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Trump May Have Just Admitted To Obstruction Of Justice. On Twitter.

Reprinted with permission from Shareblue.com

Donald Trump may have just admitted to obstruction of justice — in a tweet.

Early Saturday afternoon, Trump took to Twitter and promptly blurted out that he knew former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty Friday to making false statements to the FBI, had lied to investigators while he was working in the White House.

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies,” Trump tweeted. “It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

As some savvy Twitter users, including a former Director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Department of Justice, Matthew Miller, quickly pointed out, Trump appears to have just implicated himself in an obstruction of justice case.

 

Indeed, if Trump knew that Flynn had lied to federal investigators when he asked former FBI Director James Comey to lay off the investigation of Flynn, and subsequently fired Comey, then he knowingly interfered in an investigation of a federal crime.

Attorney Susan Hennessey, executive editor of Lawfare, said Trump’s tweet is “a pretty substantial confession to essential knowledge elements of an obstruction of justice charge.”

“He is acknowledging awareness of the commission of a federal offense at the time he sought to intervene to prevent its investigation,” she added.

And on MSNBC, Dahlia Lithwick, legal correspondent at Slate, noted that Trump “pretty much made himself an obstruction of justice t-shirt right there.”

Flynn left the administration on Feb. 13, over two weeks after he lied to the FBI about his communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The next day, Feb. 14, Trump asked Comey to “let go” of the investigation into Flynn. Soon after, Trump fired Comey.

Based on his tweet today, Trump is saying that he was aware that Flynn had committed a federal crime when he pressured Comey to stop investigating him.

“Are you ADMITTING you knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when you asked Comey to back off Flynn?” Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, asked on Twitter.

After news of Flynn’s flip broke, Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, issued a statement absurdly trying to link Flynn’s actions to President Barack Obama. He also tried to downplay the significance of the plea deal.

“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year,” Cobb said, according to Politico. “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

You might have want to have a word with your client, Mr. Cobb, before he implicates himself any further.

On second thought — let him keep talking, and digging his own hole even deeper.

Getting Started: Are You Saving Enough For Retirement?

By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Saving for retirement is no easy task, but a new study says you don’t need to be a Powerball winner to put away enough cash for old age.

According to the study by Fidelity Investments, 45 percent of those surveyed in 2015 were on track to cover essential expenses during their retirement, up from 38 percent in 2013.

Although that’s still less than half the population, the percentage is heading in the right direction. One reason: People are saving more.

From 2013 to 2015, the median savings rate among survey participants jumped from 7.3 percent to 8.5 percent.

Millennials, those age 25 to 34, made the biggest leap of any group, with a median savings rate of 7.5 percent in 2015, up from 5.8 percent two years before. (The study was based on responses from 4,650 people age 25 to 75 who earn at least $20,000 annually.)

For young investors, a higher savings rate is especially beneficial.

“They have time on their side and a long work history ahead of them,” said John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investing strategies at Fidelity. “So the biggest thing that they can do is to increase their savings rate.”

Although millennials are socking away more, they still fall short of the 15 percent savings rate that many financial advisers, along with Fidelity, recommend for retirement.

“If millennials doubled their savings rate, it would have a very significant improvement on their retirement preparedness,” Sweeney said.

You can see the impact for yourself by using Fidelity’s Retirement Score calculator. The calculator will ask your age, annual salary, how much you’ve saved for retirement so far and a few other financial details. It also makes assumptions about the future, like market returns and Social Security benefits.

In the end, you get a score, which is then ranked on a scale of colors ranging from red (the worst) to dark green (the best).

If your score puts you in dark green, you should be able to cover all of your essential costs in retirement, plus fun stuff like travel. Land in the red, and you’re at risk of not being able to cover even your basic needs.

The 15 percent recommended savings rate includes any employer match you might get in your 401(k) or other company-sponsored retirement plan. The closer you can get to — or even exceed — that goal, the better off you’ll be.

Take a 27-year-old today with $10,000 in retirement savings and an annual salary of $50,000. His score lands in the red if he saves $300 per month and retires at age 67, when he is eligible for full Social Security benefits.

But if he saves twice as much per month, his score changes to light green. (Light green means you can cover your essential expenses in retirement but not all of your discretionary ones.)

If you can’t save more for retirement, changing your portfolio’s asset allocation can also brighten your financial future.

“It’s not as impactful as other steps,” Sweeney said, “but it does make a difference.”

In the example above, the 27-year-old had an allocation of 70 percent stocks and 30 percent bonds and cash. But if the portfolio mix was too conservative — say, with only 20 percent in stocks and the rest in bonds and cash — his score fell. Likewise, the score took a hit if he invested 100 percent in stocks.

For a young investor, Fidelity recommends putting 90 percent in stocks and the remaining 10 percent in bonds.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune. yourmoney@tribune.com.

©2016 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Retirement Plan. American Advisors Group via Flickr

 

Paying Down Credit Cards: Go With A Snowball Or Avalanche?

By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

During the holidays it’s easy to add a few inches to your waistline — and to the balance on your credit card.

According to estimates by CardHub.com, which keeps track of credit card trends, total outstanding credit card debt was likely to exceed $900 billion by the end of 2015, up from $872 billion the year before.

Piling on new debt now could be costly, though, if the Federal Reserve continues to increase interest rates this year (which pushes up the rates on credit cards).

So to help you get back into the black, consider these strategies:

Look for zero-percent offers: Many credit card issuers offer a temporary zero-percent rate on balances that you transfer when you sign up for a new card.

You can search for such offers online, but one of the best deals available now is the Chase Slate card, which has 15 months of zero-percent interest on balance transfers and no fees for transfers made within 60 days of opening the card, said Kali Geldis, editorial director at Credit.com, an online resource about credit.

To qualify for the card, you need a strong credit rating, which generally means a score of 700 to 850.

If you’re young and just building a credit history _ and therefore don’t have a mighty score yet — you may have to shop around for other deals.

Geldis said one card to consider is Capital One QuicksilverOne, which has a zero-percent rate through September on balance transfers. The catch: The card carries an annual $39 fee.

“But if you make the most of those nine months of zero interest, it can be worth it,” Geldis said, noting that any additional purchases on the card earn 1.5 percent cash back.

Request a lower interest rate: If you don’t want to switch credit cards, another option is to ask your current issuer for a lower interest rate.

“People with the best credit are always the most likely to get breaks from the banks,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, which lists credit card offers. But, he said, the credit card marketplace is very competitive, so you may have some negotiating power.

“If you’re a 20-something with relatively low balances and a good history of paying on time, it’s definitely worth making that phone call,” he said.

Go with a snowball or avalanche: Once you’ve secured the lowest interest rate for your outstanding balance, the next step is to figure out a strategy for paying off the debt.

If you have multiple cards, you can pick between two options.

With one, the “snowball” approach, you pay off cards with smallest balances first (while still making minimum payments on your other cards). In doing so, you may feel a sense of accomplishment and get the motivation you need to keep paying off your debt.

With the second approach, the “avalanche,” you tackle the cards with the highest interest rate first (again, while making minimum payments on other cards), helping you pay less interest over the long run.

Both methods work well, although if you want to pay off your debt as quickly and inexpensively as possible, you should choose for the avalanche.

And it’s always a good idea to pay more than the minimum on your cards, said Bonnie Sewell, a financial planner in Leesburg, Va. To do so, she suggested picking up temporary work, such as house sitting, dog walking or signing up for odd jobs on Upwork.com.

What about cash you might have received for the holidays?

“My strongest suggestion would be to bank it, so that you slow down your credit card purchases,” Sewell said.

ABOUT THE WRITER
Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune. yourmoney@tribune.com.

(c)2016 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Computer chips are seen on newly-issued credit cards in this photo illustration taken in Encinitas, California September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Getting Started: 4 Tips For Last-Minute Holiday Shopping

By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

With Christmas just a few days away, , you may be rushing to finish your shopping — or just getting started on your list.

According to market research firm NPD Group, 18 percent of consumers wouldn’t start their shopping until the last week before the holiday and another 21 percent were only half done buying gifts in early December.

With so much shopping left to do in such a short amount of time, snagging a deal will require some creativity.

“Are the deals going to be as plentiful as they were just a few weeks ago?” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD. “Yes and no. There will be plenty of deals, but the longer you wait the less likely you are to get the sizes and styles you want.”

With that in mind, retail pros suggest that procrastinators use these shopping strategies:

––Stay flexible. This holiday season, there is not a must-have gift that only a few retailers have for sale.

“Basically, stores all have the same items,” Cohen said.

But this late in the shopping season, your selection will be more limited. “The wireless headset you want might not be available in black, but it will be in blue,” he said. To check off everything on your shopping list, be flexible.

––Check for new deals daily. Cohen also noted that given the lack of new or must-have products, retailers are likely to continue running promotions up until Christmas.

“No retailer wants to risk having you shop somewhere else,” he said. “Unless stores across the board are doing so great in terms of sales, which is not happening, you’re going to continue to see deals.”

But promotions could vary from day to day. If an item you want isn’t on sale, it may pay to wait a day or two to see if a discount is offered.

“More than in past years, we’re seeing retailers change their promotions,” said Casey Runyan, managing editor at Brad’s Deals, which scours the Web for store offers. “They’re throwing up a bigger percent-off code one day or dropping the minimum spend for free shipping another day.”

––Opt for in-store pickup. If you’re shopping online, keep in mind that, generally, free shipping was available only on orders made by Dec. 18, if not earlier.

If you missed the deadline, check to see if in-store pickup is available. With this feature, you shop online but pick up your item in store free and often on the day of purchase.

“At this point, pretty much every major retailer offers some type of in-store pickup option,” Runyan said. But, she cautioned, it might not be available for all products.

––Go for gift cards. If you can’t find the right size or color, or your gift won’t be shipped in time, consider giving a gift card instead.

This year, many stores and restaurants are offering promotions on gift cards — say, throwing in an extra $20 when you buy a $100 gift card — more so than in previous years, said Benjamin Glaser, features editor at DealNews, which tracks store promotions.

To find a list of such offers, go to www.dealnews.com (click on “All Deals,” then “Gift Cards”).

Or head to your local gas station. Runyan says she has found that local gas stations tend to offer big discounts on gift cards.

A gift card may seem impersonal, but it’s often better than the alternative.

Cohen said” “Procrastinators are out there grabbing what everyone else is grabbing, thinking it must be good. It usually makes for some interesting presents wrapped under the tree.”

ABOUT THE WRITER

Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune. yourmoney@tribune.com.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: William Murphy via Flickr

 

Getting Started: Survey Shows Adults Struggle With Financial Literacy

By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Few of us would probably call ourselves financial pros, but a new survey finds that many people worldwide don’t understand even basic money concepts.

According to the global survey published recently by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, only one in three adults around the world are considered financially literate.

The survey, made up of five questions, was conducted in 2014. The results were based on answers from more than 150,000 adults in 144 countries, including Afghanistan, Brazil, France, Turkey and the U.S.

To make the questions relevant for such a diverse population, the survey focused on four principles of personal finance: risk and diversification, inflation, interest and compound interest.

“You can’t ask about something as specific as FICO (credit) scores because there’s no such a concept in a place like Afghanistan,” said Annamaria Lusardi, academic director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at The George Washington University, who worked on the survey.

The results. For Lusardi, the survey’s findings were striking.

“To me, it speaks to the fact that financial literacy is a global problem,” she said. “Financial markets are more complex around the world and the population is not keeping up with the changes.”

Adults who took the survey were considered financially literate if they could correctly answer questions about three of the four financial concepts. Based on the results, some two-thirds of people globally — an estimated 3.4 billion people — are illiterate.

But some countries performed better than others.

In Canada, for example, 68 percent of adults are financially literate, and in the United Kingdom 67 percent. In the U.S., 57 percent of adults had a passing score.

Some of the lowest scores were in developing economies, such as Romania, where only 22 percent of adults are considered financially literate and Yemen, where the rate is 13 percent.

In almost every country, however, fewer women are financially literate than men. In the U.S., the gap is 10 percentage points — 62 percent of men are literate and only 52 percent of women — double the worldwide average.

Risk diversification. The concept that most people didn’t understand was risk diversification, or the idea that you need to diversify assets to minimize potential losses.

Lusardi, who teaches an elective course on personal finance to graduate business students at George Washington University, says she’s not surprised.

“I’ve seen the same thing in my class,” she said. “It’s just a harder concept because you’re talking about probabilities. And with diversification, you have to think about correlation. It’s just more complex.”

But understanding risk is critical to a person’s financial well-being. As Lusardi noted, most financial decisions involve some type of risk, from buying a home to deciding how much money to save for retirement.

And worldwide, it is becoming increasingly important to teach about risk and other financial basics.

In China, for example, the number of people who have credit cards has nearly doubled to 16 percent since 2011, and yet less than half of cardholders in the survey correctly answered the question about interest.

In the U.S., interest was the least understood topic, with 40 percent of adults answering the related question incorrectly, even though the country has some of the highest credit card usage and student loan debt in the world.

“You have the rise of a middle class around the world and, unfortunately, it’s made up of people who don’t understand what it takes to repay a loan,” Lusardi said.

Want to test your financial literacy knowledge?

Take the survey at finlit.mhfi.com.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune. yourmoney@tribune.com.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Tax Credits via Flickr

How To Protect Yourself From Online Shopping Scams During The Holidays

By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

With more people buying gifts online over the holidays, the potential for fraud is high.

“Scammers know people are looking for good deals and trying to fulfill their holiday wish lists, often without a lot of time,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.

A lot is at stake. On Cyber Monday alone — the Monday after Thanksgiving when retailers tend to run big promotions on the Web — projected sales exceeded a record $3 billion.

If you will be among the many surfing for deals this season, consider these steps for keeping your transactions and personal info safe.

Beware the $20 iPad. Be cautious if you stumble upon a website or get an email with an eye-popping sale.

One way that scammers lure shoppers into handing over credit card information is by advertising super-low prices. If a promotion seems too good to be true — say, a new iPad for about the same cost as a box of Legos — it probably is.

“If most retailers are selling a product within a certain range (of prices) and then one site is significantly less, that should be a clue,” Kaiser said.

Look for the lock. Experts suggest using a credit card instead of a debit card when shopping online. With a credit card, you are protected if your account number is stolen or if a purchase turns out to be not as advertised (or nonexistent).

Before entering your card number, though, check that the website will encrypt your information. Encryption ensures that only authorized parties (you and the store) can see your personal details.

You can tell that a site is encrypted if the letters “https” or a lock icon appear along with the website’s URL. If you see a lock but it has a warning symbol, such as a question mark or red line through it, that suggests the website is only partially encrypted. Abandon cart.

Use third-party payments. Millions of people have had their information stolen because of database breaches at retailers. So it’s understandable if you’re not comfortable using even a credit card online.

As an alternative, Shaun Murphy, chief executive officer of PrivateGiant, which is developing an app for encrypted messaging and file sharing, recommended using third-party payment tools, such as Amazon Payments, Apple Pay or PayPal.

By using these services, your credit card and billing information lives in only one database, rather than at multiple stores.

“The retailer doesn’t get your credit card information, and your data is stored with a trusted third party,” Murphy said.

Check reviews. That unique gift for Aunt Sue may lead you to shop at an unfamiliar website or vendor.

In such cases, it is an especially good idea to use PayPal or other third-party payment services. And before you click “buy,” read reviews about the seller or look for ratings based on feedback from multiple shoppers, not just one or two.

“This is where community policing and voting come in handy,” said Bruce Snell, cybersecurity and privacy director at Intel Security.

Sign up for alerts. Finally, if someone does manage to nab your credit card info, make sure you know about it quickly. At many banks and credit unions, you can sign up to receive texts or emails any time your card is used.

Along the same lines, it’s a good idea to check your bank and credit card accounts regularly this shopping season and look for purchases you don’t recognize.

Said Snell, “During the holidays, you want surprises to be good.”

ABOUT THE WRITER: Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune. yourmoney@tribune.com.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This post has been updated.

Photo: Daniel Foster via Flickr

 

Getting Started: New College Grads Entering A Strong Job Market

By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

This spring, students graduating from college will have more to look forward to than the end of exams and term papers. They can also expect a strong job market.

According to a survey by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, hiring of new grads is expected to jump 15 percent this year. The survey, which asked employers about their recruitment plans for the 2015-16 academic year, is based on responses from more than 4,730 firms.

“We’re seeing hiring rates that resemble the really strong job markets of past years,” said Philip Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute. He noted that hiring has improved annually since the 2010-11 school year, but that recruitment has really ramped up in the last three years.

“We’ve needed it,” Gardner said, pointing out that hiring must increase by 5 percent to 7 percent annually, “just to soak up new grads, never mind the students who graduated during the recession and may still be looking for suitable work.”

If you’re preparing to graduate in the spring, here’s what to expect.

Hiring is up throughout the country.

“There’s not one region that’s lagging,” Gardner said.

However, in some areas recruitment is off the charts. So-called super hirers — companies that plan to increase their hiring by more than 100 percent — are mostly in Virginia and California, followed by Michigan, Wisconsin and Texas.

“California and the D.C. metro area are home to power players in the job market right now,” Gardner said, such as technology firms, and companies in the aerospace, consulting and manufacturing industries.

Most sectors are hiring. In most cases, it doesn’t matter what career you want to pursue. Job growth is strong across industries too.

Take construction. In the aftermath of the 2007-09 recession, jobs for recent graduates all but disappeared in construction. But this year, hiring of grads with an associate’s degree is expected to climb by 37 percent in the industry. For graduates with a bachelor’s degree, recruitment is projected to jump 19 percent.

Other industries that could experience big hiring gains include automotive, health care, technology and professional services, such as accounting and marketing.

“One of the best pieces of news is that everyone is benefiting from the stronger job market, with the exception of big banks that are still sorting things out after the financial crisis,” Gardner said. “There’s not just one sector that’s going crazy.”

Still, while it will likely be easier to find a job this year, don’t expect to earn a fatter paycheck than last year’s college graduates.

According to CERI, 61 percent of companies plan to keep starting salaries at the same level as last year. Among employers that will raise wages, the median increase will be 3 percent.

Another 7 percent of companies will offer signing bonuses. Before the recession, 17 percent offered such bonuses to new college graduates.

“I’m surprised there’s not more wage pressure because competition for good job candidates is getting tough,” Gardner said. “But it’s just not there yet.”

Internships are key. Recruitment on college campuses is already in full swing, but internships are still one of the best paths to landing a gig after graduation.

According to CERI, 96 percent of employers use their internship programs, along with summer and co-op jobs, as a source for finding new hires.

“Building an internship pool is still a top strategy for companies, big or small,” Gardner said. “So if you’re a student and you haven’t done an internship, summer job or co-op (job) yet, it’s time to get on it.”

ABOUT THE WRITER

Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune. yourmoney@tribune.com.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Visha Angelova via Flickr

 

Getting Started: Why Renters Insurance Is Worth It

By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Renters insurance may seem like the last thing you want to spend money on when moving into a new apartment and trying to get settled. But it is a cost you shouldn’t skip.

More people are renting homes now, too. A report published recently by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University shows that in 2014, the U.S. homeownership rate fell to 64.5 percent, the lowest level in two decades.

Meanwhile, the number of renter households has increased by an average of 770,000 annually from 2004 through 2014, the fastest pace for a 10-year period since the late 1980s.

Young people are especially likely to rent. According to the study, nearly 40 percent of renters in 2014 were 35 and younger.

Already, many households are stretching to afford their monthly rent. And unlike homeowners insurance, which is required for a mortgage, not all landlords or property managers require renters insurance to get an apartment.

As a result, many people forgo it.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, 95 percent of homeowners had homeowners insurance in 2014. By contrast, only 37 percent of renters said they had bought renters insurance.

But by skipping insurance, renters open themselves up to a big financial risk.

“A lot of times people say they don’t need coverage because they think they are covered by a landlord’s policy,” said Jovana Evans, director of property product research at Liberty Mutual Insurance, a Boston-based insurer. “But that’s not the case.”

If you’re not familiar with renters insurance, Evans offers these tips on what you need to know.

What It Covers

Renters insurance covers personal belongings, such as your couch, TV, laptop, and clothes, if they are damaged or stolen. And the coverage is not limited to the space just inside your apartment. The policy also kicks in if, say, your bicycle gets pinched from a bike rack or items are stolen from your car.

“Generally, renters insurance will cover your belongings wherever you are,” Evans said.

In addition, the insurance can protect you from personal liability in case, for example, someone slips and falls in your apartment and you are held liable for the injury or if you cause damage to another person’s property.

“This is an important piece of the coverage that people often overlook,” she said.

It’s Affordable

Many people forgo renters insurance because they think it will be too expensive.

But the average policy costs about $12 per month — the price of one movie ticket in some cities — for $30,000 worth of property coverage and $100,000 of liability coverage, according to the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.

Bundle the policy with other types of insurance, such as auto coverage, and you may qualify for a discount of as much as 20 percent.

Don’t Believe Your Stuff Is Worth Much? Think Again

“Once you consider the cost of your clothes, your computer, your furniture, it all adds up to a lot of money really quickly,” Evans said.

To determine how much your belongings are worth and the amount of coverage you need, most insurers provide online calculators to help you make an estimate.

You can also keep an inventory of your belongings online or through a mobile app, which will come in handy if you need to file a claim down the road. Check with your insurer for an inventory tool, or use the Insurance Information Institute’s free version, Know Your Stuff.

There Is A Deductible

And speaking of claims, most renters policies will have a deductible, or an amount you have to pay before insurance kicks in.

Usually, the deductible is about $500, Evans said.

Photo: East Village apartments in New York City, Chris Ford via Flickr

‘Art Of The Con’ Paints Revealing Picture Of Scammed Collectors

By Carolina A. Miranda, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World by Anthony M. Amore; Palgrave Macmillan (272 pages, $26)
___

Late last month, an art dealer named David Carter pled guilty to seven counts of fraud in a British court for passing off cheap bric-a-brac paintings he found on the Internet as originals by Alfred Wallis, an early 20th century painter known for producing marine scenes that toyed with perspective and depth. This comes just weeks after a pair of German men were accused of trying to ply a fake Alberto Giacometti sculpture to an undercover detective. The plot — it’s a thick one — involved one of the men’s 92-year-old ex-mother-in-law and an infamous Dutch forger who once kept an entire warehouse full of knock-off Giacometti bronzes.

Dip into the news on any given month and chances are you will find similar stories about art world ignominy, from the British copyist churning out oils attributed to Winston Churchill to the Manhattan dealer pushing looted Indian artifacts. There is something irresistible about that point where art and crime intersect: the money, the egos, the jet-set country club types — not to mention all the talk about provenance and brush strokes and craquelure (those cracks that form in the varnish of painting as it ages).

Anthony M. Amore would know a thing or two about the world of art swindles. For the last decade, he has served as head of security at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which was famously robbed in 1990 of several Rembrandts and a Vermeer. Three years ago he published, with investigative journalist Tom Mashberg, the book “Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Story of Notorious Art Heists,” which explored the colorful history of thefts of works by the 17th century Dutch master, an activity that has involved machine guns and speed boats.

Now Amore is back with a new book that explores similar territory. The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World looks at some of the most high-profile cases of art skulduggery from the last couple of decades. Each chapter tells the story of a single case, such as that of convicted German art counterfeiter Wolfgang Beltracchi, whose faked canvases based on the works of surrealist Max Ernst and modernist Heinrich Campendonk were so well executed that they successfully fooled even the artists’ families (as well as actor Steve Martin, who unwittingly purchased a bogus Campendonk).

Likewise, there’s the tale of West Hollywood gallerist Tatiana Khan, who claimed to be dealing works from the collection of the late real estate mogul Malcolm Forbes and who, at age 70, was busted by the FBI in a wild web of lies after selling a fake Picasso for $2 million. By the time the authorities caught up with her, she was in ill health, living in a jumbled house stuffed full of sculptures and antiques — like some sort of frayed “Miss Havisham character,” writes Amore. (She ultimately pled guilty and was sentenced to five years probation.)

In this manner, Art of the Con takes the reader through a whole spectrum of cases, from the high to the low. There is the esteemed New York art dealer who ended up in jail after deceiving a star-spangled array of high-profile clients. And there’s the case of the couple from La Canada Flintridge who produced unauthorized ink jet prints of lesser-known artists’ works for a fraud operation that extended into the world of cruise ship auctions. (Surreal and enlightening.)

While Amore recounts each of the cases efficiently from beginning to end, what’s missing is more psychology. Early on in the book, he notes that a good art con isn’t just about creating a good fake, it’s about inventing a probable narrative to go with it: “The art of art scams is in the backstory,” he writes, “not in the picture itself.”

And while he diligently conveys some of these backstories (down to the vintage family photos faked by one forger), he overlooks some big-picture questions: What makes something art? Why is art such an entrancing symbol of power? What kind of person flips a $17-million painting by Jackson Pollock as an investment? And why are so many people so willing to ignore the warning signs of a sham deal?

Art of the Con is methodically researched and reported but does little to illuminate the process of seduction that takes place when it comes to acquiring art. Buyers can do their due diligence: They can check the provenance, they can analyze the market, they can consult with the pedigreed experts. But there comes a point in many deals where acquisition is guided entirely by intangibles such as status and beauty and a desire to possess — not to mention a healthy dose of greed. Ultimately, it is in this messy gray area that a more compelling story could have been mined and told.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Getting Started: Preventing ID Theft On Vacation

By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Summer travel is full of sun and fun, but a stolen passport or hacked email account can quickly dampen the experience. Having personal information compromised while on the road is relatively common.

A recent study by ProtectMyID, the identity theft protection unit of credit bureau Experian, found that 20 percent of consumers have had a driver’s license, passport, credit card or other document with personal info lost or stolen while traveling. Nearly 40 percent have had their identity stolen or been victimized in some way, or know of someone who did.

Here’s what you can do to make sure thieves don’t ruin your vacation:

––Pack sparingly. You may spend a lot of time strategizing how to keep your bag light, but experts say just as much care should be taken with your wallet. According to the survey, 47 percent of travelers do not remove unnecessary credit cards from their wallet before leaving for a trip. A quarter of people travel with their Social Security cards.

The advice: Bring only the essentials, including a limited number of debit and credit cards. Leave your Social Security card at home. That way, if your wallet is lost or stolen not all of your personal information will be compromised.

––Use free Wi-Fi carefully. If you’re like me, you probably look for free Wi-Fi wherever you travel. But be careful when using it, experts say.

“Much of your information will be visible to anyone with the right tools as it moves across the wireless network,” said Dave Dean, a world traveler and co-founder of Too Many Adapters, a technology resource for travelers.

The advice: Connect to the Web through a virtual private network. A VPN encrypts all of the information that passes between you and a wireless network, wherever that network is in the world. VPN software from Witopia goes for as little as $5.99 per month.

––Avoid public computers. The public computer in a hotel or hostel may be a nice convenience if you’re traveling without your laptop, but by using one you’re putting yourself at major risk.

“You just don’t know what is installed on that computer,” Dean said. Risks include key-logging software that saves your login details, security updates that are not installed, and no or out-of-date antivirus software.

He added: “These are not hypothetical risks. I’ve seen them myself in Internet cafes and hostels around the world.”

The advice: If you have no other option but to use a public computer, do so only for the most innocent of reasons, such as researching restaurant options. Do not connect to your online bank account or enter any personal financial information. If you check your email, make sure to reset the password — from a secure device — soon after.

––Make copies of important documents. No matter how careful you are when traveling, sometimes personal items go missing.
“Identity theft is a crime of opportunity, and thieves prey upon vacationers,” said Becky Frost, consumer education manager for Experian’s ProtectMyID.

If your passport or credit card is lost or stolen on a trip, time is of the essence. The sooner you contact the local embassy or consulate or call your bank, the sooner you can get a replacement, as well as stop any unlawful use of your information.
The advice: Make photocopies of your passport and credit cards and store those copies securely somewhere, like the hotel safe. Alternatively, you could scan copies of your passport and cards, encrypt the copies and save them online.
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ABOUT THE WRITER
Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune. yourmoney@tribune.com.

Photo: You don’t want this to be spoiled by identity theft. SandeePachetan/Flickr