Personal Finance Blog
These are dangerous times, and they are made no less so by the internet and the near-instantaneous transfer of information that is made possible by smartphones, the internet, and even traditional phone lines. Over the course of the last year, ISIS has come to prominence as a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. While they are certainly the most visible terror organization currently in operation, they are by no means the only group out there. If anything, there are loads of others in operation both domestically and abroad, which begs the question, where are they pulling funding from?
Terror organizations need money to carry on their operations, indoctrinate new members, and provide travel for members to carry out their activities. All these things arenâ€™t free, and if ISISâ€™ recruiting methods are any indication, (seeking out disenfranchised middle- and lower-class youths) then there arenâ€™t a host of super-rich members going to meetings that could possibly finance all their activities, particularly in the case of a large-scale operation such as weâ€™re seeing in the Middle East these days. It should come as no surprise, then, that many terror organizations get their funding from shady and fraudulent activities. Unfortunately, this isnâ€™t a new problem, and it affects every last one of us.
â€śInternet Haganahâ€ť is an online forum that tracks pro-terrorist activities online, and according to its director Aaron Weisburd, terrorists are taking a more home-grown approach to fundraising these days, culling their funds from small donors in much the same fashion that crowd funding of projects happens. Instead of funding a business idea, however, these funds are used for terror. According to Weisburd, some of the more common fundraising activities include Phishing, such as when you receive those too-good-to-be-true emails, Cloning, when a credit card number is copied onto a new card, or skimming, when the actual credit card number is stolen. This tends to happen when you use your credit card for transactions at places like restaurants, when the card itself is out of your possession and sight for a time.
Preventing all fraud that funds terror activities is practically impossible, but it can be significantly reduced to the point that some terror organizations may find themselves severely hampered in their ability to conduct operations. What can you do to help prevent the funding of terror organizations? The answer is actually incredibly simple!
To begin with, carefully monitor your credit. If you notice strange charges, donâ€™t delay in reporting them to your credit card company, so that the funds can be cut off quickly and no further purchases can be made. It is also imperative that you regularly check on your credit ratings at Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. You should be able to identify all the credit accounts that are listed. If you canâ€™t, then it may be possible that someone has opened a charge account in your name.
Be discreet with your credit card number. It wonâ€™t be long before card companies start making visual identification of credit card numbers impossible, but until that time, donâ€™t flash your card around or allow it to be photographed in any way. Keep it in sight, and be certain that youâ€™re the only one using it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, use paper checks during those times when it seems likely that hackers will hit major retailers. Notable examples include Columbus day, Black Friday, (and the rest of the holiday shopping season, for that matter) and Presidentsâ€™ day. Basically, any day when there are lots and lots of consumers using credit cards at the same time will be ripe fodder for identity thieves seeking to get the biggest haul of credit card information in the shortest amount of time to pass on to terror organizations.
You may not be able to physically fight terrorists, but at the very least, though the use of smart spending habits, you can do your part to severely hamper their ability to injure people or take lives.
Flexible spending accounts have generally turned out to be great products for hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide to invest in. They are a great way to reduce your taxable income, save money on your medical expenses, and give you the incentive to get that regular checkup done every year. All this is apparent. What isnâ€™t immediately apparent, however, is what is and isnâ€™t covered by a flexible spending account. For all that money that youâ€™re putting in, itâ€™s important to know that youâ€™ll be getting your moneyâ€™s worth out, right? Now, since you probably didnâ€™t pay much attention when your benefits administrator talked about what was and wasnâ€™t covered by the money you put into that account, hereâ€™s a quick look at some surprises that might be in store for you when it comes time to use those dollars youâ€™ve saved up.
First up, letâ€™s take a peek at one of the obvious things that arenâ€™t covered by FSA plans. Irritatingly, basic medical needs such as are bought at the store arenâ€™t covered. That means aspirin, diapers, and antacid tablets arenâ€™t covered. Mind you, thatâ€™s where most Americans would really use their benefits if they could, but thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re not allowed. FSA plans are set up to provide something of a safety net where health care is concerned, protecting you from larger expenses.
Look here for a Complete list of qualified medical expenses.
These expenses pretty much run the gamut of necessary, but unplanned, medical expenses. Hospital visit, doctor and dentist co-pays are payable using these funds, as are services like acupuncture, Drug addiction treatment programs, and even fertility enhancement. While these programs are covered, things like weight-loss programs, health club memberships, and tooth whitening are not covered. Nor is cosmetic surgery, but reconstructive surgery is included. Confused yet? Once you get to the list itself, it begins to make a bit more sense. Put simply, medical wants are by and large not included in the payable category here. Medical necessities, on the other hand, generally are. Of course, everyoneâ€™s idea of wants vs. needs is a bit different, so it falls to common sense to really sort out which is which. You donâ€™t necessarily NEED antacid tablets because you overindulged in some raging good Cajun food that night, but you might well need a prescription for acid preventive medication if you have certain stomach ailments. By the same token, you donâ€™t NEED dancing lessons, but you may NEED physical therapy.
That being said, there are a few items that are on the payable list that are pretty cool, if not downright great, since many insurance plans donâ€™t cover them, or provide only minimal coverage toward those items or services. For instance, psychoanalysis is covered, wigs are covered should your hair fall out due to chemotherapy, birth control pills, and some tuition fees are covered.
All this should lead you to the conclusion that you should, as always, read over the plan that your employer provides before you decide to sign up. If you donâ€™t foresee yourself incurring any of these expenses, then you might want to rethink signing up for the program. Sure, you might save a few hundred dollars on your tax bill this year, but if you donâ€™t use what youâ€™ve put into the account, youâ€™ll lose it, so it pays to think critically about whether you really need it or not. For some folks, it makes sense, but for others, itâ€™ll be a waste of money. If your plan administrator tries to force you into a quick decision based on their sales pitch, be wary. After all, the money that isnâ€™t used in your account reverts back to the company at the end of the year, so while they canâ€™t use it for things like CEO salaries, they can use it to support the FSA program in your company.