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How a CBD Business Can Benefit Society


Cannabidiol, or CBD, can transform communities, especially when those communities are impacted by insufficient funding and economic damage. Businesses nationwide seek the upper hand to survive, and sometimes that means infringing upon each other's property. In fact, business lawsuits accounted for less than five percent of civil filings in state courts in 2017.

But CBD-based businesses present opportunities for communities to work together. Cannabis entrepreneurs around the world are making a difference. Either way, most people could appreciate CBD by learning of its positive impact on society.


Decreasing Unemployment

CBD-based businesses can add jobs to the economy. This is a growing industry that is adding new types of jobs to the employment field.

Fortunately, the industry is full of flexible career opportunities for people looking to work in the CBD field. Employment opportunities aren't restricted to dispensaries and retail shops. Rather, professionals looking to get into the creative aspect can find opportunities in web design and blogging. There are also advertising and marketing and customer service possibilities for those wanting to work with people.

To further advance employment opportunities, communities can benefit from:

  • Training and internships
  • Classroom discussion and continuing education
  • Awards, contests, and CBD-based job fairs

Health Benefits

The mental health system in America is broken. Care doesn't arrive when it should. People suffering from depression and schizophrenia may cycle through prison, homelessness, and joblessness throughout their battle with mental illness. The fact is that CBD businesses can help alleviate some of these problems. Given the discussion, establishing CBD storefronts can help people get either a healthy alternative or additive to medications and treatment. News reports reveal that according to a Brightfield Group and HelloMD survey, 80 percent of respondents who used CBD found the products were very effective.

Likewise, CBD has been reported to help reduce inflammation, making it an ideal solution for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory-related conditions. Throughout America, 1 in 25 employed adults aged 18-64 struggle at work because of arthritis. Pain, according to a Gallup poll cited by Harvard Health Publishing, was one of the top reasons people used CBD, and one of many reasons supporting the creation of CBD-based businesses.

Health care is a priority. Poverty, mental illness, and drug addiction still create issues for communities. People who use CBD have reported positive effects, attributed to the freedom that comes from being mentally well and free of cravings. There is much to learn about CBD, but as long as businesses make money and communities want the same thing, CBD-based businesses can only improve society as a whole.

Four Ways To Make Your Home  More Energy Efficient

The Department of Energy estimates that the average American home spends anywhere from five percent to ten percent of its budget on lighting alone. Other utilities such as water and gas do not even factor into such a percentage.

Home efficiency is not as expensive as some may think. Oftentimes, saving money is a matter of making minor upgrades to the residence. Consider these tips when looking to lower your utility bills on a budget.

Seal All Windows And Cracks

Did you know caulking and sealing windows is a great way to safeguard your home from unwanted pests as well as lower energy costs? Air leaks out when there are gaps around the windows of your home. Closing the space keeps the air or heat from your HVAC system inside the home, so you do not have to run the system for so many hours.

Some homeowners take the notion of caulking for granted. You, however, will see the difference on your utility bill when you choose to seal window panes with weatherstripping or another sealant solution. Closing gaps and cracks in the family home is one of the easiest ways to lower energy bills quickly.

Insulate Your Walls And Attic

The attic is responsible for about 40 percent of heat loss in your home. Good insulation in your walls, and especially the attic, can reduce the amount of heat that leaves your home so that you can turn the HVAC system off after the house reaches a comfortable temperature in the winter. Insulation is also helpful in the summer months when you want cool air.

Some homeowners cannot afford to invest in the traditional installation of insulation. A more modern and cost-effective approach would be to have insulation blown into the walls and attic. Insulation blown into the walls works to maintain a comfortable temperature in the living quarters like traditional insulation.

Plant Trees For Shade Near The House

Some homeowners, even with the discount that comes with insulation blown into the walls and attic, cannot afford to upgrade the structure of their residences. It may be a good idea to consider the outdoors in such instances of having a tight budget.

Trees bring more than aesthetic value to the property. The right plants, when placed strategically, can also serve as exterior insulation that keeps air and heat inside the home. You will also want to make sure your well is ready to take on the water. Approximately 13 million households have a private well on their property for their drinking water. You'll want to make sure this is properly maintained for your family and your plants You may want to consider hiring a landscaping expert to give your yard an upgrade if you have a home with poor insulation or old windows that you cannot afford to upgrade.

Upgrade Your Windows

Those who have room in their budget for much-needed renovations should consider replacing old windows for better home efficiency. It does not matter how much you caulk around the house or use weatherstripping to seal gaps around your windows and doors. A cracked window will still let air from your HVAC system out.

Replacing old windows further seals in the air, so you can turn off the heat or air conditioner once temperatures in the living quarters reach your standards of comfort. It may also be a good idea to consider upgrading if you have single-pane windows. Double and triple-pane windows keep more heat and air inside. These designs also work to keep noise from the street out.

You work hard for your money and deserve to get the most out of your home. Neglecting home upgrades for better efficiency does more harm than good to your budget. You can save hundreds, even thousands, more in energy costs annually by making simple changes to the structure of your home. Use these tips for better home efficiency to reduce your monthly utility bills.

Why It Is Important to Attend Annual Dentist and Doctor's Appointments

When times become challenging, it is common for people to overlook their own needs. There are two ways that you can proactively take care of yourself. One is to have an annual wellness check-up with your primary doctor. The other is to visit your dentist twice a year for your teeth.

Why Visit Your Primary Care Doctor?

It is essential that adults visit their primary care provider at least once a year. This service is typically covered by insurance and can be a preventative check to catch any type of condition that might be lurking. Your doctor discusses your medical history with you, determines any risk factors, and performs an exam. Your primary doctor can determine if you need any exams, testing, or referral to a specialist. During this time, your doctor will review medications with you, provide vaccinations, and manage any diseases you may have.

Americans get about one billion colds each year. Visiting your primary doctor may not prevent you from getting a cold but can help you maintain optimal health. When you are at your peak health, your immune system is healthy, and you may be able to avoid catching colds or having severe symptoms. It is always a good idea to have an established relationship with your primary doctor, so if you do get sick, your primary doctor will know a little about you, making it easier to care for you. When in need of medical attention, patients most often chose to go to urgent care over their own doctors.

When patients chose urgent care over other medical facilities, 22 percent said their decision was based on the assumption that their wait times would be shorter, while 21 percent felt the urgent care location was more convenient than other options.

Why Visit The Dentist?

You cannot forget the dentist. It is critical that you schedule a visit with your dentist every six months for check-ups. When you visit the dentist for a semi-annual check-up, your teeth are checked for cavities. You may receive x-rays depending on your insurance, or if you can afford them. Your dentist performs an exam that checks your teeth for tartar and plague. Your dentist will check your gums to ensure they are healthy, and you are not in the beginning stages of gum disease. Your dental professional cleans your teeth and scales your gums during your visit.

If you consume a lot of sugary or sticky substances, it is important to have your teeth and gums checked. When those items sit on the teeth, they harm your teeth and break down the enamel intended to protect your teeth. As much as sports drinks are harmful to your teeth, researchers found that exposure to energy drinks such as Rockstar, Monster®, and Red Bull® resulted in twice as much enamel loss as exposure to sports drinks such as Powerade®, Gatorade®, and Propel® (3.1 percent to 1.5 percent).

It is important that you have a professional cleaning every six months to help clean that residue off your teeth and ensure your teeth are healthy. While at the dentist, you will have your neck, throat, tongue, head, and face examined. This is to examine you for any symptoms that there may be a bigger issue. These could include redness, swelling, or other signs of possible cancer.

It is important to ensure you keep your regularly scheduled appointments with your dentist and primary doctor. These are the best ways to make sure you are in the best possible health. These visits allow you and your doctor to catch things before they become a problem you cannot resolve.

What Is "Homeless Not Toothless" And How Can You Help?

When it comes to dental care, adults struggle to keep their teeth free of gum disease more than children do. Those older than 35 are more likely to lose teeth due to gum disease such as periodontal disease than they are from cavities. Unfortunately, those in this age group who fall under the poverty line are even more likely to suffer tooth loss from poor oral health.

Organizations such as Homeless Not Toothless recognize this need in their communities and work to solve that problem. Here is more on what Homeless Not Toothless is all about, and how you can help.

The Problem

The cause of poor oral health is usually a lack of resources. If you look around your own street, you might be surprised to learn that 30 percent of the people on your street are paying for food and housing, and not much more than that. That's because they can't right now. After the homeless, those neighbors are likely the ones with dental health problems on your street.

Toothlessness is the outcome. Most dentists and oral health professionals know that the people with the highest oral health issues are often the ones with the biggest challenges in accessing dental care. They also know that when oral health is failing, so is an individual's overall health.

The problem is not just about losing teeth, it's about health overall. When organizations are able to service those with failing oral health, they are contributing to the overall health of the community at large.

The Solution

The solution for one California organization is alleviating some stress for those less fortunate. There are a lot of solutions for low-income households when it comes to health care. However, there are fewer solutions when it comes to dental care.

Medicare is a solution for many, but that is only for people over the age of 65, and those with qualifying disabilities or illnesses.

Homeless Not Toothless is about helping the most disenfranchised when it comes to dental care. Their mission is to empower the homeless, impoverished veterans, youth in foster care, and low-income households by providing good dental care. Since 1992, Homeless Not Toothless has provided over $7.7 million worth of dental care to over 102,000 patients.

The services are performed pro bono, and the dentists pay for their own expenses. Homeless Not Toothless also partners with laboratories that donate their services to low-income patients. Their mission is to empower and combat the oral health problems of those underserved.

Homeless Not Toothless has also partnered with actress Sharon Stone in her work with her non-profit organization called Planet Hope. When Homeless Not Toothless and Planet Hope joined forces, a dental facility was rebuilt that was able to offer dental services to over 28,000 foster youth in Los Angeles.

Homeless Not Toothless has been a solution for over 100,000 California residents for almost 30 years, and it will continue to change lives with help from people like you.

How You Can Help

There are a number of ways to help Homeless Not Toothless. Donations are accepted and they are always looking for good volunteers. Another way you can help is by shopping with Amazon Smile, where one percent of the proceeds of each sale will go to Homeless Not Toothless. Homeless Not Toothless has also partnered with Lonesome Rider coffee, products you can purchase directly from the Homeless Not Toothless website.

Health is Wealth

For the dentists, volunteers, and partners at Homeless Not Toothless, health is wealth. They also believe that good overall health begins with good dental health. If you want to be a part of making this community or your community better, get involved with Homeless Not Toothless or an organization like it. There are dental care volunteer organizations all over the nation waiting for someone like you who is eager to help.

Watch Out for These Scams Following a Car Accident

When it comes to scammers, they are always looking for their next prey. They always look for opportunities to scam someone in a vulnerable position. Their prospect could be someone alone with bad health, someone who just got into a car accident, or other situations.

Insurance Scams

One main scam that has run rampant in London and is progressively spreading in the U.S. is insurance scams. Scam artists will present themselves as legitimate insurance agents to people.

In London, for instance, scammers -- aka ghost brokers -- could easily trick people who are unaware of these scams. The reason for this is because most insurance companies there don't work with direct insurance carriers. In fact, only 42 percent of the reported 110,400 employed underwriters in 2018 worked with direct insurance carriers.

How These Scammers Operate

Perpetrating as insurance agents, these scammers attract potential clients by showing them bogus claims concerning getting very affordable insurance rates and other savings. They will usually advertise the very affordable insurance on messaging apps or social media sites.

They may also apply for a legit insurance policy in your name and take your premium payments. And shortly after, they will cancel the policy. All of these actions will be done without you knowing it.

Car Repair Scams

There are also a plethora of car repair scams out there. Mainly, these scams include the mechanic telling customers they need car repairs that are not needed. And as a result, the customer's car repair bill would be significantly higher with bogus charges.

These types of scams have been around for ages. However, now scammers have taken car repair scams to another level. The following includes a plethora of unneeded car repairs that scammers use:

  • Car filter replacement- a mechanic may try to convince you of a so-called critical change by showing you a slightly dusty cabin filter. It is important to replace your car filter routinely. However, changing this car part is usually not an immediate concern for the function of your car.
  • Getting all flat tires replaced- before buying an expensive tire or two, take a good look at your tires. As long as there is no puncture on the side wall and the treading is still good enough for a little while, your car is fine.
  • Engine Flushes- sometimes engine flushes are required. Sometimes, you may need to use an engine oil cleaner and conditioner.
  • New Brakes- a common upsell is for car repair shops to use fear of bad brakes to persuade customers to get new brakes.
  • Charging Double- another common scam is for unscrupulous mechanics to charge for multiple jobs that are done at the same time. The extra charges could come from the number of hours worked. It also could come from doing extra labor for jobs that are not needed.
  • Broken axle boots- there are unscrupulous mechanics who will go as far as to cut a rubber boot. There is a difference between a cut rubber boot and a natural boot tear.
  • Fluid flushes- other unnecessary upselling includes power steering, transmission, coolant fluid flushes.
  • Tricks behind a complimentary car wash- swirl marks/scratches may magically appear after a free car wash that were not there before. Then, their hope will be for you to spend more at their shop to fixed those marks.
  • Other scams with similar MOs as mentioned above- this could be overcharging parts, timing belts, transmission service, and no actual part replacement.

How To Avoid Being A Victim

To avoid becoming an insurance victim, you must check with the state insurance department to see if they are legit. Another thing you can do is to pay attention to red flags in their selling pitch. A clear example of a scam is the so-called agent asking for payment upfront or cash-only payments.

You also can ask them an insurance-related question to determine their legitimacy and insurance knowledge. For example, you can ask them about commercial insurance if they claim they sell it, like the premiums, for an online store and traditional store. Say you know that a piece that costs maybe $5 to make could carry a 5,000 percent premium at the retail counter. You also know that online stores typically have lower premiums. If the so-called insurance agent trips up on the answer, then you know you may be dealing with a scam artist.

When it comes to car repairs, you should check with other, more trusted mechanics to get a second opinion about car repairs. You should also check online reviews, and you can find out information online from legitimate sources about car repairs.

So, when you find out that some thermoplastic materials are lightweight, with densities of .9 to 2 gm/cc, you can ask the mechanic a question relating to car doors. If the mechanic says that the door is extremely heavy, you caught the mechanic in a lie.

There will always be scammers in the world, and they seem to get craftier with their schemes. Nevertheless, taking head to these tips above will help you significantly.

How Poor Oral Health Can Negatively Impact Your Body

Oral health and overall health are closely linked. Visiting your dentist can help make sure that your teeth are bright, white, and cavity-free. However, these visits also help take care of your gums, preventing and treating gum disease. Regular cleanings and periodontal treatment can help lower the risk of developing serious health issues connected to poor oral hygiene.

Many health conditions are either worsened, caused by, or connected to gum disease, including these:

Fevers From Infection

A normal fever can spike between 100.4 F and 104 F. A fever can be caused by an infection anywhere in the body, including your mouth. If you develop an abscess or other infection due to poor oral hygiene, you may find yourself with a fever, pain, and other severe symptoms. This may be a medical emergency. Reach out to a dental professional as soon as possible, or visit your local emergency department if you can't keep the fever under control with over-the-counter medication. Many dentists' offices keep emergency appointments available for these types of situations, as well.

Cardiovascular Disease

All orthodontists are trained dentists, but only five percent of trained dentists are also educated as orthodontists. No matter which type of professional you see, it's vital that you manage your oral health regularly in order to stay healthy overall. Bacterial infections in the gums that cause gingivitis and periodontal disease can get into the bloodstream and have a dramatic effect on the heart. There's strong evidence correlating poor oral health to blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke. If you have a history of cardiovascular issues in your family, pay special attention to your oral health so that you can prevent these issues.

Erectile Dysfunction

Around 30 million men in the U.S. are affected by erectile dysfunction symptoms. Men with severe gum disease are twice as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction, compared to those with healthy teeth and gums. Spending more time daily on your oral hygiene routine may help improve your overall oral health, but it may also help reduce the symptoms of ED. If you're struggling with one or both of these conditions, it may be worth considering additional oral health measures to see if you can improve the situation. Talk to your doctor and dentist about the issues that you're experiencing, as they may be able to work together on a treatment plan.

Diabetes

Diabetic patients are more prone to infection from gum disease, which can then spread to other locations in the body. In addition, uncontrolled gum disease can make blood sugars harder to control. If you're diabetic, it's especially important that you make regular appointments with your dentist. Proper oral hygiene can make it easier to keep your blood sugar in check and help you stay healthier overall. Otherwise, you may find that you're carefully cooking your meals, exercising, taking your medication, and your blood sugars are still out of control. Speak to your dentist about the fact that you're diabetic so that they can include this in your overall treatment plan.

It's easy to put off going to the dentist for a cleaning, assuming that it's not an important part of your overall health care. However, oral health is actually an extremely important part of your overall health. Neglecting these trips to the dentist can worsen your diabetes, lead to severe medical crises, cause issues with your heart, or even contribute to erectile dysfunction symptoms. Schedule an appointment for an initial cleaning and overall evaluation with a dentist near you today, so that you can take care of your gums, your teeth, and your entire body.

Here's Why You Shouldn't Post a Photo of Your Vaccine Card on Social Media

In the wake of substantial fear, skepticism, and misinformation surrounding the vaccines for COVID-19, showing your friends and family that you've taken the step to become inoculated can be quite impactful. But experts say that if you do post about getting your vaccine on social media, you should skip sharing your vaccine card as proof.

According to the CDC, approximately one-third of U.S. families struggle to pay medical bills. This is just one reason why increased accessibility of the COVID-19 vaccines is so essential. But even so, many people are wary about getting a vaccine that has been developed in such a short amount of time. Dispelling misconceptions surrounding vaccine development can be highly useful, but so can improving the visibility of which people in your circle are opting to become vaccinated.

Arguably, there's no better way to do that than through social media. With 60 percent of millennials saying that better technology will essentially eliminate the need for face-to-face conversations, millions of Americans have understandably increased their social media usage over the past year. During the pandemic, it's one of the few ways to keep up with people we care about, access current information, and even distract ourselves from reality.

Of course, social media has already had profound effects on how we see ourselves and each other. In 2018, there were 4.8 million cosmetic procedures performed nationwide -- a figure that many experts feel has inflated due to increased social media usage, given the rise of influencers and beauty filters. During our current health crisis, it's become clear that even those with smaller followings can change minds. Seeing others wearing masks in photos can make face coverings seem like a trendy accessory in addition to a safety measure, while those who flout health guidance are often maligned (for good reason, according to some).

And now that coronavirus vaccines are becoming more available to us, it makes sense that anyone with a platform would want to encourage others to protect themselves and others in their community. Certainly, this statement can be a powerful one and could make all the difference for people who might be on the fence. However, many are warning that you should refrain from sharing everything about your vaccine.

In particular, you'll want to avoid posting a photo of the front side of your vaccination card. While it's an easy way to prove that you've gotten the vaccine, it's also an easy way for someone else to steal your personal information. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you could be opening yourself up to identity theft if you post a photo of your vaccination card because this small piece of paper contains your full name, your birthdate, and when and where you received your shot. Privacy experts interviewed by the New York Times pointed out that scammers could use this information to impersonate a healthcare official (who could contact you in an effort to access other information, like credit card numbers) or utilize the information in other areas on the web. In the UK, scammers are already using photos of legitimate vaccination cards to create and sell counterfeit versions; many believe it's only a matter of time before these phony versions are created in the United States.

To combat the issue, the CDC has developed a plan for states to hand out vaccination stickers for those who receive their shots. These would make an excellent alternative, as they contain no personal information and will likely be even more visually appealing than the vaccination cards themselves. Experts also suggest that a bandaid selfie, sans card, after your vaccination could make for a better option.

It's wonderful that so many Americans are sharing their excitement over the vaccine and encouraging the people they care about to get vaccinated, too. But it's important not to let your guard down in the process. The vaccine is meant to protect you from COVID-19, but it won't protect you from identity theft. As such, you'll need to employ other safeguards to ensure your information doesn't fall into the wrong hands when you share on social media.

Paper Source Files For Bankruptcy, Leaving Small Businesses in the Lurch

Although one in four American seniors will live into their 90s, it looks like you may have to find a new retailer for greeting cards and birthday gifts. Paper Source, a popular Chicago-based stationery chain, has officially filed for bankruptcy -- and the brand has made a lot of smaller shops pretty ticked off in the process.

When filing for bankruptcy, individuals and couples will choose between Chapters 7 and 13. But for businesses, Chapter 11 is typically the go-to. That's true in Paper Source's case, which means that the company can continue to operate while it reorganizes its debts. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paper Source had undergone rapid expansion thanks, in part, to the brand's decision to buy 27 leases from Papyrus, its bankrupt rival in the stationery world. While the company grew to over 160 different stores nationwide before last spring, it has since closed 11 of those brick-and-mortar shops and has now followed in Papyrus's footsteps.

According to court filings, the pandemic took a major toll on the company. It's worth noting that it takes just 0.05 seconds for someone to form an opinion about a website -- and because parties and celebrations were considered non-essential last year, it's not exactly surprising that consumers opted not to buy Paper Source products online. Although e-commerce sales did grow out of necessity, in-store retail once accounted for 83% of the company's sales. The push to drive customers to the website clearly hasn't been enough to recoup the losses incurred due to extended closures, capacity restrictions, and rescheduled events. In fact, sales took a 32% dive last year, despite the fact that some of the building owners of Paper Source stores agreed to reduce rent payments during the pandemic.

Paper Source plans not only to keep 147 of its stores open during the reorganization but also has a stalking-horse bid lined up to potentially buy the company's assets. It's likely that MidCap Financial will provide $16.5 million in financing when the company goes up for auction in mid-April. But while lenders still see value in the brand, the company has made its fair share of enemies leading up to the bankruptcy filing.

According to social media and a report published by Bloomberg, Paper Source actually placed some "unusually large orders" with smaller greeting card suppliers in the months and weeks leading up to its bankruptcy filing. Unfortunately, the bankruptcy filing puts those payments to small businesses on hold -- perhaps indefinitely -- which means many have been left in the lurch. A statement from Janie Velencia, the owner of The Card Bureau, revealed that Paper Source ordered $5,000 worth of merchandise within 20 days of the company's bankruptcy filing with an additional $10,000 worth of orders just weeks prior to that. Velencia noted that Paper Source ordered more from The Card Bureau in only 60 days than the company had throughout the entire year of 2020. Now, Velencia is waiting on $15,000 from Paper Source that might never come. Steel Petal Press, a greeting card maker based in Paper Source's hometown of Chicago, also has five outstanding invoices from the bankrupt company that might never be paid.

Reportedly, vendors received larger orders after the 2020 holiday season because Paper Source was looking to stock the 27 stores it had acquired from the Papyrus lease takeovers. And while the orders placed closest to the bankruptcy filing will supposedly receive priority, according to Paper Source Chief Executive Officer Winnie Park, some small business owners aren't holding their breath. In fact, any orders placed prior to that 20-day pre-filing mark might yield only pennies on the dollar after a prolonged legal fight. Some feel it just isn't worth it, with many choosing to speak out on social media and rely on loyal customers to make up a small portion of their losses.

The pandemic has clearly taken its toll on the greeting card industry, but the actions of Paper Source prove that there's little recourse for smaller makers and vendors who get burned. Although Paper Source might not be closing all of its doors any time soon, it may be worth going directly to the source for your stationery needs instead of a large chain.

In Light Of COVID-19 Pandemic, U.S. Opioid Crisis Worsens

There's no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way in which most Americans go about their daily lives. We're working and learning from home, dealing with social isolation, and turning to technology for just about everything. Despite the fact that digital ordering and delivery had already grown 300 percent faster than dine-in traffic since 2014, our current health crisis has perpetuated a number of trends that were already on the rise.

Sadly, that doesn't merely apply to online restaurant orders and other deliveries. It's now clear that the opioid epidemic, which was already a major problem, has only gotten worse thanks to issues related to the novel coronavirus.

California is the world's fourth-largest producer of wine -- and alcoholism is the most widespread substance abuse disorder nationwide. Arguably, those struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol may have had an even tougher time during the pandemic, as is evidenced by skyrocketing sales, widespread job loss, and a number of other factors. But while alcohol consumption may be an issue for many, opioid misuse can often be even more devastating.

Even before the pandemic, the opioid-related health crisis was spiraling out of control. By 2017, healthcare providers in Ohio were writing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people. And while Ohio historically had some of the highest rates of opioid abuse and opioid-related fatalities, it's far from the only state with an opioid problem.

In 2019, more than 70,000 Americans died as a result of drug overdoses. And while not every overdose is fatal or connected to opioids, it's clear that COVID-19 hasn't helped matters. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry earlier this month found that there were significantly higher rates of opioid overdose ED visits during the period March 2020 to October 2020 than the same period the year before. What's more, from mid-April 2020, the weekly rates of drug overdose ED visits had increased by up to 45 percent year-over-year. Overall emergency department visits for opioid overdoses increased by 28.8 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the analysis. That data is even more substantive when it's made clear that emergency department visits, overall, saw major decreases in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.

These findings echo reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reported that overdose deaths increased by 38.4 percent during the year leading up to June 2020. Overall, more than 83,000 Americans died as a result during that period -- a sobering statistic during a year that was already filled with so much loss. The CDC maintains that the pandemic has accelerated those deaths, though the growing popularity of synthetic opioids has also played a role.

That's not surprising, according to experts. Health concerns, job loss, social isolation, increased sources of stress and fear, and other routine disruptions can make a society more susceptible to increased drug misuse. And since the pandemic forced many 12-step programs to suspend their operations for some time, that has left little support for those with addiction issues.

Addiction is clearly an issue that hits close to home for President Biden, as his son Hunter has been quite open about his struggles with substance abuse. But juxtaposed next to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it's clear that the virus will likely take precedent. That said, if the nation is able to finally get the coronavirus under control, the opioid epidemic would be that much easier to tackle. Until that happens, however, it's unclear as to how bad both health concerns might become before they get better.

Four Simple Ways To Protect Your Finances As An Entrepreneur

It's no secret that developing your own business is a major feat. But that doesn't stop millions of people around the world from getting started. In fact, there are over 400 million entrepreneurs operating worldwide. Of course, for your business venture to actually succeed, it's important to make sure your finances are in order. Financial hurdles are one of the leading causes of why small businesses fail.

So what can you do to keep your finances safe and secure while building your miniature empire? Here are four tips you can use to keep your money safe.

1. Keep Your Assets Protected

When you're a small business owner, the idea of protecting your assets like someone in the big leagues might seem ridiculous on the surface. But crime, accidents, and natural disasters happen and they hit the little guys the hardest. The last thing you want is to have essential documents go up in flames during a freak house fire. Fortunately, private vaults allow you to store assets like essential documents, gold and silver bullion, and more in safes that are designed to keep the elements (and criminals) out. You can use private safes to help protect your cash reserves, too.

2. Outsource Your Finance Function

Finance function is an essential part of your business' financial management, which is the actual control and planning of your financial resources. When you're working solo or with a small group of people, outsourcing is ideal because it saves time, improves accuracy, and helps you make the right financial decisions. What's more, up to 75 percent of U.S. and European multinational firms use outsourcing or shared services for their own financial functions, too.

3. Try To Keep Debt To A Minimum

Debt is often a major downfall for small businesses. While it's easy to assume that you'll make the money back quickly after borrowing once your business takes off, it's important to consider the very real possibility that your business may not take off at all. Don't take out business loans to access capital unless it's absolutely necessary. The less you owe, the better.

4. Prioritize Data Security

The great Equifax data breach wasn't so long ago, and hackers have only gotten bolder during the COVID-19 pandemic now that a greater number of people are working remotely. Make sure that you're prioritizing data security when you're an entrepreneur whether it's your customers' data, your company's data, or your own personal data. Keep up-to-date with software changes and never leave gaps in your security. You might not think you're a major catch when it comes to cybercrime if you're a small business, but hackers will go after what they can get.

When you're an entrepreneur, it can be challenging to safeguard your finances. However, if you really want your business to succeed, it's important to be smart with your spending and your financial security. Don't let your ambition get the better of your wits.

Five Tech-Related Ways To Cut Back On Your Energy Consumption

Many of us already know how to cut back on our energy usage to help the environment. But unnecessarily high energy usage can also be a problem for your utility bills. On average, the annual electricity consumption for a U.S. customer was 10,9772 kWh, or 914 kWh per month. That's a lot of energy you may not actually be using.

From energy vampires to inconsistent tech habits, there are plenty of reasons why your energy usage may be higher than usual. To help you fight back against your energy bills and shrink down your carbon footprint a little more, here are a few simple ways you can cut back on your electricity with a little help from your tech devices.

Unplug Your Electronics

When it comes to using your electronics, it's understandable to want to keep your battery as high as possible. You don't want to lose important work, after all. But keeping your devices plugged in once the battery is at 100 percent isn't the best idea. In fact, it might actually be doing your devices more harm than good. When you keep your tech plugged in, you can overfill the battery. Because power is still connected to your device, once the battery has reached 100 percent, the power is redirected to the rest of your device, which can damage it. You're essentially damaging your devices while also wasting power you don't need.

Unplug Your Cords

Now that you've unplugged your charged devices, it's just as important to unplug the cords from the wall. While it might seem more convenient to leave your laptop's cord plugged into the wall so you can simply plug in your device when you need to, the disconnected cord can actually create an energy vampire in your home. Your cords don't need to be connected to anything to draw power from the wall. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, idle cords and electronics pull the same amount of power as 12 power plants in a single year.

Stay Connected To Your WiFi Network

When it comes to the Internet, you typically want to stay connected without any interruptions. That's why infrastructure like GroupCast exists to provide connectivity without a single point of failure. However, it's actually better to stay connected to your own WiFi network as much as possible rather than making the switch over to your LTE network while you're on your smartphone. The reason for this is that phones and other devices actually consume less battery power when they're connected to WiFi compared to 4G/LTE.

Turn Off Devices When Not In Use

Many of us will put our devices in sleep mode rather than completely turning them off. While sleep mode doesn't use very much energy (approximately two watts of electricity for a laptop and five watts for a desktop), it can still drain your tech to keep your devices on all the time. As you use your computer, for instance, you're collecting cached copies of attachments, cookies, and running several applications. It's recommended to turn your computer off at least once a week to give your tech some rest.

Turn Off Background Apps

While some phones need to be charged more often than others, it might actually be your applications that are causing your phone to lose its battery. The average smartphone draws about 3.68 watts of power from your outlet while it's charging. Even when it's fully charged, your phone will still pull 2.24 watts from the outlet (see our point above about unplugging your devices). To keep your phone charged for longer and to save on energy usage, consider powering down your apps. Games like Minecraft, which sold over 200 million copies, and Animal Crossing, which sold over 31 million copies, can be closed out while not in use.

When it comes to saving on energy costs, many of us tend to focus on turning off the light and lowering our thermostat. However, our tech devices and how we maintain them can also be a major player in how we're wasting energy. By following the tips above, you can help to keep your energy usage down while keeping your tech devices in great shape, too.

As Biden Takes Office, Will Mask Mandates Go National?

As a brand new presidential administration takes office, it's clear that this momentous occasion is taking place against the backdrop of an ongoing (and, perhaps, unprecedented) health crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although anywhere from 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires' disease in the U.S. every year, the novel coronavirus has done an incredible amount of damage in less than a year's time, infecting millions and killing 400,000 nationwide. Today, nine out of 10 funeral services held have loved ones who are unable to attend, thanks to fears surrounding this highly contagious virus. And due to health concerns, the 2021 presidential inauguration was a much smaller affair than most in the past. While most Americans watched the inauguration from their living rooms (and others attended the festivities with their faces covered), it's only natural to wonder whether President Joe Biden -- whose biggest challenge will no doubt be COVID-19 -- will soon declare stricter and more widespread mandates related to mask-wearing.

Public opinion, and even professional recommendations, on face masks have changed a lot over the past ten months. When the first cases of COVID-19 were starting to emerge last winter, medical experts stressed that masks weren't necessary for most people; the exceptions were for those who were exhibiting symptoms of illness or even for those who had pre-existing health conditions. That narrative changed quite rapidly, however, as we learned more about this virus. Soon enough, healthcare leaders were urging everyone to wear face masks, while many local politicians stepped up to enact statewide mask mandates for public places like grocery stores, pharmacies, and retail stores. The shift in guidance inspired skepticism in many -- but we now know that masks provide an impressive amount of protection.

Still, only 36 states had established some form of mask mandate by November 2020. Of course, business owners have the right to require customers to wear masks -- provided they don't discriminate based on protected classes. Just as they can say "no shirt, no shoes, no service," they have the right to deny access to someone who can't or won't wear a mask as long as they provide reasonable accommodations for them (like curbside pickup or delivery). Undeniably, there's some confusion about that, just as some non-maskers believe they can't legally be asked about their reasons for opting to not wear face coverings. Although HIPAA records have to be kept for six years after the last date of service or entry into the medical record, HIPAA rules apply only to healthcare professionals. In other words, there's nothing legally barring a store employee or even another shopper from asking why someone isn't wearing a mask. While there's no obligation to answer those questions, HIPAA rules simply don't apply. Furthermore, the Americans with Disabilities Act and constitutional amendments -- which are often cited as another way non-maskers can maintain their supposed face freedoms -- don't give blanket exemptions from mask-wearing, nor do they really even apply in these situations.

Those who continue to feel that mask requirements are somehow stomping on their freedoms may be worried that the new president will further take away their rights by mandating face coverings on a federal level. But Biden will be somewhat limited in what he can do to require compliance everywhere in the United States. However, President Biden has committed to implement a federal mask mandate for his first 100 days in office, which would require masks to be worn in all federal buildings (including post offices and courthouses) and on interstate transportation. A recent poll found that 69 percent of Americans support this plan, with 72 percent of respondents saying that masks should be worn in all public places. Around 66 percent agreed that they should be required when interacting with anyone outside your immediate household. And while that poll found that Republicans are less likely to support these measures, an analysis conducted by UCLA actually found that a U.S. mask mandate could add $1 trillion to the U.S. GDP -- so even those who feel mask-wearing requirements somehow impede our freedoms might be enticed to at least embrace the idea of having a profitable economy.

As yet, we aren't sure what will happen in the early days of Biden's presidency -- or if the calls for unity will convince anti-maskers to finally cover their faces. But given what we now know about this virus and the damage it's done, it might be time to give in, order some masks, and "grow up," as the new President recently said in a statement, for the sake of the nation.

What Is Happening to My Tax Return This Year?

This tax season is already proving to be different from previous tax seasons due to a recent announcement from the IRS. The announcement detailed a new start date for the 2021 tax season, which would traditionally be expected to begin in late January. Instead, the 2021 tax season is expected to begin on February 12; though this might initially be surprising to some, it will occur with good reason.

Traditionally, the beginning of the American tax season signifies the time at which the IRS will begin accepting and processing tax returns from the previous year. The reason why this is important for Americans is that tax refunds cannot be issued until tax returns are submitted. Tax refunds can be the form of cash that many Americans rely upon in order to fill certain financial gaps, and lots of people are reliant upon them. They're especially reliant upon them in tough economic times. COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented financial crisis for Americans, and therefore the contributions coming from tax refunds are more important now than ever before.

But there is a reason for this delay. The IRS is not only responsible for processing income tax returns. They have also been responsible for processing and issuing the stimulus checks that so many Americans have needed in order to survive. The second round of stimulus checks are still being processed right now, and President Biden has indicated that he wishes to issue a third round of stimulus checks. These checks are all a part of bigger COVID-19 relief packages, which required the implementation of new laws.

On December 27, 2020, new tax laws were put in place, specifically; this means that there hasn't been enough time for the IRS to fully test and program their adjusted systems. One major reason for a delay too is that not everyone received their second round of payments. Those people may be eligible for a rebate when they file for their income taxes. If people began filing their income tax returns before the IRS was prepared to handle issues like these, there would actually, in some cases, be even more of a delay in processing income tax returns. Conversely, if these changes are not properly implemented, people will not be able to receive their rebates.

Understanding The Timeline Of Refunds

As previously mentioned, many Americans are in great need of their tax refunds. They need their refunds to come through as quickly as possible, and some people even plan certain financial decisions around their expected income tax returns. Some people may use them to pay rent or their mortgage, or perhaps child support, which a non-custodial parent will have to pay until their child turns 21 years old. But the timeline of the tax refunds will be thrown off this year, and people should prepare for that. Additionally, the more prepared they are, the easier it will be for them to do what they can to speed their tax refunds along.

One of the best moves that individuals can make to ensure that they receive their tax refunds in a timely manner is filing electronically. Even if an individual is used to filing with paper and believes that filing electronically will take more time for them, they should choose that option. While it may take them more time to fill out that option, the speed through which electronic processing works will ensure a faster tax refund. For this same reason, individuals should choose to have their tax refunds direct deposited in their bank accounts. Not only will this ensure that they get their refunds more quickly; it will also ensure that their stimulus checks are direct deposited in turn.

People should also begin filing their income tax returns as quickly as possible. There is no need for them to wait until February 12 to begin filing. Rather, they should start working with software companies to begin filing their income tax returns. The software will file the tax return automatically, as soon as the start date is triggered. Additionally, software can often save an individual's tax return information over the years, making it easier for them to file every time. Although the typical American will move around 12 times in their life, resulting in them needing to update their addresses on their income tax returns, other aspects can be saved on tax return software.

Unfortunately, a delay is likely for tax refunds regardless of how quickly individuals choose to file. The IRS is overloaded with the new laws and regulations surrounding the COVID relief packages and stimulus checks. As previously mentioned, a third round of stimulus checks is rather likely. While typically speaking, these tax refunds will be deposited or sent to the recipient within 21 days of them electronically filing, this time the processing could take weeks more. Furthermore, the 21-day estimate is dependent on an individual's tax return being without issue. When a tax return is problematic, it will naturally take more time to process, and therefore it will take more time for the individual filing the return to receive their tax refund.

There are other delays to consider as well. By law, the IRS is currently prohibited from issuing tax refunds that involve the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit before the middle of February. Tax returns can also get somewhat more complicated if individuals are subject to taxes that not everyone else would typically be subjected to. For example, married couples that own estates worth over $10,860,000 or individuals with estates worth $5,430,000 would typically be subject to real estate taxes.

Right now, the deadline for submitted a tax return is April 15, though that deadline could be extended as it was in the previous year. No matter what, people need to be prepared and ready to submit their tax returns early.

Don't Drink and Inoculate: Should You Avoid Alcohol When Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Many of us wanted to begin the year with a clean slate, which perhaps explains the prevalence of Dry January -- a month without alcohol consumption. Aside from the physical and mental benefits associated with a respite from drinking, banishing the booze may also help you to avoid legal problems related to overindulgence. After all, a second DUI conviction in the state of Pennsylvania can result in jail time and fines ranging from $300 to $2,500.

However, not everyone wants to give up alcohol completely for 31 days. But if you're going to be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine any time soon, some experts believe that you should refrain from any alcohol consumption immediately before and after you're inoculated.

In the era of COVID-19, we've taken a number of precautions to safeguard our health. We've worn masks, stayed six feet away from others, obsessively cleaned our homes and hands, and in some cases even invested in three-sided plastic table products in an effort to stop the spread. But undoubtedly one of the most essential steps to get us on the other side of the pandemic is widespread vaccination.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has a lot of room for improvement -- and it will likely be months or even years before everyone in the U.S. receives their doses. Convincing the public that these vaccines are safe is already proving to be a huge hurdle for medical professionals. While 48 percent of internet users conduct more than two weeks of research before scheduling a healthcare appointment, the skepticism surrounding the coronavirus vaccines is being driven by misinformation that can be readily found online. If you do opt to become vaccinated, as many who have already received the inoculations have pointed out, the process is quick and painless. But there's one step that some medical experts are suggesting that patients take: Refrain from drinking alcohol in the days leading up to and after you receive each dose of the vaccine.

It might seem like a strange request, but it's actually fairly simple. Drinking alcohol has been shown to suppress the immune system -- and that's exactly what you don't want when you're introducing a vaccine into the body. One 2015 study found that just one binge drinking session can cause physical inflammation in just a few hours' time and can have adverse effects on the body's ability to fight off infection and regulate the immune system. And although some medical professionals say that having a single glass of wine a day after you receive your vaccine might not have negative consequences, it's generally a good idea to refrain from any alcohol consumption in order to get your body ready and maximize the chance of having a good response to the vaccine.

Other countries have already urged citizens receiving COVID-19 vaccinations to cut back on drinking. According to Reuters, one Russian health official instructed residents to refrain from drinking for several weeks before and after receiving the Sputnik V vaccine. Considering the high levels of drinking among Russian citizens, the news caused some alarm -- although the vaccine's developer spoke out to say that the recommendations were too extreme. In the United Kingdom, health experts made recommendations to limit alcohol intake the day before and after receiving the vaccine. But in a new BBC documentary, medical professionals found that consuming even three glasses of Prosecco can cut down levels of white blood cells by half. Since these cells play a vital role in creating antibodies and protecting us from viruses, the findings caused quite a stir.

In the U.S., guidance on alcohol consumption and vaccines is mixed. William Moss, the executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider: "There's no evidence that, if you have one beer or a glass of wine a couple of days after you get your vaccine, that's going to interfere with your immune response or protection following the vaccine." And while Pfizer has stated that there is no warning that relates to alcohol consumption for vaccine recipients, others in the field have cautioned against anything more than moderate drinking in the days leading up to and following vaccination.

Ultimately, most agree that it's better to be safe than sorry. While you might not have to completely cut out alcohol for the sake of vaccination, it may be worth noting that a reluctance or refusal to do so could point to a larger problem in regard to substance abuse and dependence. In the end, making a lifestyle change for only a few days for the sake of protecting your body seems like a small sacrifice to make. To err on the side of caution -- and even to test your resolve -- you might want to find a healthier way to indulge during the week of your vaccination.

Could Teleconferencing Spell Trouble For Your Trade Secrets?

Even before the pandemic, our society was dependent on technology. With 61 percent of mobile users refusing to visit a mobile site again if they feel it's slow or hard to navigate, it's clear that the digital tools we use have to keep up with user demand and behavior.

Of course, the challenges of the pandemic have made these needs even more pronounced. As millions of Americans continue to work remotely to combat COVID-19, we're now spending even more of our days online. That's led to some issues, particularly in regard to web security.

In the first half of 2019, data breaches exposed an estimated 4 billion records and experts estimate that those numbers have continued to reach new heights throughout our current health crisis. But unfortunately, that isn't the only way that proprietary information can fall into the wrong hands. While many of us depend on teleconferencing platforms to stay connected with colleagues as we work from home, the truth is that these programs can present a number of legal complications -- including the potential loss of trade secrets.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office defines a trade secret as information that has potential or actual independent financial value due to its general secrecy; offers value to those who can't legitimately access this information; and has been the subject of reasonable protective measures to control its access. Trade secrets can become "lost" if any of these three factors become compromised or eliminated. Since the passing of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, U.S. trade secret case filings increased from a range of 960 to 930 cases a year to a staggering 1,134 cases in 2017. While that's partially because the new law allowed federal courts to hear cases pertaining to trade secrets, it's also worth noting that there may now be more opportunities -- thanks to technology -- for trade secrets to come to light.

That may certainly be the case, as some business owners have found out the hard way, with popular teleconferencing platforms like Zoom. According to recent reports, a trash compacting company called Smash decided to hold several Zoom calls with prospective franchisees. During these calls, the company ended up revealing information that it later claimed was a protected trade secret. After attending these Zoom sessions, those potential franchisees ended up starting a business to directly compete with Smash. Although Smash sued, the court found that Smash lost its trade secret protection because the company failed to adequately safeguard its teleconferencing sessions for privacy. In fact, all of the meetings they held utilized the exact same Zoom link (which could have legally been shared with anyone). Not only that, but the meetings weren't password-protected. Smash couldn't even identify every person who attended the Zoom meetings, representing a massive privacy failure on their part. Interestingly, the use of a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) wasn't enough to uphold expectations of privacy.
Unsurprisingly, Smash lost the case -- though the court did find that the defendants acted with deception -- and willingly gave up its trade secrets.

Considering that Zoom reported having more than 200 million daily users in March 2020 and many American businesses continue to employ remote workforces, it's essential to take heed of this cautionary tale. Although teleconferencing has become just one part of our new normal, that doesn't mean you have no choice but to leave your business vulnerable.

Zoom does provide some layers of protection that Smash failed to use in this case. Creating different meeting links for each new session, and ensuring those sessions are password-protected, can help keep unwanted visitors out. It's also a good idea to use the waiting room feature in order to screen attendees for this reason. You can also disable the ability to record the session and remove those who aren't authorized to attend. In addition, you can request that attendees position themselves in a private space that won't be subject to eavesdropping. But you can also choose to use a more secure platform than Zoom, like Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Meetings, both of which offer end-to-end encryption.

Of course, a lot of trade secret protection comes down to user behavior rather than technological features. Ultimately, it's the business's responsibility to ensure their secrets stay secrets. Generally speaking, you should refrain from sharing trade secrets on any platform that doesn't provide a reasonable expectation of privacy, whether it's through an email or in a video meeting. It's up to you to keep that proprietary information under lock and key. And if you don't do your due diligence, you could find yourself losing a court case and losing what makes your business unique.

How to Protect Yourself Against Cybercrime This Holiday Season

As Santa begins to load up his sleigh and people across the country prepare for Yuletide fun, you mustn't forget to protect yourself against thieves who are looking to have a very Merry Crime-mas. As many people find out too late, 'tis the season to be burgled, with one car theft being reported every 41 seconds in the United States. But what you might not realize is that criminal activity can easily extend beyond the real world into the digital world -- and since we're spending a lot more time online getting ready for this year's festivities, it's essential that you protect yourself against seasonal cybercrime.

Internet crime, which involves the use of the web to communicate false or fraudulent representations to customers, is all too common in 2020. In fact, the pandemic caused countless businesses to ramp up their technological barriers due to widespread concerns about internet safety and data protection. Those efforts haven't necessarily done much to address how rampant cybercrime has become, however, as the FBI reported that internet-related criminal activities increased by a staggering 400 percent this year. And considering how much U.S. consumers spent online during Black Friday (a record $9 billion on retail websites), your online activities may be making you more vulnerable than you realize. From stolen credit card information to gift-giving scams, here are a few tips to keep in mind in your quest to avoid becoming a victim.

Use A VPN To Browse And Buy

Although the U.S. Postal Service is beyond overwhelmed due to the increase in online shopping this year, many people have still waited until the last minute to purchase gifts. If you're finishing up your holiday shopping online, you should always do so using a password-protected internet connection. Using public WiFi is extremely risky and can make it easy for your information to be stolen. But keep in mind that your private connection may not actually be enough. Many experts recommend using what's called a VPN (or virtual private network). Basically, VPNs put up an extra barrier between you and what you're doing on the internet; this makes it harder for hackers to get what they're looking for. They're easy enough to set up and use, so consider using one whenever you make a purchase online.

Change Your Passwords Regularly

If recent data breaches have shown us anything, it's that a single incident can result in massive damages for a single person. If you're using the same password for a bunch of different sites, one breach could put your personal information at-risk across multiple platforms. Even if you act fast, you'll still have to go through and change your password on tens of hundreds of sites to avoid the worst-case scenario. Failing to change your passwords regularly is a no-no, as well, since this will also make it easier for someone to gain access to your accounts. Consider investing in a password locker (perhaps even as a Christmas present to yourself!), which will keep track of all your account passwords and come up with more difficult-to-hack options to keep everything secure.

Don't Save Your Personal Info

It may be tempting to save your financial information to make the checkout process speedier, but this also makes it easier for criminals to access your information. Even if it takes a little longer every time you buy something, consider wiping any saved payment information from these accounts. That way, data breaches and hacks will be less fruitful for cybercriminals. It may also be helpful to use a service like PayPal or to make sure that your payment methods provide adequate fraud protection -- just in case you forget to clear your info prior to a breach.

Think Before You Click

Your email inbox is probably chock-full of holiday deals. But you must remember that some emails should be opened at your own peril. From scammy links in phishing emails to unsecured websites, you need to do your due diligence before you click or tap. Make sure to verify email addresses prior to clicking on any shopping links and to ignore any suspicious texts or emails that refer to package delivery issues or too-good-to-be-true offers. View every electronic correspondence with a healthy dose of suspicion and always triple-check the sender before you engage in any way.

Steer Clear Of Gifting Scams

Gift-related scams happen all year round, but they're especially prevalent during the holiday season. Gift card scams may involve fraudulent messages that look like they come from friends or family members (either through email or through social media platforms) asking for help in the form of gift cards. Some fraudulent websites may also request payment for items with gift cards. The reason? They're almost impossible to track. Once the gift card numbers are handed over, there's a slim-to-none chance that you'll get your money back.

Speaking of social media, you should also stay away from so-called gift exchanges that run rampant on Facebook and other sites. "Secret Sister" and other similar exchanges ask you to provide some personal information and buy a gift for a recipient on the list in the hopes that you'll receive a present back from someone else. This scam operates just like any other pyramid scheme, as it's actually about recruiting other people to participate. These scams are actually illegal, so you'll want to scroll past (or even report) these posts when you see them.

If you do become the victim of an internet crime, it's important to remember that you aren't alone. As such, it's a good idea to report this crime to the FTC or another government authority to protect others from falling prey to the same schemes. While there are more than 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers now serving in the U.S., you may want to take the step of reporting the incident to the appropriate fraud agency before contacting law enforcement (particularly because your local police department may not be able to provide assistance due to jurisdictional limitations). You may also need to take the steps of reporting potential fraud to your bank or credit card company, change your passwords, and sign up for credit score reporting or even a freeze on your credit score. The agency to which you report the incident will be able to provide you with the exact next steps to take in regard to your specific situation.

While these tips won't stop all instances of cybercrime, they can raise awareness for many people who might otherwise be at-risk. During this holiday season, when we already have so much else to worry about, these tips can keep your information safe and ensure you protect what you have.

Experts Worry Domestic Violence May Increase During Pandemic Holiday Season

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on all of us. Even if you've been fortunate enough to keep your job and stay healthy, the stress of remote learning, working from home, rescheduling events, and avoiding potentially high-risk situations often feels like too much for us to handle.

But for many Americans, the chaos brought about by the coronavirus has another, potentially more dangerous impact: it's increased the likelihood and frequency of domestic abuse incidents. And with the holidays just around the corner, experts are worried that victims might find themselves in even more hazardous situations.

When countries have entered lockdown status, domestic violence reports have skyrocketed -- and that doesn't even account for the victims who are unable or don't feel empowered to seek support. One women's aid organization in the UK reported that calls increased by 25 percent during the lockdown there in the spring. That trend has been seen worldwide, and the U.S. certainly hasn't been spared. COVID-19 restrictions have forced more people to stay at home -- and combined with other stressors related to the pandemic, both victims and advocates have feared that this health crisis would quickly translate into personal crises for many people. Considering that homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women and nearly half of female victims are killed by a current or former male intimate partner, there's certainly reason for worry.

That's especially true as the holidays approach. Data shows that Christmas Day and New Year's Day tend to prompt an influx of calls to domestic violence hotlines the world over, though there's no one specific reason as to why. A combination of alcohol consumption, increased contact between abusers and victims, financial stress, and other factors can make domestic abuse more likely to occur during this time of year. Access to services may also be limited around the holidays -- and in the midst of an ongoing or impending lockdown, that could be disastrous for many people.

It's also worth noting that although 3.6 million open wounds are reported in the U.S. each year, not all domestic abuse is physical in nature. In fact, many abusive relationships feature no physical violence at first. That said, the pressure of the holidays could culminate into a violent or dangerous event. And because many people are under pressure to stay home and away from loved ones this year in order to curb the spread of COVID-19, this could keep domestic violence victims feeling even more isolated during times of upheaval.

If you or someone you love experiences domestic abuse during this time of year, it's important to seek help in a safe way. The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when one partner prepares to leave. And because abusers will typically isolate their victims to ensure their dependency, it can be incredibly difficult for them to remove themselves from this situation. Contacting the Domestic Violence Support Hotline can be a great first step, even before getting in touch with one of the 1,315,561 lawyers working in the United States.

While COVID-19 will be sticking around for a while yet, that doesn't mean you have to follow suit. Leaving or even identifying an abusive relationship is far tougher than most people realize -- but it all starts with taking the small first step of seeking support.