Security

Tech Q&A: Facebook checks, USB drives and more

Illustration photo.

Illustration photo.  (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)

Banks check your Facebook profile

Q. I heard you say on your national radio show that banks analyze your Facebook profile when you apply for credit. I just keep up with my friends and family, so does that still apply to me?

A. You can bet that banks and other financial institutions look at your online activities as a part of your overall borrower risk profile. Simply analyzing the time of day that you use Facebook, who your friends are, which brands and posts you like, photos you upload, things you say in comments and where you live can indicate your outlook on life, political leanings, employment situation, hobbies and plenty more. Even if you never post a thing, there's a lot of insider info online about you. If you're curious what signals your Facebook profile is giving off, click here to see the personal data anyone can see about you

National cellphone directory

Q. I received an email saying my cellphone number is about to be made public! Any telemarketer can now call my phone unless I register it with the government's Do Not Call list within two weeks. This makes me so angry. What right do they have to do this?

A. Relax. This hoax is as old as the claim that if you forward a chain email as part of Microsoft's email tracking system, Bill Gates is going to give you money. He's not, by the way. The FTC says that, no matter what, unsolicited telemarketing calls or robocalls to cellphones are illegal. If you're getting them, file a complaint at donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222. Click here for three things you need to know about the Do Not Call Registry.

Risks of debit cards

Q. I'm paranoid about using my debit card tied to my checking account in stores after all the data breaches this past year. I don't believe in credit cards. I don't want debt. Is there any way I can have peace of mind while shopping?

A. If you did use a credit card, no one can wipe out your bank account if the card gets lost or stolen. But if you are sticking with a debit card, find out if your bank offers text alerts. You can get a text whenever someone uses the card, withdraws from an ATM or withdraws more than a certain amount. Click here to learn about the one essential thing you must do to protect your debit card.

Avoid trashing your USB drive

Q. I know Windows has the "Safely Remove Hardware" option you're supposed to run before unplugging a USB drive or external drive. What's "safe" about it? It's not like the drive is going to explode or anything, right?

A. To make working with files on external drives faster, Windows - and Macs - move the files to the computer and keep them there until you're done with them. Using "Safely Remove Hardware," or the Eject system on a Mac, tells the computer it's time to move the files back to the drive. If you unplug the drive before that happens, you could lose your files and your work. Trust me; I've seen it happen and it isn't pretty. So it's best to always run it. Click here for a more detailed explanation and an interesting exception to this rule.

Search sites that don't track you

Q. You've warned in the past that Google tracks our search history. I know you can turn the search history off - and I have - but it still has me worried. Are there any Google Search alternatives that won't track me?

A. DuckDuckGo is a popular Google alternative that doesn't track your IP address or search history so you don't have to worry about targeted ads. You'll even see more results because it isn't trying to tailor the results to your personal search history. DuckDuckGo includes the nifty calculators and other tricks you've come to expect on Google. It has a customizable interface, search shortcuts and an Instant Answers feature that's just as good, if not better than, Google’s Knowledge Graph. It's not the only option either. Click here for two more search sites that don't track you like Google.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.