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Fake crypto scam sends ransomware, then malware once you pay

(FINANCE) Buying unheard of ICOs just got much riskier as scammers find new ways to scam people out of their crypto investments while stealing their identities. Great.

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Cryptocurrency is hot right now. And while cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are supposedly more secure than regular currency, that doesn’t mean that hackers aren’t looking for ways to take advantage of the trend.

A newly discovered ransomware scam banks on people’s desire to get rich quick by buying cryptocurrencies. The scam advertises a new cryptocurrency called SpriteCoin.

SpriteCoin isn’t a real currency; it’s just a ruse to get people to install ransomware. Often, SpriteCoin ads appear on forums where people learn about and discuss other cryptocurrencies, making SpriteCoin seem like the real deal (hence why social media sites are opting to nix all ads about cyrpto).

The ransomware is disguised as a wallet containing SpriteCoin. While your computer appears to be downloading the blockchain for your SpriteCoin, it is actually encrypting all of your files, while also raiding Chrome and Firefox for your stored passwords. Next, you receive a ransom note demanding that you pay up in order to get a decryption key, or else your files will be locked forever.

The ransom note demands payment in Monero, a cryptocurrency, to the tune of about $100. The note claims that “only we can decrypt your files. Don’t worry, we’ll give you your files back if you pay.”

To add insult to injury, once the Monero ransom has been paid, the hackers install additional malware that harvests personal data and gives hackers the power activate your webcam.

This ransomware scam was discovered by cyber security company Fortinet. Fortinet’s experts think that this scam, which is demanding a (relatively) inexpensive ransom, could be a pilot program for hackers to test out new delivery mechanisms for ransomware and malware. They want to see how many people will fall for the scam before scaling up.

Fortinet also explains that Monero is becoming the new cryptocurrency of choice amongst thieves using ransomware, because Bitcoin transaction fees have gone up and there is typically a delay on payments.

Cryptocurrencies could be a good investment – but make sure you do your research and only buy legit cryptocurrencies, lest you fall victim to such a vicious and repetitive scam.

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Business Finance

Freelancers, big brands salivating over new UltraFICO scores

(FINANCE) Everyone from freelancers to giant business are impacted by the new UltraFICO scores, ushering in a new era of lending in America.

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If you’re anything like me, then you don’t like to spend money you don’t actually have. I didn’t have a credit card until I was 28 years old. I moved to another country on cash alone. My wife and I bought our first car with cash. We thought this made us responsible. The credit reporting bureaus and financial institutions disagreed.

To our surprise, you’re not considered a “responsible American” unless you’re in a constant cycle of borrowing money from banks through credit cards and loans.

We’re not the only ones who think this system needs improvement. A growing number of millennials have eschewed traditional credit cards and loans for various reasons, and this has left these otherwise responsible Americans out in the lurch regarding their credit scores.

We’ve all heard the adage “bad credit is better than no credit,” but really take a moment to think about how silly that is. In this day and age, having a history of borrowing money from the banks and not paying it back on time is somehow better than paying for everything yourself without help from bank loans, credit card companies, or government programs.

According to the Fair Issac Corp. (issuer of FICO scores), about 7 million consumers have too-low scores (in the high 500s or low 600s) to be considered safe bets for lending. Fortunately, baby steps towards credit reform is on the horizon, in the form of UltraFICO scores.

Next summer, customers unsatisfied with their standard FICO score will be allowed to apply for an UltraFICO score.

The difference between the two is that while a normal FICO score is based off of credit history, an UltraFICO score takes standard everyday bank account history into consideration. Your current checking balance, length of checking history, transaction frequency, and overdraw history will all be a vital part of your UltraFICO score.

The UltraFICO increases the chance of loan approval to millions of Americans that might otherwise be denied, and that has a lot of people happy — including lenders themselves, and the many companies with big ticket items that typically rely on consumers that finance their products (furniture, jewelry, cars, etc. not just housing).

Let’s not kid ourselves here, this isn’t a charity program. The UltraFICO exists to widen the possible customer base for loans as an entire generation opts out carrying debt. The more people approved for loans, the more money credit issuers stand to gain. This is a calculated business move, but it could possibly benefit all parties regardless.

That’s not to say there aren’t pitfalls here. On a macro scale, American consumers already hold $1 trillion worth of credit card debt, and loosening loan requirements could very well cause this debt to balloon even further.

On a micro scale, opting in for an UltraFICO score means handing over sensitive personal data of your banking history over to third parties, which is something we should all be wary of doing.

It’s not a new concept, in fact in 2011, a major data company launched an alternative credit score to include reporting on your phone bills, cable bills, and so forth, to open lending (some mortgage lenders do use this alternative score in their practices).

It’s not just of interest for companies with big ticket items, but for small businesses and freelancers that don’t rely on credit cards, which could open new lines of credit as they build their companies.

Depending on your views, this program either lowers the limits for acceptable loan applicants and puts our economy at risk, or merely broadens our definition of personal fiscal responsibility. As I’m solidly in the second camp, I’m excited to see what these new changes can bring to the table in 2019.

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Business Finance

20 states won’t grant or renew a professional license if your student loans default

(FINANCE) If your student loans default, your professional license may be revoked – a hard blow to medical practitioners, Realtors, delivery drivers, and so many more hard working people.

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Student loans represent a significant financial burden for recent graduates, with average loan debt in 2017 hitting $37,172, and the impact of debt repayment at graduation causes many Americans, mainly younger professionals, to delay everything from traveling the world and marriage, and even opening their own business.

Beyond the burden of debt, student loans are particularly tricky because they play by some different rules.

Most debt for example, doesn’t accrue interest while you don’t make any payments, and the flexibility of the repayment options can put borrowers in difficult situations where they don’t recognize their repayment amount. In addition, because the way we relate to the lender (AKA the federal government), the consequences of student loan debt often makes it seem less important to pay.

However, most of that flexibility is limited to non-private student loans. Private student loans have all the troubles of regular loans, with some added bite.

One way that student loan debt is different from other forms of consumer debt is that not even bankruptcy can clear you.

In 1976, Congress passed a law that put public student loan debt in a separate category that can’t be discharged. In 2005, Congress extended that to private student loans.

Not paying your student loans can lead also lead to wage garnishment and tax refund seizure.

But perhaps the most painful and insulting consequence of student loan default can be the withholding of your professional (or even your driving) licenses. If you’re a barber, nurse, teacher, lawyer, psychologist, realtor or need to drive a car, that can be devastating.

NYT uncovered that the following 20 states that allow this include:

  1. Alaska
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Florida
  5. Georgia
  6. Hawaii
  7. Illinois
  8. Iowa
  9. Kentucky
  10. Louisiana
  11. Massachusetts
  12. Minnesota
  13. Mississippi
  14. New Mexico
  15. North Dakota
  16. South Dakota
  17. Tennessee
  18. Texas
  19. Virginia
  20. Washington

Beyond the damage to credit scores, liens on properties, and the financial consequences, these license seizures can represent financial ruin, and can punish well-meaning borrowers and those who are working on public service loan forgiveness as well.

The most important thing you can do is know your options.

If you have public loans, explore repayment options, explore refinancing with direct loans, and most importantly, communicate with your lender. If you have private loans, consider moving that debt into something more manageable, especially since private loans have no interest cap, a personal loan or a home equity loan can be a more affordable option.

The best way to handle default is to avoid it – and don’t drown by avoiding swimming. Most importantly, get in the know, explore your options, and get talking. And if you’re feeling extra motivated, work with your state representatives and work on getting legislation to help make students loan more manageable.

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Business Finance

How to invest in any cryptocurrency without the IRS hunting you down

(FINANCE) Paying taxes on your cryptocurrency investments doesn’t have to be a headache with this simple tool.

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The next tax season will inevitably approach, and those of you who took a chance on cryptocurrency may be wondering: Do I have to pay tax on my digital investments? Sorry, but yes you do.

Although tax laws are constantly changing, especially in the wild west of cryptocurrency, fear not. Token Tax is the one tool to rule them all, and can help you report cryptocurrency taxes.

In this past year, cryptocurrency investment has skyrocketed. The total market cap rose over 1000 percent, even breaking a record and climbing over $600 billion in December.

Coinbase, the most popular online platform for buying and selling digital currency, gained one million users in one month alone.

Cyrptocurrency’s increasing popularity led to changes in IRS rules.

Although cryptocurrency investors were previously able to use the “like-kind” tax code exemption, the IRS now says digital investments must be taxed as short and long-term capital gains.

Back in 2015, only 802 Americans reported Bitcoin related gains and losses. At the time, cryptocurrency could technically be categorized a property instead of income. The 2017-18 year should show a greater increase in reports due to the new IRS regulations.

It can be difficult to determine how to report your taxes, and many other available tools victimize you with information overload. Understanding your tax liability is no fun at all, but it’s not something you’d want to get wrong unless tax jail sounds exciting.

The newly minted Token Tax does the work for you, integrating directly with Coinbase’s API to import all your investments in an easy to read format that’s directly exportable to the IRS. Kraken, Bittrex, and GDAX are also securely integrated with the platform.

Using FIFO, Token Tax calculates your tax liability and displays it in an easy to read interface. You can then export a fill-out 8949 form directly to your accountant or the IRS for review.

Creators Alex Miles and David Holland Lee say they believe Token tax “could be the TurboTax for crypto.”

Even though Token Tax is still in test mode, not even beta, it caught our attention by winning first place overall in Product Hunt’s Global Hackathon.

If you have invested in cryptocurrency and want to get ahead of the curve for tax season, check out their demo and see for yourself.

This story was first featured here in January of 2018.

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