Marketing Methods That Make Money

Not all marketing techniques are created equal.  There are good and bad marketing practices.  To create a successful enterprise, there must be a solid foundation supporting the company’s marketing department.  A foundation of knowledge and competence will support a winning marketing campaign.

More specifically, small business marketing may add a bit of a challenge to overcome.  Many small, start-up businesses do not have much money to put forth towards marketing efforts, but marketing is imperative.  Here are a few affordable and efficient marketing methods that will make money.

Social Media

Link social media sites to the company website.  Check out the way this web designer chose to incorporate these media giants.  Most web designs incorporate social media into only one piece of their site, but it is far more efficient to build a site that has consistent and instant access to the biggest social media platforms available.

Blogging

Building an engaging and enriching blog presence will build rapport with the online community.  A company’s blog allows prospective clients the ability to get to know with whom they are working.

It also allows for a company to spread its wings of knowledge and clearly display it for the online world to see.  Linking the business’s blog to their social media site will offer an enriching cross-marketing experience that will cost little to nothing.

Email marketing

Email marketing is one of the most affordable and most effective methods of marketing for small businesses.  Most people do not mind offering up their personal email address for the chance to have a little inside information about their favorite businesses.  Take advantage of their interests and send out a weekly newsletter.

Be available to the public

It should never be difficult for customers to contact the company with whom they are conducting business.  Do no be a stranger to the community.  At every avenue, provide a valid method of communication.  Create a “Contact Us” link on the company website, or try offering a remote question and comment box.

Things will inevitably go wrong at some point, and the customer has the right to ease of contact.  Many people will return to a business even if something goes wrong, as long as their customer service handles the situation with respect and class.

Run contests and discounts  

People love contests.  People love saving money even more!  Running company contests and intermittent discounts is an age-old marketing method that works.  Just make it easy for people to enter, and their attention is caught.

All it takes is one moment for a person to become interested in what a company has to offer.  An effective marketing effort is built to seize that moment at every available point of contact.

ISO standards and our place in the global development community

If there’s one thing I’m particularly proud of in looking at the success of Mizrahi Developments, it is the high standards with which we hold all aspects of our operation. We are a private development company and ultimately there are business goals we set for ourselves and we take those very seriously.

Beyond the corporate imperative of running a profitable enterprise, I have always stressed the need to bring value to communities in which we are privileged to work. That’s one reason why we place such a high premium in our commitment to our ISO 9001 certification.

For those who don’t know, ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization, a worldwide federation of National Standards. We are among the small but growing number of companies in Canada to align with like-minded enterprises all over the world in demanding more from ourselves. Founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1946, ISO 9001 is an International Quality Management System (QMS) Standard. Its aim is to help a wide range of organizations ensure that they meet the needs of customers and other stakeholders, while also meeting statutory and regulatory requirements.

ISO 9001 is based on internationally recognized quality management principles set out by the International Standards Organization (ISO). It first became popular in Europe and has since grown to become a global standard.

As I’ve described in the media in the past, ISO is a self-imposed fitness test that Mizrahi Developments has adopted in order to ensure we are not just meeting, but surpassing the expectations of our customers. My point is, it’s not enough to simply do what is required — achieving true excellence means we as a company must strive to be the absolute best we can be in terms of running at superior levels of competence and developing real estate projects of superior quality and construction.

I would encourage other entrepreneurs and business leaders, regardless of the product or service they provide, to look seriously at this quality management system because ISO 9001 certification is recognized and respected throughout the world. Beyond that, it sends a message to clients and colleagues that you are serious about going above and beyond what’s merely expected of you.

Importantly, over the years, our adoption of ISO standards has allowed Mizrahi Developments to streamline our custom construction process by codifying all potential design changes. That creates a roadmap for us to follow and allows us to develop projects as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. It also allows us to meet timelines and budgets and, finally, provides reassurance to future residents of our buildings that there’s a third party auditing our process and ensuring we are always exceeding standards.

All to say, we are here for a relatively brief period of time. When that time draws to a close, we should consider the commitment and contribution we’ve made to our communities. In many ways, ISO is part of our commitment. I strongly believe in adding value and enriching neighbourhoods and our communities. If there’s a greater, more noble goal to strive for, I don’t
know what it could be.

How to Find the Best Online CFD Brokers

The last decade has seen unmatched growth in the online trading industry. Even the most experienced traders were shocked to see how many novice and beginner traders have joined their ranks over the past few years.

And yet, the trend is continuing strong; more traders sign up to join the market every single day. As the internet continues to grow and reaches parts of the world it has never been, even more people will be encouraged to enter the market to take advantage of this unique industry.

Joining the Trading Industry

Are you one of those traders that either just recently entered the forex or CFD trading markets, or is considering doing so? If so, then you probably know about the vast diversity that exists in the market when considering online CFD brokers and the platforms that are available to online traders. But this raises the question: how do you know which platform is the best fit for you and your trading style?

Below, we will review the characteristics that define the best online CFD brokers in order to help you decide which platforms you can trust, and which should be avoided.

Qualities of the Best Online CFD Brokers

The best brokers should give you all of the tools that you need as a trader to succeed. That means that there are certain characteristics that the best brokers should have. For example, they should give you the opportunity to invest your money on your terms. That means that you can invest your own money and capital without being pressured to invest more than you desire. Keep in mind that you are the customer here; don’t let any broker pressure you to do things you don’t want. The broker should simply be a tool to making trades, not an obstacle.

Secondly, the best online CFD brokers will offer a quality platform. For traders, the platform is the key to open the online trading door. Without one, you can’t trade in the industry. All of your interaction with the markets will take place via the platform, which is why you need to be sure you have the best platform at your disposal. Some of the tools that your platform should offer are charts that show currency values over time and up to date information about the values of assets.

Without a doubt, the platform should be consistent and stable. You don’t want to be stuck with a platform that crashes on you or isn’t available. Look for brokers that offer platforms available on desktop and mobile so you can trade from anywhere, at any time.

Last, but certainly not least, you need a platform that offers customer service. If you ever encounter an issue with your broker, you want to be sure that you have someone to talk to. So stick with a broker that has 24/7 customer service in your native language.

Overall, these are just a few things to keep in mind when considering which broker to use. For more information about online CFD brokers click here.

How can small business deal with today’s currency fluctuations?

Mal Spooner is a veteran fund manager and currently teaches at the Humber College School of Business.
Mal Spooner is a veteran fund manager and currently teaches at the Humber College School of Business.

Right now it’s no secret that selling merchandise to Americans is pretty lucrative.  We also know that it hasn’t always been this way.  A relative of mine who sells lighting products to customers the U.S. is a case in point.

My brother-in-law built a very successful business with his wife from the ground up.  Their decision to sell to markets in the US worked fine, but the real boost to sales occurred when their son joined the business and talked them into selling on the Internet.  Online sales boomed, but of course so did their company’s vulnerability to exchange rate risk.

A few years ago, he was struggling to make his usual margins (which are not that big at the best of times) when the CAD/USD exchange rate approached par.  In other words, a C$ was pretty much equal to the US$.  Cross-border shoppers from the Canadian side of the border were in heaven (myself included), whereas exporters were beginning to panic.  After all, their costs were still in Canadian dollars, which was an advantage when they received sales revenue in a much stronger $US.  Converting back into Canadian currency provided a substantial bonus to their profits and quality of life.

Things are great once again, but how can a smaller business owner(s) plan ahead to make sure that currency risk doesn’t threaten their livelihood?

The graph below illustrates the impact currency can have on a business.  Imagine a fictional Canadian company that began selling a specialty cheese to the U.S. marketplace in June of 2006. The sale price stays the same (due to competitive pressures) at US$ 2.50.  Costs are steady in C$ 1.98 range.  Sales made in US dollars must be converted back to Canadian dollars.  
USD-CAD sales and profits
It is easy to see how just the exchange rate can wreak havoc on a businesses revenues and profitability.  Is it possible to anticipate or prevent this volatility?  When companies are accustomed to very large orders, it is possible to contact your bank and make arrangements to use the currency forward markets in order to ‘hedge’ your profits.  For instance, if one expects to have to convert a significant amount of foreign currency into one’s domestic currency once the order is delivered, you can arrange to lock in the forward exchange rate today, thereby knowing exactly what your margin is (and will be).

However, the orders for most small businesses aren’t large enough to make hedging a viable option. Can you plan for currency fluctuations?  Experts agree that there is no robust way to forecast exchange rates.  Experts have been frustrated trying to predict exchange rates for years, and the forward markets/futures markets are not very good predictors of the exchange rate that will actually occur in 3 to six months.

One approach that has been around (seems like forever) is the purchasing power parity theory.  The price of a consumer product (same materials, can be sourced locally or at same prices) should be the same in different countries, once adjusting for the exchange rate.  Below, the table compares the price of the rather ubiquitous iPhone in Canada, Europe and Asia.  The price of the iPhone 6s 16GB (unlocked) in the U.S. is about $699, and should be more or less the same in Nanjing, China (their currency (is the remninbi or RMB) adjusting for the exchange rate as it is in Berlin Germany (euros).  As you can see from the table, this is not the case (the prices and exchange rates are not 100% accurate due to rounding).

iPhone intl pricing

Because Germans and the Chinese have to pay an even bigger price, it suggests the the USD is overvalued relative to those currencies.  The Canadian dollar on the other hand, based on this overly simple approach is actually still a bit overvalued compared to our neighbour to the south even at these depressed levels.  Of course, our proximity to the US might simply give Canadians a great deal on iPhones not available in other countries.

We should therefore expect the USD to depreciate relative to both the EUR and RMB in due course – the forces of supply and demand (for products, services and therefore currencies) should cause disparate prices to equilibrate.  The mobile device in theory should cost the same to the consumer no matter where he/she lives.  Should the USD decline significantly (perhaps even compared to the Canadian dollar) then the margin on good and services businesses in those countries are earning today with decline.

When sales are in another currency

The problem, is that historically purchasing power parity is also a poor predictor of exchange rates. The game of international finance is extremely complex.  Not only are exchange rates determined by differing interest rates in countries, balance of payments, trade balance, inflation rates and perceived country risks, the rates are also influenced by expectations associated with these variables and more.  The bottom line for smaller businesses is that when it comes to foreign exchange risk – they are completely exposed.

So what can be done?  Planning.  It is tempting to become overly optimistic when exchange rates have drifted in your favour, encouraging further investment to facilitate more sales in the stronger currency.  Buying equipment, hiring permanent labour and leasing more space introduces higher fixed costs that might dampen or destroy profitability when the tide turns the other way.  It is important to consider ‘what if’ scenarios frequently – and especially before laying out more capital. For entrepreneurs the biggest mistake is to take for granted that the status quo will continue.  All of a sudden, you might be buying yourself a bigger house, a fancier car and sending the kids to private school – all based on current income which is linked to the current prosperity of your business.

Currency instability is a fact of life, and the best way to be prepared is to expect the inevitable. Rather than rush to spend more on expanding the business put aside a ‘safety’ cushion during good times that can be drawn upon during bad times.  If your commitment to the US, European or other markets is firm, then park the cushion into currencies you are vulnerable too.  For example, invest your cushion in US dollar denominated assets – U.S. Treasury bills will provide a natural hedge for your sales.  Similarly, if a significant volume of your sales are in Europe and the company borrows funds for operations, borrow some funds in euros as a hedge – then if the euro appreciates you’re able to pay those obligations in the same stronger currency thanks you your euro receivables.

It is widely believed today that the USD is likely to depreciate relative to a number of other currencies, and perhaps imminently.  Today might indeed be the ideal time to begin considering ‘what if’ scenarios and the actions you can take to plan ahead.

 

 

How can I recognise a SCAM?

A very good question and here are some tips including information from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. www.antifraudcentre.ca

1. If it sounds too good to be true – guess what?!
You’ve won a big prize in a contest that you don’t recall entering. You are offered a once-in-a-lifetime investment that offers a huge return. You are told that you can buy into a lottery ticket pool that cannot lose. Oh really?
2. You must pay or you can’t play.
“You’re a winner!” BUT, you must agree to send money to the caller in order to pay for delivery, processing, taxes, duties or some other fee in order to receive your prize. Sometimes the caller will even send a courier to pick up your money. No legitimate lotteries use this process!
3. You must give them your private financial information – I think not!
The caller asks for all your confidential banking and/or credit card information. Honest businesses do not require these details. If you are placing an over-the-phone order, be extremely careful when providing credit card information – get the name of the person and an order number and record it to compare with your monthly statement.
4. Will that be cash… or cash?
Often criminal telemarketers ask you to send cash or a money order, rather than a cheque or credit card. The reason is simple – cash is untraceable and can’t be cancelled. Crooks (obviously) have difficulty in establishing themselves as merchants with legitimate credit card companies.
5. The caller is more excited than are you – oh joy, oh rapture!
The crooks want to get you very excited about this “opportunity” so you won’t think clearly. Lottery, “free” vacation, stock tip – the gimmick doesn’t matter. Act in haste, repent at leisure!
6. The manager is calling – don’t we wish.
The person claims to be a government official, tax officer, banking official, lawyer or some other person in authority. The person calls you by your first name and asks you a lot of personal or lifestyle questions (such as “how often do your grown children visit you”). They are trying to get enough information to steal your identity or have another crook try to scam you as a parent/grandparent.
7. The stranger calling wants to become your best friend – so you need more?
Criminals love finding out if you’re lonely and willing to talk. Once they know that, they’ll try to convince you that they are your friend – after all, we don’t normally suspect our friends of being crooks. Hang up and ignore them – HONEST people don’t try to become best friends over the phone or internet or in chat rooms or dating sites.
8. It’s a limited opportunity and you’re going to miss out – good, miss out.
If you are pressured to make a big purchase decision immediately, it’s probably not legitimate. Real businesses or charities will give you a chance to check them out or think about it.

What can you do to protect yourself?
Remember, legitimate telemarketers have nothing to hide, however….
• criminals will say anything to part you from your hard-earned money.
• be cautious. You have the right to check out any caller by requesting written
information, a call back number, references and time to think over the offer. Legitimate business people will be happy to provide you with that information. They want the “bad guys” out of business too. Always be careful about providing confidential personal information, especially banking or credit card details, unless you are certain the company is legitimate. And, if you have doubts about a caller, your best defence is to simply hang up. It’s not rude – it’s smart.

If you’re in doubt, it’s wise to ask the advice of a close friend or relative or contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, local law enforcement or the Better Business Bureau. Rely on people you can trust. Remember, you can Stop Phone Fraud – Just Hang Up!

What if I suspect that a relative or friend is being targeted by unscrupulous telemarketers?
Watch for any of these warning signs:
• a marked increase in the amount of mail with too-good-to-be-true offers;
• frequent calls offering get-rich-quick schemes or valuable awards or numerous calls for
donations to unfamiliar charities;
• a sudden inability to pay normal bills;
• requests for loans or cash;
• banking records that show cheques or withdrawals made to unfamiliar companies; or
• secretive behaviour regarding phone calls.

If you suspect that someone you know has fallen prey to a deceptive telemarketer, don’t criticize them for being naïve. Encourage that person to share their concerns with you about unsolicited calls or any new business or charitable dealings. Assure them that it is not rude to hang up on suspicious calls. Keep in mind that criminal telemarketers are relentless in hounding people – some victims report receiving 5 or more calls a day, wearing down their resistance. And once a person has succumbed to this ruthless fraud, their name and number will likely go on a “sucker list”, which is sold from one crook to another.

Also, make sure the details are reported to local law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. In addition, add your phone numbers (including your cell and fax) to the Do Not Call List – at www.dncl.gc.ca. It isn’t perfect but it does help.

Internet and E-mail Safety (and security)

In this blog, let’s look more closely at internet and e-mail scams and security.

Internet
Knowledge is power – and never truer than when surfing the net. The most common risks are viruses, key-stroke recordings, miscellaneous malware and Trojan horses.

Viruses do the same thing to your computer as they do to us – they make it sick; they can even kill it. Key-stroke recording software is installed by hackers and allows them to record all of your keystrokes with particular attention to usernames and passwords – they love banking, credit card and email access the most. Malware is also malicious as it can take many forms: from tracking your internet use patterns to copying files to a remote computer to erasing key pieces of software. Trojan horses get uploaded and then sit in wait – silently for a triggering date or event and then allow the hackers to take control of your computer and use it for attacking other computers.

The only 100% protection against these threats is don’t surf the net! Now let’s get into reality – hardware and/or software firewalls together with anti-virus and anti-malware software.

Hardware firewalls are called routers and they act as a first line of defence between the internet and your computer and are relatively inexpensive to acquire and are not very complicated to install. Software firewalls are generally a second layer of protection after the hardware firewall. Most reputable commercial ISPs (Internet Service Providers) provide this as part of their customer offering and may reside either on their servers or on your computer.

Anti-virus and anti-malware software is sold by several companies (Norton, AVG, Kasperski, F-secure and MalwareBytes to name but a few). Most suppliers offer free versions of their protection suites but remember if it is free, there is a reason! They are in business to make money and the free versions are teasers only. They do help of course, but don’t provide complete protection, so beware of freebies! Running “in the background” on your computer, they analyse every attempt at both inbound and outbound communication over the internet for suspicious software code and either block or delete access to outsiders. You can control all of these functions through a “control panel” that is installed with this software.

Be very selective on the websites that you visit. Some categories are higher risk for spreading these problems than others – dating sites, erotic picture and video sites together social media are the greatest sources of problems – avoid them!

E-mail
Rule No. 1 – if you don’t know the sender or you didn’t sign up for any e-mail notifications from stores or websites, DON’T OPEN IT! The “Nigeria” scams and grandchild scams are run constantly on e-mail as are Lottery scams of various types.
Rule No. 2 – see Rule No. 1.
Rule No. 3 – ensure you have a full-version of both anti-virus and anti-malware software installed on your computer that gets automatic signature updates – preferably daily – to stop evolving threats. If you follow these 3 rules, you are going to be safe 98% of the time.

The final 2% is chain-mail – the electronic version of old chain-letters – if you get one, regardless of the identity of the sender, do not forward it – even if it is from a close relative or friend – don’t!

General
A great reference book on scams is from the Competition Bureau of Canada – The Little Black Book of Scams – click here to get there immediately. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has a website that is all about various scams and identity theft. Click here – Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Home Page.

Fraud and Identity theft – a common glossary

Unfortunately, identity theft and fraud are among the fastest growing crimes in the world. In 2012, more than 120,000 calls were received and more than 40,000 e-mail messages each month were reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre! In 2011, credit card fraud alone exceeded $436 million! By contrast, in 2007, TOTAL fraud losses were $14 million. There are many more unreported incidents.

Phishing – An e-mail message that appears to have been sent by a financial institution with which you have business dealings asking for verification of various pieces of information. When you follow the hotlink and answer the questions, the thieves get enough information about you and your accounts to steal your money and perhaps your identity. The financial institutions you deal with do not need to “verify” the information they already have on you. Immediately delete all such emails. Report it immediately to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centrehttps://www.antifraudcentre.ca, by phone to 1.888.495.8501 or by email to info@antifraudcentre.ca (CAFC) and your local law enforcement department.

Vishing – Similar to phishing above, but the fraudsters call you directly and pose as an employee of a financial institution or direct you by e-mail to call a number. They can even disguise call display so that it looks like the call may be legitimate. Your financial institution does not make calls like these. Ignore the call, hang up and report it to the CAFC and law enforcement.

Pharming – This is a term used to describe what a fraudster or hacker does to redirect traffic from a legitimate website to a fraudulent website without the victim knowing it. The scammer then harvests the data entered by the victim, thus the play on words – farming. Report such items to the CAFC and law enforcement.

Spoofing – This is the term used when a fraudster uses software or some other internet tool that allows the fraudster to mask their real identity by displaying a fake e-mail address or name and telephone number on your computer or telephone. It is meant to both hide who they really are and to trick you into thinking you are either dealing with a reputable business or person but also to give you the impression the call or message is coming from somewhere other than the actual location. Your telephone or Internet service provider have the ability to determine the true IP (Internet Protocol) address or telephone number but they must be informed quickly. They usually only provide this information to law enforcement in the course of an official investigation. Report to the CAFC and local law enforcement.

Shoulder Surfing – Someone hovering nearby while you are entering the PIN for your bank or credit card. If they get your PIN and skim your card (phoney machines used to steal your digital information) or pick your pocket or purse, they can clean out your bank account in no time. They may even use the digital camera feature of a cell phone. Beware of people around you that may be able to view your PIN as you enter it on a keypad. Shield the keypad with your other hand or your body. If someone is aiming a cell phone in your direction when using your cards, block the view of your card and stop the transaction until they’re gone.

Dumpster Diving – An information thief goes through garbage or recycling bins looking for account information. With an old bank or credit card statement, cancelled cheques, discarded junk mail credit card offers and some over-the-counter technology, a thief can open an account in your name and make off with the money. It may take you years to clear your good name. Shred all old bank and credit card statements and any pre-approved credit card offers you receive in the mail. It’s a good idea to do this for any papers you have that contain any information about you other than name and address.

Pump and Dump – A fraudster buys a block of low priced penny stocks and sends out millions of spam e-mails. The e-mails can be quite compelling and look like a hot tip. Those that fall for this actually fuel a demand for the stocks that the fraudster sells at an inflated price, sticking the new buyer with a loss. Ignore all such emails. A good spam filter should block most for you. In addition, always report such incidents to the CAFC, local law enforcement and your provincial securities commission.

If you are a victim of fraud or identity theft, always notify law enforcement immediately and then notify credit bureaus and card issuers as appropriate.

My next blog will go through some other common scams that use fraud and identity theft – sometimes together, sometimes separately, but the damages can be horrendous.

With courtesy to Wikipedia, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the Canadian Competition Bureau and the Globe & Mail.

Protect yourself from Identity Thieves!

Andrea told her husband Jack that she had noticed a young person going through their condo paper-recycling bins. At first, she thought they were just looking for recyclables which could be turned into cash, but later realized the person was rummaging through all of the containers that were paper-products only.

These bins often contain bank statements, cancelled cheques, private letters, other important documents, credit card statements and envelopes. If the information is from a business office, old client files and related data can often be found. There have been stories in the news about scavengers going through people’s waste and recyclables specifically looking for these items. The information that can be obtained is very valuable to information thieves and can be potentially damaging to you.

Credit Card Statements – Just how valuable is your credit card number to a thief? One couple was vacationing in Montreal when their credit card information got into the hands of an organized crime group in Mexico. Overnight their card had been maxed out. How would you like your next vacation to start this way?

Bank Statements – With an old bank statement, a cancelled cheque and a little bit of today’s technology, anyone can easily print up cheques drawn on your account and forge your signature. You can imagine the havoc this can create.

Envelopes and Magazines – Check your name and address on the magazines to which you subscribe and the notices you receive and you will often find your account or membership number is displayed. With that number, anyone can gain access to your member or account information and re-direct your mail. In some cases, this can be done on the Internet. If someone can re-direct your mail, would you wonder what else they might be able to accomplish?

Office Waste – The information that can be found in discarded office material is very valuable. It can contain confidential information on your customers, correspondence from companies with which you deal, statements of account, customers’ account data, quotations, billing information, purchase orders, etc. Would you like a competitor to get their hands on any of this information? What about your customer’s own identities – could they be stolen from information you discard?

Andrea and Jack decided to foil the information thieves by buying a personal paper shredder for less than $100. They now shred all papers containing anything other than their names and addresses. Though a determined thief might piece the shredder’s output back together, stirring it up should make this practically impossible.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (www.antifraudcentre.ca) is an excellent resource regarding all types of fraud including Identity Theft. Here are some quick tips from their website.
1. Before you reveal any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared, and with whom.
2. Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time.
3. Use passwords on your credit cards, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SIN or your phone number.
4. Minimize the identification information and number of cards you carry in your wallet or purse.
5. Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the internet unless you have initiated the contact or know with whom you are dealing.
6. Keep items with personal information in a safe place. An identity thief will pick through your garbage or recycling bins. Be sure to shred receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, Physicians’ statements and credit offers you get in the mail.
7. Give your SIN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identity proof when possible.
8. Don’t carry your SIN card; leave it in a secure place.

In my next post, I will share some thoughts on other types of fraud and identity theft – including the internet, your telephone and RFID scanners!

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Legal Document Preparation Companies

by Bert Griffin

As a financial planner, I regularly advise my clients on a range of financial planning subject matters, from retirement planning to investment planning to tax and estate planning. In order to create a truly solid financial footing, I urge my clients to consider and discuss every one of these financial topics. However, for the purpose of this article, I would like to speak to the latter of the list – namely, estate planning.

You may already know what estate planning is, but, for the purposes of clarity, I’ll provide a basic definition. To quote my website, estate planning is the development of “… a plan for the efficient handling of [one’s] estate in the event of death”. And as an added note, typically this development involves the legal execution of estate documents, such as Living Wills, Powers of Attorney, Living Trusts and arguably the most commonly executed estate document, the Last Will & Testament.

When I discuss the topic of estate planning with my clients, I’ve noticed in recent years that an increasing amount of them will respond by asking my opinion of online legal document preparation companies, and whether or not I recommend their use. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of online document preparation companies, in the past ten years or so – or essentially since the inception of the digital marketplace – online businesses have sprung up that fill the need of providing legal documents to consumers through the medium of a website.

Essentially what happens is this: when a customer ants to have a legal document prepared, say for example a living will, instead of going to a lawyer to have the document drafted and executed, the individual will go to the website of an online legal document preparation company. The customer will then enter in their personal information (name, address, phone number, etc.), in addition to any legal information particular to the document they want prepared (say, for example, if the customer would like to have a living well prepared, they will enter in whether they want to have life support or not), and once the customer has provided all pertinent information, the online company then prepares the form, personalized with the customer’s information, and mails it to the customer for his or her signing and legal execution.

So, what’s to make of the entrance of these online document companies? Well, foremost, I can confidently predict that with the ever-increasing influence of the digital marketplace, the influence of these online companies in the legal world will only grow. But, that still leaves financial planners, like me, with a very privy question: namely, should we recommend that our clients use these online companies as a way to create and execute their estate documents?

Well, at the risk of sounding on the fence, instead of answering this question with a yes or no, I’d like to highlight a few of the positive aspects of these companies, as well as some of their drawbacks.

First, it has to be said that the biggest advantage to using an online source to prepare a legal document has to be the cost to the customer. Simply put, having a document prepared by an online business comes at a fraction of the cost as compared to having an attorney prepare a legal document. And if a client is looking to have several estate planning documents prepared at one time, the savings online companies offer can be truly significant.

Besides savings, these online businesses also offer convenience. Let’s face it – most people would rather be doing something else other than creating and drafting legal documents. So, the convenience of being able to create an estate document from the comfort of one’s home really goes a long way to motivating people to actually have their estate documents drafted and executed.

But, not everything comes down to savings and customer convenience. After all, having a legal document prepared conveniently won’t matter much if the document turns out to be legally invalid. So, as a counterpoint, I think it’s important to mention that when working with online document preparation companies, the legal accuracy and quality of their documents must be carefully considered. Background research on whichever online firm is chosen is very important. And if the research reveals that the company has a track record of providing legally invalid documents or documents that have not been updated to reflect the most current provincial or national laws, then this may be a serious red flag.

In the end, I would recommend that prior to deciding to do business with an online legal document company, research should be done on the company’s track record; and for those individuals who have particularly complex estates or complex legal matters relating to their estates, it may be best to stick with a good old, traditional attorney.

Identity theft, email and phone fraud – some tips – Part 2 of 2

Identity theft, email and phone fraud – some of the “tricks”
Written by Ian R. Whiting, CD, CFP, CLU, CH.F.C., FLMI(FS), ACS, AIAA, AALU, LSSWB, Contributing Editor
Website: www.ianrwhiting.com Blog: http://money.ca/you-and-your-money/ian-r-whiting/


Ponzi Schemes
– These never seem to go out of style, mainly because greed is such a powerful emotion. Earl Jones from Quebec and Bernie Madoff from New York are just two of the more well-known practitioners of this deceptive art. My father I didn’t always agree on things (big surprise) but I did learn a basic truth of life: “if it sounds too good to be true, it is.” Perpetrators of Ponzi Schemes promise the world. High returns, special investments, not known to the general public, stable returns in all market cycles, limited product available, no risk, fully protected. There is no such investment; accept it. Regardless of pressure (peer or group including faith-based promotions unfortunately), do not bite. Madoff went on your several decades before everything collapsed. Remember, only the promoters get rich and only at your expense.

Banking Scams and Mail Theft – Many times bank scams begin as mail theft, unfortunately. Thieves target super mailboxes, apartment, condo and townhouse mail buildings and boxes and outgoing letterboxes. Anything of value is taken – and value means ID and account information. Whenever possible, consider electronic statements and payments. When having new cheques printed, pick them up at your financial institution, in person. When printing cheques, only use your initials and last name so that thieves don’t know if the account is in the name of a male or female. Check all your statements the DAY they arrive and report any errors or suspicious transactions immediately by phone and then follow-up in person with your branch or card company. My wife and I no longer even have our address or phone printed on cheques – just our initials and last name. We have been victimised twice through mail theft of cheques and one of the thieves was a real rocket-scientist and used our cheque to pay for her VISA bill, and had written her VISA number on the cheque!

Password Protection – As more and more of the economy moves to e-based commerce, remembering multiple passwords becomes a major concern. Writing them down (including your banking PIN) is definitely the wrong way to go. My memory sure isn’t perfect and I have to track about 30 different passwords of varying levels of complexity for my business and personal activities. The solution? There are several password utilities available (most are free or at least offer a basic free version) for download. My choice is LastPass. It saves my login information for all of the sites including passwords, PLUS it generates (if I ask it to do so) multi-character, multi-special character passwords at random. I can access it using one ID and one password from any internet-enabled computer in the world and nothing resides or stays on the computer being used – no cookies or any trace of its use. This way, I only have to remember one login ID and one password (mine is 15 characters in length and is a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and special characters. Nothing is 100% secure, but I am comfortable with that level of protection.

Well, now what? Most of this is common-sense and nothing is overly complex. Take the time to review your personal and business security to ensure you are protected to the greatest extent possible. If you are a victim of fraud or identity theft, notify law enforcement immediately. The Canadian Identity Theft Support Centre (link below) is a source of excellent information and they even have a downloadable toolkit on how to deal with suspected ID theft and fraud. I recommend it highly!

With courtesy to http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/04/12/bc-id-theft-support-centre.html

and the Canadian Identity Theft Support Centre – http://idtheftsupportcentre.org/