Women less prepared for retirement than men

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From Women less prepared for retirement than men, clarionledger.com

PDF: Women retirement men

If you were to ask a person in their middle 20s about their plans for retirement, most would probably shrug their shoulders and tell you they’d given it little thought. Even many people in their 40s (while most would have thought about it) wouldn’t really have a good idea about how they planned to finance their dreams once they leave the workforce. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of us just aren’t very good at planning for the future.

But we should be. As lifespans increase and people stay in the workforce longer, people will need to have some way to finance their lifestyle in retirement. Most retirement planning experts agree that good planning can help you overcome rising prices, economic uncertainties, and taxes. Women are at special risk for several reasons, not the least of which is because, statistically, they can expect to live longer than the men in their lives.

study this month by Transamerica’s Center for Retirement Studies  points out a number of trends and highlights the need for women to get more involved and proactive about their retirement plans.

“Today’s women are better educated and enjoy career opportunities that our grandmothers’ generation could only dream about,” noted TCRS President Catherine Collinson. “Nevertheless, women continue to encounter challenges including lower pay, time out of the workforce for parenting or caregiving, and longer life expectancies that all contribute to unique challenges in adequately saving for retirement.”

Among the most alarming findings from the study: only about 10 percent of women are “very confident” in their ability to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle, about half of the rate for men asked the same question. A poorly planned retirement can lead to an inability to deal with the unexpected circumstances — health conditions, sudden unemployment or unforeseen expenses — that could send you into a financial tailspin.

 While about seven in 10 working women say they are participating in some type of retirement savings plan (such as a 401(k) or an employee-sponsored IRA, they probably started saving later than their male counterparts. On average, women who are investing in an employee plan started doing so at 28, compared to 26 for their male coworkers. Two years might not seem like a lot, but it adds up over time, thanks to interest and compounding. Many financial experts with whom I’ve consulted over the years advise young people to start saving for retirement as soon as they enter the workforce.
Another issue: too little savings. On average, women in the survey reported a median household retirement savings of about $34,000, with two-thirds saying they don’t know what they’ll do if they’re forced into retirement sooner than expected. When asked what amount of savings would be adequate, the average respondent said she’d like to have at least $500,000 in the bank. And while many women say they’ll count on Social Security for a portion of their income in retirement, most worry that it won’t be available to them by the time they retire.

“The facts are startling and clear. Women must begin taking greater control and gain an understanding of their true retirement outlook,” Collinson said. “By confronting challenges head-on, women can acquire essential knowledge about how to achieve financial security and create plans that can help mitigate risks and steer them on a course for financial security and a more positive outlook for their retirement ambitions.”

Here are a few of the suggestions contained in the Transamerica report; more suggestions and a report summary may be found at http://bit.ly/2nX3ILo:

  • Start saving on a regular, consistent basis. Even a few dollars can add up over years, thanks to interest and compounding.
  • Participate in any retirement plan offered through your employer. Many offer matching contributions and other benefits, which can significantly increase your investment.
  • Get educated about retirement investing, including learning about how to make your retirement savings last longer, and learn about the best (and worst) times to start drawing Social Security.
  • Get help. Seek the assistance of a qualified financial planner to take a look at your goals and devise a strategy to make it happen. Agingcare.com has some great advice on how to find a good financial adviser at http://bit.ly/2nGYqrb.

Phone scammers using new tactics

IRS-phone-scam-prevent-fraudFrom Phone scammers using new tactics, clarionledger.com

PDF:Phone scammers using new tactics

It’s hard to imagine a world without caller ID. But it really wasn’t but a couple of decades ago that most people had no idea who might be on the other end of the call when their phones rang. Since so many calls even then turned out to be from telemarketers or scammers, many people just relied on their answering machines if they wanted to screen their calls.

Having been invented almost as soon as the telephone itself, the answering machine helped record business calls for many decades before finally becoming affordable enough for everyday consumers in the 1980s. When they finally had access to answering machines, people began to “screen” their calls, introducing the notion of being able to put off answering a phone call (or ignore it completely). So when the first Caller ID units were introduced in the 1980s, they became instantly popular. For the first time, you could actually see who was calling while the call was in progress — and decide whether to answer.

Of course, telemarketers and scammers found ways to get their calls through, with some unscrupulous companies even beginning to “spoof” phone numbers to fool the Caller ID by hiding the real number from which the call originated. Since then, phone scammers and potential victims have been engaged in a sort of virtual arms race, with each side aided by technology designed to defeat the other’s strategies.

Recently, Inc. magazine ran a story by Joseph Steinberg alerting consumers to three ways phone scammers can steal your money. The first involves a scammer calling your phone using an autodialer (a machine programmed to call thousands of numbers), then hanging up before anybody can answer. They do this repeatedly, in a bid to pique your curiosity so you’ll call the number. A second variant involves the scammer calling your number, waiting for an answer, then introducing the sound of crying or screaming. At this point, the scammer hangs up, hoping you’ll call back to see if you can help.

And in the third tactic, the criminal texts you with an alarming message that someone is in danger of being hurt or killed, with a request that you call back. By placing a call to one of these numbers, you can incur huge charges on your phone bill, and they often aren’t included on phone plans.

These scams are known as “473,” “Ring-and-Run” or “One Ring” scams, and the scammers only want to get you to call specific numbers so they can bill you for huge charges. The number 473 is the area code for some island nations, but a lot of other numbers and countries are used as well. (Criminals, noted Steinberg, adjusted their tactics after consumers learned to avoid making calls to numbers starting with 809.)

This latest advice comes on the heels of what’s become known as the “yes” call scam, in which a criminal gets someone on the phone and asks you a seemingly innocuous question such as “Can you hear me?” only to find that the crook has recorded your “yes” answer and used it as evidence you ordered a product you never agreed to order.

To help you avoid these scams, Steinberg has this advice: “If you miss a call, whomever called can send you a text message (or leave a voicemail),” he advises. “If they did neither, and you don’t know who called, don’t worry about it. Also, remember that it’s unlikely that someone you do not know who is in distress at a location with which you are not familiar would dial a random number in another country and ask you to help them — they would call the police.”

To see Steinberg’s excellent article (including a list of area codes of concern), visit http://on.inc.com/2na78JY.

Robocallers disguise true purpose

From Robocallers disguise true purpose, clarionledger.com

Federal and state law enforcement agencies recently announced they had closed the investigation into an illegal telemarketing operation that allegedly placed billions of “robocalls” promising consumers a free cruise to the Bahamas in exchange for taking a phone survey. After the survey was over, the recipients got a sales pitch for cruises and various vacation packages instead of their promised free cruise.

This case has been brewing for several years. In 2011 and 2012, a company called Caribbean Cruise Lines and its partners made phones ring across the continent, raking in millions of dollars. During the scheme, a reported 12 million to 15 million robocalls a day were made, often under the guise that the calls were being used to conduct political research. This is just the latest in a string of investigations and settlements that began in 2015, but the recent announcement (the fifth and final consent judgment) closes the books on this far-reaching operation.

The latest action prohibits owner Fred Accuardi and his companies from assisting or participating in operations that violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule and other applicable laws. In previous judgments, fines of $1.35 million had been levied, but all but $2,500 of those fines were suspended after the defendants said they couldn’t pay.

Mississippi’s Public Service Commission and attorney general’s office were among the 10 state regulators (along with federal authorities) recognized for their role in shutting down the operation. “I commend the FTC, my fellow attorneys general and the Mississippi Public Service Commission for their hard work and dedication in the fight to protect consumers from this type of illegal business practices,” noted Attorney General Jim Hood last week.

The original complaint charged Accuardi and his companies with “assisting and facilitating the illegal calls by providing robocallers with hundreds of telephone numbers, making it possible for them to choose and change the names that would appear on consumers’ caller ID devices, funding a part of the robocalling campaigns, and hiding the robocallers’ identities from authorities,” the FTC noted in a news release.

While you’re unlikely to be getting more robocalls from this particular operation, most phone users get these calls every day. The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for enforcing a number of rules and regulations of the growing robocalling industry. Here are a few points of the law regarding robocalling, courtesy of the FCC:

  • Most calls made without your consent are illegal. A company may call your landline or cellphone only if you have previously given your consent to call them. You can give permission on paper, by filling out an online form, or by pressing buttons on your phone in response to specific requests. According to the FCC, “telemarketers are no longer able to make telemarketing robocalls to your landline home telephone based solely on an ‘established business relationship’ that you may have established when purchasing something from a business or contacting the business to ask questions.”
  • There are exceptions. Certain robocalls are permissible, such as those made to announce school closings, airline flight cancellations and for a number of other reasons. Robocalls made to landlines (not cellphones) are permissible if they are for “market research or polling,” as well as calls made on behalf of nonprofit groups. In such cases, the caller is required to tell you at the beginning of the message who’s calling and list a contact number for you to call for further information.
  • You can opt out. The FCC requires telemarketers to give you the opportunity to opt out of receiving future calls immediately during a prerecorded telemarketing call through an automated menu. “The opt-out mechanism must be announced at the outset of the message and must be available throughout the duration of the call,” notes the FCC. You should also place your numbers on the National Do-Not-Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov).. You can register for Mississippi’s Do-Not-Call registry at  https://www.psc.state.ms.us/nocall/subscriber.aspx or by calling 1-86NOCALLMS (1-866-622-5567).
  • File a complaint. You can report robocalls to the FCC by visiting http://bit.ly/1Muo1aL by phone at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); or by mail to: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division, 445 12th St., S.W., Washington, DC 20554.

Beware of invitations appealing to ego

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From Beware of ‘invitations’ appealing to ego, clarionledger.com

PDF: Beware of invitations appealing to ego

Everyone likes to be told they’re unique, special and deserving of recognition. Marketers have long known that appealing to the ego can help break down barriers and make sales much easier.

When I was in college, I got a letter from an organization informing me my name had been selected for inclusion on a list of outstanding young people, to be published in a high-quality publication. Accompanying the glowing letter was a flyer with information on how I could order a copy of the book and a nice granite paperweight. There was no charge to be on the list, I was assured, although these items would be a lasting reminder of the great honor I’d received.

Since I was young and impressionable, I paid the exorbitant fee for the book and paperweight, which arrived a few weeks later in the mail. But when I told people about it, several of my friends said they’d gotten the same letter, with only the name changed. It turned out that a whole lot of people around me had been similarly “honored” with inclusion in the list, and it dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t the adulation I’d thought it was. (I still have that paperweight, keeping it as a reminder to look before I leap.)

The marketplace is replete with organizations that purport to be honoring someone but are really just a way to get people to pay big bucks for a recognition that might or might not be valuable. Of course, there are a great many legitimate recognition programs out there, recognizing a vast array of achievements, leadership qualities and service. But many people are getting solicitations that turn out to be not all they claim and are really just clever sales pitches.

Examples are many, but here’s one. In the past few months, women around the country have gotten emails from an organization called the International Women’s Leadership Association, which praised their accomplishments, said their qualifications had been reviewed and congratulated them for being selected for induction into an exclusive women’s networking group. To join, all you had to do was pay $99 for a six-month membership or $989 for a “lifetime” membership, both of which included a “personal file” on the organization’s website, a feature on its social media platform (and “related endorsements”), as well as attendance at various networking events, webinars and tele-seminars.

But the solicitations caught the eye of New York’s attorney general, who says the organization actually had sent out millions of solicitations and hadn’t done the vetting it had claimed.

In a news release, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the IWLA had agreed to pay $200,000 to settle charges of making false representations, along with agreeing to change its marketing practices. Schneiderman’s release noted that more than 100,000 women responded to this solicitation in the last three years, out of more than 7 million “invitations” sent, and “did not actually consider the person’s contribution to ‘family, career, and community’ or any other qualifications.”

“Mass email solicitations cannot be used as a proxy for deceptive marketing practices,” Schneiderman said. “Honesty and transparency are the hallmarks of consumer protection, and those same principles must be upheld online.”

If you get this or a similar solicitation, it’s important to remember that most legitimate recognitions and invitations are going to come from an organization or individual you know. There are a great many local and national networking organizations, so it’s advisable to thoroughly check out any organization in which you’re interested in joining. Friends and colleagues are often the best source of knowledge about networking opportunities and don’t overlook local and regional chambers of commerce and business social networking sites.

Most importantly, be aware of solicitations that appeal to your ego. Have a trusted friend, family member or colleague to review the solicitation objectively. When our self-esteem is involved, most of us are just not good at discerning when we’re being led down the primrose path.

Survey: Most Americans plan to save tax refunds

1040ez

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From Tax Refund: Consumers bank on it, clarionledger.com

PDF: saving-tax-refunds

Like clockwork, scammers are attempting to get at Mississippians’ tax refunds again. Each year, more and more people find themselves victimized by a variety of scams designed to steal their identities for the purpose of filing fraudulent tax returns.
Many taxpayers have tried to file their taxes online, only to find out someone had already filed in their name, grabbing their refunds. While not a new phenomenon, the amount of tax-related cybercrime has increased this year in both numbers and sophistication.

Recently, Attorney General Jim Hood warned that Mississippi residents could be targeted by scammers trying to collect data from W-2 forms, in a new twist on a couple of old scams. Hood cited reports from the Internal Revenue Service warning business owners to be careful in providing information about employees.

The scheme works like this: A scammer sends an email to an employee in Human Resources at the business, carefully crafted to look as if it comes from the CEO or another known corporate executive. The message asks for copies of W-2 forms of all employees, and sometimes is followed by a second email requesting money be wired to a specific bank account.

Hood urged Mississippi residents to be suspicious of any such unsolicited emails and to always verify by phone that the request is legitimate.

“We have received calls and reports to our office this week from entities whose employees have fallen for this type of scam,” Hood said. “Employees who would have W-2 information, such as accounting or human resources personnel, are particularly susceptible to this scam. All types of organizations are possible targets, including schools, health care organizations, nonprofits and private businesses.”

Hood noted the scam, which first appeared a year ago, is circulating earlier in the tax season. Some businesses which got the emails last year are being targeted again.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen noted in a news release. “It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme.”

If businesses get such an email, forward it to phishing@irs.gov and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line, and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), operated by the FBI. In addition, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi attorney general’s office at 1-800-281-4418.

Employees whose W-2s have been stolen should visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft resources at http://www.identitytheft.gov,or the IRS’ site at http://www.irs.gov/identitytheft, to learn how to report the theft and get advice on what to do next. They should also file IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if the employee’s own tax return rejects because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the IRS.

And, the IRS notes, just because someone isn’t required to file a return or isn’t expecting a refund doesn’t mean they can’t be a victim. In all cases, the best way to avoid becoming a victim of tax refund fraud is to file taxes as soon as possible, before scammers can file and steal your identity and refund.

AG Jim Hood, IRS warn about W-2 scam

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yahoo.com

From AG Jim Hood, IRS warn about W-2 scam, clarionledger.com

PDF: tax-scam

Like clockwork, scammers are attempting to get at Mississippians’ tax refunds again. Each year, more and more people find themselves victimized by a variety of scams designed to steal their identities for the purpose of filing fraudulent tax returns.

Many taxpayers have tried to file their taxes online, only to find out someone had already filed in their name, grabbing their refunds. While not a new phenomenon, the amount of tax-related cybercrime has increased this year in both numbers and sophistication.

Recently, Attorney General Jim Hood warned that Mississippi residents could be targeted by scammers trying to collect data from W-2 forms, in a new twist on a couple of old scams. Hood cited reports from the Internal Revenue Service warning business owners to be careful in providing information about employees.

The scheme works like this: A scammer sends an email to an employee in Human Resources at the business, carefully crafted to look as if it comes from the CEO or another known corporate executive. The message asks for copies of W-2 forms of all employees, and sometimes is followed by a second email requesting money be wired to a specific bank account.

Hood urged Mississippi residents to be suspicious of any such unsolicited emails and to always verify by phone that the request is legitimate.

“We have received calls and reports to our office this week from entities whose employees have fallen for this type of scam,” Hood said. “Employees who would have W-2 information, such as accounting or human resources personnel, are particularly susceptible to this scam. All types of organizations are possible targets, including schools, health care organizations, nonprofits and private businesses.”

Hood noted the scam, which first appeared a year ago, is circulating earlier in the tax season. Some businesses which got the emails last year are being targeted again.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen noted in a news release. “It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme.”

If businesses get such an email, forward it to phishing@irs.gov and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line, and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), operated by the FBI. In addition, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi attorney general’s office at 1-800-281-4418.

Employees whose W-2s have been stolen should visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft resources at http://www.identitytheft.gov,or the IRS’ site at http://www.irs.gov/identitytheft, to learn how to report the theft and get advice on what to do next. They should also file IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if the employee’s own tax return rejects because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the IRS.

And, the IRS notes, just because someone isn’t required to file a return or isn’t expecting a refund doesn’t mean they can’t be a victim. In all cases, the best way to avoid becoming a victim of tax refund fraud is to file taxes as soon as possible, before scammers can file and steal your identity and refund.

 

Amazon envisions drone-filled skies

drone

Amazon.com

Source: Amazon envisions drone-filled skies, clarionledger.com

PDF: amazondrones

Amazon.com Founder Jeff Bezos has never been one to avoid dreaming big, and it’s paid off.

For the past 23 years, we’ve watched Bezos’ dream grow from one man’s dream to sell books over the internet into a global economic powerhouse worth more than $356 billion. But in the last couple of years, the company has been developing plans to (yet again) turn the package-delivery business on its head. Amazon believes the future is in the skies and is developing serious plans to launch an armada of drones that would drop off packages by parachute.

It may sound far-fetched, and for the moment, it is. The current regulatory framework in the U.S. places limits on the use of unmanned aircraft. But that hasn’t stopped Amazon from developing its plans. Recently, Amazon unveiled portions of its proposed PrimeAir service, which would theoretically bypass the need for trucks, trains, planes and other conventional transportation infrastructure to deliver packages to their destinations in minutes, rather than days. Amazon has already established a national network of regional warehouses, which could serve as origination points for their respective areas.

“It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” the company claims on its website. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.” The plan is fairly straightforward: unmanned aerial drones could swoop down to collect packages up to 5 pounds and deliver them in “30 minutes or less.” That’s a claim that would seem audacious, but Amazon has demonstrated a 13-minute delivery cycle in the United Kingdom, in which it delivered a package to a farmhouse in the English countryside, gently setting the box down in a field to the delight of the waiting customer.
Of course, delivering a package in the countryside is a lot different from doing it in a city, with its maze of structures, crowded airspace and security concerns.
As with any ambitious project, the devil’s in the details, but Amazon has been working them out. In a Valentine’s Day patent filing, Amazon outlined its plans to drop packages by parachute, and to control their descent with a variety of methods, avoiding the problems inherent in landing and taking off again. For example, actuators could push a package in a specific direction, accounting for variables such as wind and obstacles, and control surfaces on the package could help guide it to a specific destination.

If Amazon could pull it off, it would be a genius strategy. Imagine being able to bypass traffic to get your package delivered within minutes, via a low-cost drone. The vision is still just that; it’s not likely Federal Aviation Administration rules regarding unmanned aircraft will change anytime soon; having the skies full of package-delivery drones from a multitude of companies will present its own challenges. Aviation laws and regulations have to catch up.

Still, Amazon is planning for the future. And though numerous technical hurdles loom ahead, Amazon has proven doubters wrong many times before.

How to get off ‘lists,’ reduce junk mail, email

junkmail

Source: How to get off ‘lists,’ reduce junk mail, email, clarionledger.com

PDF: getting-off-lists

When I talk to people about the work I do in this column, one of the most-asked questions is how they can get off the “lists”. If you’re tired of the constant barrage of junk clogging your mailbox and inbox, there are ways to stop the madness — or at least slow it down. So, every now and then, it’s a good opportunity to refresh ourselves on this topic.

Everybody knows the feeling of opening your mailbox and getting a handful of mail — only to find out most of it consists of solicitations to try a new satellite TV provider, buy a new car or sign up for a credit card. Email users are familiar with the constant barrage of spam that clogs their inboxes.

The first thing to remember about these lists is that your name got on them in some way. And in some cases, that holds the key to stopping or slowing future solicitations. Sometimes, it’s in your control, but most often, it’s not. Many companies collect and sell information about consumers, and any company can buy a list of names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses to fit their needs. Want to zero in on consumers ages 50-60 in a certain neighborhood? It can be done. Want to find people who bought cars in the last year with certain income levels? It’s available.

Often, these companies buy lists from other companies that have sold you something. If you have provided any information about yourself (for example, if you filled out a warranty card), that information may be bought and sold. If you visited certain websites, your browsing information might go to a company that installed a “cookie” to track your activities. It would be nearly impossible for someone to remain “off the grid” completely (though that hasn’t stopped people from trying).

If you think direct mail is dead, think again. In the past few years, the rising costs of printing and competition from other media have challenged the direct mail industry, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Technology is helping companies make better investments in their solicitations; the last thing any company wants is for its expensive printed piece to go directly into the trash or recycling bin.

The good news is you can cut down on the number of unsolicited mailings, calls and emails you get. Here are a few suggestions for cutting down on the clutter:

  • Prescreened” credit offers: Credit card and insurance companies love to find new customers, and they often do it by purchasing lists of “prescreened” consumers. These are people who haven’t really “prequalified” for offers, but would be likely candidates.

You can opt out of these for the next five years, or permanently. (The opt-out service is operated by the major credit card reporting companies.) To opt out for five years, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. If you want to make it permanent, you can start that process at the same website, but you’ll have to sign and return a Permanent Opt-Out Election form. Keep in mind you’ll have to provide some basic information including your Social Security number. This is one of the rare times it’s OK to give out your Social Security number over the phone.

  • Direct mail/email: The Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited direct mail from many national companies for five years. Within a few weeks, your mail volume should drop. However, you should remember that companies aren’t required to use this service. To register, visit www.dmachoice.org. This is also where you can register your email address to opt-out of receiving commercial emails, but it’s not likely to put a significant dent in your spam folder. The best way to do that is to use a good filtering system; most major email providers have some tools to help you identify spam emails and keep them quarantined in a separate folder (or not letting them through in the first place).

It’s important to note you’ll never be able to completely stop the bundle of flyers and solicitations that come to every mailbox (believe me, I’ve tried). You can, however, cut at least some of the catalogs and flyers. Catalog Choice (www.catalogchoice.com) and PaperKarma (www.paperkarma.com) are two services that promise to let you take control of direct mail. Catalog Choice is web-based; PaperKarma is a smartphone app that allows you to take a photo of the mail piece and submit a request to stop. And some companies, like ValPak and RedPlum, have their own opt-out services. To stop getting Redplum coupons, visit http://bit.ly/1FvtPKx. To stop ValPak coupons, visit http://bit.ly/1Lf7YxG.

If you’re really diligent, you may find your mailbox is largely empty soon; in the process, you’ll have saved companies some money, reduced the trash going into landfills, and perhaps saved a tree or two.

When your TV spies on you

tv-spies-on-you

dailybeast.com

Source: When your TV spies on you, clarionledger.com

PDF: vizio

The novel “1984” by George Orwell was required reading for a generation of students. This dark 1949 novel tells the story of government functionary named Winston Smith, who lives in a dystopian world full of surveillance equipment, run by a brutal government bent on controlling every aspect of life. Every home and many public spaces have “telescreens,” large television sets that not only carry government propaganda, but have cameras documenting everything that happens. Nothing is off-limits to “Big Brother’s” prying eyes.

While the world Orwell describes might not much resemble the world we see every day, some privacy experts have been increasingly concerned in recent years about the way our activities are being monitored, not only by the government but also by private corporations. We’ve known for years about companies that collect and sell information about nearly everything we do online. But a recent revelation has many privacy advocates wondering just how far this can go.

Vizio, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and sellers of internet-connected “smart” televisions, last week signed a $2.2 million settlement of charges by the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey’s attorney general that it installed software on its TVs to “collect viewing data on 11 million consumer TVs without consumers’ knowledge or consent.”

According to the complaint, in 2014 Vizio and a subsidiary company used the sets to collect data from various attached devices and services and paired it with demographic data supplied by Vizio owners such as age, sex, income, marital status and household income. Then, the company sold the information to third-party companies, who used it to market products and services to Vizio customers.

The complaint alleges Vizio’s data tracking — which occurred without viewers’ informed consent — was unfair and deceptive, in violation of the FTC Act and New Jersey consumer protection laws.

Of course, it’s common knowledge that nearly all our online activities are subject to eavesdropping. Sometimes, it’s with our knowledge and consent; other times, it’s sneaky and illicit, and sometimes, is valuable in unexpected ways. For example, law enforcement agencies have sought to collect data from such devices as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home to help provide evidence of crimes.

And such activities are increasing. The “Internet of Things” — in which even common household devices such as thermostats and refrigerators are becoming “smart” and connected through the web — has become a reality before our eyes. “Smart-house” technology promises to make things more convenient for us, but it also comes at a price that may include our privacy.

It’s worth noting that Vizio didn’t break the law by collecting the information in the first place, but rather by not informing consumers it was tracking and using it. And it’s not the first; CNET reported in 2015 that some Samsung TVs equipped with certain voice-activated commands might happen to catch conversations occurring in the room, but Samsung was quick to note this capability was clearly disclosed.

Regardless, it’s clear the electronic devices available on the market today come with a lot of interactivity, which some argue makes for a better experience for the customer. Others, though, worry that all these interactive technologies could be creating a world in which someone’s watching our every move. For consumers trying to balance convenience with privacy, the best solution might be a balancing act between the two.

Study: 6 in 10 adults lack a will

will

dyingandgrief.com

Source: Study: 6 in 10 adults lack a will, clarionledger.com

PDF: adults-lack-will

While it may not be pleasant to think about, having a will and other end-of-life documents is one of the most important gifts you can leave to your heirs. Nearly every family has nightmare stories about how someone died without making their final wishes known, leaving confusion and conflict in their wake, or having to struggle with painful decisions about when to end medical care.

While some families can get through this process amicably, others have been torn apart in the ensuing struggle for what’s left of the estate as things drag on through lengthy probate and costly settlement proceedings.

Many people don’t want to deal with the unpleasant prospect of their own deaths and remain blissfully unaware of the ramifications of dying intestate (without a will). But financial experts caution that even the youngest parents should be planning for what would happen if they were off the scene or unable to make their own decisions.

Caring.com released a study this week indicating nearly six in 10 adults (58 percent) don’t have any planning documents such as a will or living trust. And slightly more than a third of parents with kids younger than18 have these documents, which means there are a lot of young parents who might not be prepared for unexpected tragedies.

The Princeton Research study, which asked 1,003 adults about their end-of-life planning, indicates that — perhaps unsurprisingly — older people are more likely to have a will or living trust. More than 80 percent of those 72 and older have filed these documents; but for adults at the other end of the age scale (ages 18-36), just one in five has composed a will or trust.

Among the reasons given for not having done end-of-life planning: “I just haven’t gotten around to it” was the answer given by nearly half of the respondents, and nearly a third said they didn’t have much in the way of assets anyway, so they didn’t think it was important. Others likely balk at this planning because they think they can’t afford it.

“I think many Americans avoid setting up a will because they simply don’t want to think about their death,” says Texas-based financial coach Craig Dacy. “However, setting up a will not only takes care of your loved ones financially, it can save them a lot of emotional stress after you’re gone.”

A will does a lot more than just tell your kids how to divide your possessions; it can also help you designate causes you want to support; make sure your pets are taken care of; dictate what happens to your social media accounts when you die; state your wishes for your funeral and burial, and much more.

In recent years, a lot more attention has been given to medical/health care powers of attorney, and the Caring.com study bore that out. These documents will make your wishes known in the event of a health crisis in which you can’t make your own decisions. In general, more than half of U.S. adults have granted someone legal authorization to make decisions on their medical care if they are unable to do so.

Caring.com Vice President Katie Roper points out it’s not just about telling your family when to end life support; health care privacy regulations are much stricter now than in the past.

“It’s not just a concern for older people — everyone who is 18 or older should have a health care power of attorney,” Roper said. “If your college-age son or daughter, God forbid, were seriously injured in a car accident, you as the parent could not even find out they were in the hospital, let alone discuss their condition with physicians, without this document in place.”

Some legal experts have even suggested that young people write these documents before they graduate high school or college, and update them frequently. While it may not be the most pleasant thing to think about for a young person just starting out (and many young adults don’t have much in the way of money or possessions, anyway), it’s just good planning that gets them started thinking about their long-term future, and ultimately, their legacy.