ON COMPUTERS

Watch out for scammers claiming to be from Amazon

It's getting difficult to tell a legit email from a fraud. Recently, I took a foolish chance.

I clicked on a link in an email that appeared to be from Amazon. The website I landed on showed the address "Amazon.com" at the top. It even had one of those security locks. But it wasn't Amazon.

The site said my Amazon credit card had been unlinked from my account. It asked me to call Amazon's number, an obvious red flag. Amazon never lists its number. Lesson: If in doubt, always go to the company's website. Never click a suspicious link.

According to retired FBI special agent Jeff Lanza, these kinds of frauds are increasing. More than 15 million Americans have been victims of identity theft for example, and 14,000 lost $700 million in romance scams.

Among other tips, Lanza recommends freezing your credit reports by going to the websites for Experian, Equifax and Transunion. It's free and it's easy. You can unfreeze them in a flash when you want to apply for a new credit card.

What about passwords? Google Chrome's built-in password manager is fine, he says. You don't need a password manager like LastPass. Besides, according to Engadget, hackers recently infiltrated the home computer of a LastPass engineer and used a keylogger to capture his master password. As a result, they got the decryption keys that unlocked the passwords of millions of users.

For added protection, register at the Social Security website, ssn.gov, even if you're not a retiree. Otherwise, a hacker could buy your number from the dark web and register an account in your name.

VIRTUAL TOUR OF ROME

For her 60th birthday, my sister-in-law went with her husband and 12 friends to Rome without getting on a plane. The guide was in Italy and the friends were on Zoom.

As the live guide walked through the streets, the friends celebrated with Italian food. The guide made them feel like they were right there. I experienced a similar hybrid in a Zoom with my book group. It felt like I was in the room with them because the camera took in a wide area.

Offered by TravelCurious, the tours are great if you want to skip the airline hassle and hotel expense. Each tour includes a video recording of the experience, though the company forgot to send it to my brother and he didn't follow up. Average cost: $150.

To see the 90 options, go to TravelCurious.com, click on Collections, then Virtual Tours. Some cities, like London, have a dozen tours to choose from. I'm intrigued by "The Best of Marrakesh" in Morocco, Barcelona's "Gothic Quarter" and "The Best of Prague." My brother said the Italian tour made a magnificent birthday present for his wife, though it was only an hour long.

YOUR OWN PLANETARIUM

A planetarium shows you the big night sky, unblemished by light pollution, but you can also have one at home.

The best, according to ZDNet, is the Sega Homestar Flux. It's just six inches wide and weighs about a pound, but puts the night sky on your ceiling, complete with shooting stars. The Flux was designed with the help of astronomer/engineer Takayuki Ohira, the inventor of the Megastar, a laser-based planetarium for professionals. Amazon sells the Flux for $259.

If that's too expensive, the Pococo Home Planetarium Star Projector is a $99 knockoff. It doesn't have the same resolution, but you may not care.

If you just want the beauty of a starry sky on your bedroom ceiling and don't need an accurate sky map, search "star projectors" at Amazon. They start at $33.

BEWARE OF FAKE CHATGPT

More than 50 fake ChatGPT apps were uncovered recently, according to Mashable.com. One of them traps the user into subscribing to dozens of paid services. So if you want to try out ChatGPT, go straight to the website ai.com. Ignore any app offers.

SWATTING

"Swatting" is a scary hacking technique. It gets the police to send a SWAT team to kick down the door of the victim's house. Sometimes the cops kill an innocent person, which happened in Kansas City, Mo.

A friend said it most often takes place through Discord, a website that allows gamers to chat with one another while they play. Hackers are sometimes able to get a gamer's internet protocol (IP) address, which gives them an idea of the physical address.

Most victims were chatting over games like Call of Duty when it happens, but according to Comparitech, it can happen on Twitter, Reddit and other sites. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has been swatted six times. To protect yourself, use a virtual private network such as Nord VPN to hide your computer's IP address.

DRIVERLESS CAR UPDATE

Amazon's Zoox robotaxi is the first driverless car without a steering wheel, pedals or controls, but it has never had any issues. It has now driven a two-mile loop on open roads with passengers in Foster City, Calif., dozens of times without any screw-ups.

OPEN CIRCUITS

"Open Circuits" by Eric Schlaepfer and Windell Oskay is for anyone who's ever wondered what electronic components look like on the inside and how they work. The richly colored print version, a coffee table book for the gadget crowd, is $40 at nostarch.com and comes with an ebook.

ATANASOFF, THE MOVIE

Readers asked about the movie I mentioned last time. To find it, search for "Vimeo, Atanasoff, Father of the Computer." It comes right up.

Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at [email protected].