NEWS BRIEF

AT&T Partners with Best Buy To Push VoIP

AT&T today announced that Best Buy will be among the first national retailers to offer AT&T’s residential Voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone service, called the AT&T CallVantage Service, in its 628 stores nationwide and online at bestbuy.com.

AT&T CallVantage Service will be available in Best Buy stores beginning this fall. According to the companies, Best Buy and AT&T will promote AT&T CallVantage Service through in-store marketing as well as print, broadcast and online advertising.

“We’re delighted to launch our retail strategy for AT&T CallVantage Service with Best Buy, a well-known and respected brand name and the nation’s leading specialty retailer of technology and entertainment products and services,” said Cathy Martine, AT&T senior vice president for Internet Telephony, Consumer Marketing and Sales.

“Voice-over IP is an exciting technology and service offering for consumers and small businesses alike,” said David Sprosty, vice president of subscription services at Best Buy.

AT&T CallVantage Service works with most cable modem or digital subscriber line (DSL) broadband connections. The service is compatible with most home computer networks and can be used in conjunction with various home network routers.

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Robotic Letter Writing Lends a Hand to Personalized Marketing, CRM

Image Credit: Handwrytten

The art of automating business communication extends to resurrecting handwritten letters to customers and maximizing the appearance with a robot labor force to produce the correspondence.

The Handwrytten app is part of an automated CRM tool that lets businesses — and individuals with an entrepreneurial passion — integrate computerized automation with personalized handwritten notes to customers. The result is a novel approach to updating one of marketing’s best-known strategies — the personal letter.

Retailers today have all but destroyed the effectiveness of thank you notes and personalized business letters. Delivered electronically in plain vanilla typed emails and SMS messages, people have learned to reach for the delete button or send-to-spam response for most of the retail-related correspondence arriving in inboxes.

The Handwrytten web-based service uses robots to finesses marketing messages into handwritten polished prose. It helps marketing teams reintroduce and automate what was once a fine art of letter writing. The Handwrytten app and computer interface let you create professionally designed handwritten notes that are delivered to customers and clients’ postal mailboxes.

Consumers expect to get emails, text messages, and bulk mailers from companies. They rarely read or pay attention to them on a regular basis. Handwrytten is an effective way for businesses to help their sales and marketing teams to better engage potential and existing customers.

“People understand the power of the personal note, but nobody has the time to sit down and actually pick up a pen and write one. This is why we built a platform to automate the process from end to end,” said David Wachs, founder and CEO of Handwrytten.

Leveraging cutting-edge robotic technology automates what is seemingly impossible to automate. These notes have been proven to drive incredible and lasting results for our clients, he added.

Fine Art Revisited

Founded in 2014, Wachs had a vision of bringing back handwritten communication to business. He wanted to fill an unmet need: making handwritten notes as easy to send as an email.

To solve this problem, he invested heavily in robotics to build a machine unmatched in handwriting quality and scalability. His 175+ patented Handwrytten robots each autonomously writes nearly 500 notes a day.

Handwrytten factory

Image Credit: Handwrytten


The company now builds its own handwriting robots to produce more realistic penmanship. Each robot machine monitors its ink levels and communicates with tenders via Slack if it jams or runs out of ink.

To scale, the company continues to build more machines to meet demand. Wachs plans to double machine capacity this year.

This 2016 video shows how the company first used off-the-shelf, third-party machines to fulfill orders.

Machine Maintains Humanlike Mannerism

The handwriting is indistinguishable from real human handwriting. The robotic hands can produce 23 handwriting styles.

Alternatively, users can upload their own handwriting and signature for a truly personalized style. That option comes with a one-time fee.

Either way, users can select from more than 100 card designs or design their own online. Deliveries can include business cards or gift cards to over 20 popular brands, including Starbucks, Home Depot, Amazon, and Visa can further foster relationships with customers.

Handwrytten bulk order production

For bulk letter orders, each copy is originally copied, not photocopied from the robot-printed initial letter. (Image Credit: Handwrytten)


“Handwrytten is the largest and longest running service of its kind. We allow people to go to our website, or use our app integration, and choose a card or design their own. They also choose a handwriting style and type a message. We then convert the message into the handwriting style,” Wachs told CRM Buyer.

Keeping It Real

The company is tweaking several improvements into the robot hands to make the writing look even more real. A new version of the web app will deliver better usability and more features.

Some of the “tricks” built into the robot mechanism to defy creation by mechanical hands include:

  • Using up to 10 copies of each letter in both upper and lowercase form randomly put in the note to ensure enough variation;
  • Capturing the unique ligature combinations of a handwriting style (or font), such as two O’s next to each other, two T’s, or connecting T and H or O and F;
  • Varying the spacing between lines and randomizing this interline spacing subtly, along with varying the left margin and ensuring that each line starts at a different spot, creates more organic-looking writing.

The company is working on fixing its main remaining complaint: straightness by bending words. Its updated handwriting engine now bends each line of text to create an even more organic effect.

Behind the Scenes

When I first discovered the Handwrytten service, I planned to check it out further as a possible business product review. That approach gave way to a more detailed discussion with the company’s driving force, David Wachs.

The product reviewer part of me wanted to know more about how the robotic handwriting process transforms the customer’s initial typed correspondence into an “Is it real?” finished product.

Wachs declined to reveal specifics about the transformation process. He confided that they build, program, and maintain their robotic machinery in a large facility in Phoenix to write out notes and mail them.

Primarily a tool for businesses, Handwrytten’s client base ranges from Fortune 500 corporations to small retailers and consumers. It currently has over 85,000 customers using the platform, according to Wachs.

The company has options for any budget. Pricing starts at $3.25 to send one Handwrytten note, with discounts for bulk orders and subscriptions.

All of its cards are available without a contract. The company also offers subscription plans, bulk discounts, and prepay options.

Wachs also disclosed that some limitations exist with the Handwrytten app (available for Android and iOS). The apps do not allow the user to bulk upload lists of contacts. Nor do they currently support signatures. But those features are forthcoming.

“The apps also do not allow the new prospecting tool, which allows the user to target a demographic or geographic area and blanket the area with Handwrytten notes,” he said. “The rest of the functionality is the same, however.”

Orders are stamped with First Class postage and mailed from the factory. The U.S. Postal Service delivers all mail to the continental U.S. in three-to-four days. The company also delivers to Canada, the U.K., and 190 other countries.

Marketing Tool Advantages

As a marketing tool, Handwrytten notes offer benefits over using in-office CRM software and in-house or commercial printing services. Perhaps the most significant is Handwritten notes have a 300% higher open rate than print pieces, according to Wachs.

Additionally, Handwritten notes have a very high likelihood of being considered surprising while having a low risk of being regarded as annoying, he noted.

When consumers do not feel appreciated by a brand, Handwritten notes have a statistically significant ability to improve brand perception and get consumers to come back and buy more, Wachs concluded.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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5 Cyber Safety Tips To Survive the Internet, Hackers and Scammers

Navigating the internet can be a trouble-filled journey. Bad actors intent on exploiting uninformed users are constantly lurking behind emails, websites, and social media invites. Even your Wi-Fi router and those now-ubiquitous QR codes can be danger points. Add to that, the never-ending virus and malware threats.

Computer and mobile device users are often unaware of the danger zones. However, the internet need not be a constant trip through the badlands. What it takes to stay protected online is knowing what to avoid and how to protect yourself.

Here are five things in your control to help keep your digital activity safe.

1. QR Codes, Handy but Potentially Harmful

QR Code for TechNewsWorld.com
A safe QR code for TechNewsWorld.com

These postage-size image links to websites can be convenient. Just point your smartphone camera at it and instantly go to a website, tech support location, discount offer on a purchase, or restaurant menu.

However, QR codes can also take you to a nefarious place where malware or worse is waiting. QR codes can be programmed to link to anything, putting your privacy and security at big risk.

Think before you scan a QR code. If the code is displayed on a website or printed document you trust, it is probably a safe. If not, or you are unsure, check it out.

You can download reputable QR reader apps that will perform a security check on the endpoint of the QR code’s destination. One such safety tool I use is the Trend Micro QR Scanner app, available for Android and iOS.

2. Avoid ‘Unsubscribe’ Email Scams

This is a popular ongoing scam that has a high success rate for hackers. Potential victims get an email for a product offer or other business invitation. The opt-out action step is enticing, looks familiar, and sounds reasonable. “Don’t want to receive our emails? Click here to unsubscribe,” it beckons.

Sometimes the annoying repeat emails ask if you want to unsubscribe from future emails. Some even offer you a link to cancel a subscription.

Do not select any options. Clicking on the links or replying confirms your active address.

Never input your email address in the “unsubscribe me” field, either. More senders will follow.

A better solution to deleting the unwanted email, especially from an unknown sender, is to mark it as spam. That moves it to the spam folder. You also can add that sender to your email program’s block list, or set up a filter to automatically delete it before it reaches your inbox.

Finally, check out the free service Unroll.me. There you can unsubscribe from unwanted emails, keep others, or get the rest in a daily digest.

3. Lockout Facebook Hackers

Other villains try to usurp Facebook accounts. Hackers can change your password, email address, phone number, and even add a security code to lock you out of the pirated account. Before trouble happens, be proactive to prevent these situations. Facebook provides the following security settings you need to enable.

Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) to require your login approval on a separate device.

To do this, log in to your Facebook account on a desktop computer and navigate to Settings & privacy. Next, select Security and login. Then scroll down and edit the Two-factor authentication option. 

Facebook two-factor authentication settings

To complete this step, you must enter your Facebook password.


Activate these two additional features to block Facebook hackers:

  • Turn on the Code Generator feature in the Facebook mobile app
  • Set up login alerts to your email

First, open the Facebook mobile app and tap the magnifying glass, enter the term “code generator” and tap the search icon. Tap the result Code Generator to navigate to the next screen, then tap the button “Turn On Code Generator” to get a 6-digit code that changes every 30 seconds. You must enter this code within that short time span to login to your account on another device.

Next, set up alerts about unrecognized logins. You can do this from either a computer or a mobile device.

  • Computer: go to Settings & privacy > Settings > Security and login > Get alerts about unrecognized logins (see above screenshot).
  • Mobile app: tap Menu > Settings & privacy gear icon > Settings. Then tap Password and security. Next, scroll to Setting Up Extra Security > Get alerts about unrecognized logins > tap to select your preferred notification methods.

If you have trouble logging in, head to facebook.com/login/identify to fix the problem. If you are unable to login there, go to this Facebook help page instead and fill out the request form for Facebook to review your account. You will need to answer a few security questions to prove your identity. This might include providing proof of ID like a photo of a driver’s license.

4. Secure Your Wi-Fi Router

The flood of people working remotely since Covid put home Wi-Fi routers squarely in hackers’ target sights. As a result, malware attacks on home Wi-Fi networks are on the rise because residential setups often lack the level of security and protection that is found on enterprise networks.

One nasty attack tool, dubbed ZuoRAT, is a remote access trojan designed to hack into small office/home office routers. It can affect macOS, Windows, and Linux computers.

With it, hackers can collect your data and hijack any sites you visit while on your network. One of ZuroRAT’s worst factors is that once your router is infected, it can infect other routers to continue spreading the hackers’ access.

Apply these steps to better secure your home/office Wi-Fi network:

  • Be sure to enable WPA2 or WPA3 encryption on your routers. The default factory setting is often the outdated WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) security protocol, or none is set at all. Check the user manual or the router manufacturer’s website for directions.
  • Change your router’s SSID (Service Set Identifier) and password. This is critical. Typically, the factory setting shows the router’s make or model and has a universal password such as 0000 or 1234. Rename the SSID to not easily identify you. Avoid names that include, for example, all or parts of your name or address. Make sure the password is very strong.
  • For added protection, change the router’s password regularly. Yes, this is a big inconvenience because you also must update the password on all your devices that use that Wi-Fi network. But considering it will keep out hackers, it is well worth the hassle.
  • Keep the router’s firmware updated. Check the user manual and/or the manufacturer’s website for steps to download the latest updates.

FAQ
How do I create a password that is hard to hack?

The strongest passwords have all these characteristics:

  • Lengthy — the more characters, the better
  • A mix of upper-case and lower-case letters, numerals, and special characters
  • No dictionary words or anything related to personal information

Pro Tip: When using a password generator, always change at least a few characters from the random result to create your final credentials.

5. Beware of Phony Tech Support Schemes

Some fraudsters call on the phone to tell you they are a tech support division working for a well-known computer or software company. The caller claims to be calling in response to an alert from your computer of a virus detection or malware on your device. The scammer offers to fix it if you simply provide your credit card number.

Hang up. Your computer is not infected.

A modified version of this tech support scam is a text or email claiming the same details. Do not reply. Just delete the message and move on.

You might also be browsing the web when a pop-up message crashes onto your screen. I have received very loud audio alerts warning me that my computer is at risk and not to turn it off without responding for help.

In all these cases, the scammers want to scare you to comply with their instructions. The action they want you to take to let them fix the alleged problem will hurt your bank account and possibly let them transmit real infections.

Follow these best practices to protect yourself from tech support fraud:

  • Never let a scammer con you into going to a website or clicking on a link.
  • Never agree to a remote connection by the so-called tech support agent that initiated contact to you.
  • Never give payment information in exchange for technical support you did not initiate. Legitimate tech companies will not call you and ask for payment to fix a problem they claim to have discovered on your device.

If you suspect your computer has a virus or malware problem, initiate contact with a repair center yourself. You probably already have a support plan or active warranty from where you purchased the computer. If you have not contacted a tech support company, the call or message you received is illegitimate.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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