Five tips to keep your holiday packages safe from porch pirates

Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 2:20 PM

Online shopping has made life easier for a lot of us and is especially handy during the holidays, but it’s also created more opportunities for thieves to prey on parcels left on our doorsteps.

So beware the so-called porch pirates. They count on our being lax, but a little preparation can help thwart their plans and leave them empty-handed, said Gary Miliefsky, CEO of SnoopWall , a company that specializes in cybersecurity.

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Rising popularity of online shopping creates new opportunity for thieves

“A more sophisticated porch pirate might send you an SMS message or email with malware,” Miliefsky said. “That would let them gain access to your computer or smartphone, and they could install a RAT (Remote Access Trojan). Then, they can eavesdrop on your orders and deliveries.”

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They also might be able to locate you through the geolocating feature on your phone, he said. That would tell them when you are away from home, providing the final link in their well-laid plan.

Police tell us thieves mark their calendars with notes that say such things as  “Package theft Wednesday.”

“If they know you aren’t home and that a package is scheduled for delivery, it’s going to be easy for them to steal it,” Miliefsky said.

There are, however, ways around even cybercriminals. Miliefsky offers these tips for outwitting porch pirates and keeping packages safe:

• Get permission to ship all your packages to work. That way, they aren’t left unguarded at your doorstep for hours while anyone walking by could snatch them. If this arrangement works out, be sure to tell all your friends and family members to ship packages to your work address.

• Ask a friend or neighbor to receive your packages for you. You might not be home on workdays, but plenty of people are. Trusted friends who are retired or who work at home might be happy to let you have packages delivered to them for safekeeping.

• If a neighbor can’t receive your packages and you can’t get them at work, another option is available. Miliefsky suggests  trying Doorman, a service that lets you arrange for a package to be held at a warehouse until you arrive home. Then you can arrange delivery for evening hours that better suit you.

• Disable geolocation on your smartphone so that thieves – or other hackers, for that matter – can’t track your location. There’s no need to make it easier for them.

• Set up a live recording video camera aimed at your porch. That could allow you to spot a theft as it happens and alert law enforcement officials, or at least provide you with video that might help identify the thieves.

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Financial experts say you should do these things with your tax refund

Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 6:13 PM

‘Tis the season for taxpayers to get a nice chunk of change back from the IRS.

It’s tempting to spend it all, but financial experts say there are steps you should take to shore up your financial future. 

Some who usually pay off debt will splurge this year.

“I’m going to Japan in April so I’m actually going to add that to my travel fund, so I’m really excited about it,” said Olivia Morris from Centerville.

Those who used to spend their return? 

“I just plan to save it. We are about to start a family, so I plan on saving it for the baby,” said Toska Ivory of Dayton. 

It’s important to have a plan for tax return funds or any financial windfall, said Lisa Roberts, Graceworks certified housing and credit counselor.

Pay urgent bills first then save. 

“If it’s something that is urgent -- a bill that’s going to be a roof over your head, utilities, pay them,” said Roberts, “after that you definitely want to put it into savings.”

WalletHub has these additional tax refund spending recommendations:

  • Invest in an IRS or 529 savings plan for your child’s education
  • Refinance your home loan if you can get a lower rate
  • Increase your home’s value by doing some home improvement projects. 

As for splurging? 

“If you do have the funds to do that once all of your debts and things are paid- and saving- then by all means you’ve earned it,” said Roberts. 

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Getting a tax reform bill bonus? 5 things to think about

Published: Thursday, January 04, 2018 @ 11:05 AM

(AP Photo/Hillery Smith Garrison, File)
(AP Photo/Hillery Smith Garrison, File)

Many companies have announced they will provide first quarter cash bonuses to employees following last month’s passage of the tax reform bill.

» RELATED: What to expect from the new tax legislation

While some may see this as money to spend immediately, PNC offered five things to think about for how to use the funds:

  1. Pay Down Debt—during the holidays, people tend to overspend, with much of those purchases being placed on credit cards. In fact, early reports are that U.S. year-end holiday retail sales rose 4.9% compared to the same period last year. Credit cards can have high interest rates, so to help minimize this, you might consider using the funds to pay down credit card or other debt and start off the New Year in a financially responsible way.
  2. Start an Emergency Fund—a money market account and other appropriate short-term savings vehicles provide easy money management and FDIC protection to help you achieve your savings goals. A money market account may be comprised of short-term securities representing high-quality, liquid debt and monetary instruments.
  3. Increase Your 401(k) Contribution—a 401(k) is an employer-retirement plan that, if your employer offers one and you are eligible to participate, can allow you to invest part of your paycheck before taxes are taken out. Many employers will match a portion of your contribution to this plan, helping your contribution make even more of an impact on your retirement well-being.
  4. Invest in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)—an IRA can allow you to invest for retirement on a tax-deferred basis and your contributions may be tax-deductible. The deduction may be limited if you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work and your income exceeds certain levels. For 2017 and 2018, your total contributions to all of your traditional and Roth IRAs for the year cannot be more than $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older) or your taxable compensation for the year if less. Roth IRA contributions may be limited based on your filing status and income.
  5. Add to Your Child’s 529 Plan—there is no better time than the present to invest in your child’s education and the new tax reform bill expanded the use of 529 plans to cover expenses for grades K—12. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged investment designed to encourage saving for the future higher education expenses of your child or beneficiary. There are two types of plans: prepaid tuition plans that allow you to pay for tuition and fees at designated institutions in advance; and, savings plans that are tax-advantaged investment vehicles, which allow you to save for future education costs.


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New tax law: What you need to know from local accountants

Published: Thursday, December 28, 2017 @ 9:12 AM

Filers look for tax tips

With the recent tax changes, the usual end-of-year assortment of tax moves is likely more complicated in 2017.

These changes affect everyone from single mothers to millionaires to most sports fans who buy event tickets.

“I’d love to tell you that everyone has a handle on this,” said Mark Bradstreet, founder of the Bradstreet & Co. Inc. accounting firm, which has offices in Centerville and Xenia. “I’m not sure anyone does. I would be suspicious if someone said they did.”

Prominent among the changes: The 1,000-page legislation recently passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump caps at $10,000 the amount of state and municipal taxes that taxpayers can deduct from their federal tax bill.

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Some filers — those with high property tax bills who aren’t using the standard deduction — are scrambling to pre-pay property taxes for the coming year before the cap takes effect, according to national reports. In 2017, that deduction has no ceiling.

Sweeping tax overhaul was signed into law.

While the new tax bill lets local municipalities decide whether to allow taxpayers to pre-pay property taxes, it blocked filers from pre-paying local sales and income taxes.

Bradstreet said it’s OK to pre-pay real estate taxes for most taxpayers. Montgomery, Greene and Warren counties will allow filers to pay property taxes early, he said.

“They’re all more than happy to take your money,” he quipped.

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If you fall under the alternative minimum tax (AMT) — and if you don’t itemize your deductions — paying property property taxes early won’t help, Bradstreet said.

“For most people, though, it’s ‘no harm, no foul’ pre-paying it this year,” he said.

But an IRS announcement was triggering more confusion early Thursday.

In a notice, the IRS said pre-paying property taxes may work, but only under certain conditions. Real estate taxes may be paid in 2017, but the taxes must also be assessed in 2017. 

William Duncan, a certified public accountant with Dayton firm Thorn, Lewis & Duncan, said taxpayers should check with accountants to see if they will fall under the AMT in 2017.

Duncan called the tax changes “wild.” With newly lowered tax brackets and higher standard deductions, he said he has clients with seven-figure incomes who will opt to take the standard deduction this year instead of itemizing.

That’s the first time in his career he has seen that, Duncan said.

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The standard deduction for married individuals filing jointly is $24,000, noted John Venturella, a Dayton shareholder with Clark Schaefer Hackett.

“I think you are just going to see a lot of people using the standard deduction,” Venturella said.

The new law introduces some wrinkles for University of Dayton Flyers or other college and professional sports fans, too.

If you buy University of Dayton basketball tickets in the lower arena and pay for a seat license, current law lets you deduct 80 percent of that as a charitable deduction. That benefit is going away in 2018, Duncan said.

The university is inviting ticket-holders to pre-pay for seat licenses in 2017, Duncan said, which Adam Tschuor, associate athletics director for revenue and partnerships at UD, confirmed.

“It may be to your advantage to pay for next season’s ASP (Arena Seating Program) donation or beyond before Jan. 1, 2018,” the university said in a letter sent to ticket-holders just last week. “These payments would still be tax deductible under existing tax law.”

Tschuor said the university has always allowed fans to prepay their “ASP donation in all the way up to the conclusion of the announced ASP cycle.”

Another change: Your tickets for UD, Wright State, Ohio State or Cincinnati Reds or Bengals games will no longer be tax-deductible as a business entertainment expense.

“If you’re a businessperson and you want to take clients to the UD game next year, you’re not going to be allowed to take a tax deduction for the entertainment value of those tickets,” Duncan said.

For businesses, Duncan said it’s important this year to try to defer whatever income you can, push it to 2018, and pay the expenses you can in 2017.

Most accountants scoff at the notion, pushed by the bill’s proponents, that it has simplified the tax code. For higher-income earners in particular, as well as many small businesses, tax law remains at least as complex as ever. And the bill has injected a new layer of uncertainty because so many changes are temporary and could be reversed in a few years.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Donating to charities

December is a critical fundraising month for charities. Many people make year-end gifts for tax reasons, or to extend the spirit of Thanksgiving and generosity to those less fortunate. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to charitable giving.

DON’T succumb to high-pressure, emotional pitches. Giving on the spot is never necessary, no matter how hard a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor pushes it. The charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow – after you’ve had time to do your homework.

DO think before you give. If you are solicited at the mall or on the street, take a minute or two to “think.” Ask for the charity’s name and address. Get full identification from the solicitor and review it carefully. If you decide to donate, don’t give cash. Write a check made payable to the charitable organization, not an individual.

DO check out the charity carefully. Make sure you feel comfortable with how your money will be spent. Don’t just take the word of someone else; even good friends may not have fully researched the charities they endorse. Go to to verify that a charity meets BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

DON’T assume that only “low overhead” matters. How much money a charity spends on the actual cause – as compared to how much goes toward fundraising and administration – is an important factor, but it’s not the whole story. A charity with impressive financial ratios could have other significant problems such as insufficient transparency, inadequate board activity and inaccurate appeals.

SOURCE: Better Business Bureau

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5 fast facts that will help make filling out FAFSA a breeze

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 10:32 AM

The following points are what you need to know, as well as common mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA Fill it out – you have nothing to lose The sooner you submit your FAFSA, the better Gather the information you'll need Watch out for common mistakes like leaving fields blank Keep an eye out for requests for more information

It's that time of year again when parents and college or college-bound students fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

The idea of wading through a form – especially one that requires financial information – is definitely not an appealing idea, but the FAFSA could be a tremendous help in getting your student money to attend college.

RELATED: 20 financial aid terms every college student and parent should understand

The following points are what you need to know, as well as common mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA.

Fill it out – you have nothing to lose.

You may think that you don't need to fill out the FAFSA, especially if you believe you might not qualify for need-based aid. But there's no income cut-off point with federal student aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, the FAFSA can help you qualify for all kinds of grants, loans and scholarships, including those offered by your state, school or private organizations.

By investing a few minutes of time, you could reap thousands of dollars in potential rewards.

Submit it ASAP.

The sooner you submit your FAFSA, the better, according to consumer adviser Clark Howard. Although the federal deadline isn't until June 30, 2018, you should check with the financial aid administrator at colleges you're interested in to make sure their deadlines aren't earlier.

Submitting earlier will help you plan how you'll pay for college. You'll also have a better chance of getting as much aid or scholarship money as possible since some colleges distribute their available money on a first-come, first-serve basis, Howard says.

Gather the information you'll need.

The FAFSA asks questions about the student as well as his or her parents if the student is a dependent.

You'll need the following information on hand as you fill out the FAFSA:

  • The student's Social Security number
  • The parents' Social Security numbers
  • Driver's license number (if you have one)
  • Alien registration number (if you're not a U.S. citizen)
  • Federal tax information for the student (and his or her spouse, if applicable) and the parents. This can often be imported online, so you may not need your records.
  • Information on the student's and parents' assets, such as money held in bank accounts and real estate holdings (not your primary residence)
  • Records of the student's or parents' untaxed income, such as veterans benefits and interest income

Watch out for common mistakes.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators points out some common mistakes that can delay your form's submission or cause you to not get the aid and scholarships you might qualify for. They include the following:

  • Leaving some fields blank – Instead, put in a "0" or "not applicable."
  • Listing an incorrect Social Security or driver's license number – It pays to recheck these numbers.
  • Failing to use your legal name – Use the name on your Social Security card, not a nickname.
  • Forgetting to list colleges – Even if you're not sure of which college you'll be attending, add any reasonable possibilities to the list of colleges that will receive your information. You're under no obligation to apply to or attend these colleges, and they can't see which other colleges you're interested in.

Keep an eye out for requests for more information.

Your FAFSA may be selected for verification, which means you'll have to provide some additional or supporting information, U.S. News & World Report explains. This process doesn't necessarily mean you've done anything wrong. You may have a discrepancy or mistake on your form, but some FAFSAs are just randomly selected for verification (lucky you!).

These requests will often come to the student's personal email account or university email address, so he or she will have to be diligent about checking it and responding to any requests by the stated deadline.


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