June 23, 2018

Are Cryptocurrencies Safe


Beware of unsolicited sales pitches and guarantees of investment returns that seem too good to be true

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been making headlines recently, mostly laced with warnings that they might be more conducive to fraud than regular currency.

They are scams just waiting to happen, according to some experts. Ponzi schemes and other frauds involving Bitcoin are being investigated across the country, some of them targeting retirement accounts.

The number of daily transactions have been falling in 2018, likely based on the concerns. As the year began, the number was at 421,000. By the end of February, they were down to 191,000, according to the Bitcoin.com website. The price at its peak was in December when it was $19,180.22 per share. Currently, it is worth $10, 869.77. The numbers indicate that a Crypto recession is brewing, experts say.

JPMorgan Chase experts says the possible results of the changing Bitcoin market are not clear, but “Increased competition also may require the bank to make additional capital investments in its businesses or to extend more of its capital on behalf of its clients to remain competitive.” In others words, the banks might have to join Crypto before they can beat Crypto.

Investors are being warned about promoters who promise high returns through Bitcoin arbitrage or trading strategies. Particularly, they should “think twice” before picking up an offer for a chance to get in on “initial coin offerings” in which the investor receives new cryptocurrencies in exchange for an investment of actual money.

People who are technology savvy and connected may be more vulnerable to the potential scams. Many fall for the internet hype without fully understanding the complexities of Bitcoin as mediums of exchange created and stored electronically in a process known as the “blockchain.”

They have no physical form and typically are not backed by tangible assets. Investments are not insured or controlled by a central bank or other governmental authority and cannot always be exchanged for other commodities. Cryptocurrency investments are vulnerable to computer hacking and subject to wild price fluctuations.

Bottom line: Beware of unsolicited sales pitches, guarantees of investment returns that seem too good to be true and pressure to complete transactions in a hurry.

Coping With Holiday Stress

Stressed? Depressed? Here’s How To Cope

If you’re feeling Grinch-y, Scrooge-y and a bit more than bah hum-bugged, overwhelmed by the array of demands the holidays bring, there are ways to make things better, according to a Mayo Clinic release.

Among the stressors are too many – sometimes unwelcome – guests, selecting and then paying for gifts, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining. And the list goes on, depending on your own circumstances. Plenty to make for a no-good, no-fun, no-happy Noel.

The trick, if possible, is to recognize the potential and stop it at the pass. Especially if you’ve had problems in the past, anticipate an emotional toll and don’t let it happen.

The Clinic’s suggestions include:

  • 1. Acknowledge your feelings. If you’ve had particular challenges recently, don’t expect them to be less emotionally draining just because it’s the holidays. It’s all right to cry or otherwise express your feelings.
  • 2. Reach out to others. If loneliness or isolation get too big to bear alone, seek out community, religious or other opportunities to be with others. Volunteer to help others as a way to put your troubles into perspective and broaden friendships.
  • Be realistic. Nobody’s holidays are perfect. If things are different from last year, if your family structure has changed, traditions and rituals altered, don’t expect things to be the same. Hold onto some of your personal traditions and be open to new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t make it home, find new ways to share long-distance, through emails, pictures, chats or videos.
  • 4. Set aside differences. Looking for the ideal in any normal family is an exercise in futility. Accept each other as is. If there are grievances, wait for a more opportune time to discuss them. If others get upset or distressed, be understanding. Avoid confrontation.
  • 5. Stick to a budget. If your stress and depression are triggered by money matters, make them matter less. Plan a realistic holiday budget and then stick to it. Buying an avalanche of gifts that you can’t afford will only extend the pain beyond the holidays. Give homemade gifts, donate to a charity in another’s name, promote a family gift exchange.
  • 6. Plan your time. Divide up the chores into manageable bits: a time for shopping, baking, parties and other activities. Avoid last-minute scrambling. Be sure you have the ingredients you need for cooking. Line up help for preparation and cleanup.
  • 7. Learn to say No. If you overextend yourself, you end up feeling resentful and overwhelmed. If you can’t involve yourself in every possibility that comes your way, don’t feel the need to apologize. If you can’t avoid the added demands, for instance, if the boss says he needs you overtime, drop something else from your schedule if you can. The days during the holiday season are just 24 hours long, as usual. Don’t try to pack them too tightly.
  • 8. Retain healthy habits. Have a snack before a party to avoid overeating. Get enough sleep. Make exercise part of every day.
  • 9. Take a breather. Make time to relax and be by yourself. Just 15 minutes maky be enough to refresh and help you handle what’s on the agenda. Take a nighttime walk. Listen to music, read a book, get a massage. Whatever it takes to relieve the tension and prepare you to jump back into the maelstrom.
  • 10. Get professional help if you need it. If you persistently feel sad or anxious, have recurring physical symptoms, can’t sleep, are irritable and feel hopeless and unable to face routine expectations, see a doctor or mental health professional.

10 Tips To Protect Against Identity Theft

"Identity theft leads the Federal Trade Commission's list of top consumer complaints, accounting for 14 percent of all complaints recorded by the government body in 2013." FTC

“Identity theft leads the Federal Trade Commission’s list of top consumer complaints, accounting for 14 percent of all complaints recorded by the government body in 2013.” FTC

Forget the bogey man, dragons and things that go bump in the night. Save the fear factor for the unscrupulous among us who steal our identities and leave us floundering, financially fractured and caught in a web of never-ending effort to prove who we are.

The stories are rampant. Every year, more than 16 million Americans are victimized by computer hackers, mailbox thieves and others who have made a science of cheating their fellowmen. The number probably is higher, because not all incidents are reported. The ill-gotten loot adds up to some $24.7 billion, topping all other property crime losses combined by $10 million.

It seems that everyone you talk to knows someone in their circle of family and friends that has suffered from the ill effects of this crime.

The crooks prefer older persons as targets. They have better credit and more accounts and they tend to be somewhat less tech savvy than today’s perpetrators. They are not as apt to monitor their financial resources as those who have grown up in a digital world.

The AARP conducted a poll among 2,250 older Americans and found that more than 12 percent had had unauthorized items purchased in their name in the past year. Law enforcement is overwhelmed, and few of the fraudulent cases are resolved. Among police agencies, the saying goes that “only the dumb ones get caught.”

How to protect yourself? Here are 10 hints:

1. Locking Mailbox

Get a locking mailbox or use a post office box. Almost 60 percent of Americans report they do not have a locked box, making them prime for the snoops who are looking for identify information.

2. Online Accounts

Get online accounts for all bank and credit cards so information does not go
by post. If you haven’t already gone online, you are part of the 50 percent of Americans who are vulnerable through this route.

3. Clean Car

Never leave personal information in your car. Some 20 percent of Americans in the age group 18 to 49 say they have left a wallet or purse in a locked car over the past week. Those over that age are more prone to be careful, with only 8 percent reporting having left personal items in a car.

4. Shred Documents

Shred documents that contain personal information, such as bank and credit card statements, tax forms and medical bills. Forty-one percent of those over age 50 shred at least once a week.

5. Lock Electronics

Lock devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets with pass codes to prevent unauthorized use. Some 44 percent of those over 50 say they haven’t set up pass codes on their smartphones.

6. Close Old Credit Accounts

Close out old credit card accounts if you no longer use them. They are tempting come-ons for thieves.

7. Leave Your Social Security Card At Home

Don’t carry your Social Security card. Even the last four digits can give a fraudster enough information to damage your security.

8. Check On Your Bank Account Activity

Regularly check bank account and credit card statements. About 75 percent of Americans who bank online take this precaution.

9. Open Online Accounts With Credit Bureaus

Establish online accounts with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three credit reporting agencies. They may help you spot any irregularities in your accounts early. Sixty percent of the country’s citizens haven’t taken this precaution.

10. Set Fraud Alerts

Put fraud alerts on your accounts with the credit agencies and consider a credit freeze. Too many who receive a fraud alert, 84 percent, failed to follow through with fraud alerts on their credit files; fewer than 6 percent considered freezing credit.

Wal-Mart Offers new GoBank Accounts Sans Overdraft Fees

WalMart New Accounts

Shopping giant Wal-Mart has opted to provide a card-based program for customers who may overspend their accounts while purchasing in their stores

Joining other large retailers that engage in semi-banking practices, shopping giant Wal-Mart has opted to provide a card-based program for customers who may overspend their accounts while purchasing in their stores.

The world’s largest retailer had teamed with Green Dot Corp., a leader in creating reloadable prepaid cards. New mobile checking accounts issued by Wal-Mart under the cooperative effort will not require fees for overdrafts and bounced checks. An $8.95 monthly fee will be charged for these GoBank accounts. The fee is waived if there is a deposit of $500 or more each month.

Accounts can be opened by purchasing a $2.95 starter kit at any Wal-Mart Store. A smartphone is a necessity, since most of the banking transactions are done through an app. Credit Bureau ratings commonly used to determine eligibility are not part of the application requirements. The idea behind GoBank is to provide options for people who don’t have a lot of money and may have poor credit scores.

The kit includes a MasterCard debit card that can be used to withdraw money or make purchases. No fee is charged for ATM withdrawal services at the 42,000 locations around the country. If money is withdrawn from ATMs outside the system, a $2.50 charge is levied. A 3 percent fee is added to withdrawals outside the United States.

The new arrangement is one of several moves being made to help Americans who are still feeling the effects of the recent recession. Both Bank of America and Citibank have begun offering fee-free accounts this year.

Regulators have been looking more closely at overdraft fees, which in some instances can go up to $35 per incident. The regulators have responded to concerns by requiring banks to get written approval from a customer to provide overdraft protection, which allows a customer’s account to dip below zero. Those who choose to have the overdraft protection still pay high fees. Some customers at large banks regularly rack up fees in the neighborhood of $260 a year, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Wal-Mart’s Daniel Eckert, senior vice president for services, said GoBank was the retailer’s response to customer concerns that regular banking fees are too high.

Wealth Gap Lasts Into Retirement

It just seems to make sense that if you keep plugging along at a your job, by the time you retire you should have come closer to the level of wealth some others enjoy.

Not so, experts in the field say. Thousands of Americans struggle to set aside enough money to enjoy retirement, particularly those who are self-employed. They are having little success at building an adequate post-employment reserve.

The challenge is so overwhelming that many refuse even to look it square in the eye, which becomes a serious part of the problem. Pensions that used to provide the safety net for many workers are becoming rarer in the private sector and workers at the low end of the totem pole often have no access to such programs.

Are Dream Vacations A  Reality For You?

Are Dream Vacations A Reality For You?

All of this contributes to the widening gap between the average worker and the wealthy. With more than 70 million Baby Boomers preparing to leave active employment and settle into retirement, that is not good news. The net result may be government services stretched more thinly and more elderly people staying in the working ranks for longer, increasing the challenges for younger workers looking for jobs.

Who Fares The Best In Retirement?

Predictably, next to the really wealthy, those who fare best in the retirement picture are highly educated couples. They are likely to have more resources such as 401k plans, savings and home equity that are a boon when their jobs end. Those with less education, health issues and/or lower income and fewer resources can only watch in frustration as their prospects for a financially secure retirement fade into the distance.

The old saying that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer is literally true in today’s economy. Incomes for the top 1 percent of earners rose 31 percent from 2009 to 2012, according to an economist at the University of California/Berkeley. For the remaining 99 percent, the rise averaged 0.4 percent.

In households with annual income under $25,000, nine of 10 had savings under $10,000, according to the Employment Benefit Research Institute. For households in which earnings topped six figures, 42 percent had savings of at least $250,000, the institute reported. Five years ago, that percentage was 34 percent, another indication that the retirement prospects for those in the low-earnings categories are making no headway toward any kind of parity.

Check-Users Are Hoarding More


They are holding more cash in their checking accounts and for longer than at any time in the past 25 years.

Echoes of the Great Recession are still resounding in the minds of many Americans. They are holding more cash in their checking accounts and for longer than at any time in the past 25 years.

The recession has had a different impact than expected, experts say. In earlier periods of low inflation and a slowly improving economy, there was less attention to becoming debt-free and solvent, they say.

Among the pertinent factors is a lack of inviting investment alternatives. Savings accounts pay next to nothing and the stock market already is at lofty heights, according to a report recently released by the bank consulting firm Moebs Services Inc. The report looked at average balances in U.S. checking accounts and compared them with the same data from 25 years ago. The current average was $4,436, more than double the $2,100 posted 25 years ago.

The average balance in checking accounts during good economic times, with unemployment and inflation low, is about $1,400, the report said. With less cheery economic times, consumers tend to be more wary of spending and checking balances rise to the neighborhood of $3,000 or more. In 2007, for instance, the average balance was $788. That was just before the Recession caused a near-meltdown of the country’s economy, the report noted.

On the downside, the reluctance to spend has slowed the recovery. Spending usually accounts for about two-thirds of economic growth, said Moebs economist G. Michael Moebs, who heads the company. The firm’s report on bank balances was based on data from Federal Reserve figures for 2,800 banks and credit unions.

The hoarding trend also affects financial institutions, who lose income from overdrafts. Financial gurus are advising those institutions to expect big funds withdrawals when consumers are convinced that the fallout from the recession is over and they are safe to take out their money for mortgage-reduction, vacations or big item purchasing.

An article on the Moebs report in the Los Angeles Times quotes UCLA economist Lee Ohanian as saying the country may still be plagued by troublesome leftovers from the recession. He notes that even though employment is up by some 200,000 jobs in each of the past five months, growth in production is at less than half its usual rate. He relates the figures to the fact that the employment-to-population ratio still is low.

The recession caused a lot of serious reflection about personal finances, Ohanian said. People who had racked up too much debt pre-recession and suffered the consequences now are being much more cautious about what they do with their money.

Even now, with a return to near-normal employment and better incomes for many Americans, it likely will take awhile before full confidence in the economy is restored. Most experts see this as a good thing over time. Adjustments for both consumers and financial institutions will take time, they say.

Investment Advice? It’s As Old As The Hills

Investment Advice From The Experts

Investment Advice From The Experts

It probably began right after the Garden of Eden deal fell through. Swapping success stories has been part of the human condition since there were two entrepreneurs to swap tales. And some very good advice has survived for generations.

Forbes Magazine winnowed down the list to share with readers. Their pool of gurus includes five billionaires, a miser, a Nobel laureate, a founding father and assorted and sundry people whose names rise to the top whenever success is the topic.

Examples include:

Warren Buffet, whose $65 billion empire was built on buying businesses that he was certain were worth more than the sellers envisioned: “Whether socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.”

Sir John Templeton, founder of Templeton Funds, who made a killing by defying the conventional wisdom about the stock market, buying when others were selling: “If you buy the same securities everyone else is buying, you will have the same results as everyone else. . . Buy at the point of maximum pessimism, sell at the point of maximum optimism.”

Nathan Mayer Rothschild, 1776-1836, founder of N. M. Rothschild & Sons. “Information is money.” Thanks to his extensive network of carrier pigeons, and the careful placing of his sons in strategic European cities, Rothschild knew that England had defeated France in the Battle of Waterloo before anyone else in London. As other traders on the stock exchange braced for a British loss, he capitalized on his early information to build a fortune.

Peter Lynch, manager, Fidelity Magellan Fund. “Buy what you know.” He applied his knowledge of wise money management to generate an annual return of 29 percent. His secret to profitable investing: Don’t buy Twitter or Amazon, but do buy those suggested by A.All .com and Validea.com, NetApp, Barrett Business Services, Honda, Publis and Alliance Fiber Optic.

Alexander Hamilton, first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who earned the nickname Little Lion. His bestseller: the $10 bill. During the country’s formative years, he tirelessly advocated for responsible federal finances. His lesson: Don’t buy securities in developing countries with dodgy rulers. “A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master and deserves one.”

David Tepper, founder Appaloosa Management. During the panic of early 2009, he bet heavily on Bank of America, Citigroup and AIG. Quit Goldman Sachs in 1992 to build his own hedge fund. Reputation for clearheaded moves in environments of fear and misinformation. His quote: “I am the animal at the head of the pack. I either get eaten or I get the good grass.” He advises paying careful heed to central bankers and fiscal policymakers.

Hetty Green, 1834-1916: Description, miser; nicknamed “The Witch of Wall Street.” She inherited $5 million at age 30 and had multiplied it into $100 million by the time she died in 1916 by ferreting out investments that would earn her 6 percent annually, doubling her fortune every 12 years. The richest woman in the United States, she saved pennies by refusing to use hot water, wash her clothes or provide her son with decent medical care. “All you have to do is buy cheap and sell dear, act with thrift and shrewdness and be persistent.”

Women Working More Years

"Surprising news that Baby Boomers will be happier after 60 if they continue to work."  - Zestnow.com

“Surprising news that Baby Boomers will be happier after 60 if they continue to work.” – Zestnow.com

Women are working more years than they used to before retiring, and that fact will change the overall retirement picture in the United States, according to Age Wave, a company that focuses on issues involving the elderly.

Over the past 20 years, the number of older women in the workforce has increased significantly. In 1992, 23 percent of the over-55 working group were women; by 2012, the figure had risen to 35 percent. By 2022, the number will have reached 82 percent, Age Wave predicts.

Finances push the trend to a degree. Women have traditionally worked for less than their male counterparts and have less in their retirement savings. But enjoyment of their work also is a factor. A survey conducted by the company in partnership with Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management found that social opportunity, mental stimulation and the physical benefits of working topped the list of reasons for prolonging employment. Only 31percent of the respondents put financial need in the top spot. With life expectancy at 80 to 90 for many Americans, the thought may be that spending 20 to 30 years in full retirement is not an attractive alternative. There is more to life than 50 hours a week in front of the tube, as reported in a recent survey of the 65-plus population.

Baby boomer women are four times more likely to be working into their sixties than their own mothers were 30 years ago, as financial stress puts retirement out of reach. ~ www.news.com/au

Women who are part of the “boomer generation” are different, experts say. They are more adaptable and more politically savvy. Some of them have taken an employment break for rearing families and they’re ready to work outside the home again. They have tended, too, to marry men closer to themselves in age, and that affects retirement, since most couples retire within a year of each other.

The longer work term for women has implications for employers, said April Wu, a research economist in Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. The studies show that many older women will be found in the health care arena, as nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapy and patient advocacy. They also find niches in the nonprofit world.

The feminine involvement in how retirement money is spent is likely to grow, says Kerry Hannon, author of “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+”Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy.” They will likely have a larger role in the distribution of $59 trillion in wealth that will be distributed to heirs, charities and taxes. Although men currently are 58 percent more likely to be the primary contact with a financial advisor, women are gaining.

Hirers often see advantages of hiring mature women over the hoodie-wearing younger job applicants they see, Hannon said. Many of the older women also have gained the know-how and the confidence to strike out on their own.

Changes will be gradual, but unless something short-circuits the current trends, you can expect to see more older women in the workforce.

Move Over, Magnetic Strip, The Chip Is Coming

Most credit cards in the United States feature a magnetic strip that is easily captured and copied. But in the rest of the world, the EMV chip has largely succeeded the magnetic strip as a method of making credit cards more secure. And the U. S. is fast making the switch.

American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa all have announced plans for joining the move to an EMV chip-based payment infrastructure, according to the Smart Card Alliance. In contrast, more than 84 percent of cards issued in Western Europe already have the chip-and-Pin technology.

The chip has been integrated into the merchant’s handling of sales. In restaurants, the waiter often brings the bill on a hand held card reader. The customer inserts a credit card into the reader, enters her PIN and the transaction is complete. The customer never loses control of the card and the chip technology has highly secure built-in safeguards against theft of the card’s information.

The chip embedded in a card has the same computing power as an X286 computer, according to Jack Jania, vice president for strategic alliances at Gemalto, which produces the chip-enabled cards and the infrastructure to support them. Each chip has an operating system and several apps, depending on the level of security, whether it works with signatures or with PINS.

The chips, not surprisingly, cost more – $1.25 to $2.50, compared with 25 cents for a traditional magnetic strip. But the added security is worth the cost. Fraud prevention has been the impetus behind the chips. American cardholders have been particularly vulnerable to fraud. The introduction of the chip, along with other anti-fraud measures over the next couple of years, is expected to make big inroads into the problem.

BMO’s Diners Club, which has headquarters in Canada, where the chip has been long entrenched, was the first to introduce the chip onto the American scene, followed by the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and Andrews Air Force Base, all of which have many international interactions. Other American companies, including popular national merchants, are rapidly adopting the technology.

Some American banks now offer chip-implanted cards to top corporate accounts, but don’t promote them below that level, to the chagrin of some travelers. The situation is aggravated for them because some merchants in foreign countries shun America’s traditional magnetic strip cards. As the complications multiply and more Americans find themselves in long lines waiting for a teller to process magnetic strip cards, the impetus for the switch will magnify, industry leaders predict.

Both for the convenience in travel and for the added benefit of more anti-fraud security, the chip is coming and it can’t come too soon for many Americans.

EMV Security Technologies Boosts Credit Fraud Protection

Credit card displays new EMV chip technology

Credit card displays new EMV chip technology

Costs of credit card fraud in the U.S. alone are estimated at $8.6 billion per year. One of the ways to combat this problem is through EMV security technologies. EMV chip cards are being added to the arsenal of weapons calculated to help secure the U.S. payments infrastructure. The added protection is important because by October 2015, major networks will shift fraud liability to either the issuer or the merchant, depending on which has the least secure technology. October 2015 is the date that card issuers such as American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa are required to update to EMV chip cards, terminals and processing systems.

Key Features

EMV chip technology was developed jointly by Europay, MasterCard and Visa in 1994, to create a global chip specification payment system and prevent financial fraud. The key features of the chip in credit cards are that they store information, perform processing, are a secure element which stores secrets and performs cryptographic functions. They protect against counterfeit fraud through authentication of the chip card and smart phone. They validate the integrity of the transaction through digitally signing payment data.

EMV chip technology is an extremely effective method of reducing counterfeit and lost/stolen card fraud in a face to face payments environment. That is why the PCI Security Standards Council supports the deployment of EMV. EMV chip cards, have advantages over traditional magnetic stripes. The chip’s security code changes with every purchase and the card is much less vulnerable to counterfeiting, experts say. The chip can not be duplicated.

Worldwide Adoption

EMV technology has spread globally.

EMV technology has spread globally.

EMV technology will reduce the chances for fraud, but the evolution to the new technology will take some time. Merchants will have to change equipment to read the chip’s security code. Magnetic stripes won’t disappear overnight. During the transition, cards will still be vulnerable to counterfeiting.

In early June, Sam’s Club introduced a rewards credit card using the chip. Sam’s parent company, Walmart, will follow suit later this year. Target, which was the victim of a huge security breach recently, has opted to add chip-and-PIN technology to its store-branded cards early next year.

The shift to EMV is part of a systematic upgrade of payment security that is being developed to counteract weaknesses that lead to security breaches. Among the budding technologies is “tokenization,” which would substitute a meaningless string of alphanumeric characters and biometrics for current credit card credentials. Anything that will stymie hackers in their pursuit of other people’s personal information is likely to be scrutinized.

Data Breaches

A large-scale data breach, such as those the country has experienced in recent months, could still affect your card, industry leaders say. If Target, for instance, had been already using the chip technology before its system was breached, it would not have protected the company from hackers who infiltrated the company’s database through a third party access credentials. That gave the hackers information on cardholder account numbers and personal information, such as names, addresses and phone numbers that greatly increased the scope for identity theft.

Best Practices

Until the problems of protecting ID are resolved, take a proactive stance. Protect your card against fraud or data breach, as much as possible. Use unique and more sophisticated passwords for online accounts, monitor your bank statements and sign up for available alerts. Report immediately to your financial institution if your card is lost, stolen or compromised so it can be replaced with a new number as quickly as possible. That will save you the hassle of disputing unauthorized charges