‘Tis the Season for Holiday Thieves

Many of us let our guard down during the holiday season. It’s just so cheery and bright and sparkly, that our attention turns elsewhere. Unfortunately, because of the hustle and bustle, we overlook the red flags that are usually so obvious.

Here are the Top 9 Holiday Scams to watch out for (Ladies Dancing not included)

1. Screensavers, ringtones and Ecards

Oh, ho ho how we love our holiday kitsch! We get the screensavers, the ringtones, and deck out our virtual world in Holiday garb. Scammers, unfortunately, know this, and set up sites that look legitimate, but instead download malware and malicious code onto your devices. Ringtones that are downloaded from the internet can also download software onto your phone that will spam and scam your friends. Beware! The Grinch will definitely get you if you’re not paying attention.

2. Package deliveries

This is the time of year when most retail stores (and delivery services) make their money. It’s very realistic for the average person to get 2-10 packages before the end of the year. Phishers will take advantage of the holiday season by sending out spoof emails stating that you have a package delivery from UPS (or FexEx or USPS or whoever) and you have to fill out an attached form to get it delivered. DON’T OPEN THE ATTACHMENT! It could have malware, or it could just ask for a lot of personal information, financial verification, your physical address, and a lot of other creepy stuff. If you’re waiting for packages, go directly to the courier’s website and enter in your tracking code. Don’t just blindly trust an email from a courier service. It could be a fake.

3. Giftcards

Nearly every major retailer (even supermarkets) offer gift cards at checkout stands and even on “virtual mall” racks. Most of these cards have scratch off codes to prevent information theft. However, if cards are not protected, those codes can be written down for later use. Then, all a scammer has to do is call the 800 number until the card is activated, see how much it’s for, and then put in claim for a lost card to get a renewal. It seems like a lot of work, but the reward can be great.

Also, be cautious when buying a used gift card online. Sometimes people will sell them, claiming that there is money still left when there isn’t.

4. “It” gifts:

Did you hear about the lady who bought an iPad at a gas station? It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it actually happened to Jalonta Freeman of Arlington, Texas. She was at a gas station and a man offered her an $800 iPad for just $200. And, *gasp* the iPad was fake! (Turned out to be a mirror instead.) I know! Who would have thought?

5. Fake Charities

Holidays are ripe with scammers trying to tug on our heartstrings. Be very aware of people standing outside of stores, in parking lots, and yes, even at your front door.

Wearing costumes, using props, donning fireman or police uniforms they may even carry bogus authorization or badges. Sometimes they’ll even use kids to sway your common sense!

If they’re at your front door, it’s easy to offer to look up their charity online. Beware that they may also be casing your home to see if it’s worth coming back to rob! If you’re out in public, you can ask for their website and look them up on your mobile phone. Or simply, offer to take their card and make a donation online later.

If they’re calling you, just remember to never give out your personal information, credit card number, etc, until you fully verify that they are who they say they are.

6. Parking Lot Thieves

Have you ever noticed how busy stores get during the holidays, even at normal 9-5 business hours? Thieves know this, and they case mall parking lots with the assumption that you’ll be away from home for a few hours. (Movie theaters are especially vulnerable.) The thieves break into your car, take your registration, but leave everything else undisturbed. Then, knowing you’re not at home, they head to your house and rob you.

Best thing to do: carry your registration and any personally identifying information with you. Yes, we’re used to keeping it in the glove compartment, but that’s the first place they look!

7. Facebook Promotions

Cyber scammers come out in full force during the holidays. After all, who doesn’t want to win prizes or get a deal during the holidays. (Sometimes the story of the deal is more exciting than the actual product itself!)

Unfortunately, scammers know that prizes and giveaways are amazingly popular and they hit Facebook with phony promotions and contents with the goal of getting your personal information. Don’t believe it! Check out FaceCrooks.com, it’s an amazing resource that will keep you up to date on all kinds of Facebook scams.

8. I’m Not Home: Please Rob Me!

You should know by now that posting information about an upcoming vacation or time away from home is pretty much an open invite to thieves. Even if you think your privacy settings are locked down tight, Facebook changes these settings constantly, with little warning, and usually makes the default “public.” If you use your real name on Facebook, thieves could find your home with a quick online search. Additionally, if you post photos from your phone online, there is metadata embedded, giving the location of where the photo was taken. Follow this simple rule: if you wouldn’t put the information on a busy highway billboard, don’t put it online.

9. Holiday Work Scams

Many people look to make some extra income during the holidays. (Hey, it’s the Elves’ busiest season!)

Knowing this, scammers send out emails offering non-existent jobs. A very common example is holiday house-sitting, for an owner that is already out of town. They’ll give you a local address of a house (which may be vacant or for-sale or otherwise in a gated area so you can’t just walk up to the front door) and tell you to drive by to make sure it’s suitable for you.

Then, they’ll ask you to go through a “background and credit check.” It makes sense for the owners to take precautions, but of course, they’re just taking your money, and personal information. There is no actual job.

If you’re looking for holiday work, stick with LOCAL employers. People you can meet in the flesh, and do your due diligence.

Happy (non-scammy) Holidays!

What Service Types Do Couriers Offer?

Most courier companies have services that go beyond just picking up your package and shipping it for you. In addition, they have lots of service options which support that most basic service. That is why it can be useful to take some time to do some research into your Chicago courier service. You may find out that they offer some services that you could utilize which you have been missing out on up until this point.

The service that is most often overlooked by people from their courier companies is storage. Most courier companies out there are now offering at least some kind of a short term storage option that can be a great savings for companies over having to maintain extra storage of their own. Other companies might even combine full scale warehousing services to go with their courier business.

If you like the notion of using the storage options that your courier has, you should look into other services they might offer which compliment that service. Many offer things like photo or online inventory services. Quite often, they will combine this with some type of online fulfillment software so that you can easily dispatch orders from your storage units which they will ship out for you immediately. This eliminates them having to come pick up the goods from your own facility when shipping, and can speed the amount of time your clients have to wait.

Other services that courier companies might offer include things like logistics consulting and distribution services. This is good for companies that might be expanding in to larger areas of business and are unsure about how to handle all the logistics of such expansion.

There are also a lot of services that couriers offer within shipping, mostly relating to the speed at which you can have your package shipped. Generally, the rule is that the more you are willing to pay, the faster you are going to be able to get your package shipped out to you. There are options offered by these companies that include things like next day, same day, and one hour delivery options.

The fastest service that will be ever offered by a courier will be called rush, express, or point to point delivery. This means that instead of a vehicle making several deliveries simultaneously, its only job is going to be to run out and pick up and deliver your shipment as fast as possible.

Canvas Camera Bag – Durable and Stylish

You have a lot of options if you’re looking for a camera bag as far as material is concerned. Leather is a popular choice. But if you’re going to base your decision on what others have been buying, you may want to purchase a canvas camera bag.

You’re probably wondering why a lot of photographers prefer this material for their bags. Well, you would know the answer if you know the benefits of using canvas. First of all, it’s one of the most durable materials that you can find. It can stand forces that can easily rip apart lesser materials. This alone is reason enough why you should get a canvas camera bag. After all, you’re protecting something very expensive. The last thing you would want is your camera bag ripping accidentally and your camera crashing on the ground.

A bag made of canvas is also a good investment if you’re looking for short and long-term returns. It can easily stand the test of time. It’s commonly used in ship sails so you know that in addition to being durable, it can also stand the rigors of time. This way, you don’t have to buy a new one every few months. You can focus on buying new accessories for your camera using the savings that you’ll get from not buying new bags.

A canvas camera bag can also be fashionable like leather. There are a lot of designs available so you can still be stylish and fashionable while you’re enjoying the durability of the material. Here are some good examples:

1. Domke F-802 Reporter’s Satchel

Satchels have always been very stylish. But you’re not paying for the style alone. A satchel bag is also multi-purpose. This canvas camera bag can also be a laptop bag so you can be sure that there are enough spaces and compartments for your camera and its accessories. It has seven compartments all in all which are more than enough.

2. Leica 14855 Billingham Combination Bag

This is a bag that is designed for the Leica M Series. So if you have one, this bag is perfect for you. But even if you don’t have one, you may want to at least check it out. You’ll see what I mean once you see this stylish and durable bag.

3. Domke F-833 Large Photo Courier Bag

There are some photographers who don’t want to advertise to the whole world that they are photographers. If you’re like that, then you would need a canvas bag that doesn’t look like one. This bag is perfect because it looks like a bike messenger bag that anyone would carry. But it does a great job of carrying your camera, lenses and accessories.

There are a lot of other options for you and these three are supposed to give you an idea on what you can expect from a canvas camera bag. So check out your options so you can protect your investment with a bag that’s made with a very durable material.

Real Estate Agents: A Day in the Life

Every couple of months while we’re driving from one property showing to the next a client says begrudgingly “you have such an easy job driving around looking at houses all day”. Yeah,right. The recent flurry of articles proclaiming that today’s real estate commissions are too high in relation to the amount of work agents do to receive them, haven’t provided the new Internet brokerage models large market shares. And haven’t convinced buyers and sellers to say “I wish I knew how to quit you” to realty agents.

It’s easy to stand on the outside looking in on the residential real estate industry and say, you’re overpaid. After working as a real estate broker full-time for nine years, I have to admit I’ve never worked harder. My typical day starts at 7 a.m. picking up email and voice mail, formatting electronic property brochures, editing virtual tours and booking print advertising for the coming weekends public open houses. During business hours the outwardly visible part of my day includes meetings, showing appointments, staging a new listing, returning phone calls, faxing documents, writing copy for a new listing, organizing a multi-day property tour with incoming relocation buyers, and all the other duties a sole proprietor is responsible for. It ends around 9 p.m. confirming an appointment to show a listing, receiving a counter-offer on a purchase contract and consoling a buyer who needs to back out of a contract because her boyfriend (who’s income is required for the mortgage) broke up with her. This goes on 24/7, 365 days a year.

In the purpose of full disclosure here is a list of what listing and buyer agents do. This list is excerpted from my second book “Starting and Succeeding in Real Estate” Thomson 2003.

Duties performed in the sale of a property.

Agent time and marketing expense to receive listing appointment.

Marketing material expense and time to prepare CMA (Comparative marketing analysis).

Actual time spent on listing appointment to review CMA.

Market knowledge to prepare CMA.

Actual time to meet with seller’s to sign listing agreement and related documents.

Prepare listing for market. Time and cost to prepare property brochures, order yard sign, take property photos, virtual tour, inputting into Multiple Listing Service, and marketing to other agents and public.

Time to prepare and hold brokers open house(s).

Time to prepare and hold public open house(s).

Telephone calls to set appointments.

Time spent traveling to and from property, showing property for each appointment.

Call property sellers with showing feedback.

Receive; return phone calls concerning property from public and agents.

Write ads, place ads in local/regional newspapers.

Receive contract and related documents on property, review and present to sellers.

Present acceptance/counteroffer to sellers

Counsel property sellers through negotiation.

Courier contract for changes, final signatures.

Courier earnest money deposit.

If condo procure and deliver condo declarations, by-laws, rules and application information.

Prepare brokerage worksheet for transaction.

Change property status in Multiple listing services.

Attend property inspection(s).

Negotiate inspection issues.

Contact and forward contract to attorneys, escrow agent and mortgage lender.

Communicate contract status to property seller and buyers agent.

Place under contract sign rider on for sale yard sign.

Set up and attend showing appointments for buyers to measure or have contractors, friends, and family to view property.

Set up and attend mortgage lenders appraiser’s visit to property.

Ongoing assorted phone calls/e-mail to transaction participants.

Prepare brokerage documents (closing statement, etc.) for closing.

Set up and attend final walk through before closing.

Time spent during and to, from closing location.

Attend closing.

Preparing and submitting final closed paperwork to brokerage on property.

Expense and time for client gift and thank-you.

For some seller’s: arrange for movers, inspection repairs, snow/yard maintenance, move out cleaning, utility shut off, winterizing of pipes, etc.

Duties performed in the purchase of a property.

Agent time and marketing expense to receive buyers call or email to meet with them.

Floor duty in office, weekly, monthly.

Attend office sales meetings, weekly, monthly.

Attend company sales/ award meetings.

Attend continuing education and professional development courses.

Time to prepare buyers packet for meeting.

Actual time spent meeting in office for first time with prospective buyers.

Meeting with prospective buyers to meet with mortgage lender.

Making appointments to preview properties.

Previewing potential properties for buyers.

Making appointments to view potential properties with buyers.

Accompanying buyers looking at potential properties.

Attending brokers open houses to view new inventories of homes for sale.

Write contract, disclosures etc. on buyer’s prospective property to purchase.

Deliver and present contract to seller’s agent and sellers.

Negotiate terms of contract to agreement.

Counsel buyers through negotiation.

Courier contract to buyers for sign off on changes as agreed upon in negotiation.

If condo procure and deliver condo declarations, by-laws, rules and application information.

Prepare brokerage worksheet for transaction.

Contact and forward contract to attorneys, escrow agent and mortgage lender.

Attend property inspections.

Negotiate issues.

Communicate contract status to buyers, attorneys and escrow agents.

Accompany buyers on property showings to measure, meet contractors or show property to friends and family.

Ongoing assorted phone calls/e-mail to transaction participants.

Prepare required brokerage documents for closing.

Set up and attend final walk through before closing.

Attend closing.

Purchase client thank-you gift and deliver.

Assist buyers with movers, repairs etc.

Post closing follow up with buyers.