Monthly Archives: March 2012

Fight Facebook Fraud

Tips to keep your online life safe and secure
by: Steve Morgenstern | from: AARP | May 5, 2011

I recently found a post from a friend in my Facebook News Feed, excitedly announcing free dinners at Olive Garden and with a convenient link to click. Something didn’t smell right, though, and it wasn’t the pasta Primavera. My friend is a fervent foodie who wouldn’t eat a free meal at Olive Garden if you paid her. Sure enough, it was a hoax designed to lure me into giving up my personal info and urge other friends to follow suit.

A woman using a notebook computer looks at a Facebook page.Facebook users need to know what to avoid and how to keep up on the latest scams. — Peter Alvey People/Alamy

There’s an absolute flood of fraud on Facebook lately, and the most distressing part is that the invitations usually seem to come from people you know and trust. Some of these scams simply lead to online surveys that pay the perpetrator for each respondent, but others can take you to pages that install viruses and malware on your computer. It’s up to Facebook users to understand what to avoid and how to keep up on the latest shenanigans.

Spotting Scams

Sometimes, as with the Olive Garden example above, a fraudulent Facebook post will offer a freebie, or a chance to win a prize. Others offer surveys and polls. Soon after the Japanese tsunami tragedy, bogus opportunities to help started appearing on Facebook — clearly there’s no honor among thieves. Another recent post offered to show you who’s been looking at your Facebook profile, which sounds interesting and perfectly innocent — but if you actually click the link, you found instructions that make your Facebook account vulnerable to hackers if followed.

And sometimes the offers are a bit less innocent, with headlines like “The beautiful Marika Fruscio shows her breasts on Italian TV” next to an image with a clickable Play button. Click on it and you visit a site that not only tries to extract personal information but also posts the same link to your own wall, so all your friends can see what a perv you are.

News posts aren’t the only Facebook feature used to sucker you. Some scams pose as event invitations, or messages apparently from Facebook friends. You may receive a fake email, apparently from Facebook, threatening to close your account if you don’t follow the link provided. There are even scams that use live Facebook chat, with the person on the other end of the conversation claiming to be a personal acquaintance who’s traveling, experiencing an emergency and needs you to send money immediately.

Related

10 things to consider before going mobile-only

By Justin James
March 22, 2012, 12:27 PM PDT

Takeaway: Many users are abandoning their desktops and notebooks in favor of mobile devices. If you plan to go that route, be sure you can deal with this list of issues.

Lately, it has become popular for people to ditch their desktop and notebook computers and move entirely to mobile devices, like tablets and smartphones. For some people this has worked out very well, while other people end up retreating back to their PCs. If you are considering this kind of switch for yourself, these 10 questions will help you decide if the move can work for you.

1: Do you type a lot?
One of the biggest changes when you shift from laptops to mobile devices is the text input situation. If you do a lot of typing, make sure that the mobile platform that you are considering has external keyboards available and that they are good enough to get your work done. You may find yourself picking a platform (or not going mobile-only at all) based on this consideration alone.

2: Will you need connectivity outside of known Wi-Fi connections?
Some folks are using mobile platforms but staying within relatively limited, known areas (perhaps almost all their use is at home and in the office). Others are all over the place: meetings with clients, use in restaurants, airports, and other public places, and so on. If you fall into the latter group, you need to make sure that whatever mobile platform you choose has cellular connectivity built in, with carriers that cover the areas you where you’ll be. Otherwise, you may be able to save some money and just go Wi-Fi-only on the devices (other than the phone, of course).

3: Where will you be storing your data?
One of the pain points I see is that when people used digital cameras and synced to a PC, it was easy to back up those precious memories. But when folks move entirely to a cell phone for their camera and upload only a percentage of the pictures somewhere, it is easy to lose all the pictures. Now extend that problem to everything you do with a computer. Is the data all going to sit on the device? If so, you’d better have a way to back it up. Is it going to a cloud system somewhere? You need control over that cloud to rescue your data or move it to another device if necessary.

4: Are the applications you need available?
With only a few exceptions, you aren’t likely to find mobile versions of the desktop applications you are accustomed to using. But you should make sure that suitable replacements exist for the platform you are considering. Also, do not assume that the Web applications you use will work well on the devices. Some of them may be very network-intensive and not perform well on cellular connections. And not all Web applications adapt well to the smaller screens found on tablets and phones, or they require browser plugins that might not work on a mobile platform.

5: What does the IT department require or recommend?
If you intend to be able to work with your employer’s resources, can you? For example, some VPNs require special software that might not run on mobile devices. Or the IT department may have rules about what devices are allowed or how much access they have. You can find yourself in a situation where you are not allowed to work with the company’s data at all with your devices and be forced to stick to a PC.

6: Can you live without certain peripherals?
While a variety of peripherals are available for various mobile platforms, certain things, like scanners, are not likely to directly connect. Stand-alone digital cameras, if you use one, may not connect to a tablet or a phone. If you depend on these kinds of devices, there is a good chance that you will not be able use what you have with a mobile device, though you may find versions that will work for you.

7: Tablet + phone or phone-only?
Are you planning to use just a phone to replace your PC needs? Or is a tablet going to be in the mix too? If you do plan on using both (and you probably should, if you really want to do this at all), you will most likely want to make sure that they run the same operating system (iPhone and iPad or Android on both). That way, you’ll need to know just one operating system and you can share applications and have the same experience on both devices. Keep in mind that this can become an expensive proposition. (A decent tablet costs more than a netbook and as much as a low-end notebook.) And if both devices have cellular connectivity, your costs are going up even more.

8: Will you need to print?
Printing is currently the Achilles Heel for many mobile devices. We’ve been promised the “paperless office” now for countless years, but it just is not here yet for many people. Others, though, seem to manage just fine without a printer for months or even years at a time. If you are one of those people, making this transition will be a lot easier for you.

9: What advantage is there?
It may be stylish or cool to ditch a PC for a tablet and phone, but ask yourself this: “What is the benefit?” Once you put a tablet inside a sleeve with a built-in keyboard, it’s about the same size and weight as many notebooks, which are much more full-featured and powerful. The big advantage is (currently) battery life, reducing the need to carry around the big brick charger that notebooks seem to need. But you are potentially giving up a lot of functionality in exchange. Really understand your motivations before you break open your piggy bank.

10: Can you afford it?
Playing the mobile game is an expensive proposition. The quality tablets worth using tend to be priced in the same ballpark at notebooks, but they also seem to come with service plans from carriers. And that notebook may even come bundled with a copy of Microsoft Office or other software, which you will need to purchase separately or find an equivalent for on the mobile platform.

The biggest cost of a mobile-only strategy seems to be a combination of device lifespan and techno-lust. Many cell phones struggle to make it past a year without replacement, it seems like. Tablets and phones are not as rugged as computers are, and with the abuse of a mobile lifestyle they break down. In addition, there is a constant stream of new devices to attract your spending. With PCs, each year’s models are a progressive evolution compared to previous models, and operating systems can be upgraded. With phones and tablets, the “latest and greatest” is often significantly better. Staying up to date with mobile technology can be expensive. If you aren’t willing or able to pay, you shouldn’t be playing.
Your take
Do you foresee other problems for users who decide to go the all-mobile route? Are you thinking about abandoning your own desktop/notebook for mobile — or have you already?

New scam involves PayPal and Western Union

This is a bit of a long read, but I found it interesting. I had a very similar scam happen to me involving PayPal. In my scam they actually created a bogus PayPal page, (looked authentic), showing receipt of $2000.00. When I checked with my actual PayPal account there was no money. They are devious little buggers.

By Woody Leonhard

There’s a new variation on the old “Nigerian” or “419” scam, one that invokes the names of PayPal, Western Union, and the FBI — and the scammers are raking in billions.

Let me introduce you to the way these scum operate — and show you a few tricks that may keep you from adding to their booty.

“Greetings, I am writing this letter to you in good faith and I hope my contact with you will transpire into a mutual relationship now and forever. I am Mrs. Omigod Mugambi, wife of the late General Rufus Mugambi, former Director of Mines for the Dufus Diamond Dust Co. Ltd., of Central Eastern Lower Leone …”

I’m sure you’re smart enough to pass over e-mail like that — at least, I hope so. It’s an obvious setup for the classic 419 scam — also known as the Russian scam, the Detroit/Buffalo scam, and, of course, the Nigerian Letter, as described in a Wikipedia page. (The 419 moniker is derived from the Nigerian Criminal Code, Chapter 38, Article 419: “Obtaining property by false pretenses; cheating.”)

Recently I bumped into a more sophisticated version of the same kind of scam and tried to trace it all the way back to its source. I’ll take you through the scam’s stages and show you some of its wrinkles. Plus I’ll whine about the way big companies such as PayPal and Western Union are letting us down, and I’ll talk about how I rode the paperless trail to its roots. You may be able to, too.

There’s a reason why everybody gets so much 419-scam e-mail. It’s a huge business. The 419 Coalition says that, as early as 1996, 419 scams netted U.S. $5 billion. The subsequent rise of the Internet and e-mail has only increased the opportunities for this type of fraud. (While Nigeria does harbor its share of 419 scams, perpetrators can be found in all corners of the globe, including the U.S. But, as you’ll see shortly, there are significant advantages to working out of small countries.

New wrinkle on an old ploy — the PayPal scam

It all starts when you place an online ad.

It doesn’t really matter what you’re selling, as long as it’s physically large and valuable. It doesn’t matter where you advertise — I’ve seen reports of this ploy being played on Craigslist advertisers and other major online sites.

I first found out about this PayPal 419 scam when a handful of advertisers in my local newspaper all got hit within just a few weeks of each other.

One of the intended victims contacted me the minute he received the first solicitation. He agreed to let me step in and act on his behalf. Here’s what happened.

The scammer, PaulW (modified by this author), sends me this message from a Gmail address: “I will like to know if this item is still available for sale?” I write back and say, yes, it is, and he’d be most welcome to come and take a look at it.

PaulW writes: “Thanks for the response, how long has your friend owned this item? let me know the price in USD? I am OK with the item it looks like new in the photos I am from Liverpool UK, i am sorry i will not be able to come for the viewing, i will arrange for the pickup after payment has been made, all documentation will be done by the shipper, so you don’t have to worry about that. Thanks”

Three key points: The scammer is using a Gmail address, which is nearly impossible to trace without a court order; he claims to be out of the country; and he claims that he has a shipper who will pick up the item. The plot thickens.

I write back and say that the item’s practically new, I give him a price, but I express concern about the shipper.

PaulW replies: “My shipper will be coming from UK for the pickup, and pls tell your friend to prepare all the export documentations for the pickup. I’m quite satisfied with the condition and price. I will be paying the PayPal charges from my account and i will be paying directly into your PayPal account without any delay, and i hope you have a PayPal account.”

I respond, giving him a dormant PayPal account and my “address” (which is, in fact, my local police station).

He quickly writes back: “I have just completed the Payment and i am sure you have received the confirmation from PayPal regarding the Payment. You can check your PayPal e-mail for confirmation of payment.a total of 25,982usd was sent, 24,728usd for the item and the extra 1,200usd for my shipper’s charges,which you will be sending to the address below via western union.”

(I’ll call the shipper William C. I’ve deleted the address because it actually exists in Devon, England. A different person, being scammed at about the same time, was also instructed to send money to the same Devon drop.)

Note the ploy here: I’m supposed to immediately send $1,200 to the shipper via Western Union. Of course, no PayPal payment to cover both the purchase and the shipping was ever sent.

“You should send the money soon so that the Pick Up would be scheduled and you would know when the Pick Up would commence, make sure you’re home. I advice you to check both your inbox or junk/spam folder for the payment confirmation message.”

I then receive a message claiming to be from “Service-Intl.PayPal.Com”:

“The Transaction will appear as soon as the western union information is received from you,we have to follow this procedure due to some security reason … the Money was sent through the Service Option Secure Payment so that the transaction can be protected with adequate security measures for you to be able to receive your money. The Shipping Company only accept payment through Western Union You have nothing to doubt about, You are safe and secured doing this transaction and your account will be credited immediately the western union receipt of *1,200USD* is received from you.”

From that point on, it was hard to keep a straight face — you’d think the scammers would put some effort into writing business-quality, standard-English sentences (or pay someone to edit them). But “PaulW” and “Service-Intl.PayPal” got progressively more strident when I asked questions about the PayPal Service Option Secure Payment method (which doesn’t exist). The tone turned downright abusive; I eventually received a message from a different e-mail address, Service[at]Intl.PayPal[dot com], (address modified by this author) with the FBI logo at the top (shown in Figure 1).

FBI Warning
Figure 1. The scammer’s threat included a “Federal Bureau of Investigation” letterhead.

The e-mail threatened to take legal action against me: “We use proprietary technology and constantly innovate to help ensure your transactions are safe. In addition, PayPal has over 20,000 staffs worldwide dedicated to keeping PayPal accounts safe, and stopping online criminals. And we work with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) worldwide to shut off fraudulent websites as soon as possible.”

I exchanged several dozen e-mails, trying to get the scammers to reveal themselves — to no avail. Eventually, they stopped trying. It’s possible they were tipped off after my calls to their ISP, or they simply moved on to easier targets.

Tips that the offer was not on the up-and-up

I knew this was a scam from the beginning. Several people in my area sent complaints to the local newspaper, describing virtually identical ploys — similar messages but with different e-mail addresses. (That was mistake number one.)

Although PaulW’s message wasn’t very convincing, he did use a Gmail account, which (as noted earlier) is essentially impossible to trace. I Googled PaulW’s original e-mail address to see whether it was linked to other scams, but I didn’t get any hits. So that part of the subterfuge worked.

But the rest of the scam was sloppy. The initial “PayPal” message had a return address of Service-Intl.PayPal[dot com] | notification.verification[at]consultant [dot com]. Search [at]consultant[dot com] through Google, and you find references to scams. Go to http://www.consultantdot com], and you’ll see one of those generic index sites. When I looked at it, there was just one, bogus, online advertisement.

Most of the time, when the scammers sent e-mail from “PayPal,” they used a virtual private network (VPN) to make it look like the messages originated in the U.S. But on three separate occasions, they forgot to turn on VPN. Using a very simple technique, I traced all three messages back to one specific Internet service provider in Lagos, Nigeria (see Figure 2).

Nigerian ISP
Figure 2. Three of the messages originated with the same ISP in Lagos, Nigeria.

Here’s how to find the originating ISP of an e-mail:

In Gmail, click the down arrow next to the right of the message header (next to the Reply button) and choose Show original. That shows you the entire message, including the full header information (the message routing information at the beginning of the message, which is normally hidden).

Copy the entire header and go to the ipTRACKERonline header-analysis page.

Paste the header info into the Email header analysis input box and press the Submit button.

After ipTRACKERonline reloads the page, scroll down to the Email header analysis report box. There you’ll see where the message has been and — most of the time — where it originated.

For more on tracking down e-mail origins, see Susan Bradley’s Nov. 10, 2011, story, “Find out where that e-mail really came from.”

What can be done to nail the scammers

So I now had three scam messages with identified IP addresses, the name of a large Internet service provider in Nigeria, and a compelling case for both PayPal (to defend its name) and Western Union (which was being used as a drop) to follow up.

Here’s what happened next.

I went to the Western Union site and tried — nearly in vain — to find a security-related, customer-service e-mail address — someone I could talk to about WilliamC in Devon, England, and his apparent use (either knowingly or unwittingly) as a money-laundering mule for these scammers.

The Western Union site has acres and acres of warnings, cautions, and lip service about fraud, rip-offs, and cons. It has links to every single consumer protection agency in the U.S. It also has a customer-service 800 number, but it’s hard to put an e-mail header into a phone conversation. In the end, Western Union was of no real help. (We eventually found a fraud-reporting e-mail address listed in small type at the bottom of the company’s Phone and Mail Support page. — Ed.)

Moving from Western Union to PayPal was like night to day. PayPal displays its scam-reporting e-mail address prominently in many of its fraud discussions. I sent a copy of the first scam e-mail to spoof@Paypal.com with an open header and soon received a polite response saying, “Thanks for forwarding that suspicious-looking e-mail. You’re right — it was a phishing attempt, and we’re working on stopping the fraud. By reporting the problem, you’ve made a difference!”

Except it wasn’t a phishing attempt. It was a scam that used PayPal as a key prop in the setup. So I sent a copy of the second fraudulent e-mail, explaining that it’s a 419 scam. I got back another nice letter that said, “Thanks for forwarding that suspicious-looking email. You’re right — it was a phishing attempt, and we’re working on stopping ….” Yes, it appeared to be a form letter. I sent three messages to PayPal, and I don’t think a human looked at any of them.

Next, I wrote to MTN Nigeria, the Internet service provider in Africa, and they did respond. But the upshot was disheartening: “All of our 3G network subscribers now sit behind a small number of IP addresses. This is done via a technology called Network Address Translation. In essence it means that one million subscribers may appear to the outside world as one subscriber, since they are all using the same IP address.” It’s akin to a massive home network.

No doubt MTN Nigeria could sift through their NAT logs and find out who was connected at precisely the right time. But tracing a specific e-mail back to an individual would be difficult — if not impossible. And it would probably require a court order. On the bright side, my complaint was forwarded to the police. (I’m not, however, holding my breath.)

The bottom line? From a technical aspect, there’s little that can be done about these scams. No doubt, thousands of folks around the world are victims. The solution is to bring these scams into the light and to use common sense when transacting business with strangers via e-mail. Any transaction that seems a bit unusual should raise red flags.

That said, there’s something to be said for baiting the bustards and making them waste time on someone who isn’t going to fall for their tricks. The 419 Eater blog has some handy suggestions.

If you know anybody who posts ads online, forward this article to them — they just might thank you for saving their bacon.

Protect Your Online Privacy: Lie

If you’re not committing fraud, you’re not required to give your correct name to Google or anyone else.
By Kevin Fogarty, ITworld    Mar 1, 2012 4:00 pm

Google’s new no-privacy policy and attempt to collect data about everything you do online in one place no matter where you do it or on what site?

You have no choice but to go along with it, if you want to find the information you’re looking for. Intrusiveness is one thing, intrusiveness to which it’s impossible to say ‘No’ is another. Especially when Twitter and the other services you use online are being just as intrusive.

If you use the Internet at all it’s very hard to avoid Google, either searching it directly or using it indirectly as the embedded search engine on someone else’s site. And that doesn’t even include Google Apps, which is the only reason some people ever log in to Google.

Even those so offended by Google’s decision to consolidate all the tracking data it keeps in Picasa, Gmail, Search and all its other services into a single package and appalled by its decision to sell that information, much of which customers
didn’t know Google was saving, have no choice but to use Google some of the time.

[RELATED: Google Privacy Checklist: What to Do Before Google's Privacy Policy Changes on March 1]

Of course, they don’t have to log in, so Google would be limited in the degree to which it could invade their privacy.

It wouldn’t have their names and addresses, phone numbers and long-term search history.

It would just have one cookie that could identify the user’s browser and associate that individual with a list of Web pages, search queries and other activities in which he or she has engaged while being tracked by Google (which is always).

In its own outreach plan to the media today, the day its new privacy invasions are set to start, Google spokespeople tried to spin the truth by making it seem less intrusive to be tracked less completely by Google than might otherwise be the case.

As if simply following you around all day long, taking surreptitious pictures, drawing maps of your wanderings and selling all that information about you to people eager to use it to manipulate and persuade you isn’t bad enough to qualify as a stalker.

It is, but it’s the Lite version of Google’s efforts to track you.

There are bits of software, special settings on your browser and at Google you can use to minimize the amount of data Google tracks on you. Some work well, some don’t, some are too much of a pain to worry about.

They’ll all conceal different portions of your personal data, or erase it, or anonymize it to avoid identifying you, personally, with all the searches on SuperHotMoms.com or TickleYouWithAFeather.org.

They all require some extra work, some additional software running with your browser, some time spent changing the configuration of your browser so it automatically deletes all your tracking cookies every time you shut it down.

What can you do if you don’t want to waste time on freeware or changing the setup of your browser in ways you may not understand?

You can lie.

Lie to Google. Lie to Yahoo and Bing and Facebook and Twitter and any other sites that not only want to track you but won’t even do their most basic mob – showing you content – without taking down information you would indignantly refuse if you were asked by the corn-dog vendor at the carnival, clerk at the car-wash or zombie behind the counter at a convenience store that accepts only cash.

Just lie.

If you have to enter a name, enter a name that is not your own.

Every time a site pops up a window asking for your birthday, pick one that’s not even in the same decade as yours (make sure you’re still claiming to be over 21 so the site doesn’t turn you away).

When a site asks you to open an account, use a different login name and address than you’d need to buy something. Tell Google you live in Seattle; tell Bing you live in San Jose. Tell Twitter you live on a different planet.

It won’t save you from having all the searches you run or sites you visit tracked. It won’t assign a different IP address to your browsing data to make you harder to find,

It won’t erase any of your past history; it won’t add any history that’s less embarrassing.

What it will do is create a fictional, named persona to whom some of your searches and browsing can be attributed.

It will break up the global picture of all your activities online into smaller chunks so no single vendor has the whole picture of everything you do.

They don’t have the right to demand that, anyway. They ask because they know you’ll usually go along with it, not because you’re obligated to tell them.

The only time you’re obligated to tell the truth is when you’re buying something and the credit-card has to be yours, or signing up for a service that depends on using your correct identity – at the DMV or your bank, for example.

Don’t make all the names random. Make up a couple of fake persona and use them consistently so you don’t waste time and get frustrated while filling out online forms. Just paste the answers in and get on with your business.

It’s not a crime; it’s not an ethical violation. It’s not even particularly rude, considering how intimate, complete and unwanted a profile Google is building of you.

Protect yourself a little without hurting anyone; be someone else for a while.

If it confuses anyone trying to keep track of you online, it serves them right. No one has the right to follow you all the time without your consent. No one has the right to know everything you do. No one has the right to insist you always tell the truth when they’re asking intrusive, manipulative questions without answers to which they won’t give you the free service they promised when you hit their site in the first place.

And, with enough fake information in their databases, maybe Google and the rest of the identity-data thieves will tone down their own demands for information you wouldn’t normally give your best friend, let alone a disembodied representation of the advertising world.

It’s impossible to hurt the feelings of a web site.

What’s the Better Buy: a Consumer or a Business Laptop?

By Melanie Pinola, PCWorld    Mar 6, 2012 6:00 pm

Laptop makers such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo carefully label and target their laptops for either “business users” or “home users,” which implies that they’ve done their homework for you and selected the best models for your type of usage.

But even if you’ll be using the laptop in your living room rather than during board meetings, should you skip shopping in the business laptop department altogether? The answer is, well, it depends.

I compared similarly configured consumer and business laptop offerings from several major laptop vendors, and found several good reasons for home users to consider business laptops–including more configuration options and better warranties.

But it isn’t always a cut-and-dried decision. Here’s what you need to keep in mind when selecting your next laptop.

Six Reasons to Consider a Business Laptop

Better durability and build quality: Business laptops are designed to take a beating, literally in some cases. Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of business laptops are military-spec-tested to endure heat, humidity, pressure, shock, and other extremes so that the laptops can survive anything business travelers and outdoor workers toss at them. (Seriously, Lenovo testers even throw laptops out of airplanes.)

The company’s IdeaPad consumer laptops don’t get that same extreme treatment, because regular laptop users supposedly don’t torture their laptops as much.

Even if you don’t plan on working in severe conditions, a business laptop’s more rugged design may help you get more long-lasting value out of your laptop, thanks to the use of premium materials. The HP ProBook 4530s laptop for professionals, for example, might look quite similar to the silver HP Pavilion dv6t in the consumer line, but the ProBook 4530s is constructed of “high-strength precision-formed aluminum” while the dv6 simply has a metallic finish. The ProBook’s aluminum is deeply anodized to be scratch-, smudge-, and wear-resistant.

However, high-end materials have started to show up in premium consumer ultraportable laptops, such as the Asus U36S, which has a magnesium-aluminum alloy cover. But business laptops generally are still constructed and tested to be tougher.

For instance, Asus reinforces its business-oriented B23E laptop with metal hinges and metal brackets to cushion the hard drive, and tests both the hinges and the panels beyond consumer standards. Here’s some information on how Asus tests.

And the Dell E6520 not only has a spill-resistant keyboard (a protective seal guards against everyday spills), it also comes with a 360-degree bumper around the LCD panel, and even its latch is made of a zinc alloy for durability.

More build-to-order options: You’ll find many preconfigured laptop models to choose from in the home/consumer site of any major laptop manufacturer, but if you want to fine-tune a laptop’s specifications to a greater extent, head to the business side.

For example, with the entertainment-focused Lenovo IdeaPad Y470, you can select from consumer models with Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processors and different memory and hard-drive capacities. But your customization options for those models are limited to adding on more years to the warranty or selecting laptop accessories.

Select the business-oriented Lenovo ThinkPad T420 model, on the other hand, and you can opt for a higher-resolution display, swap in a discrete graphics card, upgrade the hard drive, add a fingerprint reader, and much more–at additional cost, of course.

Longer warranties and better support: If you want more protection for your laptop, business laptop warranties typically trump consumer ones. The Toshiba, Dell, and Asus business laptops I looked at, for example, came with standard three-year warranties, versus a one-year warranty on the consumer models.

The ThinkPad was configurable for up to a four-year warranty, while the IdeaPad warranty only went up to three years. Each year of additional protection and support is worth between $50 and $100 dollars, and gives you more peace of mind should your laptop break down beyond a one-year period.

Priority service is also sometimes available to owners of business laptops, whether or not you use it for business purposes. HP EliteBook buyers, for example, will soon be getting their own dedicated tech support person to talk to.

Additional security built in: Because lost business laptops are a huge liability and concern for business owners and IT departments, security features that consumer laptops don’t get are practically standard here. All of the business laptops I looked at offer at least the option to add a fingerprint reader, and many come with TPM (Trusted Platform Module) Embedded Security chips to encrypt your laptop’s data. HP touts its own suite of security tools (“ProtectTools”) that promises to wipe your drive remotely, shred files, check credentials on boot-up, and more.

More expansion and connectivity options: Want to quickly plug in or unplug your laptop from an external monitor and the many peripherals you own? A business laptop is more likely to have a matching docking station or port replicator, perhaps because business users are more likely to want a setup both at the office and at home, or because they need quick connectivity if they travel often.

Matte screens: Finally, consumer laptops tend to come with glossy displays that may show vibrant colors but also are subject to terrible glare. Business laptops generally have antiglare displays or at least antiglare options. These screens are easier on the eyes, easier to view outdoors, and have better viewing angles.

Four Reasons to Buy a Consumer Laptop

Despite the many advantages of business laptops, we can still cite several reasons why you might want to stick with a consumer model.

Ability to test drive before you buy: It’s not common to find business laptops in stock at, say, Best Buy or other retail establishments. This is a problem if you want to inspect a laptop before purchase. If you want to see how a laptop looks and feels, many more consumer models are available for you try out than business ones.

More selection and styles: Similarly, there’s a lot more selection with consumer laptops than with business ones. Want a girly pink laptop? No problem. A gaming laptop that’s under an inch thick? Okay. Anything from a tiny netbook to an 18-inch laptop? Or something that costs under $500? You’ll find a wide range of laptop styles, sizes, and types on the consumer side to suit your tastes and needs. That is not as true with business laptops.

More premium features now available: Consumer laptops are being built better and better every year, especially powerful entertainment laptops. Models like the HP Pavilion dv6t, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y470, and the Asus U36SG–all mentioned above–offer discrete graphics cards for better video performance, HDMI for connecting to your TV, and bright HD displays.

And a category like Ultrabooks–the new class of ultrathin laptops–is largely targeted at consumers. Most models in this category sport high-performance solid-state drives, long-lasting batteries, and premium build materials, as well as some added security features like remote lock and location tracking.

Lower cost and (sometimes) better specs for the money: Business laptops tend to cost more than their consumer counterparts, and often you can get consumer laptops on sale with many instant discounts and free upgrades.

For example, the HP Pavilion dv6t was recently offered at $580 after an instant rebate of $100 at the HP Home and Home Office Store, plus a free 6GB memory upgrade and a free 640GB hard-drive upgrade.

Meanwhile, in the Business store, HP offered the ProBook 4530s for $589 in a “Smart Buy” preconfiguration with just 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive–no extras thrown in. Build-to-order options in the business section can be even pricier. The HP ProBook 4530s starts at a whopping $1353 if you want to configure it yourself rather than buy a preconfigured model.

Of course, a price advantage for consumer models doesn’t always hold, depending on when and where you shop. Sometimes the prices between consumer and business laptops are comparable, or the business laptops cost even less, so it makes sense to shop around.

Why You Should Shop Both the Consumer and Business Departments

In the end, there’s no reason to limit yourself to just the “home and home office” laptop section. It’s a good idea to see if there’s a business version of the consumer laptop you’re interested in. Sometimes laptop vendors will even have a business model that’s the exact same laptop, with just a few differences–ones that you might be interested in.

The Toshiba Portege R830 series is one example. This ultraportable is available as the Portege R835 for consumers in several configurations and as the Portege R830, which is “built for business.”

The business-oriented Portege R830 is priced at about $250 more than the R835, but for that premium, you get:

  • The Windows 7 Professional operating system instead of Windows Home Premium
  • A matte, antiglare display rather than your typical glossy screen
  • A three-year warranty versus the R835’s standard one-year warranty
  • Additional security features, such as a fingerprint reader and a TPM security module for encrypting your laptop’s data

The Portege R830 is also the only model of the two that you can configure to your specifications, such as choice of processor, amount of memory, a choice of drives (such as a 7200-rpm hard drive or up to a 512GB solid-state drive), and more.

A matte display, longer warranty, more security, and more configuration options. All you have to decide is whether these features are worth the extra money to you.

If they are not, then, in this example, buy the consumer-oriented Portege R835.

Follow Melanie Pinola (@melaniepinola) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

Verizon launches wireless broadband for homes

By PETER SVENSSON | Associated Press……March 5, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — Verizon Wireless on Tuesday announced a version of its wireless broadband service that’s designed for use in rural and remote homes that can’t get DSL or cable.

The service, called HomeFusion, could also appeal to some households where DSL is the only fixed-line option, since it’s faster than most DSL services.

HomeFusion could provide potent competition for satellite broadband providers, which are often “providers of last resort” for rural homes.

The service requires the installation of a cylindrical antenna, about the size of a 5-gallon bucket, on an outside wall. The hardware costs $200, but the work is free.

  • Enlarge PhotoThis image provided by Verizon shows an antenna that would be installed on the outside …

Service starts at $60 per month for 10 gigabytes of data. That’s enough of a monthly data allotment to download the complete works of Shakespeare 2,000 times, or to watch about 10 hours of HD-quality video using an Internet streaming service such as Netflix.

Dallas, Nashville, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., will be the first areas to get the service, later this month. By the end of the year, Verizon hopes to provide it everywhere it has coverage with its new “LTE” wireless network.

Verizon cites the same speeds for HomeFusion as for LTE data sticks: 5 to 12 megabits per second for downloads, and 2 to 5 megabits for uploads. However, LTE users frequently report much higher speeds, ranging up to 70 megabits per second for downloads.

By comparison, DSL service provided by Verizon Communications Inc., the fixed-line phone company that owns most of Verizon Wireless, provides download speeds up to 7 megabits per second in most areas.

Verizon’s DSL service doesn’t limit the data usage like HomeFusion does. The average U.S. and Canadian household usage of 22.7 gigabytes in September, as reported by Sandvine Inc.

However, a few heavy-using households skew the figure: the median usage was just 5.8 gigabytes. In other words, half of all broadband households used 5.8 gigabytes or less, and would have some headroom with a 10-gigabyte plan.

The 10-gigabyte plan would limit Internet movie watching to a few hours per month, and limit downloads of big software packages as well.

Verizon will sell step-up plans with 20 gigabytes of data for $90 per month and 30 gigabytes for $120 per month. It charges $10 per gigabyte of overage on any of the plans.

The $60 and $90 plans provide one-third more data per month than corresponding plans sold by ViaSat Inc. for its Exede satellite broadband service.

Wireless broadband for home use is not a new idea. Clearwire Corp. sells a similar service, without an external antenna, but has limited rural coverage. A number of smaller companies limit their service to one community.