Introducing Interactive Books From Disney and Google Home

By Tracey Dowdy

Remember Little Golden Books? I had them when I was a child, and I loved reading them to my daughters when they were little. I have such fond memories of reading together every night at bedtime, even long after they were old enough and reading on their own. I did voices and sound effects, and it was so much fun.

My husband, on the other hand, though he graduated summa cum laude, is dreadful at reading aloud. He hates it, and our girls dreaded if dad was putting them to bed and would be the one reading. The one upside is that they fell asleep quickly, either from sheer boredom or to escape from the situation.

But, with a stroke of genius, the Disney arm of Little Golden Books has announced a collaboration with Google Home that allows readers to listen to music and sound effects as the books are read aloud.

Disney’s partnership with Little Golden Books dates back to the 1940s, in fact, Disney Studio artists illustrated some of the most popular Little Golden Books to bring in income during World War II.

There are several titles to choose from including classics like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan as well as newer stories like Moana, Coco, and Toy Story 3. They’ve promised to continue adding titles throughout the year. To activate the feature, you’ll need two things: a compatible Disney’s Little Golden Book and a Google Home device. To enable, say, “OK Google, let’s read along with Disney,” and your device will respond with “Okay, what book are we going to read?”

Once you begin reading, the music and sound effects will follow the text and bonus! If you skip ahead – you know you’ve done it, we all have – your Google Home will skip ahead with you and pick up where you’re reading. Plus, if your little one wants to talk about why the puppy is so Poky or talk about his desire to be a Lost Boy and live in Neverland, your Google Home will play ambient music in the background until you’re ready to pick up where you left off reading.

Reading aloud to children has been proven to increase language skills, develops positive attitudes toward reading and learning, builds a foundation for academic success, and increases the bond between you and your child. This collaboration enhances your experience and makes it even more fun.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Beware these Common Scams

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, fake charities and scams related to relief efforts are a real threat to legitimate relief agencies. Sadly, the headlines will include stories of price-gouging and consumers who unwittingly gave cash or emergency supplies to fraudsters and hoaxes.

Scams are as common as a cold but far more serious. The Federal Trade Commission, collected over 1.4 million fraud reports last year, with consumers reporting that they lost money to scammers in 25% of those reports. Respondents reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud last year – an increase of 38% over 2017’s numbers.

So what do these scams look like? Here’s a few of the most common and how to avoid them.

Your Utility Company Doesn’t Need Immediate Payment or Access to Your Home

Over the past several years, power companies have begun installing meters that allow consumers to monitor their energy use. Fraudsters have seized the opportunity to scam unwitting victims out of both money and personal information. How? They either show up at the front door, often with convincing “uniforms” and I.D., or they call you directly, asking for a “deposit” for the meter, or personal information to confirm you are the registered user.

Good Housekeeping reports that Law enforcement, utility companies, and consumer protection agencies have issued warnings in states as widespread as ConnecticutHawaiiNew YorkNorth CarolinaWest Virginia, and Wisconsin about new tactics that have fooled thousands of people across the country.

“These scammers take tens of thousands of dollars a year from our customers by sounding sincere while they lie,” Jim Duggan of Con Edison said in a statement. “We want our customers to be able to recognize signs that someone is a professional criminal trying to steal from them.”

Other power-related scams include offers to restore power quickly after a large storm in return for payment or a “reconnection fee,” a demand for a separate payment to replace or install a meter, and

requests to inspect equipment or conduct an “audit” in order to gain access to your home.

What do you do? Remember, your utility company would not shut off the power without warning nor will they demand money over the phone or specify a method of payment. If you think the demand for immediate payment or access to your home is legitimate, call the number on your bill or the provider’s website.

Suspension of your Social Security number

This is how the scam usually goes: You’ll get a call and the caller will inform you that because of “suspicious activity,” your SSN has been “suspended.” In order to reactivate it, you either need to pay a small fee or “confirm” your SSN by dictating it over the phone. Both are scams – one to steal your money, the other to steal your identity. Remember, your social security card isn’t a gym membership or an airline miles card – it can’t be suspended. Its value for fraudsters is immense because it opens so many doors for hackers.

If they’re really convincing and you think the caller may be legitimate, call the SSA yourself using the number posted on their official website.

DNA Donations.

In a way, I feel like this one doesn’t need to be said, but here we are. Don’t give your DNA to fake scientists who approach you on the street. According to Bloomberg, authorities in several states are warning people that scammers may be using DNA testing to defraud Medicare and steal their identity.

It’s a new twist on the old game of tricking people into sharing personal identification like social security or banking information. Reports of “scientists” working out of vans – what did your mother tell you about talking to people in vans? – who then offer individuals $20 in exchange a few medical details and a DNA sample for “research purposes.”

Seems legit – who doesn’t want free money in exchange for no work and a little saliva? The risk here isn’t so much the DNA as the info you hand over with it that can then be used to open credit cards, file false insurance claims, and a million other nefarious schemes that end up costing victims millions every year.

What do you do if you’re approached? Run away just like your mama told you.

The Single Ring Call

While it may sound like an intriguing new movie or a mating behavior in a nature documentary, this is the scam where your phone rings once then the caller hangs up. Do NOT return the call. The “one-ring call back scam” is one of the most clever calls out there. It works on the premise that if someone is repeatedly calling and then the call is dropped, it could be someone in danger. The problem is, the call is likely from a premium-rate toll number based on the other side of the world. You likely won’t know until you get your bill next month, but you’ve been slammed with an array of expensive charges, and the caller has walked away with a healthy share of the profits.

What do you do if you’re approached? Simple, don’t answer the phone and don’t call back.

No one has Hacked your Porn Habits.

Well, this is an awkward one that plays on people’s fear of exposure and that’s why we’re seeing an increase in sexploitation scams. Targets get an email saying their online porn habits have been tracked and unless you pay up in a certain number of days, everyone from your kids to your boss will know what you’ve been up to. The scam is effective because who cares if it’s true or not – no one wants that kind of accusation out there.

What do you do if you receive one of these emails? Delete it. The end. The email is designed to play on fear, and everyone knows the best way to deal with fear is to ignore it. Well, at least in this situation it is.

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

Friday, September 13: Emergency Preparedness

EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS

 

When:  Friday, September 13, 2019
3:00 – 4:00 pm ET
12:00 – 1:00 pm PT

Join host Pam Rossi (@Always5Star) and the #VerizonSalutes team at 3 pm ET (12 noon PT) on Friday, September 13 as we chat about
Emergency Preparedness!
Hurricane Dorian is just the latest reminder of how we all need to be prepared for an emergency.
With September designated as National Preparedness Month, we look at how mobile devices can help us prepare for weather-related or other emergencies, keep us in touch with loved ones, and ensure we are ready for any eventuality!
Tweet a ‘Thank You’ shout-out to your local first responders using the #VerizonSalutes hashtag!
RSVP and attend the chat for a chance to win a brand new iPad!

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: VerizonSalutes) indicating your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: https://bit.ly/2lMkRLC
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VerizonSalutes) on Friday, September 13 between 3:00 – 4:00 pm ET.
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

Be Cellphone Ready in an Emergency

By Tracey Dowdy

Just a few weeks ago here in Northern Virginia, torrential rains swept through the area. Suddenly and with little warning, flash floods swept through low lying areas, leaving many motorists stranded and in desperate need of rescue. Fortunately, the storms weren’t severe enough to impact cell phone towers, so first responders were able to respond quickly, and there were no fatalities.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case when storms like Hurricane Dorian pummel areas with high winds, flying debris, and storm surge. Residents in storm-prone areas – whether it’s hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or other natural disasters – should remember that these conditions impact cellphone service, so they should only be a part of your emergency survival kit. Depending on conditions, it may be days or even weeks before roads are passable or relief workers and supplies are accessible. Having a waterproof plastic tote packed with emergency supplies may be the difference between life and death.

There are, however, several ways to make the most of your phone in the event of a disaster. These recommendations can help you in nearly every type of emergency situation.

First, before you lose power, ensure your phone is fully charged as are any back-up power sources like battery packs and solar generators. There are many reliable and affordable options available for Android and iPhone and many weigh less than a pound. Remember, even if you’re not using the phone, leave it powered on while awaiting rescue as emergency services can triangulate your location through nearby cellular towers but only if your phone has battery life.

If you live in an area like Tornado Alley or along the coast where hurricanes do their damage, it’s a good idea to invest in a portable power station. Approximately the size of a small speaker, you can tuck them on a shelf or under your desk, and when disaster strikes you can use them to power your devices or a small fridge to protect medications like insulin that must be kept cold.

One thing to consider is that it doesn’t matter how much back up power you have if your phone isn’t waterproof but gets wet. The latest Samsung Galaxy models and iPhones are water-resistant, but that’s not the same as waterproof. Consider purchasing a waterproof case, or at the very least, a supply of sturdy ziplock bags to protect your device. Most mobile phone plans do not cover water damage, though you may be able to claim it on your homeowners or renters flood insurance.

If during an emergency you discover you’re in an area where you don’t have coverage, or you don’t have an active cell plan, you can still reach 9-1-1 from your mobile phone. You can also text 9-1-1if you’re unable to talk or need to be silent, but you must first have registered for the 9-1-1 service with your cellphone provider. And don’t forget, you can use apps like Facebook Messenger, Google Duo, Skype, or Viber to make free phone calls over Wi-Fi – even if there’s no cell service.

Next, consider that while your phone’s GPS will work even if there’s no cell service, you’ll need to have downloaded maps ahead of time to take advantage of Google’s offline feature. Follow these directions to download Google’s own maps, or download maps from  an app like Navmii to access directions offline. Keep in mind a lack of cell service means you won’t get real time updates on situations like traffic and accuracy may be affected since cell phones used GPS-A (assisted) technology to communicate with satellites, and physical factors like tunnels, mountains, or tall buildings may cause interference.

It’s also a good idea to download emergency preparedness apps before disaster strikes. The Red Cross has several excellent apps, including a Shelter Finder app, First Aid, Hurricane app, Earthquake, Wildfire, as well as First Aid for pets as well as people. Each of the apps includes checklists, advice, and instructions on what to do when disaster strikes. Their all-inclusive Emergency app allows users to monitor over 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also has an app that sends real-time alerts for natural disasters in your area plus four additional locations, provides emergency tips for over twenty different situations, identifies nearby emergency shelters and disaster recovery centers where you can speak with FEMA personnel face to face.

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Beware Charity Scams in the Wake of Hurricane Dorian

By Tracey Dowdy

When natural disasters strike, ordinary people often step up and become heroes, risking their personal property and safety, and sometimes sacrificing themselves for others. Unfortunately, not only is it a time when we see the best of people, we sometimes see the worst.

With Hurricane Dorian battering the Carolinas after leaving a trail of devastation stretching to the Bahamas, authorities are warning about scams that are likely to appear in the wake of the storm. These scams come in a variety of guises, from robocalls and fake charities to price-gouging at the pump, grocery, and hotels along evacuation routes.

The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance warns, “After a terrible and very public tragedy such as a mass shooting, wildfire or other natural disaster, or an accident, people want to help in any way possible, and that often means contributing to fundraisers to help the survivors and the families of the victims. Sadly, scammers often take advantage of these moments of vulnerability to deceive donors. In addition, there are often campaigns set up by well-meaning individuals who may or may not be directly connected to the tragedy.”

To avoid becoming the victim of one of these scams, following these guidelines:

  • Go to org or Charity Navigator to check the charity’s rating and verify if it meets BBB Standards for Charitable Accountability. It only takes a few minutes and can ensure you’re donating to an ethical organization who will use your gift to help victims.
  • Check the phone number. One quick and easy way to check the validity of an organization is to check the phone number you’ve been directed to against the phone number on the charity’s website. This is especially important in the social media posts that pop up post-disaster and tell you to text a certain number for direct donation.
  • Beware look-alikes. In the wake of tragedy or disasters, it’s not uncommon for scammers to set up fake donation pages with names intentionally similar to trusted sites. For example, they’ll take the web address for the Red Cross and change redcross.org to redcross.com or red.cross.org. If you’re not careful, you may not notice the difference and end up donating to a scam. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites, in text messages, or an email.
  • Beware crowdfunding. Not all crowdfunding sites vet the individuals who set up a donation page for victims. Back in 2017, when Robert Godwin Sr. in a video posted to Facebook, within hours there were 35 fake GoFundMe pages set up, all without the Godwin family’s consent. Any page set up in the name of the victim or their family must have their permission. To avoid these fake pages, verify pages using these tools.
  • Check for registration. Most US states require charities to be registered with a government agency, usually under the State Attorney General’s Office, and Canadian charities must be registered with the Canada Revenue Agency. If the charity you’re considering isn’t registered, you may want to choose another. The Federal Trade Commission warns they cannot guarantee you’ll get your money back from a scammer.
  • Where’s the money going? If the appeal or page isn’t clear about where the money or goods donated will be going, that’s a big ol’ red flag. There should be a clear plan for the transportation and distribution of goods and a specific recipient – individual or organization – receiving any financial contributions.

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, or any other disaster, check out https://www.usa.gov/, the official website of the federal government for a list of resources, services, and information including consumer issues and disaster relief.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Teach Your Kids Digital Safety With Google’s ‘Be Internet Awesome’ Program

By Tracey Dowdy

 As parents, one of our most significant challenges is teaching our children how to navigate the wild and wonderful web. Part of the problem is simply keeping up with both rapidly changing technology and but understanding the apps and software that seems to come so easily to our kids. Let’s face it, they’re digital natives, so it’s not uncommon for them to be one step ahead of us.

That’s where Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” tools come in. Be Internet Awesome “teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence.”

The tools are separated into several categories with resources for families, educators, digital safety, slide presentations, and Interland, an online game that teaches internet safety and teaches appropriate online behavior.

The resources are based on five principles:

  • Be a positive presence online, just like IRL (in real life).
  • Think before you post.
  • Protect your secrets.
  • Donʼt assume that people online will see you the way you think theyʼll see you.
  • It’s always important to respect other people’s privacy choices, even if they aren’t the choices you’d make yourself.

The Be Internet Awesome Family Guide provides families with the tools and resources to learn about online safety and digital citizenship together. The lessons are simple, straightforward, and engaging, making it fun to learn how to incorporate positive digital habits into your child’s life. There’s even a pledge you can print off for everyone to sign as a commitment to putting into practice what they learn. There are also bilingual workshops for parents in partnership with the YMCA.

The resources for educators in the Be Internet Awesome curriculum provides the tools and methodology to teach basic digital safety ground rules. Google developed the program in partnership with iKeepSafe enabling educators to bring the most vital aspects of internet safety into the classroom. All elements of Be Internet Awesome are free, align with ISTE standards, require no personal information or login, and can be used across devices and operating systems.

Perhaps of greatest appeal to your child is Interland, an immersive digital world divided into four games, each teaching an aspect of online safety and etiquette. In Mindful Mountain, players learn the consequences of being an “oversharer” with warnings like, “Information travels at the speed of light.”  Kind Kingdom teaches children what to do about cyberbullying, and Tower of Treasure shows both the importance of and how to create a strong password. Reality River will teach your kids how to spot fake news, recognize the signs of a scam, and understand phishing. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.