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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Phone: 215-453-7883
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
Fax: 267-354-6800
email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Top 5 Cyber Monday Safety Tips

November 28, 2013 1:00 am

The Internet makes holiday shopping so easy—no fighting for parking spaces at jam-packed malls, no waiting in endless lines to get to the register.

But even if you consider yourself a pro, shopping online isn't without risks. These tips from USA.gov can help you protect yourself and your finances as you hunt for that perfect gift:

  • Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit card payments can be withheld if there's a dispute with a store, and if the card is stolen, you won't have to pay more than $50 of fraudulent charges. But with a debit card, you can't withhold payments—the store is paid directly from your bank account. And if your card is stolen, you could be liable for up to $500, depending on when you report it.
  • Find out if the public WiFi hotspot you're using at a coffee shop or bookstore is secure. If it's not, your payment information could be compromised over the network.
  • It's risky not to read the terms of service agreement before you buy online. You could inadvertently sign up for subscriptions or get hit with additional fees or restrictions. Terms of service are often in small print or presented right when you are anxious to purchase.
  • Be careful if you're buying event tickets online as gifts. Some venues may practice restricted ticketing, requiring the same credit card used in the online purchase to be shown to get into the event.
  • Use caution buying digital assets like books and music—they can't be given away as gifts if they've been downloaded to your account. You should either purchase a gift card for the book or music site, or check with the company. Some services have ways to "gift an item" but it varies depending on the provider.

Source: publications.usa.gov/USAPubs.php?PubID=5131

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Seven Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

November 28, 2013 1:00 am

Identity theft is a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your credit. Preventing it starts with managing your personal information carefully and sensibly. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends a few simple precautions:

  • Carry only essential documents – On any given day, go not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, a birth certificate or passport with you outside the house unless they will be needed.
  • Keep new checks out of the mail – When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, if possible, instead of having them sent to your home. This makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered and cashed by identity thieves.
  • Be careful on the phone – Identity thieves may call, posing as banks or government agencies and asking for personal information. Do not give out credit card numbers of other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
  • Your trash can be a thief’s treasure - Shred all receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, returned checks and any other sensitive information before throwing it away.
  • Stay on top of your credit – Check credit card statements, be alert if a statement is missing, and make sure your credit reports are accurate. If possible, sign up for a credit monitoring service, which will alert you to any changes in your credit report.
  • Keep a list of account numbers – In a safe place, such as a locked box, keep a list of your account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers. If your wallet is stolen, or a card is missing, you can quickly alert your creditors.
  • Create complex passwords or PIN numbers – Using a random mix of letters or numbers makes it harder for identity thieves to discover the codes.
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Word of the Day

November 28, 2013 1:00 am

Origination fee. A charge by the lender for granting and processing a new mortgage loan.

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Q: What’s the Best Way to Choose a Home Loan?

November 28, 2013 1:00 am

A: A lot will depend on the length of time you plan to live in the home, other financial obligations, and potential savings gained from comparing the monthly costs of a home against the up-front costs and closing costs involved with a particular loan.  

Also, you will need to be comfortable with whatever choice you decide to make.  Trust your instincts and do not be pressured into signing for a loan that will not really work for you.

 

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Word of the Day

November 26, 2013 4:57 pm

CC&Rs. Stands for covenants, conditions and restrictions.  They are the rules by which a property owner in a condominium agrees to abide.

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Q: What’s the Best Way to Choose a Home Loan?

November 26, 2013 4:57 pm

A: A lot will depend on the length of time you plan to live in the home, other financial obligations, and potential savings gained from comparing the monthly costs of a home against the up-front costs and closing costs involved with a particular loan.  

Also, you will need to be comfortable with whatever choice you decide to make.  Trust your instincts and do not be pressured into signing for a loan that will not really work for you.

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Big Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

November 26, 2013 4:57 pm

(Family Features)--Are personal relationships why most consumers frequent small businesses? From the mom and pop coffee shop to the small bookstore just down the street, people enjoy the personal interactions and convenience small businesses offer.

In a recent survey about interactions between consumers and small businesses from Web.com, more than eight out of 10 consumers said it’s important that a small business is customer-focused and provides personal, face-to-face interaction with its customers. Respondents also wanted a small business to be local, convenient and reliable.  

Grow online: To account for consumers’ desire for personal relationships, small businesses should have a big presence on the Internet, but only 41 percent of small businesses surveyed even had a website. Those without a website said they didn’t see the need for one, or the cost of designing and maintaining a site was a barrier. On the other hand, 83 percent of consumers who responded said having a website and use of social media is important to their consideration and choice of a small business.  

“Small businesses have historically relied on face-to-face relationships to grow and differentiate themselves, but today’s consumers are demanding that these relationships extend into ‘e-Main Street’,” says David Brown, president, chairman and CEO of Web.com. “Our survey found a significant disconnect between how small businesses decision-makers think they are delivering on customers’ expectations versus the reality of consumers’ perceptions. The good news is small businesses are starting to realize the Web’s untapped potential to reach consumers who are eager for online engagement.”

Stay in touch: Everyone knows how important it is to stay in touch with friends. If you’re a small business owner, don’t forget to stay in touch with your customers so they don’t forget about you. Use social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, along with email to notify your customers about special promotions or to just remind them about the great benefits you offer.

While it’s easy to blast an email to every customer or post an endless stream of cute pictures on Facebook, it’s important to not overwhelm or annoy your friends and followers with too much of a good thing. Keep your messages consistent, concise and professional.  

If you’re not sure how to get started, the Internet offers a lot of resources about how to successfully set up your online presence and use Google, Facebook and Twitter to market and grow your business online.

Provide personal service: Set your business apart by giving every customer the personal interaction and convenience they crave. Simply asking customers about their purchases or how you can serve them better gives you a consistent stream of information you can use to refine your goods or services and increase sales. Make sure every employee understands the value in talking to customers and tracking feedback.

The bottom line for every small business is that consumers are demanding online interaction and involvement with businesses, both big and small. Consistently reaching out to your customers through a website, social media and face-to-face interactions will help your business thrive.

Source: www.Web.com.

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Sunshine State Storm, Timeshare Scams Could Victimize Anyone

November 25, 2013 8:54 pm

I have learned a lot from various consumer protection agencies and other government agencies in virtually every state in the nation. In many cases, situations being reported in one state are actually happening across numerous states and even the entire country.

With the potential for serious storms and hurricanes threatening homeowners and properties this fall and winter, we picked up on this warning from Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

That agency recently noted that a frequent problem after a disaster is “fly-by-night” contractors who take deposits before starting work or final payment before finishing. The agency offers some good advice that is applicable far beyond Florida, however.

When seeking a post-storm contractor, the agency advises property owners to be cautious of repair businesses or individuals who:

  • Solicit door-to-door,
  • Arrive in unmarked vehicles,
  • Have a post office box or temporary address,
  • Claim they are from another county or state and are in the area solely to help disaster victims,
  • Or claim that they were doing work in the area and noticed that your home needed repairs.

The agency advises that if your home is in need of repair, you should get at least three itemized estimates and check each contractor’s address, license, and complaint history; never agree to a cash-only deal; and ask for a written estimate and inspect the terms carefully before signing and agreeing to any offer.

Honest contractors earn the majority of their business through referrals from satisfied customers, they don't have to to travel door-to-door to find business. Ask contractors to justify their bids by listing the work/materials that are included - this allows you to make valid comparisons between any estimates.

Florida's DBPR also recently issued a consumer advisory after learning that individuals falsely posing as Department employees are allegedly targeting victims of timeshare scams. The callers are asking victims for cash to pursue refunds for the money they lost in order to obtain full repayment for the victims.

Remember, no matter where you are, the rule of thumb is - do not respond to any unsolicited caller saying they represent a government agency by giving out personal information, by sending money or authorizing them to deduct money from a bank account.

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5 Ways to Lighten Holidays for American Servicemen

November 25, 2013 8:54 pm

Until recently, it was possible to send care packages to U.S. service men and women by addressing the package “To Any Service Member” and sending it via the U.S, Postal Service. Increased mailing restrictions now make that impossible.

But if the holiday spirit moves you to remember service members or their families at holiday time this year, there are many non-profit (501c3) organizations dedicated to helping you do just that – and the donations you make are tax-deductible.

Here are a few suggestions to help get you started:

Operation USO – A visit to the uso.org website will enable you to donate $25 or more, which the USO will use to send care packages of needed and requested items to currently deployed service men and women.

Books for Soldiers – If you sign up at booksforsoldiers.com, you can send requested books, magazines DVDs and more directly to the soldiers who have asked for them.

Operation Wounded Warrior – The organization, which has mailed over 600,000 care packages to deployed service members, now provides Wounded Warrior Care Packages to service members recovering in military hospitals and transition units located on bases throughout the United States. You can start by going to operationgratitude.com.

Operation Shoebox – Donations to this organization pay for the supplies and postage of care packages sent to American troops worldwide. Learn more and get started at operationshoebox.com.

Camp Desert Kids – Through the website at campdesertkids.org, you can make a donation that will be used to pay for a camp experience for the children of service men and women. The camps use games, crafts, and regional food and drink to help teach kids about the place their parents are serving, helping military children to better understand the deployments that shape their lives.

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'Tis the Season for Online Shopping Traps

November 25, 2013 8:54 pm

(BPT) - It doesn't matter if it's the day after Thanksgiving or the night before Christmas, cybercriminals don't take a holiday.

"People are spending with reckless abandon this time of year," says Christopher Elliott, consumer advocate and author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles and Shady Deals."

To avoid falling victim to these creative crooks, financial services company USAA advises consumers to watch out for these five common cyberscams.

Fake shopping sites

With all the hype about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, consumers go into shopping mode expecting to find good deals. But it is possible to get sucked in by websites selling counterfeit goods or overseas-based sites that take your money and provide nothing in return.

"Deals that are too good to be true are a huge red flag," warns Scambook.com, a site that collects consumer complaints.

* Never follow links sent by email. If you're going to follow search engine results, learn about the site before you make purchases or provide personal information.

* Watch out for sites with names that sound similar to popular sites or include a brand name in the URL. Research the site by typing its name into a search engine with the word complaints. You can also put the name in the Better Business Bureau database. If you don't find anything wrong, that doesn't necessarily mean you're home free. It could indicate the site was recently created. Scam sites often pop up overnight and quickly disappear when enough people catch on. SiteJabber.com also publishes user reviews of sites.

Promises of free stuff

Promotions to like a company's Facebook page in exchange for a $1,000 gift card or getting texts with similar ploys have become more prevalent. Why? Because people fall for them. Identity thieves count on consumers entering their personal and financial information to get the freebie.

A company is not going to give away a $1,000 gift card in exchange for a like and won't randomly text you with a similar deal. If you see one of these come-ons, delete it.

Buying through online auctions or classified sites

If you're looking for a deal or an offbeat item, turning to online auctions or classified sites could make sense. But they are also home to numerous scams.

* Use a credit card when buying online. Credit cards can protect consumers against fraud.

* Don't make a payment using a money transfer service to anyone you don't personally know, and use the same caution when asked to pay with a prepaid debit card.

* Don't pay upfront. If you're buying something locally, pay upon receipt of the item.

Phony Black Friday or other ads

If you're planning to shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, you want to see the big sales in advance. Cybercrooks know that so they create sites that try to capture traffic from searches for sales fliers. The goal is to get your personal information or have you click a link that loads your computer with malware that captures and transmits your information to them.

* Don't click on random links, and don't download attachments from people you don't know.

* Be sure your malware and virus protection software is up-to-date and turned on.

* If you're looking for Black Friday ads, find legitimate sales information at sites such as BlackFriday.com or DealNews.com.

Holiday vacation deals you don't want

If the idea of spending the holidays on a cruise or lying on a warm beach appeals to you, you may be tempted by an offer laden with freebies. "Anytime you see the word 'free,' alarm bells should go off," Elliott says. "Free cruise. Free all-inclusive vacation. Free flights. All of those things are signs that you are probably looking at a scam."

In these sorts of deals, at some point you're going to be asked to a pay "taxes" or a fee. "Once you buy in, they'll promise you the world and they'll ask you to wire money," Elliott says.

* Use only trusted travel sites and rental agencies when booking.

* Don't fall for gimmicks that make a pricey vacation look like something you can get for a fee or a couple of hundred dollars. When those tantalizing promises are dangled, Elliott says, "don't walk away – run."

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