Show the Environmental Protection Agency How You Protect the Environment
There’s still time to demonstrate your commitment to environmental protection, and be a part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “It’s My Environment Video Project.”
To make your video, just hold up and read a sign that says “It’s My Environment” while taking an action to protect the environment like recycling, turning off lights, or turning off the tap water. Then pass the sign to your left, off-screen. Clips only need to be 10 seconds long. When all the videos are compiled, the video will look like a human chain around the world!
Having clean air to breathe, water to drink, and a neighborhood safe from toxics is important to everyone, so send in your clip before the deadline on Friday, April 15.
Social media websites and applications are a now normal part of everyday life, allowing you to connect with friends and family across the world. Some of the newer social media tools use GPS technology that allow you to “check in” by posting your location on social media channels to receive special offers from retailers. While it is tempting to keep your friends updated on your life, these posts can make you vulnerable to cyber stalkers or home invasions.
Here are some helpful hints to keep you safe online:
Ensure that your contact information is only visible to the people you know and trust.
Only post information that you are comfortable with anyone seeing.
Don’t share personal information with people that you don’t know.
Use your privacy settings to manage who can see your content, including messages, and pictures.
Remember, even if you delete something you post online, it might not be gone.
Beware of cyber-bullying and online confrontations. Online activities can have real world consequences.
With the tax filing deadline quickly approaching, you might hear ads persuading you that you can get your tax refund faster with a tax refund loan (also known as a refund anticipation loan).
A tax refund loan is a loan from a paid tax preparer, based on the amount of money you are expected to receive as a refund. It may seem like a great way to get your money within a couple of days, but the interest and fees on these loans can be very costly and take a huge chunk out of the money you actually receive.
However, there are ways you can avoid steep fees, keep all of your refund, and still get your refund relatively quickly:
Don’t reply to email or pop-up messages that ask for personal or financial information, and don’t click on links in the message. Don’t cut and paste a link from the message into your Web browser — phishers can make links look like they go one place, but that actually send you to a different site.
Some scammers send an email that appears to be from a legitimate business and ask you to call a phone number to update your account or access a “refund.” If you need to reach an organization you do business with, call the number on your financial statements or on the back of your credit card.
Don’t email personal or financial information.
Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them.
Forward phishing emails to email@example.com and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the phishing email.
If you’ve been scammed, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website at ftc.gov/idtheft.
If you are a senior and need to supplement your income, you might be considering a reverse mortgage. A “reverse” mortgage is a loan against your home that you don’t have to pay back for as long as you live there.
When the home is sold, the lenders recover the principal, plus interest, on the loan. The remaining value of the home goes to you or your heirs.
With a reverse mortgage, you can turn the value of your home into cash without having to move or to repay a loan each month.
The Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) is the only reverse mortgage insured by the federal government. The HECM is a safe alternative resource that can provide you with greater financial security and independence.
In order to qualify for the HECM, you must:
Be 62 years of age or older
Own the property outright or have a small mortgage balance
Occupy the property as your principal residence
Not be delinquent on any federal debt
Participate in a consumer information session given by an approved HECM counselor
As with all mortgages, there are costs associated with getting a HECM, including:
Loan Origination Fee
Closing Costs (i.e., appraisal, inspection, title search and insurance, etc)
You can help decide which songs will wake up astronauts on the next space shuttle mission.
The NASA Space Rock Committee invited musicians to write songs to awaken shuttle astronauts and received 1,350 original songs. The committee has narrowed the songs down to 10 finalists and needs your vote to pick the winners. The two songs that receive the most votes will be played to the astronauts in space to wake them up each day.
Voting is open from now until the expected shuttle launch on April 19th. Cast your vote!
Which Schools Have the Best Broadband Connections?
Access to broadband at school gives teachers and students access to a wealth of online educational resources. With a quality broadband connection, students from rural areas, inner cities and the suburbs have equal access to the same educational tools.
To see which areas of the country have high quality broadband access, view the interactive Education Broadband Map.
Michelle Obama shopping at a farmers market in Washington, D.C.
Spring is the perfect time to explore your local farmers market. You can stock up on the fruits and veggies you enjoy the most and try produce that you’ve never tasted.
Farmers markets are also a great chance to chat with farmers about their farm operations and to learn more about how they grow their food. This is especially helpful if you are curious about their use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers when growing crops.
The variety of offerings at farmers markets can be overwhelming, so it helps to have a plan when you go. Some helpful tips:
Arrive early to get the best selection, or late to get the best deals.
Fresh food spoils quickly. Don’t buy more food than you can cook or freeze.
Bring cash to make your purchases. Some farmers markets participate in WIC program and accept vouchers.
Bring sturdy canvas bags and food storage containers to bring your food home.
Ask questions about foods you’ve never seen before and ways to prepare them.
Watch the produce scales so that you get the food you’ve paid for.
Up-to-date Japan tsunami and radiation information from the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of State and other agencies can now be found at USA.gov/Japan2011.
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo informs U.S. citizens in Japan who wish to depart that the Department of State is making arrangements to provide transportation to safehaven locations in Asia. This assistance will be provided on a reimbursable basis, as required by U.S. law. U.S. citizens who travel on US government-arranged transport will be expected to make their own onward travel plans from the safehaven location. Flights to evacuation points will begin departing Japan on Thursday, March 17.
Celebrate Irish-American Heritage Month this St. Patrick's Day
The Irish have contributed a great deal more to American culture than just potatoes, and March is Irish-American heritage month, when we celebrate the contributions of Irish Americans to our nation.
In the 1840s, many Irish immigrants came to America to escape the potato famine that left more than a million people dead from starvation and disease. The immigrants who came to America at this time had very little education or possessions, and when they arrived in America they encountered poverty and discrimination.
These Irish-Americans rose above their hardships and many made great contributions to America by becoming political, religious and union leaders. Now almost 40 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry.
Today many people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish and Irish-American holiday commemorating the death, as legend has it, of Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go.
Motion-Triggered Cameras Capture Animals in the Wild
Photo of a Jaguar in Peru from the Smithsonian WILD project
This picture of a Jaguar was captured by a motion-triggered camera as part of the Smithsonian WILD project.
Scientists are using these cameras, which automatically take pictures when they sense the body heat or movement of an animal, to help answer a variety of ecological questions about the animals and their habitats
You can see more photos and videos of animals these cameras have captured from all across the globe at siwild.si.edu.
Dept. of Defense photo of U.S. military members helping Japanese citizens clean up a park in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami.
Many places are taking donations to help the disaster relief efforts in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami that took place on March 11. As donations to help the victims flow in, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) warns that con-artists are quick to try and scam generous givers.
Here are some tips from the IC3 to help you avoid becoming a scam victim:
Check to see if the charity is legitimate by visiting their website directly. Don’t use any questionable links you may have been sent.
Verify that the charity of your choice is a non-profit organization that will use your donation to help the cause.
Do not give out your personal or financial information to anyone soliciting contributions, or you could become a victim of identity theft.
The fact that safety is the number one consideration with their use.
Now, if you’re in the market for baby equipment, power tools, toys, or space heaters, you can check what other people are saying about them, in terms of safety, on SaferProducts.gov, a new online database created by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The database lets you submit safety reports about thousands of products. Reports can describe not only actual incidents but potentially dangerous scenarios with a product.
The manufacturer of the product will be notified and allowed to respond to the report, and both the report and any manufacturer’s comments will be posted online within 15 days.
The CPSC announces recalls of dangerous products practically every day. But it can take weeks or months from the time the first problem is reported until a recall is announced. The SaferProducts.gov database will work like an early warning system to alert you of safety issues with products you are interested in.
These images show the effects of the tsunami on Japan’s coastline. The image on the left was taken on Sept. 5, 2010; the image on the right was taken on March 12, 2011, one day after an earthquake and resulting tsunami struck the island nation.
A healthy diet isn’t about looking good in your skinny jeans. Obesity rates are much higher than they were in the 1970s and if you’re obese, you have an increased risk of health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. March is National Nutrition Month, here to remind us to make informed, healthy food choices every day.
We can all do a thing or two to improve our diets, and you can start making a few small changes to your diet now. Balancing your calories to manage your weight is important, but remember that your body needs nutrition from food. By eating less of some foods, like things high in sodium, sugar, and refined grains we have more room in our diets for the things we should eat more of, like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
There are many small steps you can take to improve your diet, so put veggies on your pizza instead of pepperoni, snack on dried fruit, and color your plate with salad.
At 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 13, Daylight Saving Time begins. You should set your clocks one hour forward. This creates more sunlight hours in the evening during months when the weather is the warmest.
Why we change the clocks:
The law that governs the use of Daylight Saving Time is the Uniform Time Act of 1966. This Act provided a standard for establishing the dates when Daylight Saving Time begins and ends in the U.S., while allowing local exemptions from its observance. States that wanted to be exempt could pass a law exempting the entire state.
States that don’t follow DST:
Not all states observe Daylight Saving Time. The states of Arizona and Hawaii do not. However, the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona does. In addition, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands do not observe DST.
If you use Twitter, you may have noticed a lot of tweets with 1.USA.gov URLs in them over the past week. Those are the result of a new service that we created with bit.ly, the popular URL shortening service. Now, whenever anyone uses bit.ly to shorten a URL that ends in .gov or .mil, they will receive a 1.USA.gov URL in return.
This makes it easier for people know when they encounter links to official government information on Twitter and other services where people use short URLs. You can be certain that every time you see a short URL with USA.gov in it, it will take you to a trustworthy source of official government information.
Another great thing about this service is that every click on a 1.USA.gov URL gets counted, which allows us to see what government information people are choosing to share and click on. Here’s a list of the most popular popular government URLs from the past week:
Whether you’re waiting to board an airplane or hanging out at a neighborhood café, public wireless networks can be a great way to stay connected.
Convenient? Yes. Secure? Hmm, not so much.
Unfortunately, most hotspots don’t encrypt what goes over the internet. So if you send email, manage your calendar, use social networks, or transmit financial data while using a public network, you may make it easier for hackers to access your accounts. In fact, new hacking tools – freely available online – make it easy to access unencrypted information, which could be used to scam you or someone you care about.
When using a WiFi hotspot, only log in or send personal info to sites you know are fully encrypted. Look for https at the beginning of the web address (the “s” is for secure) and a lock icon at the top or bottom of your browser window. Some sites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, you could be at risk. So check for https and the lock icon the whole time you’re on the site, not just when you sign in.
Don’t stay permanently signed in to accounts. When you’ve finished, log out.
Don’t use the same password on different websites. Otherwise, a hacker who steals one password may be able to access a bunch of your accounts.
If you travel a lot or use the local coffee shop as your office, consider a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt traffic between your computer and the internet, even on unsecured networks. You can get a personal VPN account from a VPN service provider.
Finally, visit the Wifi Hotspot page at OnGuard Online for more Internet safety tips and share this information with your colleagues, friends, and family.
Nicole Vincent is a Consumer Education Specialist at the Federal Trade Commission.
National Consumer Protection Week, which runs from March 6-12, is a nationwide campaign that encourages you to learn your rights as a consumer so you can spend your money wisely and protect yourself from scams and frauds.
The Federal Trade Commission and several other organizations are hosting events across the country where you can learn about consumer safety and shred old documents with sensitive information, like Social Security numbers, that you don’t need any more. Check out the list of events to see if there is one in your area.
If you can’t attend an in-person event, you can still learn how to be a savvy consumer with tips from the NCPW website:
Order a free copy of the Consumer Action Handbook. This guide is full of advice on buying products and services and what you should do if you aren’t satisfied with your purchase. It includes a sample complaint letter and lists the steps you need to take to file a complaint with a seller.
Protect your identity online. Using the tools from OnGuard Online, you’ll learn to identify common scams and get advice for keeping your personal information secure.
Take time to manage your money. Whether you’re trying to get out of debt or looking to boost your credit score, you’ll find out how to manage your money safely and avoid scams targeted toward people who are less experienced at handling their finances.
You can find more tips and advice for being a smart consumer at NCPW.gov.
Too many families that work hard and play by the rules are stretched to the breaking point. They have taken on debt to pay for college, a home, and other needs. The latest economic crisis is just one more blow in an increasingly dangerous economic world.
There was a time when the basic terms governing consumer financial products were pretty easy to see. But that has changed. Today, too many lenders hide complex terms among pages and pages of fine print in credit agreements, making it hard for borrowers to compare one product to two or three others.
The CFPB is working to change that. When prices and risks are clear up front, consumers can make the choices that are best for themselves and their families. In other words, we want a credit market that works for consumers.
You’ve probably noticed the steep increase in gas prices over the past week. Nationwide, drivers have seen average gas prices of $3.38 per gallon, similar to what we normally see in the peak of the summer driving season. The price increases are a result of the unrest in Libya and the Middle East.
This sudden jump in prices is causing people across the country to examine their driving behavior. This may be a great reason to look into buying a more fuel efficient or hybrid vehicle. Even if you aren’t in the market for a new car right now, here are some tips to increase your car’s fuel efficiency and get the most for your gasoline dollar:
Drive sensibly - Aggressive driving, such as speeding, rapid acceleration and braking, wastes gas.
Combine trips when possible - Several short trips starting from a cold engine can use twice as much fuel as longer multi-purpose trips when the engine is warm.
Observe the speed limit - Gas mileage usually decreases at speeds above 60 mph
Remove excess weight - Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle. The reduction of an extra 100 lbs could increase your mileage by 2%
Carpool or take public transportation - You can save by taking turns driving with other commuters
For more information about saving money at the pump, visit fueleconomy.gov.
Taxes can be—well—taxing. We want to change that, which is why we at the IRS have partnered with tax software companies to bring Free File to all taxpayers. Free File lets you do your federal taxes for free on the Internet by using a variety of software programs or online fillable forms. Free File is available exclusively through IRS.gov.
You can use Free File if your income for 2010 was $58,000 or less, which covers about 70 percent of taxpayers in the United States. If you made more than $58,000, you can use Free File Fillable Forms, which is the electronic version of IRS paper forms. Anyone can use the online fillable forms, but it helps if you have experience preparing your own tax returns.
You do not need to be an expert to use the online software. Just answer the questions and the program will do the hard work to help you get your tax breaks. When you’re done, you can file your return online with IRS e-file for free. Some Free File software providers offer state tax return preparation for free or a fee, and 21 states have state free file programs to let you file your state taxes online for free.
If you can’t make the April 18 deadline and need to file an extension, you can use Free File for that as well.