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8 low-stress businesses to start in retirement

They could provide both lifestyle flexibility and extra income

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
September 3, 2014

Photo © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com Retirees, and people nearing retirement age, often worry they won't have enough money to support themselves in retirement. Starting a sideline business might be a way to stay busy and make a little extra income.

But choosing the right business is important. If money is already a concern, the last thing you should do is start a business that requires an upfront investment and ongoing overhead.

For example, opening a restaurant in retirement is probably a terrible idea. First, it will require you to put in about 60 hours a week, so it doesn't sound much like retirement.

Second, restaurants fail all the time. If it goes down, it could put you in much worse financial shape than before.

But starting a small business from your home, with a limited, specific objective, can provide both lifestyle flexibility and a small amount of regular income. Some of the suggestions we're about to offer will work best for certain skill sets and in specific locations.

Pet care

Pets are huge business. Consumers love their animals. If you also like dogs, cats and parakeets, a pet care business might be for you.

Dogs left alone at home during the day sometimes need walking, especially if the owner will be working late. If a pet owner frequently travels on business, they most likely would love to have someone they could rely on to look after their pets.

This business requires little more than some business cards and good word-of-mouth and social media activity.


Pets aren't the only things that need constant attention. Young parents often find it difficult to find trusted, reliable care for their children.

If you don't enjoy being around children, this might not be a business for you. But if you're a grandparent and have some experience with children, babysitting – let's don't call it child care because that may conjure up licensing requirements – provides a way to make good money.


Doing well in school has never been more important. Academic standards are rising and parents who want their children to continue their education in a good college hire tutors to help their children with particular subjects.

This business is ideal for a former teacher, but even a laymen with particular expertise in a subject like math or science can probably be a very effective tutor. Getting familiar with Common Core curricula will make your job easier and help you get clients.

Property management

There are more unoccupied homes and buildings than ever before. Absentee owners spend a lot of time worrying about the condition of these properties and might hire you to check on them, inside and out, on a regular basis.

Services might include light housekeeping or maintenance. Be sure to position yourself as a caretaker, not a security firm. Again, that can bring up unnecessary licensing issues.

Marketing services

Small businesses often need help promoting their business but can't afford to hire a marketing company or designate an employee to handle the chore. But if you can write well and are somewhat market-savvy, you may be able to offer your services to local businesses in your community.

Services might include writing a press release and getting it to the local newspaper, or ghost-writing an article for one of the many free publications that cover local communities and are always looking for free content.

And of course, if you can set up and maintain a Facebook page, many small businesses may find that attractive.

Senior IT support

Many older people often struggle with, or are intimidated by, computers and the Internet, but want to participate. If you are somewhat tech-savvy – you don't have to be an expert by any means – seniors might pay to have you come to their homes to straighten out problems with their computers and show them how to do things.

With more seniors choosing to age in their homes rather than institutions, the whole field of senior care is opening up.

Online sales

If you like poking through yard sales and thrift stores, you may find you often come across things that you can purchase for next to nothing – but others would pay much more for if they only had access.

Using auction sites like eBay, you may be able to buy low and sell high, with a huge margin on each sale.

Temporary staffing

Since the Great Recession businesses have been moving away from employees and toward independent contractors. While you might be looking for a part-time job somewhere, you may find you have more flexibility if you set yourself up as an independent temporary staffing agency.

There are likely a number of small businesses in your community that would like to be able to call on you from time to time when an employee is sick or on vacation. Since you are an independent contractor, you are free to turn down assignments, giving you more flexibility than you would have as a part-time employee.

While starting a small business in retirement can be way to stay busy and earn extra income, be careful about selecting the business you start. In particular, stay away from pre-packaged work-at-home businesses. The business you start on your own is likely to be a lot more successful than something you pay for.

The Federal Trade Commission warns that consumers have lost thousands of dollars on schemes that sounded great but turned out to be scams.  


Thermal-imaging devices can steal your PINs and passcodes

Luckily, a NASA engineer discovered an easy way to protect yourself

By Jennifer Abel of ConsumerAffairs
September 2, 2014

PhotoYour passcodes and PINs (personal identification numbers) are at risk from a threat few people know about: cheap and ubiquitous thermal-imaging technology.

Thanks to thermal-imaging, any code you type into a push-button keypad — such as typing your PIN when you swipe your card at a cashier checkout or ATM, or typing an entry code into a push-button door lock — is easy for a thief with the right smartphone attachment to steal.

Luckily, it's just as easy to protect yourself from such PIN theft, and you don't even need any special technology to do it.

Former NASA engineer Mark Rober explained how this works in a four-minute video he posted on YouTube this weekend, demonstrating how very easy it is for an iPhone user with a FLIROne thermal-imaging attachment to steal your PIN by simply tracing the heat signature of your fingertips across the buttons.

“Thermal imaging” refers to the ability to literally see (or photograph) heat. Heat actually generates its own light — light which human eyes cannot detect, because we can't see infrared radiation: of all the many types of radiation in existence, we can only see the relatively tiny bit of the spectrum which we call “visible light.”

You're familiar with the so-called seven colors of the rainbow, the ROY G BIV spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Red and violet basically mark the two limits of the spectrum visible to us. We can't see what comes before red (infrared) or after violet (ultraviolet), but we can still feel their effects — we feel infrared radiation as heat, and get sunburned after too much exposure to ultraviolet.

Though our own eyes can't detect it, humanity has had the technological ability to “see” or detect heat/infrared light for more than a hundred years; the first camera capable of thermal imaging was invented in 1929. Until recently, thermal-imaging devices were large, bulky and incredibly expensive … but a FLIROne phone attachment costs less than $350 and looks like a smartphone case.

Holding the phone

In Rober's video, he went to the grocery store and demonstrated how easily he could steal the PIN of another woman in line ahead of him: she paid for her purchases by swiping her credit or debit card, then typing her PIN code into the keypad.

After she left, Rober casually held his phone over the keypad. (When you watch him do this in the video, he looks no different from someone merely “holding his phone” – no casual observer would guess he was actually taking a photograph or otherwise collecting data with it.)

The scene switched to Rober standing in his own living room. “So let me explain what just happened,” he said. He showed how the FLIROne attachment fit onto his phone, and gave a brief explanation of how thermal imaging works. The video then panned over the empty sofa where Rober had been sitting until 30 seconds before; a thermal imaging photo of the sofa clearly showed exactly where Rober had been sitting, a spot still glowing from the warmth of his body heat.

Over time, of course, that bright spot faded, as the leftover body heat in the sofa dissipated. But that's exactly why thermal imaging can be used to figure out your PIN: “Your fingers leave a thermal signature when you type your PIN code into a debit-card machine like this, and as you can see, in this case, the PIN code was 1-2-3-4-5.”

As Rober said this, the video showed his fingers under normal light pressing buttons on a debit-card machine; then it switched to a thermal image showing buttons 1 through 5 glowing with varying levels of heat-brightness.

Since heat fades over time, the most recently pressed button will shine the most brightly when viewed under thermal imaging, whereas the first button pressed will be the most dim, since it's had the most time to cool down. That's how someone can not only determine which buttons you pressed, but in which order.

This works better on some keypads than others. Metal keypads, such as the type found in most ATMs, tend to dissipate heat very quickly, so it's difficult to break your PIN with thermal imaging. But plastic or rubber buttons can be thermally read up to a minute after they were initially pressed.

Luckily, making your PIN code's heat signature unreadable to thermal-imaging cameras is very easy to do. Rober explained how on his video: “It is really easy to defend against this by simply resting your fingers on other buttons as you type in your code. As you can see here, this simple precaution makes a meaningless thermal signature.”

When Rober typed in his code while resting his fingers on other buttons, almost all of the buttons on the keypad glowed with bright heat signatures, making it impossible to figure out which buttons he actually pressed, or in which order. So anytime you press a code into a rubber or plastic keypad, remember to rest your fingers on other buttons at the same time, in case there's any thermal-imaging cameras you need to thwart.


Healthy cereals that taste good

Cereal is a staple in 91 percent of American households. Most eat it for breakfast, but 11 percent have cereal for dinner, according to the market research company Mintel. Consumer Reports hunted down the most nutritious cereals that are also tasty.


Home Depot customer database hacked?

Early reports indicate all U.S. stores might be affected, ever since last April or May

By Jennifer Abel of ConsumerAffairs
September 2, 2014

PhotoHome Depot may be the latest addition to the list of companies that suffered a security breach after hackers broke into their customer-information database.

Security blogger Brian Krebs reported the news on Tuesday morning. A Home Depot spokesperson, reading from a prepared statement, told him:

“I can confirm we are looking into some unusual activity and we are working with our banking partners and law enforcement to investigate. Protecting our customers’ information is something we take extremely, seriously and we are aggressively gathering facts at this point while working to protect customers. If we confirm that a breach has a occurred, we will make sure customers are notified immediately. Right now, for security reasons it would be inappropriate for us to speculate further but we will provide further information as soon as possible.”

Krebs' sources say that on Sept. 2, multiple banks noticed a new pile of stolen debit and credit card accounts offered for sale in the cybercrime underground that morning, account information apparently stolen from Home Depot's database.

Though no detailed information is currently available to explain just how this was discovered, presumably it's because the various banks noticed that all of the stolen credit- or debit-card numbers from the most recent batch had one thing in common: they'd all been used to buy something from Home Depot.

Connected to others

Home Depot  Sept. 2, 2014, 6:19 p.m.Consumers rate Home Depot

Based on the currently available evidence, the Home Depot hackers appear to be Russian or Ukrainian, and connected with other recent hackings at P.F. Chang's, Sally Beauty Supply, and Target:

In what can only be interpreted as intended retribution for U.S. and European sanctions against Russia for its aggressive actions in Ukraine, this crime shop has named its newest batch of cards “American Sanctions.” Stolen cards issued by European banks that were used in compromised US store locations are being sold under a new batch of cards labled “European Sanctions.”

(Actually, even if these hackers do indeed prove to be from or sympathetic to Russia, there is one other possible interpretation for their actions: They're greedy thieves who intended this for their own gain anyway, but decided to claim patriotic, love-of-country motivations because – hey, why not?)

According to Krebs, there's no information yet confirming how limited or widespread the breach is, but early reports indicate all 2,200 Home Depot locations in the United States were affected. At 1:50 on Monday afternoon (Eastern time), Krebs updated his initial report to say:

Several banks contacted by this reporter said they believe this breach may extend back to late April or early May 2014. If that is accurate — and if even a majority of Home Depot stores were compromised — this breach could be many times larger than Target, which had 40 million credit and debit cards stolen over a three-week period.

If you have made a credit- or debit-card Home Depot purchase at any time since last April, contact your bank or card issuer at once, and take all necessary identity-theft precautions.


Hackers break into Apple iCloud; steal nude photos and blackmail celebrities

Apple has patched the security hole, but change your iPhone password just in case

By Jennifer Abel of ConsumerAffairs
September 2, 2014

Photo © ra2 studio - Fotolia.com Even if you take no interest in celebrity gossip, you probably know about last weekend's hacking of the Apple iCloud database to steal nude photographs from the accounts of (mostly female) celebrities.

And of course, there's already at least one phishing scam related to it; if you have an iPhone, ignore any text messages or emails allegedly from the Apple support team, warning of allegedly unauthorized activities on your account and requesting your ID and password to “fix” the problem.

On Sunday afternoon, anonymous posters on 4Chan started discussing a huge cache of nude photos which had recently been stolen from the Apple Cloud; by Sunday evening, news of the photos had spread all over the Internet, especially via Twitter.

Tuaw, the “Unofficial Apple Weblog,” noted on Monday that the hackers were apparently “seeking Bitcoin contributions in exchange for the images.” In other words, trying to blackmail money out of the people whose images were stolen.

Based on the currently available evidence, it appears that the thieves managed to break into the iCloud accounts by using a “brute-force” search to crack the accounts' passwords.

In hacking terms, a brute-force attack entails using software to methodically try every possible character combination until the right one is found. Suppose, for example, a password (such as Apple's) requires eight characters, a combination of numerals and letters, case-sensitive.

Brute force

There are ten different numerals (0-9), plus 52 different alphabetic characters (26 letters in the alphabet, each with an upper- and lower-case symbol). So that's 62 different character possibilities, times eight spaces in the password, which means the number of different password possibilities is much higher than our cheap four-function calculator can process.

However, some quick online searching suggests the answer is 62^8, which is 2.1834011e+14 => 218,340,105,584,896 … even if that number's wrong, the correct answer is obviously a number far too high for any mere human to try all the different possibilities and crack the password by brute force.

But having a computer try all the different password possibilities is quite easy if you know how. Some password systems are set up to make brute force attempts impossible. Have you ever temporarily forgotten your password for a given account (or only remembered “Okay, I know it's the release date and first-line lyrics to one of my five all-time favorite songs; I just can't remember which specific song I used?”), and then, after a few failed tries, got a message saying you now had to wait a period of some minutes before you'd be allowed to try entering a password again? That was a security measure intended to prevent brute-force attacks.

Apparently Apple had no such limits in place to prevent brute-force hacking of its iCloud passwords -- though as of press time it appears the company has plugged that particular security leak.

What's especially scary is that in at least some instances, the actors didn't know their photos were still in the cloud. One of the victims, Mary E. Winstead, tweeted that “Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked.”

Deleting not enough

Deleting the photos from her own phone, or even iCloud account, apparently wasn't enough.

For that matter, it's possible that photos could end up in the Cloud without their owners even realizing it. CBS spoke to Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser at Sophos, who said “Whether it’s an Android or an iPhone, [mobile devices] have a tendency to enable this automatic synchronization to go ‘oh, you’ve taken a photo, we’ll make this available very conveniently in the cloud.’”

(Storing your presumably private photos in the Cloud isn't the only thing your phone might be doing without your knowledge; last June, we warned you about the then-recent discovery that malicious hackers were exploiting a weakness in any mobile device set to connect with certain public wi-fi spots—again, often without their owners' awareness.)

Apple released a statement saying that “We take user privacy very seriously and are actively investigating this report.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that “A posting on online code-sharing site GitHub said a user had discovered a bug in Apple's Find My iPhone service, which tracks the location of a missing phone and allows a user to disable the phone remotely if it is stolen. The bug allowed a hacker to keep trying passwords until identifying the right one. …. The GitHub post was updated on Monday to read: "The end of fun, Apple have just patched."

If you have an iPhone, even if you have no reason to think your own password was stolen in this most recent attack, you probably should change your password just in case. And, of course, remember never to use the same password for more than one account.



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