How to Spot “Fake” Information and Protect Yourself Against It

How to Spot “Fake” Information and Protect Yourself Against It

False information (aka ‘fake news’) has sadly become a plague of the internet. No matter what the source, or the subject matter everyone should be on guard about anything they read online. Think through what you read or are told and make an educated decision about what to believe.

Here are some things to watch out for that may provide clues as to what is real or not:

  • Oftentimes, there are signs that something online is a hoax or totally fictional. Headlines that make questionable claims, articles that contain grammatical errors or typos, broken English, and information that simply sounds over the top could be a signal that what you are reading is fake.
  • The website article or page should have a legitimate source. If the author of an article isn’t mentioned, then be suspicious. If you don’t recognize the writer, look up their name to see what else they have written and look around for reports from trusted sources that back up their claims.
  • Ensure the website is legitimate and not a spoofed or counterfeit site that is designed to resemble the real site. Phony websites happen more often than many people realize. If suspicious about a website, then copy a unique sounding line of text from it and paste it into a Google search. If the same exact verbiage shows up in the search results on another website (without a clear reason for duplication), then the website could be a counterfeit. We did this simple test with a client’s website and found an exact copy for a supposed business in Kenya. The client’s site had been spoofed.
  • Don’t click indiscriminately on what looks like sponsored content or ads. They may look like they are part of the standard articles, but could actually be parasites of the legitimate organization’s editorial content. Instead of helpful and real, they are written to sell products and could very well include malicious links or content.
  • Learn to recognize the difference between fake news and satire. (The definition of satire: “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues”). Rather than trust ANY source, first research whether or not the source is known for spoofs or comedy. Social media especially is a hot bed right now for fake news. If you see something on social media that doesn’t seem quite right, it probably isn’t.
  • Most importantly, protect yourself and protect your business brand. Do a search often to see how your business shows up on Google and elsewhere and what links are associated with it. Your reputation is at stake if someone pretends to do business with your company and doesn’t, or leaves negative reviews on line and you’ve never heard of the reviewer. Be prepared to defend yourself if accused. For example, if you or your business gets a negative review from someone you’ve never heard of respond politely to that review and state you don’t know that person. Or if the reviewer is truly a disgruntled customer then apologize in your response and offer to make things right. Even if you aren’t at fault you have been humble in public and that goes a long way with a lot of people.

Technology is great, but it isn’t a replacement for the human capacity to reason. Think through what you read and make up your own mind. Then turn off the noise and read a good book.

Leesburg Today – Loudoun Business News

The following news article appeared in the Leesburg Today, Loudoun Business News section, on November 7, 2013

Gallop Web Services: Helping Business Grow Online

Leesburg Today - Gallop Web Services - Web Design Firm that Stands Apart from Others 11-7-13

Gallop Web Services co-owner Kathi Watts smiles as she works with Bonnie Sewell of American Capital Planning (seated).

Gallop Web Services is not your average web design company.  Their philosophy is different—they believe quality is more important than volume. Customer satisfaction and education are paramount to successfully running their business.  According to owner Kathi Watts, “We strive to wow our clients with our customer service and give them the tools they need to be self-sufficient when it comes to maintaining their websites and gauging results.  If our clients are happy, they’ll tell others about their positive experience and we’ll get more business.  The majority of our clients have been referrals, even some in other states and countries.”

It is common practice in this industry to bill for a new website or redesign and continue to charge for updates and ongoing editing, without any personal interaction with the web provider.  “We don’t believe this is the way to manage client relationships,” said Watts.  “We believe in being true marketing partners with them from the beginning of the relationship.”  It was these very principles that led Gallop Web Services to be named Technology Business of the Year by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, a title they hold until the first week of November 2013 when the next award winner will be announced.

The Foundation Behind Gallop Web Services

Gallop Web Services owners Steve & Kathi Watts - Helping Business Grow Online

Gallop Web Services owners Steve & Kathi Watts

Owners Kathi and Steve Watts, have been married for 30 years and residents of Loudoun County for over 26.  Like many couples in the technology industry, they met on the job.  Kathi formed Gallop Web Services in 2010.  Shortly thereafter, Steve left the corporate IT world to come alongside Kathi and take Gallop Web Services to the next level. Over the past three years, they have added to their services a robust search engine optimization package and local business listing offerings. They have enjoyed working together again doing what they both love, right here in Loudoun County.

In the four short years since they have been in the web design business they have seen a wide range of local and regional clients with whom they’ve established an on-going and satisfying business relationship.  It is their belief that every client deserves excellent service no matter the size of their online business and what they provide is creative and helpful to the client’s success. The ability for a client to understand and participate in web technology for their business helps to alleviate the feeling of “being held hostage” by an industry where fees and billings are confusing and often not necessary.  “Many of our clients think of us as their partners, which we are” said Steve Watts.  “We greatly enjoy working closely with them as their expectations evolve and online interactivity continues to emerge as an integral component for businesses everywhere.”

Design and Enhancements for Local Business Mean Real Results

Gallop Web Services has been serving the online business needs of small and large businesses in the region since their inception.

In May 2012, Gallop Web Services worked with Loudoun Medical Group to re-launch their website LMGDoctors.com while also providing hosting and web support services.  According to Mary Beth Tamasy, CEO, “Our new site now features an interactive ‘Find a Doctor’ tool, convenient on-line bill pay for patients, a unique mapping tool that allows our customers to quickly see the over 80 physician practice locations, and many other features built in for our staff who access information through a password protected portal.”  Gallop said they were thrilled to build an amazing new site for LMG but the proof is also in the numbers.  “Their online traffic has seen an overall increase of 41% compared to this time last year. The site has seen a 146% increase in people viewing the individuals physician’s biographies. People are looking into our Loudoun County doctors,” said Kathi Watts.

Gallop Web Services has also worked closely with Bonnie Sewell, Principal of American Capital Planning, a Loudoun County-based financial planning business, on the redesign of her website. Last year, Sewell started a new business entity and wrote a book to educate and financially guide couples who are already in the divorce process.  According to Sewell, “Kathi and Steve did designs for both of my sites and I was thrilled with the results.” One of Bonnie’s requests was for Gallop Web Services to create an online calculator for Wedlock-Divorce.com that helps individuals get a better picture of their financial situation as they consider divorce.  The addition of this tool on her website gives couples a reality check on how their money might be distributed in a divorce settlement. A glimpse of their financial circumstances has helped steer the conversation between Sewell and her clients.

Online Tips and Tricks to Make Your Site Work for You

Leesburg Today article on Gallop Web Services November 2013

Read the Leesburg Today article

According to the website Pingdom, there were 2.4 billion Internet users at the end of 2012 and a staggering 634 million websites.   It is imperative that businesses no matter how small or large, put their best foot forward to capture even a small percentage of this amazing potential.  According to Kathi and Steve Watts, there are certain things that business owners can and should be doing right now related to their online business marketing.  They were happy to provide a short list of essentials for all businesses.

  1. Mobile Responsive Web Design.  If you view your website on an iPad, Smart Phone or other device, does your site respond as well (or better) than it does on a desktop computer?  If your site does not readjust to accommodate the current devices used by many on a regular basis, then you may risk the loss of potential customers.
  2. Online Visibility.  Can your customers find you on Google?  Type your company’s business name into the search bar on Google.  Where does your business land on the list of results? How many relevant sites is your business listed on? By optimizing the search potential for keywords relating to your business, you can increase the marketing potential of your website and social media. The goal is to drive consumer awareness, get leads and make sales.
  3. Integrate.  Link your company website with all your social media interfaces.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN are popular examples, but there are many more that may be suited to your type of business. Be sure your social media and website convey the same brand identity. Use a free service, such as Hoot Suite, to combine your social media so you can quickly post and communicate socially through a user-friendly dashboard.
  4. Blog.  It gives you a great medium to share your expertise and keeps your website fresh.  A blog also serves as a great partner to all other social media, and adds relevancy with the search engines. It is ideal to have your blog on your website, but there are several stand alone blog services that will do the trick.
  5. Keep it Fresh. When was the last time you refreshed the photography on your website?  What about the content? Do you know how to go about editing the various areas of your website?  Simple user-friendly tools available to businesses today make it possible to easily keep your website fresh and current.

Gallop Web Services can be reached by visiting their website at www.gallopwebservices.com.  And one important side note is that you can access them using any of your devices quickly and easily.  Visit their website to see why the Loudoun County Chamber chose them as a 2012 award winner.

 

 

Short-term Tax Relief for Small Businesses

The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010

On September 27, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 (H.R. 5297). The legislation contains several provisions designed to ensure that small businesses have access to adequate credit. The Act also contains targeted short-term tax relief for small businesses.

Specific tax changes include:

  • Increased IRC Section 179 expense limits — Effective for 2010 and 2011, the maximum amount that a business is able to expense under IRC Section 179 is increased to $500,000 (without the legislation, the expense limit would have been $250,000 for 2010 and $25,000 for 2011). The $500,000 limit is reduced if capital expenditures exceed $2 million. The Act also temporarily expands the application of Section 179 to up to $250,000 of certain real property (for example, qualified restaurant property).
  • First-year “bonus” depreciation extended — The Act extends the additional 50% first-year depreciation deduction that was in effect for 2008 and 2009 for one year, to qualified property acquired and placed in service during 2010.
  • Small business stock exclusion increased — The Act temporarily increases the exclusion percentage for qualified small business stock purchased by individuals to 100%, and does not treat the excluded gain as an alternative minimum tax preference item. Therefore, subject to certain limits, you’ll pay no regular tax or alternative minimum tax on the sale of qualified small business stock acquired at original issue after September 27, 2010, and before January 1, 2011, provided you hold the stock for at least five years.
  • Small businesses get enhanced general business credit — Eligible small businesses (generally, non-publicly traded corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships with gross receipts averaging $50 million or less) will be able to carry back excess general business credits up to 5 years (instead of 1) in 2010, and will be able to use the general business credit to offset both regular and alternative minimum tax liability.
  • Health insurance costs will reduce self-employment tax — If you’re self-employed and pay health insurance premiums for you or your family, you get a break on your 2010 self-employment tax (the tax that you calculate on Form 1040, Schedule SE). That’s because, for 2010 only, the deduction you get for the cost of health insurance for yourself and your family will apply in calculating your earnings for purposes of self-employment tax as well as in reducing your income for income tax purposes.
  • Cell phones no longer listed property — Effective 2010, cell phones are not considered listed property, significantly reducing the substantiation rules and depreciation limits that apply when cell phones are used for business purposes.
  • New reporting requirements for rental property expenses — With some exceptions, starting in 2011, if you receive rental income from real property, you’ll be required to file an information return (Form 1099) when you make payments totaling $600 or more to a service provider (such as a plumber, painter, or accountant) for rental property expenses.

Portion of nonqualified annuity can be annuitized — Beginning in 2011, if you have a nonqualified annuity (an annuity that is held outside of a qualified retirement plan or IRA), you can annuitize only a portion of the annuity, provided the annuitization period is for 10 years or more, or is for the lives of one or more individuals. The portion of the annuity or contract that is annuitized will be treated as a separate contract, and the investment in the annuity will be allocated on a pro-rata basis.