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US Census Guide: How to Get the Most Out of Census.gov

If you ever visited Census.gov before it was updated you’d have found the process of sifting through the plentiful information about America’s economy, places, and people incredibly time-consuming and difficult. Thankfully, the website has been updated, which has made it slightly easier to navigate. However, with so much information available, it’s still easy to miss key features or you may struggle to pinpoint the data you’re looking for.

Therefore, to help get you started and to make sure you’re getting the most out of Census.gov, we’ve put together this handy guide which will show you how to navigate the site and get the results you’re looking for.

Using the Navigation Bar

At the top of the site, you’ll see a navigation bar which contains the links, “Topics,” “Geography,” “Library,” “Data,” “Surveys/Programs,” “Newsrooms,” and “About Us.” So, let’s take a look at each of these to see what you’ll find in each section.

Using the Topics Feature on Census.gov

When you click on the “Topics” tab at the top of the homepage, this presents you with a drop-down bar with a number of further options. These contain the economic and demographic content within certain areas of interest, including population, education, income and poverty, and health.

Clicking on one of these will provide you with a further breakdown of the statistics that are available for this area. For example, if you click on ‘Health,’ this presents you with several more options, including Disability, Expenses and Investments, Fertility, Health Care Industries, Health Insurance, HIV/AIDS, Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE), and Social Assistance Industries. As you click into each of these categories you’ll be taken to a new page that’s dedicated entirely to this area. At the top of the page, you’ll see an overview of what the statistics include along with any new releases that are available.

When you’ve found your chosen area and have clicked on it, you can go into much more detail using the additional tabs and sections within each sub-category. For example, on the Disability page, you’ll find information about the data that’s collected, how it’s collected, and what publications have been released. For further information on the specific area, there are also links to related sites or you can contact the team for more information.

Alternatively, if you just want an overview of one of the main categories (e.g. Health) and don’t want to go into a specific sub-category, you can enter the main page by clicking on “[CATEGORY NAME] main” in the white box that’s on the left-hand side of the drop-down within each section. This provides you with a general overview of the data that’s been collected, any news stories, recent publications, new surveys/programs, working papers, and so on.

Using the Geography Feature on Census.gov

Clicking on the “Geography” tab opens up some more possibilities for your data search. Here you’ll find access to an overview of the geography section of the website, “Geography Main.” Or you can refine your search by clicking on the various features available.

This includes cool interactive maps that display things like populations; education tools like blogs and brochures; metropolitan and micropolitan information; and further details on the Geographic Support System Initiative (GSS-I).

Using the Library Feature on Census.gov

For photos, videos, and audio tools, you’ll need to click on the “Library” tab. Here you’ll find access to all the available publications, infographics, and audio/visual tools available.

For example, if you click into the infographics section you’ll be able to see the latest ones that have been published. Codes for each of these are available so you can embed these into your own website to provide a cool graphic for your visitors.

All of the multimedia available within this section is sorted by their date of release.

Using the Data Feature on Census.gov

Under the “Data” tab you’ll find some great tools that help you find the data you’re looking for. (We’ll delve into the QuickFacts section of the site in more detail below.)

Within this section, you will find more sub-categories that allow you to explore different areas of the site. Helpful tools (like the QuickFacts feature) are located under the tab “Data Tools & Apps,” but you’ll also find a section that’s dedicated to developers.

The developers’ section of Census.gov has been designed to help provide greater access to the stats and data the website’s got available. Therefore, within this section developers can use the application programming interface (API) to reach new users and create custom apps by incorporating the stats found on the website into their own designs. For example, a developer may use the stats to show what commuting patterns there are in a particular American city, or they may show how many homeowners there are within a certain neighborhood.

However, if you’re not a developer, you can gain instant access to some of the apps that are already available. Contained in the “Mobile Apps” section you’ll find a number of free apps that help you process the information that’s available on the site. Or, if you fancy putting your knowledge to the test, you might like to download the Census PoP Quiz!

Furthermore, in the “Software” sub-category you’ll also find some free software that allows you to process, map, extract, display, and/or create tables from the survey and census data.

There’s also a “Product Catalogs” section where you’ll find information that’s been separated into key subject categories (e.g. Business and Industry, Geography, and Housing). Within these sections, you’ll find publications in print, CDs, DVDs, certification services, and reference files and maps.

Finally, for information on combining data and where you can get more training or attend workshops, you’ll need to be in the “Training & Workshops” section.

You can also access to the visual tools through this Data section, too.

Using the Surveys/Programs Feature on Census.gov

To gain instant access to the surveys and programs that have been run throughout the U.S., click on the tab for “Surveys/Programs”. Through the drop-down menu, you can access all of the surveys available, which include the 2010 and 2020 Census, the American Housing Survey (AHS), the Economic Census, and so on.

Clicking on the relevant one will take you straight to the relevant survey while also providing you with more information on the survey. For example, in the 2020 Census section, you’ll find details on things like research and testing, the latest news, and a monthly status report.

If you’re not sure what survey or program you want, you can click on the tab that shows “All Surveys & Programs.” Displayed in alphabetical order, there are over one hundred different ones available for you to choose from.

And, finally, if you ever want some more details on a survey you’ve been asked to take part in you can learn more about this in the “Are you in a Survey?” section.

Using the Newsroom and About Us Sections on Census.gov

The final two tabs on the website are pretty self-explanatory. Within the newsroom section, you’ll find the latest releases and blog/social media posts. You can also get facts for your features, stats for your stories, and press kits here. And if you want to know more about Census.gov, how it operates, who’s behind it, and what their research involves, head to “About Us.”

Getting the Most Out of Census.gov QuickFacts

The QuickFacts tool provided by Census.gov is incredibly useful if you want to refine the data on offer. To access the tool you can either click through from the homepage or go to the “Data” tab before clicking on “Data Tools & Apps” and “QuickFacts.”

Once the QuickFacts screen has loaded up you’ll see a search box where you can enter the state, county, city, town, or zip code – and a drop-down box that allows you to select a fact.

The facts include various factors within several sections:

  • Population
  • Age and Sex
  • Race and Hispanic Origin
  • Population Characteristics
  • Housing
  • Family and Living Arrangements
  • Education
  • Health
  • Economy
  • Transportation
  • Income & Poverty
  • Business
  • Geography

To access the data, simply enter the area you want to look in. The search bar at the top does also give you the option to choose the factor you want to filter by. For example, you may want to look at Oklahoma to see how many people are living in each household. To do this, you’ll type in “Oklahoma” in the search bar before selecting “persons per household” under the “Family and Living Arrangements” section. However, unfortunately, the tool doesn’t filter out all of the other information when you do this, so you’ll still see all the other data among the data you’ve asked for.

Therefore, to get the information you’re looking for your best off entering the area in the search bar, letting the graph load and selecting the section that’s relevant to you from the drop-down menu that’s located at the top of the table. This automatically shows “All Topics” but if you click on it, it’ll display the sections detailed in the bullet points listed above. So, for the previous example we’ve given, we’d select “Family and Living Arrangements” before narrowing down our search to see how many people were living in each household.

You’ll also notice that when your table’s generated, it will show the “United States” and your chosen area, e.g. Oklahoma. This allows you to compare the stats for both, or, if you want to focus solely on the area you’ve chosen, you can click the X above ‘United States’ to get rid of this.

Once you’ve created this table you can then add other areas to it to start comparing. All you need to do is type in the new area in the search box. For example, we might compare the number of people in a household in Oklahoma with the figures for Tennessee. After we’ve typed “Tennessee” into the search bar this will be added to the table next to Oklahoma so we can compare the two. And if you want to get rid of one of your search results, all you need to do is hit the X above the area name.

Because QuickFacts continues to add new areas to the table when you type them in the search bar, you will need to clear your existing table if you want to start a fresh comparison. To do this, just click on the “Clear” icon on the toolbar.

Using the Other Features of QuickFacts

You’ll also notice that, on this toolbar, there are a number of other icons, and these are designed to create interactive features for your searches. For example, after you’ve selected the area you’re looking at, you can click on “Map” to load a full map of the United States. It will highlight the area you’ve selected in red while also showing you all the other states. By hovering over the states you can see the total populations within each. Or, if you select a particular fact from the drop-down menu, it’ll display the total number of people within each area according to the fact you’ve selected.

The chart icon also provides you with another way of comparing your newfound stats with other states in the U.S. To use, just click on the icon after you’ve input the area and fact you want to search by.

And now comes the clever part! The “Dashboard” icon draws all three of the above features into one manageable place, so you can see the table, map, and chart at once. This offers a much more visual experience that you can continue to change and refine according to the topics you’re selecting.

If you do get confused as to what topic you’ve chosen, this is always displayed above the feature you’re using.

Finally, when you’ve found the data you want, you can start to use it by clicking on the “More” button at the end of the QuickFacts toolbar. Here you can choose to print your results, import them into a CSV file (for use with Excel spreadsheets, for example), email them to someone, get an embedded link for your website, or share them on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Although the QuickFacts feature can be a little frustrating to use to start with, by playing around with it for a few minutes you should grasp the concept of it. And once you do, the information that’s available and the features you can use are incredibly useful.

Other Useful Features on Census.gov

U.S. and World Population Clock

To see how rapidly the world’s or America’s population is expanding, the interactive Population Clock is well worth a visit. With a clock counting the population as it grows and some other timers for births, deaths, and migrations, this is a great visual tool.

Here you’ll also find out how the population is changing, being able to see how frequently a new baby’s being born, how often there’s a death, and how the population is growing by region. You can also view the population density by age and sex, viewing how it’s changed over the years.

Additionally, you can find out how large the population of America was on a certain date by entering it into the calendar. This is also available to download and share.

American FactFinder

This tool on Census.gov lets you explore popular facts about your community, while also showing you the data that’s being frequently requested about this area. To find out more all you need to do is put your state, county, city, town, or zip code in the search bar and click “Go.”

Once you’ve done this it’ll take you to a page which shows you the total population and popular tables for this area. On the left-hand side, you’ll also see a number of categories, including age, education, and housing. Clicking on one of these will bring up the relevant data for this category while, again, showing you the popular tables for this section.

However, if you want to refine your search you may find the “Guided Search” option, which is available on the main page of the American FactFinder, helpful. Here you choose from a number of options, including what information you’re looking for, the topics you’re interested in, the location you want, and whether you want to refine your data to a race or ethnic group.

Once you’ve done this you’ll be presented with a list of tables and documents that are relevant to your requirements. This is a much easier way to refine your search!

There’s also an “Advanced Search” option that allows you to search by topics, geographies, race and ethnic groups, industry codes, and EEO occupation codes. You can also search by topic or table name or the area you’re interested in.

Frequently Asked Questions

Within this section, you’ll see what questions people are asking, with popular FAQs displayed on the main page. You can refine the results by topics or find what you’re looking for straight away, just type your question in the search box.

There’s some great information available that will help shed light on your research, the data available, and what goes into the surveys. You can also dip into the glossary for help with any unknown terms.

Conclusion

As you can see there’s plenty on offer at Census.gov, whether you’re looking for the latest mobile apps or you need to produce a table of facts for a new assignment. And, although the plethora of information can seem quite intimidating at first, the above explanation of how to access all of the key areas should hopefully help you find what you’re looking for!

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How Long Does an Employment Background Check Take

With more than 90 percent of employers running background checks on potential candidates, it’s important that you know what they’re looking for before you begin your job hunt. The same applies to banks where you’re seeking a loan and landlords when you’re trying to secure a new place to live. Background checks can make or break your eligibility for all of life’s necessities.

So what do you need to know about the length of your average review? Consider this your guide to understanding background checks.

Types of Background Check

The length of a background check will depend entirely on what kind of check is being run. There are several types:

Criminal Checks

These checks look for arrests, lawsuits, incarceration records and people on the sex offender registry. They typically take anywhere from 3-10 days depending on the agency doing the reporting and the amount of transgressions on record.

Citizenship Checks

More and more employers are requiring citizenship or visa checks to keep themselves from running afoul of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These checks are usually nothing more than a phone call or a Social Security number run through the federal E-Verify program, so they don’t take long at all.

Credit Checks

Checking an applicant’s credit can be a time-consuming process. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), employers have to get your permission for the review before any digging is done, and even after that you’re looking at a wait of 7-10 days for official processing.

Driving Checks

If you’re applying somewhere as a driver, your employer will need to check your driving record for tickets, accidents and DUIs/DWIs. Don’t expect this to happen any sooner than 48 hours, especially if the employer is having it bundled into an all-purpose background check that can take up to a week to deliver.

Employment Checks

Did you really work at that company? Hiring managers are allowed to check references, employment dates and even performance reviews. Unfortunately, there’s just no way to know how long it will your new employer to speak with your old one.

Education Checks

If you’re applying for an academic or highly technical position, your employer may want verification of your degree. These don’t take long for the schools to fax over, but keep in mind that their offices aren’t open on weekends, and not every request is processed right away.

Tenant Checks

Tenant screening takes place by landlords and homeowners who want to ensure that they’re renting to the right people. These checks look for things like income verification and good rental histories, and they usually take less than 72 hours.

Licensing Checks

Your employer may want to verify that you have the legal certification required for your job. These checks will look at issuance dates, location details and any disciplinary actions taken against you, and they typically take 3-10 days.

Types of Background Checker

In addition to choosing what kind of review to run, employers are often allowed to pick between several different methods of obtaining a background check.

Third-Party Agencies

Third-party agencies are usually the fastest with background checks. They use the Internet to comb through public records, so they typically have results within a matter of days; some agencies even run “instant” background checks that can be done in a matter of hours.

State Agencies

When employers want an official background check, they turn to the state. These reviews are ordered from places like the State Bureau of Identification (SBI) or the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), and they typically take 7-10 business days to be mailed out.

Federal Agencies

Occasionally a bank or employer will require a background check from the FBI for the purpose of national security. These reviews take the longest; you won’t see results for 30 days or more.

Speeding Up Your Background Check

If you’re in a hurry for that new job, here are just a few ways to grease the wheels of the system:

– Fill out your forms properly. For example, don’t give your nickname or a shortened version of your name on official job applications. “Joe” isn’t in the state’s records; “Joseph” is.

– Offer as many identifiers as you can. Don’t be shy about giving out your birthday, address history or educational level. According to Security Magazine, this will keep you from being confused with other people of the same name.

– Be honest. This may sound obvious, but there’s no use in lying on a form when you’re going to be scrutinized in a background check anyway. Not only will you lose the job, but it can also slow things down when city officials confuse your records with another persons.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when wondering about the length of a background check. As you can see, it depends on a variety of factors, so be as patient as you can. Anxiety won’t make the results deliver themselves any faster.

MVR Driving Record

In today’s difficult environment, it is important for a company to make a firm commitment to risk management. Employee screening is one essential ingredient in an overall risk management program. By thoroughly screening a prospective hire, a company can ensure that they obtain honest, reliable employees.

A company with employee drivers should take every reasonable measure to make sure that these people are safe drivers to protect their business and reduce risks. Among these steps is the use of Motor Vehicle Records Checks to determine if an applicant has a good driving history. Employee driving records have become an important Fleet Safety Program component and can help protect a company against litigation after an accident.

The Basics

An MVR or Motor Vehicle Check shows a person’s driving history including valuable information about their driver’s license such as special endorsements, license class, current and past license statuses including cancellations, revocations and suspensions and any restrictions on their license.

Aside from that, it will also show valuable information about a person’s traffic violations including but not limited to vehicular crimes, accident reports, traffic citations, DUI convictions and driving record points. MVR checks might also show personal information such as an individual’s gender, date of birth, age, weight, height and hair and eye color.

They can also uncover unanswered or unpaid summons and insurance lapses. Usually, MVR checks only show information for a specific number of years. However, the time frame differs by the state. Additionally, employers should obtain a release from the applicant before an MVR check can be run.

The Statistics Do Not Lie

The importance of an MVR check cannot be denied. Companies should determine if their employee is a safe driver not only to protect their equipment but also their customers, clients and others that their workers may have contact with. This is because motor-vehicle crashes cost companies $60 billion annually in legal expenses, lost productivity, medical care and property damage. The average motor vehicle crash costs an employer approximately $16,500.

When an employee is involved in an on-the-job crash that results in an injury, the cost to their employer is $74,000. What is worse is that it can exceed $500,000 when a fatality is involved. That figure can soar to millions of dollars per incident if punitive damages are awarded. They are also liable for a negligent lawsuit. Such lawsuits also have the potential to destroy the reputation of a company.

The Benefits

It can be hard for a company to predict how an employee will handle their job in a real work setting. If their work requires driving, auto insurance can be involved as well that can significantly affect the operations of their business. Nobody is perfect at driving, but some people are definitely worse than others.

In many cases, driving history repeats itself. Running an MVR check helps a company predict any negative activity that has a higher probability of happening in the near future. At the very least, they can talk to the prospective employee about their driving history after knowing their record and resolving any issues and worries.

However, this does not just equate to peace of mind for business owners. Their insurance company worries about their employees as well. That worry usually translates to money. This is because insurance companies have access to MVR checks, and their premiums may be based on people’s driving history.

Companies may be penalized with higher premiums if their organization reflects poorly in this domain. Insurance is frequently a hazard to operational costs. Fortunately, knowing their employee’s MVR helps companies protect themselves.

Another Hidden Benefit

In addition to companies benefiting from having MVR checks done, prospective job applicants do as well. It prevents them from having unnecessary errors that blemish their identity. Even if their job does not necessarily involve driving, an employer may still want an idea of what is on their driving record.

Having errors on their record can hurt a person’s chances of getting a job. Even if there are no errors, every violation or ticket they have might not show up on record. Knowing what isn’t and what is on their record can help an person prepare for questioning by a prospective employer.

Releasing Time

MVR checks are usually returned within one to three business days from the order date. However, each U.S. state has its own regulations and rules as to how records are released and kept. This affects the turnaround time.

Other reasons for an MVR check to be delayed include name variations and missing or incorrect license numbers. Because motor vehicle licenses are issued by individual states, and each one of them maintains its own database driving records, MVR checks are done per state as there is no national driving record database. Companies should contact the individual Department of Motor Vehicles or comparable department in each state.

A Weakness

Each state has its own regulations and rules as to how Motor Vehicle Records checks are done. Additional forms may be necessary to perform them. What is worse is that some states do not permit a prospective employer to gain access to Motor Vehicle Reports. Because of this, some companies choose to order an MVR check from a reputable third-party company. These companies provide a much faster service. In addition, they perform these checks at a much lower price or sometimes for free.

A Tourist’s Guide to Privacy: Protect Your Information When Crossing Borders

Airplanes, trains and high-powered vehicles have made border-hopping easy to do for those bitten by the travel bug. Smartphones, portable laptops, external hard drives and wireless internet have made it simple to take your most personal information with you wherever you go. Unfortunately, this powerful pocket technology also makes it necessary for you to guard your information like a hawk from identity theft, unauthorized transactions and data smugglers. Find out how below:

  •  Make it easy for yourself, your travel companions, and the customs officials who deal with you by bringing as little sensitive data, personal information and paperwork as possible. Be sure to bring the essentials that you know you will need: your passport, visa if applicable, and any pertinent medical or health insurance-related documents you may need, such as proof of an immunization or prescription medication. Leave everything else at home. Your social security card, birth certificate and tax forms will all be much better off safely tucked in the top drawer of your home office bureau, rather than traveling around the world at risk of disappearing. The key to protecting your information is simple – only travel with the absolute essentials, and backup, backup, backup. Keep commonsense in mind: if you don’t have it, you won’t be able to lose it, have it stolen, or have it floating around in a foreign country without your control. App resources like Protect My ID from Experian can help you decide what to take with you and what to leave at home. Before you depart, don’t forget to make copies of all your important documents that you are traveling with, or scan images of them into your personal computer. This includes items like passports, driver’s licenses, credit cards and proof of insurance. This way, there will be a permanent backup for your most private data.
Image courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis on Flickr

Image courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis on Flickr

  • Take steps well before you embark on your journey to make sure that your physical possessions are buckled in securely for the ride ahead. Prior to travel, call your credit or debit card companies and alert them to the fact that you will be making charges from another country. Otherwise you may be subject to a freeze on your account while the credit company investigates an unusual charge, which will put you in a tough position as a tourist. Be aware of the local currency, exchange rate, and money change options in your destination country, and make sure to have some traveler’s checks on hand for emergencies. Go through these steps with your laptop before you pack it into your carry-on luggage, and you will be able to have peace of mind as you’re going through security, checking into your hotel and taking your computer out in a foreign country.
  • Keep your computer – and your hands – to yourself. Certain countries have the right to seize or quarantine a traveler’s laptop that they suspect, for any number of reasons, contains data that they want or that they don’t want in their country. Be aware of what you’re bringing in to a country, being especially sensitive to areas like the Middle East, East Asia or Eastern Europe, which are notoriously volatile and zealous when it comes to suspect information. Even the US has declared that it has a right to seize laptops, and “Analyze the information transported by any individual attempting to enter, reenter, depart, pass through, or reside in the United States,” and remain in control of the computer for an indefinite period. Do your best to prevent this from happening by getting rid of all but the files you will need on your trip, keeping a backup of your hard drive at home, and encrypting your data.
  • Use a computer program, app or software to secure your data before you travel with a laptop. These days, travelers for business or pleasure know that exposing yourself to foreign culture can also pose a risk for exposing your data to hackers, investigators or white collar criminals who are on the prowl for personal information that they can use to their advantage. The FBI recently issued a warning to travelers who may be tempted to download software updates over hotel WIFI connections. They caution that hackers have been found using recurring upgrade scams to remotely install viruses or malware onto tourist’s laptops using secure internet access at even five-star hotels. Follow Forbes tips for keeping your computer safe while you travel by installing antivirus software from industry leaders such as ESET or McAfee, and only trusting WPA2 wireless connections. Both hardware and software options are available to encrypt, code, and otherwise hide your data so well that even you might not be able to find it again.
Image courtesy of Christopher Elison on Flickr

Image courtesy of Christopher Elison on Flickr

  • Passports are no longer just innocent pieces of paper stamped with old-fashioned idyllic depictions of foreign countries in fading ink. In the last decade, the average passport has become a high-tech tool, tracking device, information recorder and scan-able data hub. The US electronic passport, for instance, contains an integrated circuit computer chip embedded with your most personal information and head shot. Thankfully, the purpose of the chip is to prevent identity theft and personal crime. But what if your data is “skimmed” or “eavesdropped” from the passport by a sly tech-savvy criminal? The Department of State has luckily taken several steps against this nasty phenomenon occurring, including encrypting your data and making it unalterable. The biometric properties of these modern passports make identity theft virtually impossible, as when crossing borders they electronically match your physical characteristics with those from the picture in your passport. Even in the worst case scenario of losing your passport, it is highly unlikely that someone else would be able to do anything sneaky with it, thanks to this new technology.
  • Be choosy when it comes to a place to rest your head…and your luggage. The difference between a five-star hotel and a two-star can make all the difference in the world when it comes to being confident that your gear will be stored safely and soundly during your trip. “It’s a fact that more serious crime occurs at budget hotels than at major, expensive hotels,” says Peter Greenberg of the LA Times. While we now know that private guest information is not stored on room key cards, we do know that according to security researcher Cody Brocious, hotel locks are not as safe as you might think. In fact, he claims they are “stupidly simple” to open with just about anything. Take advantage of the front desk lockbox as your personal safe-zone during your trip, and keep your valuables in it any time they are not actively in use. Beware of over-the-phone scams, such as the infamous swindler who calls your hotel phone late at night to ask you to reconfirm your credit card information as they had a problem at the front desk. Deal with financial or identity issues in person only, and only with qualified authorities.
Image courtesy of Rob Pongsajapan on Flickr

Image courtesy of Rob Pongsajapan on Flickr

  • Once you’re there, secure your stuff before you do anything else. Don’t reach for those minibar snacks, remote control or hot tub knob before you ensure that your valuables are in the best place for them. For most hotels, this place will be the safe. Bring your valuables to the lobby and have a hotel official lock them in a private safe where they cannot be tampered with. Any smaller or less important items that you just need to have in your room with you should stay in your locked luggage, or in a theft-proof, slash-proof bag secured to a piece of stable furniture, as Hotel Chatter suggests. Don’t scatter important devices like flash drives or folders around the room or stick them in a drawer only to forget about them. This puts you at risk for theft, damage or loss at the hands of an over-enthusiastic housekeeper.
  • Travel intelligently – don’t lose your head as fast as you lose your spare change at the local outdoor market. Keep your passport close at hand. An organized travel carrier that loops around your neck and contains a clear window to hold your passport, other form of identification, credit card, emergency cash and/or traveler’s check is invaluable. These carriers can be situated under clothing, so your most irreplaceable documents are hidden from view and accessible only by you. For ladies, there are Rack Traps, special hidden bra-compartments specifically designed for carrying cash and credit cards. Be cognizant of hidden fees, currency change charges and country-specific quirks when traveling with your credit card.
Image courtesy of M Roach on Flickr

Image courtesy of M Roach on Flickr

  • Travel smart – keep your home country in the loop of your whereabouts. American citizens can utilize the free-of-charge Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) to alert the US of their travel plans, location and rough itinerary before they leave the country. In the case of a security breach, emergency or disaster, the Department of State will assist you through the embassy or consulate wherever you are. Learn how to stay abreast of travel warning and advisories so that you and your information will not be put in jeopardy should a situation arise.
  • Secure your person before you secure your personal belongings. Remember that no matter how valuable that iPad or the contents of that priceless wallet, the value of your own human body trumps it. In the unlikely event that you are faced with a physical threat, as long as you remain unscathed the information or cash that you’re trying to protect can always be righted somehow. Consider take a self-defense course before you travel abroad so that you feel prepared with an appropriate response if something were to happen. There are many East-Asian martial arts defense classes available, as well as basic personal protection training sessions. Check out Antor.org‘s guide to self-defense for travelers for more information.
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10 Political Figures Who Could Not Pass a Modern Background Check

Background checks look at past behavior in attempts to predict what will happen in the future. They are used in all segments of modern society, during business transactions and credit evaluations. Landlords use background checks to investigate applicants for housing, and employers with sensitive job requirements use them to determine whether or not job applicants check-out. Organizations request background checks with specific feedback in mind, focusing on the elements of people’s histories that give them the information they need most. Your criminal history and basic information about where you have lived are included in profiles of your background, as well as your marital status and other details about your history. Political figures, even past Presidents, are not immune to the failings of human nature, landing them in hot water along the way. Would these former United States Presidents and high-profile politicians pass background checks?

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

  1. Andrew Johnson – Background checks rely on specific points of data to create profiles of people’s lives.  Sometimes the whole picture tells a different story than the snapshot created during a background check, but facts and figures usually don’t lie.  In the case of President Andrew Johnson, the first American President ever to be impeached, the public record might not reflect the reality of our 17thPresident’s character.

    Getting impeached from the United States Presidency ranks right up near the top on a list of things you’d rather not have pop up during your background check.  Johnson was impeached during a divided political period in American history.  The Republican revolution occurring during the time did not bode well for the moderate Johnson, who was bullied politically and impeached without much cause.  The articles of impeachment were drawn up for high crimes and misdemeanors including violation of a recently passed act of Congress with which he did not agree.  The entire proceedings have been hailed as a witch-hunt against Johnson.  In 1868 the House of Representative voted on impeachment, resulting in an acquittal for President Johnson, who was widely seen as the victim of a railroading effort by his political opposition. Learn more at History.com

  2. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  3. David Duke – This would-be political heavy-hitter is most notorious for his role with the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, his government service is limited to his elected role as a member of the Louisiana State Assembly.  His visibility outside the state results from his unsuccessful attempts to gain other political offices.  He ran for President in 1988 and in 1992, and as recently as the twenty-twelve elections was still playing an active role in presidential politics.

    Mr. Duke is unapologetic about his positions regarding voluntary segregation and each man’s right to protect his heritage.  In addition to failed presidential campaigns, Mr. Duke has attempted to gain other positions in government, including United States Senator, United States Congressman, Governor of Louisiana and State Senator.  As a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Duke is outspoken about race relations and also formed the group National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP).  He posts regularly to online forums associated with white supremacy and has spoken against Jewish control of media outlets.  He was convicted of tax fraud in 2002, and sentenced to 15 months in prison.  It was determined that he had been bilking money from followers, which he eventually spent on himself.  In part, he told followers that he was about to lose his own home to debt and needed money to stay afloat.  After raising hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of donations, it was determined he was not in the financial distress described. These Huffington Post stories contain detailed information about Duke.

  4. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

    Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

  5. William Jefferson Clinton – Until Bill Clinton occupied the office of the presidency, one-hundred thirty years had passes since the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, which stood as the only such action on the United States books.  Unfortunately for President Clinton, he holds the dubious distinction for being the next and only other President to be impeached.

    The exploits of the former President are clearly ingrained people’s memories; in part due to the fact that he is one of the more recent Presidents to get caught in an inappropriate situation.  On the other hand, the details of his indiscretions were particularly salacious, creating significantly greater public interest than the regular output from the oval office.  However you slice it, the 1998 impeachment vote taken by Congress is a background check development that might be looked at as a black mark on the former President’s record.  In Mr. Clinton’s case, the stain on his credibility resulted from lying about his previous activities, rather than the unconventional behavior itself.  In other words, had the President come forth with his wrongdoing, or even owned up to it when it was obviously exposed, he may have been able to preserve his reputation.  The Raw Story Looks at Mr. Clinton here

  6. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

    Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

  7. Ulysses S. Grant – Extensive background checks, like those conducted by law enforcement agencies at all levels, often include assessment of friends, family and neighbors.  So the crowd you associate with might have an impact on the results of your background profile – for better or worse.  If there was a presidential case for running with the wrong crowd, U.S. Grant might be one of the better examples of a reputation tarnished by association.

    During his presidency, Grant was rocked by several ongoing scandals.  The improprieties ranged across a spectrum of inappropriate patronage and manipulating financial markets.  There were serious implications for the Nation’s most important employee, even when he was not a primary player in the developing scandals.  Keeping the wrong company first got Grant in trouble when he responded to a gold market situation with unapproved measures.  Stock scandals followed, as the President’s Congress and Cabinet became involved in patronage deals giving them access to favorable stock manipulation.  In 1875, Grant’s principles were further questioned when close associates were found to be skimming Whiskey taxes for their own use.  The conditions during his presidency became so outrages that the very notion of political corruptness among his allies and advisors became known as ‘Grantism’.  Having your name tied to immorality and corruption is not a positive background check outcome. The Miller Center provides profiles of Grant and other past Presidents.

  8. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  9. Silvio Berlusconi – Regardless of the prevailing country being governed, certain standards apply.  Silvio Berlusconi is a colorful character in his own right, gifted with great wealth and charisma, but his personal record includes a few legal blemishes that may get in the way during background checks.

    In addition to his convicted role as a tax evader, Mr. Berlusconi has been linked to additional improprieties.  The former Italian Prime Minister has been accused of turning a blind eye toward organized crime, and for filing false accounting reports.  Other accusations of bribery and corruption have followed Mr. Berlusconi through the spotlight, including allegations of influence peddling with judges and police officials.  One of the most problematic legal questions dogging Mr. Berlusconi is his 2013 conviction of soliciting a minor for sex.  He was found guilty of paying for sex with a 17 year old, and is prohibited from holding office during the seven and one-half year sentence he was given.  The case is expected to come up for appeal, so the sentence will not be carried out until the appeal is concluded. The case is one of approximately 20 proceedings aimed at Mr. Berlusconi during his tenure in office. Mr. Berlusconi in the news.

  10. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

    Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

  11. Richard M. Nixon – Taking a page from the Bill Clinton handbook, long before it was written, President Richard Nixon used his authority for personal pursuits of power.  Long associated with political scandal, the former President gained notoriety for his early-70’s antics and over the top political gamesmanship.

    The central feature of Richard Nixon’s downfall was a scandal which came to be known simply as “Watergate”.  The reference is to the Watergate Hotel and business buildings where the most famous abuse of Presidential power occurred.  In 1972, a group of five men broke-in to the Democratic National Headquarters located within the Watergate complex.  The break-in and the President’s subsequent attachment to the ensuing cover-up effort brought Nixon to the mercy of his political adversaries.  Had he not resigned in 1974, it is almost certain he would have been impeached for the cover-up and lies associated with Watergate.  White House profile of the 37th President.

  12. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  13. Albert Fall – Although not a household name, Albert Fall will live in infamy for his scandal-plagued tenure as Warren Harding’s Secretary of the Interior.  It is not uncommon for politicians to bring their own supporters with them once they gain office.  In the case of the Harding Presidency, prestigious cabinet posts were meted out to friends and supporters of the President.  As a result of hiring associates from back home in Ohio, Warren Harding had an administration uncharacteristically wrought with ethics difficulties.  Multiple cabinet officials were implicated in a variety of improprieties resulting in disciplinary action, the worst of whom was Albert Fall.

    While some of the corrupt cabinet members made their own criminal names, it was the Teapot Dome scandal that brought down Fall and others Harding associates.  Fall was the first-ever cabinet member convicted of a crime, for his role in the Teapot Dome affair.  In exchange for control of the federal oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming, Albert Fall had taken a bribe from Mr. Harry F. Sinclair.  Mr. Fall served two years in prison as the most famed member of Harding’s “Ohio Gang” Mr. Fall’s interesting role in history is studied here.

  14. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

    Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

  15. Ronald Reagan – Business dealings are regulated in most cases, but certainly subject to transparency in almost all cases.  What Ronald Reagan learned during his tenure as President of the United States is that is does matter who you do business with.  Guilt by association is a powerful elixir for the American public, so if your bedfellows include Contra rebels and Iranian arms dealers you will be held accountable.

    In 1986 it came to light that the Reagan administration was active in a side business unknown to American citizens.  Top players in the administration, it turns out, were selling arms to Iran.  The practice was problematic for several reasons, not the least of which concerned an embargo on Iran strictly prohibiting it.  How much the Commander in Chief knew, and when, is still the subject of debate, but there is another aspect of the illegal activity that disturbs some analysts even more.  Some of the officials involved in the Persian arms deals also advocated for using the money in very specific ways.  Half a world away, arms profits were allegedly targeted for funding Contra rebels in Nicaragua.  Not only was the public left out of the loop, but the Congress had already acted decisively prohibiting further funding for Contras.  The Iran-Contra Affair, or Irangate, as the episode became known, remains a blemish on the former President’s background. For all the facts about the former President, see his profile at the Reagan Library.

  16. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

    Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

  17. Jesse Jackson Jr. – Perhaps no civil rights advocate has shared the podium with more Presidents and influential politicians than the Reverend Jesse Jackson.  Wielding great power across the country, it was in Illinois that his son Jesse Jackson Jr.  was to make a name for himself in politics.  Despite the head-start given him by his family name, and the morality espoused by his father, politics did not work out well for the younger Jackson.

    Convicted felons are not high performers on background checks.  And so it goes for Mr. Jackson, who  was convicted of several crimes in office.  After leading the charge in Congress for the 2nd District of Illinois, the Congressman was investigated for wrongdoing in fall of 2012.  He subsequently resigned, amid bizarre absences and claims of medical disorders ranging from bi-polar disorder to gastrointestinal distress.  As it turns out Mr. Jackson was funding an extravagant lifestyle, along with his wife, using campaign donations from his re-election fund.  As a result, the former co-chairman of President Barrack Obama’s election campaign was sentenced to 30 months in prison.  In addition to the misappropriation of funds, Mr. Jackson was convicted of mail and wire fraud.  For her role in the scheme, which netted about seven-hundred fifty thousand dollars’ worth of illegal spending, Sandi Jackson received 12 months in jail.

  18. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

    Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

  19. George W. Bush – President George Bush had his share of detractors during his time in office.  Sentiment against his father aside, Bush had his own negative impact on people’s perception of him.  The truth is that his legal troubles started long before the whole weapons of mass destruction problem came to light.

    Bush was arrested at the age of 20 for some drunken antics with friends, which resulted in the group stealing some items from a department store.  The charges were dropped.  In 1976, however, Bush was cited for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated near his family’s Kennebunkport home.  The drunk-driving conviction alone, nor his acknowledgement that he overused alcohol until age 40, are not enough to count the younger Bush out entirely, but there additional concerns about his substance use.  Some sources indicate that the former President may have used drugs like Cocaine, which could be problematic for passing standardized FBI background screenings.

25 Best Privacy Apps

Looking for the best apps to protect yourself and your family on your mobile devices? Check out this list, which brings you the best in anti-spyware, anti-virus, phone trackers, data lockdown, and more.

Educate

  1. Clueful – Applications aren’t often clear about what information they are accessing, nor how they intend to use and distribute it once obtained. Clueful helps illuminate this process by running audits on all your existing applications and providing you with clear cut, no-nonsense reports on what applications are leaking about you. It gives you a quick-look at your app’s security with a score, and alerts you promptly when an app is abusing privacy standards. For a subscription fee, you can upgrade the service to include a constant monitor that will lock, locate, and wipe your phone in the event it gets stolen. Also available for iOS. Price: Free.
  2. Protect My Privacy – This application is being developed by UC San Diego as a way of helping them examine privacy on mobile devices. To that end, they collect anonymous data transmitted securely over SSL. Users can choose to not provide data to the study. For users with cracked iPhones, any application attempting to acces your data must first get approval. A message pops up informing users of what data the app is attempting to access, and allows you to fake credentials in some cases, deny access, or allow it. Some data is scrambled to provide an additional layer of protection. Only available for iOS. Price: Free.

Eraser

  1. History Eraser – This simple application makes it easy to wipe sensitive information from your phone, including browser history, call logs, text messages, market searches, clipboard data, and more. Useful for those interested in protecting privacy, but also for those who want to free up storage on their phone. One quick tap will clear your data. Also available for Chrome. Price: Free.
  2. Last Pass – This application has demonstrated its effectiveness for browsers, its mobile version is equally powerful. It automatically fills in forms for every saved site, generates powerful passwords, allows users to add and alter notes and sites easily. Audio and images can be attached to secure notes as well. Also available for iOS, Windows 8, Mac, Linux, BlackBerry, and most other mobile OS. Price: Free 14 day trial, $1 per month pass afterwards.
  3. Delete Me – While not quite a mobile application, this exceptional service can completely remove your sensitive and personal data from the hands of data brokers online, ensuring that private photographs and personal data stay secured. Price: $129 annually for one person, $229 for two people annually.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Robbert van der Steeg

AntiVirus

  1. McAfee WaveSecure – Recognized in 2010 for excellence from CNET, The NY Times, PC World, Lifehacker, and others WaveSecure offers a solid mobile security package for a good price. It includes lock and wipe features that give you control over a lost or stolen phone, backup and restore to allow you to store important data on the cloud, even after the phone has gone missing, and recover it when necessary from a web-based application.  Locate and track features help you pinpoint the lost phone on a map, set it screaming to make it easy to snag, and allows you to track calls being made on the phone.  Also available for BlackBerry, Symbian OS, Windows Phone, iOS, and Java. Price: 7 day free trial, after which it costs $19.99 annually.
  2. Lookout Security & Antivirus – This application gained recognition from PC Mag Editor’s Choice for being excellent, from TechCrunch as one of the top 10 best free apps, and PCWorld ranked it 5 out of 5 stars. It offers excellent antivirus and malware protection in apps, email attachments, or files. It scans number for dangers and alerts users to potential hazards, blocks  websites that could potentially be harmful, and offers a Privacy Advisor to alert users to what information their apps are attempting to access. It also features a web-based phone finder that utilizes Google Maps to pintpoint your lost phone, lets you make your phone scream to identify it, snap photos of users who attempt to access it while lost, and even remotely lock or wipe your phone. Users also can backup vital phone data and restore it in the event of a wipe. Also available for iOS. Price: A free two-week trial, users can continue using a pared down version for as long as they like after. Premium has a monthly fee.
  3. Webroot Security & Antivirus – Webroot was recognized as one of the best free android apps of 2011 by PCWorld, recognized for its unique features from PC Magazine, for being one fo the best security applications by Tech of Web, and Uberphones said it was ‘a must for Android users.’ It features a powerful antivirus that automatically scans and blocks malware, viruses, spyware, and Trojans and alerts users to settings that put the device at risk. It offers remote access to lock, wipe, scream, or locate your phone when it is lost or stolen. Premier grants the use of App Inspector, which alerts users to apps that access private info, drain money, track location, or drain the battery. It helps maximize battery usage and network access. The program itself is lightweight and not a drain on battery life. Available for iOS and Android devices. Price: $19.99 per device in a year.
  4. NQ Mobile Security & Antivirus – This app offers a powerful antivirus that scans and protects users from all the typical threats, as well as keeping users up to date with security databases. It protects while web browsing against phishing, fraud, and other dangers. A real-time app scanner alerts users to potential problems, and it includes anti-eavesdropping protection designed to detect spyware programs installed on the phone. It features a remote phone locator and offers backup of sensitive data as well as a call and SMS blocker to protect against harassing calls and messages. A system optimizer keeps your device operating smoothly. Only available for Android devices. Price:  Free trial for blah weeks, $19.99 per device, per year after for access to Premium features after.
  5. Norton Mobile Security Lite – As with its competitors, Norton Mobile Security offers a powerful antivirus that keeps users safe when browsing the web, accepting files, or downloading apps. It also offers remote wipe, tracking, and locking capability and SD card scanning.  It continuously scans and alerts users to potentially dangerous apps. Also available for iOS. Price: Free pared down version, and Premium access costs $29.99 for one year on one device (currently on sale for $17.99)

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user briggz5d

  1. Avast! – This top-rated security app offers both anti-virus and anti-theft capabilities to ensure your phone is well protected against most eventualities.  The software developer has been around for 20 years and the app has been recognized for its excellence by PCAdvisor, Droid-Life, AndroidPolice, AndroidAuthority, and Android and Me. Lost your phone? Use a web-based interface to control your phone remotely, locate it on a map, and lock the device till you can snag it. You can even activate a siren and wipe its memory. Only available for Android devices. Price: Free.
  2. Kaspersky – A fairly straightforward anti-virus and security application that offers its users a powerful defense against viruses, Trojans, malware, and spyware which runs over-the-air to keep the program lightweight. It offers GPS location services to locate the phone if it goes missing or stolen, and remote access to lock and wipe your phone, take a ‘Mugshot’ of anyone who uses it, and remotely activate an alarm. Users can filter incoming calls and text messages to screen unwanted contacts.  In addition, users can conceal calls, contacts, and other data from casual snoopers. Available for Android only. Price: One year subscription costs $14.95.
  3. F-Secure – A European based application that protects mobile devices with a combination of antivirus, anti-theft, and screening tools. Users can filter out adult and other unsuitable content from web content and applications, block unwanted calls and text messages, remote locking and wiping, and remote location detecting. Available for Android and Symbian. Price: 14,95€ for a one year subscription with a free 30 day trial.
  4. Virus Barrier – This Gizmodo app of the day offers iOS users a solid and intuitive antivirus to protect them against intrusions from files, web browsing, and applications. It automatically updates to keep on top of new threats, repairs infected files, and keeps logs of scans, detected threats, and repairs. Only available for iOS. Price:  $0.99

App & Data Lockers

Photo courtesy of Flickr user flakeparadigm

  1. Smart AppLock – Smart Lock is a lightweight application designed to give you greater control over privacy on your mobile device. Set a list of protected applications, then create a lock pattern or password, and your friends and family can no longer access apps you don’t want them in, including SMS, mail, photos, and contacts. Only available for Android devices. Price: Free.
  2. Gallery Lock – Named app of the year by Times Magazine, this handy application makes it easy to keep your private photos away from the eyes of phone snoops. The intuitive program makes it easy to create your own folders and conceal your photos and videos in a beautiful and feature rich application. It has the capacity to run in stealth mode to keep others from being aware of your hidden images. Use a PIN pattern to access your data. Only available on Android. Price:  Lite version is free, Premium unlocks additional features.
  3. App Defender – This straightforward app prevents access to applications. Users can set a unique password for each individual app. After three failed attempts to access an application, it displays the number of failed attempts to alert the owner to the access attempts. Only available for Android. Price:  Free trial, after which it costs $3.13.
  4. Picture Safe –   This application offers advanced protection for your mobile device’s private information. It allows you to create custom folders to organize your data how you wish, decoy icons and screenshots to fool snoopers, a fake calculator entry screen with 8 digit PINs for highly secure access, dual passwords to allow access to ‘safe’ and protected photos, and much more. Hide everything from phone records, photos, and web access. Only available for iOS, including iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPod. iOS 5.0 or later editions, optimized for iPhone 5. Price: $1.99 (currently on sale for $0.99)
  5. Snap Secure – This application offers a range of unique and helpful features designed to make your mobile device a powerful security tool. It features real-time tracking of members that can be viewed on a map from a related mobile device or the web, helpful for keeping track of children or partners. Have teenagers? The motion-activated driver safety feature stops users from texting, calling, or web surfing while on the road. Footprints allows you to track the movement of the device using GPS, giving a clear picture of the movement history for any attached device. It also allows you to create safety zones and sends alerts when a device moves out of that defined territory. Finally, if a user finds themselves in dire circumstances, it offers a panic button that promptly calls 911 or alerts an emergency contact with location information via email, phone, or text. Available for Android, iOS, Windows, or Blackberry. Price: Free basic account, after which it costs $499 a month for a single user and $9.99 a month for a family plan.

 

Other Nifty Apps

Photo courtesy of Flickr user geoffeg

  1. Gibberbot – Recognized by PC Mag as one of the 100 best Android Apps of 2013, this application allows you to securely chat with friends across a range of platforms in one streamlined place, with powerful off-the-record encryption. No ads, easy to use, and available in many languages. Plus the chat program has fun built-in features like custom icons and wallpapers. Also available for iOS, Mac, Linux, and PC. Price: Free.
  2. Anti-Spy Mobile – Homebrewed spies are being blessed with a wide variety of tools to dig into your private and personal information. One growing method is to conceal an application on your mobile device to intercept communication, application use, and web browsing habits.  Stop that in its tracks with this application, which scans for and automatically removes any of these applications. Also available for iOS. Free: This version is completely free, a premium version offers a few additional features.

Locate Lost Phones

Photo courtesy of Flickr user gorbould

  1. SeekDroid: Find My Phone – While many of the antivirus programs offer a basic phone finder program, this one goes above and beyond. In addition to remote location, locking, and wiping, it allows users to create GPS breadcrumbs to track the movement of the lost or stolen phone, access recent calls, retrieve important data, and remotely wipe SD cards. The program itself can be hidden from display and made impossible to remove. It has almost no battery drain. Only available for Android devices. Price: $4.99
  2. Plan B – Many of these applications are focused on preventing loss and damage to your phone. Plan B is for follks who were not quite as proactive. If your phone gets lost or stolen, Plan B helps you locate it after the fact. You can install it remotely and it will start utilizing cell towers and your phone’s GPS to track its location every ten minutes. Users will get an email or text message with the current location of the phone each time it is located. Once the phone is recommended, you can revert back to the preferred ‘plan A’ and download any of the other excellent security apps that include tracking and other security features. Only available for Android devices. Price: $1.99
  3. iHound Software – Utilzing GPS, Wifi, 3G, or Edge signals built into your mobile device, iHound tracks its location every 10 minutes and reports it to a web application. Users can remotely lock and wipe their phone and directly instant message their phone to communicate with anyone who picks it up. Further, users can set it up to automatically alert opted-in programs like Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter to keep friends up to date on their location. Also available for Android and iOS. Price: They offer a free 7 day trial, after which the program costs $3.99 for an annual subscription.
  4. GadgetTrak – This iOS-focused app will help you keep your phone secure in the unfortunate event it gets lost or stolen. It uses a combination of GPS and WiFi  alongside cell tower triangulation to keep accurate tracking of the phone’s location. Each time the phone is tracked, it will send users a detailed account of its location. Automatic camera captures will let you know who has the phone. Once the tracking has been activated, no software settings can be modified, and all collected data is sent through a secure SSL connection. Only available for iOS. Price: $3.99