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Stet Blog

Since its inception in the 1980s, the IWOC monthly newsletter, Stet, has featured helpful news, tips, and information for IWOC members and the entire Chicagoland freelance writing community—including previews and recaps of IWOC meetings and events, book and service/software reviews, and advice for developing and sustaining business as an independent writer. As of January 2018, the standard monthly newsletter format has been replaced with the blog format contained on this page, which allows articles to be posted in a more timely fashion. 

Whether or not you're a member of IWOC, we invite your contributions. Our only criteria are writing quality and the usefulness of the information to writers. IWOC reserves the right to gently edit submissions. For information regarding submissions, contact the Stet editor.


Over the years, the Stet delivery format has evolved from snail-mailed paper copy to emailed PDF/HTML file to site-hosted, aggregated blog. Stet issues in PDF/HTML and aggregated-blog format from 2002 to 2017 are available for viewing in our archives.

  • To view PDF/HTML issues of Stet (published from 2002 to 2015), click here.
  • To view Stet in its aggregated-blog format (published from 2016 to 2017), click here.

  • 30 Apr 2021 6:05 PM | Sarah Klose (Administrator)

    The scientists. The front-line personnel – medical and civilian. The first responders. Truckers. Grocery stockers. Delivery workers. Military. And our then Commander-in-Chief, President Trump. All had been united in one grand mission: to literally save the country. Save the world. I was feeling so grateful for every one of them. Within one mere year, it all funneled down into one shot. One shot in the arm. My husband Ken and I got ours today. April 9, 2021.

    On our own mission for survival (first having to battle the maniacal drivers on the Dan Ryan – seemingly a greater risk of fatality than COVID), we drove just outside of Chicago to the Tinley Park Convention Center to be inoculated. I had to take a picture of Ken, masked, in front of the Convention Center sign. This was as good as any vacation spot that had to be marked with a memory. We were about to enter a real sanctuary – one whose sole purpose was to protect lives.

    Police, on foot and in squad cars, were everywhere in the parking lot. As we passed, I did notice them taking note of us. Were we there to cause trouble? Armed perhaps? But seeing me in my ill-fitting skinny jeans and Ken in his “vintage” Generra jacket bought at a Spiegel outlet 30 years ago, I detected relief on the faces of these security men and women. We were ok. We fit the mold of Group 1B. And although spritely in our steps, we weren’t a threat.

    Entering the Center, we stood in a long but quick-moving line, everyone masked. Everyone adhering to the six feet apart rule. Right at the door we were greeted by military. A sight that filled my heart with a feeling of pride and my mind, a sense of safety. Young people, men and women, across the diversity spectrum, all sweet as can be, yet damn professional and efficient. They seemed to love what they were doing, politely but firmly guiding everyone, understanding that a calm demeanor must be maintained at all times, just in case any vaccine participants were feeling jittery, envisioning themselves being hustled out on a stretcher as they were read their last rites. These brave souls of the military so willingly step up to defend our freedoms. Our lives. And now, in this case, help us as we fight to defend our own lives and defeat the “invisible enemy.”

    Following orders, we wound our way around a maze-like path delineated by the kind of roped-off posts you see at airport security lines. Everything moved fast, despite having to show our I.D. at several Checkpoint Charlies along the way, each time answering pretty much the same questions: Do you now or have you ever had COVID? Any symptoms? Passing those tests, we proceeded into a wide-open, airy room filled with at least 200 tables and even more chairs, everything placed six feet apart.

    We were led to a young gentleman who bore the name “Johnson” on his military uniform. We laughed, as I mentioned I thought that it was referring to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But no. “Johnson,” coincidentally, was his name. A good omen! He checked us in, and in making small talk, we learned that he was in the National Guard, and was called to serve for seven months at various COVID outposts. Seven months away from his regular job. I asked if his employer took it well. “Had to!” he said. The government ensures that his job will be waiting for him after he completes his service. If not, the employer will suffer great consequences. “That must be reassuring to know,” I said. He agreed emphatically.

    Soon, we were called to the “shots” station. Ken sat at a table directly opposite mine. His nurse told him to look straight ahead. The reason: the 1” javelin designed to plunge deep into the muscle tissue. Some get woozy just looking at it. My nurse kept me distracted with friendly chit-chat. I told her I was actually excited. She got a kick out of that. Being on the front lines, she already was “Pfizered.” I said we didn’t mind waiting for the J&J to become available. We liked the whole “one-and-done” deal. She administered the shot. Ken got his. We then went to the “holding pen” for 15 minutes – in case we had any reactions. We had none. Except for laughing when I texted Ken, “PUT YOUR VAX CARD IN A SAFE PLACE!” He texted back, “What card?”

    Not having been wracked with chills, attacked by a rash or drawn into the White Light, we upped and left.

    Ken and I. Thirty eight years of marriage. Surviving a lot of things, and knock wood, so far, even the pandemic. Seeing him sitting across from me as we simultaneously received our shots, who would have thought that getting vaccinated together in this historical time, would be one more thing to solidify our bond. It was almost romantic. Like right out of a war novel.

    As we walked out of the Convention Center, feeling somewhat giddy at having crossed this hurdle, I unexpectedly caught my reflection in a mirror. I crashed.

    I’ve got to get rid of those skinny jeans.

    -- Laura Stigler

  • 30 Mar 2021 7:36 PM | Sarah Klose (Administrator)

    Surely you’re familiar with the old adage, “Opinions are like belly buttons: Everyone has one.” (Thought: If we have more than one opinion, does that mean we have more than one belly button? But I digress.) That adage certainly holds true for writers -- especially when it comes to what makes great writing. Should a sentence be spare? Pared down to its purest essence – à la Hemingway? Or do we prefer the more esoteric, labyrinthine route to get to a point – a style oft favoured by academes? So many styles! So many ways to write! Nevertheless, there are a few basic guidelines that, no matter our writing style, can make even a pedestrian “note to self” sound like deathless prose. Below are the rules that every single one of us must, without fail, always follow.

    How to Write Good

    1. Avoid alliteration. Always.

    2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

    3. Avoid clichés like the plague. They’re old hat.

    4. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

    5. One should never generalize.

    6. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

    7. Be more or less specific.

    8. Sentence fragments? Eliminate.

    9. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

    10. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

    11. Who needs rhetorical questions?

    APRIL FOOLS! (Although some of those pointers ain’t bad!)

    The above list of writing rules was brought to my attention by IWOC Board Member Terry Nugent, who filched it off the internet. Thanks for the lol’s, Terry! Of course, if you’d like to add to the list, please do so in the comment section. Click the dots next to the headline to enter your rule(s). If we get enough entries, we’ll publish them in the May edition of Stet!

    Here’s my contribution:

    12. Double negatives are a no-no.

    -- Laura Stigler

  • 30 Mar 2021 12:14 PM | Sarah Klose (Administrator)

    Post was edited for Stet. To read Heather Kenny’s full article, published on Medium, click here.

    I’ve only been freelancing full-time a little over a year, but I’m already making a decent living. If current trends continue, in 2021 I should match or even overtake my salary from my last full-time job. So I’m successful -- even if it doesn’t always feel like it while I’m continually marketing myself, juggling clients and projects, and identifying digital tools. I get asked for advice regularly, so here are my top tips.

    • Have a financial plan for the first year. I got a severance package when I was laid off from my job and had savings, so I could pay my bills and not freak out about money for a while. If you don’t have a cushion, start socking money away, or freelance part-time to get a head-start on building a client base.
    • Put up a website and a LinkedIn profile. Your website, especially when you’re just starting out, doesn’t have to be anything special — it can be clips and basic information about you, quickly posted on WordPress or Squarespace. You can also promote yourself and connect with others on LinkedIn.
    • Create a portfolio of your work. I’ve been a writer for over 20 years, so I had samples ready to go from my former job and my occasional freelance gigs. If you’re a newbie writer, mock up some samples in your niche.
    • Identify your niche and preferred type of writing. Do you like to write snappy copy for social media? Are you good at sales copy that converts? I enjoy using my journalistic skills to write business posts, articles, white papers, and case studies. Also consider the industries you want to write for. My writing experience was in higher education services and healthcare, so I pursued those areas and added on B2B technology (which is now one of my niches). A niche doesn’t have to limit you — it’s just a way to focus your efforts.
    • Identify and reach out to potential clients. Now that you know your niche, find clients in the space who need your services. I’ve looked up companies and pitched to their marketing managers (using LinkedIn, then to find their emails). But I mainly found work through my network and didn’t need to rely on cold emails.
    • Work your network. Friends, family, former coworkers, people you chatted with at an event, LinkedIn contacts — let them know what you’re doing and ask them to pass your name and information along to those who may need your services. My first two clients came from my aunt and my first boss after college.
    • Be open to learning and adapting. At first, be willing to explore. As you get more experience, you can gain more control and have your work align more with your interests and preferences. Sometimes your career can surprise you — I never expected to write about technology, but it turns out I’m good at explaining complex concepts in an engaging way. This is actually part of the fun.
    • That’s the quick version of how to get started. With freelancing, I’ve worked harder than I ever did at almost any job, but I don’t mind because it’s on my behalf. If you’re ready to face your fears and create a plan to survive the first year, I encourage you to go for it.

    • - Heather Kenny

  • 01 Mar 2021 3:35 AM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    Pssst. I shouldn’t be telling ya this. Now ya gotta promise, whatever’s discussed here stays between you, me, and the billions of others who prowl the internet. It has to do with money. Ya know. Scratch. Dough. Moolah. Bread. Got that? OK. So. Ya ever pass those magazine stands – maybe in a train station or over there by Michigan Avenue, and you see all these magazines with names ya never heard of? Names like, “Plants.” Or “Cereal.” And ya wonder, “Who the heck reads that stuff?” Yeah, well, they're called “trade magazines.” And here’s the dirty little secret: there’s money to be made between them pages. Pages that a whole lotta people read. Yeah. That’s right. Now shut up and listen...

    So ya got these trade magazines. All kinds. I mean, like there’s gotta be a trade magazine for every kinda -- what’s the word – oh yeah. Trade! Think I'm just gummin’ my chops? Hey. You wouldn’t believe what I just found. A list – that’s right – an entire list of a gazillion (give or take) trade magazines on just about every subject you can think of.

    Pick a trade. Or even a hobby. Say you like dancin’. Well guess what, my friend. There’s a trade magazine for that. Ok. Pick another one. Ya like cows? Wa-laa. There’s a trade magazine for that! Pretty cool, huh? And guess who these trade magazines hire. Yup. Writers. Not just that. The pay is darn good, too. Who knew???

    I’ll tell ya who knew. The three panelists who’ll be at the next meeting on March 9. They go by the names of Craig Barner, Jeff Steele and Lisa White. And they’ll be spillin’ the beans on “Writing for Trade Magazines” – gonna tell all the secrets of how to land assignments, what they pay, the opportunities – that sorta thing.

    “But I’m not interested,” ya say? Quit your whinin’, will ya? Ya like food, don’t cha? Ya like trucks, don’t cha? I mean, there’s gotta be some subject you’re interested in. And if not, then get interested. Hey listen. I know a guy who knows a guy who was given an assignment by a tile magazine. You heard me right. Tile. And this guy says, “What do I care about tile? Yawners!” But he took the assignment anyway ‘cause he has this thing about money: He likes it. Turns out, this was one heckuva fascinatin’ assignment. And the article turned out to be one heckuva great piece for his portfolio.

    I got a fancy name for this “phenomenon,” if you will. It’s called finding the “intrinsic drama” in a subject. Everything’s got it. I don’t care if it’s toothpaste, dog food – or tile. There’s something interestin’ in every subject. Something that separates it from everything else. It’s just up to you, the writer, to find it and make it bloom. Like a flower. Aw, listen to me. Ain’t I poetic? (Or is that pathetic?)

    Anyways. Now you know at least some of the secrets about “the Trades” (as they say in the biz). Come to the program and find out more. In the meantime, members may wanna check out that list I mentioned earlier. There's a link to it on this page. Just let’s keep it between you and me, OK? Oh alright, and maybe the lamppost. But that’s it!

    Bada-bing, bada-boom.

    -- Laura Stigler

  • 28 Feb 2021 9:52 PM | Sarah Klose (Administrator)

    For a number of years now, I’ve been an outspoken fan of The content marketing platform offers a free online portfolio to showcase any piece of work you’d like to spotlight. Not only can you easily upload your published writing by typing in a URL, but I’m told there’s also a means of uploading PDFs to the site.

    The online portfolio of permits you to tell a little bit about yourself and provide contact information. You can crow about the clients or publications for which you’ve written, list the topics in which you specialize, and highlight the formats and skills for which you’re known.

    Of course, the best part of the portfolio is its attractive, colorful presentation of writers’ work. For each one of my articles, it displays the name of the publication, the headline and a couple of sentences from the opening of the article. In most instances, the site picks up the photo, illustration, rendering or chart that accompanied the article online.

    It’s easy to add new work samples, move them around, and delete those you wish to discard. Upon the initial setup of my page, I discovered that once I entered the name of a publication I wrote for, the portfolio raked the online universe for stories with my byline from that publication and added them automatically. For this reason, visitors can continue scrolling through my portfolio long after they’re sick and tired of it.

    But people have long since grown weary of me singing the site’s praises.

    So don’t take it from me, take it from professional freelance B2B writer Sharon Hurley Hall, another aficionado of

    Here is Sharon’s portfolio on

    And here is her very positive review of what it has done for her writing business.

    In short, I’m urging writers to give it a try. Like Sharon Hurley Hall and myself, I expect you’ll enjoy a measure of contentment yourself.

    - Jeff Steele

  • 29 Jan 2021 1:22 PM | Sarah Klose (Administrator)

    When did websites come into being? Twenty years ago? Probably earlier. (I’m too lazy to DuckDuckGo right now.) But like Haagen-Dazs’s chocolate-covered coffee ice cream bars, it’s hard to imagine life without them. For independent writers such as we, it’s as essential as owning a computer. So how is your website? First, do you have one? If so, what does it say about you to the rest of the world 24/7/365? Does it reflect your best you, your best work? Despite this promotional tool having been around for decades, the response was overwhelming when I asked members to send me their questions in advance of our upcoming February 9th meeting. Apparently, there’s still a lot to untangle here.

    Believe it or not, there are some who will argue vehemently that websites aren’t the end-all-be-all to succeeding in business. Certainly not! After all, you can have a great website, but once you land an assignment, will you deliver the goods? So, there is that. And true, there are numerous other ways to reach out to prospective clients. If you’re a go-getter, a wiz at networking, cold-calling, handing out biz cards, etc., all the more power to you! True, too, there are other quite excellent ways to get your work “out there” that could be an additional arrow in your quiver – such as (which, btw, is a website, albeit a shared one!) But to quote Captain Obvious here, not having a website dedicated to you and only you is like tap dancing in bunny slippers. Who will hear you? Is that the best way to demonstrate your talents? And what kind of impression would that make?

    Your website is not only your face to the world. It is your voice. Yes, ultimately, viewers will make a beeline to your “portfolio” page, but usually, clients want to know something more. Your overall philosophy. How you work. How you solve problems. Do you come across as someone who reflects their culture, their personality. Over all, would your website reflect someone they’d even want to work with?

    Taking all this into consideration is why we are very excited about our special 2-hour February meeting, “Building Your Website: Hire a Designer or DIY?” The first hour will star Dawn Verbrigghe, CEO & Founder of Jottful, a website design company that builds and manages websites for small businesses and entrepreneurs. The second hour will feature Dorka Kardos-Latif, Online Marketing Manager of copyfolio, a DIY website builder specializing in creating sites especially for writers.

    Attend the first hour, the second – or both. Either way, whatever the sticking points that may have stopped you from building or improving your website, these two engaging web experts will detangle them all, freeing you to create one of the hardest working promotional tools you can possibly own.

    -- Laura Stigler

  • 29 Jan 2021 1:20 PM | Anonymous

    Back in 1991, February 7th fell on a Thursday. That morning, the phone rang in my tiny studio apartment in Lakeview. I likely snatched the receiver before the second ring. In that halcyon age, freelance writing assignments were dispensed by phone.

    The voice on the other end of the line announced itself as that of Judy Hevrdejs, then editor of the Chicago Tribune's Tempo Northwest section. Would I be interested in writing an article about an upscale billiards parlor newly opened in Schaumburg?

    Would I!

    It'd be my very first gig for the World's Greatest Newspaper, even if it were for a regional section read only in the Northwest 'burbs. I asked Judy to forward details asap. Why recall in February 2021 the moments leading up to that assignment 30 years ago this month?

    It was the last time I was without work.

    In a business notorious for feast-or-famine cycles, I've since always had at least one assignment, and more often a baker's dozen. So, you're asking, how does a guy of very average intelligence and talent – okay, okay, below average – manage to stay consistently employed for three decades in one of earth's most difficult professional fields? Answer: Fairly early on, I stumbled over a few keys to success. I share them with you here.

    • Join the team. Freelance clients don't want to hire antagonists. They want people pulling in the same direction. Convince your editor or client you've got her best interests top of mind, and she's likely to keep you on speed dial.
    • Embrace professionalism. People who hire writers are all too familiar with scribes who simply aren't professional. So show up on time, file clean copy not on deadline but the day before, and act, speak and dress professionally. You'll stand out from the hordes clinging to amateur status.
    • Seek relationships. You've got a choice between building big fees and building relationships. Choose the latter. Freelancing is easier if you've got four or six or 10 great relationships with regular clients or editors who call on you weekly or monthly. Steadily hitting singles and doubles is better than swinging for fences in this game.
    • Always prospect. After I started writing for the Tribune, I figured I had it made. The paper sucked up freelance like the 1990s' leading vacuum, the Oreck®. Then came the Internet, and newspapers' decline. I'd joined IWOC as an insurance policy, and it paid off with clients who called more often as Tribune editors began calling less.
    • Expect no hosannas. Editors and clients aren't going to toss bouquets and shout your praises from rooftops. Doing so would only invite demands for more cash. So look not for love or admiration but steady work from clients. Start earning regularly as a freelancer and you'll merit the greatest respect of all. Your own.

    • That's about all on this 30th anniversary of my last morning that dawned gig-free. But, you ask, what of that very first article that saw me lurking around a pool hall? Click here. Not a very auspicious beginning, I admit. But even Minnesota Fats had to start somewhere.

      - Jeff Steele

      Photo: Jeff Steele with legendary Chicago photographer Art Shay, 

      American Writers Museum, Fall 2017. (Photo credit: Laura Stigler).

  • 03 Jan 2021 1:39 PM | Anonymous

    Yes, it’s that time of year again. When we all make our resolutions, set up goals with every intention to carry them out. But do we? It the case of writers, how many of us have projects that have been wallowing in limbo for what seems like ages? At our last meeting of notorious 2020, we had a spectacular Zoom presentation by IWOC member Scott Winterroth, entitled “Make 2021 Your Most Creative Year Ever.” If you missed it, do try and catch the podcast on our Members Resource Page. The tips are inspiring, invaluable and innumerable. But as Scott likes to say, even picking up just one tip could make a huge difference in achieving those goals. Here’s one I’d like to share, personalized in the way I applied it. It has to do with baby steps:

    For several years, my husband Ken had suggested I write a one-woman show about my songwriting experiences. What? The idea frightened the wits out of me. I’ve never written a play before. So, I conveniently tucked the idea away in my brain cells – but not so deeply that it didn’t keep gnawing through. Then, out of the blue, in July of 2018, I thought, “Wait a minute. If I can just write one page a day – that’s it! Just one page! – in 30 days, I’d have a play! The next day, I started it. One page. That alone seemed like a tremendous feat. I felt I was on my way. On the 2nd day, I wrote the 2nd page. I continued this, sometimes writing more than one page per day, until at the end of the month, what do ya know. I had an 80-minute one-woman show: “Nashville Notes: The Diary of a Mad Songwriter.”

    To me, the accomplishment was startling. Even more so when I realized that Lao Tzu, the Chinese Wisdom Warrior whom I happened to quote in my play, was (unbeknownst to me at the time) also the originator of a different famous quote which embodied the very principle that guided me to the finish line: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

    It’s such a beautiful concept. It makes the biggest challenges – the ones we shy away from, the ones that riddle us with self-doubt – all suddenly seem so doable. It is kind and understanding. It empathizes with our fears, but gently reminds us that anything is possible. And cajoles us, in bite-sized increments, into getting through it. Before you know it, you’re standing on top of the mountain, looking back at all the steps you climbed. Remarkable.

    As we stand at the threshold of a new and hopeful year, I wish you all the courage and confidence in taking that first step towards your goal. It might be the scariest step. But once taken, funny how the rest will miraculously follow.

    Happy, Healthy, Safe & Prosperous 2021, everyone!

    P.S. If you have any experiences in achieving your goals, please click the 3 dots next to the headline to leave a comment!

    - Laura Stigler

  • 01 Nov 2020 3:52 PM | Anonymous

    It may be an obvious axiom, but I’ll say it anyway. “Everything you read...was written by a writer.” Yes, I made that up. But prove me otherwise! Think of it: behind virtually every written word is a journalist. Or a copywriter. A technical writer. A storywriter. A ghostwriter. I won’t go on. You get it. The other day I was walking past a darkened mansion bedecked in Halloween finery – skeletons waving to passers-by, spiders the size of volleyballs – and on its door swung a sign that, instead of saying, “Sorry, we’re closed,” it read “Sorry, we’re dead.” Had to chuckle. Someone wrote that! So, what does that tell you? That from books to blogs to funny little signs, there's always a need for writers. Of all kinds. I will now present the evidence...

    Have you been to our newest web page in Member Resources yet? The one entitled “Job Search Resources”? Take a quick look now and then come back. Listed are 35+ job sites, which we continue to update. (Last update: today!) Most of those sites represent hundreds, if not thousands of freelance and full-time opportunities for writers of nearly every discipline. A deep pool of work awaits. Now it’s just a matter of diving down, fishing around and reeling it in. “But,” you lament, “sometimes I'll come across a great job op -- for full time! I'm a freelancer!” Or, “I will not work for diddly-squat!” So glad you brought that up. Here are a few trade secrets for overcoming those ostensible obstacles:

    1) Don’t summarily dismiss the full-time postings – even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool freelancer. No, you don’t want to work full time, but what you can say in your cover letter is that you’ll pinch hit until a full-timer is found. Stress the benefits for the employer, such as: They don’t have to pay your health benefits, sick or vacation days. And that they only need to pay you for the hours you work. You’ll be saving them money while providing superlative service. Then you “wow” them with your samples. Personally, I’ve done this and it has turned into some lengthy – and fantastically fun gigs.

    2) If the job sounds ideal but the pay stinks, consider applying anyway. Now, now. I’m not talking about working for what seems to be the going rate in India – 10¢ an hour. Of course, you shouldn’t. But what if it’s for considerably less than your normal rate? Word has it that on (one of the most popular freelance job sites), if you first take a gig that pays less, and you do a stellar job, you will establish yourself as a dependable talent and start garnering positive reviews, which can then lead to much more lucrative jobs. This has been the exact experience of an always-working fellow IWOC-er.

    3) Say, “Yes.” Surely you’ve heard of stories like: Actor tries out for an audition. Is asked if he’s ever done any horseback riding. Never mind that the only experience in riding anything close to a horse was on a merry-go-round at a local carnival. He answers, “Yes,” inwardly figuring he has a modicum of athleticism, so he’ll learn. No big whoop. He gets the part. Surreptitiously takes lessons. And ends up riding like a cowboy.

    The point is, being offered a type of assignment in which you’ve no experience is no excuse to not take it. Never wrote a press release? Google a “how to” and learn the format. Never wrote on the subject of motorcycles, let alone ride one? If you’re a writer, you’re probably curious by nature. Your ability to learn new things is in your DNA. You would get a kick out of researching. Talking to motorcycle buffs. (They’re a fun bunch!) So next time, should a prospective client ask if you’ve ever written a website, a white paper -- or about horseback riding, don’t say “neigh.” Say, “Yea.” You could do it. By doing so, you’ll be fattening your portfolio, increasing your income, building your confidence, opening yourself up to more job opportunities and adding to your value as a writer.

    I could think of several more secrets, but perhaps for another posting. In the meantime, a great place to start is by checking out “Job Search Resources.” Pick some sites that appeal and, where requested, fill out your profile – lots of these sites will feed tailor-made job openings right to your email’s inbox.

    The jobs are out there. Go get ‘em.

    - Laura Stigler

  • 11 Oct 2020 2:26 PM | Anonymous

    In terms of privacy, the only thing that’s safe to say is that nobody’s safe. If you so much as glance at a YouTube video, peek at a website, have a website, subscribe to anything online or even simply “like” something – boom! You’ve just given away a part of yourself. Your habits, your information – it’s all out there, and most aggravatingly, you’re now prone to be a victim of scams. Such as the one that was raised at our September Roundtable meeting – which triggered other scam stories.

    One member – let’s call him Brian -- confessed that he was contacted for what seemed like a fabulous writing assignment from Biogen -- a perfectly legitimate biotechnology company. Problem was, the “assignment” wasn’t really from Biogen. After going through hoops filling out forms and providing some pretty private information, big red flags starting waving. It had to do with the "client" needing Brian to deposit money in a bank account. (Sorry, can’t recall the details, but you get the picture.) Fortunately, Brian then ceased all communication and suffered no real harm – other than wasted time and remorse for having been so trusting.*

    How did this all happen? Could have been that the member’s email was “scraped” – a process where spammers obtain email lists from other spammers. If your email is on the net, you’re vulnerable. Now think of all the places where you’ve entered your email, hm? Let’s just say, lots. So I’d like to offer a few security tips, some from personal experience, some from what I’ve heard. While they aren’t guaranteed to keep you scam-proof, hopefully they could help prevent such occurrences.

    1. When providing your email address, replace the @ with “at”. ” So it looks like: “Alice at” I’ve even seen: “Alice at gmail dot com” Looks illiterate, but supposedly these obfuscations have some degree of success in foiling the scrapers. One drawback is that it may be annoying to business prospects. So this method is up to you. Click here to get more opinions on it.

    2. Sender’s email is weird. Whether it’s seemingly from a prospective client, your bank, credit card company or any company you may have dealt with, if the sender is telling you to click on a link, DON’T! DON’T CLICK ON ANY LINKS. Look at the sender’s email address. It’s not Kosher if the address is totally different from the company it claims it’s from. For instance...

    I received an email supposedly from my email provider, with their logo in the message area. Looked good! But uh-oh. They told me that my account “is about to be disconnected, so CLICK HERE TO REACTIVATE!!!” Their email address had nothing to do with my provider’s name. So, I immediately marked it as spam and trashed it.

    3. But even if the email does have the “correct” name, it often can include some nonsensical figures, such as in the Biogen email, which was followed with a grouping of odd letters after the word “Biogen.” A dead giveaway. That being the case, trash it immediately or relegate it to “Junk.” You can also block suspicious emails.

    4. What if the email does look totally legit? Closely examine the message area. It might look like a genuine logo or banner. But there’s most ALWAYS a tell. Misspellings. Grammatical errors. Odd wording. Case in point: Normally I get alerts from USPS when a package is being delivered. The other day I got a so-called alert from That email address sure looks like it was from USPS, no? But the legitimate alerts are always from “” (Note: not “.net”) Also, within the message, “USPS” was written as “Usps.” Again, dead giveaway. Plus, the info in the message was unlike the usual messaging. Into “Junk” it went.

    These are just a few of the warning signs that when not heeded, can open you up to computer viruses and worse if you click on the link they so desperately urge you to do. Be vigilant. The best rule of thumb is: Don’t click on anything or respond to anything that looks the slightest bit suspicious. Check it out by Googling. (*Google “Biogen scam” and it will come right up.) Or simply call the company that supposedly sent you the email. If it’s legit – or not – it’s safe to say, they’ll tell you so.

    - Laura Stigler

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