Avoiding the Ho-Ho-Oys of Scams

Not everyone is filled with the spirit of peace and goodwill — and latke love — during the holidays. It's also peak season for criminals.

The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants recommends several steps you should take to avoid falling prey to their schemes.

Hold on to Your Wallet: Crowded stores and distracted shoppers are a boon to pickpockets, so try to limit the cash you carry so that you don't have much to lose. Also, keep your wallet in a zipped bag, a front pocket or in a back pocket that buttons.

When you take out a credit card for use, monitor its whereabouts during the transaction and put it safely away immediately afterward. If your card is lost, report it to the card-issuer right away.

When using a debit card, be careful that others don't view your personal identification number.

Guard Against Identity Theft: Protect your identification. The loss of critical ID could leave you open to identity theft, in which scammers use your personal information to make purchases in your name. Therefore, never carry your Social Security card in your wallet when shopping.

Protect Your Packages: Keep an eye on your shopping bags. If you rest them on the ground, place them in front of you so they can't be grabbed when you're not looking. If you leave packages in your car, put them in the trunk or make sure they are out of sight so thieves are not tempted to break in.

Look Out for Online Scams: Never provide your credit-card or other personal information in response to an e-mail. If you do, you could fall victim to popular schemes.

In one scam, a consumer makes a purchase from a large Internet retailer, then receives an e-mail notice purportedly from that retailer asking them to click on a link and re-enter their financial information. Don't do it. There's a good chance the sender is a con artist looking to steal personal data.

Close out of the e-mail and call the retailer's customer-service number to find out if the notice is legitimate.

Check Out Charities: Many scammers create bogus "charities" at this time of year to take advantage of holiday generosity. Last year, for example, many phony groups sprouted up pretending to collect money for veterans or those currently serving in the military.

Ask for written information about the charity before you donate and confirm how donations are used. You can also check Web sites such as: www.give.org or www.charitynavigator.org to verify a group's authenticity.

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If you are a business owner, now is a good time of the year to assess your company policies and procedures to be sure you're offering programs that make employees grateful to be working for you — you know, that holiday feeling, according to our friends at PICPA.

In a way, this is another example of not getting ripped off: A 2006 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found more than three-quarters of American workers were looking for new jobs. In this competitive hiring environment, it's a good idea to reward your talented staff members for their dedication.

The "duh" element: Not surprisingly, attractive compensation is a very important element in employee-job satisfaction. That's why it's critical to know the current market rate for various positions and to make sure you're offering at least as much.

Workers also have come to expect competitive health care — do similar employers offer lower deductibles or better pharmacy benefits? — and retirement allowances.

While generous salaries and benefits may seem expensive, CPAs advise that the cost to replace unhappy staff can be even higher, beginning with the costs to productivity if you happen to get a bad replacement employee.

Replacement expenses also include job advertising and recruiters' fees, training, accrued salary paid to the former staff member, and the costs of time spent interviewing and filling out paperwork. You'll also have to factor in the cost of opportunities lost and projects left unfinished while a position is vacant, and perhaps overtime expenses as other employees pick up the slack.

In the end, it's less expensive to raise salaries or improve benefits than to cope with constant turnover.

Ambitious professionals often seek out the strongest chances to advance their careers. As a result, businesses that have clear career tracks, or excellent training and education opportunities, will be at an advantage.

To Keep a Good Employee …

Many companies offer workers some form of tuition assistance, which not only enhances their performances personally, but also betters their work skills. Some perks that involve no cash outlays include formalized on-the-job training and opportunities to take on greater responsibility. Employees will be less likely to quit if they're convinced that working for you is the key to a great career.

Wellness programs are a popular benefit that will help in your efforts to instill loyalty. They may include smoking-cessation workshops, weight-loss and stress-reduction programs, or gym memberships and discounts. While these programs may seem costly to institute, they reduce turnover costs and health-care insurance bills.

There are many other benefits that can help retain staff. For example, on-site or emergency child-care options can be appealing to parents of young children.

Parking privileges or transit subsidies that make commuting cheaper or more convenient are other perks to consider. Depending on your budget, providing free coffee and tea — or even the occasional free lunch — also serves to boost morale.



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