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Todd Bishop

Todd Bishop
701 W. Market Street  Perkasie  PA 18944
Phone:  215-257-7302
Office:  215-453-7653
Fax:  267-354-6919

My Blog

Steering Clear of File Sharing Fraud

September 10, 2015 2:52 am

Users of file sharing websites, take note. The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) urges caution when accepting files through email, even if the message appears to be from someone you know.

“Criminal hackers are exploiting consumer trust in popular file sharing services,” says Bill Fanelli, CBBB chief security officer. “The emails look authentic, and they appear to be from someone the user knows. But the link goes to a fraudulent site that tricks the user into entering their login credentials, then installs malware on their computers, and sends phishing emails to everyone on their contact list.”

According to Fanelli, the basic attack is simple: you receive an email from someone you know with a link to a file that says it is from a file sharing site such as Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive. If you click the link, there are two typical scenarios.
In one version of the attack, a file containing malware is downloaded. Malware typically succeeds by exploiting a weakness in a software program or the operating system.

A more advanced version sends the user to a page that resembles a popular cloud-based file sharing service, and requests the account name and password for the user. Once those are entered, they can be used to log in to the user’s real account at that service. In addition, because most people use the same password for multiple accounts, hackers may now be able to access bank, credit card, and other financial accounts.

In both scenarios, one of the actions taken by the hacker is to access the user’s contact list and send similar emails to everyone on it, which is how the scam is spread.

To prevent file sharing malware attacks, the CBBB encourages users to heed the following advice.

1. Do not click on links from unsolicited emails. Be cautious with all links, as phishing emails can mimic people and companies you know.

2. Keep systems up-to-date with the most recent versions of all software that you use regularly.

3. If you believe an email is authentic, pay attention to the linked site. Make sure the URL is expected (for instance, dropbox.com, not dropbox.scam4u.com).

4. Look for two-factor authentication (a second way to identify you besides your password) and activate it whenever you are given the option. Many legitimate sites now use a second step to help reduce fraud.

Source: BBB

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Homemakers Can Save for Retirement, Too

September 10, 2015 2:52 am

A recent report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies® (TCRS) and the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement (ACLR) explored the unique circumstances surrounding homemakers’ retirement, offering proactive steps to improve overall outlook.

“Homemakers contribute greatly to their families and society, as parents, caregivers and role models to their children,” says Catherine Collinson, president of the TCRS and executive director of the ACLR. “Because their work is unpaid and comes without employer or retirement benefits, homemakers face even greater retirement risks than workers due to their reliance on others for income.”

According to the report, most homemakers in the U.S. are women (81 percent), married, cohabitating or in a civil partnership (90 percent), aged 18 to 44 (56 percent), and are a parent of one or more financially dependent children (55 percent).
When presented with a series of word associations about retirement, workers and retirees were more likely than homemakers to cite positive words such as “leisure,” “freedom” and “enjoyment.”

The report highlights the following key recommendations for homemakers.

• Become personally involved in your family finances, from daily budgeting to long-term planning. Working with your spouse or partner, calculate retirement savings needs and develop a financial plan for achieving those needs. As part of that plan, be sure to have a backup plan for unforeseen circumstances such as separation, divorce, or loss of a partner. Consider seeking the expertise of a professional financial advisor.

“It is a myth that only workers retire,” says Collinson. “Homemakers also need to plan and prepare for financial security in old age. For everyone, and especially homemakers, a separation, divorce or loss of a spouse or partner can be devastating both emotionally and financially.”

• Consider working on a part-time basis to reduce future retirement risks. Part-time work brings income and greater access to government and employer retirement benefits. Staying in the workforce can also help keep job skills current and make it easier to find higher paying and/or full-time work, if needed.

“Clearly, it is difficult for homemakers to save, given the unpaid nature of their work. However, homemakers are not off the hook for their future retirement. Getting into the habit of saving, even if it’s just a little bit, along with careful planning, may help homemakers improve their long-term prospects,” says Collinson.

Source: TCRS

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5 Tips to Pick the Perfect Paint

September 10, 2015 2:52 am

A number of factors play a role in how color is perceived in a home. While choosing a room color is a deeply personal choice, it's helpful to understand how certain influences can help guide paint color choice, says Noelle Parks, an interior design professional with Dunn-Edwards Paints®.

Parks recommends homeowners follow these guidelines when selecting paint colors.

1. Choose color based on desired mood.

From high-energy red to mellow blue, psychological responses to color inform effective and stimulating home design. Consider the ambience of the room before choosing a color. Will it be a lively dining room? A peaceful study? A luxurious bedroom?

Warm tones like red, orange and yellow evoke energy, playfulness and action – great for spaces for interaction like dining rooms or kitchens. Cool tones including green, blue, indigo and violet shades create tranquil and soothing environments. Try cool tones for places of relaxation and meditation, like the bedroom.

2. Use neutral colors as a base.
Neutral colors pair well with many shades. White, the most neutral of colors, coordinates with almost every other shade. Crisp and elegant, white opens up spaces and provides a clean, well-designed look.

Brown keeps color schemes grounded with its earthy tones and works best with an accent color. Black adds drama and is often used as an accent to embolden other tones.

3. Consider lighting.
Color looks different on a swatch in a store, and on the wall at home at different times of day with different amounts of light. It's imperative to test colors under the lighting conditions at home to see how the paint will truly appear. If there’s a lot of natural sunlight, consider a deeper, richer color.

4. Pay attention to details.
Permanent features like the flooring, architectural trim, moldings and columns will affect how color appears and blends with the rest of the room. Dark flooring, for example, will go well with lighter wall colors as opposition creates interest and visual excitement. Or, the design on a large piece of furniture may inform the color choice of the overall room.

5. Take climate and windows into account.
Typically, warmer colors are more acceptable in cold climates and cooler colors in warmer regions. A south-facing window orientation suggests a cool to neutral color preference, while a north-facing window suggests the use of a warmer color.

Source: Dunn-Edwards Paints®

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The Facts on Educational Tax Credits

September 9, 2015 12:52 am

For parents and students, back-to-school season is a good time to review education-related tax benefits. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), taxpayers may qualify for one of either two college tax credits or other benefits when they file their 2015 federal income tax returns.

In general, the American Opportunity Tax Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit is available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the taxpayer, spouse and dependents. The American Opportunity Tax Credit provides a credit for each eligible student, while the Lifetime Learning Credit provides a maximum credit per tax return.

Though a taxpayer often qualifies for both of these credits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. To claim these credits on their tax return, the taxpayer must file Form 1040 or 1040A and complete Form 8863, Education Credits.

The credits apply to eligible students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. The credits are subject to income limits that could reduce the amount claimed on their tax return.
To help determine eligibility for these benefits, taxpayers should visit IRS.gov.

Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by January 31 of the following year. (For 2015, the due date is February 1, 2016, because otherwise it would fall on a Sunday.) This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information. However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax credits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Form 8863 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.

Many of those eligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Students can claim this credit for qualified education expenses paid during the entire tax year for a certain number of years: the credit is only available for four tax years per eligible student; the credit is available only if the student has not completed the first four years of post-secondary education before 2015. Key features of the credit include:

• Qualified education expenses are amounts paid for tuition, fees and other related expenses for an eligible student. Other expenses, such as room and board, are not qualified expenses.

• The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.

• Forty percent of the American Opportunity Tax Credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student.

• The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.

The Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the limit on the Lifetime Learning Credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Also, the Lifetime Learning Credit does not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.

Though the half-time student requirement does not apply to the Lifetime Learning Credit, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:

• Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify, as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.

• The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.

• Income limits are lower than under the American Opportunity Tax Credit. For 2015, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $55,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $110,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $130,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $65,000 or more.

Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these credits during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.

There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:

• Scholarship and fellowship grants, which are generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.

• Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.

• Savings bonds used to pay for college. Though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.

• Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.
Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The general comparison table in Publication 970 can be a useful guide to taxpayers in determining eligibility for these benefits. Details can also be found on IRS.gov.

Source: IRS.gov

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Avoiding Exposure to Laundry Chemicals

September 9, 2015 12:52 am

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), nearly 30,000 children have been exposed to the toxic contents of liquid laundry packets. Children often are attracted to the colors and texture of the packets. With just a small amount of liquid or saliva, the concentrated detergent in the liquid soluble capsules can be released.

Like all medicines and household chemicals, laundry packets should be stored in their original packaging and placed up and out of a child’s reach and sight. To prevent unintentional exposure to the packet’s contents, the CPSC advises liquid laundry packet users to the following:

• Do not let children handle laundry packets.

• Do not puncture or take packets apart.

• Do not leave loose packets around. Keep them stored securely in the container.

• Store laundry packets in their original containers, out of a child’s sight and reach.

• Keep containers closed and dry.

• Read and follow package warnings and instructions.

• Call Poison Help (800-222-1222) immediately if a child swallows or is exposed to the chemicals.

Source: CPSC

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First-Time Buyers: 7 Home Service Contract Tips

September 9, 2015 12:52 am

As an additional incentive, an increasing number of home sellers are purchasing home service contracts on behalf of buyers, according to the National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA). For first-time buyers benefitting from these contracts, it’s important to:

1. Review the home service contract to be sure you understand all terms and conditions. Home service contracts generally provide service, repair or replacement for items such as dishwashers, ovens, disposers, electrical and plumbing systems, and most importantly, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC).

2. Maintain all appliances and household systems to keep them in efficient operating order. You will benefit from uninterrupted service as well as potential energy savings.

3. Request optional coverage if you feel you may need coverage on items not typically specified under the standard coverage, such as a swimming pool, septic tank or spa.

4. Keep a copy of your contract easily accessible and post the provider’s toll-free service number in a visible location, like the refrigerator door.

5. Call your contract provider at the first sign of trouble. Do not call a repair contractor directly. One of the benefits of your home service contract is that your provider works with a network of prequalified and licensed contractors in your area. If a breakdown (such as a lack of water or heat) poses an actual risk to your health or safety, most providers will work to expedite emergency repairs.

6. Follow up
with your provider if for some reason you are not satisfied with the service provided. They will work with you to resolve your concern.

7. Note
when your contract expires. For your convenience, many companies will provide automatic renewal of your contract. If you do not wish to renew, contact your provider right away to exercise your cancellation rights.

Source: NHSCA

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4 Ways to Beat the Post-Labor Day Struggle

September 8, 2015 2:52 am

In not-so-surprising news, two-fifths of participants in a recent Mars Drinks study were dreading the return to work after Labor Day weekend.

“Labor Day symbolizes the unofficial end of the summer season and for many of us, a return to a busier daily routine at home and increased activity at work,” says Mars Drinks’ Global President Xavier Unkovic. “However, back to work doesn't have to be a stressful time. Business leaders and employees can implement small changes to their workday routines that help reduce stress and make life at work better.”

Unkovic offers the following suggestions for employees stuck in a post-Labor Day slump:

• Get inspired. Maintain the activities that energize you outside of your work. Find a way to keep attending that yoga class even though the summer is over. Savor your morning coffee while reading an inspirational article before diving into your email.

• Get organized. Clean out your email inbox. If you have non-critical items you haven't gotten to, pitch them and get a clean start. Reduce stress at work by organizing yourself the night before.

• Manage your time. Schedule time for short breaks throughout the day. Even taking time for a cup of coffee between meetings will help you to relax and refresh. Keep a longer term calendar of your projects so that when new requests emerge, you can determine what's possible and communicate.

• Stay connected. You still have a few days of sunshine – take meetings outdoors if possible. And keep up the volunteering. It's a great way to stay connected to the things you love the most outside of work.

Source: Mars Drinks

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How to Safely Power Your Household Gadgets

September 8, 2015 2:52 am

Overloaded circuits and improper power cord use at home are hazards that should be eliminated, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). The ESFI recommends the following tips for homeowners:

• Be sure you are not overloading the circuit. Know the capacity of the circuit and the power requirements of all the electrical items plugged into the power strip and into all the other outlets on the circuit, as well as the light fixtures on the circuit.

• A heavy reliance power strip is an indication that you have too few outlets to address your needs. Have additional outlets installed where you need them.

• Understand that surge suppressors only protect the items plugged into it, not back along the circuit into which it is connected.

• Multiple plug outlets must be plugged directly into mounted electrical receptacles; they cannot be chained together.

• Ensure that all power strips and extension cords are certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as UL, CSA, or ETL, and read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

• Extension cords should only be used on a temporary basis. Unplug and safely store them after every use.

• Do not place power cords and extension cords in high traffic areas or under carpets, rugs or furniture, and never nail or staple them to the wall or baseboard.

• Never remove the ground pin (the third prong) to make a three-prong plug fit a two-prong outlet.

• Make sure extension cords are properly rated for their intended use, indoor or outdoor, and meet or exceed the power needs of the appliance or tool being used.

• All electrical items and extension cords should be kept in good condition. If damage is discovered, repair the item or dispose of it.

Source: ESFI

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Storm Watch: Severe Weather Tips for Homeowners

September 8, 2015 2:52 am

Severe weather has the potential to impact property more at this time of year than during any other season. “September is the ideal month to address proper storm preparedness,” says Generac Power Systems Senior VP of Marketing Clement Feng. “At the same time homeowners begin preparing for winter storm season, the potential threat from hurricanes becomes more apparent, all while many parts of the country are still experiencing summer heat threats. The timing is truly an influx of extreme weather.”

Homeowners who may feel overwhelmed should break down winter preparedness projects into manageable tasks they can tackle a bit at a time. Taking the time to seal a window or have the heating system serviced will pay off in the cooler months with energy savings and a toasty inside temperature, helping keep families comfortable despite what's happening outside.

Sealing the envelope of the home has become one of the most important tasks for homeowners in terms of energy efficiency. A few simple steps homeowners can take to keep the warm air in and the cold air out with the change of seasons include:

• Sealing drafty or single-pane windows with a DIY insulating roll-on kit
• Making doors airtight with weather stripping and draft seals
• Having a professional check for leaks in ductwork and service the heating system

In addition, homeowners should prepare for outages this winter. The increasingly unpredictable nature of weather patterns and threats to our infrastructure pose a hefty warning to our electrical power systems. Consider purchasing an automatic home backup generator to remain with power in the event of an outage.

Source: Generac Power Systems

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4 Ways Parents Can Promote Positive Behavior in School

September 7, 2015 2:49 am

Word arrives from school that the parent’s child is in trouble. Maybe it was a minor offense and the student simply faced a trip to the office. But maybe a suspension or expulsion is in the near future, leaving the parents wondering whether they could have done something before the situation became so dire.

Before parents beat themselves up too much, though, they should remember that student discipline isn’t always a clear-cut thing, says Renae Azziz, founder and director of Virtuoso Education Consulting, which provides professional development training to teachers and school district leaders.

“The reasons students are sent to the office are not always well defined,” says Azziz, a school psychologist. “So-called problem behaviors are often too subjective, which leads to different teachers having different perceptions and definitions of what a problem behavior is.”

The situation can be especially frustrating for the parents of these students. When there is a mismatch between what the teacher sees as acceptable behavior and the student’s view, problems can surface.

Teachers can learn to account for those cultural differences through explicit and ongoing training focused on culture. But there are also steps all parents can take that will go a long way in helping their children understand the school’s expectations, Azziz says.

She offers these tips:

• Educate yourself.
Parents should read the school’s discipline handbook and become familiar with the expectations for behavior in their child’s school. That way parents will have a clearer understanding of the rules and can discuss them with the child. Handbooks lay out all kinds of information, such as what constitutes bullying or how unexcused absences affect participation in extracurricular activities. “Knowing and talking about the rules can help you head off problems,” Azziz says.

• Offer positive reinforcement at home. Parents can set up positive ways to acknowledge their student for doing the right thing at home that connect to the behavior expectations at school. Children usually respond better to positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement, so praise at home for correct behavior can translate into good behavior in the classroom.

• Learn the rules face to face.
Early in the school year, parents should meet with their child’s teacher and principal to define and clarify behavior expectations and discuss how you will communicate with each other. Often, email is a good way to communicate with teachers because they can read and respond to the correspondence after class is over for the day. But find out what the teacher prefers. Good communication can help the parent and the teacher work together to make sure behavior expectations are understood and followed.

• Champion the child. A parent should be the child’s advocate. “After all, if you aren’t in your child’s corner, who is?” she asks. But that doesn’t mean taking the attitude: My child is always right. “You will need to be fair and balanced,” Azziz says.

Source: VirtuosoEd.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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