families in which there is conflict, strife, and/or issues such as divorce, one must take care to keep one’s online accounts protected.  A person should not allow another to use and/or have access to his/her online accounts unless they are a person who is trusted with one’s life.

Sometimes, people desire information from you to use against you.  Sometimes, people just take or steal such information for their own potential gain.  Having observed and/or experienced such situations, myself, it is important to take steps to protect oneself as much as possible.  Therefore, these are just a few ways to recognize and protect oneself from cyber frauds, hackers, and potential threats to one’s online accounts and personal safety, particularly those that hold personal, private, and/or financial information.  Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list, however they are ways that I have found better protect me from online harm.  I hope they are also helpful to you in identifying and protecting yourself from harm, online, as well.