Harvey charities: What to look for

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via Disaster charities do’s and don’ts, clarionledger.com

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With Hurricane Harvey’s devastating meander through south Texas and Louisiana over the past few days, the nation’s attention has been transfixed.

For Mississippians who remember Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago, seeing the destruction from Harvey has opened a lot of old memories. It has also created an outpouring of sympathy and desire to help ease the suffering, as many of us remember what it feels like to lose everything to rampaging wind and water.

As I’ve watched news coverage, I was taken back to a time when endless lines of tractor-trailer rigs full of supplies were arriving at staging centers and shelters, providing much-needed aid and assistance. During the next few days, donations poured in from around the globe, and we Mississippians will remain forever grateful for the helping hands that lifted us up during a time of great need. The disaster showed humanity at its finest. Today, aid is pouring in once again, but this time to help our neighbors in Texas and Louisiana.

While media accounts are full of good will and people demonstrating a selfless and often-heroic dedication to helping their fellow man, unfortunately there are people who would seek to profit. Sometimes, they gouge prices for essential items. Other times they prey on disaster victims with home-repair scams, sell flood-damaged cars without disclosing that fact, or set up fake charities that only line the pockets of scammers. Since Mississippi is perennially at or near the top of the list of most-generous states, and many of us are eager to pay forward the generosity we’ve received, it’s advisable to act with caution.When making a decision about where to send a donation, carefully consider the organization you’re considering, and ask these questions:

When making a decision about where to send a donation, carefully consider the organization you’re considering, and ask these questions:

Is it legitimate? Many “nonprofit” organizations spring up overnight, and might call you with names similar to ones you know. But these “sound-alike” operations are really just trying to cash in on the disaster. If you get a call from a charity, be careful and request information if you’re not familiar with them. (Keep in mind that donations will be needed for months or even years to come, so there shouldn’t be a rush.) There are several ways to research charities online, including the Mississippi secretary of state’s officeBBB Wise Giving Alliance (give.org); Charity NavigatorCharity Watch and Guidestar.

Is it capable? Just because an organization is started by people with good hearts and the right intentions doesn’t mean they can actually do the job. Anybody can set up a charity and collect donations, and these are often well-meaning. But there’s a lot more to running an organization than just providing services “on the ground.” Effective disaster relief means understanding the need, having access to (and contacts with) local people to help coordinate relief and managing the work of volunteers. Look for organizations with an established track record in disasters.

Is it a good steward? Many organizations are already involved in the Harvey relief effort, and more will be in the days to come. A lot of money is being donated. But organizations should be careful to be good stewards of your money. It an organization is going to take 60 cents out of every dollar you spend to pay for expenses to run the operation, it means that only 40 cents of every dollar is going directly to the cause you want it to help. Donors should always ask this question, but keep in mind that zero “overhead” (for example, a claim that 100 percent of funds go to help flooded families) is difficult to maintain. Instead, look for a reasonable level of expenses.

Is it appropriate? After every hurricane, charities are often inundated with donated clothing and household items. These often overwhelm local organizations, and most end up in landfills. So, instead of donating your ‘70s disco wardrobe, consider donating money instead. And if you’re dead-set on collecting items, consider having a garage sale of the items, then donating the proceeds.

Finally, if you’re considering donating your time and effort, that’s wonderful. But don’t just throw a chainsaw in the truck and head to Texas. Contact a local church or relief organization. This will not only help ensure you’ll have meaningful work to do, it will help reduce the strain on an already-overwhelmed relief effort.

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How to start a good credit history

via How to start a good credit history, clarionledger.com

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Credit card debt among Americans is sky-high right now. Back in May, the Federal Reserve noted that we’d reached a dubious milestone: Americans’ credit-card debt had reached the $1 trillion mark, the highest since 2008. The average household carries a little more than $16,000 in credit-card debt; some lower and some much, much higher.

Debt can be crippling. Many families, for whom the cost of living has risen out of proportion to their income over the past several years, find themselves living paycheck-to-paycheck, with little in the bank and often having more “month than money.” Credit cards often provide a deceptively convenient way to take care of the immediate problem, while passing the bill to the uncertain future. But as balances rise, so do finance charges. It’s a little like digging a deep hole around yourself, and finding the sides getting higher as you try to climb out.

Of course, if you could pay for everything with the cash you have, you wouldn’t need credit. While that approach works great for those of us who can make that happen, many Americans don’t have the knowledge, circumstances or discipline required.

So, what are the options? Other than carrying out a cash-only existence, you can be a victim of credit or make it work for you. While many young adults appear to be avoiding credit cards (perhaps after seeing the previous generation struggle with them), many financial experts say that using credit responsibly is a learned habit, and it’s best to learn it while you’re young.

My own experience with credit started at a tire shop in McComb. When I got my first paycheck from a part-time job, one of the first things I did was to go to the tire shop and get new tires for my old car. The tires cost more than my meager paycheck, and the owner of the shop suggested I buy the tires on credit at zero interest. Despite my lack of credit history, he extended the credit because he knew my family. I was a little reluctant at first, but it didn’t take me long to pay off those tires, and I showed up like clockwork to make the payments. I still remember the feeling of accomplishment I had when I plunked down the final payment.

Establishing credit is different today. The complicated credit-scoring system looks at whether credit has been offered and used and whether you’ve met your obligations. The resulting credit score isn’t sympathetic to your life events, nor does it care about how great a person you are, or consider your feelings. It boils everybody down to a number.

But, it is possible to make the system work for you. The “Cashlorette” (Sarah Berger) wrote recently on her blog about how to establish a good credit history for millennials. Berger notes that it’s crucial to show you can use credit in the first place.

  • First, she advises, establish a habit of paying your balances in full, every time.This will show future creditors that you are serious about your responsibilities. “Link a small, fixed expense to your credit card; one you know you can pay off every time, like your Netflix subscription,” Berger advises. “This is a simple way to slowly build credit, without having to stress over accidentally overspending.”
  • Pay attention to your utilization ratio. While this sounds complicated, it’s really not; it’s just the percentage of available credit you’re actually using. Keeping this number around 30 percent gets you the best score. For example, if you have a credit line of $1,000, keeping your credit balances below $300 is considered acceptable utilization of credit. (Be sure to include all your credit cards in this equation, not just one.)
  • Apply for the right card. There’s a plethora of cards out there, offering all kinds of “rewards” and “incentives”. But keep in mind these things are there to encourage you to use the card, so choose wisely.
  • Avoid store credit cards. While it’s tempting — and a little bit of a status symbol — to pull out a credit card from your favorite clothing store, such cards often have the highest interest rates in the industry.
  • Don’t look at your available credit as a license to spend. For most purchases, use cash or a debit card. If you want to make a purchase, delaying the instant gratification and saving up for it puts the power in your hands, and you’re far more likely to appreciate it as well.

Check out Berger’s full blog post here: http://bit.ly/2w3nZ7h.

Cyberbullying tops parents’ fears about kids’ health

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via Cyberbullying threat to kids, parents say, clarionledger.com

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Most parents never stop worrying about their kids. From the time when we first find out we’re going to become parents, there’s always something to think about, events to plan for, and many of those things keep us awake at night.

While the list of fears may change as our kids get older, they never go away. Initial worries about our kids’ health in the cradle give way to worries about their journey through adolescence and college, and then to concerns about their careers, families and their own children. Of course, for most parents, most of the things we spend time fretting over never come to pass. But that doesn’t stop us from worrying anyway.

Every year, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan conducts a national survey to determine the things that make us parents toss and turn, producing a list of the top 10 fears of parents of kids from birth to age 18. And — predictably — that list of worries changes with the times. This year, the impact of social media and technology is making its effects felt, as two of the Top 10 parent fears (expressed by parents as something they’re “very concerned” about) are related to technology. Topping the list is bullying/cyberbullying, which more than six in 10 parents expressed as their top concern.

Of course, bullying is an age-old problem, but with smartphones and social media, just about every child is eventually going to encounter cyberbullying from one side or the other. This phenomenon has been linked to increasing suicides among teens, as well as heightened levels of anxiety and stress for many kids.

Being a teen is hard enough without having to worry about someone using social media to trash your reputation or spread hateful rumors. Cyberbullying is still being defined, but most experts agree it’s aggressive behavior that targets an individual using social media or other electronic communications. Given the ability of a single person to use social media to spread information quickly to lots of people, coupled with the emotional roller-coaster many teenagers experience as they progress through adolescence and the importance of reputation, it’s little wonder that it’s become a threat.

“Adults across the country recognized bullying, including cyberbullying, as the leading health problem for U.S. children,” noted Dr. Gary Freed, a Mott professor of pediatrics and the poll’s co-director.

Another tech-related fear of parents is internet safety, including the increasing danger for many kids whose online contacts may appear to be harmless acquaintances in online gaming or chat rooms, but are actually child predators or identity thieves. And concerns about “sexting” (the sending of intimate photos and sexually explicit content in text messages) are rising as well.

But technology (at least, directly) is just part of the picture of the things that make us worry. Parents are also agonizing over their kids’ health. Many parents expressed concern their kids are not eating healthy enough or getting enough exercise, and others worry also about the possibility their kids could fall victim to drugs or alcohol abuse. Also on the list were suicide and depression, teen pregnancy and stress in general.

When broken down by race, the survey produced some enlightening results. For example, while African-American parents expressed many of the same concerns as everyone else, their primary worry was their kids would fall victim to racial disparities and school violence.

Many parents worried about automobile accidents, and for parents of kids under 5, the fear of cancer and similar threats, although, Freed noted, “parents may have concerns about very serious conditions despite the small risk for them.”

If you’re among the parents concerned about cyberbullying, I recommend a great website called ConnectSafely.org. This site lists some common-sense responses to help stop cyberbullying, including some tips for parents on how to effectively address it with their children.

“Ticket bots” might keep you from getting into that show

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via ‘Ticket bots’ might keep you from getting into that show, clarionledger.com

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E-commerce has revolutionized the event industry.

Just a few years ago, if you wanted tickets to a sporting event, concert or some other popular community event, you had few options. You could visit the box office where the event was scheduled, order by mail or call in advance and pick up your physical tickets at the “will-call” window.

But as technology advanced, entrepreneurs quickly caught on to the idea of selling tickets online. The result was sites like Ticketmaster, which would let you pick your seats and complete the transaction online. But this technology has also enabled a whole new generation of ticket brokers to flourish. Ticket scalping, of course, isn’t anything new. Look around at any ticketed concert or sports venue and you’ll see people waving tickets in the air for purchase. But technology has also breathed new life into this old practice.

Here’s how it works: “Ticket bot” software is designed to go into a ticket sales site, as soon as event tickets go on sale. The bot then snaps up large numbers of the most-desirable seats, making them unavailable to ordinary mortals. People looking to buy tickets find the event is sold out within seconds. A quick Google search reveals the tickets are available on StubHub or another site, but this time at huge price markups, especially for the most highly sought-after events. In 2016, the Economist reported, bots tried to buy 5 million tickets from Ticketmaster alone. Ticketmaster reported that bot operators snapped up about 60 percent of its tickets.

In response, ticket-selling sites tried installing security measures, such as requiring users to answer a simple math question or describing a photo. Although frustrating for consumers, these measures were somewhat effective until programmers started figured out how to get around them. States began enacting their own laws against the practice, and after hearing a rising chorus of complaints, Congress passed a law called the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016, better known as BOTS. The law makes it illegal to use software to circumvent a ticket-sales site’s security measures. Enforcement is difficult, though, especially since some bots are controlled from outside the U.S.

Earlier this year, Ticketmaster rolled out a new program called “Verified Fan,” which allows you to pre-register, then you get first dibs (or at least get nearer the front of the line) when tickets go on sale. Participants will get a text message with a verification code just before your event starts. For popular events, you’ll still have to compete with other fans to score tickets, but at least your competition will be human.

Some artists, concerned about the trend and its effects on their fans, have taken action on their own. Earlier this year, country singer Eric Church cancelled about 25,000 tickets that had been identified as being purchased by bots and re-released them for sale to fans who could buy them through more secure websites. And rock icon Bruce Springsteen recently announced he would hold a special concert, with tickets reserved for Ticketmaster Verified Fans.

The Federal Trade Commission has these tips to reduce the risk of competing with a bot:

Get in on a pre-sale. Joining an artist’s fan club, or following them on social media, can keep you aware of upcoming events.

Look for tips on the ticket seller’s site. “Ticketmaster warns that using multiple browser windows or refreshing your screen at lightning speed could get you flagged as a bot so you can’t buy tickets,” notes the FTC’s Amy Hebert. “But using multiple devices or refreshing every two to three seconds is usually fine and might help you get tickets.”

Set up an account and get familiar with a ticket seller’s site ahead of time. That way your information is already loaded and ready to go as soon as tickets go on sale, and you know what to expect in the process.

Check back. Shows might be added, or more tickets might be made available after the initial release.

Preventable pet diseases can be costly if not treated early

via Preventable pet diseases can be costly if not treated early, clarionledger.com

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Any pet owner knows that taking care of a pet comes with its financial responsibilities.

Since taking “Bella” or “Max” to the vet is likely to put a crimp in your wallet, many people have begun taking out pet insurance on their furry friends. But many more pet owners just pay for the expenses out of pocket, and Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on veterinary bills.

Just as with humans, keeping your pet healthy can help you avoid the costs of having to pay later. Recently, Nationwide Insurance (the nation’s largest pet insurance provider) combed through its records of more than 600,000 covered pets to determine the cases that cost the most, but which could have been prevented or mitigated if pet owners had taken preventive measures.

The search provided some interesting data to underline what many pet owners already knew: neglecting your pet’s general health needs can cost you more in the long run, and your furry (or scaled, or feathery) companion will have to bear the cost in pain, discomfort and possibly a shorter life.

Nationwide noted the five most costly conditions, which could be treatable if caught early. (Keep in mind these are just averages; what you pay will vary depending on a number of factors.):

Dental disease. Just as you and I need to see the dentist regularly, your pet’s teeth need care, too. The average cost to treat dental diseases, such as tooth infections and cavities, is about $391, and can cost much more, depending on the condition. Brushing your pet’s teeth regularly, or having your vet do it, costs less than treating advanced — and often painful —dental problems.

External parasites. Conditions transmitted by ticks and fleas such as Lyme disease and skin allergies carry an average cost of $244 to treat, and just $121 to prevent. Using preventative flea and tick medications, and regularly inspecting your pet for infestations, costs a lot less than having to have these conditions treated later.

Internal Parasites. Getting your pet treated for heartworms, roundworms and other internal parasites costs on average $207 to treat, but just $35 to prevent, according to the Nationwide data. Heartworm infestations, according to the American Animal Hospital Association, can cost $400 to $1,000 to treat. Annual exams and preventive medications can greatly reduce the chances of infestations, and medications can cover a range of parasites in one pill or treatment.

Infectious diseases. Dogs and cats can get some serious and life-threatening diseases, such as Parvovirus and feline leukemia. Treatments can be very costly, averaging $841, according to the Nationwide data. But getting your dog or cat vaccinated costs much less and can help prevent many diseases.

Reproductive organ diseases. While perhaps lesser known to many pet owners, diseases of the reproductive system can be costly, costing an average of $609 to treat. But early spaying or neutering is cheaper and can prevent some problems. “Early spaying of female dogs and cats can help protect them from some serious health problems later in life such as uterine infections and breast cancer,” notes the American Veterinary Medical Association. “Neutering your male pet can also lessen its risk of developing benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate gland) and testicular cancer.”

Respiratory infections. Diseases such as kennel cough and feline upper respiratory virus averaged about $190 to treat, but generally less than $25 to treat with a vaccination.

“Seeking a veterinarian’s recommendation for wellness care not only saves pet owners money but also helps prevent our pets from unnecessary, painful ailments,” noted Dr. Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary officer for Nationwide, who in addition to a veterinary medical degree has a master of business administration degree. “The cornerstone of good veterinary care has always been catching diseases early. I strongly recommend that pet owners schedule routine wellness examinations with their local veterinarian. Being proactive is in your pet’s best interest.”

For more on Nationwide’s study, visit http://prn.to/2fDsm4x.

Interesting side note: I chose “Bella” and “Max” as pet names for a reason. A search of the web found a lot of pet owners like the name “Bella.” There are numerous (and conflicting) sources of the most popular dog and cat names, but Findcatnames.comsays its users ranked Bella as the most popular name for female cats and Simba the top name for male cats. Dog-sitting company Rover says its users ranked Bella as the top female dog name and Max the top male dog name.

Negative option contracts keep you on the hook

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via ‘Negative option’ plans keep you on the hook, clarionledger.com

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This sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? For only $1.03 plus shipping, you could try a new product that promises “visibly whiter teeth.”

Teeth-whitening products have soared in popularity in recent years, and anything that promises to deliver a brighter smile is bound to get attention. But many consumers who signed up for one particular “trial” offer found themselves on the hook for hundreds of dollars per month until they were finally able to cancel their subscriptions.

The Federal Trade Commission last week got a federal court to put the brakes on a wide-ranging scheme involving 78 companies, at least 87 different websites and dozens of bank accounts. The agency accuses the operators of the plans with “using deceptive claims, hidden fine-print disclosures and confusing terms” to lure customers into providing billing information, and began charging them about $100 a month if they didn’t cancel within eight days. In addition, they allegedly used an “order confirmation page” to trick customers into signing up for a second subscription, leading some customers to pay more than $200 a month until cancelling.

Now, any reasonably-intelligent person would know there’s always a catch to an offer that starts out costing so little. Many of us remember the “buy a record for a penny, get 10 more free” plans that became common in the 1980s (and which still exist today). For a ridiculously small, up-front payment, you could get 11 albums for “free.” But if you signed up for this offer, you found yourself getting a shipment every few weeks, for which you had to pay full price, until you cancelled. (Of course, the terms of most of these offers were pretty clearly stated, even if you had to look at the fine print, and even if you had to wait on the phone awhile, you usually could cancel.)

This type of operation (legitimate or scam) relies on what’s known as the “negative option.” If you sign up for the offer, you’re obligated until you cancel. If they don’t hear from you, the assumption is that you are agreeing to continue the service. (If that’s what you want, it’s not a problem.) In reality, most recurring services are provided on a negative-option basis. But what distinguishes a scam from a legitimate offer is that scammers go out of their way to make it difficult for you to cancel, or trick you into more obligations.

Negative-option subscription plans (and their cousins, automatic-renewal contracts) are more common today than ever, and companies find them attractive because they don’t have to go to the expense of trying to get customers to renew. It takes a lot of expense and trouble to lure new customers or to try to persuade existing ones to renew their commitment.

But the problem for consumers is that, even if they try to cancel, it can be difficult. You’ve probably notice that most subscription services (there are some notable exceptions, such as Netflix) don’t readily supply you with an easy way to cancel, and make you call and explain why you’re trying to cancel.

For negative-option or auto-renewing contracts associated with subscription offers, the FTC requires the following information be provided clearly and conspicuously, and these are good questions to ask before you sign up for any subscription service or trial offer:

  • What is the minimum purchase requirement, if any?
  • How and when can I cancel my membership?
  • How many notifications will I have to respond to, and how often will you receive them?
  • How do I reject merchandise, and who pays for returns?
  • How much time do you have to reject merchandise?
  • Is postage and handling included in the product price?

Finally, it’s a good idea to keep copies or information for all transactions and conversations you have with the company or its representatives, and keep track of any dates required to cancel services. While a free trial should give you the chance to try something you might (or might not) end up wanting, it shouldn’t be a ticket to a customer-service nightmare.

For more info on buying plans and negative-option agreements, visit http://bit.ly/2fpP14s.

Be safe when watching eclipse

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NASA

via Be safe when watching the eclipse, clarionledger.com

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Around midday on Aug. 21, much of the nation will be looking to the skies as a total solar eclipse will be visible across a wide swath of the country. It’s a big deal because solar eclipses rarely cross the U.S. where they can be seen by the masses. Marketers have jumped onto the eclipse bandwagon with total abandon, selling everything from signs and banners to special glasses guaranteed to enhance your viewing experience.

But, sun-gazers, be warned: Some products may not provide enough protection for your eyes when looking directly at the eclipse.

In case you missed that day in science class, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes between the sun and earth, causing near-total darkness in a narrow “path of totality” and a dimming elsewhere, depending on your location. Here in central Mississippi, we will see a partial eclipse that day (weather permitting), and if you want to see the maximum effect, the closest viewing spots will be just to our north in middle and eastern Tennessee. But while we won’t witness “totality” here, it will still be spectacular, with the moon chomping nearly 90 percent of the sun for a few minutes. (For an animation of what we can expect to see, visit http://bit.ly/2flwWUW.)

Of course, your mom probably told you never to look directly into the sun, and it’s good advice as doing so can cause severe injury to your eyes. But many people think it’s OK to do so during an eclipse, as the sun is darkened. Actually, many people have suffered permanent eye damage as a result of trying to look at the partially darkened sun during an eclipse or using ordinary sunglasses, telescopes or binoculars.

NASA, medical associations, and others have warned that we need to be extra-careful when choosing how we’re going to look at the eclipse. “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers,” notes NASA in a post on its website. “Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun; they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight.”

Here are a few of NASA’s other tips for safe viewing:

Inspect your viewer. If your eclipse viewing device is more than a couple of years old, or if it’s scratched or damaged, don’t use it.

Avoid devices that concentrate the sun’s rays. Looking at the eclipse through a camera lens, binoculars, telescopes or other optical devices can be dangerous because they concentrate the sun’s rays onto a narrow point, potentially damaging your eyes.

Don’t assume your sunglasses will protect you. While most sunglasses do provide protection from UV rays in ordinary cases, they’re not designed to handle the brightness of looking directly at the sun. Check to see if your sunglasses are marked with the ISO 12312-2 certification. If not, get some that are.

Buy from reputable vendors. The American Astronomical Society has published a list of vendors selling products that provide adequate protection at https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.

Some welding glasses are OK, but not all. NASA suggests, if you have access to a welder’s glass with a No. 14 rating, it should be safe. But not all welding glass meets this standard, so if you’re not sure it’s No. 14 or better, don’t try it. “Do not view through any welding glass if you do not know or cannot discern its shade number,” NASA warns. “Be advised that arc welders typically use glass with a shade much less than the necessary #14. A welding glass that permits you to see the landscape is not safe.”

And if you can’t be outside during the eclipse, don’t worry; another total event will occur in 2024 to our north and west, and if you’re still around in 2045, mark your calendar for Aug. 12 of that year, when the path of totality will pass right over us in central Mississippi.

FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun

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via FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun, clarionledger.com

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In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Ukraine on numerous occasions to support the work of local churches. Most who visit Ukraine find it’s a vast, beautiful and hospitable country, with its Delta-rich soil and generous people.

During one July outing in which we were helping a local church hold a vacation Bible school, we conducted several activities outside. It was summer and a bit hot (just like an average late-spring day for any Mississippi native, but practically a heat wave for the locals).

I thought it was curious that most of the kids wouldn’t emerge from the shade of the trees to take part in activities in the bright sunshine. When I asked a translator, he told me that it’s because Ukrainian parents don’t believe it’s healthy for their kids get a lot of direct sun, so they train them to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. Internationally, this attitude is becoming more and more common, as many countries deal with high levels of UV radiation and awareness of skin cancer risk is growing.

Maybe they have a point. We know exposure to some direct sunlight is beneficial to a point and helps the body produce essential vitamins, as well as having a number of other proven health benefits. But being out in the sun for extended periods also carries its own risks in the form of sun-damaged skin, skin cancer, and eye problems. While the use of sunscreens and protective clothing has been shown to reduce the skin’s vulnerability to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, many health experts say it’s best to limit our exposure. And that goes double for smaller children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued some new guidelines for sun exposure in younger kids, recommending that infants under 6 months old avoid sun exposure entirely. “The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun,” noted FDA pediatrician Hari Cheryl Sachs, “and to particularly avoid exposure to the sun in the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are most intense.”

That may come as a shock to some parents, many of whom grew up in the sun. Sachs explained that, although sunscreens are fine for older kids and adults, babies’ skin (since it covers less surface area and is less mature) is likely to absorb the numerous chemicals contained in most sunscreen products, with unknown possible side effects.

In addition, she adds, babies can overheat faster than older kids and adults and can become dehydrated more easily.

“The best protection is to keep your baby in the shade, if possible,” she adds. “If there’s no natural shade, create your own with an umbrella or the canopy of the stroller.”

As for dressing your baby for a day in the sun, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats that shade the neck. Avoid baseball caps, which (while cute) don’t adequately protect the neck and ears.

Here are some of the FDA’s other tips:

  • Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible.
  • Consult your pediatrician before using any sunscreen on your baby.
  • Make sure your child wears clothing that covers and protects sensitive skin. Use common sense; if you hold the fabric against your hand and it’s so sheer you can see through it, it probably doesn’t offer enough protection.
  • Make sure your baby wears a hat that provides sufficient shade at all times.
  • Watch your baby carefully to make sure he or she doesn’t show warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These include fussiness, redness, and excessive crying.
  • If your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas.
  • Give your child formula or breast milk if you’re out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Don’t forget to use a cooler to store the liquids.

To read the FDA’s article in its entirety, visit http://bit.ly/2vu4FBS

States passing laws to save kids, pets trapped in cars

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via States pass laws to save kids, pets trapped in hot cars, clarionledger.com

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Every year, with the hot weather comes tragic stories of how someone left a child in a hot vehicle, leading to death or serious injuries. Especially here in the Sun Belt, where we’re used to long, hot summers, cars can be a death trap if a child is left inside.

In the past three decades, nationally more than 800 children have died after being left in hot vehicles, and the organization Kidsandcars.org has documented 23 cases so far this year.

In one of the latest cases, a Tennessee couple was charged with murder after their 2-year-old son died. The couple allegedly left the child in a vehicle overnight and into the next day in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Cases abound, as an internet search will attest.

While the outside temperature can be tolerable, inside a vehicle it’s a different story. An enclosed vehicle acts as a greenhouse, with the sun’s rays warming the interior as their energy is trapped inside. The website heatkills.org reports that, even on a mild 70-degree day, temperatures inside a car can easily reach 104 degrees in 30 minutes. And at 90 degrees (we’ve seen those temperatures in the last week in central Mississippi), temperatures inside the car can soar to 109 degrees in 10 minutes, and after a half-hour to 124 degrees. Some studies have reported temperatures as high as 172 degrees when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Even at the lower end of that scale, heat-related deaths can easily occur. And although many people continue to believe that cracking the window for your pet helps, most experts disagree. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study in 2005 that opening a window a few inches does little to alleviate the temperature rise.

The spate of child deaths has rightly led to increased calls for action, as well as additional laws and demands for new technologies to keep these tragedies from occurring. According to kidsandcars.org, about half of the states have laws specifically making it a crime to leave a child or pet in a hot vehicle (Mississippi, regrettably, does not.) Hopefully, as states around the nation take legislative action, these laws will also include language to protect pets.

Frequently, an endangered pet is discovered by passersby. Bystanders who see a potentially deadly situation have a decision to make. While many courageous people have risked lawsuits and even personal harm by breaking into an unattended vehicle to rescue a trapped pet, others might fear the repercussions of taking action.

Recently, several states have passed laws to protect people who must break into a vehicle to save a pet trapped inside. For example, in Colorado and other states, would-be rescuers must take a number of other steps before they start breaking windows, including making “every reasonable effort” to locate the vehicle’s owner and call law enforcement. They must also be able to demonstrate the pet is clearly in danger of suffocation or extreme heat or cold. Many state laws specifically limit the term “animal” or “pet” to cats and dogs and specifically prohibit the law from referring to livestock.

Most state laws, according to a study earlier this year by Michigan State University, require that the rescuer be a first-responder (such as a police officer, EMT or firefighter), or a representative of a humane society. Ordinary citizens in most states are not offered any protection or immunity. Of course, many pet lovers will take action anyway, disregarding the potential risk of a nasty confrontation or being charged with destruction of property.

But until we have better laws protecting kids — and pets — left in vehicles, perhaps the best response is to leave your pets at home if possible. And if you see an animal in obvious distress in a vehicle, the Humane Society of the United States suggests you try to locate the owner, and if that fails, call the non-emergency number for the police to report the situation.

Mobile companies responding to call for more scam protections

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T-Mobile’s Scam ID – tmobile.com

via Do scammers have your number?

PDF: Carriers and Phone Scams

Scam calls have become so common many people don’t even bother to answer the phone anymore unless they recognize the number. While Caller ID is overall a great invention that has saved countless people from having to engage in unwanted conversations, spoofing technology now allows scammers to make it look as if the call comes from pretty much any location they want.

In the “old days,” pretty much everybody who had a phone could be found in the phone book. Technology to autodial thousands of numbers at once was still in its infancy, and the risk of being contacted by a scammer was pretty low. Long-distance charges made it expensive to call from outside local areas, and it was hard to make a lot of money this way.

On the other hand, since we had no way of knowing who was calling, most of us picked up the phone and answered. “Screening” consisted of the person who answered the phone asking who was calling, and then deciding whether or not to talk to the individual. (Frequently, the result was a lot of bewildered parents who had to decide how to handle the caller when their teenager was in a spat with their significant other.)

But that was then. Today, a scammer sitting in a Third World slum or well-equipped “boiler room” operation in a big city can place a call to you from the other side of the globe at little cost. Once they’ve got you on the phone, they’ll spin a yarn about how you’re about to be arrested by the IRS or claim to be your grandchild who’s been arrested in the Virgin Islands as he was helping a friend renew his wedding vows. If they’re successful in getting past your defenses, they’ll get you to wire money you’ll never see again.

It’s a big problem, since most of us use our cellphones and a lot of us have ditched our old-fashioned landlines. Crooks know this, and cellphones are now taking the brunt of the scam traffic. The Federal Communications Commission, in calling on cell providers to do something about the problem, noted that Americans received 29 billion robocalls last year. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai convened a “robocall strike force” last year, consisting of 33 telecom and tech companies.

And the industry appears to be responding. AT&T rolled out its free Call Protect app in December, which it claims has blocked a billion robocalls already, and Verizon and Sprint have announced fee-based services to provide some protection. T-Mobile announced July 24 that customers of its MetroPCS prepaid service now have access to Scam ID and Scam Block, which flag calls from numbers reported to be scams. The services were originally rolled out for T-Mobile customers in April, and in a news release, the company claimed to have flagged 243 million calls as potential scams and saved its customers from potential $130 million in scam losses. (The company says it got those numbers by figuring the average phone-scam victim loses $274, with about 0.2 percent of all calls being successful scams.)

With Scam ID, customers who get a call from a likely problem number will see a “likely scam” alert beside the number, and you can choose to accept or deny the call. With Scam Block, numbers from known scammers will be automatically blocked before they ever reach you.

T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert noted studies of the data since the April rollout have revealed scammers usually work a standard 8-to-5 workday, with far less activity at night and on weekends. You’re most likely to get a call in the late afternoon, and most scam numbers are used only once.

For consumers, these services could potentially cut down on the number of scammers who actually reach their targets, but that’s only part of the problem. Until everybody learns that scammers are really good at using the phone as a way to steal and they stop talking to unknown people on the phone, the scourge of phone scams is likely going to be harder to eradicate than kudzu on a Mississippi farm.