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CFPB Cautions Use of Virtual Currencies

September 4, 2014 1:12 am

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) cautions the use of virtual currencies like Bitcoin, citing potential issues such as unclear costs, volatile exchange rates, scams and hacking, and companies that may not offer help or refund. The CFPB adds that anyone who encounters a problem with a virtual currency product or service can now submit a complaint with the Bureau.

“Virtual currencies may have benefits, but consumers need to be cautious and they need to be asking the right questions,” says CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Virtual currencies are not backed by any government or central bank, and at this point, consumers are stepping into the Wild West when they engage in the market.”

Virtual currencies are designed to be an alternative to current payment systems. Better-known virtual currencies include Bitcoin, XRP, and Dogecoin. Often referred to in the industry as “digital currencies,” they are a way for people to track, store, and send payments over the Internet, and they may make payment processing cheaper or faster. However, they are not backed by any government or central bank. In addition, because virtual currency accounts are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, if a virtual currency company fails – and many have – the government will not cover the loss.

Virtual currency companies are springing up around the world to offer products and services to consumers. There are virtual currency exchanges, which are companies that help consumers buy or sell virtual currencies. There are also online “digital wallet providers,” which are companies that allow consumers to create accounts with them to store and manage their virtual currencies. Many virtual currency exchanges are also wallet providers, and vice versa.

Virtual currencies carry significant risk, including:

Exchange rates are volatile and costs unclear: The exchange rate of Bitcoins to U.S. dollars in 2013 fell as much as 61 percent in a single day. In 2014, the value of Bitcoins has dropped by as much as 80 percent in a single day. Consumers who buy virtual currencies should be prepared to weather this kind of volatility. Consumers should also consider whether there are mark-ups or other fees when using an exchange or digital wallet provider. Companies may be charging consumers to buy, spend, or accept virtual currencies.

Hackers and scammers pose serious security threats: Virtual currencies are targets for highly sophisticated hackers and scammers. Individuals, digital wallet providers, and exchanges are all at risk. For example, if a hacker gains access to a consumer’s Bitcoin “private keys,” which are 64-character codes that unlock the consumer’s funds, the consumer can lose all their virtual currency. Fraudsters are also taking advantage of the hype surrounding virtual currencies to pose as Bitcoin exchanges, Bitcoin intermediaries, and Bitcoin traders in an effort to lure consumers to send money, which is then stolen.

Companies may not offer help or refunds for lost or stolen funds: Some virtual currency companies do not identify their owners, provide phone numbers and addresses, or even specify the country in which they are located. Before using a company’s products or services, consumers should carefully consider if they know how to contact the company in question, and if they know their contractual rights. If a consumer trusts a company to hold their virtual currencies and something goes wrong, the company may not offer the kind of help the consumer would expect from a bank, debit card, or credit card provider. In fact, some virtual currency companies disclaim responsibility for consumer losses if funds are lost or stolen.

Source: CFPB

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Home Entertaining: Fall Dinnerware Trends

September 4, 2014 1:12 am

(BPT) - Autumn leaves bursting into vibrant reds, lively oranges, and brilliant yellows signal a new season for home entertaining. If you need a little inspiration, look no further than your favorite outdoor spot to update your table setting with the hottest colors for fall 2014.

“Contemporary versions of classic colors are trending in the interior design realm this fall,” says John Griffith, visual merchandiser for dinnerware retailer Replacements, Ltd. Customers frequently ask Griffith and his in-house designer for creative guidance to refresh their family heirloom pattern table settings.

“Vintage dinnerware continues to be one of the trendiest design elements in the tabletop industry,” says Griffith. “Why buy a reproduction when the real thing is readily available? Search your mother or grandmother’s china cabinet to find some of the great retro patterns. Add your own point of view when you mix and match contemporary designs to create a modern look. It’s really simple to add an accent plate, or a stand-out charger in this season’s colors to update your table for fall entertaining.”

Figural pieces, such as leaf shaped plates and serving pieces, are also very popular. Many manufacturers are offering colorful accent pieces with favorites including turkey, leaves and pumpkin motifs.

The important thing to remember is that as the season changes, so does entertaining. Gatherings may be more casual as friends and family get together around the television for the big game or by the fire pit on the patio.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Not Enough Juice From Your Gas Tank? Replace These Parts

September 3, 2014 2:39 am

Drivers everywhere can benefit from better gas mileage. Aside from saving at the pump, a well-maintained vehicle can also save you money spent on a new model. If you’ve noticed a spike on your gas receipts, it may be time to replace parts in your car that affect fuel efficiency – your tires, spark plugs, air filter and mass air flow and oxygen sensors.

Tires – Check tire pressure at least once a month. Worn or underinflated tires reduce traction, affecting your vehicle’s handling capabilities.

Spark plugs – Help your engine run cleanly (and more efficiently) by replacing the spark plugs, which ignite air and fuel in the combustion chamber.

Air filter
– Dirty air filters are most common in cars that are 10 years or older, so replace yours immediately if you’ve owned your vehicle for a long period of time.

Mass air flow sensor – A dirty sensor transmits inaccurate readings, causing issues with your transmission, ignition and fuel injection.

Oxygen sensor – Switch out this sensor when it gets dirty, too. Faulty readings lead to incorrect fuel injection levels. Auto experts recommend replacement when your car reaches 100,000 miles.

Source: Bankrate

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Prepare for Power Outages with a Checklist

September 3, 2014 2:39 am

Americans who have recently endured a prolonged power outage at home are much more likely to improve their family's emergency preparation for the future, according to a recent report.

A 2014 survey conducted by Harris Poll found almost one in four U.S. adults had endured a power outage lasting 12 hours or more in the last two years. That experience motivated two-thirds of respondents to be more prepared for future incidents, according to the survey.

"The high percentage of respondents who took action to better prepare their families and homes for future emergency situations really underscores the level of frustration a power outage can cause families who aren't properly prepared," said Amanda Grandy of Briggs & Stratton, commissioners of the survey.

When you have advance warning of a potential loss of power, which is often caused by a strong weather system, there are many steps families can take to minimize the stress it can cause. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that you create an emergency preparedness plan with a checklist of items:
  • Make sure your gas tank is full
  • Fill plastic bags with water and place them in the freezer
  • Stop by the bank to ensure you have some cash on hand
  • Fill prescriptions that are approaching their refill date
Disasters, however, don't always come with prior notice, so having an emergency kit prepared ahead of time is the surest way to protect your family. Be sure to include items such as:
  • A three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Adequate water (a gallon per person, per day)
  • First aid supplies
  • Matches
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Flashlights
  • Extra batteries
  • Essential toiletry items, such as toothbrush and paste
An expanded list of items to consider when packing your emergency supply kit can be found at www.fema.gov.

Source: Briggs & Stratton

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Mixing Patterns: The Rule of Threes

September 3, 2014 2:39 am

Pattern and texture are essential to interior design. Whether on a fabulous set of nature-inspired pillows or a chunky knit throw blanket, the right mix of patterns and textures creates symmetry and visual interest. Incorporating pattern can be especially intimidating to homeowners who fear the end result will be a room full of mismatched pieces.

To prevent your space from pattern overload, stick to the rule of threes. Aside from balancing a room, combining patterns in threes lends a designer’s touch of sophistication.

1. Choose a dominant pattern. This is typically a large-scale print found on wallpapers, rugs, sofas or other big pieces of upholstered furniture.

2. Add a secondary pattern. Think about outfitting smaller surface areas, such as drapes and side chairs, with a pattern that color-coordinates with your dominant choice.

3. Use a third pattern sparingly. This pattern applies to accents, such as pillows, table linens, lamp shades, and ottomans that can be swapped out in a snap. Reserve on-trend patterns for these accessories.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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