6 Best Practices to Protect Your Confidential Information

Presented by Jonathan S. Merckens, CFP ®

Although there is a vast amount of technology available that is designed to safeguard your devices and personal information, that information is still vulnerable to cyber criminals and identity thieves. In fact, security breaches are not always due to a weakness in technology control. Sometimes, they are the result of the action or inaction of the user—you! Therefore, you are one of the best lines of defense against cyber crime.

As October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to implement the following information security best practices to do your part in keeping your personal information safe and secure.

1) Build strong passwords

It’s important to create strong passwords for all of your online accounts. But what exactly does this mean? A strong password:

  • Contains both uppercase and lowercase characters, as well as digits and punctuation
  • Is at least eight characters long
  • Is not a word in any language, slang, dialect, or jargon
  • Is not based on personal information, names of family members, and so on

A good rule of thumb is that passwords should be hard to guess but easy to remember.

2) Use multifactor authentication

A user ID and strong password alone are not sufficient protections for securing web accounts. Multifactor authentication—one of the simplest and most effective ways to secure your data—adds an extra layer of protection. With multifactor authentication, users must provide two forms of identification in order to log in to a site.

Here’s how it works: After a user enters a user ID and password, the website will send a passcode to the user’s mobile device. He or she must then enter this code on the site, ensuring that only that individual can sign into the account.

3) Be suspicious of unsolicited e-mail

Be wary of any e-mails that convey a sense of doom and gloom (e.g., threatening to close an account) or that claim immediate action is required. Grammar mistakes, spelling errors, and generic salutations are also red flags. Perhaps most important, scrutinize those e-mails that contain links and attachments from sources you don’t know (and, unfortunately, even from sources you do know). It’s quite easy for cyber criminals to craft a legitimate-looking e-mail in the hopes that you’ll be fooled into thinking it came from a company you do business with or from a friend. To protect yourself from this scenario, don’t hesitate to verify: Call the source directly to authenticate from whom it was sent it; if it came from a company you know, go to the company website directly to log in.

4) Protect your mobile devices

Outdated software can leave your mobile devices open to security vulnerabilities. By keeping your apps and mobile operating system software up to date, you can mitigate the risk of a cyber criminal exploiting a hole in your system. Most devices simplify this process for you by offering automatic update options for apps, as well as notification systems that let you know as soon as an operating system update is available. It’s your job to take care of these updates immediately!

Another mobile device necessity is to do your homework, making sure the apps you’re downloading are from a reputable company (e.g., by checking their ratings and comments). Be sure you know what the app does and what information it’s going to access on your mobile device.

5) Engage in safe web browsing

Keeping your browser up to date is critical in preventing malware. Just like apps and your operating system, an out-of-date browser can open up security gaps that cyber criminals will take advantage of. Be alert to pop-ups and advertisements: Both could be spyware used to plant tracking cookies on your machine, which can steal your information, direct you to bogus phishing sites, and pummel you with pop-ups.

When transmitting personally identifiable or payment information, you can ensure that you are on a secure site by checking for the “https://” before the “www.whateversite.com.” When on public Wi-Fi networks, consider connecting through a personal virtual private network (VPN) and disable auto-connect; this way, your device won’t automatically connect to found public networks.

6) Stay vigilant

Although advanced technology today is certainly a safeguard and buffer to keep cyber criminals at bay, it’s critical to remember that you are in the first line of defense to keeping your data safe and secure.

For more tips and tricks to stay safe online, visit the National Cyber Security Alliance at www.staysafeonline.org.

© 2015 Commonwealth Financial Network®

Contact Jonathan at (440) 638-4757 or

Are Your Holidays Happy?

Celebrating…Shopping…Making Cookies…Decorating…Worshiping…

By Sarah Toman, Ph.D., Psychologist

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, many of us can struggle with the countless demands of making the holidays happy for others in our lives. We can experience joy in finding that perfect gift for someone special, or in creating the most delectably scrumptious treats wrapped in unique papers and ribbons. There are countless holiday concerts, parties, pageants and services intended to bring us closer to the spirit of the season. So much to do in so little time!

As a psychologist, I frequently hear about the joys of the holidays. However, I also hear about how holiday preparations can create exhaustion, stress, and even depression. Below are a few suggestions for helping you make your holidays as happy as you make them for others.

EXHAUSTION: SLEEP! Of course, that’s an easy one. Just SLEEP! Easier said than done for those with sleep visited by To Do Lists running through their heads and worries about the dinner where Aunt X sits across from Aunt Y with only a turkey between them. Maybe putting those To Do Lists down on paper could get them out of your head. Maintaining a sleep schedule could help regulate the body and brain to relax for sleep. Avoiding the use of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, as difficult as that is in social gatherings, cutting back may help the exhausting energy swings.

STRESS: Avoiding stress is difficult, but not impossible. Planning ahead, not overspending, limiting extra obligations, walking slowly instead of rushing rushing rushing might make all the difference. Overwhelming stress might lead to panic and anxiety or feeling a racing heartbeat, sweating, shallow/rapid breathing, headaches. You might consider taking care of yourself with a relaxation tape, a massage, a walk in the snow, a chapel prayer, or a quiet lunch with a good friend. Counselors and psychologists are trained to support your experience and help you practice stress-reduction techniques.

DEPRESSION: Norman Rockwell has painted for us the perfect American family experience. We all hope our families will match his depictions, yet sometimes our family members don’t share our picture. If we have lost a loved one or are geographically separated from someone we love during the holidays, we may experience grief or depression. Some of the best anecdotes for depression are physical activity, gathering energy from being around others, putting in place distractions from depressing thoughts and monitoring sleep and eating. Since the holiday months also include gray skies and cold temperatures, Northeast Ohioans are prone to increased depression. Physicians, counselors and psychologists are available to help you knock out the winter and holiday blues.

If you, or the children, adolescents, adults in your life need some support during the holidays, please contact us at Therapeutic Associates of Medina for psychotherapy, counseling, coaching, energy work, massage and Reiki. We are here for you at 330-607-1560.

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The US is a Great Melting Pot!

The United States is a great melting pot and few things are more synonymous with a particular culture than its cuisine.  Dining at an ethnic restaurant or experimenting with regional flavors in the comforts of your own kitchen are a great ways to experience foreign cultures.  I ENJOY trying to new flavors and understanding how particular cultures came to create dishes native to their country.

Some of the trendiest cuisines in the United States are still unknown to many Americans, who continue to do most of their culinary adventuring within the “big three” ethnic cuisines of Italian, Chinese and Mexican, according to a study released by the National Restaurant Association. Consumer interest in new cuisines is growing. Below are excerpts from a report published in the National Restaurant Association review!

CuisinesIn its “Global Palates: Ethnic Cuisines and Flavors in America” report, the trade association’s first ethnic cuisine study in 16 years, the NRA asked more than 1,000 adults about their familiarity with cuisines that originated outside the United States, as well as regional cuisines within the U.S.  The NRA found that four out of five surveyed consumers eat at least one “ethnic” cuisine each month, and that two thirds eat a wider variety of cuisines than they did five years ago, with one third having tried at least one new cuisine in the past year.

“Typical restaurant diners are more knowledgeable, sophisticated and experienced than they were two decades ago,” the report said. “Today’s consumer — especially in the younger age groups — generally is more willing to try new foods and expand their taste buds.”

However, the “big three” ethnic cuisines still dominate, with roughly nine out of 10 respondents having tried all three at least once in their lives. Italian is the most frequently eaten ethnic cuisine: 61 percent of those surveyed said they eat it at least once a month.

The NRA found that four out of five surveyed consumers eat at least one “ethnic” cuisine each month, and that two thirds eat a wider variety of cuisines than they did five years ago, with one third having tried at least one new cuisine in the past year.

“Typical restaurant diners are more knowledgeable, sophisticated and experienced than they were two decades ago,” the report said. “Today’s consumer — especially in the younger age groups — generally is more willing to try new foods and expand their taste buds.”

However, the “big three” ethnic cuisines still dominate, with roughly nine out of 10 respondents having tried all three at least once in their lives.

Apart from those three cuisines, the next in line in terms of popularity are regional American, Mediterranean, Japanese, Spanish, Belgian, German, French, Greek and Caribbean, each of which more than half of those surveyed said they tried at least once.

Most experimentation with ethnic foods is done at dinner. More than three quarters of respondents, 77 percent, said they eat ethnic food most often during the evening meal, while 18 percent pointed to lunch as their main time for ethnic eating.

Younger consumers also eat ethnic at breakfast. Although 66 percent of people ages 18 to 24 and 72 percent of those ages 25 to 34 who were surveyed said they mostly ate ethnic food at dinner, 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively, said breakfast was their top time for ethnic food. That’s compared with 0 percent among people ages 35 to 64, and 1 percent of people ages 65 or older.

Younger consumers are also more likely to eat ethnic cuisines related to their own heritage. Fifty-seven percent of 18-to-24 year olds who responded said the ethnic foods they like to eat are tied to their family’s ancestry or heritage, compared with 43 percent of people overall.

Offering ethnic food as a special item can be an effective selling point, the study found. When asked if they would consider trying ethnic food as a special at their favorite restaurant, even if it were different from the type of food normally offered there, 80 percent of respondents said they would. However, 84 percent of respondents said they prefer to eat ethnic cuisine at restaurants that focus on that cuisine.

For the past 6 weeks my husband, myself and good friends have experienced different ethnic food and cultures; Syrian, Greek, Columbian, Jewish, and Asian.  For two years I had tried to enroll the Tri-C Neighborhood Scholar ‘Ethnic Cuisine – Food & Cultures.’ This year I succeeded.  The program is so popular that the ‘the old-timers’ have been enrolling for years and years in the program making it difficult for newbies to enroll. All the restaurant owners and Chefs we have met through the program have expressed their gratitude to the good olde United States for the opportunity to succeed.  So in addition to tasting some extraordinary cuisines it was refreshing to meet people who believe the United States is a land of great opportunity.

*Excerpts from Brett Thorn’s article reported in the National Restaurant Association