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Don't Get Scammed by a Faulty Cashier's Check!

December 11, 2017 5:12 am

When selling a big-ticket item like a vehicle or electronics, accepting a cashier's check may seem like a safe bet. However,  Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann warns consumers to be privy to a current Counterfeit Cashier's Check Scam.

Wiessmann explains how this scam works:

This scam targets individuals selling expensive items through classified advertising or online auctions.

The counterfeiter, who is often in another country, poses as an interested buyer and offers to pay with a fake cashier's check. After the victim presents the fake check to the bank, the buyer suddenly backs out of the deal and asks for a refund. Because the funds from the check are available from the bank after a few days, the victim assumes the check has cleared and agrees to return the money.

By the time the bank discovers the forgery – which could be up to 60 days later -- the bogus buyer is long gone and the victim must now repay the bank for the amount of the fake cashier's check.

In other cases, the counterfeiter may send a cashier's check for more than the asking price of the item and then ask the victim to wire the "overpayment" back or to a third party.

"There was a time when cashier's checks were considered the next best thing to cash," Wiessmann says. "Today, sophisticated forgeries of this once trusted payment method are being used to bilk private sellers out of large sums of money, and consumers need to be vigilant about the people with whom they are doing business."

Wiessmann points to five tips that can help consumers avoid being robbed by the counterfeit cashier's check scam:

- Understand that although the bank may allow you to withdraw money soon after depositing a cashier's check, that does not mean the check has cleared.

- You are responsible for the funds you deposit until your bank has received the money from the institution where the check originated or the true account holder of the originating check reports the fraud (this could take more than 60 days).

- Be cautious of transactions with strangers who pay with cashier's checks. Make sure to tell the buyer that you will send the item only after the check has cleared.

- Avoid any situation where someone overpays for an item and demands that the extra money be returned.

- Contact the issuing financial institution to verify the check is authentic, being careful not to rely on the contact information printed on the check itself as it may be false. They may be able to more reliably detect a fraudulent check.

Source:  http://www.state.pa.us

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Prep Your Home for a Winter Away

December 11, 2017 5:12 am

Whether you're snow birding it or just jetting to a place with palms for a long weekend, there may be things you should do to protect your home - and save some hard-earned dollars - while you're sipping cool drinks in the sun.

"It can be refreshing to spend winters in a warmer environment, but it's important to remember that your home will stay behind in the cold," says Mike Nicholson, owner of Nicholson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning.

"Taking care to prepare your home to properly withstand the long absence is important during what could be a severe winter. The last thing you want to do is come back from vacation to a home that is flooded because of a broken supply line or appliance malfunction."

Nicholson offers the following as important steps toward winterizing a home:

Save electrical energy. Make sure that all electronics remaining behind such as televisions are not only turned off but are unplugged with any power strips being disconnected as well. This will eliminate any trickle charges and consumption that can add up over long periods. Large appliances, when possible, should be unplugged as well as small appliances such as coffee pots and toasters. Take a walk around the home to inspect the windows and doorframes, searching for any gaps in seals or deteriorated weather stripping that could allow warmth to escape. Finally, figure out what temperature setting will walk the line best between saving money and keeping the home at a safe temperature. A programmable thermostat is a great solution for maintaining the proper temperature within the home.

Prevent potential sanitary issues. Any perishable food items left on counters or inside the refrigerator should be used immediately, taken with, or properly disposed of outside the home. Do not leave behind unemptied trash bins, especially containing food, as these can attract any pests that may infiltrate the home to stay. Flushing out sink traps and disposals is a great way to avoid finding terrible odors upon returning.

Protect the plumbing. Shut off the water at the main valve, and open all faucets to allow them to drain. Leaving faucets open, especially outdoor spigots, will give more room for possible expansion from freezing and may prevent bursting. Make sure to shut off outdoor spigots and protect them with proper insulated covers. Don't forget to disconnect the supply hoses from the washing machine, and drain the water heater and water softener if one is present. Enlisting the aid of a home service professional may be useful if the lines need to be blown out or if there is worry that ancillary items like a sprinkler system may not be properly winterized.

Play it safe. Make sure the home seems occupied throughout extended absences. Forward the mail or ask a friend or relative to pick it up and check in on the home periodically. Arrange in advance to have the driveway plowed in the event of snow or ice to create an occupied appearance. Another great tip is to set a couple of lights on timers - preferably visible to the entrances - so that they will turn on for periods of time and give the illusion of occupancy.

Source: www.nicholson-hvac.com/.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Make an Impact on Children

December 7, 2017 5:12 am

(Family Features)--When looking for opportunities to make an impact on the lives of others, selecting a cause to support can be an overwhelming task with so many options to choose from. However, considering opportunities that can change the lives of kids is one way to make a lasting impact for generations to come.

Helping children early on can change the trajectory of their lives, set them up for success and empower them to achieve their dreams. This is especially important for kids living in poverty who are not guaranteed access to things like medical care and quality educations. According to global humanitarian organization Children International, nearly half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day and 1 in 5 kids in the United States lives in poverty.

Consider these ideas to make an impact on children in need now and well into the future:

Become a mentor or coach. A positive role model can make a life-changing difference for a child from disadvantaged circumstances. As a mentor or coach, you can help children explore and nurture their unique talents and guide them toward a successful future.

Volunteer at a local school. Families increasingly rely on two incomes to support their households, which means parents are less available to lend their time to their children's classrooms or schools. At the same time, public school funding is shrinking. As a volunteer, you can help fill these gaps and contribute to bettering the learning opportunities for children in your community.

Sponsor a child. You may be surprised to learn how far a monetary donation can go. For example, Children International supporters can join a monthly giving program and sponsor a child in poverty for $32 per month. Your donation establishes a connection with an individual child who receives access to life-changing benefits like medical care, educational support and life-skills training. The institution is a CharityWatch top-rated organization that serves 250,000 children in 10 countries. If a recurring donation is not right for you, the organization also accepts one-time donations. Learn more at children.org.

Host a foreign exchange student. Education is an important tool that can set kids up for success and help shape available opportunities in the future. Through a foreign exchange program, you can provide opportunities to youths who are working to better themselves through learning. As an added bonus, you and your family can have the chance to learn more about another culture and part of the world you may not be exposed to otherwise.

Donate new or used items. Service organizations such as shelters generally operate on tight budgets and rely on contributions from the community. Gently used items in good condition such as children's clothing of all sizes and warm bedding are generally welcome. Other options include watching for sales to stock up on new items to donate or assembling kid-friendly packages of travel-size toiletries.

No matter how you approach it, putting kids front and center as you look for opportunities to give back can make a difference not only in the short term, but potentially for a lifetime. You can also feel good knowing your gift can have a positive impact on a child's life.

Source: Children International

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Psychology of Holiday Gift-Giving

December 7, 2017 5:12 am

There's no arguing that deciding what gift to give someone can be a bit of a brain workout, especially if that loved one is someone you see infrequently. A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University fused economics and psychology to determine how we locate the "perfect gift." Here are four science-backed tips to help during the holiday shopping season.

Avoid Guessing. Projection bias is a phenomenon that describes how people believe others hold the same beliefs and values as they do—and will in the future. When gift giving, shoppers often try to predict what the recipient would like, thinking recipients will share their same tastes.

"If you like dark chocolate and loath milk chocolate, it's very tempting to give dark chocolate, even if the gift recipient's tastes are opposite to yours; it's very difficult to imagine that another person would enjoy receiving a gift that you would hate," says George Loewenstein, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and co-founder of the field of behavioral economics.

Be Aware of Your Shopping Environment. Kareem Haggag, assistant professor of economics in the Social and Decision Sciences Department, studies attribution bias, and his work shows that the past experiences of gift-givers will influence their opinion of a product.

He advised gift givers to be careful and think about past experiences with an item they are considering purchasing.

Consider Whether Past Holidays Are an Influence. If you were not thanked by a recipient in the past, you may be less likely to put time and effort into gift-giving for that person in the future, according to Shereen J. Chaudhry (DC'13, '16).

Chaudhry says that words of thanks are more than "cheap talk" and help keep relationships healthy.

Focus on the Long-Term. Researchers led by the Tepper School of Business' Jeff Galak found that gift givers tend to focus on the moment of exchange when selecting a gift, whereas gift recipients are more focused on the long-term utility or practical attributes of the gift.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Dos and Don'ts for Job Interview Follow-Ups

December 7, 2017 5:12 am

If you're hunting for a new job, you likely know that sending a "thank you" note post-interview can be a huge deciding factor as to whether or not you land the gig.

Research from Accountemps provides the following dos and don'ts for giving thanks:

Do add value. Instead of writing a generic note, customize the message by mentioning a skill that wasn't brought up during the interview or expounding on a topic that was discussed.

Don't delay. Send a thank-you note within 24 hours. Some employers make hiring decisions shortly after the round of interviews is complete, and you don't want to risk sending your note after that window has closed.

Do proofread. Sending a thank-you message can backfire if you go about it the wrong way. Typos and grammatical mistakes may come across as a lack of attention to detail. Take the time to review, revise and refine your thank-you note.

Don't be pushy. If you don't hear from the employer within a week of the interview, it's appropriate to follow-up with a phone call or another email. But do so in moderation. Persistence is laudable, but pestering can get you removed from the short list.

Source: Accountemps

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Steps for a Home Remodel

December 6, 2017 5:12 am

(Family Features)--As a homeowner, there is nearly always a laundry list of projects with time and budget constraints when it comes to a home remodel.

This step-by-step guide from the experts at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) can help ensure you get the maximum return on your investment and make the most of your remodel.

Step 1: Identify Reasons for Remodeling
Deciding whether to undertake simple aesthetic changes or a full remodel can be difficult. One of the best ways to decide is to figure out why you are remodeling in the first place, whether it's to make your new house feel more like home or to update a 1950s-era kitchen.

Step 2: Set Your Budget
Every home is unique in structure, age, quality and craftsmanship, which all impact the price of a remodel. Since no one can see through walls before demolition, the quote you receive will likely not be 100 percent accurate. However, a qualified remodeling company will be open and honest about the issues and challenges it might face during the process. Account for these adjustments by planning for any "surprises" with a 10 percent cushion, just in case.

Step 3: Hire the Right Team
To help ensure you find the right company for the job, you should do your research. Referrals from friends and family are one way to find a remodeler. National associations like NARI provide unbiased information and resources that can help you find qualified, certified remodelers in your area. With more than 6,000 members, the organization represents professional remodelers who adhere to a strict code of ethics. Many hold certifications in remodeling, kitchen and bath design and lead carpentry. Find more information and resources at NARI.org.   

Step 4: Understand the Plan  
Communication is key in a successful remodeling project. Keep the lines of communication open between you, the remodeling contractor and the work crew. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Let them know your family's schedule and whether you have pets confined somewhere. Make sure to specify the best way to reach you, such as phone, in-person or email, and how often you wish to communicate with your remodeling contractor about your project.

Step 5: Complete the Project
While the dust is settling and the remodel is almost finished, take a moment to walk through your project and note any adjustments that need to be made while the contractor is still on site. Contractors often provide guarantees of workmanship, so find out what they cover and for how long, then include this information in your work agreement. You should also take another look at the contract and confirm you have signed permits, receipts, change orders, lien waivers, warranties and manufacturer’s guides at your disposal.

Remodeling a space can be a major project, but with the right help, resources and information, you can make your dream home come to fruition.

Source: National Association of the Remodeling Industry

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Time to Take the Keys from Grandpa?

December 6, 2017 5:12 am

If someone in your family is reaching their golden years, it can be frustrating—or scary—when their driving habits begin to slip. But how do you know when their driving is unsafe, and how can you monitor them without making them feel like they're losing their independence?

Consider the following tips from the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

- Ride along with your family member and observe his or her ability to control the vehicle, stay within the lane, drive at posted speeds, maintain a safe distance from other cars, obey traffic signals, make appropriate decisions when turning or at intersections, and park the car.

- Look for any confusion, poor judgement or indications that he or she is not focused, including getting lost, braking/accelerating for no apparent reason or forgetting where the car is parked.

- Consult with a physician who can help to identify any medical issues and support the decision to continue driving or not.

- If driving remains an option, consider having the individual enroll in a course to brush up on road rules and defensive driving techniques, or consult with a driving rehabilitation specialist who can perform complete evaluations both on and off the road to help maintain safe driving practices.

- If it's no longer safe to drive, be prepared for a frank but often emotional discussion. "Anger and sadness are often associated with the loss of driving, so let the individual express his or her thoughts, acknowledge their feelings, and respond with compassion," suggests Kelly A. Kearns, Psy.D., Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

- Explore transportation options. From community transport and senior resources to Uber, Lyft and other car services, there are many alternatives available.

- Create an "advanced directive for driving," which designates a trusted individual to assist if the older driver is no longer able to drive safely.

Source: Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Ways to Protect Your Financial Info

December 6, 2017 5:12 am

Having someone hack your bank account or financial info can be devastating, emotionally and financially, and it can even ruin your credit for years to come. To help, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities offers the following steps to protect yourself from financial fraud:

- Use ATMs and gas pumps in well-lit, secure locations.
- Examine the card reader slot and surrounding areas to see if anything looks out of place, mismatched, or loose.
- Consider using a credit card not linked to your bank account to avoid compromising your PIN or cash flow, and to gain other consumer protections.
- Check your bank and credit card statements frequently to watch for fraudulent activity and report any unfamiliar activity immediately.
- Look for signs of an encrypted website when providing sensitive personal information such as credit card, banking information, or Social Security Numbers online; key identifiers include a website address for the website's login page that begins with "https" and a padlock icon in your browser status bar.
- Do not open links or attachments in unsolicited emails from any person or vendor you do not know.
- Give yourself a gift by ordering a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips for Maximizing Price Club Shopping

December 4, 2017 5:12 am

We all love the big sizes and low prices of our local warehouse store - yet we all hate the sticker shock that often occurs at the cash register when the clerk tells us the grand total. Are we really saving money when all is said and done?

Here are some tips for maximizing warehouse shopping and avoiding spending more than you bargained for:

Don’t browse. Go with a list of specific items that you actually need and stick to it. Part of the reason we overspend at warehouse stores is because we’re lured in by products that look interesting or that we can “probably use.”

Go more often. This sounds counterintuitive to spending less, but making more frequent runs to the warehouse store to get just a few items that we actually need will save us more money in the long run.

Only buy what you truly use a lot of. Don’t make the mistake of buying items you like just a little. You will have a lot of whatever it is you buy, so make sure it is something you will use or eat often. Otherwise, that mass quantity will just go to waste.

Don’t buy what you can’t store. You will save money on meat at wholesale clubs provided you have room to divide, freeze and store it. Otherwise, you will lose money on meat that goes bad before you can use it all.

Try the store brand. The generic warehouse brand is always cheaper and often just as good - if not better - than the brand names of your favorite products. Give it a try and save even more.

Shop brick and mortar. Be sure to shop at the store itself as opposed to its website. Online prices can be higher to cover shipping costs and other fees not associated with the physical location.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Interview a Real Estate Agent

December 4, 2017 5:12 am

If you’re putting your home on the market, you will soon be sitting down with a few local real estate agents to hear their listing presentations (interview at least three before deciding who to work with).

While the word “presentation” denotes a one-way communication, this should really be a two-way process in order to choose the right agent to work with. Here are a few key questions to ask, which will help you gain insight into an agent’s strategies, professionalism and enthusiasm.

1. What did the last home you sold in this area go for? Not only will this give you a good idea of the going rate in your neighborhood, it will shed some light on how familiar the agent is with your neighborhood and its home values.

2. How will you market my home? A standard part of any good listing presentation will highlight the various ways in which the agent will promote your home online through their own website as well as various real estate portals. Be sure to ask the agent how they follow up with leads that come in through these portals - what is their system for responding quickly and what type of information do they provide?

3. Will you host an open house and if so, how will it generate leads? Not all agents are big proponents of open houses, so ask the agent if they intend to host one for your home and, if so, what will they do to make it creative and worthwhile? Ask them how they will collect attendees’ information and how they will follow up afterwards.

4. What can I do to help my home sell for a higher price? A good agent will be able to tell you what renovations will be worth spending money on in order to sell your home for a higher price and which ones won’t. He or she will also be able to tell you what simple things you can do to improve your sales price, like painting or staging.

5. What factors will detract from my home’s value? If your home is not going to list at the price you had hoped for, ask the prospective agent why. If there’s some pet damage or a swimming pool that’s going to detract from the selling price, a good agent should let you know that up front.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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