My Thoughts On Life Lock and Identity Theft Protection

I remember when Life Lock first started out — they used to take out big ads in the WSJ (circa 2007).  Their CEO was a bold man — Todd Davis.  He would put his full social security number in those ads and say — go ahead and try me.     I remember there were some years after that when  people sued Life Lock, said they were a scam.  Then the credit bureaus stopped wanting to partner with Life Lock.   Life Lock did not give up but they evolved (several years back).  They ended up buying into one of the largest credit card processing companies so they could see all the transactions flowing through and this would give them a mechanism to protect you.   However, you have to give them all your credit card #’s and bank account #’s — so they can protect you.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing — for people who really want the service.  My bullet points on them are

-Life Lock is legit – despite some of their past controversies. 

-But customers should not be fooled by their $7.99 a month price they have on lifelock.com right now.  If you look at the cost of the REAL membership with the $1 million protection “Option 3”   — its $42 a month for a husband and wife ($35 / month paid annually)  and $25 / $30 a month if for individuals.  Those are just the first year introductory prices for year 1.  The “true price” for the 2nd year kicks in and is much higher.  I think someone has to really want the protection to want to pay that kind of $$ and you have to want the Norton services, which cannot be separated out.

-Again, you have to give them all account #’s for the protection to work.

-They are now partnered with Norton Anti-Virus — one and the same company and say that this is one of their key benefits.  It might be a great for a Windows computer — but in my personal experience with Mac clients — Norton is awful.  so this isn’t much of a selling point. 

What I do instead…

– I get free copies of my 3 credit reports each  year by the only site authorized by the federal government per a law that was passed about 15+ years ago.   https://www.annualcreditreport.com/   (During this Covid 19 era– they are actually allowing for free WEEKLY credit reports)

– I regularly keep all 3 of my credit reports frozen — and this can be done for free on each of the 3 bureau’s websites.  If i need to apply for credit — I go in and unfreeze the report the bank wants unfrozen.     (By comparison Life Lock only offers locking for one bureau)

-With my approach, I don’t have an “insurance” policy protecting me or monitoring of all my credit card purchases.  I check all of my banks online regularly. 

So bottom line — I think Life Lock can be great if you want all the hand holding or if you think you need all of the hand holding.  However, it can be very expensive.  Check around for other identity theft insurance without all the software if you think you need this.   More affordable options are Zander Insurance and Identity Guard.  These two companies and Life Lock offer US based phone support when needed.

Using A VPN–Privacy and Security Factors

I have previously written generally about why VPNs are important, even for consumers and small business owners.   Here I am going to get specific, covering two many reasons for use (privacy and security) and the scenarios where they come into play.

Rewind:  If I were to rewind just a step, a VPN is an application you run on your computer, smartphone and tablet to give you a private tunnel out to the internet.  I’m not going to endorse one over the others — but the three I like are Express VPN, Windscribe, and Private Internet Access (PIA).  Costs range from $2 to $10 per month.   I have explored Mozilla VPN (put out by the Firefox people) with some clients and it lacks a key feature at the moment so I am not going to put it on the same level as the other three. 

So today I am talking about “John the consumer” and “Jane the plumber.”   John uses computers and other devices at home.  Jane owns a plumbing company and has an office on Main Street that she controls.  (I’m going to leave working in an office under some big corporation out of the discussion because they often tell you what you can and can’t do with your computer).    John and Jane have two factors to consider when using a VPN — Privacy and Security depending on where they are using the internet

1.  At home or their office — Here the reason to use a VPN is PRIVACY.  John and Jane have routers with up to date firmware, computers with antivirus software, and computers and smartphones with the proper security updates.  Their internet connections are secure.   Speaking for myself, my home / home office Internet is totally secure even if I never use a VPN.  If you meet all of these parameters I laid out — there is like a 99% chance no one is going to infiltrate your internet connection.  John, Jane, and I use a VPN in the confines of our homes and offices because we don’t want our internet providers to know every website we visit.  We don’t want news or other shopping or informational websites recording our IP address (which ultimately links back to us).  It’s an issue of principle and privacy — not primarily for security. 

2. On Public WiFi –  I’m talking about the mall, the library, the hotel,and the coffee shop now.  People are going out a lot more and traveling.  You do not have control over these public internet connections.  It should not be presumed to be secure as in #1.   This is a different ballgame.   Here John and Jane use their VPNs for security.  Even though you are on that public WiFi connection, you are doing so through your VPN tunnel.  You will be protected from bad actors on that network.  Snoops on that network are not going to be able to do harm to your devices.   You are still getting that private connection,  but the security of the VPN is the biggest factor here. 

2a.  I should add this section here to say — I have found limited situations over the years where public WiFi connections refuse to play nicely with a VPN even after the settings are adjusted.   In these scenarios, if I am just using my smartphone, I turn WiFi off and just use the cellular connection.  At least I have a secure connection.  If I needed to use a laptop and couldn’t use a VPN, I would set up my smartphone as a hotspot. 

When Not To Use A VPN

– With Express VPN, Windscribe, and PIA — a split tunnel can be set up to allow certain apps to bypass the VPN.   Some bank websites do not work properly with a VPN on.  John, Jane, and I set up one browser to split off from our VPNs so that we can access any website that does not play nicely with the VPN.  This split tunnel feature does not work on iPhones.  It may work on some Android phones.

– When downloading operating system updates:  These happen outside of any browser and are typically very large files.  As long as John and Jane are on a secure connection in the home or the office, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to turn the VPN off solely for the purposes of the updates.

In conclusion, after digesting these two installments I’ve sent you, you may decide a VPN is not for you or it is right up your alley.  The choice is yours.  VPN use in on the rise among people like John and Jane.  They keep theirs on automatically, whenever their devices are in use.  Surfing the internet through a VPN tunnel is a pathway to freedom.

Do Not Buy Apple Watch 3

Dear Clients and Computer Students:

I wanted to send this update now — just in case you are thinking of buying an Apple Watch over this holiday weekend. 

Consider this a PSA with direct language that Apple is never going to deliver to you.  Please feel free to forward to anyone you know that has an Apple Watch.

People are getting out more.  They want to exercise and breathe in the fresh air.   I recall sitting in on a training class in 2018 about the Apple Watch and everyone other than me in the class was a senior.  I’m not surprised by this now, but I truly was at the time. 

Here is the problem — the Apple Watch is not cheap.  It is a fitness oriented computer on your hand.   The best Apple Watch sold right now is the Apple Watch 6.  With  one of the sport bands and the standard aluminum case, it starts at $399.  That is what you should expect. It’s a $400 watch!  You have to really want to use it.  It’s not a fashion watch.  Once you get into the stainless steel case and better bands — the price goes up by several hundred $.    It’s a computer.  And you still have to charge it up every night.   The Apple Watch 6 has the senior friendly fall detection feature, tracks your heart rate, but also can measure your blood oxygen and does a basic ECG (not as good as the doctor’s office but has been very helpful for some).  

If you want most of the fitness features including heart rate, steps, and fall detection but a more modest price point – Apple started selling the Apple Watch SE in 2020 for $279.  It’s a reasonable offering for the price.

However, here is where the crimes start!!

In order to say they can sell you an Apple Watch for $199 — Apple has continued to sell the Apple Watch 3.    It is a 4 year old Apple Watch.  Those early models were not meant to go for 4 years.  Apple is fooling their customers.

DO NOT BUY AN APPLE WATCH 3!   IF YOU HAVE ONE, AND WANT CONTINUED ENJOYABLE USE — YOU WILL PROBABLY HAVE TO GET A BETTER ONE. APPLE SHOULD APOLOGIZE TO YOU IF YOU RECENTLY BOUGHT ONE.

Sitting back down at my seat, rather than standing on it, I will say that due to a recent update of the iPhone, the next update of the Apple Watch (which gets updated via the Watch app on the iPhone) will require a complete erasure of the Apple Watch 3 and a reinstallation of the operating system.  This may take hours.  The Apple Watch 3 has a hard drive that is too small to handle the new software versions as a simple update.   Apple needs to stop selling it.

So the the Bottom Line is — The Apple Watch 6 is a $400 + investment, definitely geared toward older / active adults and has the most features.  You may be able to get away with the Apple Watch SE at $279 if you don’t care about the O2 monitoring and ECG.   Do not buy  the Apple Watch 3.  You are throwing money away.  If you have one, you’ll need to upgrade sooner than later.  If you want a fitness tracker in the $100’s with heart rate and steps — The Fit Bit Charge 4 provides a great cost / function proposition.

On Mac OS 10.15–Go For Mac OS 11

I know a lot of you are on Mac OS 10.15.  You have a “late model” Mac and you have held off on upgrading to Mac OS 11 pending my recommendation.  I have had the chance to do some of these installations and while they can take SEVERAL HOURS if you are on an older version of the Mac OS — they are pretty painless if you are already on Mac OS 10.15.

If you have a backup of your Mac already, you can probably do the upgrade yourself by going to the Apple Menu, System Preferences, and Software Update.  Depending on your internet connection the process will take 60 to 90 minutes.

You’ll want to have Mac OS 11 by September, in my opinion.  During the fall, the next Mac OS will come out and I will have you wait a few months again before it is installed.   New OS’es never have to be installed on day 1, but eventually you want them because they provide CRUCIAL security fixes.

Odds and Ends

TV Time:  Blue Bloods

Up until a year ago, I regularly watched four TV shows.  Unfortunately, one of them got cancelled for reasons I’m not going to get into here.  For the last few TV seasons (usually running from Sept to May), Blue Bloods has been my favorite show.  There is just something wholesome about watching Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) and his family run integral parts of fictional New York City.  On Friday May 14th, the Season 11 finale aired.   It spanned 2 hours.  I don’t want to spoil it for any of you.   It is available On Demand as Episode 15 (The End) and 16 (Justifies the Means).  It’s a great mini-movie of sorts and it would be perfect for you to jump right in if you haven’t watched Blue Bloods in a while.  To set the table for you, all you need to know is that Frank has a grandson in the NYPD and he has been “missing” for several months.  It was very emotional viewing for me and I loved it.

Additional Thoughts on Car Buying

I just wanted to add a couple more notes to my last newsletter…

-People buy used cars all the time.  Maybe you like the deal or it is a discontinued model.  Please get the car inspected by an independent mechanic.  If the dealer or seller won’t let you get it inspected, move on.

-This might be more for your kids than you — but if you have an unstable income / career prospects, buy rather than lease.  I helped someone last year on a car deal.  She made all of her lease payments, but the rest of her credit got trashed over the 3 years of the lease.  I had to put on my A-Game just to negotiate with the dealer to get an 8.7% loan rate to buy out the lease.  We could have easily been looking at 15%. 

YouTube Premium

I don’t know about you but my family watches way more You Tube than TV.  It is still my sincere goal to be done with traditional cable TV by the end of the year.   If you like You Tube and you like music, you may want to consider You Tube Premium for $12 a month.   It gives you ad-free You Tube viewing and also unlimited music from the You Tube Music app.  You Tube Music is very similar to Apple Music.  You can download your music to the app, listen offline, stream in the house or play in the car.  It’s on my radar to check out.  One thing I have noticed recently is that my ad blockers on the iPhone and computer no longer block You Tube ads. 

New  M1 Macs — Truly Are That Fast

I have finally set up some M1 Macs for clients.   They are night and day better than even recent Intel Macs.    The Mac Book Air starts at $999 and the Mac Book Pro is $1299 (if you need more than 256 GB hard drive you will pay a little more).  Need a desktop?  Apple’s got you covered.  You can select either the Mac Mini or the brand new M1 iMac.  I sent out an update a few weeks ago on these Macs.  I want to mention that the upgrade in price for the iMac is not just the beautiful design but you are also getting a Retina Display.   If it were me, I think I would probably still choose a “business quality” monitor with the Mini but if you want to most pop in the picture, then the iMac is for you.

Final Covid 19 Update

This topic has been the focal point of all of our lives for the past 14 months.  It’s been an all consuming fire and a whirlwind at the same time.   To many of you, my wife and I were the only people you knew that had Covid 19.   There are multiple ways of looking at our lives in this era and varied viewpoints on the policies, remedies and messaging.  Whether necessary or not, I am going to keep wearing the high quality masks I’ve been wearing to jobs.  And when not dealing with sharp objects, I will wear gloves.  It’s business equipment for me; it’s part of my routine.  I have been operating – business as usual – since May 17, 2020, one year ago.  Today, I am declaring a new day.  For my own state of mind and well being, I am leading by example and changing the subject.   Going forward, I am not going to be engaging in any “Covid or Vax talk” in this newsletter or at appointments.  I would most sincerely appreciate it if you could do the same, at least around me.

Mac Is Back–Ordering Macs Correctly

Before I go out and get a cup of coffee that doesn’t make my head spin (lol), I want to report to you that business is brisk in the Mac world.   Macs are selling well.  2016 to 2019 were dark times for Mac users due those terrible keyboards in the Mac laptops.   A comeback started to be made in 2018 with the Mac Mini.   Then Apple brought the old keyboard back with the 16 inch Mac Book pro in late 2019.  (However, my clients were not typically buyers of the 15 / 16 inch laptops.)    Then in 2020, the good keyboard returned to the 13 inch Mac Books. It was a major victory for frustrated Mac buyers.

As we rolled into last fall, Apple came out with Mac Books sporting their new M1 processors.  This will be their infrastructure going forward.  A new mac Mini was also released.    They could very well release M1 iMacs at their event on April 20th.  I know some of you are waiting for those. 

On these new M1 Macs — the hard drives and RAM are an integrated system.  There is no replacing them when things go bad.  Like any solid state drive (SSD), they are limited to a certain # of read write cycles over their lifespan.  I read a report recently that if you order one of the new Macs with a larger hard drive — it actually gives it more room to read and write over time.   

So my advice here is — don’t take the standard 256 GB hard drive.  Upgrade it at the time of ordering to at least the 512 GB model.   Also — I would strongly suggest that you may want to consider the 3 year Apple Care warranty.  This is all new technology.  If one component on that logic board goes bad, the whole computer practically has to be replaced.   I am never opposed to buying Apple Care on iPhones, iPads, and Macs. 

For most consumers that I deal with I think that the Mac Book Air would be a fine choice over the 13 inch Mac Book Pro.  You can save a couple hundred $$ there.

Mac OS 11 (Big Sur)–Sooner or Later

I do keep getting asked by my Mac clients — should I allow my Mac to upgrade to OS version 11 aka Big Sur?   As you know I’ve told you to delay and stick with Mac OS 10.15 (Catalina) up until now.

If you have  a 2015 or later Mac laptop or one of the newer iMacs or Mac Minis — sooner or later you are just going to have to do it.   I am not giving a 100% endorsement but I am saying that it is going to be the Mac operating system you want to have before the Fall.   If you wait too long — then we are going to go through this all over again when Mac OS 11.1 (or 12 or whatever it’s called) comes out.  I will probably have you delay that one for a few months as well. 

So here is what I am saying — if you have a newer Mac that is problem free — go ahead and do the upgrade with the understanding that a few out of a hundred may have a problem or require a follow up visit from me.  If you have an old slow Mac — even if it’s Big Sur compatible — I have probably told you that you are looking at buying a new Mac within the year so don’t bother.    Generally speaking this Mac OS 11 is compatible with Macs 2013-14 and newer.  2012 and older Mac laptops are not compatible. 

If you have a specific concern about your Mac, please ask.  If you would like to make an appointment for an “assisted upgrade”  we can do that.

It is a good time to be a Mac owner — in general.

Important Security Update

For iPad and iPhone

If you have an iPhone or an iPad (even an Apple Watch) – there is an important security update that I just got notice of on Friday.   It is known as iOS / iPad OS 14.4.2.   This update fixes a critical flaw in Web Kit.   Web Kit is the engine that powers Safari (all the website browsing you do) on those devices, along with any apps that might render parts of websites.    Without Web Kit, the iPad / iPhone does not function. This update covers the iPhone 6s and later and iPad Air 2 and later.   Even though Apple is not updating the iPhone 6 and original iPad Air anymore, Apple did you a real favor.  They have issued an OS 12.x update for these 2 as well so that you have the Web Kit fix as well.

Settings >> General >> Software Update.    Get Updating!


Alternate Methods

You may need to do something right away and can’t get the help you need that hour or even that day.  I’ll try to get there as soon as I can.  However, we all have situations where it just can’t wait.  I want to let you know that there isn’t only one way to surf the Internet, check your email, or type a document on your computer.  You must understand — and perhaps this is new learning territory for you than we can cover in depth in our next session — that there are at least 2 ways to skin a cat.  Exploring the options can get you out of a jam and open mental pathways.    Here are just a few scenarios……

– Comcast or Gmail e-mail:  Your account can be set up in the Mail app (or Outlook) but you can also visit Gmail.com or My.xfinity.com to access a fully functional mail system in your web browser.

-You prefer to go on the Internet with Safari or Chrome:  What do you do when they don’t work or become corrupted?  You need a second browser at your disposal!! This could be Firefox, Edge, Vivaldi, or Brave.  Chances are that the second browser is going to work.  Get familiar with it.

-Time to type a document — Oh no!  Microsoft Word is not working.  Did you know that you can type and save basic documents in Text Edit (Mac) and Word Pad (Windows).  For letters and basic writing with paragraphs they are just fine.