Brier Grieves September 12, 2017 No Comments

Donating to Disasters and Avoiding Scams

Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma were two of the strongest storms to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004. News of the damage they have caused to southeastern Texas and South Florida is prompting people to help in whatever ways they can. Unfortunately, there are dishonest people who prey upon people’s good intentions, creating fake charity campaigns to exploit victims and take advantage of those who want to help.

How to Avoid Scams

Despite the sense of urgency to help when disaster strikes, it is important to do some research before donating. Consider the following best practices to ensure that your resources go to a legitimate charity with experience in disaster relief:

  • Never wire money to someone who claims to be a charity. Legitimate charities do not ask for wire transfers. Once you wire the money, you’ll probably never get it back.
  • Be cautious about bloggers and social media posts that provide charity suggestions. Don’t assume that the person recommending the charity has fully researched the organization’s credibility.
  • Only donate through a charity’s official website, never through emails. Scammers have a knack for creating fake email accounts that seem legitimate.
  • Ensure that the charity explains on its website how your money will be used.
  • Be wary of charities that claim to give 100 percent of donations to victims. That is often a false claim, as well-structured organizations need to use some of their donations to cover administrative costs.
  • Never offer unnecessary personal information, such as your Social Security number or a copy of your driver’s license. However, it is common for legitimate charities to ask for your mailing address, and it is safe for you to provide it.

How to Choose a Charity

Even legitimate charities need to be considered with care. The Federal Trade Commission suggests avoiding new charities because, despite their legitimacy, they may not have the resources needed to get your money to its intended recipients.

Donors looking for a worthy charity can access an unbiased, objective list on a website called Charity Navigator. The site receives a Form 990 for all of its charities directly from the IRS, so it knows exactly how the charities spend their money and use their donations. It also rates charities based on their location, tax status, length of operation, accountability, transparency and public support.

Gaining popularity for charitable donations is a crowdfunding website called GoFundMe, which allows people to raise money for a wide variety of circumstances. Despite its popularity, visitors to the site should be cautious about the campaigns to which they donate. Visitors can report suspicious campaigns directly to GoFundMe via its official website or to their state’s consumer protection hotline.

National Organizations

The following national organizations have long-standing reputations for providing disaster relief and accepting donations:

  • The American Red Cross provides shelter, food, emotional support and other necessities to people affected by disasters.
  • AmeriCares takes medicine and supplies to survivors.
  • Catholic Charities USA supports disaster response and recovery efforts that include direct assistance, rebuilding and health care services.
  • The Salvation Army provides shelter and emergency services to displaced individuals.

Remember that there are other ways to provide disaster relief that don’t involve monetary donations, especially if you live near the affected area. Local food banks and blood centers commonly ask for donations during relief efforts.

Brier Grieves February 25, 2016 No Comments

3 Ways to Avoid Cyber Attacks: Estate Planning for Your Digital Assets

Technology has become more pervasive, and it’s become increasingly difficult to avoid having at least some kind of valuable data that has to be managed. Whether it’s important photographs, documents hosted in the Cloud, online banking accounts, or Web-based assets like social media accounts or websites, virtually everyone has some digital assets to track.

That can be a daunting task in its own right, but what happens to those assets if something should happen to you? If you haven’t taken the time to plan for your digital assets, your loved ones could find themselves unable to access your accounts. And, if one of those accounts is compromised by a data breach, hackers could use your online accounts as a backdoor into your bank accounts or other assets.

Estate planning for your digital assets is a crucial part of your overall estate planning strategy. While it’s always best to consult with a financial planner or legal counsel when considering estate planning, there are some general guidelines everyone should follow when making plans for their digital assets.

Create an Inventory

“Digital assets” can refer to a broad range of things, but in general, it refers to any part of your digital identity that would require your successors’ attention. The first step in planning is making sure that you have an exhaustive, centralized inventory of your assets so that your executor, attorney or trustee knows where to find everything.

1. Hardware

Begin by making an inventory of your hardware. It may seem obvious, but don’t take this step for granted. Many people use a number of different devices in their day-to-day lives, with important data stored in each of those devices. Remember to create an inventory and make a note of hardware that may be company-owned, and also remember that pieces of old hardware—computers, cellphones, cameras, etc.—may have important data on them.

Tailor your inventory to your needs, but consider some of the following:

  • Computers, laptops and tablets (including username and login information)
  • Cellphones
  • Digital cameras
  • CDs, DVDs, flash drives, SIM cards, external hard drives and other devices that store data

In addition to making a list of the names and locations of all of your hardware, it could be helpful to your successors to map out the file structures of your data. Write out step-by-step instructions so your successors know how to navigate the file system on your hardware in order to access your important information.

2. Online Assets

Next, consider your online presence in its various forms. Though it may be daunting, consider every site for which you’ve created a user profile and determine whether or not your successors will need to gain access. In doing so, be sure to log website names, URLs, usernames and passwords:

The list will vary, but be especially mindful of websites that store your personal information or banking information. Consider the following:

  • Online backing accounts
  • Shopping sites (e.g., Amazon, the Apple Store, eBay)
  • Social media accounts (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Cloud-hosted email accounts (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook)
  • Cloud Storage (e.g., Dropbox, Google Drive)
  • Organizational sites and apps (e.g., OmniFocus, Evernote, Pinterest)
  • Subscriptions (e.g., Netflix, Audible, Hulu Plus, HBO Go)
3. Work

Depending on your job, it might make sense to create a separate inventory for any work-related information that might be among your digital assets. This will vary widely from profession to profession, but as telecommuting becomes more commonplace, it’s an increasingly important consideration. In some cases, it’s a matter of keeping sensitive information secure. In other cases, it’s simply a matter of making sure your successors have access to the work you’ve been doing on projects that they might need to take over. Consider the following:

  • Client or patient files
  • Spreadsheets
  • Online databases or software
  • Projects tasks, notes or drafts

Everyone’s digital assets are bound to be different, which is why making an exhaustive inventory is so important.

Provide Access to Your Assets

Once you have an inventory of your digital assets, it’s important to make sure to provide your successors with access. You’ll want to choose someone you can trust to handle sensitive personal and financial information, as well as the task of carrying out your wishes. It could be a trusted advisor, an attorney or a family member or friend.

Whomever you choose, make sure you keep records naming that person and his or her responsibilities along with the rest of your estate planning information. Just because someone has your hardware or knows your passwords doesn’t mean that he or she is authorized to use them. State and federal laws may prohibit others from accessing or using your digital assets, so having proper documentation is essential.

Write Out Instructions

Once you’ve created an inventory of your assets and assigned the appropriate executor or trustee, you’ll want to document your wishes. It may seem tedious, but it’s important to take the time and to be detailed. After all, you wouldn’t want someone mistakenly selling or deleting important documents or photographs.

Planning for the Future

Estate planning may conjure unpleasant thoughts about death, but it’s important to plan now so that your wishes can be carried out and your loved ones and colleagues can continue on without undue stress.

It’s also important to make sure you have the people and the resources that you need in order to make sure your wishes are carried out as you’d like. For further assistance, contract your trusted advisor at Brier Grieves Agency today.