Relaxed? Or at least as relaxed as you can be — with the holidays shuttling you and everyone you know hither and thither through some of the worst travel conditions of the year?

Or are your nerves threadbare… joints achy… head stuffy… even though no one has even fought about politics yet?

Whatever the case, here’s your 15 minutes of escape.

Welcome to your weekend reads.

Always Cheating the System

Pretty much as long as Amazon (and online shopping in general) has been around, product reviews have been used to give credibility and help buyers make decisions sight unseen.

And as long as there have been reviews, folks have gamed the system.

Amazon and others fight back — but it’s a cat-and-mouse game. Amazon gets good at spotting bots… so companies get their employees to write fake reviews. Amazon realizes reviews are coming from folks who never bought the product… so companies reimburse people to buy their products and give five-star reviews.

I love shopping online. I buy almost everything I need over the internet.

But we all need to step up our game if we’re to avoid being duped.

Watch out for suspicious patterns, insincere write-ups, reviews that get posted too early or too soon after getting an item and any knockoff that is talked about as a name-brand product.

It’s nearly impossible to weed out every fake review or scam seller. But the more skeptical you are going in — assuming everything is a scam until proven otherwise — the safer you’ll be.

I Hope the Toaster Doesn’t Come for Me Next

As many of us prepare for another big travel period (doesn’t it feel like we just got back from Thanksgiving?), there’s more to worry about…

Specifically, hackers have figured out how to load malware onto phone chargers and USB ports.

If you plug your phone into a hacked port or charging cable, the malware will get loaded onto your device and then do who knows what.

The terrifying truth is there are no visual clues that can warn you of tampering. So I suggest following a few rules instead:

    • Don’t use an unknown charger — especially one “forgotten” in an outlet
    • Don’t accept promotional chargers or cables — they’re easy to label with any name you like, including trusted brands
    • Don’t plug into USB ports in sketchy areas. Meaning anywhere with enough privacy where it would be easy to fiddle without being seen. When you can, plug a charger directly into a standard outlet
    • If possible, don’t use the big vending machines of chargers — the sorts that charge you money per minute. Since they’re in near-constant use, they are juicy targets for hackers.

This isn’t a huge or widespread problem. At least not yet. Just be aware and bring your own chargers with you — and you should be fine.

Privacy Was Nice While It Lasted

Don’t look now, but odds are pretty good the U.S. military knows who you are. And can track you anywhere around the globe.

Not just the military, either.

Right now, the government is constructing a massive facial-recognition database that can be shared across many agencies. That includes around 7 million people who are or have been in contact with the U.S. military and anyone who has a file with the Department of Homeland Security or its sister agencies.

The military has spent the past 15 years training the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) and its powers are growing.

More people are being added to the database all the time. More information for different people, as well — like iris scans, fingerprints, DNA, you name it.

ABIS probably will help us find some bad guys before they get a chance to be bad. But ABIS will almost certainly also lead to less privacy — and less freedom — for the rest of us.

It’s the old tension between security and liberty. More of one necessarily means less of the other.

That doesn’t make a system like ABIS inherently bad… but it does mean we need greater transparency — and a conversation about how far we’re willing to go.

Because if history teaches us anything, this sort of power left to operate unchecked in the dark always goes too far.

Leave on a High Note

How about some good news after all that gloom?

Even though you’ll see lots of hand-wringing around the subject (especially when it comes to competing with China), the U.S. green economy is actually extremely healthy.

At $1.3 trillion, it’s the largest in the world. It makes up around 16% of the worldwide green economy. And it’s growing rapidly.

Green jobs — which cover a whole host of fields, from recycling to renewable energy production — are growing at a fast clip. And better yet, they pay decent middle-class salaries, often to folks who don’t need college degrees.

With most new jobs being part time, minimum wage or otherwise unable to support a budget — for a single person, let alone a family — it’s nice to see some growth, finally, in jobs above the bottom rung of the ladder.

And at 7% of the U.S. economy, the green sector isn’t something to be laughed at…

We’re at the beginning of a massive shift in energy production and related fields to a sustainable system. This part of the economy is only going to continue to grow — even as the old fossil fuel sector becomes more niche.

So while fearmongering around the green economy can help spur action — or cause others to dig in their heels in opposition — it’s nice to know the invisible hand has started to do its work.

We’re far from out of the woods… but the booming green economy is a positive sign. Both for the health of the economy — which needs higher-paying jobs — and for the health of the planet.

Unconventionally yours,

Ryan Cole

Ryan Cole
Editor-in-chief, Unconventional Wealth

P.S. With all this malware in the world… all these governments spying on you… all the fake reviews trying to scam you online… it’s more important now than ever to set up your own defense system. And that all starts with a good VPN, which can hide you from watchers online and protect you from malicious incursions. Please — please! — sign up for one today, before you run into a critical issue that could have been prevented.

We love the VPN from our partner TunnelBear — but whatever service you choose, do it today. A VPN service is essential to your protection online — which includes safeguarding things like your bank account and Social Security payments.

P.P.S. If you celebrate Hanukkah, let me personally celebrate the start of the holiday with you. Don’t forget to light your first candle tomorrow — and let me know if you got any good socks this year at feedback@unconventionalwealth.com.

Ryan Cole

Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.

Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...

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