Don't Compromise Your Personal Information This Holiday Shopping Season

Identity thieves can strip personal information off of public Wi-Fi and your smartphone.

Rick Nease/MCT Graphics via Getty Images

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Rick Nease/MCT Graphics via Getty Images

The most memorable part of this holiday shopping should be an amazing deal you found — not having to jump through endless hoops trying to reclaim your identity.

U.S. consumers are concerned about their personal information and identities during the holiday season, according to a survey by Discover. But these concerns won’t affect how they shop, the survey showed.

And Black Friday and Cyber Monday are shiny opportunities for identity thieves.

John Krebs, who heads the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft program, says the days of deals — online and in stores — create even more opportunities to steal consumers’ information.

Here are some simple tips to protect your personal data.

Be aware of your surroundings. Itseems like it should go without being said, but the Identity Theft Resource Center says 43 percent of identity theft stems from a stolen wallet, checkbook, credit card, or other physical document. During the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, keep an eye on your belongings and stay aware of what’s going on around you.

Be wary of those public, unsecured coffee shop Wi-Fi networks. If you use an unsecured to log in to an unencrypted site — or a site that uses encryption only on the sign-in page — other users on the network can see what you see and what you send.

“They could hijack your session and log in as you,” Krebs says. “New hacking tools available for free online make this easy, even for users with limited technical know-how.”

Your personal information and login credentials could be up for grabs. The FTC recommends using a virtual private network (VPN) and changing the settings on your mobile device so it doesn’t automatically connect to nearby public Wi-Fi.

Use a credit card instead of a debit card. If your credit card gets stolen and used without your knowledge, it’s significantly easier on your wallet than if the same happens with your debit card.

The Fair Credit Billing Act says that your maximum liability for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50 — and if you report the loss before your card is used, you aren’t responsible for any charges you didn’t authorize.

If you report a debit card to your bank as missing before someone uses it, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act says you’re not responsible for any unauthorized purchases. But if someone uses your debit card before you can report it as missing, how much you’ll have to pay for any unauthorized purchases will depend on your bank.

Beware too-good-to-be-true deals in your inbox. You might receive emails that offer deals at websites of stores you’ve shopped at before. Don’t click on the link in the email. Instead, go directly to the store’s website to confirm that a product’s price really is slashed that heavily.

Emails with the intent of phishing you — that is, trying to steal sensitive information like passwords and credit card details — are often disguised as a trustworthy source.

“Identity thieves may create clones of store websites and use an email to bring unaware online shoppers to the fake site to steal personal information if the person buys anything,” says Tim Cunningham, chief information officer at Grange Insurance.

Think carefully about providingyour information. Mobile shopping apps are convenient, but they can store your name, address, phone number, email, and credit and debit card details.

Look for apps that are transparent about how they keep your data safe. Never provide confidential information tied to your identity, like your Social Security number or bank account number, to someone claiming to be from a government agency or business. Reputable agencies have other methods to prove that you’re you.

And, as all consumer protection guides will tell you, don’t send cash. Is someone asking you to wire money immediately for a deal that seems too good to be true, or saying you qualify for a government grant but need to send them a cash fee to receive it? Don’t buy it. Scammers will ask you to pay in ways that let them get cash fast — and make it extremely difficult for you to get your money back.

The FTC has resources available to consumers who have questions about protecting their personal information, or who suspect they have been the victims of identity theft. Visit the FTC website for more information.

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Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Renowned Baritone, Dies At 55

Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He died Wednesday at age 55.

Pavel Antonov/Courtesy of the artist

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Pavel Antonov/Courtesy of the artist

The Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky — one of the most widely respected singers in the opera world today — died Wednesday in London of complications from brain cancer. He was 55 years old.

After Hvorostovsky won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1989, his success was sealed. Hvorostovsky clinched the top prize — beating out Bryn Terfel, another singer who became a favorite with audiences around the world.

Born Oct. 16, 1954 in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, Hvorostovsky was famed for his deep, burgundy tone, an extraordinary breath control that seduced audiences, and good looks that once landed the singer in People Magazine. (“The sex appeal is part of the package,” the singer, who was often photographed either bare-chested or wearing tight T-shirts to show off his physique and tattoos, told New York Magazine in 2006. “My voice is sensual, too, and it is part of my image and my character and my personality.”)


Besides Russian roles, his voice was tailor made for Verdi, where his effortless top notes shined. He told NPR in 2004 that when words fail, the communicative power of singing takes over. “When the words are becoming speechless, hopeless and helpless,” Hvorostovsky said “at that moment, singing starts.”

The baritone announced that he was suffering from a brain tumor in June 2015, and in December 2016 Hvorostovsky shared that he would be withdrawing from all future staged operas. But he managed one last surprise appearance at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, for a poignant performance of the “Cortigiani” aria from Verdi’s Rigoletto at the house’s annual gala in May 2017.


Hvorostovsky is survived by his wife, Florence, and their two children, 14-year-old Maxim and 10-year-old Nina; his twin children, 21-year-old Alexandra and Daniel, from a previous marriage; and his parents, Alexander and Lyudmila.

Anastasia Tsioulcas contributed additional reporting.

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Lebanon's Prime Minister, Back From Saudi Arabia, Is Not Resigning After All

In this photo from Lebanon’s government, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri reads a statement after his meeting with Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, in Baabda, Lebanon, on Wednesday.

Dalati Nohra/AP

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Dalati Nohra/AP

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will be remaining in power, at least for now — despite the strange address he gave more than two weeks ago, while he was in Saudi Arabia, stating that he planned to resign.

The about-face comes shortly after Hariri returned to Beirut from that trip. The unusual events of his time in Riyadh prompted suspicions that Saudi Arabia was exerting unusual amounts of pressure Hariri. And the rapid reversal is only more fuel for speculation that Hariri was coerced, or even held as a hostage, by Saudi Arabia.

NPR’s Ruth Sherlock reports from Beirut on Hariri’s announcement that he’s staying on as prime minister:

“He said the Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun had asked him to wait before leaving office. He said the president has promised more political ‘dialogue’ to try to solve the problems that had caused Hariri to want to quit.

“Hariri had claimed in Saudi Arabia that his resignation was in protest of the strong influence of Hezbollah, the Iranian backed group, in Lebanon.

“This prompted allegations that Saudi Arabia, who is Iran’s regional rival, had forced him to leave office.”

Hariri spoke to supporters on Wednesday, from his house in Beirut.

“I am staying with you and will continue with you … to be a line of defense for Lebanon, Lebanon’s stability and Lebanon’s Arabism,” he said, according to a translation from Reuters.

The prime minister’s remarks were conciliatory, urging neutrality on regional conflicts, The Associated Press reports. But his announcement is an embarrassment to Saudi Arabia, the wire service writes:

“Hariri’s reversal represents the latest Saudi foreign policy overreach under its young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seen as being behind most of the country’s major decisions.

“Under the bullish crown prince, who has the blessing of his father King Salman, Saudi Arabia has taken a much harder line against Iran. He has a reputation for being both decisive and impulsive.

“Hariri’s mysterious televised resignation from Saudi Arabia had sparked a political and diplomatic crisis as Lebanese officials accused the Gulf kingdom, which is feuding with Iran for influence in the region, of pressuring the Sunni, Saudi-aligned politician to resign.

“Top Lebanese officials accused Hariri’s patron, Saudi Arabia, of then detaining him in the kingdom for days. Feeling insulted, the Lebanese rallied around Hariri, unanimously calling for his return from Saudi Arabia in what became an embarrassment to the kingdom.”

The French government helped mediate between the countries to get Hariri out of Riyadh, the AP writes.

Last night, NPR’s Richard Gonzales reported on Hariri’s trip back to Lebanon:

“Hariri left Saudi Arabia Friday night for a visit to France where he was warmly greeted by French President Emmanuel Macron. Before his departure, Hariri denied, in a tweet, that he had been detained by the Saudis.

“After his brief stay in France, Hariri visited Egypt and Cyprus meeting with leaders in those countries. In Egypt, he promised to return to Lebanon in time for his nation’s Independence Day celebration.”

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'Darkest Hour': In A World At War, A War Of Words

Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

Jack English/Focus Features

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Jack English/Focus Features

Through an accident of timing, 2017 has produced complementary films about British perseverance and moxie at a dangerous inflection point in World War II, when 300,000 men were penned in by encroaching Nazi forces in France. Earlier this summer, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk celebrated the multi-pronged effort to rescue these soldiers and bring them back across the English Channel, where they could regroup and continue the fight. And now Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour delves into the behind-the-scenes machinations that made the evacuation possible, when it wasn’t entirely clear that Britain would steel itself for the duration. One film is all exteriors, a scaled-up overview of dogfights, channel-crossings, and mass movements across beaches and oceans. The other is a chamber piece, set largely in the corridors of power, where decisions over the fate of the world are made over whisky and perspiration.

Winston Churchill is never present in Dunkirk, but his famous speech to the House of Commons on June 4th, 1940 —”We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, etc.”— is the connective tissue that unites it with Darkest Hour, which details the fraught political circumstances that brought that famous piece of oratory to fruition. Wright had visited Dunkirk earlier in his 2007 film Atonement, which culminates in a celebrated single-take overview of the scene, but now he’s chosen to reexamine the period at a time when the European Union is fraying once again. Despite the intimacy of his approach, there’s as much a broad-strokes patriotism to Darkest Hour as there is to Dunkirk, more a distillation of a complex situation than the fullest possible examination of it.

Beyond their settings, the chief difference between two films is artillery: Darkest Hour is about the weaponization of rhetoric, with words dropping like bombs. But they’re not so easily deployed. Hidden behind resplendent latex jowls, Gary Oldman plays Churchill as a stout-hearted but deliberative man who’s willing to paddle against the political tide, but doesn’t arrive at his confidence easily. Willing the country to fight the Nazis to the bitter end, whatever the cost, may seem like the obvious decision in retrospect, given the tyranny of fascism and Adolf Hitler’s less-than-stellar reputation for abiding by peace agreements. But the film articulates the dangerous realities of a moment in history where capitulation was the more prudent route.

Darkest Hour takes place in May 1940, when Parliament has lost faith in the Conservative prime minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Churchill gets the job mainly because he’s the only candidate the opposing party finds acceptable. Though Churchill argues for continued engagement against Hitler, even as the Germans are overwhelming Belgium and France and the United States has yet to be drawn into the war, he immediately faces resistance and a rapidly dissipating faith in his abilities. Chamberlain and the Earl of Halifax (Stephen Dillane) are pressing him to negotiating a peace deal with Hitler through Italy and allies like King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) grow impatient with his stubbornness and political mistakes.

The women in his life, chiefly his brutally candid wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his working-class secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), do much to steel him for the fight, but Wright emphasizes the fundamental loneliness of a leader when it comes time to make a consequential decision. In the one conspicuously absurd scene in the film, Churchill rides the Tube with ordinary Britons, who of course affirm the rightness of his thinking and the wrongness of the stuffed shirts who presume to know what the country’s citizens are willing to withstand.

Darkest Hour excels whenever Wright isolates Churchill in suffocating spaces where he seeks counsel from those in his inner circle, but mostly has to marinate in crisis. The film is particularly good at showing how information about the hour-by-hour fates of thousands is filtered down to Churchill in a way that makes his decisions seem more abstract, because he cannot bear witness to the history he’s so crucial in shaping. The big Dunkirk speech may be a lesson in the power of rhetoric, but in context, it sounds more like a wish cast from darkness, beating back the uncertainties that linger behind the text.

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'The Man Who Invented Christmas' Is Half History, Half Humbug

Dan Stevens stars as Charles Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas.

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Bleeker Street Media

In 1823, the publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (aka “The Night Before Christmas”) put into circulation holiday lore that retailers, advertisers, and other true believers have been rejiggering ever since. So it’s a tad presumptuous to call Charles Dickens, whose A Christmas Carol was published 20 years later, The Man Who Invented Christmas.

The title comes from Les Standiford’s 2008 book, now adapted into a biopic decorated with supernatural ornaments. The movie portrays the author (Dan Stevens) in financial and creative crisis after the commercial failure of Martin Chuzzlewit. He’s inspired to pen a ghost story when he hears the tales spun by Tara (Anna Murphy), a teenage housemaid fresh from Ireland. So perhaps the film would better be called How the Celts Saved Charles Dickens.

That, admittedly, would be something of an inside joke. The Man Who Invented Christmas was filmed in Ireland with Welsh actors in the crucial roles of the writer’s difficult father (Jonathan Pryce) and dutiful wife (Morfydd Clark). But not all the enchantment comes from the Celtic realms. Director Bharat Nalluri, born in India and raised in Britain, shares a taste for extravaganza with both Bollywood and Hollywood.

The movie opens with Dickens on a boffo U.S. lecture tour, a sequence designed to show that he was very nearly a 21st-century-style celebrity. Back in London, though, the writer finds himself financially overextended and subject to mockery by Thackeray (Miles Jupp). He decides quite late in the year to write a Christmas novella, and then must issue it himself. His usual publishers reject the idea, informing him that the holiday is passe.

Scripter Susan Coyne’s conceit is that Dickens discovers the book’s central characters all around him, much like Dorothy in the Kansas she dreamed into Oz. Tiny Tim is the writer’s nephew; Ebeneezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) is a miser first encountered at a funeral with no other mourners. And Tara gets a heck of a second job: Ghost of Christmas Past.

There’s also a Ghost of Dickens Past: Grim flashbacks recall the indignities of the factory where the 12-year-old Charles (Eloy Solon) worked after his father was sentenced to debtor’s prison. When the grown-up Dickens finally finds the nerve to visit the now-abandoned building, the place serves as his personal haunted house.

Having escaped his childhood, the movie’s Dickens has become something of a Scrooge himself. With a house he can’t afford full of children who are a costly burden, the writer is angered by his father’s heedless spending. He also can be quite crabby when scribbling, and even unleashes his irritation on Tara.

But perhaps Dickens is just overwhelmed by the ceaseless traffic through his home office. His wife and staff mostly know better than to disturb him, but his characters are forever interrupting. The bedlam borders on farce, while Mychael Danna’s high-pitched score pushes the tone toward comic operetta.

Like Professor Marston and the Wonder Women and Goodbye Christopher Robin, The Man Who Invented Christmas is not meant for historical purists. Many of the details are clearly fictionalized, and the dialogue flows less from Dickens novels than contemporary self-help books. When one character tells another, “You are not the victim here,” it’s clear we’re not in Victorian London anymore.

Still, better this than the umpteenth cinematic rendition of A Christmas Carol. The Man Who Invented Christmas doesn’t reinvent much of anything, but its jumble of biography, fantasy, and backstage melodrama is a lot livelier than Martin Chuzzlewit.

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Lo Moon Shows Two Sides Of Love In Colorful New 'Thorns' Video

The trio Lo Moon writes songs that capture very specific stages in a romantic relationship. Its first single, “Loveless,” pleads for the restart of a couple’s love and sense of trust. Its second, “This Is It,” reckons with the end of a relationship, admitting that “there’s no way to save this.” Its new, third song “Thorns” wrestles with a more complicated, in-between stage, when two people must decide whether it’s worth taking the good with the bad.

Despite its trickier subject matter, the song is more subdued than the band’s first two singles. While “Loveless” and “This Is It” feel cinematic, with crashing drums and powerful choruses, “Thorns” is carried by ’80s-style synths, guitars and the occasional trumpet line.

The video for the song matches its echoing vocals as well as its lyrics. A couple dances together in the first verse until the chorus splits the screen in two. In one half, filled with yellow light, the man and woman dance without touching; in the other, they undress and hold each other in a tight embrace while shrouded in pink. The image is further fragmented as the video goes on, and the partners reminisce on the emotions that coexist in their relationship.

It’s a visual which captures the central message of “Thorns,” summarized in the line, “We’ll learn to outgrow the thorns on the rose.” It places moments of intimacy, chaos, hesitation and indifference side by side, and it leaves the viewer wondering whether the thorns were just too sharp.

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How To Enjoy Thanksgiving Without Swallowing The Stereotypes

Pretty sure this isn’t how things really went down.

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Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Remember the Thanksgiving story you learned in school — how way back when, Pilgrims and Indians got together at one giant dinner table and ate turkey and stuffing and green beans covered in Campbell’s mushroom soup? And then there was peace on Earth?

We’re all old enough to know that that’s not how things really went down. So this week, on Ask Code Switch, we’re discussing how a new generation of parents and educators should talk to their kids about Thanksgiving.

Sara, 43, from New York City, writes:

“I’m white. My husband is Afro-Brazilian. So our 5 yr old son checks a lot of boxes on the forms (white, black, native). It’s been a hard, but honest year of explanations (so much more to say on that front). For example, we went into the roots of Columbus Day, but he also would not have existed if this history didn’t take place. So we came to terms with why we don’t celebrate it, but why we might if it were more along the lines of “Dia de la raza” in other countries. Thanksgiving feels harder. On its modern surface, it’s about gratitude. Is it hypocritical to celebrate? And how to explain to a 5 year old that this positive concept covers up a messy past?”

Hi Sara,

We’ve been hearing from a lot of people — especially parents and teachers — who are a little queasy about passing on the celebration of Thanksgiving to the youngsters in their lives. And that makes sense. Many people grew up loving the chance to get together with friends and family over a lovely meal, and share what made them grateful. But as they got older, they started to feel less sanguine about the holiday’s roots.

As authors Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker write in their book, All The Real Indians Died Off, too often the way we tell the story of Thanksgiving “is a collective amnesia that fuels the perpetuation of Native American stereotypes, playing out over and over again in the classrooms and textbooks of American schoolchildren, generation after generation.”

So, before figuring out how to boil the real history down for kids, I think that we adults have to acknowledge to ourselves in plain terms what the actual history of Thanksgiving is.

And while we like to think of the “first Thanksgiving” as a feel-good dinner shared by two equally powerful groups who were learning to get along, that story completely erases the context of how these groups came to rely on one another. “A more accurate telling of the story, however, describes the forming of political alliances built on a mutual need for survival and an Indigenous struggle for power in the vacuum left by a destructive century of foreign settlement,” Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker write.

So, back to your question. Is it thorny to celebrate a holiday that glosses over that history? The short answer, I guess, is yes.

But it’s worth considering this: “As much as some Natives might like for it to, Thanksgiving is not going away,” as staffers at Indian Country Todaywrote in 2012 in their guide to talking to kids about the holiday. “And, in fact, many Natives fully enjoy the sentiments of Thanksgiving — it’s the historical and cultural inaccuracies that are troublesome.”

So, Sara, I think one thing to remember when you’re talking to your son about Thanksgiving is that this can’t be his introduction to learning about indigenous people. Make sure you’re reading him children’s books that feature contemporary Native American characters, outside of the context of this holiday. Talk to him about the indigenous communities in your region — there are eight federally recognized tribes in New York, all of which have interesting and unique histories and cultures and economies and politics.

And your son’s own background is a great entry point for teaching him about indigenous peoples of the Americas. How much does your husband know about his own indigenous background? It’s important for your son to start learning about that at a young age (and it sounds like you’ve already gotten a good start.)

That way, there’s less of a chance that your son will think of the Native Americans in the Thanksgiving story as some cartoon relic, and more likely that he’ll be able to start to piece together the bigger picture. It’s easier for young minds to resist stereotypes if they have some real information to counteract what they might be seeing in school.

Of course, over the years, you will slowly have to introduce your son to a lot of ugly histories. Some of them will affect him directly, and others will feel a little more abstract. But there’s no part of life in the United States that isn’t steeped in our particular, painful racial history.

So I think Thanksgiving is a great time to express gratitude for what we have, while acknowledging the reality of what got us here.

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving? And what advice would you give someone trying to teach their kid the truth about the holiday? Email us at

And if you have a racial conundrum of your own, fill out this form.

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