Beware of scammers impersonating energy and telecommunications companies 24 April 2018 The ACCC is warning consumers to beware of scammers impersonating energy and telecommunications providers and demanding payments.
Scamwatch has received 5000 reports of fake billing scams in the last 12 months, with reported losses of close to $8000.
“The scammers typically impersonate well known companies such as Origin, AGL, Telstra and Optus via email, to fool people into assuming the bills are real,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“They send bulk emails or letters which include a logo and design features closely copied from the genuine provider. The bill states the account is overdue and if not paid immediately the customer will incur late charges or be disconnected.”
I have a very light and simple laptop stand. It is a strip of Corflute board purchased from a stationery store for about $5 and used for a number of projects.
I cut a strip with the (tubes running upwards) 480mm wide and 130mm high. I sliced half way through it vertically at the half-way point resulting in two wings 280mm wide by 130mm high that can bend around like the covers of a book. I added a strip of cloth tape down the fold to strengthen the bend. I now have a light stand 280mm wide, 130mm high and about 10mm thick weighing a barely discernible 57 grams or 2 oz.
This can be opened into a triangular shape to support a laptop, opening facing forward. The size may have to be adjusted for your laptop and height. It supports the laptop perfectly, but requires an external keyboard and mouse.
For a long mobile working session, this is a very small price (in weight) to pay for arguably the best keyboard and mouse on the market.
The mouse and keyboard both charge via a Micro-USB port, so I can charge them with the Chromebook charger, or from a USB port on the Chromebook. One charger can handle the HP 11, my phone, the mouse, keyboard and my Bluetooth headset. I carry a couple of extra leads and can charge the HP Chromebook 11 while using it, or while it is suspended, and also charge devices from one or both USB type A ports. I have written about the brilliant HP Chromebook 11 here.
These devices have probably been replaced by later models, but are the best lightweight, quality devices I could find at the time. I have written about the Logitech Ultra-thin mouse here
As you can see from the Photo, I have cut two pairs of notches in the front part of the stand. This fits my tablets, and at a pinch my phone. It allows me to use a tablet (or phone) at eye level to watch video.
I can also use my Windows 8.1 tablet with Keyboard and mouse as a full PC if I need to. (more on the tablet later, it is still under review)
When I fly, the folding stand goes in a pocket in my SCOTTeVEST jacket in front of my tablet screen, if I am carrying one. It protects it from impacts that may break the screen, and adds zero weight. I use two thin rubber bands to keep them together in transit.
You want your documents and data to be secure, accessible everywhere and easy to access. As the saying goes, You can have any two of those requirements you want, but never all three at once. It is simply impossible to have all three. Unfortunately, most people choose easy over secure, and then complain bitterly when their documents are stolen and made public. Or simply deleted.
The dream of instant access to all of you documents is now a reality with cloud based services such as Google Docs and Drive, Dropbox and a host of other services.
You can sit down at any computer or tablet and access almost all your documents immediately.
But there is a downside to that. Others can also access documents from the cloud if they have your login details. They can access your documents if they can access your computer.
So how do you ensure the security of cloud hosted documents? Let’s look at the ups and downs of adequate security.
1. Choose a Good Password
Number one on the list is the level of security we have on our cloud account. The most obvious question is, how good is your password? If your password is 123456 or monkey, secret, letmein or similar, you have a major problem. Security breaches over the last few years have resulted in millions of passwords being leaked. These passwords have been analysed by both good guys and bad guys, and now everyone knows the million or so most used passwords.
For the curious, I have listed the 12 most common passwords of 2013. If you are using one of these, bow your head is shame, and know that any time a hacker wants your data, he will have it in minutes…
Clever passwords are not so clever. If you think s3cret is more secure that secret, think again m0nkey and monkey are pretty much the same when someone decides to use a password list of a million common passwords to crack your account. Use a long, random, different password for every site you visit. If you cannot remember passwords, use a password manager app or plugin for your computer or browser. I use Lastpass, and have had no problems with it. I let Lastpass generate passwords for me. Lastpass is highly respected, well designed and a Trust No One (TNO) app. Lastpass cannot give your passwords to anyone, because they do not have them. they are encrypted for everyone but you.
Don’t Save The Password on Your Computer. Do NOT write your passwords down in a file named Passwords and save it on your desktop. Just read about the Sony hack to find the down side of that approach.
Add Two Factor Authentication
Then, for better security add two-factor authentication.
For Google, Dropbox and Lastpass, and many more online services, an authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Authy work perfectly. I prefer Authy because I can make it require a PIN when it starts up. There is a little effort involved in getting an Authenticator working, but they are well documented. Just be prepared to spend 10 or 15 minutes setting it up on your devices
You need the app running on your phone or tablet, preferably both, and when you log into your cloud service from a new computer, or every few weeks, you must authenticate by providing a six-digit code that changes every 30 seconds. This means you need the password and the mobile phone with the authenticator to log into your cloud account.
Print out a few “Get out of jail” keys so you can log in without your device in an emergency. But secure these printed keys well. See the documentation for your cloud provider.
Secure Your Computer, Phone and Tablet
This makes it very difficult to get into your cloud accounts from another computer. However is someone steals your laptop, phone or tablet while they are unlocked, they will have access.
So make sure you have a password or PIN that is strong enough to keep a thief out. Ensure that a PIN or password is required to access your computer whenever it starts or comes out of standby.
Remember, if someone steals your phone and can access your cloud accounts and your Authenticator, they can change the password. So keep that phone or tablet secure.
I always close the lid of my laptop or HP Chromebook 11 when I walk away from it is a shared space. In fact I rarely get more than a couple of meters away in public or shared space.
I have made a habit of putting everything into a pocket or bag when I put it down in a public or shared space. Basically I treat a laptop, phone or tablet the way I treat cash. I NEVER leave it lying around unattended.
Here is an example of why…
If you work in an office or have a desktop computer, make sure you lock it when you get up and walk away. Having a screensaver that locks it after a few minutes is probably enough in an office environment. I work largely alone in my home office, so I simply set
the screensaver to come on after five minutes. If I was is a co-working space or an office with a lot of people, I would (and have) activated the screensaver manually when I walk away. This is easy to do on computers running Linux. I think it also an option on later versions of Windows. On Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, it is in the bottom right corner of the status window.
Remember the simple security rule. If someone can access your unsecured hardware, they can do pretty much anything. A running, logged in PC is the crown jewels for a thief. Don’t assume everyone in your office is trustworthy.
Follow these three steps, and you will be well on the way to having secure and safe access to your cloud based files and documents.
There is a price. It takes a little longer to log into your account, there is a bit more friction. But after a few days it becomes second nature.
Much of the gloss has gone from radio as a marketing medium. Push button radios make the ability to surf stations instantly and easy. Young people tend to surf around looking for a song they like, and switch stations when the ads come on. Radio stations advertising commercial-free periods are conditioning listeners to look for stations with no advertising. Advertising revenue has dropped 3.5% in the last 12 months alone in metropolitan Australia.
There is no doubt that radio is still a very effective advertising medium. Radio advertising reaches a huge audience every day. Each morning it is claimed 80% of people listen to the radio, and listen for an average of 146 minutes a day. It is one of the cheapest mass media options available. Many small businesses are tempted to begin their media campaign with radio spots.
Don’t Make These Mistakes
1) The wrong station
Radio stations target specific demographics or audiences. Ask yourself, who is your target audience. Their age and social position will give you some indication of the right radio stations to approach.
Contact the stations and ask for up to date information on their listeners. They are constantly monitoring their audience and know who is listening. Then think about your target market. Age and Sex are easy to ascertain, but their social status and attitudes are another story.
For example talk-back radio stations attract audiences over 50, but their attitudes will differ from people who listen to an “easy Listening” station, or a station playing hits of the sixties and seventies. If you are a Lexus dealership you want to target a different audience than a club advertising a Debbie Harry concert.
2) The wrong time
Once again look at your target market. Will they be at home or at school? Are they the type of person who will listen to the radio at work? Pass any building site, hairdresser, workshop or factory and there will be radios going. The average accountant will be less likely to be listening to talk-back radio while working, but he may be listening to the easy-listening stations.
Drive time is the most listened to period of the day, and also the most expensive. But if you are targeting housewives, that may not be the best time.
3) The wrong frequency
Small businesses never have enough money for everything, and advertising is just one of those expenses. The Station rep or account manager will want to sell you a package offer, perhaps 25 spots. A common mistake on the part of the advertiser is trying to get the most out of the package by spreading those ad spots out.
Research shows that we are bombarded with anywhere from 500 to 1,700 commercial messages every day. We cannot remember them all, our brain filters them out.
The way to break through that filter is repetition. You must tell the listener your message over and over. And it needs to be the SAME listener over and over. But you can only afford 25 spots. So what do you do?
The station will want to spread your spots across the day and the month. To be effective you need to repeat the commercial to the same people. So do some negotiation with the sales rep. Instead of 30 spots across the month, spread them across three or five days. Negotiate to have them repeated in the same “daypart” or time of day. We are creatures of habit. We drive to work at the same time every day. We drive home at the same time every day. If you play your ads in morning and evening drive-time, most people will not hear both ads. They will hear half of them Remember, repetition is the key. Repetition is the key.
If 60,000 people hear your ad once, you have wasted your money, if 30,00 hear it twice, almost the same. if 5,000 people hear your ad 5 times it will penetrate and you should see results.
4) Too many stations at once
The same principle applies to using multiple radio stations. If you spread your advertising budget across multiple stations you will once again dilute the message by not reaching people often enough. Most people listen to the same station most of the time.
As a child I sat in front of the radio waiting for my favorite show to start at 5pm. The days when people switched from station to station to listen to specific persons or shows are long gone. Now, that is reserved for TV shows. we stay largely with one or two stations. Pick the best station for your target audience, and own it as much as funds allow.
5) Too much information
Radio is good for promoting a single thought. Save your radio advertising dollars until you have something newsworthy.
Advertise a sale, a special, the arrival of a new product range, and end of season sellout or a specific event. The follow up with a simple contact point. The address of the sale, The number to order tickets, or an easy to remember web site.
Keep the message simple, repetitive and memorable, and you will get good results.
Please let me know your experiences with radio advertising.
Identity theft is having someone steal enough personal information from you that they can impersonate you well enough to obtain a credit card, bank account, apply for a loan, register a car, get a drivers licence or apply for a passport or mobile phone account in your name.
The danger is, all of these things can result in you being liable for unpaid debt, crimes or other fallout from someone posing as you behaving badly or illegally.
A lot of identity theft is performed on-line, but in this article, I want to discuss the more personal and local version. Your garbage bin.
Much of this information can be gleaned from papers you throw in the garbage. We all get mail every day with personal information. From bank statements and Centrelink documents to invitations to get new credit cards or increase our credit limit. Most come with much of our personal information pre-printed. These are absolute gold to an identity thief. They raid letter boxes on a daily basis, looking for this kind of information.
When I started my last business, we advertised it locally (and laboriously) by trudging from house to house around much of Launceston area putting flyers in letterboxes. I once received an irate phone call from someone telling me we had stolen a letter from his box when we dropped off the flyer.
When I explained the the fliers were being distributed by me, my wife and my son, and leaving a flyer after robbing the box would not have been the brightest idea for us, he apologised and hung up. He had lost a piece of vital mail that day…
The Australian Federal Police have an excellent on-line resource under the title Identity Crime. It is worth a read. There are many other resources, but for Australians, this is a pretty good one.
I was prompted to visit this subject by an excellent post on Unclutterer.com about shredders. I am sitting looking at my shredder, a Fellows P-35C purchased from Officeworks.
It replaced a series of cheap shredders that failed when fed too much paper, or just burned out. I have never been one to overload my shredder, but the cheap, low powered models are prone to choking and jamming if paper is fed in off-centre.
The fact is, with care, even the cheapest shredder will do its job, but spending a bit more is well worth the cost. My current shredder will handle five sheets of paper and cuts it into confetti rather that strips. It cost around $70.
Shredders need to be maintained. I spread a little 3 in 1 oil on a sheet of paper and feed it through the shredder occasionally.
We recently had an episode here in Australia where the opposition turned up in parliament with a sensitive document that a government minister had shredded. The document was retrieved from the bin and taped back together and produced in parliament to much laughter and hoots of derision. I decided that my next shredder would be a cross-cut shredder!
For those home based, a bonus of shredding is the ability to turn shredded paper and other junk mail into Paper Log/Briquettes and use them in the fire. There are a number of tools to do this, unfortunately most of the are US based, and freight is expensive.
For those on the road, papers can be used as fire starters or soaked, screwed up into logs, dried and burned. The simple option is to simply burn any papers with personal information. A smoky option, but a simple one.
On the road, we tend to use fires or braziers, and paper to get the fire going is always in short supply, so save those personal documents and feed them to the fire
The key is, DO NOT put anything with personal information in the bin. Grey Nomads have been fined for disposing of waste in public bins based on papers found by council inspectors, and any paper can lead to identity theft. Dispose carefully!
Telstra has gone from one of the most respected entities in Australia to a joke among it customers. Here is one reason why.
It is a truism that good service is good marketing. Certainly it is easier and cheaper to keep an existing customer that it is to get a new one. Smart managers know this at put a lot of effort into retaining their existing customers.
The last twelve months have seen me go from a very long term Telstra customer into a very disgruntled ex-customer.
This saga began when my business partner, who also is my son, was facing surgery and a protracted hospital stay. He had formerly worked from the office, and had not had a mobile phone. I use the mobile phone diffidently, usually to allow people to contact me, rather than me calling out. So the business had a low cost business plan with two mobiles sharing one data plan. It was economical and activated it in 2009.
So in October 2012 I went into a Telstra shop to activate a third phone.
Enter the clowns…
Our business plan was no longer available, to add a new phone we would have to move to a plan that was 20% more expensive. That was a shame, but not a deal breaker. I had an existing handset, and simply wanted a SIM and a connection to our business plan that allowed us to call between phones.
For some reason that was never explained, the phone first had to be activated with a 10$ pay as you go SIM. This was explained after the SIM was installed. This was annoying, because I already have three unused $10 PAYG SIMs in my desk drawer.
I waited for two hours while repeated calls where made, forms filled out and signed, whispered consultations and trips into the back room, and more calls. I left to get back to work, and returned the next day for another two hours. Just before the store closed I was assured they would get everything working the next day, and call me if there where problems. The phone was working, but I had data turned off until I was sure it was on a data plan. Given Telstra’s outrageous charges for casual data I was not taking risks.
All seemed well, the next phone bill looked about what I had expected. I paid it.
This is not my account number!
Then on the 11th of December I got a notice that my mobile phone account was in arrears. It was a account number I did not recognise. The Telstra shop had created a new account for my third mobile phone. Calls between it and the other two business phones where being charged and full rates. And a data pack had been added each month. In the meantime my existing phones had been moved to a more expensive plan, and both phones now had data packs, even though one handset did not have data capability. My mobile phone charges had gone up more that 300%.
Between 11 December 2012 and May 2013 I spent over eight hours on the phone over multiple calls trying to rectify the problem. The second account was cancelled, but I still had to pay the three months charges including multiple $15 data packs that had never been touched. My two existing phones where now being billed at almost three times the rate I had paid previously. All told the three phones where costing five times as much as the two had. And the Testra support lines could do nothing but promise it would be fixed NEXT month, just pay this bill, it will be fixed next time. It never was.
They never missed sending a bill on time, though!
At the end of May, in total frustration, I moved to another carrier, and Telstra promptly billed me $344 for exiting my contracts early. I had been a mobile customer since the days of analog phones, my first being a Motorola brick that would just fit in a briefcase without bending the aerial.
I had been on a Telstra business plan for more than five years. But I was billed for early termination of my contract because Telstra had forced me to move to another plan so I could add my third phone.
Another 45 minute phone call got that termination fee halved. and I decided $172.02 was a small price to pay for finally being free of the worst customer service experience I have ever been through.
It was too much to hope for… When the SIM cards arrived from our new carrier, one phone demanded an unlock code. This was a handset I had bought outright from a Telstra shop more than two years before. I did not know it was network locked, because I was using it on the Telstra network.
Once again I went back to Telstra phone support. A 15 minute call gave me the assurance that I would have an unlock code within five working days. A week later I called again, and got the same assurance, and again a week later. On the fifth attempt I was a little more forceful. My problem was escalated to a supervisor, and I would get a call back within one hour.
Fortunately, I have a drawer full of old feature phones, and we pressed one back into service to keep us working. Because once again, nothing happened.
I called back in another week. I got the same routine. “Sorry sir, it is a priority, we will call back before close of business”.
$15 and 5 minutes accomplished what Telstra could not do in six weeks
The next day I Googled unlocking Telstra handsets and in five minutes had payed $15 via Paypal to an individual in Australia. I thought the money might just disappear, but 30 minutes later I had the unlock code, instructions, and a phone number I could call if I had problems. within 10 minutes the phone was working again.
Something that Telstra should have done free, and had been promising for more than six weeks was done in 30 minutes for $15.
Like the previous fees, I considered it money well spent. I am now totally free of the bloated and inept Telstra. The total cost of getting that extra handset working ran to $480.42 above what I should have been charged. and when it was finally working with three phones on one light usage business plan it was costing 2.5 times as much as I am paying on my new carrier. And I am enjoying four times as much data per month.
Goodbye Telstra. Do something about your customer service or you will find yourself going the way of the dinosaurs. Too slow and stupid to respond to a changing world of social media and fast responding competition.
Social Media Marketing – DON’T Send Your Customers to Mark Zuckerberg
More and More, I see marketing campaigns sending customers to Social Media web sites.
Don’t do that! Really. Stop it now! The visitor is interested enough in you or your product to read a web page, blog post, tweet and look for more information. Instead of sending them to your web page, you are directing them to a site you do not and cannot control.
Bloggers are doing the same with Follow us on Twitter and Find us on Facebook buttons. A visitor has come to your site, hopefully to read your content and perhaps buy your products, and you then send them to Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg thanks you. Your customer has now become his. In the Internet age we all have the attention span of goldfish. Once your prospect hits Facebook they may follow you, but they may never actually engage you. It may be days or months before they return to your web site.
Don’t Send People to a Place You Do Not Control
“Ahh”, you say, “but we have build a GREAT site on Facebook and are getting thousands of Likes”. Perhaps you are, but what real engagement are you getting, and how much control do you have?
Many businesses have used a standard Facebook account and use it a business page. A Group has some advantages, but today Facebook is pushing everyone towards Fan Pages. Many businesses have fallen foul of Facebook’s ever changing rules and had there site taken down. See the account by Ars Technica. Some have had the page taken over by hackers or ex-employees who have changed passwords and locked the business out of it’s own site. And many people will use comments on a popular Fan Page as a platform for their own purposes.
Facebook Changes Again
At the end of March 2012 Facebook is changing the rules about pages again. Fan pages, or Facebook pages are now being brought into line with the normal user page. The look is changing. Here is the facebook page of one business before:
Some businesses have spent $50,000 (and perhaps more) getting pages like this designed. Now much of that work will be thrown away.
McDonalds Australia. A Big Marketing Campaign pointing to Facebook
McDonalds Australia have been running an advertising campaign featuring their Facebook page. Their web site ( it doesn’t work for me most of the time, I have Flash disabled) also has a link to this page. I tried clicking on the link to Facebook and got a rather disturbing pop-up.
Eventually I accepted the caution and when to the McDonalds Facebook page. The advertising campaign seems to have worked. They Have 285,580 persons who like their page. There was a reward for doing liking the site. Of those 277,965 have actually visited the site, but only 13,933 are Talking About the page.
This page will, of course change within the next week or so…
Be prepared for Damage Control
A quick browse through the comments on various posts indicate that many of the comments are less than flattering.
I wonder if I commented on the violent bout of food poisoning that almost put me in hospital after eating a McDonalds, would it be deleted? Would it help their marketing?
Keep your traffic at Home, Mark Zuckerberg has enough. Remember, Facebook is not there to help your marketing effort. Their goal is to get your customers engaged, gather information and target someone else’s advertising at them
A far better use for the precious seconds of their time someone has given you would be to direct them to you own web site. Preferably a custom landing page that has been designed to call them to action. Sign up for a news letter, subscribe to a feed or make a purchase.
Use Facebook and Twitter for Inbound Marketing
Facebook and Twitter have a very real place in marketing, but it is in the other direction. Don’t send people there. Use Tweets or posts to encourage people who find you on those sites to follow you because you point them to interesting content. If that content is on your web site, so much the better. The main thing is to give them something worth reading, commenting on or re-tweeting. Then they will bring their friends to you.
So when that Social Marketing Guru comes knocking, say “No, thank you, I would like to send my potential clients where I can control the message.”
While following a link from Google News to The Hindu Newspaper I found a Captcha that does more than make you prove you are not a Bot. It makes you think.
Not only is the graphic… well… graphic, it is a social message that will be repeated and reinforced.
And it is cost effective from the advertising point of view. This is a perfect example of lateral thinking.
Getting people to prove that they are humans and not bots is a thankless task, and annoying to the users. I take my hat off to NLPCaptcha, the company that thought this one up.
And here is another example.
A visit to the NLPCatcha web site shows the application of this technology for advertisers and marketers.
The Captchas I saw on the Hindu web site where social in nature, but advertisers can use these Captchas. They come with some interesting benefits.
Unlike banner ads, they must be focused on and interacted with.
There is a foolproof way of counting views.
It is a necessary security tool, but can provide a revenue stream for the web site.
The user knows they need to interact and read the Captcha, so they do not resent the time spent. The advertiser gets guaranteed attention.
Better user experience compared to the hated popups, and ignored banners.
This idea is a win-win situation for visitors, advertisers and web site owners.
There may be a down side, of course. Your message is being associated with an annoyance. But I think most users understand the need for verification And they are easier to use that the ones that require you to squint at blurry and twisted words!
My only added comment would relate to the Medium used. A HAND WRITTEN poster. Marshall McLuhan said “The medium is the message” meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. The simple hand written poster has a greater impact that a professional looking poster would.
The the person who wrote this poster has a problem that is common, and posters are a common way of appealing for help. Recently a large area of Launceston was papered with hundreds of laminated, professional looking colour posters about a lost or stolen dog, and offering a $5000 reward.
This poster is, for me, more effective. It is not just the message, that is discussed in detail in this post. The format, or medium contributes a powerful message itself.
Update: Tom advises that Merlin has been safely returned to his owner – sorry cats don’t have owners, they have STAFF.
Some years ago I worked for a computer company that was (at that time) the sixth largest computer company in the world. We had just won a contract to supply 22,000 color computer work-stations to one of the biggest government departments in Australia. This was pre-Internet, and almost pre-PC. Microsoft was selling MS/DOS (probably 2.2) and a good computer had one floppy- disk and a 10Mb hard-disk.
Our sales department had made some foolish compromises to win the contract, one being free training. Training is one area that companies like ours actually made money in, and it had been given away. We needed a smooth transition to the new equipment.
A Big Problem
Then the Union got involved. The keyboards for the new terminals where too stiff. Staff would get RSI (repetitive strain injury) from using the new, stiff keyboards. The keyboards had to be modified.
The keyboards were a new type, much like the typical computer keyboard today. They had extra dedicated function keys, but were similar in design to the keyboard you probably have in front of you now. Key pressure was controlled by a spring under every key. changing the key pressure required replacing the springs in 22,000 workstations, 2.64 million springs.
The company was fighting for it’s life. The government department wanted its terminals installed, and the Union (like most Unions) would not be moved. We had a meeting of all parties to try and resolve the issue.
The Union representatives sat and typed. Sorry, too hard on the hands, we need a solution. The three parties went to and fro for an hour with no solution. We were looking at the biggest financial disaster in the company’s history.
Then the service technician, who was on hand to make sure there where no problems with the terminal during the meeting stepped up and offered to provide a solution.
He sat and made a couple of changes and the stepped back saying “that should do it, but I can go a bit further”. The Union rep sat and typed. Then she called in her number two, who also sat and typed for a minute or two. They agreed it needed a little more work. The technician went back to the terminal, unruffled, and made another change.
This time the Union reps where unanimous, the changes where acceptable. Crisis averted. We left the meeting relieved but puzzled. What had our tech. done?
A lateral Solution
He admitted that he had simply lowered the volume of the click that was produced through the terminal speaker to make up for the lack of a physical click by these new keyboards. It had made no difference to the feel of the keyboard, the effect was purely psychological. Nonetheless, the workstations went into service and lived a long life.
A sudden piece of lateral thinking had changed a potential disaster into a victory. And that thinking had not come from the sales department or management, it had come from a field technician with an idea.