12-01-2016 Columns

EDWARD JONES

Investing in Your Future

Guard against identity theft – and protect your finances

 In 2015 alone, more than 13 million Americans were victimized by identity theft, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. What can you do to guard your identity and protect yourself from potential financial losses?

Here are some ideas to consider:

Review your statements. Closely review the monthly statements from your checking and other financial accounts. If you find any unfamiliar charges, contact your bank or other financial services provider immediately.

Order your credit reports. The three credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian – are each required by law to provide you one free credit report a year. Make sure your name, address and other information are correct on your credit report, and if you find old or inaccurate information, have it removed.

Place a fraud alert. If you suspect you have become a victim of Identity theft, place a “fraud alert” on your credit reports by contacting any of the three credit reporting agencies. You can choose a short-term or long-term alert. And if you are an active member of the military, you can request a special, one-year alert.

Feed your shredder. Shred all old bank and investment statements, applications for new credit cards and any other documents that contain personal information.

Destroy digital data. If you have a variety of financial accounts, you are not just creating a paper trail – you are also establishing a digital “footprint.” So, when you sell or otherwise dispose of a computer system or hard drive, you may want to take steps to destroy personal data. You might think that simply deleting it would be sufficient, but tech-savvy identity thieves can “undelete” files or recover information from a formatted drive. However, products are available that allow you to completely wipe out data on hard drives.

Change passwords. It is a good idea to change your Internet passwords every so often – especially those passwords that provide access to financial accounts.

Leave your Social Security card home. Snagging someone’s Social Security number is a real “catch” for identity thieves, so do everything you can to thwart them. And you can start by leaving your Social Security card safely at home – after all, there is probably never a good reason to bring it out, anyway. In fact, be wary of anyone, or any business, that asks for your Social Security number, either in person or online. Except for a few obvious exceptions, such as your tax preparer, most reputable businesses do not need to know anything about your Social Security information.

Watch for “phishers.” If you have ever gotten an e-mail, supposedly from your bank, advising you that your account will be “frozen” unless you provide personal details about your account, it is a good bet that someone is “phishing” for this information – and they are using the “freezing” threat as bait. What is particularly alarming is that these “phishers” have gotten quite good at duplicating logos and using official-sounding language. However, a legitimate bank would never threaten you this way with an e-mail, so, if you get such a message, contact the bank’s fraud department.

You can go a long way toward protecting yourself against identity theft by following these suggestions — so put them to work soon.

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

World AIDS Day

 It is estimated by the Michigan Department of Community Health that up to 19,000 people in Michigan are known to be living with HIV/AIDS, including an estimated 300 in Berrien County. HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system making your body weak against infections and other viruses.

AIDS is the disease that HIV can turn into.  When a person has AIDS they can get other illnesses that are called “Opportunistic Infections”.  These infections quickly deplete your immune system making it harder for your body to fight off illnesses and infections; when this happens a person can die. Unfortunately there is no cure for HIV/AIDS; however there are great medicines that a person can take to help manage the disease.

A person can become infected with HIV through contact with blood, sexual fluids, breast milk, mother-to-baby exposure during the birthing process, and Cerebral Spinal fluid.

World AIDS Day is celebrated on December 1.  World AIDS Day is important in reminding people that HIV has not gone away; there are still many more things that need to be done to fight this battle.  The red ribbon has been the international symbol for AIDS Awareness since 1991, and was created as a symbol of support for the growing number of people living with HIV in the United States. Take pride in your knowledge and wear a red ribbon on December 1.  Wearing a red ribbon is a simple and powerful way to challenge the stigma and prejudice that surrounds HIV/AIDS.

For more information, visit www.aids.gov, or the Berrien County Health Department website at www.bchdmi.org.

Six years in an instant

 Six years ago next month I walked into the State Capitol with 60 other brand new freshman members of the Michigan House of Representatives.  A majority of the House had never served in state office before, and a businessman named Rick Snyder, who had never served in any elected office, was the new governor.  Michigan’s unemployment rate was 13 percent, the “rainy day” fund or savings account had been drained, the State had lost 800,000 jobs in the previous nine years, was the only state to lose population, and had debt and unfunded liabilities north of $75 billion dollars. It was a mess.

The legislature and Governor got to work quickly in January, 2011.  By February the budget was introduced, tax reform, pension reform, regulatory reforms, financial responsibility bills, paying down debt, and new economic development plans soon followed.  I remember Tim Skubick saying there was “no way” the new Appropriations Committee would get the budget done in June, absolutely no way.

All the pundits were totally wrong.  The businessman turned governor talked about “relentless positive action” and working in “dog years.”  Our freshman group of legislators did not back down from the challenge and worked to pass dozen of reforms of Michigan’s government.  The pundits continued to scratch their heads.  Oh, and the budget was done in late May.

Six years later, the numbers have turned.  But it is not about the numbers, it is about the people and families that those numbers represent.  Nearly half a million Michiganders have new private sector jobs; our kids will not have about $20 billion in debt to pay off and the debt number is dropping every year; and Michigan’s population is growing and credit rating has improved.  Even some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle now admit “you guys took some tough votes” to turn it around.  So keep those calls and e-mails coming this month, we look forward to finishing how we started.  Contact us at 888-656-0079 or alpscholka@house.mi.gov.

Helping economic development in border communities

 While Michigan has created more than 480,000 private-sector jobs over the last six years, we must continue to help encourage job creation in our state and do what we can to help those creating opportunities here find the skilled workers they need to be successful.

Southwest Michigan and Indiana are interconnected. Thousands of Indiana residents drive across the state line to work in our area and vice versa.

While Michigan offers economic development assistance to help foster new investment and job creation in our state, the current requirements for these incentives often put our border communities at a huge disadvantage.

I am working with Sen. Dale Zorn, who represents two Michigan counties along the Ohio state line, on a bill to help spur business investment in Michigan along our borders.

The Michigan Strategic Fund provides grants, loans and other economic assistance to businesses that make investments in Michigan or provide “qualified new jobs” in the state.

Currently, a “qualified new job” means a job performed by a Michigan resident. Senate Bill 1085 would expand that definition to include a job performed by a non-Michigan resident who is employed by a business that is located in a Michigan border county. The employee would also need to work at the Michigan location at least half of the year.

This is about recognizing the unique, synergistic quality of living and working in border areas while promoting our local Michigan communities as the best place to do business and create jobs.

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.

Holidays for Heroes is back

 Each year, my office participates in a wonderful tradition to share in the spirit of the holidays by giving homemade cards to our active duty military personnel, veterans, and their families.

Area residents, schools, and community organizations are encouraged to take part in writing cards of appreciation. Cards may be dropped off at either of my constituent service offices in Kalamazoo, located at 350 E. Michigan Ave., Ste. 130, Kalamazoo, or St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, located at 720 Main Street, St. Joseph. We will accept the cards until 5 p.m. Friday, December 2, and will then deliver them to a local Red Cross office.

Red Cross officials do ask senders to keep in mind these guidelines: Include a heartfelt message, but sign only your first name; do NOT include phone numbers or email addresses. Use generic titles such as “Dear Service Member, Veteran, or Family Member” when writing the cards. Please refrain from using glitter or other pasted on objects on the cards as they may aggravate health issues. Please do NOT enclose additional items such as gift cards, photos, or other gifts as they will be removed. Envelopes are unnecessary for the cards.

I want to encourage everyone to take a few minutes to make a card or write a note to let our brave men and women in uniform, veterans, and their families know that we care, we appreciate their service, and wish them well during the holiday season and throughout the year. It is a simple gesture that can end up meaning so much to someone who may be away from their loved ones.

To learn more about this and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov.

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