Felonies, Misdemeanors and Politicians

 

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey was recently indicted by the Justice Department on 14 corruption counts. It is alleged that the senator intervened on the behalf of a Florida doctor’s business interests in return for lavish gifts and money over as many as 20 years.

Some politicians are motivated by the wrong reasons...and pay the price.
Some politicians are motivated by the wrong reasons…and pay the price.

While it may be surprising that a prominent politician would potentially put him or herself in such a position, it is not exactly uncommon.

While Senator Menendez maintains his innocence at the charges, some other notable politicians have actually been convicted of serious crimes, just in the past two years alone. If you don’t live in their local areas, you may have missed the news coverage.

Here is the list of some notorious politicians and their convictions over the past 24 months:

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell

In a case that echoes the accusations against Senator Menendez, the former governor and his wife were convicted for accepting gifts from a shady political donor who then used this leverage to garner business favors from the Governor. Both McDonnell and his wife were sentenced to prison terms after being convicted on a number of counts broadly related to corruption and abuse of office.

US Representative Michael Grimm

It took awhile, but Grimm eventually paid the price for running a dirty campaign that got him elected in 2010 to serve in the US House, representing Staten Island and some parts of Brooklyn. Grimm’s funny fundraising opened the door to a wider federal investigation, which saw him plead guilty to a single count of felony tax fraud. After initially resisting stepping down from Congress, he finally resigned in January 2015. Yet to be sentenced, he could face up to 30 months in prison.

US Representative Trey Radel

Less fancy than the corruption and tax avoidance charges above, former US Representative Trey Radel got busted by buying cocaine from an undercover agent in DC in 2013. Like Grimm, Radel didn’t see the need to step down from federal office despite being a soon-to-be convicted criminal and hoped doing a stint in rehab would be enough to save his job representing the proud folks of southwest Florida. It wasn’t, though, and he was forced to resign by outside pressure. He did, however, avoid the slammer, serving just one year of probation. To top it off, his criminal record was wiped clean, too.

While the latest high-profile criminal case involving a politician is just kicking off, we hope we helped you understand that higher office doesn’t always mean a higher level of behavior.

April Fools’ Day: Ha Ha or Ho hum?

April Fools’ Day saw many high-profile brands try to prove to their customers that they have a sense of humor. Some are obviously jokes, while others were somewhat believable and may have tricked you.

All you big, silly corporations crack us up.
All you big, silly corporations crack us up.

Below is a list of this year’s April Fools’ Day Jokes from major companies and our grades for both their comic and “gotcha” value.

Google – One of the best-known pranksters in Silicon Valley came up a tad flat this year with “com.google” for mirrored search results. It may be a bit unfair to grade them harshly though, considering that everyone expects a prank from Google on April 1st and their additional joke efforts made with other products such as Maps and Inbox were decent.

Funny grade: Believability grade: D+

IKEA – The Swedish furniture company announced the launch of the KAT couch, the world’s first piece of furniture designed to be resistant to your cat’s claws. This topped the list of the enormous amount of cat-related pranks this year from brands. The prototype looks both ugly and functional, which may have made it just believable enough.

Funny grade: Believability grade: B+

Uber – Uber picked up on the cat theme, supposedly partnering with Nat Geo Wild to offer lion cub deliveries in Manhattan today. Uber’s history of unusual deliveries may have given this a bit of credibility and was at least pretty funny.

Funny grade: A-  Believability grade: C-

Microsoft – Google’s rival Microsoft launched their famous MS-DOS protocol as an app. This may have generated a chuckle but considering Microsoft’s position in mobile, is it believable for the wrong reasons?

Funny grade: B-  Believability grade: B

Netflix – Netflix launched a series of PSAs on the dangers of binge-watching programs. Some of them encouraged customers to go outside from time to time, which hurt the messages credibility. Netflix would never want its customers to go outside, unless a tablet was coming with them.

Funny grade: Believability grade: C-

You can check the full list of today’s April Fools’ Day jokes over at Mashable.

3 Must Dos Before Selling Your Phone

Apple announced today that it will be expanding its phone trade-in program and for the first time allow users of competing smartphones to trade in their devices for a credit towards a new iPhone.

For those who made the switch away from Apple and now have buyer’s remorse, to those whose resistance to the iPhone is crumbling in the face of cool new additions such as Apple Pay and connectivity to the forthcoming Apple Watch, this news is potentially exciting.

Don't let the prospect of a new phone credit cost you when it comes to your data security.
Don’t let the prospect of a new phone credit cost you when it comes to your data security.

Before rushing off to your nearest Apple Store to make a deal, consider the contents of your current phone. If you’re like a majority of Americans now, your phone is a smartphone, which means there is a lot more of your life on it than in years past.

From photos to bank details and health information, your phone is a sensitive file, which could contain a lot of interesting data to crooks or snoops.

That new iPhone has waited this long, it can wait a few more moments while you ensure your data is protected. Take these three precautions before you resell your phone and sleep soundly:

1. Back It Up

If your smartphone is an extension of your computer, then crucial work, personal and financial details are likely on there. Not to mention some important apps. You don’t want to lose your historical steps in your health tracking app, priceless photos of your cat Alfred or any other data for that matter. Depending on your device, consult Apple, Google or Microsoft, all of which have step-by-step instructions on how to do back-up their devices.

2. Use a Third Party to Wipe Your Device

Relying on the factory-reset option is not bulletproof, as these unfortunate ex-owners found out a few years ago. Basic security apps can often recover phone data erased by the conventional wipe methods. In fact, there is a whole industry that specializes in such services. Likewise, it’s best to engage third party software providers such as Autowipe, Cerberus or Lookout to make sure the job is done right and your data is really deleted.

3. Don’t forget your SIM and Memory cards

If you’re trading in an Android phone for the new iPhone you likely have used an SD card to boost its memory. Remove that, along with the SIM card which keeps identifying info about your phone, including the phone number. You don’t want either of these falling into the wrong hands.

In short, don’t trade speed for your data security when upgrading your phone. Even a new iPhone isn’t worth that.

Online Dating: Don’t “Happn” Upon the Wrong Person

 

With all the investment flowing into the online dating space at the moment, it’s understandable that increasingly outlandish ideas will find backers and then appear in your mobile phone’s app store almost as quickly as they were dreamt up.

Happn wants to create more spontaneous coffee dates.
Happn wants to create more spontaneous coffee dates.

The latest incarnation, aimed at those who don’t find Tinder risqué enough, is Happn, an app that takes instant matching to the next level. What level that is exactly, is “to be determined”… just like the backgrounds of the dates that Happn will set you up with. That’s because Happn connects you to people in your precise physical location. In other words, those right inside your neighborhood coffee shop, at your regular supermarket, or next door to your apartment. In short, whomever you happen to “cross paths with.”

In one way, Happn, a French company that has launched its app in New York and as of this week, San Francisco, is the closest to the experience of “real life” encounters that often lead to first dates that any online dating platform has yet achieved. Happn’s backers have compared it to Craigslist’s missed connections page, whereby now their users will be able to more effectively act on such experiences.

Similar to the aims of Coupleizer, Happn tries to dispense with the elaborate pre-game show of multiple messages, elaborate profiles and weeks-long beanplating that can occur before an often disappointing and abruptly ended first date. In this way, Happn is firmly in the Tinder camp of “date now, ask questions later.”

As we mentioned in our post on Coupleizer, this approach does have some advantages. For example, many con artists rely on building up an emotional connection online which can play out over many months of messaging before they seek money or otherwise cause problems for their vulnerable victims. An online dating platform that cuts to the chase, will obviously not appeal to such elements.

However, we have also voiced our concerns about the immediacy of Tinder-style dating apps, their geo-location features and the pressure of matching with someone near you. Happn’s approach takes these concerns and elevates them to a new level. As Fast Company reports in its profile of the app, Happn zooms in on your location, within 275 yards.

This brings up any number of concerns, especially for those who have been stalked or harassed in the past. Additionally, at a time when many are concerned about their privacy and digital footprint, offering anyone who happens to use the same app as you the ability to potentially track your movements, raises alarm bells.

Keeping in mind how quickly flirting in a first message or date can go to malicious harassment afterwards, we think there are enough concerns here for users to seriously consider the use case for this app before crossing paths with anyone who “happns” by.

Avoid These Costly House Price Assumptions

By now everyone should be aware that house prices don’t always move rationally, and in some cases can move very irrationally to the detriment of new home owners.

In fact, according to recent data, more than 10% of all US homes with a mortgage are still “underwater” (i.e. have negative equity) as a result of the after effects of the financial crisis that occurred more than five years ago.

Prices in certain areas are going up, up, up....Photo credit: © Lunamarina
Prices in certain areas are going up, up, up….

While very few people, including the financial experts, foresaw the housing crisis and appreciated the complex effects it would have on homeowners across the country, there are some basic steps you can take as a potential home buyer to limit your risk in making what is likely the most important purchase decision of your life.

While DIY tools now allow shoppers to compare historical home prices, tax information and piece together neighborhood trends, it’s important not to view this type of data in a vacuum, nor make overly rosy projections based solely on historical data.

That’s the message of a new paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which looked at house price dynamics that led up to “bubble” situations such as in the immediate run up to the 2008 financial crisis. While the paper is fairly technical, there are a few recommendations you can apply from it which may help inform your own research and strategy for buying a new home:

1. Historical price increases do not necessarily reflect current demand

Shopping for a new home and seeing dramatic recent increases in prices may tell you it’s time to buy before prices rise even higher. Unfortunately, a decision like that could also lead you to buying in at the height of a bubble. Past home prices don’t tell you about the current fundamentals of your area’s market. Overlooking this fact is a mistake many new homebuyers made in the mid-2000s.

2. Be Wary of Multiple Big Price Increases Within Short Periods of Time

This could be a sign that prices in your city or state are becoming disjointed from market fundamentals. Before you splash down that premium, consider consulting with a professional who may have a better idea of the market’s supply and demand dynamics, which are equally as important as price trends.

3. Home prices keep rising—until they don’t

As simple as this axiom sounds, many people forgot it in the mid-2000s and compounded their errors with small or no down payments on homes they couldn’t really afford. The odds of another synchronized national housing crisis of the likes of 2008 is thankfully fairly small, but mini-bubbles can pop up in certain cities, counties or even neighborhoods.

Today, prices in metropolitan areas like San Francisco, New York and Washington DC are breaking all previous local records. Whether these are “bubbles” or an accurate long-term reflection of future demand is not for us to say, but does likely warrant further investigation before making a purchase.

Use data on historical home prices as one tool of many when making a decision on a property purchase. Consider your needs for the property, time horizon and other factors before pulling the trigger, particularly in areas where home prices have risen substantially in short periods of time.

Hang Up on this IRS Scam

 

According to the Associated Press, a nationwide tax scam has cost Americans over $15 million and counting since 2013. In fact, testimony from a Treasury deputy inspector general notes that these scammers are operating the largest and most pervasive scam on record.

Don't let fake IRS agents separate you from your money.
Don’t let fake IRS agents separate you from your money. Photo credit: Chris Potter

The odds are you or someone you know could be or already has been targeted. As tax season approaches deadline day, it’s likely that this scam will become even more frequent immediately after April 15th.

Here are some tips from the professionals on how to avoid getting ensnared in this IRS scam:

  1. Know that the IRS does not initiate contact by phone. They will send multiple pieces of correspondence by mail detailing any back taxes or fine you are responsible for.
  1. The IRS does not act like debt collectors. The hallmarks of this scam invoke aggressive and even threatening accusations over the phone, in the vein of the worst types of debt collectors. The IRS does not use the phone this way and would also not use aggressive language to collect immediately on back taxes.
  1. The IRS does not demand payment by debit or credit card over the phone. The scammers in this case are pushing their victims to load up prepaid debit cards to then transfer the money to an account over the phone. This is not a practice that the IRS partakes in.

This scam has been so successful because it plays on people’s fears and ignorance about official procedures. The most important thing you can do is stay up to date on your records and be 100% sure of your current standing with the IRS and other government agencies that collect taxes.

With that confidence and your knowledge of how the IRS actually works, you can feel confident to hang up on any fake IRS agents who may be looking to part you with your money this year.