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Much Has Changed, Yet Much Has Stayed the Same

Election season is almost fully behind us, with the exception of two Georgia runoff elections on January 5 that will decide which party holds majority in the U.S. Senate. President-elect Biden is preparing to take office on January 20, 2021, Pfizer submitted an emergency use authorization for its vaccine on Friday and Moderna is expected to submit a similar use application in coming weeks.

As the pandemic moves into winter months in the northern hemisphere, cases are rising and states, counties and communities are struggling to balance safety with the economic impact of measures to curb the virus’ spread. Yet, positive indicators are appearing as we look into 2021. We remain confident and hopeful that the virus’ global grip will loosen enough to start the rebuilding process next year.

As of this writing, the U.S. Labor Department reported an increase in unemployment benefit applications to 742,000 up from 711,000 the week prior. The U.S. is nearing 200,000 new Covid-19 cases per day with the overall death toll passing 250,000. Meanwhile, the U.S. housing market continues to thrive on record-low interest rates, a newfound ability to work remotely and desire for more space. Existing home sales are also at their highest levels since February 2006 and median home prices are hitting new highs. 

Thus, markets have been jumpy (and will likely continue to be) as investors are optimistic about vaccine prospects yet have more immediate concerns about the pandemic’s effect on our immediate economy. While we remain optimistic that the pandemic will subside in 2021, we recognize that there are still regulatory hurdles and solutions to be found for the production, transportation and distribution of a vaccine to the global masses. As such, we will continue our steadfast diligence while managing investments through this transitional economic stage.

Useful Tips for Protecting Yourself Online this Holiday Season

As financial professionals in an ever-changing world, we are deeply aware of those seeking to thieve information that will lead to their financial gain. As Cyber Monday approaches, here are seven helpful tips for keeping your personal information safe while shopping online.

Tip #1: Create Secure Passwords. Your password is the first line of defense, meaning you’ll want to make it a strong one. Avoid simple, easy to figure out passwords like “Pass1234” or “0000”.  Even birthdays and anniversary dates are easy for hackers to figure out. If your computer supports the ability to generate random passwords, this can be the safest option. If you do not have that option, create a password free from full words, names, dates, phone numbers or addresses. Instead, try using partial words and symbols to replace letters such as '!' for an 'i', '$' for an 's', and '@' for an 'a'. Remember to change your passwords on a regular basis and avoid keeping a list of your passwords on your computer, unless you use a password keeper such as 1Password or LastPass.

Tip #2: Protect Your Passwords. Always use a different password for each site or service you use. This is an important step in preventing hackers from gaining access to all of your other accounts if one becomes compromised.

Tip #3: Invest in Quality Cybersecurity Software. Consider installing cybersecurity software on your computer if you don’t have it already. This software can help identify and prevent viruses from downloading to your computer system. While there are free programs available, they don’t always provide the latest updates. There are low-cost cybersecurity options to choose from, and their small upfront cost can be worth it to safeguard your personal information. 

Tip #4: Be Wary of Links. It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid clicking on any links you receive in an email or chat - especially if they’re from a stranger or unfamiliar company. It’s entirely too easy for hackers to make links appear trustworthy or look like they’re coming from a reliable source, when in reality they’re not. If you’re unsure about the validity of a link, try typing the URL directly into your browser’s address bar.

Tip #5: Don't Put Yourself at Risk. The internet is immense, and there are some parts you simply want to stay away from. Visiting certain types of sites which contain adult entertainment, certain discussion forums, file-sharing sites and streaming services can lead to an increased likelihood of downloading a virus to your computer. As an online shopper, you’ll want to be especially vigilant of sites that appear to boast too-good-to-be-true offers or list items for sale at a substantially lower price than others. If it does not appear to be reputable, it could be putting your computer or personal information in danger. 

Tip #6: Don't Use Debit Cards Online. Once you make a purchase with a debit card, the money is immediately deducted from your bank account. If a cybercriminal gains access to your debit card information, the criminal can quickly drain your bank account. While you may get your money back, you will likely not have access to your funds until your bank resolves the issue. Instead, use a credit card and let your credit card company worry about it.

Tip #7: Check Your Credit Score for Changes. Set aside a day each month to check your credit score. Consider making it a habit to check your credit on the same day you pay your bills. There are several sites that offer free credit scores, and many banks or credit unions offer the service to their customers. Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service for extra protection.

Cybercrime is scary, but it is a part of modern-day life. Taking precautions like those above can help you lower your chances of becoming another victim.

In Closing

Our most seasoned advisors cannot remember a more important time for clients to stick to a disciplined investment plan. We are incredibly grateful to be doing just that each day, especially as Thanksgiving approaches. We wish you a safe and healthy start to this holiday season. May you forge new traditions and safely create meaningful memories in these challenging times.