Whether playing online games, sending and responding to emails, visiting social networks or checking bank accounts, the average American spends 13 hours per week online, according to a survey taken by Forrester. While the ever-evolving conveniences of online shopping and digital communication often make life a little easier, sharing valuable information over the Internet comes with a considerable amount of risk. Consumers should not only be aware of the dangers of being online, but should also take preventative measures to avoid becoming a victim of online scams or fraud.

Protecting valuable information online is just as important as securing a home, car or personal possessions, says Rebecca Smith, vice president, marketing for Master Lock. It is essential that people educate themselves and take the proper precautions to safeguard their information online, ensuring important account data and passwords are protected within the digital space.

1. Firewalls are your friend: Be sure to activate your computer’s firewalls as they are great tools to provide you with a line of defense against hackers and Internet crime. They watch all the communication occurring between your computer, a network (say at the office) and the Internet and can prevent strangers from accessing your information.

2. Surf and shop safely: While online shopping is a great, convenient tool, consumers should be careful when surfing or shopping on a site they’ve never visited before. Good indicators that a site is secure include checkout pages with lock symbols or sites with the prefix “https,” indicating that a page is encrypted or scrambled.

3. Download security software: There is a wide variety of security software available that automatically updates itself and can protect your personal computers from viruses, spyware and other online threats that are constantly in play. Sign on and scan your computer for viruses and other malware once a week to ensure your information stays safe.

4. Create strong passwords: Short, easy-to-remember passwords, are typically not complex enough to prevent being hacked. When creating passwords for online bank accounts and other sites, use passwords with at least 10 characters that are a combination of letters, numbers and most importantly, symbols. It’s also a good idea to change your password on a monthly basis to keep it secure.

5. Be cautious – always: Internet fraud and online crime are a constant threat to all Americans who interact online or store anything digitally. Be cautious and avoid posting any personal information online, do not open email messages from strange addresses and never give your browser permission to remember your passwords.

6. Shut it down: We all know that with many advances in technology, one can be connected at all times. However, being online 24/7 comes with risks. Attackers and/or viruses are more likely to target your computer if you are always connected. Therefore, it’s good to shut down once in a while and take yourself offline.

7. Back it up: Whether it happens by accident, a natural disaster or because of an equipment malfunction, computers and networks crash and can leave your information exposed or just lost altogether. Consider backing up all of your most important information at least twice a month and rest easy knowing it is stored safely in more than one place.

8. Use parental controls: Children use the Internet as frequently, if not more, than adults. Many Internet browsers offer the option to set parental controls. Check out your options to restrict the websites viewed on your computer and protect the settings you select with a password your kids won’t be able to figure out. This way, you’re keeping your information, and more importantly, your children safe from various online dangers.

9. Lock up your valuable info: Every time you step away from your computer, you should know all of your most important information is secure. Consider utilizing a secure, online storage application or website, such as the free Master Lock Vault, to house all of your passwords, account numbers and essential information and documents under one easily accessible, yet completely secure location. Storing this information online is safer than keeping hard copies or a non-protected file on your computer. Services like the Vault can act as an encrypted digital safe deposit box and give users peace of mind that their vital information is locked up tight.

10. Two is better than one: User authentication, also known as two-tier or device authentication, should always be enabled if offered by sites that collect your secure or private data at registration. With this enabled, you may receive an email or text message with a verification code to complete your account set-up. While this may seem inconvenient at the time of sign-up, the extra protection is well worth this extra step.

For more advice on online safety and security, visit www.masterlock.com or www.masterlockvault.com.

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(BPT) – When it comes to home improvement, homeowners aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty; 64 percent who plan to make improvements this year say they will do it themselves, according to an American Express Consumer Spending and Saving Report. But not all home decorating or renovating projects are suitable for the average DIYer. So how do you know when to DIY or when to call in a professional?

You can quickly assess if a DIY project is achievable. Consider if you need special knowledge or expertise beyond what you could acquire with online research or a class at your local home improvement store. Does the job require specialized tools that would be very expensive to buy or that aren’t available through your local rental center? Lastly, consider the amount of time and money you have to devote to the project.

Whether painting or building, the good news is every job can be considered a DIY project. Here are three popular home projects with suggestions for when to DIY and when to call in a pro:

Adding new window treatments

Custom window treatments that offer multiple colors, styles and light-filtering options can transform any room. Cellular shades are a great option for DIYers who want a professional-looking result without the hassle and expense of hiring a professional. Simple Fit Custom Cellular Window Shades install in seconds and require no special tools – no drill, screws or brackets – or expertise to securely install your shade. Simple Fit shades give you a polished look quickly and easily with the push of a button that activates a patented compression-mount system. View a video on installation and learn more at www.simplefitcustomshades.com.

Go pro: Installing wooden blinds or shutters typically requires tools and precise abilities. If screw drivers, level surfaces and detailed instructions are not your thing, call for help. When assessing the windows, you may notice that some windows are in need of repair. Before installing, consult with a professional to ensure the window is in proper condition.

Installing wooden flooring

With a variety of flooring on the market to choose from, quality laminate can provide you with the look of wood at a fraction of the cost, labor and hassle of the real thing. Typically, laminate offers many options and is easy to do yourself. It’s easier to “float” laminate – meaning no messy, hard-to-manage adhesive is required. Some options are as simple as cutting to size and clicking into place.

Go pro: Installing genuine hardwood requires an extensive list of materials and tools. If you are not confident with this type of installation, consult a professional. A pro can take the guess work out of the installation and eliminate costly mistakes. Refinishing existing hardwood floors is also a job better left to pros unless you have extensive experience operating a sander. This home renovation is labor intensive and errors could result in ruined planks.

Sprucing up the kitchen

Many simple kitchen enhancements are an easy job for even novice DIYers. Painting walls or cabinets and adding new hardware can impart a whole new look to a kitchen for relatively little time and money.

Go pro: Installing granite countertops are among the most desirable kitchen upgrades, but unlike other countertop installations, granite is rife with peril. Incorrectly measuring the amount of granite you’ll need will result in a countertop that doesn’t fit – a costly disaster. Professionals ensure proper installation to avoid breakage, cabinet or water damage and other problems. Granite countertops are an investment, and it pays to hire a professional to ensure that investment pays off in the best possible way.

When it comes to DIY projects, it’s important to take on tasks that will yield great results and little to no frustration. Fortunately, it’s easy to find plenty of decorating and home improvement projects that are simple, cost effective and high impact.

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So how do you ensure you not only land the home of your dreams, but get the best possible price from the seller and the best possible mortgage deal from your lender? By becoming the buyer every homeowner wants to sell to a financially stable, credit-worthy, pre-approved purchaser.

“Just as lenders consider many factors beyond your credit score, when deciding whether to finance your home loan, sellers consider more than just the offering price when evaluating potential buyers,” says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of credit score model developer VantageScore Solutions. “Buyers who can move quickly and decisively, who walk through the door with their financing lined up and their credit in good shape, are best positioned to stand above the competition this year.”

Steps toward being a better buyer

You can be a better buyer – one that will appear attractive to both lenders and sellers – with some simple steps.

First, understand your credit score and the role it plays in the home buying process. While a good credit score can ease the borrowing process for home buyers, it’s not the only factor lenders will use to gauge whether to approve you for a loan, Burns says.

“A credit score predicts the likelihood of whether a borrower might default in the first 24 months of a loan,” he notes. “But lenders will also consider how much of a down payment you bring to the table as a percentage of the purchase price, your income and your debt-to-income ratio when considering a mortgage application.”

Remember that lenders will pull your score from all three major credit bureaus, so it pays to check your credit report and score with all three. Reviewing your report and score allows you to catch and correct errors, and have a better idea of how potential lenders might view your credit worthiness, and rest assured that obtaining this information does not impact your credit score.

Understanding your credit score is a more complex process than you might expect. You can test your knowledge about credit scores at www.CreditScoreQuiz.org, a website created by VantageScore Solutions and its partner, Consumer Federation of America.

When you have a handle on your credit, consider other factors that can make you a better buyer, including how much you have to put down on a house.

The days of no-money down mortgages are virtually over, industry experts say. Today, even FHA borrowers will likely need to make a down payment. How much you need will depend on many factors, including the loan program you apply for and the price of the house you’re buying. Generally, it’s a good rule of thumb to save 20 percent of the purchase cost for a down payment.

Keep in mind, the more you put down, the more instant equity you’ll have, the lower your monthly payment, and the better your chances of not needing private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment. If you’re able to put down more than a lender requires, a mortgage company may be willing to give you a pass on other issues on your application, such as a less-than-stellar credit score.

“Lenders and sellers are all looking for buyers who are ‘the complete package,’” Burns says. “While you should take care of your credit score, you shouldn’t obsess over it. Instead, look at it as an important part of the overall package of assets that can make you the kind of buyer everyone wants to work with.”

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It may not feel like winter yet, but cold weather is around the corner. Take advantage of the good weather now by following these tips to prepare the outside and inside of your home to survive the winter months ahead.

Outside tips

  •  After a summer of caring for your lawn, you might be looking for a break, but make sure you don’t stop mowing too soon. Lawns should be mowed well into the fall, even after growing stops. Grass should be at least 3 inches high and clippings should be raked up and bagged on the last mowing of the season to prevent roots being smothered over the winter.
  •  If you planted perennials, check with your local garden center about what type of protection particular plants require depending on where you live. Gardeners in Minnesota will face much different winter weather than someone in Virginia. Protecting with extra mulch or soil will help in some places, while others may require covering the plants with burlap, canvas or any other porous fabric. If you have trees that come near a power line, the branches should be trimmed back in the event of ice storms or heavy snowfalls that can cause trees to fall.
  • Some companies manufacture composite decking, railing, and fence products that require less maintenance than traditional treated wood. While no product is maintenance free, low maintenance decking means less work for you to prepare your deck for the winter. Whether your deck is treated wood or composite wood, keeping a clean, dry deck surface is the key to longer deck life and enjoyment. Just as you would rake the leaves from the lawn, sweep the leaves, needles and branches from the deck and remove all smaller debris from between deck boards as proper drainage is important to avoiding moisture build up. You can also use a deck cleaner and power washer to eliminate build-up. If you have a treated-wood deck, make sure you seal or stain the deck to keep water from getting in.

    If you live in a cold weather climate where ice and snow are a factor, use calcium chloride or rock salt to melt the ice and snow on your deck. When shoveling snow off of the deck, run the shovel lengthwise on the deck boards. Shoveling cross-wise can scratch or cut into the planks.

  • Storing deck furniture depends on what type of furniture you have. Wood furniture needs to be treated and covered with a protective, waterproof cover. Folding deck chairs can be easily stored in basements, garages or sheds, while covers are available for most size tables.
  • If you’ve got a snow blower, make sure it’s tuned up and ready to go; if you have a lawnmower, make sure you run it down or drain all the fuel out of it. Fuel in a mower or snow blower should be fresh when you start the season.
  • If you have cracks in your driveway or sidewalks, make sure they are repaired before the snow starts. The thawing and refreezing of snow can cause significant damage when it gets into cracks.

Indoor tips
  • The more cold air you keep out, the less heat you’ll have to use to warm your house. If you have drafty windows, consider wrapping them with plastic to help save energy and keep the cold air out of your house. Another way to keep the heat in is to caulk around windows and door frames where air may leak into the house, and add weather stripping or replace weather stripping that may have worn down.
  • If you have a fireplace, make sure it is capped to keep birds and rodents out. Firewood should also be stored away from your house as it can become a home for mice.
  • Heating accounts for 34 percent of utility usage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so checking your ducts to make sure they are sealed is a great way to save money by increasing the efficiency of your furnace. Other ways to make sure you are heating your home efficiently is by making sure your furnace is tuned up and installing a programmable thermostat that can be set to regulate your home’s temperature without you having to remember to do it yourself.

Following these tips can help you save money in the short and long term as you get ready to welcome the winter to your outdoor and indoor spaces.
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Final Walk-Through: What to Expect at your Final Walk-Through before Closing
It’s smart to perform a final walk-through before closing. It’s your last chance to make sure the home you’re about to buy is in the condition you’re expecting. Here’s some great tips that you may not have thought of in preparing for your final walk-through.

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Staging your Home: Advice for Sellers

Ten inexpensive real estate staging tips to help create a ‘mood’ or ‘emotion’ to entice and connect with potential home buyers.

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Financing: Advice for Homebuyers

This YouTube channel, provided courtesy of Chase, offers the ins and outs of mortgages, how the loan process works and how to select a lender. Worthy of viewing regardless of whom you select as your lender.

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First-Time Homebuyer Tips: Things to Know when Buying your First Home


First-time homebuyers need to keep their ownership goals in mind and make sure to not rush into decisions or feel pressured. This video offers some great lessons from real first-time home owners.

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Light blocking curtains, sometimes known as blackout curtains or lined blackout curtains, can be a very appealing and functional interior design touch. Once you understand the main elements involved in choosing your light blocking curtains, you’ll be able to  successfully install and utilize them to their maximum effectiveness.

Take Measurements

Blackout curtain drapes or blackout window curtains come from the factory in many different sizes, shapes and styles. Since the main purpose of these curtains is to perform the function of blocking out daylight, it’s essential to take accurate measurements around all of the windows and glass doors in which you intend to hang them. You need to always measure a little wider and lower so that the drapes extend past the corners, bottoms, and sides of the glass where all possible outdoor light can come in.

Are they Dark Enough?

Blackout curtains come in several colors. But they’re all usually dark enough to serve the purpose of blocking the light out of your home, apartment or condominium. If you’re buying them because you want to be able to sleep comfortably during the day when the sun’s bright, then you should carefully choose the darkest color you can find, as this will successfully block out more sunlight than lighter versions. But if all you want to do is block out the often blinding glare of the sun that’s coming into your living room, you can go with a lighter color to match your interior decor.

Materials and Textures

Many of these lined blackout curtains are made of heavy-duty thermal material since thermal textures are more efficient at blocking out the strong, harsh rays of the sun. You have to understand that when this type of material gets dirty from dust and other airborne pollutants, you’ll have to eventually clean them. This will often mean removing them and taking them over to the dry cleaner, as household steam cleaners usually aren’t effective enough for a thorough cleaning and a full disinfecting procedure.

But the many benefits of these heavy, rugged textures also include keeping out the intense heat of the sun in summer time, saving on your air conditioning energy consumption costs, and helping prevent the sun from color fading of your carpets and furniture, especially the leather, velour and suede variety.

Price

You can find these blackout curtains selling for a wide variety of prices depending on which brand you buy and from which online or physical retail location you choose to purchase at. Wider, longer and heavier ones will always cost more. So will ones with custom designs and weaved patterns on them. These are the upscale, high end brands. Many homeowners are content to buy the least expensive, simplest designs and just color coordinate the curtains with their carpet, hardwood floors, wall coverings, and sofas. Well priced light blocking curtains are also going to be incredibly durable. They won’t fade due to the strong sun hitting into them all day long, so they make an excellent household investment.

Versatility

Because light blocking curtains can be used in so many home window applications, they have become very popular over the years since they first came out. Blackout window curtains can be used instead of ordinary blinds to block out much more sunlight. They’re certainly ten times better than even the darkest standard curtains. And these light blocking curtains can be installed over either windows that rise vertically or over ones that roll inward towards the room. They can also be used on sliding glass doors that lead to patios, porches and decks.

By: Alfred Oliver

http://www.articlecity.com/articles/home_improvement/article_7244.shtml

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Unlike early styluses that forced users’ hands into unnatural positions, these pens allow users to draw, write, highlight, annotate and more on their digital touchscreens in a natural manner – making the pens ideal for use in classrooms where youngsters are learning the mechanics of writing in tandem with other subjects. With pens, students can rest their wrists on the tablet surface, just as they would if using a notepad and ink pen or pencil.

“Employing pen technology in the classroom engages students in learning and allows educators to maximize the versatility and benefits of the technology they’re already using,” says Paige Johnson, K-12 education strategist for Intel Corporation. “Pens free both students and teachers, fostering creativity in children and allowing teachers to move more freely around the classroom to collaborate with students during class.”

The advantage of a pen is simple and easy to see. If you’ve ever hit the wrong buttons on your mobile device’s virtual keyboard and ended up with gibberish (and who hasn’t), you’ve experienced the limitations of fingertips: they can’t make as fine a point as a pen can. Pens give young students the flexibility to alternate between the broader strokes of their fingertips and a more precise interface, depending on which is appropriate for the task at hand.

Pioneering educators at Cincinnati Country Day School are using pen technology to virtually eliminate paper from the classroom and homework. The school was the first in the country to ensure every student had a computer. Today, all homework and assignments are done on hybrid PC/tablets, allowing students to write, annotate, highlight and draw with their digital pens. Integrating pen technology into the classroom has resulted in increased student engagement and collaboration at Cincinnati Country Day School.

Parents looking to maximize pen technology as part of students’ education can use it in numerous ways. As you shop for a device for your child, keep these benefits in mind:

* Pens foster more room for an interactive, creative and engaging learning experience for students, facilitating non-linear thinking at all age levels.

* Writing with a pen and paper is one of the first things young students learn. Digital pens reinforce handwriting lessons for younger students, allowing them to hold the pen in a natural way.

* Pens give students the flexibility to choose the best tool for the task at hand – whether it’s a pen, their fingers or the keyboard. The pen is a creativity tool. The keyboard is a productivity tool. Sometimes you need one, and sometimes you need both.

*Pens allow students in higher math and science classes to write out complex formulas and make diagrams more easily and quickly.

Another great resource for parents and teachers who are on the market for a new device is the K12 Blueprint, found online at www.k12blueprint.com. Sponsored by Intel Corporation, this website is a free resource for planning and implementing technology initiatives in districts. You’ll find useful information, including practical guidelines, funding advice, curriculum considerations and real-world success stories.

“For a while, it seemed as if styluses – and possibly even handwriting itself – would become obsolete as touchscreen capabilities opened up new horizons in computing,” Johnson says. “New pen technology is proving that won’t be the case. As parents shop for technology for their children, they should keep in mind that in the classroom, the pen can be just as mighty as the fingertip.”

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