All posts by USAgencies

How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day on a Budget

Here’s how to enjoy a romantic evening with your partner without going into debt:

Work with a budget

We know your partner means the world to you, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend the world proving it. Designate a budget for all your Valentine’s Day expenses — and stick to it!

Use a sales app

You know that face-palming moment when you realize you paid full price for something you could have gotten for way cheaper?

Keep more of your money in your wallet by shopping for Valentine’s Day gifts with a sales app like ShopSavvy or PriceGrabber. The apps will help you compare prices at various retailers and score deals and coupons on gifts.

Save on flowers

We know you found an amazing deal online for fresh roses, but don’t buy them. Flowers are not likely to last through the shipping and delivery process. Instead, look for great deals on long-lasting flowers by buying them at Trader Joe’s or Aldi.

Bring down your dinner costs

Don’t break your budget on a romantic dinner for two.

First, rethink dining in. It doesn’t have to be boring or feel forced. You can lay down a blanket in front of the fireplace for a picnic-inspired experience or glam up another room for your delectable dinner for two.

If you and your partner have been counting down to a night out, save on restaurant costs by learning how to beat the psychological tricks at play in menu design:

  • Look left. Restaurant owners put the most profitable items on the menu in the right-hand corner — the spot most people look to automatically.
  • Say the price out loud. Notice the lack of dollar signs on the menu? It’s a trick to get you to spend more. Make the price real by saying it out loud.
  • Ignore the decoys. See that overpriced item on the menu? You need to unsee it. Restaurants place popular dishes near overpriced items to make diners believe they’re getting a great deal, but if you pay it no attention, you’ll beat them at their game.

Celebrate late

If you dare, postpone your Valentine’s Day celebrations by a day or two for steep savings. You’ll find Valentine’s Day candy on clearance and you won’t have to pay inflated restaurant prices for the same meal.

Second Wave of Stimulus Checks Brings More Scams

The second wave of stimulus checks only started hitting checking accounts a few weeks ago, and the BBB  and the FTC are already warning of related scams.

According to the FTC, American taxpayers lost more than $211 million due to COVID-19 scams, with $20.9 million of that amount connected to the first round of stimulus checks.

Don’t get scammed! Protect yourself by learning all about these scams so you know when you’re being targeted.

How the scams play out

Stimulus check scams can take the form of phishing scams, in which a criminal asks victims to provide personal information to receive their check, and then instead uses that information to empty the victim’s account.

In other variants of the stimulus check scam, a victim receives an email prompting them to download an embedded link to receive their check.The link, of course, will infect the victim’s computer with malware.

In yet another stimulus check scam, a criminal impersonates an IRS official or a representative of another government office demanding a processing fee before the check can be sent.

Finally, there have been reports of taxpayers receiving checks that appear to be authentic stimulus checks, but are actually fraudulent. They deposit the check and, soon afterward, a scammer reaches out to them to inform them the check amount was incorrect and they must return some of the funds. Unfortunately, a few days later, the financial institution finds that the check is fake and it will not clear. The victim is now out the money they returned to the “IRS.”

Red flags

Unfortunately, technology has made it easy for scammers to spoof a Caller ID and to create bogus websites that look authentic. If you know what to look for, you can beat them at their game and recognize a scam before it gets past the first step.

Here are five red flags of stimulus check scams:

1. Unsolicited calls or emails

It’s best to avoid answering unsolicited calls and/or emails from unknown contacts to protect yourself from a stimulus check scam. Similarly, never click on a link in an unsolicited email or text message, as it may contain malware.

According to the BBB Scam Tracker, scammers have also been contacting people through robocalls and leaving messages about the stimulus checks and direct deposits. These calls should likewise be ignored.

2. Messages that ask you to verify or provide sensitive information

The BBB is warning of emails and text messages asking citizens to verify or supply information to receive their stimulus checks. Sometimes, the victim will receive an email instructing them to click on a link to receive their benefit payments. This, too, is a scam. The IRS will not call, text or email any taxpayer to verify their information.

3. High-pressure tactics

If a phone call or email demands immediate action on your part and uses a threat of losing your stimulus payment, you’re likely looking at a scam. There is no action you need to take to receive your check.

4. Fee solicitations

There is no processing fee or any other charge attached to the stimulus payments.

“If you do answer a call, and it’s about your stimulus payment, keep in mind that U.S. government agencies won’t ask you to pay anything up front to receive your funds. Anyone who does is a scammer,” cautions Jennifer Leach, associate director for the FTC’s division of consumer and business education.

There’s also no way to pay extra for receiving your stimulus payment earlier.

5. Inflated check amount

“We’ve seen a lot of scams involving bogus checks that look like government checks in the past year,” says Paige Schaffer, CEO of global identity and cyber protection services at Generali Global Assistance.

For the best way to protect yourself from this scam, the BBB recommends that all taxpayers receiving their stimulus payment via paper check verify that the check is authentic before depositing it in their checking account. Look up the agency or organization that allegedly sent the check to see if it really exists, and check the status of your payment to see if you actually should have received it.

Stay safe!

How Can I Succeed at my New Job?

Q: I’ve just landed a new job, and I’m a bit nervous about starting. How can I succeed at my new job?

A: Congratulations on your new job! Whether it’s a new position in your current workplace or a new place of employment, this is a very exciting time, but also a little challenging. With the right work practices in place, it can be the start of a successful rung on your career ladder that pays off for years to come.

Here’s what you need to know when starting a new job:

How do I start off at my job?

Starting off on the right foot can help ease the transition and put you on the fast track to success at your new job.

You’ll never have a second chance at that first impression, so be sure to ace that first day on the job. Prepare everything you’ll need the night before, leave extra time for unexpected delays and try to arrive a few minutes early. Be ready to introduce yourself to your new colleagues — now’s not the time to be shy. Practice a short intro ahead of time to make it easier and more natural.

Next, pay close attention to your surroundings during your first week at work. Try to pick up on all the small nuances that can clue you in to the company culture, the work atmosphere and to help you get to know your coworkers better.

Finally, familiarize yourself with company rules and policies as soon as possible. Your manager probably shared most of these with you, but there are some rules you may not know about unless you ask. For example, find out about your new workplace’s social media policy. Some companies don’t let employees use social media during work hours and are strict about not posting anything work-related or unfit for public consumption.

How can I succeed professionally at my new job?

When you begin working in a new place, you’ll need to learn all the ins and outs of your job. Learn all the details of your job responsibilities. Being unclear about what is expected of you can waste valuable work time and lead to miscommunication and hurt feelings.

It’s important to ask questions at your new job. Research shows that new employees perform better when they ask more questions. In addition to bringing you up to speed, asking lots of questions will show your co-workers that you’re ready and willing to learn.

What should I focus on during my first month on the job? 

Once you’ve passed the first week in your new workplace, you’ll likely be more comfortable at your job and know what’s expected of you. By now, you know where to find the best K-cups for the coffee machine and that you’d better greet the front-desk attendant in the morning or you’ll hear about it later.

It’s time to step up your game.

Were you always being held back at your previous job because of personal failings? This is your opportunity to start fresh. During the first month at your new job, concentrate on setting up good work habits. Take some time to identify your primary distractions and negative work habits and then focus on getting rid of them to keep your productivity at peak levels.

Continue to ask questions whenever necessary. There’s no shame in needing help, even when you’ve been at the job for a few weeks or months.

It’s also a good idea to make it a practice of thanking your colleagues for any way they assist you in learning the ropes of your new job.

Finally, push yourself to achieve more than you believed possible at your new job. Don’t be afraid to be overly ambitious. Set high goals and reach for the stars — you may surprise yourself.

What steps should I take after my first few months on the job?

Once you’ve settled into the job, it’s a good idea to take a step back to review your performance. Have you achieved your goals? Have you established a name for yourself in the company?  Some companies will set up a formal 90-day review for all new employees. If not, consider asking your direct supervisor for a quick meeting to discuss your progress.

Best of luck at your new job!

Beware Coronavirus Vaccine Scams

After months of confusion and fear, there is finally a light at the end of the socially distanced tunnel: the FDA has approved two coronavirus vaccines. Detailed plans to distribute from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna are already underway, with additional vaccines expected to gain FDA approval in 2021.

Unfortunately, whenever there’s big news, scammers aren’t far behind. Almost as soon as the news of the Pfizer approval hit the headlines, a robocall went out in Rochester, NY, offering a front place in line for the vaccine at the modest price of just $79.99. Of course, the call was placed by a ring of scammers and paying the requested fee will not position individuals to receive the vaccine any sooner.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have all shared reports of additional scams in which criminals exploit the public’s interest in coronavirus vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information and money through various schemes.

Don’t get scammed! Here’s all you need to know about coronavirus vaccine scams and how to avoid them:

The vaccine distribution

It’s important to learn these facts about how the vaccine will be distributed to help avoid falling victim to a vaccine scam:

  • Initially, the vaccine will only be available in very limited quantities. There are strict protocols about who will be first in line to receive it, such as nursing home residents and health care workers. Exact guidelines vary by state, but you cannot pay or sign up to jump the line.
  • The vaccine will only be distributed through trusted resources, like doctors or health clinics. It will not be available on the internet or through an online pharmacy.
  • The vaccine will be distributed to eligible citizens at no cost. Health care providers may charge an administration fee, which will be reimbursed through insurance companies, but there will be no upfront cost for insured individuals.
  • There is no need to share personal information on the phone, such as your Social Security number or checking account details, to receive the vaccine.

Red flags

Beware of these signs of COVID-19 vaccine scams:

  • Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, email or phone calls from unsolicited sources.
  • Offers for early access to the vaccine — for a price.
  • Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine.
  • Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment.
  • Unsolicited emails or phone calls from someone claiming to represent a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal and/or medical information to determine your eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or to help you obtain the vaccine.
  • Claims of FDA approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified.
  • Individuals contacting you in person, by phone or by email to tell you the government or government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Stay on high alert when online

Cybersecurity expert Mike Stamas was not surprised to hear of the $79.99 scam connected to Pfizer. Stamas, cofounder of GreyCastle Security in Troy, N.Y., says the pandemic serves as a reminder to the public to adhere to general online safety precautions, including using the updated version of your operating system and antivirus and antimalware software, checking that websites are secure, avoiding clicks and downloads from unsolicited sources, using two-factor authentication and being careful not to share any personal information with unverified contacts.

Be proactive

Still worried about being targeted by a coronavirus vaccine scam? You can protect yourself by staying updated with the latest vaccine developments. Check your state’s health department’s website to learn about vaccine distribution in your state and look up general vaccine information at fda.gov.


If you believe you’ve been targeted by a coronavirus vaccine scam, report the scam to the FTC at ftc.gov. You can also file a complaint with your state attorney general through consumerresources.org.