11-23-2017 Columns

During holidays, be extra vigilant about protecting financial data

To help achieve your long-term goals, such as a comfortable retirement, you should save and invest regularly. But that’s only part of the picture. You also need to protect your financial assets in various ways. One such method is guarding your personal information – especially any information that could be linked to your financial accounts. It’s obviously important to be vigilant at any time, but you need to be even more on your toes during the holiday season, when fraudsters are particularly active.

So, to help keep your important data under wraps during the holidays, consider these suggestions:

Extend your protection to all mobile devices. Identity thieves can now compromise your mobile devices by installing spyware that steals usernames, passwords and credit card information. Fortunately, you can fight back. By doing a little research online, you can find the best mobile security software for your needs.

Use multiple passwords. Online security specialists recommend that you use different passwords for each new online shopping site you visit during the holiday season. Although this might seem like a hassle, it can be helpful, because even if identity thieves were to grab one of your new passwords, they still couldn’t use it for other sites you may visit. And you can even find a free online program that can help you keep track of all your passwords.

Be suspicious of “huge savings.” It happens every holiday season – identity thieves develop fake sites with attractive graphics and stunningly low prices on a variety of items, especially digital devices. If you fall for these pitches, you won’t get any merchandise, but you might get a handful of headaches once the bad guys have your credit card number and other personal information. To prevent this, be wary of any deal that sounds too good to be true, and do some digging on the websites that offer these mega-savings.

Watch for fake shipping notices. During the holidays, when you may do a lot of online shopping, you will probably receive some legitimate shipping notices. But the bad guys have gotten pretty good at generating fake notices designed to resemble those from UPS, FedEx and even the U.S. Postal Service. If you were to click on the link provided by one of these bogus notices, you could either take on some malware or get taken to a “phishing” website created by the shipping notice forgers. Your best defense: Only shop with legitimate merchants and only use the tracking numbers given to you in the email you received immediately after making your purchases.

Keep your Social Security number to yourself. As a general rule, don’t give out your Social Security number online — to anyone. No legitimate retailer needs this number.

Finally, be aware that not all attempts at stealing your personal information will come online. When you’re out shopping at old-fashioned, brick-and-mortar stores consider bringing just one credit card with you — and protect that card from prying eyes.

By following these precautions, you should be able to greatly reduce the risk of being victimized by identity thieves and other miscreants. And the more comfortable you are in doing your holiday shopping, the more you can enjoy the season.

This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Food safety during the holidays

Food is as much a part of holiday gatherings as football, candles and carols. This holiday season keep food safety in mind every step of the way including proper planning, safe shopping, working in the kitchen and wrapping up leftovers.

Make sure your kitchen is equipped with what you need for safe food handling, including two cutting boards (one for raw meats and seafood and the other for ready-to-eat foods), a food thermometer, shallow containers for storage, paper towels and soap. Store foods in the refrigerator at 40°F or below, or in the freezer at 0°F or below. Check the temperature of both the refrigerator and freezer with a refrigerator thermometer.

It’s important to keep food safety in mind as you shop. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruit, vegetables and bread. Don’t purchase bruised or damaged produce, or canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted, as these may become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Bring foods directly home from the grocery store and refrigerate perishable foods, such as raw meat or poultry, within two hours.

Make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Throw away all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze other leftovers in shallow, air-tight containers and label with an expiration date. Reheat leftovers to 165°F, and do not eat expired foods as this could lead to food poisoning.

For more information, contact the Berrien County Health Department at (269) 926-7121, at www.bchdmi.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bchdmi.

House advances landmark tax reform legislation

Last week I joined with my colleagues here in the House to advance H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.

This historic tax reform package will lower individual income tax rates except for the top bracket, simplify the entire code, create jobs, and boost our Southwest Michigan economy. It will specifically help Michigan middle-class families by increasing the standard deduction and expanding the Child Tax Credit.

The current tax code is indefensible. I haven’t met a single person or visited a single small business that thinks the status quo is acceptable. The time for tax reform and relief is now – and we are delivering on our promise.

Bottom line: This tax plan will put more money in the pockets of Michigan families and I’m hopeful we can get something to the president’s desk before the end of the year.

According to a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act will lead to the creation of an additional 29,168 jobs and raise after-tax income for Michigan middle-class families by more than $2,000.

Michigan families deserve this relief. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to get this legislation to the president’s desk.

To learn more about this and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov or call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

Eliminating driver responsibility fees

October was a very busy month legislatively. We protected tax dollars from political recount requests, created savings opportunities for community colleges, and increased penalties for convicted child abusers. Additionally, a bipartisan bill package to put an end to driver responsibility fees and forgive outstanding debt in Michigan was passed by the House.

Driver responsibility fees were originated in 2003 from legislation passed by a previous administration scrambling to fill a hole in the state budget. Instead of responsibly budgeting available funds, the Legislature established the burdensome fees that have left many Michiganders at or near the poverty level.

Fees range from $100 for having seven or more points on one’s license to $500 for two years for drunken driving offenses, to a $1,000 fee for each of two years for the most serious driving offenses, causing injury or death while driving. Those fees are on top of normal fines and court costs imposed by judges.

These fees don’t make anyone a better driver. They simply force people to live under a cloud of debt, relying heavily on public assistance. It’s a nonsensical law that never should have been enacted.

Under the newly passed legislation, the fees will end Oct. 1, 2018 and all outstanding debt will be forgiven.

I am proud to have a role in ending these punitive fees, and in helping get people out of debt and back into the driver’s seat of their own future.

The bills now go to the Senate for consideration.

Serving the people of Berrien County is very important to me, and I encourage residents to contact my office with any state or local issues by calling (517) 373-1403, emailing KimLaSata@House.mi.gov or visiting my website at www.RepLaSata.com.

Lastly, I wish you and your families a very happy Thanksgiving!

A time to celebrate our many blessings

The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was born out of an expression of joy and gratefulness for a bountiful harvest.

The Native Americans taught the malnourished pilgrims how to survive and grow corn. After the first corn harvest, the thankful settlers invited the local tribe for a celebratory feast.

While much has changed in the centuries since the first Thanksgiving, it still remains a time to gather together with family and friends and express our gratitude for all we have.

We have much to be thankful for as Americans. We are blessed to live in the greatest nation on Earth, where everyone has the chance — through hard work and determination — to achieve the American Dream.

As Southwest Michigan families gather around the table, I encourage everyone to recognize the true spirit of Thanksgiving.

It is a moment to relax, connect with our loved ones and give thanks for the many blessings that have been bestowed on us.

I hope we will all take time to warmly express our gratitude to our family and friends for their love and friendship throughout the year and to remember that we are all truly blessed to live in the land of the free.

I also encourage residents to give thanks for the brave men and women who protect our liberty, especially those who are unable to be with their families as they serve our country.

Happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you and our troops.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback on the important issues facing Michigan. You can contact me at 517-373-6960.