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Recently, a friend told me about a negative incident she had while dining at a large restaurant chain. Her waitress was very rude and inattentive. By the time her meal arrived, her colleague had finished eating. The last straw was realizing her steak was prepared wrong. Angrily, she took out her I Phone and sent out a tweet to her followers about her experience. Minutes later, she received an apology from the restaurant’s general manager; the cost of her meal was waived; and she was given a $100 gift certificate for a future visit. Imagine if that restaurant chain didn’t have a social media presence? What you don’t know can harm you!


It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it. Benjamin Franklin


Do you know what people are saying about you, your business or brand? Whether you are managing one or all, your online reputation is extremely important.


According to a recent study at Forrester Customer Experience Forum, a single negative comment using a social media platform, can equate to a loss of 30 potential clients. Can your business afford such a loss? If the answer is NO, then read on for tools and tips:

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New ID Theft Targets Kids' SS Numbers


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The latest form of identity theft doesn't depend on stealing your Social Security number. Now thieves are targeting your kid's number long before the little one even has a bank account.

Hundreds of online businesses are using computers to find dormant Social Security numbers — usually those assigned to children who don't use them — then selling those numbers under another name to help people establish phony credit and run up huge debts they will never pay off.

Authorities say the scheme could pose a new threat to the nation's credit system. Because the numbers exist in a legal gray area, federal investigators have not figured out a way to prosecute the people involved.

"If people are obtaining enough credit by fraud, we're back to another financial collapse," said Linda Marshall, an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City. "We tend to talk about it as the next wave."

The sellers get around the law by not referring to Social Security numbers. Instead, just as someone might pay for an escort service instead of a prostitute, they refer to CPNs — for credit profile, credit protection or credit privacy numbers.

Julia Jensen, an FBI agent in Kansas City, discovered the scheme while investigating a mortgage-fraud case. She has given presentations to lenders across the Kansas City area to show them how easy it is to create a false credit score using these numbers.

"The back door is wide open," she said. "We're trying to get lenders to understand the risks."

It's not clear how widespread the fraud is, mostly because the scheme is difficult to detect and practiced by fly-by-night businesses.

But the deception is emerging as millions of Americans watch their credit scores sink to new lows. Figures from April show that 25.5 percent of consumers — nearly 43.4 million people — now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders. They will have trouble getting credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards banks now use.

The scheme works like this:

Online companies use computers and publicly available information to find random Social Security numbers. The numbers are run through public databases to determine whether anyone is using them to obtain credit. If not, they are offered for sale for a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Because the numbers often come from young children who have no money of their own, they carry no spending history and offer a chance to open a new, unblemished line of credit. People who buy the numbers can then quickly build their credit rating in a process called "piggybacking," which involves linking to someone else's credit file.

Many of the business selling the numbers promise to raise customers' credit scores to 700 or 800 within six months.

If they default on their payments, and the credit is withdrawn, the same people can simply buy another number and start the process again, causing a steep spiral of debt that could conceivably go on for years before creditors discover the fraud.

Jensen compared the businesses that sell the numbers to drug dealers.

"There's good stuff and bad stuff," she said. "Bad stuff is a dead person's Social Security number. High-quality is buying a number the service has checked to make sure no one else is using it."

Credit bureaus can quickly identify applications that use numbers taken from dead people by consulting the Social Security Administration's death index.

Social Security numbers follow a logical pattern that includes a person's age and where he or she lived when the number was issued. Because the system is somewhat predictable, sellers can make educated guesses and find unused numbers using trial and error.

A "clean" CPN is a number that has been validated as an active Social Security number and is not on file with the credit bureaus. The most likely source of such numbers are children and longtime prison inmates, experts said.

Robert Damosi, an analyst with Javelin Strategy & Research, said the crime can come back to hurt children when they get older and seek credit for the first time, only to discover their Social Security number has been used by someone else.

"Those are the numbers criminals want. They can use them several years without being detected," Damosi said. "There are not enough services that look at protecting the Social Security numbers or credit history of minors."

Since the mortgage meltdown of 2008, banks have tightened lending policies, but many credit decisions are still based solely on credit scores provided by FICO Inc. and the three major credit unions: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

Federal investigators say many businesses do not realize that a growing number of those credit scores are based on fraudulent information.

"Lenders don't understand that when they pay money to go through a service, they may be receiving false information," Jensen said. "They think when they order the information from credit bureaus, it must be true."

Without special scrutiny, credit profiles created with the scheme are not immediately distinguishable from other newly created, legitimate files.

Investigators say the businesses clearly know they are selling Social Security numbers, but it's difficult to prove. The sellers use complex disclaimers that disavow illegal activity and warn customers against using their numbers in place of Social Security numbers.

The businesses also instruct customers to provide false information when using the number to apply for credit. Customers are told to use their real name and date of birth, but to avoid listing any addresses or phone numbers they've used in the past. They're also told to avoid any other information that connects the new, clean credit profile with the old, damaged one.

Craig Watts, a spokesman for credit reporting agency FICO Inc., said FICO has tools available for businesses to protect themselves from this type of fraud, but they are not cheap. And many lenders are slow to adopt FICO's new formulas, which are updated every few years.

Some companies that sell the numbers have lavish, high-tech websites. Others run no-frills ads on sites like Craigslist.

Jim Buckmaster, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Craigslist, recently told the AP in an e-mail that there were "fewer than 200" classifieds on his site that used the word "CPN."

Within an hour of that e-mail exchange, dozens of the ads in cities such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York had been pulled from the site. Many were reposted the next day.

An AP reporter called several of the sites, but got only recordings asking callers to leave a message with contact information.

Experts say the fraud will be difficult to stop because it's so easily concealed and targets such vulnerable people. Other than checking with the credit bureaus to see if there is a credit file associated with your child's Social Security number, spokesmen at FICO, the Social Security Administration and the FTC said there are no specific tools for safeguarding the number.

"This is an invisible crime, with invisible victims who don't have enough support out there to help them," said Linda Foley of the ID Theft Resource Center in San Diego.

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How to Register a Trademark....

One of my Twitter buddies posted a link and I thought that I would share the article with you guys....From the Wall Street Journal....Q: We have been operating for a couple of years with a strong Web presence and are interested in getting a trademark on our name. Can you shed some light on the most efficient way to do this?--E.R., Spartanburg, S.C.A: Trademark registration is pretty straightforward. Many businesses can file an application online in less than 90 minutes, without a lawyer's help, says Rich Stim, a San Francisco intellectual-property attorney. The simplest way to register is on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web site, completing the online registration form, check the site's Trademark Electronic Search System ("TESS database") to make sure another company hasn't already registered an identical or similar mark for the same categories of goods or services you offer. U.S. trademark protection is granted to the first entity to use a particular mark in the geographic area where it operates, regardless of whether the mark is registered. But if your chosen mark is already registered by another company -- even if you used it first -- your registration will be rejected and you'll probably want a lawyer to help you proceed.Protecting Yourself From CopycatsOnline trademark registration costs between $275 and $325 and asks for information such as the categories of goods and services for which the mark will be used, date of the mark's first use in commerce and whether there's a design component to the mark you're seeking. Internet businesses registering their names should generally refrain from registering their Web extension, such as .com or .net, with their name, unless they're planning to register the mark both with and without. Getting a trademark without the domain extension will help prevent other businesses from registering the same name by just adding a different extension, Mr. Stim says. He also recommends not designating a specific design of your trademark in order to get the broadest protection.You should receive a response to your application within six months of filing, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site says. There are some scenarios where registering through an intellectual-property attorney -- or at least seeking legal advice beforehand -- makes sense. If your desired mark is similar to another registered mark, or similar enough to confuse people, there's a decent chance your registration will be contested.What's more, it's difficult to register names deemed too generic or descriptive (think "The Ice Cream Shop" or "We Sell Plants"). A trademark lawyer perhaps can help you find a way to get at least some protection.
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MiniMizz ::: Are you covered?

Whether you own or rent, make sure you are insured!

I had a friend who spent $10,000 on studio equipment and video surveillance, and had it all stolen 3 months after he opened. I asked him if he had insurance and he said no, because he didn't own the building. I wanted to cry for him. Had he purchased a renter's policy, for as low as $12 a month and a $500 deductible, he could have had his ten stacks' worth of equipment recovered.

If you rent, don't make the incorrect assumption that the property owner's insurance covers you against theft, fire, weather damage or liability. IT DOESN'T.

If you own, you should have a homeowner's policy already, but read the fine print for what you are protected against.

Living in your parents' basement or on your cousin's sofa? Go get one anyway, just in case BayBay decides to stick his jelly sammich into your CD burner and that shorts out your amp.

When choosing your plan, keep these points in mind:

Property coverage does not always include contents coverage. Property coverage protects the structure, content covers your STUFF. Be sure to have both.

Have enough coverage but don't buy more than you need, and review your policy every so often to make sure your coverage is adequate. Make adjustments for inflation and new purchases. For example, if your policy covers $10,000 worth of equipment, 3 years later that equipment could cost you $15,000 to replace. If you haven't reviewed and/or adjusted your policy, you'd still have to come up with the 5K difference - as well as the deductible.

Be realistic about how much deductible you can afford. It may cost you more in your premium, but when it's time to cash in, that deductible will make a world of difference. In 2006, I lost all the televisions in my place and the ethernet wire shorted out due to lightning. At the time there was no grounding plug on the outside of the building and no one wanted to take responsibility. I had insurance, but my deductible was $500. I think I paid all of $300 for the TVs (maybe not even that much since I'm not one for HD or flat screens and picked them up from Walmart). In that instance my policy wasn't worth the paper it was written on, not because it wasn't a good one, but because there was no way for me to redeem it.

Make sure your liability coverage is adequate. The UPS guy trips and falls on his way to your door because he didn't tie his shoestrings; your friend is visiting and her rowdy kids break a neighbor's window; your upstairs neighbor has a pipe burst and your ceiling comes in; someone leans back too far in the chair while at the boards and hurts their shoulder. Guess who's responsible for the clean up and damages? YOU. Even though none of these scenarios are directly your fault, you could be responsible for fixing them because they happened on the property you own or are leasing.

Inventory your stuff. The traditional method is to have a list of everything in your house complete with full description, quantity, serial numbers, and the date and price of purchase. These days it's a little easier because you can take digital pictures of everything and make your list at your convenience. But you still need your list. When you're taking pictures make sure you have a front, side & rear shot of large items, along with a wide and close up shot of the serial number. Keep the files together on your computer, a backup source that includes a flash drive or CD/DVD, maybe a printed file stored at another location, but also one that you can upload online and retrieve when you need it ; I suggest compressing them into a zip or rar file to reduce upload time.

I prefer multi-location insurers as opposed to just the local one. These days though, you can get discounts on renter's and home insurance at the same place you have another insurance policy. Some insurers also offer discounts if you pay 6-12 months at once. My coverage heavy policy costs me $256 for the year, with a $500 deductible, and I am about to lower my coverage and my deductible, so my payments will be the same but in the event there's another lightning strike, getting a check won't be as elusive. They can't compete with my car policy premium though, so I deal with different insurers.

So there you have it. Go get yourself covered!

Toodles! Mizz Rikki

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(CNN) -- Josh Dorkin and his wife were scheduled to fly to Chicago last week for a wedding and family reunion. The couple paid about $300 for two tickets on American Airlines, but Josh found out that the flight was canceled after spending five hours on the phone with customer service.Travelers may want to consider travel insurance to protect against flight cancellations.The Dorkins weren't guaranteed seats on a United Airlines flight, so Josh spent $1000 for tickets on Southwest. American said his $300 will be refunded, but Josh is still frustrated."It turned out to be a bloody disaster," he said.With the chaos in the skies, travelers are looking to protect themselves any way they can. Some experts say travel insurance is key."As we get into the summer months, that extra piece of insurance can give you piece of mind," said Tom Parsons, CEO of, a discount travel Web site. "We see airlines cutting back, bad weather. Insurance isn't a bad idea," he said.Josh Dorkin said he'll consider travel insurance next time."Considering what's going on, it will be fairly prudent at this point to get travel insurance," he said. "It's important in this day and age."But some industry insiders aren't sure it will pay off."Travel insurance does not insure your trip," said Ed Perkins of "It insures your money. If you're involved in an airline mechanical delay, travel insurance won't do much for you," he said. "Travel insurance isn't good for these day-to-day difficulties."To buy or not to buy?In the case your flight is delayed or canceled, the airline generally arranges for alternate transportation or you'll get a voucher for future travel. And while American Airlines passengers received compensation, travel insurance may play a role in covering expenses the airline won't cover, like taxi fare to the hotel, meals or other amenities, said Vickie Corliss of, a third- party insurance site.There are some instances where travel insurance is a good bet. If you're scheduled to go on a cruise, or you've booked a rental property or a package tour, a policy can save you a significant amount of money should an unforeseen event pop up. If you've invested $5,000 for a cruise, it's probably worth getting a policy. This way if your flight getting to the cruise is delayed or canceled, you won't be out the cost of your vacation."Whether you need to buy a policy depends on how much money you have at risk," said Perkins. "The whole idea of insurance is to protect big investments, not to argue over chump change," he said.The most common and comprehensive coverage is trip cancellation insurance, accounting for 77 percent of total sales according to the US Travel Insurance Association, an industry group. This policy will cover you in case your plane is delayed or canceled. You'll recoup un-reimbursed costs, like meals and hotels, if you're stuck at an airport for a certain amount of time, usually four to eight hours according to the USTIA. Trip cancellation policies also cover lost baggage and un-reimbursed costs in case you have to cancel your trip because of an illness.If your airline stops operating, travel insurance may cover your tickets. But be wary of the fine print here. Some insurance carriers have a white list and a black list. If an airline is on a white list and it goes bankrupt, you'll be covered. But if an airline is on the black list, you won't. See how airlines are coping with rising costs »Know your optionsTravel insurance policies aren't cheap. They can run 4 to 8 percent of the total cost of your trip. Shop around for a policy that fits your budget., and help travelers comparison shop.Travel insurance is even more expensive for older travelers. If you're in your 70s or 80s, you may want to consider getting a cancellation waiver from your carrier. "It costs much less than travel insurance," said Perkins. With a cancellation waiver, you won't have to pay penalties if you cancel your trip at the last minute. Keep in mind that you may not be covered with this waiver if you cancel because of a pre-existing medical condition.If you decide to invest in travel insurance, but you're worried about the solvency of the operator, use a third-party insurance agent so that you're ensured reimbursement even if your airline or cruise line goes out of business.Timing is key if you want to purchase travel insurance. You'll get the maximum amount of coverage if you buy a policy within 7 to 21 days of putting down your trip deposit. You'll get financial default coverage, in case the airline stops flying, and pre-existing medical conditions coverage. Make sure you read the find print: Some companies will only give you 7 days to buy coverage to get these benefits, while others will allow up to 21 days.Before you invest in a travel insurance policy, call your credit card issuer. You may have some free travel benefits you're not even aware of, said Curtis Arnold of, a credit card information Web site. American Express, for example, will give you $500 worth of insurance if your checked luggage is lost and up to $1250 if your carry-on baggage is damaged. Some Chase cards will reimburse you up to $300 immediately if your bags are delayed.Credit cards also have merchant dispute benefits. Your credit card company may go to bat for you if your flight is canceled and you haven't been appropriately accommodated or reimbursed. You have to make a good faith effort to solve the problem yourself first, but if the travel provider hasn't solved the problem and has not upheld its end of the bargain -- namely, getting you to your destination -- get in touch with your credit card issuer. A lot of issuers will instantly credit your account
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This week, we have had two airlines (ATA and Aloha Airlines) close up shop and leave their passengers stranded. If this would have happend to you, what would you do?I always stress the importance of travel insurance because you never know what could happen and you need to protect your investment.Having travel insurance will offer you peace of mind in these troubling times. Its worth the cost (which is mininal compared to what you could lose). Make sure to talk to your agent about adding to your next tripAs taken from CNN this morning.....Cruise ship debts leave tourists stranded(CNN) -- Several hundred passengers on a luxury round-the-world cruise-ship tour were stuck Thursday on an island in the Atlantic Ocean after the vessel's owners ran into legal troubles.The 460 passengers and 200 crew members were marooned after their cruise ship sailed into a port in the Madeira Islands, a Portuguese archipelago about 684 kilometers (425 miles) west of Morocco.Portuguese authorities detained the ship -- the Van Gogh -- on Tuesday because of a legal claim against the ship's owners, said Marcus Neal, operations manager for Van Gogh Cruises. They seized it in the port of Funchal, a city of about 100,000.The passengers were making their next-to-last stop on a 93-day cruise around the world. They paid between $12,000 and $44,000 for the voyage.Passengers are able to leave the ship, said British actress Shirley Ann Field, who was among those on board, but she said most were staying put until the dispute was resolved."It's better just to stay here and see what happens," she told CNN.Neal said he hoped the dispute would be resolved soon.The Van Gogh is owned by a Dutch company called Club Cruise, and it had been chartered for years by a separate company, Travelscope Holidays.When Travelscope ran into financial trouble in December, Club Cruise reached an agreement to let administrators run Travelscope. The administrators claim Club Cruise broke its contract with Travelscope.Van Gogh Cruises, which operates the ship, said it did not know why the administrators launched their claim shortly before the end of the cruise, rather than afterwards
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