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Episode #102: Digital Emergency Preparedness

Episode #102: Digital Emergency Preparedness

Making sure everyone have access to they need

Hiya, friends. I’ve decided to step away from the darkness that is the privacy world we currently inhabit. Instead, for now, my plan is to simply focus on how I can best help my readers & listeners understand, navigate, and then protect as much of their digital lives as possible.

Before we jump in today, a quick announcement: if you’re listening to this via one of our podcast platforms, you’re going to want to visit this episode on our Substack page for all of the links that we’re going to provide you. There’s no way to provide that in our liner notes or via audio during our podcast in a way that will be logical and easy-to-follow.

Cool? Cool.

Prioritizing Emergencies

For those of us who live in an earthquake zone, we’re taught to prepare for earthquakes: shoes by bed so you don’t have to walk on shattered glass; gas line valve wrenches at the ready to turn off leaking pipes; food, water, and medications to last three days. Ditto, for safety preparedness if you live in an area prone to tornados. I’m looking at YOU, Oklahoma.

In fact, we humans consider and then plan for all KINDS of emergencies, so that we’ve got a plan in case disasters strike. We’re good like that. And yet…

Few if anyone talks about digital emergency preparedness. I’d like to correct this because - as far as I’m concerned - digital emergencies are just as important as other kinds of disasters. Let’s start by understanding what defines a digital emergency. Here’s a short list:

  1. A family member has grown ill or died and the immediate family needs access to that person’s email, banking, legal, or medical records.

  2. A family member has gone missing and close friends and relatives need to locate them.

  3. An important financial/legal/medical/shopping account has been hacked which contains private or vulnerable information that shouldn’t be shared with the world.

  4. A personal, social media account has been hacked/taken over and is creating severe reputational damage to you or to a family member.

  5. A natural disaster damages or destroys the Internet and/or cellphone reception.

Any of these situations - some of which happen frequently - are challenging but not impossible to navigate. Advanced planning isn’t just important, it’s essential. Be prepared: insurance policies may cost time and money, but we’re always happy and relieved to have them when emergencies occur.

And, since emergencies do occur, let’s explore how to navigate them.

The Prevention Top 10

The best preparedness is prevention. Take reasonable precautions to prevent your digital world from get hijacked in the first place.

  1. Use two-factor authentication (or 2FA). 2FA is the gold standard as it requires you to use a cellphone application to provide an always rotating 6-digit security pin when you log into an account. Do NOT confuse this with “two-step authentication” which texts you a one-time security code. Use 2FA on any account that allows it, but most certainly for your email, social media, banking, shopping, medical, and legal accounts. I discussed how to use 2FA in Episode #36 and Episode #12. I continue to use the 100% free “Authy” app for this purpose.

  2. Use an open-source password manager. There is no better, or safer, password manager than BitWarden. It’s also 100% free. I discuss it in detail in Episode #26. So do me (and you) a favor: install BitWarden on your computers & smart devices, then migrate your passwords from your old password manager. Once you’ve confirmed your data has migrated successfully, cancel your previous LastPass, 1Password, or other password manager accounts. Then…

  3. Use BitWarden properly. If you’re going to use a password manager - and you should - then you’ll need to use it properly. Start by ensuring that every, single password you use is long, complex, and unique. Here’s a link that explains why you should do that, in detail. Will this take you some time? Yes, of course it will. But is that investment worth your time? Absolutely.

  4. Back. Up. Your. Data. Doesn’t matter how you do this, but do it. For years, my family has been using iDrive (affiliate link here) to securely backup all of our computers and phones. I wrote about this in Episode #69. It’s an easy-to-use application/service which backs up our data OVER THE INTERNET and into the company’s data centers. I chose this over a back-up drive in my office or home because now — if any of our backup devices are stolen or damaged — our data will remain safe because they’re being stored off site.

  5. Avoid email & phone scams. Wanna avoid 95% of all email scams? Simple: just ignore ANY message that claims you’ve been victimized and must act immediately. You heard me: IGNORE IT! If your credit card company or bank actually suspects that you’re being legitimately defrauded, they’ll call you. Multiple times. If and when your bank or credit card company does call, they’ll NEVER - NEVER! - ask for your personal information because they already have it. If anyone claiming to be from your bank or credit card company asks for your address, social security number, or date of birth, inform the person that you’ll be reporting them. Then hang up. Then check the phone number that just called you at the RoboKiller, the SpyDialer, or CellRevealer websites to see if that number is associated with a known scam. If it is, it’ll look like one of these:

  6. Trust your Spidey Sense™. When in doubt, do NOT act! Instead, ask someone you trust who is very digitally literate for a second opinion. This might be a child, grandchild, or spouse, but can also be a trusted friend or neighbor.

  7. Guard your private personal information (or PII). Never give your cellphone number, primary email address, or residential address to anyone - and I mean ANYone - who does not absolutely or legally need it. Instead, get yourself a set of secondary information, something that is both legal and often free.

  8. Remove your PII from the web. Back in Episode #87, I explained why it is important to scrub as much of our PII from the Internet as we can. Not only does doing so prevent certain hacks and scams from happening, but it also prevents unwanted mail, advertisements, and attention. I continue to use and really LIKE the DeleteMe service (affiliate link here). Use that link to save 20% off of any plan you purchase with them.

  9. Establish a digital last will and testament. While you’re alive, you can ensure that those you love can have access to your files after you’ve died. Ensure that the password manager that you are using — which, again, should be BitWarden — has a sharing feature. Then use it to allow your trusted family, friend, or professional provider to have access. This way, they’ll have easy access to your communications, banking, medical/legal, and shopping websites when they need it. Fun fact: Google offers an “inactive account manager” to notify/transfer your email account to your next of kin.

  10. Create an offline repository of knowledge. If shit goes south and there’s no access to the Internet, then researching how to purify water or treat a wound won’t be possible if you’re looking to get it from YouTube. Applications like those mentioned at this article from Wired magazine are worth installing on your mobile device. Even better? Download videos from YouTube - try the 100% free ClipGrab for that - so that you can view them later on your computer or tablet. I’ve got folders with videos that cover everything from first aid, to survival, to finding/creating drinkable water, hunting/gathering, etc. As long as you’ve got a way to charge a battery, you’re good to go. ClipGrab works for Macs, Windows, and Linux.

When Disaster Strikes

There’s a good reason why I began this Episode with my Top 10 list of preventing problems from happening. That reason? Because dealing with a problem once it’s happened is far, far worse on our mental (and sometimes financial) health. So I beg you again: please, please, please take the time to secure your online accounts as I described earlier in this Episode. Do it now.

If you did not, and you’re here because disaster has already struck, then here are the quickest ways to recover (or at least mitigate) your losses when terrible circumstances occur.

Financial Scams

If you’ve been scammed out of money over the phone or Internet, immediately report the fraud to the FTC here. Then do the same with your bank, credit card, gift card, or any other company involved. Sometimes, Apple, Amazon, WallMart, and others can help. Sometimes.

Then use the resources at this link on the FTC website and go down their to-do list as a reasonable path forward. Just know: in most but not all cases, it will be difficult - if not impossible - to get your money back. According to this link from the National Consumer Law Center (or NCLC) speed is of the essence:

Instead, a consumer’s best hope may be to file a complaint in as many places as possible, including with the bank or company involved with the payment system and with government authorities. The payment provider may be able to provide help, and an eventual government enforcement action (against the scammer or even against a complicit payment provider or other facilitator) could result in an eventual recovery for victims.

Speed is of the essence.

Your best bet to recover funds? Act quickly and make a lot of noise to as many involved parties as is possible. That NCLC link has a ton of other info, by the way. Read it all.

And then — for crying out loud — go back and re-read my Top 10 list at the top of this Episode so you can prevent this kind of shit from happening the next time, OK?

When Death Comes Knocking

If a loved one has died and you need access to their email, most companies can help. Here are links that point to specific help pages provided by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, and - why not - AOL. Other sites like Amazon provide this as well. Be prepared to provide a death certificate as well as your own government ID to prove your identity. Each company has different requirements, so… be patient and kind. It can take time but it works.

You Got Hacked

Congrats on joining a long and illustrious list of humans who’ve had their accounts hacked and then abused by hackers. Most notable on this list is Mat Honan, a reporter for Wired magazine whose life got turned upside down when he got badly hacked in 2012. Read the story if you haven’t: it’ll scare you into action. Which, frankly, it should.

Today, many years after Honan’s epic pwning, there are more options for consumers. Thankfully.

Social Media

If your social media accounts have been hacked, here are the links to get you *quickly* to the forms and contact pages that you’ll need from Facebook, Instagram, Shitter, SnapChat, LinkedIn, & WhatsApp. Fair warning: WhatsApp kinda sucks when it comes to helping users deal with hacked accounts. If you’re familiar with how Mark Zuckerberg operates, this shouldn’t surprise you.

Larger Media Providers

Here are links to get the help you need from Apple, Amazon (also here), Google, Netflix, Microsoft (here and here) and Walmart (here, then use chat interface at the bottom).

Investment Accounts

If you manage your financial investments online, then you’ll want these links to get quick help and attention from companies like Schwab, Fidelity, Merrill Lynch, TIAA, UBS, and Edward Jones.

After you’ve made the initial attempts to address your hack, please — for crying out loud — go back and re-read my Top 10 list at the top of this Episode so you can prevent this kind of shit from happening the next time, OK?

Data Loss

This topic is probably the most painful because, well, we keep an increasing amount of our lives on our computers: files, photos, music, videos, memories, and more. If you do not currently have a back-up drive connected to your computer and you’ve not got any online backup solutions, here are a few things to check to recover at least some of your data:

  1. File Sharing Services. If you use Dropbox, Box, Apple’s iCloud/iCloud+, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Google Workspace or ANY file sharing application like these, good news: some of your data are backed-up in the cloud. Log on to your platform’s website to confirm which folders/files you still have.

  2. Old Hard Drives. If you’ve used a physical hard drive in the past to backup your computer, go find that drive! Maybe it’s stored in a desk drawer or a closet somewhere. I sometimes find crucial data on old drives from previous years. Ditto, by the way, if you have an old computer laying around.

  3. USB Drives. See above. Many of us still have a few (or more!) USB drives lying around in a desk drawer or in a computer bag. Find these, look on them, and you may get lucky.

  4. Emails. Yes, this is really scraping the bottom of the barrel, I know, but for incredibly important documents and/or photos, it may be a life saver. You can search most email platforms by asking to search all of your emails that contain a document/attachment. Do this and you might recover one or more of your missing and important files.

Then, and I can’t possibly say this enough, after you’ve made some attempts to recover your files, please — for fuck’s sake — go back and re-read my Top 10 list at the top of this Episode so you can prevent this kind of shit from happening the next time, OK?


And that’s a wrap for today’s episode, everyone. Thanks for being a part of our community and, as always… surf safe! 👍🏼 👌🏾

Popular Past Issues:

Our Current Recommendations

  • My e-book on home tech: “Screw The Cable Company!

  • The online backup software I use: iDrive (affiliate link)

  • The service I use to delete my data from the web: DeleteMe (affiliate link)

  • The VPN software that I use: Nord VPN (affiliate link)

  • The email anonymizer that I use: 33Mail (affiliate link)

  • The secure router I use at my home: Synology RT6600ax (affiliate link)

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Tech Talk - The Technology Newsletter for Everyone
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TechTalk is a podcast that's meant to help absolute beginners and non-technical people learn about technology in a fun and informative way. We don't talk over your head! Instead, we use everyday language to make sure that you understand all of the important subjects and challenges that we discuss. Tech is important: let's learn about it together in a fun and funny way.