A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the creation of a secure connection over an unsecure network.  Secure in this case means encrypted and authenticated using passwords or similar identification means.

VPNs were created to allow satellite offices of a corporation to access their main systems safely across the Internet, but is more commonly used nowadays to allow people to hide their IP address and location.

When you use a VPN service, your data is encrypted and effe3ctively travels as if in a secure tunnel across the Internet.

Benefits of Using a VPN

A VPN provides privacy and security:

·         The destination site sees the VPN server as the traffic origin, not you.

·         No one can (easily) identify you or your computer as the source of the data, nor which websites you’re visiting, what data you’re transferring, etc.  The website owners can still track numbers but not identify your IP address.

·         Your data is encrypted, so even if someone does look at what you’re sending, they only see encrypted data not the content.

·         Only authorised users can access the VPN.


How Does a VPN Work?

You connect using the VPN client software to VPN servers and then browse or use whatever software you wish. The website sees your connection as being from the VPN location not your own location.

The VPN client software encrypts your data, even before your Internet Service Provider or the coffee shop WiFi provider sees it. The data then goes to the VPN, and from the VPN server to your online destination.

When you connect to the web without a VPN, here’s how your connection looks:

VPN Protocols

There are various VPN protocols and the level of security provided can vary from one to another, depending on how the technology has been implemented and the most common are PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEV2, and OpenVPN.

They each have their own advantages, but all can do the job well and many VPNs allow you to select the protocol to use.

However, not all devices will allow you to use all of these protocols. Most of them were built by Microsoft and you’ll be able to use them on all Windows PCs but e.g. for APPLE devices, the range is more limited.  

Legal Constraints

VPN companies are subject to the law in the jurisdiction of the country where they are based and this can affect the service they can provide.

Some websites do not like people accessing their sites using a VPN and may take steps to block such access but that is difficult to do and the vast majority of websites make no attempt to block VPN.s

In some countries, people may use VPNs to circumvent geo-restrictions or censorship, or to protect personal identity and location to stay anonymous on the Internet.


Use of a VPN can make accessing systems and services more secure.

There is a comparison of the most popular VPN software at https://thebestvpn.com/

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Some easy to understand explanations of typical online security jargon.


Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, payment card details etc. by pretending to be a trusted person or organisation.

This usually starts with an email that looks as though it has been sent by a legitimate organization (often a bank or government department). The email may ask you to confirm personal details but is more likely to contain a link to a fake website created by the fraudster that looks like the real organisation’s website.

The person enters their details and now the scammers have that and can sell it to other scammers or use it to create accounts in your name – they get the goods and you pay the bills.


Similar to Phishing but by means of a telephone call or voice message..


Similar to Phishing but using text messages instead of email, website page or voice calls.


The name Malware means any software that is designed to cause damage or disable a computer, server or computer network or to carry out actions against the wishes of the computer’s user. This includes viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, and scareware etc. Badly behaves legitimate software is not included in this definition.


Ransomware is malicious software which gets into your computer or network and either encrypts all of the files or completely locks you out. The perpetrators then demand a ransom to give you a decryption key to unlock your files or a key to allow you back into your own computer.

The ransom usually has to be paid in Bitcoins to make it difficult for the Police to track.

A variant on this is simple extortion where the criminal threatens to release your secrets unless you pay a ransom.


Scareware is not software, but where the perpetrator tries to convince you to pay a ransom under threat of exposure of your confidential information or release of secrets.  In this case the threat is not real.

Virus and Anti-Virus

A computer virus is a type of malicious software that, when executed, replicates itself by modifying other computer programs and inserting its own code. When this replication succeeds, the affected areas are then said to be "infected" with a computer virus. Viruses can inflict untold damage on a computer system,

Anti-virus is the software that detects and neutralises viruses.


A firewall is software or hardware that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing network traffic. It determines what to allow through and what to block based upon pre-determined rules.  

 A firewall is essentially a barrier to keep out hackers and other unwanted traffic.

There are network firewalls to control access to a network, Internet firewalls to control access to the Internet and personal firewalls to control access to a single computer.


Encrypting data turns it into a code so that only a person with the unlock code (decryption key) can read it.


Someone who violates computer security for malicious reasons, kudos or personal gain. The word is sometimes used to mean anyone with good computer skills in getting into protected systems.  A White Hat hacker (also called ethical hacker) is someone who uses hacking skills but works for government or an anti-malware organisation to protect people rather than cause damage.

Intrusion Detection System

Program or device used to detect that an attacker is or has attempted unauthorised access to computer resources.

Intrusion Prevention System

Intrusion detection system that also blocks unauthorised access when detected.

Key Logger

Software or a physical device that logs keystrokes (i.e. anything typed on a computer keyboard) to secretly capture private information such as passwords or credit card details.

Macro Virus

This is a virus hidden in a document that contains macros. This is usually a spreadsheet and word processing document but can include PDF documents and anything capable of running macros. 


Malware that gets into your system and passes information back about the computer user’s activities, to an external party. This is commonly used for tracking which websites someone visits or any purchases they make etc.

Two-Factor Authentication

This is a method for adding an extra layer of security for access to protected systems.

As well as a password (or similar) the user will need to identify themselves using a second method. The most common is to use a password and a PIN number provided by text message when you try to login.

Virtual Private Network

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a technology that provides privacy on the internet by making an encrypted link between the user’s computer and the target server. VPNs are used to provide anonymous access to the Internet, hide the country location and provide a higher level of security.

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You are likely to see increasingly numbers of adverts targeting people who have taken out interest only mortgages since 2004.

The practice of offering interest only mortgages became popular in the eighties as stock markets were rising and for some people taking an endowment policy with the mortgage meant that the endowment (usually invested in the stock market) could pay off the mortgage at the end of the term and leave them with a capital sum as well. Everybody wins.

They became very popular with millions of people, avoiding the standard repayment mortgages and opting for interest only mortgages instead.

However, with repayment mortgages you will have completely paid off the mortgage when you reach the end of the 10 years, 25 years or whatever term was agreed. But, the same is not true for interest only mortgages with endowment policies and many people found that at the end of the mortgage the endowment had not grown enough and there was a considerable sum to repay in order to complete their mortgage.

Claims Management Companies

Claims management firms that have previously concentrated their efforts on the PPI market may well look to mortgages to expand their business.

The mortgage industry is preparing for even more activity from such companies following the recent release of a report by the Financial Conduct Authority. In it, the City regulator said almost half of all people with interest-only mortgages – about 1.3 million homeowners – may not have enough money to pay off their home loan when it matures, and face an average shortfall of more than £71,000.

The FCA has asked lenders to contact their most at-risk customers – those whose loans are due to be repaid before the end of 2020 – within the next 12 months to help them find ways to address the shortfall.

However, the head of the FCA, Martin Wheatley, said the regulator had not found mass evidence of miss-selling. "This is not one of those complex products. It is what it says on the tin".

The FCA review concluded that the vast majority of people were fully aware of the conditions of the mortgage they took out". Even if you weren't aware of the terms of the loan it doesn't mean you weren't told about them.

He added: "If you do think you have got a valid complaint there is no need to use a claims management company. You can make that complaint yourself directly to the Financial Ombudsman service, which is free.

Some companies offering to help with mis-selling claims charge an upfront fee, often hundreds of pounds, while most take at least 25% in commission from any successful payout.

Which Advice

The Which consumer website has a lot of information about various problems to do with mortgages


This covers:-

·         Endowment policies

·         Interest Only Mortgages

·         Remortgaging to clear your debts

·         Household budget analysis

·         Self-Certification mortgages

·         Mortgages running past retirement

·         High broker fees

Which has a lot of advice about endowment plans and what to do if you feel you may have been subject to mis-selling.

But, just because your endowment hasn’t grown as much as hoped for, doesn’t mean there has been mis-selling.


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The Nominet Trust is an unusual organisation.

They say ”The internet has revolutionised our world. We exist to ensure that the ongoing tech revolution delivers positive and equitable social impact: that when our lives are transformed by tech, they are transformed for the better. Our vision is for a world where social transformation is the driving force behind tech.”

They believe that tech can open up opportunities previously out of reach, creating inspirational change and when social transformation is the driving force behind tech, it has the greatest potential to improve lives.

They intend to achieve that vision by leading, enabling and investing.

They are guided by the following values:-

·         Purposeful

Our core purpose is at the heart of what we do – we transform lives with tech. Whether we’re leading the conversation about transformative tech, enabling socially motivated tech ventures to grow, or directly investing in change, we work hard to achieve our vision – and deliver with pride.

·         Open

We believe in an inclusive society and collaborate with others who share our vision. We encourage transparency of communication, and consolidate and share the knowledge we create.

·         Entrepreneurial

Our agile approach explores new ways to address persistent social challenges, evaluating their potential. We seek out and support creative solutions that use tech to overcome barriers. We celebrate success and learn fast from failure.

·         We lead the conversation

Some of our most persistent social challenges transcend geographic borders – much like tech. That’s why we’re leading a global conversation through initiatives such as NT100, in pursuit of a greater understanding of the relationship between tech and society. By collaborating with others, we can more swiftly realise our vision of social transformation as the driving force behind tech.

·         We enable growth

We actively nurture a support network, providing the resources that enable socially motivated organisations to thrive and grow. Working with others, we encourage innovation, promote diversity and provide growth funding, sharing our insights along the way.

·         We invest in change

As the UK’s leading dedicated funder of socially motivated tech, we focus on tackling specific social challenges to deliver significant and measurable impact. Investing in organisations that demonstrate what tech can make possible, we create and share transferable models that others can adopt and scale.

The Trust does seem to do what it says.

Here Are Some Success Stories

1.       Big white Wall

In 2013, we offered social entrepreneur Jen Hyatt grant funding to help take Big White Wall to market. It’s an integrated digital care system supporting people with mental health challenges.

2.       Troo Life Coach

In 2016, we provided grant funding and support for Jen’s latest venture, Troo Life Coach. This mobile phone app – co-designed with young people – brings together neuroscience, behavioural economics, psychology and augmented intelligence to offer personalised support to help teenagers make healthier life choices.

3.       Code Club

Recognising the transformative power of digital skills to improve the life chances of young people, in 2014 we provided Code Club with grant funding and support to extend their network of volunteer-led after-school coding clubs. Now part of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, there are now almost 6,000 Code Clubs in the UK and 5,000 others globally, all working to support the digital economy of the future.

4.       OpenUp Music

In 2015, we invested in OpenUp Music to develop an innovative, accessible digital instrument, the Clarion, enabling young disabled musicians to play and create music with any part of their body. Following the team’s success in building the UK’s first disabled-led regional youth orchestra, in 2016 we supported the organisation’s growth with further investment to help them extend their service into more UK schools, and to achieve their vision of creating a National Open Youth Orchestra.

5.       Patient’s Virtual Guide

In early 2017, we funded Corporation Pop in developing Patient’s Virtual Guide – an interactive mobile app for children that explores and demystifies exactly what happens during a hospital visit through a fun game. The app is designed to give children a well-informed and positive hospital experience which can boost outcomes and reduce recovery time.

Long live the Nominet Trust.

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Cyber bullying is any form of bullying which takes place online or through smartphones and other computing devices. This will social networking sites, messaging apps, gaming sites, chat rooms and more.  It can happen to anyone at any time but it is perhaps children and teenagers who suffer the most from online bullying and may find it very difficult to deal with. 

A recent national bullying survey showed 56% of young people said they have witnessed online bullying and 42% have felt unsafe online.

This is a major problem and is very difficult to stop.

Methods of Cyberbullying

The most common methods are :-

·         Harassment - sending offensive, rude, or insulting messages and being abusive.

·         Humiliation – someone may send information about another person that is fake, damaging and untrue. Sharing photos of someone for the purpose to ridicule, spreading fake rumours and gossip.

·         Flaming – someone is purposely using extreme and offensive language and getting into online arguments and fights.

·         Impersonation – someone may hack into a person’s email or social networking account and use the person's online identity to send or post vicious or embarrassing material to/about others.  They may instead create fake accounts pretending to be the person.

·         Revealing Secrets – someone may share personal information about another or trick someone into revealing secrets and forward it to others.

·         Cyber Stalking – the act of repeatedly sending messages that include threats of harm, harassment, intimidating messages, or engaging in other online activities that make a person afraid for his or her safety. The actions may be illegal too depending on what they are doing.

·         Exclusion – others intentionally leave someone out of a group such as group messages, online apps, gaming sites and other online engagement. This is also a form of social bullying and a very common.

·         Threatening behaviour. Anyone who makes threats against you on the internet could be committing a criminal offence.

·         Blackmail and Grooming. There is an offence called "grooming" in the UK and people who have been found guilty of "grooming" have been jailed.

·         Abusive Comments. It can be tempting to reply to unpleasant comments by returning equally unpleasant comments, but that’s a trap as it makes the situation worse.

·         Inappropriate images. It's easy to save any pictures of anyone on any site and upload them to the internet. Make sure that you have the person's permission to take a picture and that they're happy for thousands of people to see it on the internet.

The Effects of Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying can have devastating effects on anyone but especially on children who may feel totally alone and may blame themselves. If you are cyber bullied you must confide in someone – a parent, a teacher or the Police.  

Cyber bullying affects people from any age or walk of life, including children, teens and adults who all feel very distressed and alone when being bullied online. 

Recent statistics show that

·         20% of children and young people indicate fear of cyber bullies made them reluctant to go to school

·         5% reported self-harm

·         3% reported an attempt of suicide as a direct result of cyber bullying

·         Young people are found to be twice as likely to be bullied on FB as any other social networking site.

·         28% of young people have reported incidents of cyber bullying on Twitter

·         26% of young people have reported incidents of cyber bullying on Ask.fm

Ref: Beat Bullying Virtual Violence II report commissioned by Nominet Trust in association with NAHT

The Law

All countries have laws which should prevent bullying and punish those who perpetrate bullying in any form, but these do vary widely.

See the website https://www.bullying.co.uk/cyberbullying/ for in-depth information on cyber bullying and buying in general and details on who to contact for help.

Do you have an opinion on this matter? Please comment in the box below.

The stakes continue to get higher and higher as more people use the internet for business and commerce. Over time newer and more dangerous forms of virus software continues to put your data at risk.

 Since 2005 the world has seen a rise in Ransomware cases which is a virus that extracts files from your computer system and locks them up in a password-protected folder. The only way to retrieve your data is by paying a ransom, and with the growth of cryptocurrency, it is easier for these hackers to request money anonymously.

 In this article, I’m covering how ransomware can put your privacy at risk, how to prevent this from happening, and what to do if you find yourself at the mercy of a ransomware attack.


What is Ransomware?

At the most basic level, ransomware is a software that blocks access to essential data on your computer systems or mobile devices. When you go to access these files you most likely find a ransom letter that explains what you have to do to get the information back - this most often results in you having to pay in bitcoin or some form of anonymous currency to have your files returned.

Operating system companies are always on high alert for these types of viruses and issue regular updates when a discovery gets made. The problem is, most people ignore or postpone the upgrades and this leaves your computer system vulnerable to a ransomware attack.

A computer can become infected in a variety of ways, but this often happens as a result of opening something that had the ransomware attached to it. This virus comes in the form of email attachments, hidden installations on apps and software, extra pages and scripts, and much more.


How To Protect Yourself From Ransomware


You do not have to be afraid of ransomware attacks as long as you follow the necessary precautions shown above by Reputationdefender. People are thrifty and continually looking for a new way to extort you, so you need to protect yourself consistently.

Be Careful Where You Search

The best and most efficient way to keep yourself safe from ransomware is to stay out of the places where it hides. If you have emails you cannot identify - don’t open files attached to it, don’t click any links in the email. Delete the email and forget about it.

It’s always great to download free movies and music online, but I’m sure this has happened to you. You click the play button the video, and it takes you somewhere completely different - this is an example of how your computer can become infected.

After clicking that link, it is often challenging to get back to the original page because you are faced with pop-up after pop-up, and it forces you to stay there. While this is happening, the software could be searching your computer for files or data it can lock up. Be very careful with these types of websites.

Never download an app or software that does not have an easily identified source. If you want to download a game or program on your phone - do some research on the creator before you download it. If you see they have a bunch of other applications and are a legitimate business, then proceed. If not, think twice before installing that app.

 Avoid using public Wi-Fi wherever possible. If you must, then consider investing in a cheap VPN for added protection. Public Wi-Fi is often unsecured and easily exploited by hackers for spreading nefarious software.

 Keep Updated

 The other most effective way to keep yourself safe is to do what your computer and phone tell you to do. When it wants to update something that is for a good reason. The operating system company might have caught a whiff of a new virus or ransomware and is trying to protect you from it.

 Do not postpone updates for longer than an hour. It does not take long for someone to get into your system and lock up your files. Stay updated and stay safe.

Back Up Files

 Lastly, always backup your system as often as you can. Get in the habit of doing this on a regular basis. If you are backing up your files frequently, you won’t be as worried about losing things if you fall victim to a ransomware attack.

 PixelPrivacy.com is all about making the world of online security accessible to everyone. We pride ourselves in writing guides that we’re certain even our own mothers could understand! Be sure to head over to our blog if you’re interested in keeping your private information just that: Private!

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Google collects a lot of your personal data in order to target adverts and “improve your experience”. They also do so as input for their various research programmes including A.I.

Google may know a lot more about you than you realise.

If you use its products, such as Gmail, Google Search or even an Android phone, the company is collecting more data on you with every use.  

Google is very open about the data it stores about you -- but it might surprise you just how much it knows.

e.g. Google may know the following about you:-

·         Name, gender and birthdate

·         Mobile phone numbers

·         Device IDs for Android devices

·         Recent Google searches

·         The websites you've visited

·         Places you’ve been to over the last few years

·         Your favourite sports, drinks, restaurants etc.

·         Where you work

·         Where you live

·         The YouTube videos you’ve watched and your YouTube searches

·         Every time you’ve used your voice to interact with Google Assistant (including recordings of your voice.)

Google has this sort of information on all of its users and it says it is securely held and that it doesn't give governments   access to it.

Google also promises (unlike Facebook and others) that it doesn't sell your data and doesn’t give access to the data to advertisers. It does say the data is used to personalise the adverts i.e. to make adverts more ‘relevant’ to users. 

Check Google’s Information on You

Log in to your Google Account and then tap the link to Manage adverts Settings, this shows what topics Google thinks you like. Scroll down the page and you'll see your gender, age and any adverts you've blocked.

Google's Location History page shows a guide to everywhere you've been as tracked by Google, in addition to your home and work, if you have saved them in Google Maps.

 Google Assistant - Google stores data on the voice actions you've requested from Google Assistant, whether on a smartphone or Google Home, as well as the sites you visited.

Monthly Security Report

Google offers an Account activity page that tells you about all the Google services you are using. You can even enable a monthly report that will be sent to your email:


 Get a Copy of All of Your Google data

Google lets you export all your data: bookmarks, emails, contacts, drive files, profile info, your YouTube videos, photos and more here:


You can choose exactly which data to download, from the list of:-


Google Play Movies

Location History


Google Play Music



Google+ Circles

My Activity


Google+ Communities



Google+ Stream

Posts on Google





Hans Free


G Suite marketplace


Search Contributions

Google My Business

Hangouts on Air

Street View

Google Play

Home APP


Google Photos

Input Tools


Google Playbooks




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In most countries, higher education bodies are regulated and accredited by the state. The USA is different in that such accreditation is carried out by non-profit associations.

Scammers like to give themselves fake qualifications and accreditations to make them appear more trustworthy.

Some go to the lengths of creating their own accreditation bodies, then giving accreditations to themselves and other scammers and some fake universities will happily give out degrees to anyone willing to pay. This is all disguised to look both legal and respected.

 To try to counter this misinformation, there are several national and international organisations that publish lists of accreditation bodies and accredited educational institutions and some also list organisations that claim to be accredited but are not recognised.

Essay Mills, Diploma Mills, Fake Universities, Fake Accreditation Bodies etc. all come from the same strand of enabling people to ‘cheat’.

Essay Mills

Organisations that offer an essay writing service are known as essay mills. This service is supposedly for research purposes but the reality is that a lot of students use these services to submit essays for assessment as part of their course.

Some essay mills display fake accreditation – either made-up or from fake accreditation bodies.

It’s easy for people to be deceived, for example, when the essay mill claims to be accredited by The UNESCO  Accreditation Body, although some people would realise that while UNESCO works in the field of education they don’t accreditations education organisations in developed countries..

Diploma Mills

These are organisations that offer diplomas, degrees, PhDs etc. to anyone willing to pay the price. The cover they use is that awards are based on ‘life experience’ but this means there is little or no studying involved and generally no exams, just a payment.

Accreditation Mills

An accreditation mill is an organization that purports to award educational accreditation to higher education institutions without having government authority or recognition from mainstream academia to operate as an accreditor.

Accreditation mills are much like diploma mills, and in many cases are closely associated with diploma mills. The "accreditation" they supply has no legal or academic value, but is used in diploma mill marketing to help attract students.

Some scammers create these supposed accreditation bodies to get themselves accreditations  but some make this their full time role, offering accreditations to anyone ready to pay.

Some institutions obtain accreditation from an independent group with low standards. In other cases, the institution sets up its own seemingly independent accreditation board and then accredits itself. This gives the appearance that an outside group has approved the education that is offered at the school.

Rochville University  (according to Wikipedia)

One early such accreditation mill was Rochville University, which is still online selling degrees at http://www.rochvilleuniversity.net/

This describes itself as a leading online university, catering to the educational needs of over 38,000 working adults and individuals.  Rochville University is an online diploma mill offering a "Life Experience Degree, and Certificate Program" without coursework or prior transcript evaluation.

The phrase from their website “We are able to help those students who wish to get accredited degrees on the basis of their life/work experience” is the give-away that it’s not about studying or examinations.. 

Its operation is believed to be centered in Pakistan, and its diplomas and degree certificates have been mailed from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Along with many similar enterprises, it is owned by the Karachi based company, Axact, whose main business, according to a New York Times investigation, is "to take the centuries-old scam of selling fake academic degrees and turn it into an Internet-era scheme on a global scale".

Because Rochville University is not accredited by any recognized accreditation bodies in the United States, its degrees and credits are unlikely to be acceptable to employers or academic institutions. Jurisdictions that have restricted or made illegal the use of credentials from unaccredited schools include

Pug Dog Earns Online MBA in Rochville University Scam

The website www.geteducated.com reports the following story about Rochville University.

Chester Ludlow, a pug dog from Vermont, has been awarded an online MBA degree (master's in business administration) by Rochville University—an online college that offers life and work experience degrees. 

 Chester is believed to be the first dog to be awarded an online master's degree based on work and life experience credentials.

But did he earn it—or did he buy it?

“The difference between earning a college degree online or buying one is key,” says Vicky Phillips, founder of GetEducated.com.

Chester is the GetEducated.com mascot. He submitted his resume—along with $499—to Rochville University online. A week later, an express packet arrived from a post office box in Dubai.

Rochville University kept its word. The dog had an instant, fast degree. Also, a cheap online MBA degree considering he paid only $499 whereas the average cost of a real distance MBA degree in the U.S. is close to $25,000.

The instant degree package contained Chester’s distance MBA diploma, two sets of college transcripts, a certificate of distinction in finance, and a certificate of membership in the student council.

The paperwork says the pup “earned” a GPA of 3.19 (for an additional $100, he could have graduated with honours).

All documents were issued in the dog’s AKC pedigree name: Chester Ludlow. Chester also received a Rochville University window decal for his car (though reportedly the canine does not drive).

The Open International University for Complementary Medicines in Sri Lanka


They say their aims are to:-

·         To advance the scientific study and professional practice of Medicines, by encouraging its development by promoting research, living high standards of professional ethics, competence, conduct, education, qualification and achievement among practitioners.

·         To carry out the promotion and the dissemination of knowledge and philosophy of Medicines through local and International Meeting, lectures, seminars, workshops, reports, papers, discussions, publications and professional contacts.

·         To encourage a wide interest among the public and Medicines and all ancillary areas of knowledge and practice

Some people do believe in the university and have attended courses organised by the University but many others believe it is the biggest diploma mill in the world having given/sold over 1 million diplomas.

If you have any experiences with scammers, spammers or time-wasters do let me know – go to the About page then Contact Us.


A lot of people like to see what’s being said or posted about them on social media, blogs and anywhere else on the Internet. This can be just vanity but it is also useful to know what information about you is present on the Internet for people to see.  

If anyone can find out about you online – then that includes criminals who may plan to cheat you, steal your digital identity or otherwise cause you harm.

What you post today could back to bite you in the future e.g. a party picture might be seen by a prospective employer.

For many people, there is a surprising amount of information online that really should be kept confidential – away from the eyes of scammers e.g. email address,  job title, date of birth,  telephone number, date of holidays, password clues etc.]

Search Engines

We’ll concentrate on Google as it’s by far the most popular search engine, but you can use any search engines you wish to find your digital footprint.

  1. Search for your name e.g. try John Smith but also use quotation marks to ensure the search is for your complete name and use initials or middle names - try as “John Smith”, “John R. Smith”, “John Reginald Smith” etc. Try any combination that might have been used to identify you.
  2.  Search for yourself using phone number, home address, post code or any other identifiers
  3. Search for the combination of your company name and your own name or the combination of any organisation you are involved with plus your own name.
  4. Search on family and friends and see if your name pops up anywhere.

These results are your basic digital footprint and it can be viewed by anyone. If you find incorrect information then you may want to contact the relevant person or organisation to have it corrected.

Social Media

For any of the social media platforms that you have ever used, try searching for your name, nickname etc. friends and family and so on.  You may be careful with what information you make publicly available on social media, but you may find your friends and colleagues aren’t so careful about you. 

Social media sites contain a wealth of information on their users. For Facebook and some other sites you can download a copy of all information they have about you and you might find it surprising.

Directories and Specialist Sites

There are many ‘people finder’ services, that can find out everything online about someone – such as yourself, but they do charge for the service and will not be further considered in this article.  

There are numerous specialist sites where you could find information about yourself. Which ones to check depends on your activities, situation, location etc. E.g.  maybe you’re a member of a golf club or any other club – try their website, or maybe you’re a member of a professional body, or a donor to charity  etc.  

 Common directories such as Yell may only have information already found by Google but are worth checking. If you have a business. Also, local government and central government websites – if you’ve made a planning application for instance then there will be records about you. 


So, your Digital Footprint is all of the information on the Internet about you, including social media posts, websites, blogs, organisations you work for or belong to, family photographs and more.

Keep an eye on your Digital Footprint, correct anything that is incorrect and be aware of how much criminals can see about you. 


276 people a day are declared insolvent or bankrupt.

1,756 consumer County Court Judgements were issued every day in Q3 2017.

These statistics are from http://themoneycharity.org.uk/money-statistics/

The Money Advice Service website is at https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

This website was set-up by the UK Government to give free and impartial advice about Money.

The website covers advice on:-

·         Debt and borrowing

·         Homes and mortgages

·         Budgeting and saving

·         Work and benefits

·         Retirement

·         Family

·         Cars and travel

·         Insurance

It also has tools and calculators to help people keep track and plan ahead

There is a free webchat service available 8am to 8pm weekdays and Saturday 9am to 1 pm and there is a free phone line open the same hours for free and impartial money advice.

Why Are The Money Advice Service Needed?

Surveys suggest 24 million people in the UK do not feel in control of their finances, and 8 million risk not being able to service their debts.

Government created The Money Advice Service (MAS) and funded it with a levy on financial services, to offer unique and essential help with money - whether that’s best delivered directly by MAS, or through others.

As well as the comprehensive website, there is a call centre with highly trained staff who can tell people where to get the right help at the right time on any financial topic.

There is a 10-year plan to focus the activities of everyone working on the problem. MAS  fund charities to offer half a million people access to expert, local debt advice. They also work with financial services, government, and other sectors, collaborating with about 200 partners, seeking and sponsoring innovative ways to help people to save more and plan better for their future.

In 2017/18 MAS expect to help about 8 million people with their money and debts, and will work to energise hundreds of other organisations around our long-term vision of how everyone in the UK can better manage their money.

Helping People Tackle Problem Debt

MAS aim to help people avoid getting into unmanageable debt but, for those who do, they fund the provision of free, high-quality debt advice, delivered by our partners across the UK. The Money Advice Service is the largest single funder of debt advice in the UK.

They are also responsible for driving higher-quality and more consistent debt advice services across the UK – including those not funded directly. The aim is to make sure people get the help they need to deal with their creditors and reduce their debt, and also the support to manage their money and build their financial resilience so they are less likely to get into difficulties.

As the statutory body responsible for enhancing public understanding of financial matters, the Money Advice Service has led the work of a wide range of organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors to develop a new Financial Capability Strategy for the UK.

For more information about the Strategy, and the work they and others are doing to put it into effect, please visit www.fincap.org.uk.

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A pension scam (when someone tries to con you out of your pension money) often starts with someone you don’t know contacting you by phone or text or on social media, about:

·         A new investment or other business opportunity

·         better ways to invest your pension money

·         taking your pension money out before you reach the age of 55

Their aim is to get you to cash in your pension pot and transfer the money so they can get at it.

More than 1.8 million over 50s have been targeted by pension scammers.

Warning Signs

An unsolicited approach by phone, text message, email or in person is likely to be a scam, so just end the conversation. It’s better that you research and decide who to contact and then call them when you’re ready.

There are some characteristics common to many scams, including that they may:-

·         Push you to invest quickly – they might offer you a bonus or discount if you invest before a set date

·         Say that they’re only making the offer available to you or even ask you to not tell anyone else about the opportunity.

·         Offer a guaranteed return. This is not possible in an uncertain world.

·         Offer a free review – no regulated adviser, pension provider or government agency will contact you to offer you a free review. Even if they have your pension details, ignore them.

·         Claim the deal is low or zero risk.

·         Promise returns that sound too good to be true, such as better interest rates than everybody else

·         Give you contact details that are only mobile phone numbers or a PO box address.

·         Not allow to call them back.

·         Claim they can help you or a relative unlock a pension before the age of 55, sometimes known as ‘pension liberation’ or ‘pension loans’. This is contrary to HMRC rules and only in very rare case, such as very poor health or specific industries is this possible.

·         Say they know of tax loopholes or promise extra tax savings.

·         Offer investments in unusual assets such as diamonds or parking spaces.

·         Claim to from a government organisation.

How to Check a Caller

1.       Check the FCA website (www.fca.org.uk) to determine of the caller is FCA registered. Almost all financial services firms must be authorised by FCA – if they’re not, it’s probably a scam.

2.       Check if the firm’s ‘firm reference number’ and contact details are the same as on the Register.

3.       If you’re dealing with an overseas firm, you should check with the regulator in that country and also check the scam warnings from foreign regulators.

4.       Check the firm’s details with Companies House (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/companies-house) to make sure they match.

If you use an unauthorised firm, you won’t have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service (www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk) or Financial Services Compensation Scheme if things go wrong – and you’re unlikely to get your money back.

Financial Advice

Always get independent advice before investing – don’t use an adviser from the firm that contacted you.

The Money Advice Service run by the Government (www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk) has information on how to find a financial adviser and a lot of information about pension schemes.

Double Scams

If you’ve already been scammed, fraudsters are likely to target you again or sell your details to other criminals.  The follow-up scam may be completely separate or related to the previous fraud, such as an offer to get your money back or to buy back the scam investment after you pay a fee.

Pension Liberation

Pension liberation schemes are plans which claim to allow people access to the money in their pension fund before they reach age 55.

This is not within HMRC (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs) rules which only allow access before this age in very specific circumstances. These apply to specific professions, which allowed an early normal retirement age prior to 6 April 2006 and to those too ill to continue their occupation.

The HM Revenue & Customs website highlights the tax consequences of pension liberation to individuals.

Pension liberation schemes share some common features:

·         They solicit business via direct advertising or cold calls.

·         They require the client to instigate a transfer to a new pension plan, which may be overseas.

·         The receiving plan has only been in existence for a few months.

·         The companies related to the receiving scheme have only been in existence for a few months.

·         The investment is usually in overseas property e.g. a hotel or seafront properties.

·         The investment has a high and guaranteed rate of return.

They can also be expensive - the management charge for releasing the payment may well be up to 30% of the fund value prior to the payment.

Also, the payment itself is an unauthorised payment and will result in a tax charge of 55% which the individual is personally liable for.

Government Action

The government is seeking ways to restrict pension scam activities. There are the education campaigns such as the FCA’s ScamSmart and The Pension Regulator’s Scorpion (a consultation about measures to stop scammers).

New proposals under consideration include banning cold calls; giving more powers to pension companies to block suspicious transfers; and making it harder for scammers to set up fraudulent pension schemes.


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The term Hacktivism was coined in 1994 and was used to mean direct action for social change through the online world, but the phrase has come to be used in so many circumstances that its meaning has become ambiguous. 

Some people stick to the standard definition of social change by safe and legal means but others even include cyberterrorism.

Hacktivism can be a politically motivated online action, anarchic civil disobedience or anti-establishment activities.  It can also be used to mean cyber experts, anti-hackers or the fightback against online fraudsters.

 Hacktivist Tools

A hacktivist uses the same online tools and techniques as a hacker, but to further their cause rather than causing havoc or making money.   

Defacing websites and online services is a typical method used by hacktivists and as organisational websites become  increasingly important , this kind of attack becomes potentially more effective and a successful hack more damaging to their reputation.

Denial-of-service attack is a commonly used method to cause short term problems on a website. This is achieved by using large numbers of computers constantly sending request to the target website until it crashes through overload. This is similar in the real world to sending thousands of people to a local supermarket to mill around, take items off the shelves into their baskets, put the items back and just carry on filling up the place so real customers cannot get service and give up.

Notable Hacktivist Events

1.       In 1990, the Hong Kong Blondes helped Chinese citizens get access to blocked websites by targeting the Chinese computer networks.

2.       In 1996, the title of the United States Department of Justice's homepage was changed to "Department of Injustice".

3.       In December 1998, a hacktivist group from the US called Legions of the Underground declared a cyberwar against Iraq and China and planned on disabling internet access in retaliation for the countries' human rights abuses.

4.       During the 2009 Iranian election protests, Anonymous played a role in disseminating information to and from Iran by setting up the website Anonymous Iran and they also released a video manifesto to the Iranian government.

5.       During the Egyptian Internet black out, January 28 – February 2, 2011, Telecomix provided dial up services, and technical support for the Egyptian people. Telecomix released a video stating their support of the Egyptian people, describing their efforts to provide dial-up connections, and offering methods to avoid internet filters and government surveillance.

 6.       Google worked with engineers from SayNow and Twitter to provide communications for the Egyptian people in response to the government sanctioned Internet blackout during the 2011 protests. The result, Speak To Tweet, was a service in which voicemail left by phone was then tweeted via Twitter with a link to the voice message on Google's SayNow.

Hactivist Group - Anonymous

In 2013, to accompany the Million Mask March, Anonymous in the Philippines crashed 30 government websites and posted a YouTube video to congregate people in front of the parliament house on November 5 to demonstrate their disdain toward the Filipino government.

Anonymous rose to prominence in 2008 when they directly attacked the Church of Scientology in a massive Denial Of Service attack. Since then, Anonymous has participated in many online projects such as Operation: Payback and Operation: Safe Winter. However, while a great number of their projects have been for a charitable cause, they have still gained notoriety from the media for illegal hacking.

Following the Paris terror attacks in 2015, Anonymous posted a video declaring war on ISIS, the terror group that claimed responsibility for the attacks. Anonymous identified several Twitter accounts associated with the movement in order to stop the distribution of ISIS propaganda. However, Anonymous fell under heavy criticism when Twitter issued a statement calling the lists Anonymous had compiled "wildly inaccurate," as it contained accounts of journalists and academics rather than members of ISIS.

Hacktivist Group - LulzSec

On June 3, 2011, LulzSec took down a website of the FBI.  That week, the FBI was able to track the leader of LulzSec, Hector Xavier Monsegur.  It is claimed that the former leader of LulzSec has helped the FBI stop more than 300 cyber attacks since his arrest.


On June 20, 2011 LulzSec targeted the Serious Organised Crime Agency of the United Kingdom, causing UK authorities to take down the website.

Hacktivist Group - WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks was founded in 2006 by Julian Assange as a "multi-national media organization and associated library" and   operated under the principle of "principled leaking," to fight corruption. Originally, WikiLeaks was operated like a wiki site, meaning that users could post documents, edit others' documents, and help decide which materials were posted.

But that changed with the release of Afghanistan War documents.  In July 2010, WikiLeaks published over 90,000 documents regarding the war in Afghanistan. The war logs revealed 144 incidents of formerly unreported civilian casualties by the U.S. military.

WikiLeaks is also notable for its leak of over 20,000 confidential emails and 8,000 file attachments from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), on July 22, 2016. The emails leaked showed instances of key DNC staffers working to undermine Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign prior to primary elections, which was directly against the DNC's stated neutrality in primary elections. 


Hacktivism seems to cover such a wide range of activities and motives, both legal and illegal that it cannot be classed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but both in different situations. Some believe hacktivism is a form of protest and is therefore protected as a form of free speech.

You make your own decision on whether hacktivism is a force for good or bad – let me know what you think.


Do you have an opinion on this matter? Please comment in the box below.




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