Finance

Elder Fraud

Growing a Small Business Apply Online for Social Security Online MBA Car Maintenance Pays Off Financial Education Private Health Ins. Exchanges Defining Value

Elder Fraud: Protecting Yourself And Your Nest Egg

(NAPSI)—While the elderly are often targeted by scammers, there are ways you can protect yourself and those you care about.

The Problem

New fraud schemes emerge constantly and the scammers are relentlessly creative. Seniors may get official-sounding e-mails seeking a fee for a bogus service or collecting an “inheritance.” Homeowners are targeted with phony service calls. In one brazen scam, a criminal posing as a grandchild asks the senior to wire money to get the grandchild out of a jam.

In some cases, caregivers and family members may try to take advantage of a senior’s dependence and ask the senior to sign papers that shift control to the caregiver, or simply forge the senior’s signature.

Practical Tips for Protection

Fortunately, seniors can understand the risks and protect themselves. Here are a few helpful tips.

• Beware of “robocalls”; that is, a computerized message, instead of a person on the phone.

• If anyone calls or e-mails you offering an opportunity to collect a prize by paying an up-front fee, remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

• Keep your Social Security number, credit card numbers, account PINs and other personal information to yourself. Your bank and other companies you do business with won’t call you to ask you to “confirm” this information.

• Don’t be pressured. If you feel pressured to make a decision or purchase, or if you are unsure to whom you are talking, just say “no” and hang up.

• Open your door only if you recognize the person there.

• Never sign any document you don’t fully understand. If in doubt, ask a trusted friend, family member or adviser. Never sign blank checks or forms.

• Keep a close eye on bank statements, credit card bills and invoices to spot any suspicious activity that could indicate identity theft. Requesting a free copy of your credit report annually (at www.annualcreditreport.com) is a good way to spot potential problems.

• Shred your old bills and paperwork to make sure your personal information can’t be accessed by “dumpster diving” thieves. Make sure your mailbox is secure.

• For home repair projects, always get a second estimate and call the companies’ references. Never pay for the work in advance—unscrupulous contractors may take the money and run.

• Never use an untraceable wire service to transfer money. If you have to wire money, manage the transfer with your bank and make sure it can trace the recipient.

Remain vigilant. If you think you or a loved one has been the target of elder fraud, contact the state’s Department of Consumer Protection to report the abuse. For more information, visit the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse at www.preventelderabuse.org, and Dr. Marion’s “Guide to Avoiding Elder Fraud” on the Philips Lifeline resources page www.lifelinesys.com.

Being proactive about your own protection and safety is important for independent living. So is fast access to help when needed. Philips Lifeline helps seniors live more independently in their own homes by providing help in case of a fall or other accident.

For more on how medical alerts can help, visit www.lifelinesys.com.

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Growing A Small Business Online

(NAPSI)—There could be big news for small business owners, especially women, looking to enhance their business.

According to a survey by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Web.com, women business owners (WBOs) are investing more in online marketing and customer service to get their business where they want it to be.

WBOs are putting more of their money where it really counts, the study suggests, to attract new customers and make a lasting personal connection with them at the same time. Online and mobile marketing in particular have risen in importance lately, with more WBOs planning to invest in a mobile presence (up 13 percentage points over last year), as well as in their business’ social media presence (up 8 percentage points).

While 85 percent of WBOs say social media is important for building customer relationships, only 67 percent are currently using social media to connect with customers. What’s more, just half of these women are confident in their own ability to build a social media presence for their business, and only a quarter of WBOs post on social media on a daily basis.

So, what steps can a small business take to flourish online?

1. Get in the game. Only four out of 10 small businesses have a dedicated business website, according to a past Web.com survey. This means 60 percent of small businesses are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to connect and engage with potential customers at the most basic online level—through a simple business-focused, strategic website.

2. Local is where it’s at. The percentage of online search queries focused on local businesses continues to accelerate, with an even greater growth in local search via mobile devices. It is important for small businesses to stake their claim now on such basic local channels as Google Places and populate those sites with the types of information consumers are most likely to search for—products and services, hours of operation, contact phone number, physical address and so on.

3. Partner up. A small business owner’s focus should be on the business side of things—not IT and online marketing. To better increase business results, small business owners must look for a partner that understands their digital needs, provides resources to save time and helps achieve success online—all within a tightly prescribed budget. By finding an online marketing partner with a broad range of expertise, small business owners can focus on what should be their primary goal—a successful business.

Getting started is probably the hardest part of expanding your business online. Business owners who prioritize the web and social media in their marketing mix—or find a partner to help them gain this expertise—can reap the benefits of increased customer engagement and satisfaction as the economy improves and consumers increase spending on products and services.

To view and share the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report infographic, please visit http://graphics.web.com/2014StateInfographic.jpg.

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Learn Why Millions Apply Online For Social Security

(NAPSI)—For millions of people across America, the concept of retirement has changed significantly. “Retiring” used to mean taking it easy. Today, it’s a more active time than ever; a time for new interests, being involved with family and friends, volunteering, and paying attention to being physically and mentally fit.

Retirees live healthier, work longer, and play harder. It’s the new normal. Even the momentous act of applying for retirement benefits—which used to require a visit to the Social Security office—has become more convenient, easier, and faster for busy “retirees.”

Thinking about applying for your benefits? Begin at Social Security’s website—www.socialsecurity.gov. It offers a wealth of services, information, and tools to help you plan for a better retirement. When you are ready, you can apply for benefits online, from home. No appointment, no travel to a busy government office, no worry that you’ve brought all the right paperwork.

The online retirement application is easy to use. In most cases, it will take you less than 15 minutes to complete. You also can save your unfinished work at any point and finish later. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation is required. Social Security will process your application and contact you if any further information is needed.

Before you apply, you need to consider several factors. For people born in 1938 or later, “full retirement age” has gradually increased, and for people born after 1959, it is age 67. You can apply for reduced benefits as early as age 62. You also should consider whether you want to work in retirement, health issues, your family’s monetary needs, and future financial obligations. Social Security offers several online tools to help you explore your retirement options.

Regardless of your age, there are advantages to creating a personal my Social Security account. It gives you complete access to your personal information, including your lifetime earnings and estimated retirement, disability, and survivor’s benefits for you and your family. There are advanced security features to protect your privacy. You can have unique text message codes sent to your cell phone each time you sign in.

There’s even an address bar at the top of your screen indicating the website has an extended validation certificate. This means your information will be encrypted and that the website has been verified by a certification authority.

When you receive Social Security benefits, your personal account will be the best way to manage them, enabling you to start or change direct deposit of your payments, get proof of benefits, and more.

More than 7 million people have chosen to retire the fast, convenient, and stress-free way—online. In fact, last year, almost 50 percent retired online. Choose the most convenient option to retire by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov.

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Streamline Your Studies With A Personalized, Online MBA

(NAPSI)—Today’s technology means MBA students no longer need to be confined to on-campus, lecture-driven programs—and they’re taking advantage of it.

In fact, a recent study from Babson Survey Research Group reported that 7.1 million students took at least one online course during the fall 2012 term, and 33.5 percent of all higher education students are now taking at least one course online.

With MBA students, the need to be flexible and receive a personalized experience may be particularly important. Often, these students are balancing a job and family, and choose online education because going back to a traditional campus isn’t practical for their schedules. That’s why forward-thinking universities are developing innovative new ways to better serve these students.

“We know that MBA students come to school with knowledge from their prior education and professional experience,” said Dr. Robert Manzer, Provost and Chief Academic Officer at American InterContinental University™ (AIU). “That is why AIU has created the intellipath™-driven MBA, the first MBA program in the U.S. to be delivered by adaptive learning technology.”

Powered by the school’s proprietary adaptive learning technology, the program helps students streamline their studies by assessing and identifying each student’s current understanding of a topic and then tailoring the type and order of the lessons presented to meet that student’s unique needs. This allows students to focus their time on what they need to learn and skip over what they already know, creating a personalized and more efficient learning experience.

“The intellipath-driven MBA respects students’ time and knowledge by tailoring content and lessons to their individual learning needs,” added Manzer.

When looking for an online MBA program, students should consider these five key tips:

• Recognize your experience: If you have prior education or professional experience, use it to your advantage. Look for programs that will make the most of your time by letting you skip over what you already know.

• Efficient approach: Look for a program that tailors your lessons to your needs. AIU’s MBA uses adaptive learning technology to help students focus on what they need to learn, creating a personalized and more efficient experience.

• Expert faculty: Programs taught by industry specialists will give you access to real-world perspective. Review the faculty (and university) credentials before selecting a program.

• Specialized curriculum: You’re going back to school because you want to gain more experience in your field of interest. Look for a program that offers as many courses in your area of specialization as possible, and be sure that learning material is offered in a variety of formats.

• Accredited program: Look for an MBA that has programmatic accreditation, such as the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) for business programs.

For more information about pursuing an online education, visit www.aiuniv.edu.

Note to Editors: Babson Survey Research Group, http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/grade-change-2013.
AIU cannot guarantee employment or salary. Find employment rates, financial obligations and other disclosures at www.aiuniv.edu/disclosures.

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Maintenance Pays

(NAPSI)—Many drivers find that if they want to make their car last, it pays to put it first. Taking good care of your car means you are more likely to avoid problems, both now, while you’re driving it, and later, when you sell it.

To improve the life of your vehicle and its price at resale, it’s a good idea to get it serviced regularly. The car will not only run better, it will be highlighted on a Carfax Report as a “well maintained” vehicle. Keep track of the service history so you can prove you did the right thing to prospective buyers.

To help, you can get reminders about upcoming service from the free myCarfax mobile app. Subscribers also learn of any open recalls on their cars.

Learn More

To find local service shops and get tips on keeping your car well maintained, visit www.mycarfax.com.

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Financial Education Goes To Washington

(NAPSI)—Are you interested in learning more about the importance of saving and investing and possibly having your member of Congress visit your school? Learn more about the Capitol Hill Challenge.

Here’s How

Using the SIFMA Foundation’s award-winning Stock Market Game™ program, each student team manages a hypothetical $100,000 online portfolio and “invests” in real stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

The program teaches the importance of saving and investing, promotes a better understanding of the government, and helps students learn about the global economy, strengthen their personal financial skills and improve their knowledge of math, economics and business.

At the end of the 14-week competition, the Top 10 teams get to visit Washington, D.C. to meet their representative and attend an awards reception in their honor.

Learn More

Further facts are at www.sifma.org/chc, smg@sifma.org and (212) 313-1200.

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The Power Of Private Health Insurance Exchanges

(NAPSI)—With our nation in the midst of a health care revolution, government-driven health insurance exchanges are grabbing headlines, often for the wrong reasons. From political haggling to technical gaffes, it’s been a bumpy road for federal- and state-run public exchanges.

For private insurance exchanges, however, the story couldn’t be more different. In fact, it is these private exchange programs that will likely be the bigger—and better—option for many small businesses and workers in America.

While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) put a spotlight on government-run exchanges, private versions have been operating for nearly 20 years in numerous states. Thanks to health care reform momentum, private exchanges are poised to transform health care for the estimated 60 million U.S. workers employed by small businesses.

According to a 2013 report by Booz & Company, “Health insurance in the U.S. is at the cusp of a major transition from an employer-driven payor model to a model directly involving many more employees and consumers. Private health insurance exchanges with a defined contribution approach represent a significant step toward catalyzing this change.”

So what is a private exchange? It is a marketplace of health insurance and related benefits offering access to a single or multiple health plans in one, unified program. Working directly with insurance brokers, employers purchase insurance through the exchange. Employees then choose from reputable carriers such as Aetna, Kaiser Permanente, Anthem Blue Cross or others, depending on the specific exchange.

Through a private exchange, employers allocate a set amount of dollars toward the program through what’s called “defined contribution.” This provides cost controls while supporting an employee’s health care.

For workers, an exchange offers choice and flexibility. They select and purchase their coverage from available options. If they want to upgrade their plan or add other benefits like life insurance beyond what’s covered by the employer contribution, they have the option to pay to do so.

With more than 55 percent of all U.S. workers employed by businesses with one to 50 people, private exchanges are proving to be an especially powerful, viable and valuable option.

In California, the nation’s most populous state and where approximately 12 percent of the country’s residents live, more and more of its 3.4 million-plus small businesses are turning to private exchange solutions.

Take CaliforniaChoice, for example. The nation’s first-ever private exchange established over 18 years ago works with brokers and small businesses as the state’s only private exchange. It offers multiple health plans and other business-related products and services in one, easy-to-use program. Today, CaliforniaChoice serves more than 10,000 employers and 150,000 members statewide.

“If you are a small-business owner, private exchanges help drive down health care costs and reduce administrative burdens in an increasingly complex regulatory environment, all while expanding the benefit choices for your employees,” said Ron Goldstein, president and CEO of CaliforniaChoice.

He added, “Well-run private exchanges are very effective because they are held to the highest free-market standards. They must deliver value—the best service, choices and prices—in order to stay competitive.”

While media attention around federal- and state-operated exchanges will likely persist in the near term, established private exchanges such as CaliforniaChoice will continue to quietly build steam. In fact, private exchange participation nationally is projected to exceed public exchange enrollment by 2018, says a 2013 report by Accenture.

Given this trend, employers may be wise to take advantage of private exchange programs when seeking solutions to cost-effectively address the changing landscape of traditional employee benefits programs.

For more information about private health insurance exchanges, visit www.calchoice.com.

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Superior Scores Are Not Given; They’re Earned

by Ben Narasin

(NAPSI)—In the quest for exceptional products, and wine in particular, there lies a constant tension between quality and price. The easiest route to defining value before the bottle is even opened is the score a wine has earned from the experts we trust, especially the coveted scores of 90 points and above, which testify to the highest-quality wines.

These highly rated wines are a tribute to the passion of masterful winemakers dedicated to creating exceptionally well-regarded wines that we can enjoy. With their depth of character, flavor and sense of terroir, one sip tells us that the distinguished scores these wines receive are not freely given, but hard won. Wine producers don’t receive a 90-point rating due to luck or caprice—the ratings are earned.

Blending Art And Science

As any chef is made better by the best ingredients, great winemakers rely on the best grapes from the regions most suited to the varietals of their choice. “Since 1933, my family has traveled Napa Valley and Sonoma to find the best grapes out there,” says Mike Martini, third-generation winemaker for Louis M. Martini Winery. For the Martini family, “one grape always wins: Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Martini was born into winemaking, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Louis M. Martini, and his father, Louis P. Martini. To refine his own winemaking style, he learned through observation and formal study. Martini traveled through France with the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff and earned a degree from the renowned winemaking program at the University of California, Davis.

Mike’s style is one that “epitomizes the balance between art and science,” because, he says, “you really can’t make great wine without one or the other.”

Martini’s approach yields a signature flavor profile of “black cherry on the nose and the richness of these flavors on the palate,” which earned some of the highest praise from one of the most respected wine critics, Robert M. Parker, Jr. (@RobertMParkerJr). Parker recently tweeted 1 Nov 13: “Best Cabernet in world for $17... 2010 and 2011 Louis Martini Sonoma [County Cabernet Sauvignon.]” The 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon also earned an impressive 91 points from wine reviewonline.com, August 2013.

Creating Balance in the Barrel

Another winemaker producing highly regarded, top-rated wines in Napa Valley shares Martini’s view of winemaking, but has opted for a different grape as his primary muse. “If I could look to one grape to illustrate the depth of our portfolio, it would definitely be Chardonnay,” says Ralf Holdenried, winemaker for William Hill Estate Winery.

Like Martini, Holdenried first came to winemaking through his family-owned vineyard in Germany and later through formal education, both in Europe and at UC Davis. To Holdenried, “winemaking is a balance. It takes both creativity and scientific knowledge to craft the best wine possible.”

He leverages the delicate art and science of the barrel to fine- tune the flavor profiles of his wines, particularly his Chardonnay. “As the wine ages in the barrel, the flavors of the wine marry with the notes of oak until we achieve a well-integrated, balanced blend,” he says.

Holdenreid captures the best from the terroir of Napa to create optimal flavors, by using grapes grown in cooler climate Carneros with those from the warmer St. Helena region. “The cooler climate contributes lively green apple flavors and a backbone of bright acidity. The baked apple and depth come from the grapes grown in a warmer climate. The combination produces a rich, ripe wine with pronounced acidity.”

Holdenried’s determination to achieve just the right balance has not gone unnoticed—his William Hill 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay earned a coveted 91 points, Editors’ Choice, from Wine Enthusiast, April 2014.

A Cool Growing Season

Edna Valley Vineyard is a winery that leverages its California Central Coast property for Chardonnay, its flagship wine. The eponymous property, nestled five miles from the Pacific Ocean, has one of the longest and coolest growing seasons in California.

Ben Narasin is an entrepreneur and venture investor. He also writes extensively on wine, food, travel and luxurious living.

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