Top Five Lines Used to Bait You

Three frustrated young business people in smart casual wear looking at the laptop and expressing negativity

For those working in receiving departments, it’s normal to see email messages regarding package deliveries. In fact, even if you order items off of the Internet to be sent to your home, you may be familiar with the messages letting you know your package is on the way. And if you work in accounting and financial departments at any company, it’s not unusual to see email messages with invoices attached.

The cyber criminals know this occurs often and spear-phishing that targets people working in these departments is incredibly common. According to Proofpoint, fake invoices are by far the most used lure for phishing. The company released a list of the top “lines” used in phishing scams.

1. “Please see your invoice attached” tops the list and accounts for nearly half of all the phishing campaigns that Proofpoint observed. Often a document is attached that executes various malware such as the banking Trojan Dridex or Locky, which is ransomware that will encrypt the information on your computer.

Avoid this by confirming with the sender of the document’s legitimacy first. Either call the sender on the phone or send a new email (as opposed to replying) asking for confirmation before opening the attachment. In addition, ensure regular backups of important information on your computer are completed. This way, if ransomware does strike, the data can be quickly restored and no ransom need be paid as happened to a company that manages hospitals in the Washington DC area as well as Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. Even a police department paid for an encryption key.

2. “Click here to open your scanned document” is second on the list and accounts for one in 10 phishing campaigns. While it is perhaps less common to scan documents these days, organizations such as financial institutions often still rely on them as well as the ever-aging fax.

The same rules apply here as for any other document. Don’t open them unless you are expecting them and/or are 100% certain they don’t contain malware.

3. “Your package has shipped – your shipping receipt is attached” comes third and often looks very similar to one you might receive from the various shippers. However, they also may appear to come directly from a vendor. Proofpoint found that these often include automated exploits or will install malware after an “enable content” button is clicked.

Obviously if you did not order from the listed vendor, just put it right in the trash. However, if you did or don’t remember, go into your online shopping or shipper account directly to see the details. No need to open the attachment at all. In addition, make sure your devices are always updated with the latest patches and that anti-malware is installed and kept up-to-date too.

4. “I want to place an order for the attached list” ranks at number four. These are not all that different form the invoice or order confirmation emails, but appeal to those who may benefit from a sale. Again, these rely on the recipient opening an attachment, which will unleash malware.

5. “Please verify this transaction” may appear to be from a financial institution hoping to lure the recipient into thinking a fraudulent transaction occurred.

Instead of opening any attachments or clicking links,go directly into the account associated and verify charges that way. If you accidently do execute some malware on your computer or device, report it to your IT department immediately. The sooner it is reported, the faster it can be corralled and the less damage it can do.

 

© Copyright 2016 Stickley on Security

 

Plan for a Smooth Move: Don’t Forget These Common Expenses

packing

Moving into a new place can be a very exciting time full of possibility. The last thing you want during this transitional time is unnecessary money worries. To cut down on stress, complete a spending plan for the move beforehand to avoid going into debt to cover your needs. Here are some potential “moving” spending categories to figure into your calculations:

  • Income that will be lost because of time spent on the move
  • Extra rent that has to be paid after moving out or before moving in to new place
  • Expenses of selling a home
  • Expenses for having your previous place cleaned
  • Cost of pre-trip vehicle tune-up
  • Transportation costs for you (plane tickets, gas, hotels)
  • Food while in transit
  • Moving company services
  • Large-item packing supplies for the move (blankets, foam, etc.)
  • Moving insurance
  • Storage facility fees
  • Smaller-item packing supplies like boxes, tape, markers, bubble wrap or foam peanuts
  • Pet transportation costs
  • Cost of shipping certain items
  • Parking fees
  • Temporary housing if you still need to look for a new place
  • Costs of buying a new home
  • Deposit for the new place if renting
  • Furnishings needed for new dwelling
  • Increases in utility expenses or fees for service start-up
  • Cost of registering your vehicle or getting a new driver’s license in the new location

While certainly a break in your routine, moving doesn’t have to be a time of calamity. With a little effort into preparedness, you can make your new start a happier one.

BALANCE, Revised January 2016

Tips for Saving While Renovating Your Home

cost-saving-tips-for-home-renovation-300x199

When it comes to improving your home, it’s hard not to get carried away with big plans that can run the risk of putting the entire project above the family’s means. While an intelligent home owner leaves certain things to the “professionals,” there are still plenty of things you can do yourself both during the preparation phase as well as carrying out the renovation itself. It’s imperative to know the things you can save on early in the process, so you can properly plan and allocate funds to other areas of the project that are more intensive. Here are a few helpful hints to help you stretch every dollar you have, while taking certain matters into your own hands.

Have a Paint Party! – Take something as mundane and otherwise boring as painting, and make it a fun opportunity to have friends over to check out your new home. It’ll be on you to of course provide the music, pizza, and (most importantly) beer/wine, but let everyone pick a room and do their part. Not only will everyone feel a proud sense of accomplishment every time they come over from that point on, but you will significantly cut down the time it takes to get everything painted. Chances are you’ve at the very least helped a buddy or two move in along the way, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask for some help; painting is something you should really never pay for unless we’re talking cathedral ceilings or another hazardous layout.

Do Your Own Demo– Let’s face it, the first jobs we typically look to hire out for, are the ones that none of us want to do ourselves. It’s not exactly laziness; it’s just that nobody really ever “runs” to do dirty jobs like attic, plumbing, and insulation work. Unfortunately, contractors know this and that’s why it will cost you a very good amount of cash to factor in any type of demolition work into the overall SOW or master invoice of your project. If you want to save some money, rip up your own rugs, knock down your own sheetrock, bag up your own old insulation, and strip off your own wall paper. If you get things to as clean of a slate yourself before bringing in whatever kind of professional you may need to leverage, it will at least contain the strain on your bank account to the absolute necessities. Spend that money elsewhere within your home improvement plans, or save it for the nest project.

Rent Your Big Tools– While every home owner should have the standard set of hammers, screwdrivers, drills, wrenches, etc., not everyone has either the space nor the budget needed for having a full arsenal of power tools in house. If your project calls for something out of the ordinary, say to help you cut granite for the kitchen counter, or mix cement for the backyard of your dreams, look into tool rental services to save a ton of cash. Think about it, unless you are planning a side business as a carpenter, how many times are you really going to be laying concrete or setting beams? There’s no need to pay hundreds of dollars for something you may only need for a week in your life; business big and small typically offer a wide array of products, some of which even come with quick tutorial classes offered by the store. Home Depot, for example, rents out everything from carpet cleaners to jack hammers at very affordable daily and weekly rates.

Smart Giving: How to Make the Most of Your Charitable Donation

charitable_giving

If a cause or charity is inspiring you to give, know how to make the most of your generosity first. The federal government rewards those who make charitable contributions with significant tax breaks, as long as a few rules are met.

To be sure you are donating to a worthy and above-board organization, request a copy of its financial report. It summarizes the organization’s tax status, programs, and how the funds are used. With the exception of places of worship, all charities must file such a report with the IRS. You may also contact your state’s attorney general’s office or the Better Business Bureau for further investigation.

Sadly, whenever money is involved, fraud is also prevalent. Be particularly cautious when solicited by a charity. Warning signs of scams include:

  • High-pressure sales pitches
  • Requiring you to make an immediate donation
  • Only being able to offer a “tax ID number,” which is no more than an employer identification number and does not guarantee non-profit status

A wonderful aspect of giving is the ability to deduct at least some of your donation from your income taxes. In order for the contribution to be tax deductible, it must be made to a qualified organization that meets IRS guidelines. To know if it does, you may ask the organization. But to be sure, check the IRS’s “Publication 78” online at www.irs.gov for the most up-to-date list of qualified charities, or call the IRS at 800-829-1040.

How to Donate Money
When donating money, for tax purposes and safety reasons, never pay with cash. Either write a check, made payable to the organization (never the individual collecting the donation), or use a credit or debit card. Avoid giving your account information over the telephone.

Another way to give money while minimizing your tax liability even further is to donate appreciated assets. By giving stock that you’ve held for more than a year directly to a qualified charity, you can claim a deduction for the full price of the asset – thus escaping a potentially hefty capital gains bill.

How to Donate Property
If you are considering donating such property as a vehicle or boat to a charity, be aware that the tax deduction rules have changed in response to past abuse of the system. Now, if you donate real property with a claimed value of over $500, your deduction depends on what the charity does with it.

If the organization uses your property (or makes a significant improvement to it), you may deduct its full fair market value from your income taxes. If, however, they simply sell the property, your deduction will be the gross price the charity receives from the sale.

How to Donate Goods 
Yet another way of giving to a cause is to donate goods – including clothes, computers, and other personal and household items – to a charity.

Before boxing them up and delivering them to your local shelter, first determine their fair market value so you can receive the appropriate tax deduction. Fair market value is considered the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller.

Also for tax purposes, be sure to keep a detailed record of your donations. You should have evidence of the condition and number of items you donated, the date you purchased the items and what their original price was, and signed and dated receipts from the organization that received them.

How to Donate Time
Have more time than money and possessions, or want to share your particular strength with those in need? Volunteer. Tax breaks are available to those who give in this special way. While there is no deduction for the value of services you provide, you may deduct a number of out-of-pocket costs associated with volunteerism, including:

  • Reasonable and substantiated travel expenses
  • Gas and oil expenses of 14¢ per charitable-use mile
  • The cost of entertaining others on behalf of a charity (but not your own entertainment costs)
  • Purchased equipment for volunteer duties (as long as you don’t maintain ownership)
  • The cost of maintaining your own equipment used for volunteer duties
  • Uniforms required for the volunteer service you perform

Never before has giving—whether it’s money, property, or time—been more necessary and valued. And by doing it right, your generosity can go a very long way.

 

BALANCE, Revised January 2016.

How a Little Work Could Lead to Over $1,000 in Savings

savings

How long would it take you to earn an extra $1,000? Contrary to what spam and internet ads tell us, after taking taxes and deductions into account, it’s not an easy task. But you might be able to save over a thousand dollars with a little work. The key is to decrease or eliminate unnecessary recurring expenses.

You can use the savings to build up an emergency fund or invest them for important long-term goals, such as travel or retirement. Additionally, a savings safety cushion can help keep an unexpected setback from ballooning into a financial crisis, such as a broken down car or the loss of a job leading to debt.

First, identify savings opportunities. You may want to start by connecting your bank and credit card accounts to budgeting software, or uploading previous months’ statements and categorize purchases. You’ll get a quick snapshot of your finances, which can help you identify savings opportunities and get a sense of how much money is on the line.

Cancel services and regularly negotiate rates – save over $100 a month. “Cord cutting” is a popular and simple way to save money. Rather than pay for cable or satellite TV, you might choose to cancel your service and opt for lower-cost entertainment options.

If you don’t want to eliminate services entirely, you could try to negotiate rates with your cable or internet providers. A successful call could lower your bill by $20 a month or more, saving you a couple hundred dollars a year. A few tips: ask for the cancellation department and request the business match a competitor’s lower price or give you the current promotional rate. Don’t be afraid to try again if you’re not successful – it can take several attempts to connect with a representative who will work with you.

Avoid bank fees – save over $10 a month. Occasionally paying to withdraw money from an ATM or paying fees for a low-balance checking account might not seem like a big deal, but the money adds up. Two ATM fees and a checking-account fee could cost you over $10.

Some accounts waive fees as long as you maintain a minimum balance, and there often isn’t an ATM fee for withdrawing money from an in-network ATM or getting cash back when making a purchase. There are also checking accounts that refund ATM fees at the end of each month. There can be advantages and disadvantages to any account, read the terms of your checking and saving account agreements to understand when, and why, you may need to pay a fee.

Shop for insurance discounts – you might be able to save over 20 percent on your premiums each month. Use online comparison tools to quickly and easily get quotes on auto, renters, homeowners and other types of insurance. Compare the rates, coverage and insurance companies to see if switching makes sense for you.

Ask your agent about potential savings if you decide to stick with your current insurer. You might be eligible for discounts you aren’t receiving because the information on file doesn’t reflect your current situation. If not, there are usually discounts for simple purchases, such as a fire extinguisher for your home or an anti-theft device for your car.

Buy products that more than pay for themselves – save hundreds each year. Sometimes you need to spend money to save money. Buying a coffee maker for your home is the cliché example, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. Purchasing a water pitcher with a filter rather than bottled water can also lead to immediate savings.

Other purchases are long-term investments. It might take months to break even after buying LED bulbs or upgrading your appliances to energy-efficient models, but after that you could save money on your utility bill each month.

Bottom line. Start your savings effort as soon as possible and you can build your emergency fund, a safety net that can help you avoid stressing about potential financial setbacks. Lowering your monthly cable bill will lead to almost instant savings, while making an investment in energy-efficient appliances will pay off after months or years. Add it all up and in the end you could find that just a bit of effort leads to over $1,000 in annual savings. It’s a great start.

By Nathaniel Sillin

5 Tips to Finding the Perfect Real Estate Attorney

realestate

Very few among us are going to be comfortable deciphering all the complex terminology and clauses in the paperwork needed to complete a home purchase. You are much better off leaving the legal heavy lifting to someone who does it on a regular basis.

Here are a few tips for a happy lawyer-client relationship during your home purchase.

Start early

Most of what an attorney helps with comes later in the home buying process, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to procrastinate. Start the process of finding a lawyer when you first start looking at homes.

Get a good referral

Friends, family, co-workers or the state or national bar associations are good places to get leads on attorneys. It’s not a terrible idea to get a recommendation from your real estate agent, but the best practice is to research a few other candidates too. Avoid getting a referral from the seller or the seller’s agent since this could mean an attorney motivated to “push through” a deal.

Do some research

Once you have a list of 3-5 potential attorneys, start doing some homework online. Perform a search engine query for the lawyers’ names and try to locate their personal website/blog, reviews and relevant media mentions of them. Keep an eye out for anything that raises a red flag about their integrity or customer service.

Conduct interviews

Talking with a few candidates on the phone or in person will not only give you some practical information about their services, but it will also give you an idea for what kind of rapport you have with each of them. In your interview, be sure to ask about:

  • A fee schedule and list of services they intend to provide. Average total fees are in the neighborhood of $500-$750, but they can be more or less depending on the area and the complexity of the transaction.
  • The number of buyer real estate transactions they’ve closed in the past year and in their career.
  • The names of other lawyers or staff you’ll be dealing with during the process. Ideally you will only need to work with one person.
  • Any potential conflicts of interest they might have.
  • A list of references.
  • Any questions or concerns you have about the process. You don’t necessarily need to have all these issues addressed immediately, but it helps to get a sense for how well the attorney will be able to explain things to you throughout the process.

Pick someone close

While the lawyer doesn’t need to live right next door to you, hiring someone familiar with the ins and outs of real estate law in your area only makes good sense.