If you have a password, you need to read this

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It takes a thief less than 12 seconds to crack a 4-digit numerical code.

Why? Because there are only 10,000 guesses required. With the sophisticated technology criminals seem to have access to, itís easy to see why we are vulnerable.

Are you curious to know how much protection your favorite password provides? I was, so I asked a local computer expert to weigh in on this question.

Don Thompson, who runs the computer store Alert Micro Systems, Inc., turned me on to a nifty program called Haystack from Gibson Research Corp. Haystack will tell you exactly how long it will take a thief to crack your password using their exhaustive search algorithm.

This program is an interactive search space calculator that allows you to experiment with password length and composition to develop an effective password. Check it out: https://www.grc.com/haystack.htm

I found that my own easy-to-remember password will take 1.83 billon centuries to crack. The best part is I wonít have to write it down. Now, just maybe, Iím making progress toward protecting myself against cybercriminals.

Bottom line: Ditch those 4-digit numerical codes and easy-to-guess passwords. Run your possibilities through Haystack to come up with a password that will give the criminals headaches.

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Rx FOR ID THEFT: It might surprise you to learn that almost half of all identity theft is now happening in the medical field at hospitals, health insurers, medical offices and a variety of medical business like distributors of supplies. A couple of reasons why the medical field can be a big culprit: high turnover in the back office and too much paperwork floating around the office.

The reason health care providers ask for our Social Security number is so they can track us down or turn us over to a collection agency if we donít pay. But if they have our credit card or medical insurance information, they donít really need our Social Security information unless they allow us to pay by check and we donít have insurance.

After a recent visit to my doctorís office, I can see why the medical field has been reported as one of the fastest growing areas of identity theft. Upon checking in for my appointment, the receptionist printed out my personal contact information for me to review and change if necessary. Right there printed out on the document was my Social Security number.

My question is, because our Social Security numbers never change, why print it out on forms that are subject to be lying around the office, possibly not secure from prying eyes?

This puts consumers in a precarious situation because we arenít required by law to provide this information to our doctor, but they in turn arenít compelled to provide services if we donít. So how can we protect ourselves?

If youíre a new patient you can try leaving the Social Security number blank to see if you are asked for it. If you are, you can ask what steps they take to make sure your information is secure. You can also ask if there is other information you can provide in lieu of your Social Security number or offer to pay for the services in advance if you are able.

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AVISTA SCAM: A Post Falls reader called to warn us that she received a call from a crook telling her she needed to wire funds to pay her Avista bill right away or her service would be turned off. Turns out it was bad timing on the scammerís part because he called on the day her automatic payment came out of her account. She knew it was a scam.

Watch out for these calls and verify the status of your account directly with Avista if you have questions.

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Remember: Iím on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CdíA Press Consumer Gal, Iím here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. Iím available to speak about consumerism to schools, local and civic groups. Iím a copywriter, columnist and consumer advocate living in Coeur díAlene.

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