Year-round Consumer Safety Advice

Scammers don’t take a break for the holiday; in fact, they tend to ramp up their efforts in hopes that people will be even more gullible to their nefarious acts. There are things you can do to better protect yourself from these thieves all year long. As the sophistication of scammers increase so much your due diligence in protecting your money and personal information. This blog will look at some of the more common occurrences, creating unique passwords and will include applicable links throughout where you can learn more.

Text Messages

More and more scammers are sending out text messages with clickable links. These are a ploy to get you to follow the link and either infect your phone (or other mobile device) with a malware or to con you into providing sign on information for anything from Amazon to your bank claiming you need to verify information for a recent order/transaction. The best mode of action here is to just delete the message without reading it if possible. If you are not sure how to delete messages on your model of phone a quick Google search or checking the online manual for your device should provide the solution.

To learn more about this type of scam, ways to help prevent them, and ways to report the fraudulent activity  read the FTC article How To Recognize and Report Spam Text Messages.

Email

Just like with text messages, email scams are generally designed to get you to input sensitive information with an online account or to simply click on a link that can then infect your device with a virus. One way to determine scam emails is if it is riddled with typos or seems oddly impersonal or conversely too personal greetings. (If it read dear madam/sir or my beloved for example). If you legitimately have an account with wherever the email is claiming to come from your best mode of action is to go directly to that site or call the number on the back of your physical card and tell them that you received an email that you’d like to verify is legit. Some companies may want you to forward the fraudulent email to their fraud department. Double checking the full email address may also prove fruitful as it can be a giveaway of not being real (like it if says microsoft@randomsite.com). Otherwise, the absolute best way to deal with these type scams is to simply delete the email without opening it.

To learn more about how scammers often update their tactics and ways to better protect yourself against these threats read the article How To Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams provided by the FTC.

Phone Calls

Scammer phone calls can appear on both your landline and cell phone. No number is safe. Some thieves will spoof local phone numbers trying to trick you into thinking the phone call is coming from someone nearby. Most of the time automated calls are not to be trusted unless verifying something like a prescription ready for pickup or confirming a doctor’s appointment. In both of those cases chances are nothing personal will be asked and the most you’ll need to input is to confirm or cancel an appointment.

Otherwise automated or actual random calls are not to be trusted, especially if claiming to be from the IRS (they will never call you), the power company threatening to shut off your power, someone claiming to be calling about your student loans (especially if you do not have any), pretending to be from a credit card company wanting to verify a purchase,  someone claiming to be from Microsoft and claiming there’s an issue with your computer, wanting to extend your car warranty, or claiming your social security number has been reported and a warrant is out for your arrest. The best mode of action here is to just hang up. Better yet there’s a chance that if you screen your phone calls it may cut down on the number of calls you receive since a live person did not answer to verify it was a legit number. (The main other type of automated or unsolicited phone call is more prevalent during election season from politicians or people promoting politicians which some will see as informative and others as much as a nuisance as actual spam calls).

To  learn more about types of spam calls, ways to protect yourself, and how to report fraudulent activity read any of the following articles: the FTC’s article Phone Scams, an AARP article Phone Scams, or an article from the US government Common Scams and Frauds.

Social Media

If you’ve ever had your account hacked on social media, or have friends or family who have, then you know how aggravating it is when scammers invade your online presence. If you’ve already been hacked the best thing to do is immediately change your password to something hard to figure out. The next best thing to do is limit how many online quizzes you do or how many questionnaires you answer and post on your page. Doing these things makes it easier for your account to be hacked because often you’re giving away the answers to your security questions (things such as mother’s maiden name, first place you lived, your favorite things, etc.).

Giveaways

Another place you can be scammed on social media is through fraudulent giveaways. While many of these are harmless with people just trying to get likes and more comments to up their ranking there are others that request for more sensitive information to enter which should be scrutinized more closely. The Better Business Bureau offers this advice:

  • Look for the blue checkmark. Many social media platforms verify pages from brands and celebrities so that users can tell real pages from copycats. Make sure you look for that trust mark before liking and sharing content. 
  • Watch out for new accounts: If you think a giveaway is real, click on the business or celebrity’s profile. If it’s a new account with very little other content, that’s a big red flag.
  • Look out for spelling errors and typos: Real brands use giveaways to promote their company. Spelling errors and typos will make them look bad! They are a big warning signs of a scam.
  • The giveaway asks you to complete too many tasks: If a giveaway asks you to comment on multiple posts, follow several accounts, and tag a couple of brands, it becomes almost impossible to keep track of everyone participating and pick a winner at random (as required by law).
  • There are no terms and conditionsOnline giveaways should include contact details of the organizer, how to take part, how the winner will be selected, and eligibility requirements. If you don’t see information, that’s an instant red flag.
  • Don’t click “like” on every post in your feed. Scammers are counting on getting as many mindless likes as possible, so be sure you only “like” posts and articles that are legitimate. Don’t help scammers spread their con.

To read more about Social Media scams see the articles: Scams that start on social media, Social Media Scams, and 6 Common Social Media Scams to Avoid.

Password Advice

Creating hard to guess passwords doesn’t have to be as hard as it sometimes seems. There are several ways to create a rememberable yet difficult password. It’s also a good idea to write down your passwords somewhere inconspicuous.

Password suggestion 1: Use something you no longer have access to like an old tag number for your car or an address for a previous place of employment. You could also combine these items such as using the number from an old car tag coupled with part of the street address with a former place of employment.

Password suggestion 2: Look around you and pick a couple of random items to use towards your password such as the brand name of whatever your drinking coupled with an item on your desk. An example here would be something like DasaniRemoteControl.

Password suggestion 3: If you have a favorite saying or are feeling especially creative to invent one use the first letter of each word of the sentence to create your password. Some sites also require you to use numbers and/or special characters as well. So, if you like the saying “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” which is traditionally a pneumonic device for reading sheet music, you would use EGBDF and then tack on a couple of numbers or a special character.

Password don’ts: The biggest piece of advice is to never use easily guessable things for your password like your date of birth, information also found in your sign on ID, current phone numbers, or consecutive letters or numbers.

For more detailed suggestions on creating stronger passwords read How To Create Unique Passwords For Every Account That Are Hard To Guess And Easy To Remember or 9 rules for strong passwords: How to create and remember your login credentials.

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Thanksgiving Origins, Traditions and Fun Facts for 2021

Thanksgiving is upon us once again but how much do you know about this national holiday? This blog will look at Thanksgiving origins, traditions, and some fun statistics with information coming from Thanksgiving 2021 and 2021 Thanksgiving Fun Facts – Infographic with 60+ Facts.

Thanksgiving’s Ancient Origins

Although the American concept of Thanksgiving developed in the colonies of New England, its roots can be traced back to the other side of the Atlantic. Both the Separatists who came over on the Mayflower and the Puritans who arrived soon after brought with them a tradition of providential holidays—days of fasting during difficult or pivotal moments and days of feasting and celebration to thank God in times of plenty.

As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents, and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on America’s shores.

Thanksgiving Traditions and Rituals

In many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance; instead, it now centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends. Turkey, a Thanksgiving staple so ubiquitous it has become all but synonymous with the holiday, may or may not have been on offer when the Pilgrims hosted the inaugural feast in 1621. (It wasn’t until October 3, 1863 that then President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.)

Today, however, nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried—on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Volunteering is a common Thanksgiving Day activity, and communities often hold food drives and host free dinners for the less fortunate.

Parades have also become an integral part of the holiday in cities and towns across the United States. Presented by Macy’s department store since 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous, attracting some 2 to 3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route and drawing an enormous television audience. It typically features marching bands, performers, elaborate floats conveying various celebrities and giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters.

Beginning in 1989 with President George H.W. Bush, the president of the United States has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year, sparing the birds from slaughter and sending them to a farm for retirement. A number of U.S. governors also perform the annual turkey pardoning ritual.

6 Thanksgiving Facts for 2021

If you have ever wondered how much money was spent or how the typical US family celebrates the holiday, WalletHub has gathered over 60 facts covering this and more. Here are the top 6 facts for 2021.

$312: Average person’s spending over the five-day Thanksgiving period.

10 Hrs. 2 Mins.: Length of time the average American male would need to spend on the treadmill to burn the 4,500 calories consumed at the average Thanksgiving meal.

$604+ Million: Estimated amount Americans spend on Thanksgiving turkeys each year, with 46 million turkeys killed for the holiday.

$26 Million: Amount of property loss caused by residential building fires each Thanksgiving.

46%: Share of people celebrating Thanksgiving who try to avoid having to talk politics at the dinner table.

65%: Share of Americans who expect COVID-19 to impact their Thanksgiving celebrations this year (only 15% expect the impact to be significant).

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November has been designated for diabetes awareness since 1975, but it wasn’t officially recognized until the early 1980s, when then President Ronald Raegan officially declared it so. This blog will look at prediabetes, eye related issues, and working out with video games. If you want to test your knowledge on diabetes, take a quiz from Discover Diabetes. To see what your risk factors are there is another quiz available at the American Diabetes Association.

Prediabetes

An article from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases states that prediabetes is a serious health condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC, more than 1 in 3 U.S. adults have prediabetes—that’s 88 million people—but the majority of people don’t know they have it.

The good news is that by making small healthy lifestyle changes, it is possible to prevent type 2 diabetes and even reverse your prediabetes.

Here are some tips to help manage prediabetes and prevent diabetes.

Take small steps. Making changes to your lifestyle and daily habits can be hard, but you don’t have to change everything at once. It is okay to start small. Remember that setbacks are normal and do not mean you have failed—the key is to get back on track as soon as you can.

  • Move more. Limit time spent sitting and try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 days a week. Start slowly by breaking it up throughout the day.
  • Choose healthier foods and drinks most of the time. Pick foods that are high in fiber and low in fat and sugar. Build a plate that includes a balance of vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates. Drink water instead of sweetened drinks.
  • Lose weight, track it, and keep it off. You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing 5 to 7 percent of your starting weight.
  • Seek support. It is possible to reverse prediabetes. Making a plan, tracking your progress, and getting support from your health care professional and loved ones can help you make the necessary lifestyle changes.
  • Stay up to date on vaccinations. The COVID-19 (booster shot, if eligible) and flu vaccines are especially important for people who may be more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 or the flu, such as people with diabetes.

Diabetic Related Eye Diseases

According to Prevent Blindness, diabetes-related eye disease refers to eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of the disease.  Diabetes-related retinopathy (DR) is a disease that damages the blood vessels of the eye, causing them to leak and bleed into the retina. Individuals may not experience symptoms in the early stages of DR, which is why it is important for individuals with diabetes to have an eye exam annually, or as directed by their doctor.

If diabetes-related retinopathy is left untreated, fluid can leak into the center of the macula, called the fovea, the part of the eye where sharp, straight-ahead vision occurs. The fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision. This condition is called diabetes-related macular edema. It can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, although it is more likely to occur as the disease progresses.

Other eye conditions common among people living with diabetes include:

  • Cataract, a clouding of the lens in the eye, which can cause vision to become blurry and colors to become dull. Aside from aging, diabetes is the most common risk factor for cataract.
  • Glaucoma occurs with damage to the optic nerve and possible loss of side vision, usually caused by an increase in fluid pressure inside the eye.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, finding and treating diabetic retinopathy early can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent.

Working Out with Video Games

The following excerpt is from an American Diabetes Association article entitled, Working Out with Video Games.

You may not automatically associate playing video games with fitness. You may think, “Isn’t that how kids waste time when they should be outside getting fresh air and exercise?” Not necessarily. Over the past decade or so, a number of developers have created video games designed to get players of all ages on their feet.

Being active every day is a key part of managing blood glucose, or blood sugar, and reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease. But finding the time and staying motivated can be tricky. Like exercise videos, fitness video games are an excuse-proof exercise because they let you work out in the comfort of your own home. Unlike regular exercise videos, however, video games have sneaky ways to keep you coming back. The value is that there’s an interactivity with the game—so you can win or lose. There’s often competition, either with yourself or a participant. There’s a leaderboard and other reward mechanisms.

Exercise video games, or “exergames,” are highly customized to individual users, thanks to sensors that track a player’s movements. If you complete certain actions, you win points or fun rewards. Don’t like the shirt your onscreen character (or avatar) is wearing? Do a few more leg lifts and you’ll have enough points to choose a new one.

Arguably the best part: Many exergames don’t feel like exercise. These games are designed first and foremost to be fun. Getting the workout is a side effect of playing the game.

*Image source from blog banner comes from: Healthline.

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Daylight Saving Time Ends an Overview of DST Around the World

In the United States, it’s that time of year again, the end of Daylight Saving Time. Except for Arizona, Hawaii, and US Territories,  it’s the biannual time for pets, farm animals, children, and even adults to be confused for a few days while everyone gets used to the difference in time. This blog will look at the phenomenon of Daylight Saving Time around the world and some of the controversies surrounding it. For a more in-depth dive check out All time zones with DST,  Daylight saving time by country, and Daylight Saving Time.

Dates for the time change

The change from Daylight Saving Time to Wintertime (Standard Time) is done in each country according to individually defined rules. Within the USA, this is always the 2nd Sunday in March and the 1st Sunday in November. The time is always 2:00 a.m. in the respective time zone. Within the USA, there are 7 different time zones and thus always 7 different times for the changeover. While in New York one has already changed to the next time, in Chicago, Denver or Los Angeles the changeover is still to come.

In the European Union it is always changed on the last Sunday in March and last Sunday in October. Summertime in Europe therefore starts 1-2 weeks later and ends 1 week earlier than in the USA. Also, the timing is different. The entire EU changes the clocks at the same time (2:00 a.m. CET in March, and 3:00 a.m. CEST in October). EU countries that are not in CET at all adjust the changeover to it. Portugal (CET -1) thus changes its clocks at 1 a.m. local time.

The Brazilians formerly set their watches to Wintertime in February (before abolishing DST), while neighboring Paraguay is waiting until the end of March. In nearby Chile it is the first Saturday in April and the first Monday in September.

See the graph below for other timelines of the time change in other countries:

Wintertime is Summertime in the southern hemisphere

Due to the movement of the sun between the northern and southern tropic, the annual times also shift depending on the position on the globe. In the southern hemisphere, the sun is closer in December than in the northern hemisphere. At the time of the European winter months there is summer. As a result, in the southern hemisphere you change to Summertime while the northern countries switch to Wintertime.

Global Map Outlining Countries Current and Former Observances of DST

Today, approximately 70 countries utilize Daylight Saving Time in at least a portion of the country. Japan, India, and China are the only major industrialized countries that do not observe some form of daylight saving.

While the adoption of Daylight Saving Time is almost always rife with controversy, most of the world (except for countries around the Equator) has implemented DST at one point or another. This map depicts countries that currently have DST, that previously had DST, and that never had DST.

Controversies Surrounding DST

The changeover between summer and winter times is not without controversy. Many countries are no longer participating in the time changeover at all. Countries near the equator do not need them anyway because of the similar position of the sun throughout the year. The real goal of summertime is to make better use of daylight. The effect was particularly noticeable financially when the coffers were empty in the post-war years and during the oil crisis in the 1970s.

The savings effect is now considered to have been largely disproved. Instead, the time changeover twice a year causes problems for many people. Especially children need up to a week to adjust their internal clock. Problems also arise in agriculture, because dairy cows, for example, are even worse at handling changed milking times than humans.

On the other hand, it has also been proven that more sunlight also produces more vitamins, causes less depression and, on balance, makes people feel better. In fact, the time changeover brings us 1 hour more sunlight – if you are not a late riser and early riser.

The discussions about the pros and cons of the time change are being held worldwide. Russia, for example, has now completely abandoned summertime and Turkey has declared it to be year-round time. Other countries have also completely or partially abolished summertime in recent years.

In 2018, the EU Commission conducted an online survey on the abolition of the time changeover. Around 84% of the 4.6 million participants were in favor of abolishing the time changeover. However, an overwhelming proportion of the votes came from Germany. As a result, the Commission planned to abolish summertime as early as April 2019, but after the EU member states considered this time frame too short, the Commission backed out. The new deadline was supposed to be March 28, 2021 – but the European Commission failed to agree on a uniform approach in time.

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History of Trick or Treating

The end of October means Halloween, costumes, parties, and going door to door for candy but do you know where it all began? Let’s delve into the history of Trick or Treating and look at some statistics compiled over the past few years. Information in this blog comes from How Trick-or-Treating Became a Halloween Tradition The history of trick-or-treating, and how it became a Halloween tradition, and Americans will spend a record $10 billion on Halloween candy, decorations and pet costumes.

Ancient Origins of Trick-or-Treating

Halloween has its roots in the ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated on the night of October 31. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, believed that the dead returned to earth on Samhain. On the sacred night, people gathered to light bonfires, offer sacrifices, and pay homage to the dead.

During some Celtic celebrations of Samhain, villagers disguised themselves in costumes made of animal skins to drive away phantom visitors; banquet tables were prepared, and food was left out to placate unwelcome spirits.

In later centuries, people began dressing as ghosts, demons, and other malevolent creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This custom, known as mumming, dates back to the Middle Ages and is thought to be an antecedent of trick-or-treating.

Early Christian and Medieval Roots of Trick-or-Treating

By the ninth century, Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older pagan rites. In 1000 A.D. the church designated November 2 as All Souls’ Day, a time for honoring the dead. Celebrations in England resembled Celtic commemorations of Samhain, complete with bonfires and masquerades.

Poor people would visit the houses of wealthier families and receive pastries called soul cakes in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives. Known as “souling,” the practice was later taken up by children, who would go from door to door asking for gifts such as food, money, and ale.

In Scotland and Ireland, young people took part in a tradition called guising, dressing up in costume and accepting offerings from various households. Rather than pledging to pray for the dead, they would sing a song, recite a poem, tell a joke, or perform another sort of “trick” before collecting their treat, which typically consisted of fruit, nuts or coins.

How trick-or-treating became a tradition

A popular 18th- and 19th-century Christmas custom called belsnickling in the eastern areas of the U.S. and Canada was similar to trick-or-treating: Groups of costumed participants would go from house to house to perform small tricks in exchange for food and drink. Some belsnicklers even deliberately frightened young children at houses before asking if they had been good enough to earn a treat. And other early descriptions say that those handing out treats had to guess the identities of the disguised revelers, giving food to anyone they couldn’t identify.

In the 19th century, “tricks”—such as rattling windows and tying doors shut—were often made to look as though supernatural forces had conjured them. Some people offered candy as a way to protect their homes from pranksters, who might wreak havoc by disassembling farm equipment and reassembling it on a rooftop. By the early 20th century, some property owners had even begun to fight back and lawmakers encouraged communities to keep children in check with wholesome fun.

These pranks likely gave rise to the use of the phrase “trick-or-treat.” Barry Popik, an etymologist, traced the earliest usage of the phrase in connection with Halloween to a 1927 Alberta newspaper article reporting on pranksters demanding “trick or treat” at houses.

How trick-or-treating grew popular

Trick-or-treating became widespread in the U.S. after the Second World War, when rationing ended and candy was once again readily available. The rapid development of suburban neighborhoods where it was easier than ever for kids to travel from house to house also fueled the rise of the tradition.

In the 1950s, Halloween imagery and merchandising started to reflect that popularity, and the holiday became more consumerist. Costumes went from simple, homemade attire mimicking ghosts and pirates to mass-produced costumes of beloved TV and movie characters.

As trick-or-treating’s popularity rose, adults found it far easier to hand out individually wrapped candies than apples, nuts, and homemade goodies. Candy had first made its appearance in the 1800s at American Halloween parties as taffy that children could pull, and candy is now solidified as the go-to “treat.”

By the mid-20th century, Halloween tricks of old had all but disappeared. Children just wanted candy and homeowners with their house lights on gave it to them. Those that preferred to avoid candy-giving entirely kept their lights off.

Halloween Statistics

The average consumer is expected to spend $102.74 on costumes, candy, decorations and greeting cards, $10 more than last year, according to the NRF’s annual survey of 8,061 consumers, conducted Sept. 1-8 by research firm Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Most of the spending will go to costumes: $3.32 billion, 27% more than last year and the most since consumers spent $3.35 billion in 2017, the NRF says.

Almost as much – $3.17 billion – will be spent on decorations. And $3 billion will be spent on candy.

Two-thirds of Americans (65%) plan to celebrate Halloween this year, compared to 58% in 2020, and just below the 68% who celebrated in 2019, the NRF says.

Households with children are more likely to celebrate Halloween (82%) than those with no children (55%). Homes with children will likely spend more: about $150, compared to $74 spent by those without children.

Favorite ways to celebrate include handing out candy to trick-or-treaters (66%), decorating the house (52%), wearing costumes (46%), carving a pumpkin (44%), hosting or going to a party (25%).

Spending on Halloween for 2021 is projected to be $10.1 billion which is highest amount spent in the past 5 years.  Previous years saw spending amounts of $9.09 billion in 2017, $8.97 billion in 2018, $8.78 billion in 2019, and $8.05 billion in 2020.

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