Real risk means real education

One of the first things Matt Lichtenberg does when he gets up in the morning is check his phone for alerts about his investment portfolios.

A senior in the University of Idaho College of Business and Economics, he hopes to get a job in financial advising or consulting when he graduates, and thanks to a new program is getting a real feel for what a career in the field might actually be like.

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Anthem To Mail Last Batch Of Letters In Wake Of Data Heist

Anthem Inc. expects to mail the last batch of letters to customers by Monday informing them they are among the 80 million people whose personal data could have been nabbed in a cyber heist.

Anthem intends to mail letters to all members with a valid address by 3/30, Anthem spokeswoman Sarah Yeager wrote in an email.

As of Friday, 937,478 people across the US had signed up for credit monitoring with Anthems cyber security vendor, AllClear ID. About two-thirds of those customers enrolled since February in the free, two-year credit monitoring Anthem is offering. The company did not have a breakdown of how many had signed up in Connecticut.

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New online tool helps budget for a financial emergency

The 63-year-old widow went through a personal bankruptcy brought on by her husbands medical expenses, losing ownership of the couples condo near Atlanta. She relocated to Michigan to be near family, rented an apartment and started to rebuild, living on Social Security and pension income.

Then a slip and fall this winter stuck her with about $300 in charges for physical therapy that werent covered by insurance. She was able to absorb the charges thanks to a service that let her stretch out payments without interest, but the experience reminded her how vulnerable retirees are to unexpected expenses.

We never thought anything bad would happen. I wish we had put more into emergency savings. You dont realize how much youll need it until the time comes, she said.

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No Help From Attorney General

My husband and I were both victims of ID theft, including someone who filed income tax returns falsely at both the federal and state level. In the letter from Anthem, we were told to notify numerous agencies, including our state attorney general. In every instance — the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission, the Social Security Administration, the local police, the credit card companies, credit monitoring bureaus, our CPA — everyone was helpful, supportive and timely in their assistance. The one agency that could not bother to answer the phone, answer an e-mail, return a phone call or even acknowledge our existence was the attorney generals office.

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How Much Does Cancer Cost Us?

Before we started our Living Cancer series, we went on NPRs Facebook page to ask people about their experiences in paying for cancer treatment. Over a hundred people from across the country responded.

We talked with some people by phone to learn about their stories.

Maureen Carrigg, who lives in Wayne, Neb., was diagnosed with multiple myeloma six years ago. Even though she says she was meticulous about staying within her insurers network for care, she still ended up owing $80,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

When youre in the hospital, you cant just put a notebook by your bed and write everything down, she said.

I went into the cancer centers office with these bills and just started bawling because I couldnt figure out how I was going to pay it all back, she said. In then end, she had to tap her sons college savings account.

Tough financial decisions were common among those who shared their stories with us. For many, the threat of personal bankruptcy loomed large. Ginger Roethemeyer, a retired oncology nurse from Omaha, Neb., says she cashed out her 401(k) to pay off her medical bills quickly.

She was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2010. Chemotherapy drugs were the most expensive part of her care. As a nurse, and eventually a patient, Roethemeyer saw both sides of cancer treatment. Looking back, she said, I think I could deal with the actual cancer far better than having to deal with the medical system and the cost of treatment.

Many people told us the financial cost of cancer treatment was something they preferred not to think about — at first. But paying for cancer care shaped the way they make daily decisions, and it also took an emotional toll.

Cindy Alsobrook, 42, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013. During her second round of chemotherapy, she developed severe lymphedema, a painful swelling, and had to quit her job at a local shoe store. Her husband supports them by working three days a week as a shipping and receiving clerk.

So now all the weight is on him to keep us afloat, Alsobrook said over the phone from her home in Seattle. I think its obvious that the financial hardship creates an emotional hardship, but it has a lot of layers.

Alsobrook would like to get back to work, to help with bills and for the emotional fulfillment. Its easy to feel like you dont count, she says. I know that I have a lot to offer the world, but I feel like Ive been shelved because Ive been sick.

How much do you know about what cancer costs our country and the people who are affected by the disease? Take our quiz and put your knowledge to the test.

Our series is produced with member station WNYC, and with Ken Burns Presents: Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, which will air on PBS starting March 30. Check your local listings for broadcast times.

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Q&A: Marcus Ranum chats with Privacy Professor CEO Rebecca Herold

Look at the privacy breaches that occurred at hundreds of Jimmy John’s [locations], Dairy Queens, Chick-fil-As and other restaurants in the summer of 2014. All caused by the same point-of-sale system vendor. … Did that vendor’s name make the headlines? Did the vendor pay for all the credit monitoring? No. Responsibility follows the data, and, generally, the blame remains with the company that collected the information from the individuals to begin with.

Just this week a New York healthcare provider had the health information of 2,700 patients breached. Did it cause that breach? No, one of its business associates lost a laptop and a smartphone that contained that information. Here’s the fun fact: The laptop was encrypted, but the nurse using it had the encryption key in the laptop bag that held the laptop. The smartphone did not have any security on it at all.

The business associate is obligated under HIPAA [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] to follow all the security and privacy requirements, but she didnt, so she faces penalties. And so could the healthcare provider if the US Department of Health and Human Services’ investigation shows it did not take actions to reasonably assure its business associates had appropriate security in place.

I know it’s a complicated problem and I’m afraid it’s one that gets swept under the carpet.

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More people join class action lawsuits against Premera

Stressed! Stressed! And on top of my tax returns now Im starting to receive stuff from China, said Sullivan.

She showed us one of several small packages that started arriving in the mail, items she never ordered from companies shes never heard of.

According to her attorney Darrell Cochran, the information hackers got their hands on has the potential to do a lifetime of damage.

Premera was warned it didnt have security safeguards in place, and that there were steps they could have taken to prevent this level of a cyber attack, said Cochran.

Three weeks before the data breach in May of 2014, auditors from the federal Office of Personnel Management informed the insurer that network security patches were not being implemented in a timely manner, and that when it came to access control, Premeras data center did not contain controls they typically observe at similar facilities.

According to the insurer, the breach went undetected until this past January, and Premera didnt tell its customers until mid-March when the problem was fixed.

A spokesperson for Premera said he couldnt comment on pending litigation, but said their security consultant …found no evidence that the cyber attack was related to issues in the federal audit.

Cyber-security expert Brian Seely says Premeras offer for 2 years of free credit monitoring is twice as long than most data breach cases. But with birth dates and social security numbers stolen, its likely not long enough.

Your information isnt just magically not going to be stolen, said Seely. Its always going to be stolen and out there and someone has it, who is going to be even more irresponsible than Premera.

At the time this article was written, about 166,000 customers had signed up for the free credit monitoring.

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Top 10 Reasons People Go Bankrupt

In todays economic climate, personal bankruptcy has climbed at an alarming rate. According to US bankruptcy court statistics, more than 1.5 million people file for bankruptcy every year. Most significantly, nearly 97 percent of bankruptcy filings are made by individuals, not by businesses.

Here are the top 10 reasons why people go bankrupt:

1. Medical Expenses

A recent Harvard University study showed that medical expenses account for approximately 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in the US. Interestingly, the study also showed that 72 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy due to medical expenses had some type of health insurance, thus debunking the myth that only the uninsured face financial catastrophes due to medical-related expenses.

2. Reduced Income

Companies are cutting down on their expenses; and for many employees, this results in major pay cuts and reductions in bonuses. The end result to employees can include bankruptcy.

3. Job Loss

Even if theres a substantial severance pay, job loss can quickly deplete ones savings and assets. Plus, job loss brings extra expenses such as COBRA insurance — and theres no guarantee as to when a new job will be forthcoming.

4. Credit Debt

Credit debt isnt just a result of irresponsible spending. It can also pile up due to catastrophes such as illness and disability, job loss, emergency expenses or unexpected income reduction. Here are some good tips on how to reduce your credit card debt to help avoid bankruptcy.

5. Divorce

Divorce is a costly business, even without counting lawyers fees. Divorce and separation can also mean a significant loss of income and assets for either or both partners. It may also mean taking on a portion of your partners debt if you co-signed or opened joint accounts with them.

6. Unexpected Expenses

Emergencies can hover just around the corner, whether they involve a car breaking down, a tree falling on the roof or catastrophic storm damage. Just one of these events can quickly drain savings that took years to accumulate.

7. Student Loans

If you havent paid that student loan off yet, youre not alone. Statistics show that student loans account for at least one percent of all US bankruptcies, which translates to roughly 15,000 bankruptcies a year.

8. Utility Payments

For many of todays homeowners, the rising costs of heating, air conditioning, electric light and other necessities can quickly help pave the way to bankruptcy.

9. Foreclosure

According to statistics, more than one percent of Americans have to file for bankruptcy in order to avoid foreclosure on their homes.

10. Bad Budgeting/Overspending

Thanks to inflation, managing money is harder than ever; and a combination of bad budgeting and uncontrolled spending can provide a shortcut to skyrocketing debt and bankruptcy. Here are some tips on how to create a healthy budget.

While bankruptcy can provide a sensible debt solution for some people, others have found that, by consolidating their debts, they can avoid the trouble and expense of bankruptcy and still take control of their finances. Whichever method works, the important thing is to start dealing with the situation as soon as possible — because debt is one problem that, unfortunately, doesnt disappear on its own.

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Valley Voice: Online bank accounts put seniors at risk

As the executive director of a nonprofit assisting seniors, I want to make sure our vulnerable seniors are alerted to an alarming new trend. Due to the ease of opening online checking accounts (ie, no identification required at time of opening), identity thieves have a very fast and easy way of running money from drug sales or stolen checks through multiple bank accounts that they have opened in your name.

The only thing the thieves need is your name and Social Security number. They can make up birth dates, driver’s license numbers, addresses, phone numbers or emails. Most banks don’t catch these discrepancies when they call to check credit.

Then the bank opens an online account in your name and politely asks the thief to stop by a local branch to verify their identity “at their convenience.”

The thief can then deposit illegal monies into it and use the new ATM debit card to take the money out for several days or weeks. And you will never know any of this is going on unless you happen to check your credit report and see accounts on there you have never opened!

It is then up to YOU to contact the banks to ensure that the accounts are closed. Then you will have to contact each credit reporting agency with a copy of a police report, a driver’s license, a Social Security card and a utility bill proving you are the REAL you before those accounts and all the incorrect addresses, phone numbers and birth dates will be removed from your credit report.

How do I know all this? Because it happened to me. I received a call from a woman at a national bank asking me if I was trying to open an online account. She (thank goodness) had noticed that the birth dates did not match. I told her I certainly had NOT opened that account. She then suggested I file a police report as soon as possible.

She also told me to check my credit report.

Once I requested fraud alerts and freezes from all 3 credit monitoring agencies, I immediately began to receive multiple texts about other inquiries and accounts being applied for. A total of 15 separate banks, credit cards and pay day loans received applications in my name in a span of 10 days. And 6 of those banks simply opened multiple accounts in my name without receiving one shred of identification.

I had to go to 6 banks to undo the damage and prove that I am the real me.

The good news is the police apprehended the young man who was doing all this to feed his methamphetamine habit.

Here are a few things you can do to fight this alarming trend:

1. Get a locked mailbox.

2. Give your current bank a password that prevents anyone inquiring about or opening an account in your name or accessing your accounts.

3. Check your credit report. You can do it once a year for free or sign up for a credit/identity monitoring service for about $20 a month. You can also lock or freeze accounts so no one can access your info.

4. Write or visit your congressman or senator’s local office and call AARP Advocacy, (202) 434-2060, about making online accounts much harder to open.

Don’t let anyone steal your identity. You worked too hard to create it!

Maureen Forman is executive director of JFS of the Desert. Email her at mforman@jfsdesert.org.

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Debt refinancing moves forward

Village officials have approved moving forward with debt refinancing potentially saving thousands in interest payments over the next 14 years.

At the Monday, March 9 village of Poynette Board meeting, Greg Johnson of Ehlers, Inc., the village’s financial advisors, discussed two refunding options for debt associated with construction of the Poynette-Dekorra Fire Station.

In 2009, the village financed the fire station project on behalf of the fire district members – town of Dekorra and town of Lowville – through a $2.5 million Build America Bond (BAB). Each year, the village invoices the towns for their respective share of the debt service, approximately 52 percent for Dekorra and 5 percent for Lowville.

When the project was financed, the US Treasury agreed to pay 35 percent of the annual interest cost of the bonds, which was the lowest interest rate available at the time.

However, the bonds carried with them an “extraordinary call” provision, which means if the interest rebate was reduced, the bonds could be refinanced at any time.

And that’s just what happened in 2013. During the sequestration process the rebate was reduced and is currently around 32 percent. With the rebate dropping, village officials are discussing their options.

Johnson said the total estimated savings for all three municipalities over the life of the bond, which ends in 2030, would be $128,000. The village’s share is approximately $50,000.

Village trustees had the choice of refunding all of the existing bonds at an estimated $2.1 million, or issuing new bonds to pay for just their share at an estimated $930,000, leaving the towns to finance their own share.

However, Johnson said towns require elector approval to refinance existing obligations. He said the town of Dekorra indicated they may bring the idea up at the April annual meeting.

Up for discussion Monday night was a resolution that would refinance the total debt amount.

“If you approve the resolution, it just starts the clock,” Johnson said. “We will continue to monitor interest rates, and if they continue to go up and savings get to a point that is no longer advantageous, we’ll cancel the bond sale until such a time that interest rates are more favorable.”

The board unanimously approved the resolution.

Brush pick up

Village trustees approved the 2015 brush and leaf pick up schedule at Mon-day’s meeting.

Start-ing April 6, village public works crews will begin regular curbside pickup of brush, tree limbs and bagged leaves. Large branches (1-8 inches in diameter) will be chipped at the curbside only during the first full week of each month.

Public works director Scott Gorman reminds residents to place all yard waste on the curb by early Monday of the pick up week.

“We start (on Monday) and we run our route, when we’re done we’re done,” Gorman said at the meeting. “When we’ve gone by your house, it’s just like the mail, it’s done.”

Public works crews will not pick up bagged material over 30 pounds per bag or garden debris such as soil and edge trimmings. Residents may be charged for excessive amounts of brush. Residents can call (608) 635-2122 ext. 221 to make arrangements with the public works crew for large pickups.

Old equipment

Village trustees gave Gorman the go ahead to dispose of un-needed public works shop lights and an old water meter tester.

The public works department is looking to get rid of approximately 35 lights. Gorman said because of the ballasts and bulbs, it would cost the village approximately $180 to dispose of the lights.

“There’s a couple of local farmers that may be interested in them for machine sheds,” Gorman said. “Someone will take them, I’m sure of it, I just wanted approval to give them away.”

Next up, was a seldom, if ever, used water meter tester.

“It calibrates your meter so if you have a discrepancy with a homeowner you can take it back to the shop and it will tell you how accurate it is,” he said.

Gorman says the equipment was purchased approximately 17 years ago, however employees who have worked for the village for 15 years say they’ve never seen it used. No one on staff is currently trained on the equipment.

“It just sits there, it’s that treadmill in your basement,” he said.

Gorman said area communities might be interested in purchasing the tester for an estimated $2,000-$3,000.

“I move to get rid of it however you can,” trustee Jenny VanSchoyck-Teeter said. “If you can make a buck, make a buck.”

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