Supporting Veteran Careers, Protecting the Food Supply, and Reducing Wasted Government Spending

Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act (S 153) – This bill encourages veterans to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields in a variety of ways, including making veterans eligible for certain National Science Foundation (NSF) programs. The Act directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an interagency working group to improve veteran and military spouse representation in STEM fields, and authorizes funding for the Government Accountability Office to study 1) the academic success rates of student veterans pursuing an undergraduate degree in STEM and related fields; and 2) the barriers faced by such students in pursuing such degrees. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (D-FL) on Jan. 16, 2019. It was passed in the Senate in December, the House in January, and was signed into law by the president on Feb. 11.

Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019 (S 2107) – This legislation directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire and train more agricultural inspectors at land, air, and seaports to prevent African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases from entering the United States. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI). It was introduced on July 11, 2019, passed the Senate (October) and then-House (February) and is currently waiting to be signed by the president.

Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 (S 375) – This bipartisan bill is designed to reduce federal government waste in the form of overpayments, underpayments, payments made to ineligible recipients or payments that are not properly documented. It authorizes the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish pilot programs to test potential accountability mechanisms for compliance requirements, such as updating a plan to improve the integrity and usage of Social Security death data. The Act was introduced on Feb. 7, 2019, by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE); it passed the Senate in July, the House in February and is currently waiting to be enacted.

Presidential Transition Enhancement Act of 2019 (S 394) – This law requires eligible presidential candidates (as of September of an election year) to develop and release transition team ethics plans, including how they will address their own conflicts of interest, prior to election day. It also is designed to focus a transitioning government on ongoing issues in the public interest during the changeover so that priorities are not shifted to solely address those of special interest lobbyists. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on Feb.7, 2019, was passed by the Senate in August and the House in February. It is awaiting signature by the president.

United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act (HR 5340) – Introduced by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), this legislation represents the new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. This bill passed in both the House and Senate and was signed by the president on Jan. 29. Mexico has also signed the agreement. However, Canada is still in the process of getting it ratified through Parliamentary procedures.

PIRATE Act (HR 583) – This bill dramatically increases the fine for operating a “Pirate Radio” station, in which people set up their own stations outside the official Federal Communications Commission (FCC) system. The maximum fine increases from $19,639 to $100,000 per day, with a maximum total fine, capped at $2 million, up from $147,290. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) in January 2019. It passed in the House in February 2019 and in Senate in January 2020. The bill was signed into law on Jan. 24.

6506148 B2 Patent: Nervous System Manipulation – Is it Real or Just Paranoia?

Imagine someone manipulating how you feel. Of course, no one wants that. But how about being manipulated unknowingly? This is exactly what is happening to your nervous system every time you switch on your TV or computer.

Well, at least according to the 6506148 B2 Patent.

The patent named “Nervous System Manipulation By Electromagnetic Fields From Monitors” was filed in 2001 and published in 2003. The patent was filed by one Hendricus G. Loss (perceived to be a fictitious person as no information about who he really is can be traced).

Is it Worth Any Attention?

We already know that the content displayed on TVs or even on the internet is created in such a way as to influence decisions, such as when making a purchase or standing behind certain beliefs.

The mind control subject has been a topic of discussion for a long time. Although initially considered a conspiracy theory, its reality has been observed in the content displayed by mainstream media.

But how about manipulation through the nervous system?

Science teaches us that the work of the nervous system is to carry messages throughout the body and control your senses. The nervous system, according to neuroscientists, is controlled by the brain.

Now, the brain is said to be a complex bioelectrical organ that produces electric fields.

That’s why it’s believed that you can rewire your brain through techniques such as listening to binaural beats. Scientists also claim to control brain functions with a technique that uses powerful electromagnetic radiation. This technique, known as Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), can jam or excite particular brain circuits.

Think of how you are not allowed to use cell phones in some areas of a hospital or in an airplane (where some only allow use in airplane mode). This is so that the electromagnetic transmission of the phone does not interfere with critical electrical devices.

So if a brain is a bioelectrical organ, is there a possibility of manipulating it?

How it Happens, According to 6506148 B2 Patent

Here is a short excerpt from the patent abstract:

“Physiological effects have been observed in a human subject in response to stimulation of the skin with weak electromagnetic fields that are pulsed with certain frequencies near ½ Hz or 2.4 Hz, such as to excite a sensory resonance. Many computer monitors and TV tubes, when displaying pulsed images, emit pulsed electromagnetic fields of sufficient amplitudes to cause such excitation.

It is, therefore, possible to manipulate the nervous system of a subject by pulsing images displayed on a nearby computer monitor or TV set. For the latter, the image pulsing may be embedded in the program material, or it may be overlaid by modulating a video stream, either as an RF signal or as a video signal. The image displayed on a computer monitor may be pulsed effectively by a simple computer program. For certain monitors, pulsed electromagnetic fields capable of exciting sensory resonances in nearby subjects may be generated even as the displayed images are pulsed with subliminal intensity.”

The US Patent 6506148 B2 is a confirmation of the possibility to manipulate the nervous system. The patent includes 14 claims including how video can be used to manipulate the nervous system.

Is it just a conspiracy theory?

Well, it’s not easy to tell. But we can’t ignore the concerns raised in regards to electromagnetic fields (EMF). The EMF issue has raised so much concern that in May 2015, 190 scientists from 39 nations submitted an Appeal to the United Nations requesting the World Health Organization (WHO) adopt more EMF exposure protective guidelines.

Such concerns are an indication that the patent should not be ignored. It also goes to show that apart from your electronic devices recording, monitoring and watching everything you are doing, they can also influence living organisms’ feelings, perceptions, thoughts and behavior.

Switch off that Screen

Well, this is practically not possible. The dependence on these electronic devices is so high that we are practically immobilized if they were to be turned off. Electronics have become part of human attachment.

The age of the Internet of Things (IoT) doesn’t make it any better. Now that we are surrounded by electromagnetic emitting devices, the patent serves as an alert to the public of the possibility of what could happen if these technologies were used unethically.

Unfortunately, the technology is here to stay. The only option is to minimize the exposure from your EMF emitting devices. Therefore it’s not a bad idea to try something different: read a book, go hiking, take a walk or simply switch off that screen when you can.

7 Ways to Avoid Investment Fraud

These days, you can’t be too careful when it comes to investments. And if you’re older, you’re a prime target for fraudsters. That said, anyone of any age is vulnerable. Here are a few key things to keep in mind when you’re considering investing.      

Ask Lots of Questions

Of course, you’re going to ask questions, but make sure you ask the right ones. Is the product registered with the SEC or state securities agencies? What are the fees? How does the company make money? What things might affect the value of the investment? Are my investment goals aligned with the investment? How liquid is this investment? For more ideas about what questions to ask, check out this comprehensive resource from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Do Your Research

And we don’t mean simply Googling them. If you’re thinking about investing in a publicly-traded company, go immediately to the SEC’s EDGAR database. You can look up the prospective company to see if it’s legitimate.

Beware of Unbelievable Returns

If something sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. If you hear that the investment will make “incredible gains,” is a “breakout stock pick” or has a “huge upside and almost no risk,” these are big red flags of fraud. Further, if the salesperson promises a guaranteed return, you know this isn’t true; every equity investment has a modicum of risk.

Resist ‘Act Now’ Offers

If someone tells you that this investment is a once-in-a-lifetime offer and it will be gone tomorrow, walk away. Another scam tactic is one that claims “everyone is investing in X stock, and so should you.” As irresistible as this might sound, don’t succumb to the pressure. It’s a trick.

Avoid Reciprocity

One of the most common lures that tricksters use are free seminars that include lunch. They play on your guilt and figure that if they do something for you, you’ll return the favor and invest. It’s never a good idea to invest on the spot. Take the materials home and do your research. With that said, not every free seminar is bogus. Just follow through with your due diligence and protect yourself.

Know Your Salesperson

We’re not talking “know,” as in you follow them on social media or you have a number of mutual friends and they come highly recommended. But even if you’re connected with them through a seemingly respected company and you “feel” like they’re trustworthy, don’t trust blindly. Check them out at BrokerCheck, an online database maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). This is a nongovernmental group that watches over securities firms and dealers. Remember: credibility can be faked. Don’t be duped.

Stay Away from Robocalls, Emails and Late Night TV ads

Let’s be honest, legitimate companies don’t reach people this way. However, swindlers can be very persuasive. But stand your ground. Don’t budge. When it comes to seniors, crooks view them as “more trusting” and less likely to say no. The truth is that older people are more often targeted because the supposition is that they have more assets to tap into – aka steal. Don’t let these buggers woo you. Hang up, hit delete or change the TV channel.

If you’ve taken every precaution and you still feel like you need help before you make an investment decision, consult your accountant or financial planner. When it comes to your hard-earned money, it’s worth all the time in the world.

Sources

https://www.investor.gov/protect-your-investments/fraud/how-avoid-fraud/what-you-can-do-avoid-investment-fraud

SECURE Act Seeks to Help Americans Save More for the Golden Years

At the end of 2019, Congress passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act as part of a year-end appropriations package. This bill is designed to address specific issues related to retirement savings plans in an effort to help Americans save more for retirement.

Retirement Plan Contributions

People are living longer, and a decrease in employer-sponsored pensions has resulted in retirees relying more on Social Security benefits than in the past. So first, the SECURE Act eliminated the age limit on traditional IRA contributions so that people who work into their 70s and beyond may continue to contribute to the traditional IRA up to the annual limit. In 2020, the limit for all IRAs – traditional and Roth combined – is $6,000; $7,000 for individuals age 50 and older.

Retirement Plan Distributions

The SECURE Act also extends how long retirees may keep money invested in their traditional IRA, 401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans before mandating distributions. Starting this year, people who turn 70½ after Dec. 31, 2019 may delay having to start taking annual required minimum distributions (RMD) until age 72.

Inherited IRAs Reigned In

The Stretch IRA is an advantage bestowed to non-spouse beneficiaries who inherit an IRA. While a benefit still exists, the SECURE Act makes it somewhat less advantageous. Starting in 2020, assets in these inherited accounts must be fully distributed by Dec. 31 of the 10th year following the death year of the IRA owner. This means that annual distributions will be larger and the investment will no longer be able to grow beyond 10 years.

Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans

The SECURE Act also made changes to employer-sponsored retirement plans. For example, it allows employers to increase the cap on automatic payroll contributions to 15 percent (up from 10 percent) of an employee’s paycheck. Research has found that automatic payroll deductions have been instrumental in improving both participation and savings rates among employer retirement plans. However, employees continue to have the ability to retain their current contribution level (or opt-out of the plan entirely).

The legislation also requires employers that sponsor a defined-contribution plan to offer it to any long-term, part-time workers. The criteria for this requirement are that individuals must be age 21 or older and work at least 500 hours each year, for three years in row. However, the measurement time for this requirement doesn’t start until 2021.

The SECURE Act attempts to replace the secure pension plan by making it more attractive for employers to offer a lifetime income option as part of their 401(k) plan. Also known as an annuity, this option allows the worker to use his or her retirement plan contributions to purchase an annuity contract over time.

In the past, employers were reluctant to include an annuity option because they could be held liable if the annuity provider is unable to fund the retirement income guaranteed by the annuity contract. To help alleviate this concern, the SECURE Act protects the employer from liability as long as it chooses an annuity insurer that, for at least seven years, is 1) licensed by that state’s insurance commissioner; 2) has filed audited financial statements in accordance with state laws; and 3) maintains the statutory requirements for reserves among all states where the provider does business.

Employers that offer an annuity option must now issue a customized statement each year that estimates how much plan participants would receive in monthly retirement income based on the current balance of their annuity. When employees retire or take a new job, they can transfer their in-plan annuity to another 401(k) or an IRA without incurring fees or surrender charges.

The SECURE Act also provides new benefits for small businesses that sponsor a retirement plan for employees. They may now receive up to $5,000 to offset retirement plan startup costs, and can get an additional $500 tax credit per year for three years if their plan features auto-enrollment for new hires. The bill makes it possible for small employers in unrelated industries to open a multiple-employer 401(k) plan (MEP) in order to share administrative costs.

Conclusion

Overall, the various provisions of the SECURE Act described above are designed to make retirement savings easier and more accessible. Small businesses will find it less burdensome to offer both full- and part-time employees 401(k) plans by providing tax credits and protections on collective Multiple Employer Plans. Individuals will find they have more flexibility in managing their accounts later in life. Overall, the SECURE Act should ease the coming retirement crisis as demographics change by helping people prepare better.

Coronavirus: Black Swan or Buying Opportunity?

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the spread of the coronavirus will impact the world’s economy. Whether it’s a Reuter’s poll from economic experts projecting growth in China slowing to 4.5 percent in Q1 of 2020, in contrast to China’s Q4 GDP of 6 percent; or the International Energy Agency (IEA) saying world desire for oil will be lower due to the coronavirus; or global companies reducing or temporarily closing their Chinese factories, change is on its way. Based on this data, what does the global economic outlook entail?

In order to understand how the coronavirus might impact global economies, it’s important to put this in context of other global events. Based on a February 2020 Monetary Policy Report from The Federal Reserve, there’s a mixed outlook for recent and projected economic activity. While the Fed notes that oil prices have increased over the past six months of 2019, in part due to OPEC members cutting production and brief tensions with Iran in January 2020, The Fed attributes more recent drops in oil prices to the coronavirus and associated lowered global demand.

Due to China’s already slowing economy, the IEA is projecting 435,000 fewer barrels of oil on an annual basis during Q1 of 2020, the worst in a decade. Looking at statistics from the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), airlines are expected to see revenue losses of between $4 billion and $5 billion in the first three months of 2020. With the coronavirus impacting China, thereby reducing outbound travel to Japan and Thailand, losses could be as big as $1.29 billion and $1.15 billion for each respective country.  

The Fed explains that in 2019, manufacturing has been challenged both globally and domestically. Citing the industrial production (IP) index, the first six months of 2019 saw declines in both domestic and global activity. For 2019, U.S. production dropped by 1.3 percent for durable and non-durable goods. This is attributed to trade issues with China, soft economic growth worldwide, less than aggressive investment from businesses, declining oil prices that lower continued production by crude producers and production issues with Boeing’s 737 Max airplanes.

However, despite the manufacturing slowdown in China, the United States’ manufacturing base shouldn’t see the same impact from the coronavirus. The Fed says that factoring in purchasing materials for production on the input end, and transporting, wholesaling and retailing products post-production, the drop of 1.3 percent on the industrial production index equates to a 0.5 percent drop in U.S. GDP. For context, compared to the U.S. manufacturing employing 30 percent of workers 70 years ago, it presently employs 9 percent of workers.     

One way to see how the coronavirus might play out is to look at how SARS impacted China in 2003. Based on data from the National Bureau of Statistics in China, it took three months, during Q1 of 2003, where China’s economic growth dropped to 9.1 percent, from 11.1 percent. While a much smaller economy, on a global scale, in future quarters China was able to grow at an annualized rate of 10 percent, per Refinitiv. However, economists note that if SARS didn’t impact China, there could have been another 0.5 percent to 1 percent increase in annual growth.   

Another comparison with SARS is China’s retail sales. Refinitiv shows that May 2003 retail sales dropped to 4.3 percent. This is compared to between 8 percent and 10 percent for retail sales figures in March 2003 and July 2003, showing how serious the impact SARS made, but also China’s resiliency.

While the Chinese economy impacts the global economy today more than when SARS hit, it also has a more responsive economy and a larger middle class. Only time will tell as to the coronavirus’ impact, but based on past experience, it should only be a matter of time before China’s (and the global) economy bounces back to greater economic output. 

4 Common Liquidity Ratios in Accounting

One way a business can manage its books and viability in the near and long terms is to see how liquid its assets are. Businesses that have better cash positions are naturally geared toward sustaining continued success. One important reason for a business to measure and maintain healthy levels of liquidity is because it promotes better odds that a company will be able to satisfy its short-term debts. There are many ways a business can accomplish this, and below are four common ways it can be done.  

Current Ratio

One of the few liquidity ratios is what’s known as the current ratio. It’s a way to determine how well a company can pay back its debts.

The current ratio is also known as the “working capital ratio,” showing how well a business can satisfy financial obligations that must be paid back within 12 months. Using an example is a good way to see how it works:

Let’s assume a company has the following assets, it would use the following ratio:

Current Ratio = Current Assets / Current Liabilities

Marketable Securities such as stocks, bonds or purchase agreements maturing in 12 months or less can be considered a current asset. Businesses may also consider cash, accounts receivable, prepaid expenses, office supplies and saleable inventory they have in stock as current assets.

Outstanding bills or accounts payable and short-term debt – within the next 12 months as described above – are considered current liabilities. Other expenses can be interest payable, income and payroll taxes payable, which can also be considered current liabilities.

If the current assets of a business are $250 million, and that is divided by current liabilities of $75 million, the Current Ratio would be 250 / 75, or 3.33

With a current ratio of 3.33, the company is in good financial health because it can pay off its debts easily.

Acid-Test Ratio

The Acid-Test Ratio determines how capable a company is of paying off its short-term liabilities with assets easily convertible to cash.

Also known as the quick ratio, the formula is as follows:

Acid-Test Ratio = Current Assets – Inventories / Current Liabilities

Current assets consist of cash and similar assets (savings/checking accounts, deposits becoming liquid in three months or less), marketable securities and accounts receivable. From there, the summation is divided by the company’s current liabilities expected to be paid in 12 months.

The other way to calculate the acid-test ratio or quick ratio is as follows:

The first step is to look at the company’s current assets that can be liquidated within 12 months. Then inventory must be valued – that which is intended to be sold for purchase. From there, the inventory value is subtracted from the current assets. The resulting value is then divided by the business’ current liabilities.

The acid-test ratio is one way to determine a company’s ability to satisfy current liabilities without selling inventory or getting more lending. With the uncertainty and profitability of selling inventory, one can argue that it gives a better picture of a company’s financial fitness.   

For example, if a company comes out with a ratio of 3, this means that a business has $3 for every $1 of liabilities. However, as a company’s quick ratio increases, it might show there’s too much money not being reinvested to increase the company’s efficiency and profitability. A higher quick ratio figure can also indicate that there are too many accounts receivable that are owed but uncollected by the company.

Cash Ratio

As the name implies, the cash ratio determines how financially able a company is to satisfy short-term liabilities with cash and cash equivalents.

Also referred to as the cash asset ratio, this tells how capable a business is of satisfying short-term debts, usually 12 months or less, with cash and cash equivalents only. This ratio is as follows:

Cash Ratio = Cash and Cash Equivalents / Current Liabilities

Examples of cash and cash equivalents include physical currency, minted coins, and checks. Cash equivalents include money market accounts, Treasury bills and anything that can be converted into cash in almost real-time.

When it comes to current liabilities, accrued liabilities, short-term debts and accounts payable are examples that are due within one year.      

From there, the ratio is as follows to determine a company’s cash asset ratio:

Cash and Cash Equivalents (Cash: $25,000 + Cash Equivalents: $100,000) / Liabilities (Accounts Payable: $30,000 + Short-term debt: $25,000)

$125,000 / $55,000 = 2.27

Based on this calculation, the company would be able to pay off 227 percent of present liabilities with its cash and/or cash equivalents. For creditors and investors evaluating a company, it can show the company has ample liquidity. Creditors are naturally more willing to lend to companies with more cash flow; and investors are interested to see how liquidity is being managed.

Operating Cash Flow Ratio

This ratio measures how efficiently a business can meet present liabilities from the cash flow of its core business operations. It tells a company the number of times over it can satisfy its liabilities based on the amount of cash it generated over a certain time-frame.

This ratio can also include accruals, giving a fair estimate of a business’s short-term liquidity. The formula to determine this ratio is as follows:

Operating Cash Flow Ratio = Cash Flow from Operations / Current Liabilities

The statement of cash flow is where the operation’s cash flow is found. It can also be calculated by determining a company’s net income, plus non-cash expenses, plus working capital changes.

Current liabilities are defined as financial obligations due within the next 12 months. Common ones are accrued liabilities, accounts payable and/or short-term debt.

Once the operating cash flow ratio is calculated, a company’s financial health can be determined. If the ratio is 1.5 or 2, for example, it means the company can cover 1.5 times or double its present liabilities. However, if the ratio is less than 1, then the amount of cash generated from operations is insufficient to satisfy short-term liabilities.

As part of a comprehensive accounting practice, businesses that run these ratio calculations will be able to identify where there’s too little or too much liquidity and reduce current and future financial peril.

Taxes and Tariffs: The U.S. Response to France’s Digital Tax

How it All Started

Back in July of 2019, France passed what was dubbed a “digital tax” targeting the largest tech companies. Impacting approximately 30 big companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple, the tax applies to revenues earned from digital services of companies that earn more than $830 million in total and at least $27.86 million in France. The tax levy is a 3 percent charge on revenue from digital services.

The United States soon responded with threatening 100 percent tariffs on certain classes of French luxury goods, such as wine, champagne, cheese and makeup. These tariffs were estimated to cover more than $2.4 billion in French goods per year.

Responses on Both Sides

French President Emmanuel Macron came out to comment that the digital tax is not intended to be an anti-American move, and that big tech companies of all stripes could be covered by the tax. The criteria that determines who is subject to the digital tax, however, means that essentially only American companies are the ones being taxed.

Some in the United States claim it’s as simple as jealously over our strong technology sector, while others say that the main motivation for the French tax is a need to mitigate burgeoning budget deficits.

President Trump’s Reaction

Rarely one to back down on international trade issues, President Donald Trump criticized the digital tax for unfairly targeting American tech companies, going so far as to call out the European Union as behaving worse than China in its trading relationship with the United States. He reiterated his stance that he’s willing to fight tariffs with tariffs.

Negotiations with the EU

U.S. and European Union officials are negotiating an agreement over taxing big tech, but that didn’t stop the current treasury secretary from threatening more retaliatory tariffs. Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, recently said that the United States will impose new tariffs on French automobile imports if the issue isn’t resolved to America’s satisfaction. He claimed the digital tax is purely arbitrary, hence his random call for taxing automobiles in response. Moreover, Mnuchin called the tax “discriminatory in nature” at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland.

Taxes and Tariffs on Hold

For now, France is delaying the implementation of its digital tax through the end of 2020 in response to U.S. pressure on threatened luxury goods and automobile tariffs. They aim to come to a resolution before year-end with the Trump administration. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire is optimistic an agreement can be worked out and believes entering a trade war with the United States would be foolish.

The Future

Currently, other European countries, including Britain and Italy, are acting against big tech companies they believe don’t pay their fair share of taxes to their countries. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that the United States is willing to go to bat and protect its companies with retaliatory tariffs in these cases as well. For now, not much is settled – but we should see a clearer direction before the year is out.

Fighting Foreign Terrorism on Homeland Soil, Increased Protections for Clean Water and Low-Income Veterans, and New Appropriations for FY2020

Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel Exercise Act of 2019 (HR 1590) – This bill promotes the identification and determent of terrorist activity from reaching the homeland, and enhances the United States government’s ability to respond to terrorism, including emerging threats. Specifically, the legislation requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop and conduct exercises related to foreign terrorism, including the National Incident Management System, National Response Plan, and other related plans and strategies. The legislation was introduced on March 7 by Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS). The president signed the bill into law on Oct. 9.

Alaska Remote Generator Reliability and Protection Act (S 163) – This bill is designed to prevent catastrophic failure or shutdown of remote diesel power engines due to emission control devices in remote areas of Alaska. It instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise particulate matter emissions standards for nonemergency stationary diesel engines, and to report on methods for assisting these areas in meeting specified energy needs. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) on Jan. 16 and signed into law by the president on Oct. 4.

A bill to permit States to transfer certain funds from the clean water revolving fund of a State to the drinking water revolving fund of the State in certain circumstances, and for other purposes (S 1689) – Introduced on May 23 by Rep. Cory Booker (D-NJ), this legislation was enacted on Oct. 4. The bill empowers states with the ability to transfer up to 5 percent of federal grant funds from its clean water fund to its drinking water fund to help address any threats to public health resulting from increased exposure to lead in drinking water. This reallocation is available for only one year.

Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2019 (HR 1058) – This legislation reauthorizes the previous Autism CARES Act of 2014 to expand government programs to include older people with autism who are often misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed. The bill allocates $1.8 billion in funding for autism programs to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and the Health Resources & Services Administration. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). It was introduced on Feb. 7 and signed into law by the president on Sept. 30.

Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2019 (HR 4285) – This legislation reauthorizes funding for programs and services at the Veterans Administration, which were set to expire at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The bill extends funding for two specific programs. 1.) Keeping Our Commitment to Overseas Veterans Act of 2019, to keep the VA Regional Office and Outpatient Clinic in Manila, Philippines, open for business through Sept. 30, 2020. This clinic provides healthcare, benefits and services to thousands of U.S. veterans living in the Philippines. 2.) Supportive Services for Veteran Families program (through Sept. 30, 2021), which provides grants for supportive services to assist very low-income veterans and their families who are either residing in permanent housing or transitioning from homelessness. The bill was introduced on Sept. 11 by Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) and was signed into law by the president on Sept. 30.

Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020, and Health Extenders Act of 2019 (HR 4378) – Known as a continuing resolution (CR), this bill prevents a government shutdown by continuing fiscal year 2020 appropriations to federal agencies through Nov. 21. The bill was introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) on Sept. 18 and signed into law on Sept. 27.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (S 1790) – Introduced on June 11 by Rep. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), this is an original bill that authorizes U.S. Military appropriations for fiscal year 2020 for the Department of Defense, military construction and Department of Energy defense activities. The legislation both authorizes appropriations and sets forth policies, requirements and limitations for how funds are used. The legislation was passed by Congress on Sept. 17 and is currently awaiting signature by the president.

How to Stay Safe with Business Email Compromise on the Rise

According to a report by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released in July, financial institutions have incurred more than $9 billion in losses due to Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes since 2016. With such staggering losses, businesses and even individuals can’t afford to ignore BEC attacks.

What is BEC?

BEC fraud involves cyber thieves posing as company executives or a business contact with the intention to commit wire transfer fraud or obtain sensitive information. The main targets are businesses working with foreign suppliers or a business that carries out regular wire-transfer payments.

To carry out this attack, criminals might pretend to be the company CEO and request that a junior staff member perform a task for them, such as transferring funds. Attackers take advantage of the fact that most organizations don’t have a set procedure to verify instructions received from the top management.

How Attackers Collect Data from their Targets

Cyber criminals use various techniques to carry out BEC fraud, with the main aim of stealing funds from the victims. The techniques used include:

  • Imposter techniques – this can be carried out in various ways. Attackers use a look-alike domain, display-name deception and spoofed emails that appear to come from legitimate addresses.
  • Social engineering – when a target has not set appropriate privacy settings on social media accounts, an attacker can easily collect information that will make their requests sound legitimate.
  • Malware – this enables attackers to have access to sensitive information that makes the fake request sound legitimate.
  • Mining from the Dark Web – here attackers can obtain stolen credentials.

How to Avoid BEC Attacks

It is difficult for conventional security systems to detect BEC schemes. Consider a case in which a transaction is initiated willingly by a legitimate user in response to a request from a legitimate source. Such an email has no payloads such as malicious attachments that can be blocked.

Here are some methods to help reduce the possibility of these attacks:

  • Raising awareness of common attack scenarios or tactics used by the cyber criminals, such as a false domain name that looks almost like the original one, impersonation of a vendor, false sense of urgency or a request for secrecy.
  • Training employees on cyber security risks and implications.
  • Implementing email authentication protocols like Domain-Based Message  Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) and email authentication, such as DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM).
  • Using layered defense, such as encryption, and virtual private networks.
  • Implementing a multifactor authentication that will introduce a secondary authorization control. This will help stop attackers even when they have access to the target’s credentials.
  • Establishing communication protocols that will allow for a follow-up. For instance, if the person is requesting financial transactions, an employee should call to ascertain the request.
  • Scrutinizing all emails that request for fund transfer.
  • Monitoring incoming email, especially those that use VIP names.
  • Optimizing accounting systems and controls.

Final Thoughts

Apart from taking precautionary measures, businesses also should make sure that their insurance specifically covers BEC attacks, as courts might have different interpretations of policies. Consider the case of Apache Corporation, which lost $7million due to a BEC attack. The judge ruled that since the money was sent to pay a legitimate invoice to the wrong bank, it was not covered by their insurance policy.

Note that a majority of these criminals are from countries that might not have strict laws on cybercrime, making it difficult to have them prosecuted.

So, whether you run a small, medium or large business, or even a personal account, it’s vital that you take precautionary measures against the increasing BEC schemes.

5 Ways to Save on Holiday Gifting

Believe it or not, the holidays are right around the corner. And try as you might, overspending is real – whether you plan ahead or wait until the last minute. With this in mind, here are a few ways to get a handle on spending and save money on gifting.

Set Limits. Decide how much you’re going to spend overall on holiday gifts and how many people you’re buying for. Then do the math. For instance, you might want to spend $250 for 10 people. That’s $25 per person. However, there might be those you want to spend more on, which is perfectly understandable. But you can get into trouble when you buy your sister an expensive sweater and then feel like you need spend just as much your brother, mother or aunt. Spending sprawl sets in and it’s a runaway train. One way to avoid this situation is deciding before you shop how you’ll divvy up the amount you’ve set aside. While the holidays are special, remember that your family and friends also have birthdays, which means you don’t have to throw down a big chunk of change in one fell swoop during this time of year.

Shop Thanksgiving Weekend. Believe it or not, Thanksgiving Day has historically been the best time to find bargains. And you don’t have to leave your turkey dinner and run to the mall, unless you want to (read: uncomfortable family dynamic). The good news is that, on this day of carb overload, you can also find great deals online. If you miss the sales on Thanksgiving, you can always hit Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Black Friday, if you can stand the crowds, yields serious savings. And the beauty of Cyber Monday is you can shop from your favorite chair in your PJs, if you want.

Buy Gifts for Kids at Cheaper Stores. While adults might appreciate a brand name gift from, say, Neiman Marcus, kids really don’t care. Look online at Hollar.com for some great deals, as well as at discount stores like Walmart and Kmart, where you’ll find some big markdowns on popular gifts. The truth is, you don’t have to pay full retail prices from fancy stores for gifts that will surprise and delight the little ones.

Make Your Own Gifts. If you’re a craftsperson, handmade gifts always touch the heart: quilts, paintings, photographs, jewelry, bath and body products and so on. If you’re not so crafty, then going to holiday fairs are a good way to select handmade gifts. Etsy is another great place to find handcrafted items. Food is also a heartfelt gift to make and give, especially for the person who has everything. No matter what you choose to make, chances are you’ll save big time.

Give Secondhand Gifts. The key to giving this sort of gift is knowing where to shop. Good places to check are thrift stores and used bookstores, where you can find gently used clothing, board games, jewelry, books and even CDs and DVDs. Just make sure to check for rips or tears that might be unsightly. If you don’t want to make the trek, eBay is great for people who are collectors. Amazon even has items that are used. Just check to see if there’s a link that says “used and new offers” on the page of the product you’re looking for. All of the aforementioned resources can be treasure troves for terrific, affordable finds.

While it’s the spirit of giving that the holidays are all about, saving when you’re gifting might be one of the best gifts of all.

Sources

https://www.simple.com/blog/how-to-save-money-on-holiday-presents

https://www.moneycrashers.com/ways-save-money-holiday-gifts-friends-family/

https://www.dealnews.com/features/Thanksgiving-Day-Will-Top-Black-Friday-for-the-Best-Deals/857586.html