Articles for September 2017

Avoiding the Cybercrooks

How can you protect yourself against ransomware, phishing, and other tactics?

Imagine finding out that your computer has been hacked. The hackers leave you a message: if you want your data back, you must pay them $300 in bitcoin. This was what happened to hundreds of thousands of PC users in May 2017 when they were attacked by the WannaCry malware, which exploited security flaws in Windows.

How can you plan to avoid cyberattacks and other attempts to take your money over the Internet? Be wary, and if attacked, respond quickly.

Phishing. This is when a cybercriminal throws you a hook, line, and sinker in the form of a fake, but convincing, email from a bank, law enforcement agency, or corporation, complete with accurate logos and graphics. The goal is to get you to disclose your personal information – the crooks will either use it or sell it. The best way to avoid phishing emails: stick to a virtual private network (VPN) or extremely reliable Wi-Fi networks when you are online.1

Ransomware. In this scam, online thieves create a mock virus, with an announcement that freezes your monitor. Their message: your files have been kidnapped, and you will need a decryption key to get them back, which you will pay handsomely to receive. In 2016, the FBI fielded 2,673 ransomware attack complaints, by companies and individuals who lost a total of $2.4 million. How can you avoid joining their ranks? Keep your security software and operating system as state of the art as you can. Your anti-virus programs should have the latest set of virus definitions. Your Internet browser and its plug-ins should also be up to date.2

Advance fee scams. A crook contacts you via text message or email, posing as a charity, a handyman, an adult education provider, or even a tax preparer ready to serve you. Oh, wait – before any service can be provided, you need to pay an “authorization fee” or an “application fee.” The crook takes the money and disappears. Common sense is your friend here; avoid succumbing to something that seems too good to be true.

I.R.S. impersonations. Cybergangs send out emails to households and small businesses with a warning: you owe money. That money must be paid now to the Internal Revenue Service through a pre-paid debit card or a money transfer. These scams often prey on immigrants, some of whom may not have a great understanding of U.S. tax law or the way the I.R.S. does business. The I.R.S. never emails a taxpayer out of the blue demanding payment; if unpaid taxes are a problem, the agency first sends a bill and an explanation of why the taxes need to be collected. It does not bully businesses or taxpayers with extortionist emails.1

Three statistics might convince you to obtain cyberinsurance for your business. One, roughly two-thirds of all cyberattacks target small and medium-sized companies. About 4,000 of these attacks occur per day, according to IBM. Two, the average cost of a cyberattack for a small business is around $690,000. This factoid comes from the Ponemon Institute, a research firm that conducted IBM’s 2017 Cost of Data Breach Study. That $690,000 encompasses not only lost business, but litigation, ransoms, and the money and time spent restoring data. Three, about 60% of small companies hit by an effective cyberattack are forced out of business within six months, notes the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance.3

Most online money threats can be avoided with good security software, the latest operating system, and some healthy skepticism. Here is where a little suspicion may save you a lot of financial pain. If you do end up suffering that pain, the right insurance coverage may help to lessen it.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at phone: 641-782-5577 or email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com

Website: www.cfgiowa.com

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial. 

Citations.

1 – gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/avoid-12-scary-money-scams/ [8/28/17]

2 – eweek.com/security/the-true-cost-of-ransomware-is-much-more-than-just-the-ransom [8/18/17]

3 – sfchronicle.com/business/article/Interest-in-cyberinsurance-grows-as-cybercrime-12043082.php [8/28/17]

Is a Home an Investment?

From one perspective, the answer is yes; from another, no.

When you buy a home, are you investing? If you buy it to flip it or buy it as a rental property, the answer is yes. If you buy a home simply to live in it, the answer may be no.

Your home is an expression of your lifestyle, a wonderful setting for your life, and a place you can enjoy in privacy and comfort. As an investment, though, it is essentially illiquid, and its rate of return is no sure thing.

Home values do not automatically increase with time. Buyers learned that lesson in the Great Recession. Simply using the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index as a barometer, house prices today are roughly where they were in 2007 – it has taken the residential real estate market that long to recover from the mortgage meltdown.1

Through the decades, real estate values have risen, and they will probably keep rising for the near term – but perhaps, not as quickly as some buyers hope. Why, exactly?

Home prices are inexorably linked to wages. Over the past year, hourly earnings have grown 2.5%. This has mystified many economists and frustrated others. Normally, when the jobless rate is below 5%, you have much greater wage growth. Six months before the start of the Great Recession (March 2007), the unemployment rate was 4.4% (right where it is now), and wages were growing at 4.2% a year.2,3

Ideally, wage growth keeps pace with rising real estate values. That is not happening now. Across the past year, the 20-city S&P/Case-Shiller home price index has shown home values appreciating at a rate of between 5.5-6% annually. If real estate values continue to climb 6% per year and wages rise just 2.5%, you will soon see buyers priced out of the market – unless, of course, home prices drop because sellers can no longer get the prices they want. That is something prospective sellers (and buyers) ought to keep in mind, plus some other truths.4

The fact is, stocks have appreciated more than real estate in the long run. Through the decades, home values have increased about 4% annually and stocks have increased about 10% annually (albeit with some remarkable year-to-year volatility).1

Stocks do not need upkeep. You will never need to tear out, reroof, or repaint a portfolio. Houses need all kind of repairs with time, and repair costs can eat into your gains. You must also pay property taxes. If you envision your home as an income-producing asset, that means playing landlord on some level. Many homeowners are not ready to take that step.

Remember that home values tend to rise gradually. If you see your home as an investment, see it as a long-term one. Staying put ten years or more before selling or trading up could help you realize the kind of financial outcome you want.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph#641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com

Website: www.cfgiowa.com    

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

Citations.

1 – businessinsider.com/buying-your-home-as-an-investment-is-a-1990s-mentality-2017-8 [8/9/17]

2 – epi.org/nominal-wage-tracker/ [9/5/17]

3 – bls.gov/opub/ted/2007/apr/wk2/art01.htm [4/9/07]

4 – ycharts.com/indicators/case_shiller_home_price_index_composite_20 [9/5/17]

The Equifax Data Breach

Have you been affected?  If so, how can you try to protect yourself?

On September 7, credit reporting agency Equifax dropped a consumer bombshell. It revealed that cybercriminals had gained access to the personal information of as many as 143 million Americans between May and July – about 44% of the U.S. population. The culprits were able to retrieve roughly 209,000 credit card numbers, in addition to many Social Security and driver’s license numbers.1

How can you find out if you were affected? Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com, the website Equifax just created for consumers. There, you can enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number to find out. (Having to enter the last six digits of your SSN hints at how significant this breach is.)2

If you are among the consumers whose data was hacked, Equifax will ask you to return to equifaxsecurity2017.com to enroll in an identity theft protection product, TrustedID Premier. This program will provide you with free credit monitoring for a year. (The lingering question is whether your data could be used easily by criminals afterward.)1,2

How should you respond? Beyond simply taking Equifax up on its offer of one year of identity theft insurance and free credit monitoring, you can take other steps.

Check your credit reports now. (Unless you have already done so in the past month). You can get one free credit report per year from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. To request yours, go to annualcreditreport.com. Scrutinize your credit card and bank account statements for unfamiliar activity, and sign up for email or text alerts offered by your bank or credit card issuer(s), so that notice of anything suspicious can quickly reach you.

Consider changing the password for your main email account. A weak password on that account is a low bar for a cybercrook to hurdle – and once hurdled, that crook could potentially pose as you to change the passwords on your financial accounts.3

Regarding bank, investment, and credit card account passwords, avoid the obvious. Too many people use simple passwords based on their pet’s name, their last name and year of birth, the high school they attended, etc. Sadly, these same simple facts are often answers to security questions for credit card and bank accounts. Ask your bank or credit card issuer if you can use additional, random words or a PIN for passwords or security question answers. That way, you can avoid logging in using data that is in the public record. You want your password to be long and random, to make it harder for a would-be thief to guess.

You may want to consider paying for additional identity theft protection for years to come. This is one way to try and shield yourself from the unauthorized use of your Social Security number, driver’s license number, email accounts, and credit card numbers.

If someone calls you out of the blue claiming to be from Equifax, do not cooperate with them. Unless Equifax is returning your call, they will not contact you by phone. The same applies if you get a random, unsolicited email or text from “Equifax” – do not comply, or you may inadvertently hand over personal information to a fraudster. Stay vigilant, today and in the future.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com

Website: www.cfgiowa.com

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

Citations.

1 – wired.com/story/how-to-protect-yourself-from-that-massive-equifax-breach/ [9/7/17]

2 – washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/09/08/after-data-breach-equifax-asks-consumers-for-social-security-numbers-to-see-if-theyve-been-affected [9/8/17]

3 – cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2017/09/devastating_data_breach_at_equ.html [9/8/17]

 

 

When Should You Buy a Car?

Could timing be a factor in getting a better deal?

If you are on the verge of shopping for a new or late-model used vehicle, some recent research from TrueCar may interest you – and even lead you to some savings. TrueCar, which monitors both U.S. auto dealer sales and dealer incentives and discounts, says that Monday and Thursday are the ideal days of the week to buy. Fewer buyers head to dealerships on those two days than any other, and the average sales discount off MSRP is slightly higher (8.1% compared to 7.5% on Sundays).

Fall and winter may be the right season to arrange a car or truck purchase. October is when dealerships tend to offer their biggest discounts on full-size pickups. November sees the deepest discounts on compact and mid-sized cars. Markdowns on luxury and mid-sized SUVs tend to be largest in December. Also, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are often the very best days of the year to buy. TrueCar found an average discount of 8.5% off MSRP on January 1.2

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com

Website: www.cfgiowa.com

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.  

Citations.

2 – cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/6-best-times-to-buy-a-car [3/31/17]

Celebration of the Common Worker

In honor of Labor Day 2017

It has been known by many different names–Worker’s Day, Labor Day, the last big weekend of the summer-and sadly, once Labor Day passes, we put the summer clothes away, drain the swimming pools and fountains, and start to batten down the hatches for winter.

“Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country,” notes Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor. “All other holidays are (to some degree) connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another.  Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

The holiday is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of the country.

The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected to be the annual holiday, and the idea spread with the growth of labor organizations.  In 1885, Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Originally, Labor day was to be celebrated with a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and spirit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. In recent years, the celebration has undergone a change, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem.  The change is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression.  Addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics, and government officials are given wide coverage in the media.

The vital force of American labor has added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute to the creators of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership-the American workers.

As you and your family gather for this celebration, may you find comfort and joy in knowing that America still has the strongest, most stable economy in the world, all thanks to those who work for the common good every day. 1

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com

Website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor.  Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

Citations

1 – www.dol.gov