Watch out for These Last-Minute Election Scams

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In addition to the usual election scam warnings— the ones that actually affect people at a consumer level and need to be addressed every single time we go to the polls —Donald Trump has raised the specter of a “rigged election.” So, how worried should we all be?

The New York Times reported in 2007—before the age of state-sponsored hacking—“that a five-year investigation by the Bush administration ‘turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections.’”

While times have changed, it is doubtful there will be any credible calls for revolution on November 9 either. It is true that the world — not to mention the underworld of state-sponsored hacks and WikiLeaks — was a different place nine years ago, when the Bush administration decided there was no organized threat to our federal elections. But for practical purposes, there is only one way the abstract and unknowable threats cited by both candidates can affect this election, and that is through older forms of election scams, listed below.

When Emotions Run Riot

Because Mr. Trump has complained of widespread election fraud in the final days of his campaign, the idea is now firmly planted in the consciousness of the nation. There have been calls to monitor polling stations, which has given rise to concern that this practice might intimidate voters and suppress voter turnout, which is one of the oldest election scams there is.

False Information on Polling Stations

Beware tweets, Facebook posts, Snapchat messages, Instagram posts, emails, texts, phone calls or carrier pigeons bearing bad news about your polling stations, because this is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

This can be information fraud, essentially, with the goal of keeping voters from showing up, either with claims that the lines are long or the polling station has been moved. If you receive any communication regarding your polling station, contact your local Board of Elections to confirm the information.

Last-Minute Contributions

It’s the weekend before Election Day, and everyone is nervous — whether or not the message is about voter fraud, a rigged election or something else, there’s a chance you may become the victim of a targeted attack.

There’s a knock at your door; you receive a call, email or text. The request: Time is running out and we need your contribution to get (insert the name of the local, state or federal candidate or political party of your choice) over the finish line. The money will go toward crucial last-minute ads, or the get-out-the-vote effort. Or perhaps it’s a pitch to fund poll watchers to ensure that only legitimate, registered, living voters are allowed to cast their votes.

Your next move, regardless of the method of outreach, visceral appeal of the pitch or even the legitimacy of the caller: Go to the official website of that candidate, party or organization and donate through a secure webpage, or call the particular campaign and ask if they accept contributions by phone, or write a check and mail it to the official campaign address or take it personally down to headquarters.

Never, ever provide payment card information to anyone in person, online or by phone unless you are in control of the interaction and have confirmed their legitimacy.

Registration Scams

You may also be contacted with a request to update your voter registration information. This may be accompanied by news that your name was purged from the voting roll because of your failure to vote in a previous election, or that all the names in your district were purged due to a computer glitch. You might even be asked for a payment card number to assist in confirming your identity, or to pay a re-registration fee.

Never, ever provide sensitive personal information to anyone in person, online or by phone unless you are in control of the communication and have confirmed their legitimacy. If you are concerned, immediately contact your local Board of Elections to find out if there really is a problem.

Voting by Phone

This is the easiest scam to resist, because you absolutely, positively cannot vote by phone, no matter where you live. That’s why there are absentee ballots. If you didn’t get one in time, don’t fall for any promises of rectifying that matter.

Other Scams Aimed at Identity Theft

Many voting scams hurt consumers not by stealing an election but by stealing sensitive information to commit crimes. As discussed, any communication requesting or requiring that you provide your personally identifiable information in connection with your eligibility to participate in an election — even your physical address and email address or confirmation that you are the Bob Smith associated with this physical address and that virtual one — should be greeted with a very healthy dose of skepticism and a call to the local Board of Elections.

Bear in mind, there are other kinds of election-related fraud, and crooks are by necessity inventive. Whether it’s a fake pollster offering you any perk, provided you give up either payment card information or sensitive personal information, or a fraudulent representative of the Board of Elections, you need to be on your guard. If you have reason to believe you’ve been the victim of fraud, be sure to check your credit score for signs of mischief. You can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan (since everyone else is): Never Trust, always verify.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: YinYang

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Scam Alert: Those Campaign Calls May Be a Trick

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As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ramp up their campaigning efforts in the last weeks of this year’s presidential election, robocalls have increased significantly. And not just the legitimate ones. Scammers also have upped their efforts in hopes of gaming the politically fervent and gullible.

A recent review of political robocalls tied to the 2016 presidential election found that legitimate calls from the Trump and Clinton campaigns have increased by 64% since the beginning of the year, jumping 20% from July to September. At the same time, political scam calls have increased nearly 10 times that amount, up 614% since the beginning of the year.

These findings by Hiya, a company providing caller ID products and services, also showed that total Trump campaign calls to potential voters outpaced Clinton by 388%. The majority of legitimate calls from both campaigns originated from phone numbers in the Washington, D.C., and New York metro areas. Scam calls for Trump and Clinton, however, originated primarily from the following area codes.

  • 213 (Los Angeles)
  • 803 (Columbia, South Carolina)
  • 312 (Chicago)
  • 281 (Houston)
  • 212 (New York)

However, the review found that legitimate calls for the candidates originated in the following areas.

Top 5 Clinton Area Codes (where calls originate)

  • 202 (Washington, D.C.)
  • 646 (New York)
  • 215 (Philadelphia)
  • 315 (Syracuse, New York)
  • 561 (Palm Beach County, Florida)

Top 5 Trump Area Codes (where calls originate)

  • 202 (Washington, D.C.)
  • 646 (New York)
  • 315 (Syracuse, New York)
  • 585 (Rochester, New York)
  • 310 (Los Angeles)

According to Hiya’s research, which was conducted online by Harris Poll from Sept. 28-30 among 2,007 adults, most of the scam calls fall into the following three categories.

1. Re-register or Voter Verification
In an attempt to gain access to personal information such as emails, addresses and Social Security numbers, scammers pretend to re-register voters or verify their voter registration information.

2. Campaign Donations
While political campaigns can and will legally seek donations by phone, you may not want to donate directly over the phone without doing your due diligence to confirm the organization.

3. Election Surveys
Offering incentives such as free cruises, trips or gift cards, scammers ask voters to answer survey questions on behalf of a political party before asking for credit card information to cover the cost of shipping, taxes or handling of the “prize.”

What to Do If You’ve Been Scammed

If you think you may have been a victim of a scam, you can minimize the damage by monitoring your credit for signs of fraud.

Remember, an identity thief may take over your bank account and drain your balance, charge a credit card up to the limit, take over your utility or mobile phone account, and apply for credit and loan accounts in your name, sticking you with the bills and a damaged credit history to clean up. An identity thief could also apply for health insurance, jobs and tax refunds and even commit other crimes while impersonating you.

That’s why watching your accounts for unauthorized transactions, unfamiliar entries on your credit report and sudden changes in credit scores are so important. These are all signs of potential fraud and you’d be wise to address them immediately.

You can start monitoring your credit scores for free today through Credit.com’s free credit report summary, updated every 14 days.

Image: Martin Dimitrov

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5 Ways to Talk About the Election at Work Without Starting World War III

work-and-politics

The 2016 presidential election is the most contentious race in recent memory. Whatever your position on the question of Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, chances are, you’re just ready for this election season to be over.

Unfortunately, the political fighting will likely get worse before it gets better. We can expect election chatter to reach a fever pitch in the last few weeks before November 8. Some of the talk will inevitably spill over into the workplace.

What should you do when water cooler chats take a political turn? Tread carefully, say experts.

“With passions running high this political season, individuals run the risk of saying things or behaving in ways that can be considered unprofessional or discriminatory toward each other,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder, said. When the job search website surveyed people back in May and June, it found that 30% of employers and 17% of employees had argued with a co-worker over a candidate, most often about Donald Trump.

Office political debates were most common in the IT sector, followed by manufacturing and business services. Men were more likely to get involved in presidential election arguments than women, and younger people got into heated debate more often than older workers.

Political debates aren’t just happening between co-workers. Sometimes, CEOs and bosses jump into the fray, encouraging employees to vote for one candidate over the other. Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, estimates that as many as 14 million Americans had experienced political coercion from an employer, such as being told to vote for a certain candidate or risk losing their job.

Political disagreement and discussion may be unavoidable at this time of year, but it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Before you get into a debate about the merits of Trump versus Clinton with your co-worker, make sure you’re aware of these five tips for talking politics at the office.

1. Don’t Do It

In the interest of productivity, try to keep your political conversations restricted to non-work times, Bruce Tulgan, a management expert and founder of Rainmaker Thinking, said. Focus on the job at hand, rather than the latest Clinton or Trump bombshell.

“You don’t want to feel like you are muzzled at work when it comes to talking about non-work matters,” Tulgan told The Cheat Sheet. “But most people have more work to do than they have time. If you don’t have enough time to get your work done, then you should definitely not spend valuable work time talking about politics. That’s especially true when it comes to controversial topics, especially controversial topics about which people are likely to have especially strong feelings.”

2. Understand the Ground Rules

A workplace free of presidential election chit-chat might be best for productivity, but it’s probably a pipe dream. With an election this dramatic, people are bound to talk. But before you hang up your vote Trump bumper sticker or “I’m with Her” poster in your cube, check to see what’s allowed and what’s not.

Some workplaces ban political paraphernalia, like posters, signs, and buttons. Others clamp down on political talk entirely. About one-quarter of employers have a formal policy on political activity and speech at work, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). With a few exceptions, companies are free to shut down political talk in the workplace.

“Private-sector employers may generally impose broad limits on employees’ political activities and discussions during working hours, even if other types of personal activities are permitted,” Dan Prywes, partner in the District of Columbia office of the law firm Bryan Cave, told U.S. News and World Report.

3. Keep it Civil

Roughly one-quarter of HR professionals said they were seeing more political volatility in their offices compared to previous election cycles, a SHRM survey found. With tensions running high, discussions can quickly get heated. Some fights have even turned physical, the Chicago Tribune reported.

When you do wade into the political waters, try to do so respectfully. Unrestrained comments about women, Muslims, immigrants, or other groups may be offensive to some, and could violate workplace harassment policies. And remember that not everyone shares your political beliefs, even in an environment where political opinions seem homogeneous. Your co-workers may keep mum about their stance to avoid conflict, according to SHRM survey respondents. You could inadvertently put your foot in your mouth if your start spouting off about the one of the candidates. The same goes for clients, where a moment of candor could cost your company business.

4. Be Diplomatic

You might prefer to keep your political opinions to yourself, but your nosy co-worker just has to know who you’re voting for. When someone tries to drag you into a political discussion you’d prefer to stay out of, you have two options. One, share your opinion briefly and diplomatically. Two, decline to get involved.

“Don’t be coy about it — that will only make people more curious and feel like they have the go ahead to badger you into talking,” Tulgan said. “But also don’t feel like you owe it to people to let them know where you stand politically. Do say, ‘I prefer to focus on work when I’m at work.’”

What if a persistent colleague just won’t stop pestering you to talk politics? (Or is trying convince you to switch sides?)

“All you can do is keep demurring as politely as you can,” Tulgan said. “Put it in terms of not wanting to spend valuable work time on discussing non-work matters, especially matters that might leave you or others feeling agitated or even just distracted.”

5. Watch What You Say Online

These days, many of our political conversations happen online and via social media. Some of that conversation is civil, but Facebook discussions, internet memes, and Twitter wars can get ugly. If a co-worker spots your off-color response to your Trump-supporting uncle on Facebook, it could come back to haunt you at work. People have been fired for broadcasting their personal political views online.

“Political or not — even if intended as satire — an employee who offends reasonable people with his online speech risks losing his job,” attorney Eric Meyer told the SHRM.

Does that mean you shouldn’t feel free to express yourself on social media? No. But you should be thoughtful about what you say and share. You should also be prepared for the possibility that others will see your comments, and that you may be dragged into a political discussion as a result.

“If you decide to post online, especially if your co-workers, direct reports, managers, vendors, or customers might see, then you will have a much harder time steering clear of the subject matter at work,” Tulgan said.

[Editor’s Note: You can track your financial goals, including building a good credit score, for free every 14 days on Credit.com.]

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.  

Image: Tijana87

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TRUMP VS. CLINTON: Where the Candidates Stand on College Costs, Child Care, Family Leave, and Health Care

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With the election a month away, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have just a few weeks left to woo voters across the U.S.

If you’re still on the fence about which candidate to vote for, your final decision may hinge on how their policy ideas could potentially impact your wallet.

We have simplified and broken down each candidate’s stance on three key issues — college costs, child care and family leave, and health care — to help you understand exactly how each candidate’s proposals could affect your wallet.

Read more about their stances on job growth, taxes and housing here > 

College Costs

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Hillary Clinton’s college debt plan promises a “debt-free future” for college graduates. Clinton intends to use her New College Compact to erase college tuition at in-state colleges and universities for families earning up to $125,000 annually. The plan caps income at $80,000 to start off, then will rise by $10,000 for the next four years to hit $125,000 in 2021.

The New College Compact also promises to help students pay for the cost of college by protecting the Pell Grant’s funding and restoring year-round Pell funding so that students can receive the grant over the summer in addition to fall and spring. In addition, the plan will invest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions and grant a 15-fold increase in federal funding for on-campus child care among other factors. The Compact requires colleges to be accountable and pursue cost-reduction efforts, requires students to work at least 10 hours a week, and will reward those who create programs that provide credible education at a low cost.

Clinton has also pledged to provide debt-relief help to struggling graduates. Her plan outlines efforts to make sure all graduates can refinance loans, enroll in income-based repayment (no more than 10% of monthly income), get help from employers, defer repayment from debt incurred from starting a business for up to three years, and be rewarded for public service. Finally, she proposes a three-month moratorium on student debt collection to give debtors the chance to get on board with the resources she plans to provide.

trump_final

Donald Trump’s plan to address college costs begins with a proposal to get rid of student loans issued directly by the U.S. government, a system that has been in place since 2010. Trump would take the U.S. government out of the student loan business, leaving student lending up to private lenders.

He says he will work with Congress to enact reforms that will give tax breaks to colleges and universities that make a “good faith effort” to cut back costs and student debt. By doing this, Trump says he will make attending, paying for, and completing one’s education at a two- or four-year college or vocational or technical school more accessible.

Child Care and Family Leave

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Child care costs rose more than 122% over the past 10 years for American families.

Hillary Clinton’s plan to address the rising costs includes giving a raise to child care providers to incentivize high-quality and effective child care. She plans on using the Respect and Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators (RAISE) initiative with state and local governments to fund the salary increases. Clinton also plans to double federal funding for the Early Head Start and the Early Head Start–Child Care Partnership program to allow room for twice as many children in the program.

When it comes to family leave, Clinton says she will guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to workers who need to care for a new child or sick family member. Individuals who fall seriously ill or are injured will also get up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave. The pay will be at least two-thirds of an individual’s current wages, but it won’t cost businesses anything extra. It will be funded by money generated through tax increases on the wealthy and tax reform.

Clinton also proposes capping families’ child care expenses at 10% of household income.

trump_final

Donald Trump would change the tax code to allow working parents to deduct child care expenses for up to four children and elderly dependents from their income taxes. The deduction would be capped at “average cost of care for the state of residence,” according to his plan. According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, higher-earning families would have the most to gain from Trump’s child care plan, as the poorest households rarely pay federal income taxes.

Trump also proposes creating special child care savings accounts where families can make tax-free contributions toward child care. Currently, families may contribute to similar accounts but only if those accounts are offered by an employer. His proposal calls for a federal match of up to $500 to families who use the special accounts.

On the issue of family leave, Trump proposes six weeks of paid maternity leave.
He hasn’t specifically said how his plan would be paid for, but in a campaign fact sheet he says most of his tax reforms would be paid for by “increases in economic activity that accompany pro-growth tax reform, better trade deals, regulatory and immigration reform, and unleashing American energy.”

Health Care

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Hillary Clinton largely plans to focus on continuing and expanding the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). She says that she will work with state governors to expand Medicaid to the 3 million people who are uninsured because states chose not to expand the program. Clinton says she will allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to block or adjust health insurance premium rate increases to make coverage more affordable. She also says she will cap prescription drug costs and limit out-of-pocket expenses for families.

Clinton says she will also make efforts to give Americans the choice of a public-option insurance plan, or a government-run health plan, in each state and to allow those 55 years or older to opt into Medicare. The qualifying age is currently 65.

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The first part of Donald Trump’s health care plan is to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to help cover out-of-pocket expenses. HSAs are usually coupled with high-deductible health plans to allow workers to set aside pre-tax dollars for medical expenses. Unlike many existing HSA accounts, the ones that Trump is proposing will have no limit and will become part of an individual’s estate and will enable people to pass the sum onto an heir after death, tax-free.

Trump says he will also allow individuals to deduct their health insurance premium payment from their tax returns. Finally, his plan outlines an effort to work with states to identify individuals who have not had continuous health coverage and create high-risk pools to give them access to health care coverage.

Make sure to register to vote by Oct. 14.

Illustrations by Kelsey Wroten.

Click here to find out more about Trump and Clinton’s platforms on job growth, college costs, taxes and housing > 

The post TRUMP VS. CLINTON: Where the Candidates Stand on College Costs, Child Care, Family Leave, and Health Care appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

TRUMP VS. CLINTON: Where the Candidates Stand on Job Growth, Taxes, and Housing

trpvshrc4

With the election a month away, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have just a few weeks left to woo voters across the U.S.

If you’re still on the fence about which candidate to vote for, your final decision may hinge on how their policy ideas could potentially impact your wallet.

We have simplified and broken down each candidate’s stance on three key issues — job growth, taxes, and housing — to help you understand exactly how each candidate’s proposals could affect your wallet.

Jobs

hillary_final

Hillary Clinton plans to create new jobs by investing $50 billion in programs that promote youth employment, small business growth, and re-entry programs for the formerly incarcerated. She plans to invest another $50 billion in the Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund, a publicly funded initiative that seeks to invest in public infrastructure in rural areas to attract more businesses and, as a result, more jobs for the under- and unemployed.

Clinton is also a supporter of the “ban the box” movement to get rid of the box on applications that requires job seekers to select whether or not they have a criminal past. She has proposed banning such questions on applications for federal employees and contractors. She will also require companies to only consider criminal history when it is related to the job applied for and grant the right of appeal to those who are rejected because of a criminal past.

Clinton says she will invest $25 million in small business and private investment. She wants to do that through mentorship programs and by expanding federal funding for programs that target small business development.

trump_final

Donald Trump has said he plans to relax federal regulations in order to lower the cost of doing business for major corporations in the U.S., an effort he hopes will dissuade them from moving their business (and jobs) overseas.

Trump’s plan points to energy as a source for new jobs in the future. He says will make the U.S. the world’s dominant leader in energy production by scraping programs like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, a 2015 initiative led by President Obama to reduce carbon emissions and increase regulations on coal-powered plants. The plan has been stalled since February, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that questions the constitutionality of the plan.

Taxes

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Clinton’s tax plan focuses on raising taxes on high-income taxpayers (the top 1%) and closing tax loopholes. Her plan also includes increasing estate and gift taxes. The majority of her proposed tax policies won’t affect the bottom 95% of taxpayers, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Part of Clinton’s plan is to raise taxes on higher-income taxpayers with a 4% “Fair Share Surcharge,” which would apply to those making $5 million or more annually. She also says she’ll close tax loopholes favored by the wealthiest earners in part by supporting the Buffett Rule, which would levy a 30% income tax on any individuals earning $1 million or more. The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research group, has warned that such a plan would provide a meager boost to tax revenue.

In addition, Clinton wants to restore the estate tax to its 2009 level. Doing so would increase taxes on multi-million dollar estates — to as much as 65% for an estate valued at more than $1 billion for a couple — and close loopholes that deflate the value of the estates.
According to the Tax Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank, which in March completed an analysis of Clinton’s tax proposal, the plan would generate an additional $1.1 trillion in tax revenue. Households earning less than $300,000 would see little to no change in their federal income taxes, according to the analysis.

trump_final

At the core of Donald Trump’s plan are tax cuts for everybody — with an emphasis on corporations and middle- and high-income Americans. Trump says he will reduce the number of tax brackets to three from the current seven.
Under his plan, the new tiers would be:

  • 12% (married filing jointly households earning less than $75,000)
  • 25% (married filing jointly households earning between $75,000 and $225,000)
  • 33% (married filing jointly households earning more than $225,000)
    *Brackets for single filers would be half of these amounts.

The Trump plan would also increase the standard deduction for joint filers to $30,000, from $12,600, and the standard deduction for single filers to $15,000. His plan would also eliminate the death tax (aka. the estate tax) and gift taxes.
Trump’s plan would reduce the nation’s income by about $4.4 trillion to as much as $9.5 trillion over the next decade, according to several independent research groups. It would also mean increased income for all income levels, with the largest gain going to the top 1%. The top bracket could see its average annual income boosted by as much as 16%, while the bottom 80% would see a 0.8% to 1.9% rise according to the Tax Foundation. The Tax Policy Center estimates that Trump’s plan could increase the national debt by as much as 80% if it isn’t counterbalanced with huge spending cuts.

Housing

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Hillary Clinton’s proposed policies include a $25 billion investment in housing. She plans to offer a federal match of up to $10,000 for savings going toward a down payment for people who earn less than the median income in their area. She also plans to increase access to “lending in underserved communities, support housing counseling programs and police abuse and discrimination in the mortgage market.”

Clinton says she will raise support for affordable rental housing and wants to motivate communities to try land-use strategies that may make it easier to build lower-cost rental housing near businesses. Clinton says she will also make efforts to expand living options for recipients of housing vouchers.

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Donald Trump doesn’t have a housing policy outlined on his campaign site.

Make sure to register to vote by Oct. 14.

Illustrations by Kelsey Wroten.

The post TRUMP VS. CLINTON: Where the Candidates Stand on Job Growth, Taxes, and Housing appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Worst Vote for Your Home Value: Trump or Sanders, Economists Say

bernie-sanders

In somewhat ironic news, real-estate-magnate-turned-presidential-hopeful Donald Trump would be bad for the housing market if he won the election, according to a new report. The same goes for a potential President Bernie Sanders.

Zillow, a real estate company, and Pulsenomics, an economics research firm, surveyed more than 100 housing experts on how the presidential candidates would affect the housing market if elected. The consensus was that a President Trump or President Sanders would negatively impact home value forecasts, housing finance reform and the U.S. economic outlook overall.

Pulsenomics questioned 107 experts between April 25 and May 5, a period in which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) suspended their campaigns for the White House. Still, the economists considered what both candidates could have done for the housing market and came to the conclusion that, had either been elected president, Cruz would have had a negative effect and Kasich a positive one.

With Kasich, economists’ most favored candidate, out of the race, the presidential hopeful with the next-best economic outlook was Hillary Clinton. The panelists generally viewed a Clinton presidency as one that would positively affect forecasted home values and housing finance reform, and have a neutral impact on the economy overall.

The report didn’t offer much detail on the reasons for the economists’ assessments, nor did it explain how the economists were selected for the survey.

“The results from this survey show us that, from these economists’ standpoint, the more centrist candidates from either party would be best for the economy and housing market,” Terry Loebs, Pulsenomics founder, said in a press release. “Respondents saw the more polarizing political leanings of Donald Trump and Sen. Sanders as having a negative effect.”

Some panelists said Trump’s “inconsistency on policy, unpredictability as a candidate and lack of political experience” drove them to say he’d negatively impact the housing market as president. Panelists looked even less favorably on Sanders, whom 59% believed would somewhat or very negatively influence home value forecasts. (Forty-nine percent said the same of Trump, and 29% felt that way about Clinton.)

Election years always bring on feelings of uncertainty, which is why homeowners should keep tabs on their estimated home value, no matter who’s running the country. Home value can affect your property tax bill, which in turn can impact your housing budget, your ability to pay back your mortgage, and your credit score. (You can view your free credit report summary, updated monthly, on Credit.com. And, if your credit is in rough shape, you can potentially improve your score by disputing errors on your credit report, paying down high credit card balances and limiting inquiries in the short-term.)

Property value is also important to monitor if you consider selling your home — and plan a move to Canada in November.

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

Image: andykatz

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Why Hillary Clinton’s Emails Matter This Year

Hillary Clinton

There is no shortage of punditry about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s homebrew server, and the resulting fallout, aka “Emailgate.” Whether you read the commentary dedicated to killing her candidacy, or calmer voices focused on the bigger picture of national cybersecurity, Secretary Clinton gets failing marks — and rightly so.

Unlike some of Secretary Clinton’s critics, I don’t believe that the email controversy is, first and foremost, proof of some deep character flaw that will spell the end of our great nation should she become our 45th president. To be fair, she was not the first Secretary of State (indeed the first public official) to engage in this risky behavior. Instead, I view it as the tragic manifestation of where we find ourselves as a nation when it comes to cybersecurity, and precisely why breaches have become the third certainty in life.

President Obama recently unveiled a $19 billion cybersecurity budget for the next fiscal year. This represents a 35% increase over the previous year. The White House blueprint is called the Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP). Among many initiatives too numerous to detail here, the White House roadmap includes $3.1 billion for an Information Technology Modernization Fund — money specifically earmarked to provide a much-needed upgrade to the federal government’s woefully outdated legacy IT systems.

According to ABC News, the typical private server can cost anywhere between a few hundred dollars to several thousand. If you could choose between the government’s protections, however flawed, and a private server (and you were a world leader), which would you pick?

While the news media and pundits on both the left and the right have focused on the character issue — namely, Secretary Clinton wasn’t forthcoming about her rationale for opting not to use government systems (Was it a Nixonian desire to control and hide information or simply a matter of convenience?) — a larger more important point went, shall we say, “misunderestimated.” Former President George W. Bush’s “new word” is precisely the right word choice here, because while it is forgivable — or at least to be expected — that a new threat may be underestimated at first (in this case the rise of hackers and mega data breaches), doing so creates vulnerability. Misunderestimation gets at the gooey center of the cybersecurity problems we now face — a lot of them springing from an “It Can’t Happen to Me” attitude. Of course, that is the very thing hackers need their targets to think. As long as the danger of attack is underestimated, the potential for expanding attackable surfaces causing critical exposure of information will remain unchecked.

A Teachable Moment?

There is no getting around a simpler, and at least on the surface, damning fact. A world leader maintained a private email server that stored top secret information. The revelation of this terrible state of cyber affairs in the State Department can only be viewed as an appalling oversight, betraying an imperfect understanding of the threats we currently face as a society. (You can see where all the presidential candidates stand on cyber security here.)

While no one is perfect, data security is an area that requires something verging on perfection. A homebrew server comes nowhere near that level of perfection. The fact that Secretary Clinton thought this was an acceptable practice suggests a very concerning interpretation of the cybersecurity problem, as well as an institutional issue, since there should have been a way to force protocol at the State Department.

Here’s the deal: We live in a world where the Office of Personnel Management was breached. We live in a world where the largest corporations in possession of sensitive records pertaining to tens of millions of individuals have been, and continue to be, hacked with more than a billion lives exposed to a host of bad guys in the process and untold amounts of money lost.

And it’s important to remember if you are a consumer, you need to minimize your risk of exposure and do whatever is necessary to detect victimization (for example, checking your credit regularly can be an initial indicator that something’s gone horribly wrong) and put a damage control program in place.

Having said all this, I’m not sure it means that Hillary Clinton would make a bad president. While Clinton’s mistake could be viewed as arrogant (at best) and de facto reckless, it is crucial for us to avoid finger-pointing at a time where virtually every digital mishap, data-security giveaway and metadata misfire should be looked at as being so many teachable moments.

The data insecurity quagmire is still in its Wild West infancy, and while it’s easy to throw stones in this glass house, it doesn’t serve to protect us from the dangers posed by hackers.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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