Tech Q&A: Trick to detect skimmers, hide Amazon.com orders, buying used phones and more

Trick: Use your phone to detect skimmers

Q: ATM and gas pump skimmers are so devious. Is there a telltale clue we should be on the lookout for so hackers don’t get our money?

A: Criminals cleverly place skimmers (phony card readers) on top of real ones. They fit over an ATM or a point-of-purchase card reader — like the ones you use to pay for groceries or gasoline — and they’re so small, it can be hard to tell they're there. If you insert your payment card into the phony reader, the thief will steal your card number and PIN. Fortunately, there’s a clever way to find skimmers. The best news is that you're already carrying the device you need in your pocket: your cellphone. Click here to detect hidden credit card skimmers with this smartphone trick.

Hide sexy Amazon orders 

Q: I don’t want my wife to see the sexy and risqué things that I buy on Amazon. How do I shop in secret?

A: Hiding your Amazon history can be necessary for a variety of things. It could be for a personal reason, like purchased or searched items you're embarrassed to reveal, or for something with an altruistic twist. Most of the time, you just don't want to reveal spoilers for gifts you've bought for your loved ones. You can hide your purchases and even have your orders shipped to a temporary address. Click here for insider tricks to hide your Amazon orders and tracks.

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Tech dumbing us down or making us smarter?

Q: We Google everything all the time that it’s making society stupid. We no longer think for ourselves. We have to look up basic facts. What do you think?

A: What if the internet isn’t just a resource, but actually an extension of the mind — a cognitive brain enhancement tool that is transforming the way humans think? Some experts eagerly pursue that notion, while others believe technology is making us lazy and incapable of thinking for ourselves. In a recent podcast, “Is Technology Dumbing Us Down,” I explored this question with four leading experts in the fields of critical thinking, analytical instrument manufacturing, strategic studies, psychology, education, mathematics, theology and engineering. Click here to listen to what the experts believe is happening to our brains on technology.

Is this used phone stolen?

Q: I’d like to save money and buy a used smartphone. How do I check to see if it was stolen and blocked by the carrier?

A: Many people sell unlocked phones online, and you’re right — you don’t want a brick. The seller could be someone who wants to get some quick cash for a phone he no longer wants, or he could be a thief who runs a stolen phone ring. Phones have unique IMEI numbers that are used to block devices that have been reported missing or stolen. All you need to do is check the IMEI database before you buy the phone. Click here to learn how to find a phone’s IMEI number and search the database.

Search family tree for free

Q: I would like to research my family history. I keep running into a site that wants to charge me a monthly fee. Is there a site I can use for free?

A: There is nothing quite as intriguing as your family tree. It's human nature to wonder, "Who am I? Where did I come from?" Families have always passed down information about ancestors by word of mouth, but the stories get murky over the years. If you’re willing to do the work, you can put together your family ancestry for free. Click here to learn where to start your search and which free websites will fill in the details.

What questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.

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Learn about all the latest technology 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.