Tag Archives: Tom Fazio

Participation Trophies Need To Go, Now!



Which of these do you think is the definition of the word Trophy?

An object (such as a large cup or sculpture) that is given as a prize for winning a competition.


An object (such as a large cup or sculpture) that is given as a reward for any level of participation in a competition, regardless of the outcome.

When I was growing up, I had two trophies which I proudly displayed on a book shelf in my bedroom.  One was for taking 2nd Place in the Pinewood Derby when I was in Cub Scouts.  The other was when my soccer team took 2nd Place.  It was the best season we ever had and the highest we ever ranked.  For the record, I didn’t feel deserving of the trophy, even though it was earned as a team for our efforts, because I was the worst player on the team.  I wasn’t harassed or bullied into thinking so, I really was the worst player on the team.  I knew it.  My teammates knew it.  I was fine with it then and I’m fine with it now.  However, those same teammates convinced me that we earned 2nd Place together.  As a team.  So I should have the trophy.  By the way, my father coached that team and he never treated me special.  In fact, during practice one afternoon, I was being a bit disruptive and he made me take several lapps around the field.  Yes, I was tired from the lapps but I learned my lesson.  But that’s a story for another article.

I faced many challenges growing up because I had (and still have) a handicap.  I’m legally blind.  Again, I was fine with it then and I am fine with it now.  I tried sports I wasn’t very good at and failed all the time.  I was the kid in gym class that nobody wanted on their team and who almost always got picked last.  I usually had to sit in the front row of my classes so I could read the board.  I had HUGE large print versions of textbooks that were heavier than everyone else’s.  I also got to read the Olympic Oath in front of the whole school when my elementary school celebrated the Winter Olympics in 1980; because I wrote the best essay on why I wanted to do it.  I appeared on the local television news twice to read the weather forecast in spanish during my middle school’s celebration of National Foreign Language Week in 1982 and 1984; because I worked hard and was a star student in spanish class.  I discovered that I actually could play basketball and pool and volleyball and mini-golf and some other sports pretty well.  Basically, I have kicked ass and have gotten my ass kicked.  All without one…single…participation…trophy!

Now I, along with most people who know me, consider myself a very open minded person.  But you will never convince me that participation trophies are necessary.  I have heard and read a ton of arguments that say they bolster self-esteem and confidence.  Do you know what I say to that?


What they actually do is promote false senses of accomplishment and entitlement while simultaneously devaluing the hard work of anyone who has actually done what is worthy of earning a trophy.

Now, for those parents who say, “Hey, my kid needs to know their effort counted,” I say, “I agree.  But telling them that is your job and the coach’s job; it doesn’t deserve a trophy!”  And by the way, that’s if the kid actually put forth an effort.  Standing on the field picking your nose and staring off into space is not an effort!  Now, I do believe in awards for most improved player or best effort or things like that.  Just not for the nose-picking kid who probably doesn’t want to be there anyway.

And, for those parents who say, “Hey, they’re all winners,” I say, “No, they’re not.”  I’m not saying they’re losers, I’m saying that not everyone is a winner.  Not having a trophy DOES NOT MAKE YOU A LOSER and anyone who says it does, should be quiet.

Healthy competition is good in all aspects of life.  It helps us to want to do better and push ourselves.  It teaches us how to win and lose gracefully.  Giving a child a trophy just for showing up diminishes the value of what a trophy really is.  Trophies should go from 1st to 3rd place.  After that, you get pizza. And come on, who doesn’t love pizza?!?

Degrees and diplomas aren’t given to students who just go to school.  Don’t even get me started on “No Child Left Behind” though.  Oscars and Emmys and Grammys and Tonys aren’t given to every movie or show and every performer. Only one team in the NFL gets the SuperBowl Ring.  Only one team in the NHL gets the Stanley Cup…  Catch my drift?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that participation trophies are for children but, why are they even necessary?  I never had any, and my self esteem or confidence or worth weren’t diminished because of it.  In fact, I strongly believe that those things would have been disproportionately high and wrong had I been given participation trophies.  I had to work harder than most to do some of the things that better-sighted people take for granted.  I had parents who instilled self-confidence and self-worth in me.  Who taught me that you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do.  You get rewarded for doing extraordinary things, exceeding expectations, or at least trying harder than everyone else; and even THAT isn’t a guarantee.  Showing up doesn’t mean you get honored.  Showing up means you get an opportunity.  And what you do with that opportunity is up to you.  Children DON’T need participation trophies.  What they DO need is for their parents and families and friends and teachers and coaches to actually teach them the lessons of life.

I know that deep down, we all want to take our children’s pain away.  But you can’t do that.  Life is about experiences.  Good and bad.  Our children must be allowed to realize this.  That while not being the best is not the end of the world, being the best requires hard work and dedication.  That failure WILL happen.  Just like it did to these people…

The true measure of a person is how they deal with the things that go wrong in their lives, their pain, their disappointments.  If we take those things away from them, if we tell them that all they have to do to be recognized is just show up, they will grow up to expect things to be handed to them.  They won’t strive to be better, to take risks, to become more than they thought they could be.  They will accept a life of mediocrity because they got a trophy;  just like the one the best player got.  So why should they work for it?

I’ll close this article with this segment from comedian Christopher Titus.  I’ll warn you that the language is NSFW (Not Safe For Work).

I’d like this article to turn into a discussion.  Please leave comments if you have them.  If you like this article, or even hate it, pass it on.  We need to have an intelligent discussion about this issue.


The Unofficial Guide To Upgrading to iOS 8


Starting today, whether you ask for it or not, you will get a notification on your iPhone or iPad or iPod Touch that the free upgrade to iOS 8 is now available for download.

As I write this article, my iPhone 5 and iPad 2 are both updating at the same time.  My iPhone 6 Plus with iOS 8 already on it will be in my hot little hands on Friday so I honestly don’t know why, other than curiosity, I am updating my iPhone 5.  But I digress…

When I worked for Verizon Wireless, I got a ton of questions on the proper way to upgrade.  I also got complaints about lost data.  So here is my method of updating which has had a 100% success rate for me.

  • CLEAN IT UP – Now is a good time to ditch those blurry or duplicate photos and videos and texts and apps you keep saying you’re going to get rid of.  This is the fastest way to free up space.  My iPhone 5 required 5 GB of available memory to do the upgrade.  You can find out how much available memory you have on your device by tapping on Settings, then General then About.  I’m assuming different devices will require different amounts of available memory as older devices will not implement as many features of iOS 8 as newer devices will.
  • BACK IT UP – I absolutely cannot stress this enough.  BACK UP YOUR DATA!  Whether you use iCould or iTunes or DropBox or a cardboard box, do it.  Software upgrades do, on rare occasions, cause partial or total data loss.  This will help you keep yours.   And somewhat related to this, have passwords and server settings handy just in case for things like your iTunes account, e-mail accounts and social media profiles you have on your device that are automatically signed in.  This is especially a good idea for people using their devices for work and having e-mail or calendars that require sign-in.  And don’t even try to say “I don’t have a password.”  You do.  You just don’t use it every day.
  • PLUG IT IN – If your battery is at less than 50%, plug in your device or the upgrade will fail.
  • GET IN THE ZONE – Generally, the upgrade won’t happen unless you are in a WiFi area, due to the file download size.
  • BE PATIENT – The download, preparation, and installation will take time and likely reboot your device several times.  This is not like updating a simple app.  So you won’t be able to use your device once the actual installation process begins.  If you need to be reachable, do the upgrade at a more convenient time.

For a closer look at iOS 8, visit Apple’s iOS 8 page.

This is a  basic overview.  If you need more detailed information, about backing up or deleting, leave a comment or reach out to me and I’ll help you any way I can.

Happy upgrading!

A Huge Day for Apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage and greeted the audience with his usual enthusiastic, breathless demeanor.  I do a pretty fair impression of him.  Really.  Ask me sometime.  ANYWAY, I normally don’t pay much attention to the first 10 minutes of the Keynote because this is the time when Mr. Cook gives the audience an update on Apple’s numbers, which, honestly, most consumers really don’t care about.  However, this time, he dispensed with all that and simply said, “Everything’s great.”  A brilliant move on his part as he had only two hours and three new products and services to explain.  He wasted no time and dove right into the first one…

    • 6.9mm and 7.1mm thick respectively
    • Thinnest iPhones ever made
    • Screen sizes of 4.7″ and 5.5″ respectively
    • Screen resolutions of 1334×750 and 1920×1080 respectively
    • Screen contains 1 Million pixels and 2 Million pixels respectively
    • Higher contrast, darker blacks, and broader angular view
    • The iPhone 6 Plus uses a new “2 up” display when used in landscape mode (similar to an iPad) as well as an advanced keyboard and new horizontal home screen layout.
    • As app developers had no idea of the new sizes of the device, Apple has implemented advanced scaling technology that will automatically scale all existing apps to fill the entire screen.  Developers will be able to take advantage of a new Software Development Kit (SDK) to enable them to make their apps do what Mr. Cook called  “extra work” on the new iPhones.
    • Next generation A8 64 bit processing chip
    • UP to 25% faster CPU performance and up to 50% faster graphics performance than the iPhone 5S
    • A companion M8 motion coprocessor will be very helpful for the new fitness applications and can tell whether you’re walking, running, or cycling.  It can also tell when you’re climbing stairs through the use of an onboard barometer to measure air pressure and elevation.
    • LTE will be faster than ever resulting in clearer calls
    • VoLTE (Voice Over LTE) takes a voice call off of a 3G network and puts it on 4G LTE and provides simultaneous voice and data. Something that was not previously available on all carriers.
    • Calls can be made over WiFi using standard cellular connection in the event of poor signal coverage.  Calls will hand off between WiFi and cellular to keep calls active as you move from place to place.
    • T-Mobile will be the first US carrier to implement this new technology
    • 8 MegaPixels (Yes, STILL 8 MP)
    • True Tone Flash
    • All new sensors
    • A new feature called Focus Pixels uses dedicated pairs of pixels that do nothing but what is called Phase Detection Auto Focus as done in DSLR cameras.
    • Vastly improved exposure, sharpness, noise reduction and tone matching
    • A dedicated hardware block improves face detection, blink and smile detection
    • The iPhone 6 Plus also has Optical Image Stabilization
    • 1080p at 30fps and 60fps video
    • Slow motion video can now be shot at up to 240fps
    • Automatic cinematic video stabilization
    • Advanced time-lapse
    • New FaceTime HD camera has improved face detection and 80% more light and now features a burst mode
    • All cameras now have Single shot HDR so that multiple shots are not necessary to achieve HDR
    • Both iPhones ship with iOS 8
    • New cases will be available in silicone and leather in a vast array of colors
    • Both iPhones come in Black, Space Gray and Gold
  • THE PRICE  (All pricing requires 2 year carrier contract):
    • iPhone 6
      • 16 GB – $199
      • 64 GB – $299
      • NEW 128 GB – $399
    • iPhone 6 Plus
      • 16 GB – $299
      • 64 GB – $399
      • NEW 128 GB – $499
    • Both iPhones will begin shipping on September 19th
    • Pre-orders will begin on September 12th

IN MY OPINION:  I have been waiting for Apple to make improvements of this magnitude to the iPhone.  I was extremely disappointed in the iPhone 5S and couldn’t understand why they didn’t just release the iPhone 5C when they released the iPhone 5.  This is most definitely a huge upgrade rather than simply another iteration of the same iPhone.  I’m slightly disappointed that the camera is STILL 8MP.  However, MegaPixels aren’t the only determining factor in picture quality so if the pictures and video on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are anything like they were in the Keynote, I think everyone will be pleased.  I love how they brought back some curvature to the body which has been missing since the iPhone 4.  I’m a little bummed about the fact that there is no white iPhone this time around as I was ready to break my habit of buying black iPhones and switch to white.

I’m definitely going to pick up an iPhone 6 Plus.  I’m still deciding on the memory.  I’d really like the 128 GB version so I can replace my iPhone and iPod Classic all in one shot.  However, both docking stations that I have use the old-style charging plugs.  I don’t want to buy new docks and I haven’t been able to find an adapter I like.  If you know of one, please leave a comment.  In the absence of the right adapter, I’ll most likely go with the 64 GB version.  Space Gray, please.  :)

For more detailed information about the new iPhones, check out Apple’s iPhone page.

iOS 8 will be available as a FREE download on September 17th.  It will work on devices as far back as the iPhone 4S.  For information on iOS 8, check out Apple’s iOS 8 page.

It is estimated that over $12 Billion in credit and debit transactions are done each day over 200 Million separate transactions.  The magnetic strip technology on the back of a credit card is 50 years old.  It’s time to evolve.  Tim Cook basically called out all other companies that have attempted a “digital wallet” solution and have failed or just not gotten adoption saying that they focus on themselves and not the user.  “We love this kind of problem.”  Mr. Cook said.  He’s right.  Apple has been known for focusing on the user experience rather than their own.

  • ApplePay is built into the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
  • It will automatically import the saved credit card information from a user’s iTunes account
  • Adding a credit card is as simple as taking a picture of it
  • All saved credit cards are viewable in PassBook
  • Apple DOES NOT store credit card numbers. Rather, it uses an onboard chip called the Secure Element to create a device-only account number and the number changes after each payment made along with a security code.  So there is no need to cancel cards in the event the iPhone is lost or stolen. You can just suspend payment functionality through Find My iPhone.
  • Other than your iTunes or Apple product/service purchases, Apple collects no data on the use of your credit cards at all.
  • No credit card information is transmitted to the retailer.  This is especially interesting in light of security breaches we’ve heard about where retailer credit card databases are stolen or compromised.  As the aforementioned device-only account numbers change after each payment, any data stolen would be useless.
  • At launch, ApplePay will work with MasterCard, Visa and American Express cards issued through the top 20 banks in the US.
  • Merchants such as Macy’s/Bloomingdales, Walgreen’s/Duane Reade, Staples, Subway, McDonald’s, Disney (stores and theme parks) and of course Apple Stores, will be the first retailers to implement ApplePay.
  • ApplePay will also enable one-touch checkout through Touch ID for online purchases made on the iPhone.
  • Target, Groupon, Uber, Panera Bread, Major League Baseball, and the Apple Store App, will be the first online retailers to implement ApplePay.
  • Open Table will also implement ApplePay to actually be able to pay the check at participating restaurants.
  • ApplePay will roll out as a free update to iOS 8 in October, 2014

IN MY OPINION:  As with all Apple products and services, the interface looks gorgeous and easy.  If brick & mortar and online retailers adopt ApplePay, it could absolutely revolutionize the way we pay for things as well as finally give us a secure digital wallet.  I’ll definitely use it.

Three simple words brought the audience to their feet, “One more thing…”  Tim Cook hit the magic button that rolled the introductory video of Apple’s first brand new product since Steve Jobs’ death.  The AppleWatch.

Available in two sizes with a variety of watch band and metallic constructions choices, this watch may actually look good enough to wear every day.

The AppleWatch was explained very well, both as an extension of the iPhone and a fitness device,  in a few videos.  So rather than deconstruct them here, I’ll simply refer you to Apple’s Watch page.  However, here are some of the highlights.

  • UTS (Universal Time Standard) synchronized to within plus or minus 50 milliseconds
  • The face is fully customizable
  • While the AppleWatch does have a very intuitive touch screen, the dial or “crown” of the watch is used for navigation to decrease the amount of obstruction typical hand gestures would cause on such a small surface.
  • Notifications for things such as text messages, e-mails, calendar invitations, etc. are extremely intuitive.  It even goes as far as analyzing the contents of a text message and creates quick reply buttons to make relying faster and easier.  Dictation and emoji replies are also available.
  • Pictures that you “favorite” on your iPhone will automatically appear on the AppleWatch
  • Has Siri
  • Uses Haptic feedback for notifications as well as for touch and “force touch” or pressing of the screen.  What’s really amazing about the way they implemented this is with Maps.  When you use Maps on the AppleWatch for walking directions, the Haptic feedback will be different for left and right turns so you don’t have to keep looking at the watch to know where to turn next.  Brilliant!
  • ApplePay will work on the AppleWatch
  • Pricing starts at $349
  • Will be available in early 2015

IN MY OPINION:  While the AppleWatch looks gorgeous, I’m not entirely sure, until I can get my hands on one, how necessary it is.  Presenting the functionality of it on a 50 foot screen is deceiving since it’s going to look a whole lot smaller when it’s on your wrist.  I’m not knocking it, just keeping things in perspective, literally.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the idea.  I’ll update this article once I have the chance to check one out.  I will say however, that with a starting price of $349, I’m unlikely to buy one.  For that price, I don’t need additional connectivity to my iPhone, which is usually in my pocket, that badly.

At the end of the Keynote, U2, the first group Apple partnered with for the introduction of the iPod, performed.

In what is being called the single biggest album release in history, U2’s new album “Songs of Innocence” was released at the end of the Keynote to all iTunes customers in 119 countries .  The album will be available for FREE until mid October.

A completely new set of iPhones, a secure, easy to use digital wallet, a brand new product that, while it has yet to prove itself, looks promising, and a FREE album for every iTunes customer from one of the biggest bands in music history.  Definitely not a bad day for Apple and its customers.

Are Americans Abusing Free Speech?

Whenever I think about free speech, I’m always reminded of a line from 1995’s The American President. In this Aaron Sorkin film, Michael Douglas plays charismatic fictional President Andrew Sheppard. During a long speech he delivers towards the film’s conclusion, he addresses free speech by saying…

You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

Very well said. I could not agree more. While these were words said by a fictional President in a fictional White House, Sorkin was no doubt basing that portion of the speech on Voltaire who said…

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

That’s fine, but what do we do when we eventually come across an opinion we don’t like? I mean, we’re all entitled to our opinion, right? And in this country, we’re all entitled to express that opinion. Well, you could try to regulate it. Or you could just not listen to it, as George Carlin said some years ago…

The FCC, an appointed body, not elected, answerable only to the President, decided all on its own that radio and television were the only two parts of American life not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Why did they decide that?  Because they got a letter from a reverend in Mississippi!  A Reverend Donald Wildman in Mississippi heard something on the radio that he didn’t like.  But hey reverend there are two knobs on the radio.  One of them turns the radio off and the other one changes the station!  Imagine that reverend, you can actually change the station.  It’s called freedom of choice, and it’s one of the principles this country was founded upon.  Look it up in the library, reverend, if you have any of them left when you’re finished burning all the books!

George is basically saying, if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. Agreed. I have never been in favor of the idea of banning or destroying something simply because some well-funded person or group doesn’t like it.

Alright, so I’ve pretty well covered the listener. But what about the speaker? The speaker has the right to say what they want, but does that right come with any responsibility? Is it possible to abuse free speech? What if their opinion amounts to nothing more than hatred or offensiveness or just plain meanness? You might say that depends on who the audience is; and, by extension, who the speaker is. Are they a private citizen or a very public figure? A very public figure has much more access to a broader audience then a person nobody knows standing on a street corner with a megaphone. But if that person on a street corner has access to just one social media account, their audience goes up exponentially. Add social media to very public figures who had media attention before social media even existed and now we’re really talking about exponentially multiplicative audience reach. That occurrence is what motivated me to write this article.

On last Wednesday’s 700 Club (8/27/2014), Pat Robertson blamed the “God Of The Heathen” for Robin Williams’ August 11th suicide. Basically saying that had Robin Williams come to God, he would not have killed himself. He said…

You see these very popular people in the media who commit suicide like Robin Williams recently and you say, ‘What is the deal with him? What happened?’ You find people who are at the top of the game in music and they’re strung out on drugs. What happened? What was their God?

You see, the god of the heathen are idols, and everything that you seek in life can ruin you unless that something and somebody is God himself.

He can fill your every need, and he won’t disappoint you and you won’t want to commit suicide after you have come to him.

Now, I don’t watch the 700 Club. Never have. There’s an article in the Huffington Post that covered Robertson’s statements. While I do read the Huff, that’s not where I found out about it. It was in my Facebook feed because one of my friends commented on a similar article that was in a different publication. So it quite literally just popped up in front of me. Now, going by my own rules, I should just ignore it if I don’t like it. And I’m fine with doing that. But I have a problem.

The 83-year-old reverend essentially called Robin Williams a heathen. Are you effing kidding me? Robertson is supposed to be a man of God! He is a very prominent Christian with a big microphone and a huge audience. How is calling a man who is no longer alive a name such as “heathen” even remotely helpful? How does it help Robin Williams’ family grieve for him? (they probably have the makings of a good slander suit) What does it accomplish other than to demonstrate AGAIN Robertson’s willingness to use a national tragedy to further his own agenda and increase his ratings all in the name of God and religion? And speaking of religion, doesn’t Robertson’s religion tout, “Judge not lest ye be judged?” Yep, it does; in the Bible in the book of Matthew. So isn’t the good reverend committing blasphemy by judging Robin Williams? Not to mention the total hypocrisy of a man who’s net worth from his “preaching” is somewhere between $200 Million and $1 Billion, depending on the source you check, accusing a beloved man who’s enormous talent brought him fame and fortune, of worshiping the wrong God because of his aforementioned fame and fortune. I think you’d better check which God YOU are worshiping, Reverend. And if, somehow, you happen to read this article, I invite you to contact me so we can discuss it. I certainly don’t wish you any harm but a good “Gibbs Slap” to the back of the head […NCIS reference] might do you a world of good. But I digress.

What I’m saying is that while I don’t think we should start curtailing free speech, we need to start thinking about what we say and who will ultimately be exposed to it. That goes from what goes on inside our own homes to what the most public of public figures say. It’s about thinking more globally and seeing past our own noses. It’s about taking a beat and thinking about how what you say will affect others. Let me give you a much more basic example. If you’re chopping something in the kitchen and you are maybe going too fast and accidentally give yourself a deep cut, is someone saying to you, “I told you to be careful” of any help to you whatsoever? No. You simply don’t need that. What you do need is a bandage or perhaps a ride to the emergency room.

My father always says, “think before you speak.” Wise words. The fact that we have the ability to express our opinion doesn’t necessarily mean that we always have to. If we feel we must, then we should all think about how we do it; especially if it comes from a public figure. Are we helping or hurting? Are we making a meaningful contribution to the conversation or are we just shooting our mouths off? We have slander and libel laws but we don’t have common sense laws. And quite frankly, we shouldn’t need common sense laws. But I caution you, if we aren’t careful, one day we will have them. And we won’t like it. But nobody will know that because we won’t be allowed to say so. Freedom of speech is precious. Don’t abuse it.

Dear Robin Williams


As I sit here on this cool Friday night writing this, I am still in disbelief.  I cannot believe you are gone.  We never knew each other, but I feel such a loss, as I’m sure the entire world does.  A light has gone out.

I remember seeing you for the first time on “Happy Days” using your alien powers on Fonzie and the gang.  I had no idea who you were then.  Nor did I have any idea that you would go on to fill my life with so much laughter.  From television to movies to stand-up comedy.  I laughed until I cried.  I loved “Mork & Mindy.”  I even had the trading cards.  My first year of college, I listened to your “Live At The Met” cassette so many times, I practically memorized it.  “Aladdin” became my favorite Disney movie because of you.  Watching you in “Good Morning Vietnam” only furthered my dream to become a radio DJ, which I finally did in 1994.  The list goes on and on.  I have quoted more of your funny lines than I can count.  The first time I ever saw you in a dramatic role, I thought, “there’s no way a guy this funny could pull it off.”  But you did.  I remember thinking what a wonderful person you must be and that if the opportunity ever came along, that one day I would like to shake your hand.  Maybe even give you a hug.

When I saw the news notification on my phone on Monday evening of your passing, I remember thinking it was a rumor.  A mistake.  There was no way Robin Williams was gone.  It had to be wrong.  People die.  It’s just a fact of life.  But not you.  You were larger than life.  But the news footage only confirmed my shock and fear.  You were gone.  A cold shiver ran down my spine.  It was the end of an era.  I stood there, alone, looking up into the sky and wondering why…

You brought so much laughter and joy to this world.  Yet you were in so much pain.  I cannot imagine the pain you must have been in, thinking that this world would be better off without you.  I will not analyze you or judge you.  But I would like to say thank you for all of the wonderful things you have done; for the countless lives, including mine, that you have touched.  I only hope with all my heart that your pain has come to an end and that you are finally at peace.

Rest well, Mr. Williams.  I shall miss you.



The Absolutely Free Way To Prevent Identity Theft

Identity Theft


That’s right.  It’s free, there’s nothing to sign up for, nothing to buy, and no salesman will call.  How do I know this?  Because the absolutely free and best way to prevent identity theft is to do it yourself!

You have all the tools you need right now.  Whether you’re the most technically savvy, web surfing, app using, plugged-in person, or you still cut out articles you see in the newspaper and snail-mail them to your children.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the many services out there that exist to help prevent identity theft are scams or just out to get you, but I am saying that safeguarding something as personal as your identity can be, and in my opinion, should be YOUR responsibility.  And what’s more, it’s not even that difficult.

Let me start with the basic principle.  It’s all about checking your stuff.  Looking at bills that are higher and even lower than usual.  Spotting irregular activity in things you spend money on often or subscribe to.  Even if you use auto-pay for your bills, you should be checking the amounts every month.  Auto-pay exists so that you aren’t late paying your bills.  It’s not intended to make you lazy.  After all, it IS your money.  Shouldn’t you know where every cent is going?  If you see anything you don’t understand or agree with, ask about it.  It is your right.  Don’t feel stupid.  As my father always told me, the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.  I worked in customer service for many years and I can’t tell you how absolutely frustrating it was when a customer would ask about an irregular bill from several months or even a year or more ago, and want it fixed.  The longer you wait, the harder it is.  And I’m sorry, I was always willing to answer any questions a customer asked about their account, but I have always believed that it is as much the customer’s responsibility as it is a company’s responsibility to keep an eye on your accounts.

Now, for the tech-savvy person.  Virtually every service you pay for has a website or an app to track your activity.  Are you using them?  Are you using them often?  Before you start thinking that you don’t have time to keep constantly logging in to check things, I respectfully refer you to the previous paragraph about your money being your responsibility.  However, we all lead very busy lives these days and could probably use some help.  And there is help.  Most banks and credit card companies have e-mail and text alerts that you can sign up for.  Essentially, they’re already offering to look out for you and it’s usually free.  I’m not talking about some identity theft insurance package they might offer you, I’m talking about basic alerts.  All you have to do is sign up and you’ll start getting alerts.  I did this with my bank and credit card accounts and it has saved me from identity theft and fraudulent charges quite a few times.  I am usually alerted within minutes of the situation and can act quickly and prevent a major personal financial disaster.  This has also worked with my cell phone carrier to prevent overages.  There are also two great services that I highly recommend.

MINT – This is a great and FREE way to track your accounts and bills.  They have apps for both iPhone and Android devices.  http://www.mint.com

BILL GUARD – This is a great FREE way to keep track of your spending habits.  Bill Guard also incorporates a great feature that allows you to look at every single purchase you make and be sure it’s not suspect.  They have apps for both iPhone and Android devices.  http://www.billguard.com

Both services require you to log into your accounts with your online credentials, but they are both trusted services.

As for all your passwords, store them somewhere designed to keep passwords safe.  Don’t just put them in a Word document or something.  I have heard of people adding extra characters to their passwords and those same people forget how many or what characters they added.  Not to mention the fact that since we are creatures of habit, if someone you know steals that file, they could probably figure out your passwords.  The best thing to do (OK, this isn’t free but it’s not expensive) is to invest in a password program or app that is specifically designed to store passwords.  The big thing to keep in mind when using one of these programs or apps is what I call the “Password Password.”  That is, the password that grants access to the program or app and, by extension, all of your passwords.  Make that password TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than the rest of your passwords.  Especially if you use similar passwords for everything.  My personal favorite is an app called 1Password.  You can learn more about it at https://agilebits.com/onepassword.

Now, for the not-so-tech-savvy person (or maybe you just don’t believe in tracking your money online). The companies you do business with  ALL mail you things REGULARLY.  If you’re not getting a bill or statement from a company you do business with, call them and straighten it out.  The fact that you haven’t gotten a bill from the electric company in three months does not mean that they think you deserve free electricity or something.  Missing utility bills are especially alarming because utility bills are commonly used to establish residency when applying for credit.  If that utility bill is missing because it was stolen, someone could be applying for credit in your name.  Read all your bills entirely.  Report anything irregular.  Now this will definitely not be as fast as text or e-mail alerts, but the worst you will be is a month behind and that’s not too bad.  And don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you’re not doing business online that you’re somehow better off than those of us who do.  People were diving into dumpsters and stealing mail long before they were hacking passwords or stealing electronic credit card databases. That brings me to one investment you should make if you don’t already have this item in  your house…a shredder.  A good one.  One that cuts paper and old credit cards into little tiny pieces.  (I know, again, not free but a small cost)  If you’re really paranoid about people even getting their hands on your shredded documents, do what one of my friends did.  Store the shreds (only the paper ones) in paper bags and bring the bags of shredded documents to the next bonfire you attend.  Now you’ve shredded and burned your sensitive documents and there will be an awesome burst of flame when the bonfire penetrates the paper bag.  I’d highly recommend standing back when doing this. 😉

What about unsolicited calls or e-mails or texts?  Trust your instincts.  Also, as a general rule, companies with which you have an account will never EVER ask you to “Click here to verify your account” through an e-mail or text.  Nor will they ask you to call a number you’ve never seen before.  They will tell you to log in yourself through their main website or to call their main Customer Service number or at the very least, a well established number (which can usually be found easily on their Website or other documentation) and whatever you need to do will be there, generally with instructions.  Also, look for misspellings, broken english and an unnecessarily urgent writing style.

Here is a text I, myself got the other day claiming to be from Bank of America. Now, as it happens, I do business with them so I should do what this text says right? Take a look and judge for yourself before reading on…

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.39.11 PM

Notice the strange address it’s from, the use of the word “reverification” which isn’t even a word, the extensive use of capital letters, the improper use of dashes , referring to themselves as “BOA-Offices,” the cramming in of some sort of long message id, the unfamiliar phone number.  But it goes further. I called the number just to see what would happen. The person who set up the number was smart enough to record and use the “Welcome To Bank Of America” voice prompt you would normally get if you called their real Customer Service number. This was supposed to give me a false sense of security that I was actually calling Bank of America.  Then a different automated voice, one that is very crudely done and even speaks with broken and improper English, came on and told me that due to suspicious activity my card was suspended and that I need to perform a verification to unlock it. It then instructed me to enter my card number, expiration date, 3 digit security code, last 4 of my social security number, street address and PIN. I entered various combinations of 12345678 but was careful to keep them in the formats asked for. When I was all done, the voice thanked me and told me that my card was now fully protected.  Really? That’s interesting considering all of the information I entered was false. :) This text and accompanying number were obviously used to collect and steal data. The scammer was hoping I would be scared enough to just do what they told me. The unfortunate fact is, most people are that scared.

As for phone calls.  If you are uncomfortable giving out information that is asked of you, tell them that.  If they are calling from the real company, they will understand.  If they get pushy, they are probably a fraud.

Bottom line, the best person to take care of your identity is you.  Nobody is going to look out for you, at least in the business world, more than you are.  You don’t have to adopt some “me against them” mentality.  But as David Horowitz, host of the 80’s TV Show, “Fight Back” used to say, “Stay aware and informed, and fight back, and don’t let ANYONE rip you off!”

I invite your comments and input. I will update this article as new information becomes available.


Hi, I’m Tom Fazio and I’d like to welcome you to my blog.

A little bit about me

I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY.  I’m 43 years old (at the time of the start of this blog).  I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications from SUNY College at Buffalo, which I earned in 1992.  I have had careers in Radio, Voice Acting, DJing, Retail Sales, Retail Customer Service, Information Technology, Public Relations, and Marketing.  I am also legally blind.  You can find out more about me through the following profiles:

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/fazdj

Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/fazdj21

LinkedIn:  http://www.linkedin.com/in/thomasdfazio

A little bit about this blog

Well, it’s going to be a little of everything, really.  Thoughts, musings, possibly challenging some conventional wisdom, passing along what should be common sense, stuff like that.  Perhaps even the occasional “How To” article or video for some of the many IT questions I get from people.  I’m teaching myself how to blog so I can’t say how often it will be updated but I will try to stay current.  As a good portion of my background is in the radio/broadcasting/voice acting industry, my writing style is what is known as “writing for broadcast.”  So it will be somewhat conversational.  So when you read things here, you might find yourself reading out loud.  If you choose to read and/or participate in this blog, I will make you two (2) promises.  First, while I may occasionally have an adverse opinion to something or someone, I will not express that opinion in a defamatory way and I would ask that should you choose to comment, that you do the same.  Second, I will make every effort to ensure that my spelling and grammar are accurate.

Here’s hoping that this blog is a good, fun place for all those who choose to visit.