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inspection

Real Estate Experts Discuss Signs For Determining When A Home Isn’t Worth The Investment

A group of real estate professionals recently spoke to the media to discuss the signs prospective home-buyers should look for when determining if a home is worth the money or not.

Real Estate Scam

The Tiny Detail That Led to a Million Dollar Real Estate Scam

Many of us would like to believe we could spot a scam from afar, especially an email scam. There are only so many people that the Prince of Nigeria can give money to!

However a multinational fraud ring were able to swindle nearly $1 million out of the CEO of an unidentified Swiss company.

“S.K.” was purchasing some beachfront property in Belize when the fraud was committed, according to a criminal complaint that was unsealed recently.

The seller had been in discussions with S.K. with the buyer already paying a deposit on the $1,020,000 property. So when S.K. received a further email from the seller’s lawyers requesting the remaining $918,000 he wired the money across to the bank account he thought was also in Belize. However the money was sent to a Citizens Bank in Boston.

The complaint states, “The lengthy email which S.K. received included lawyerly verbiage that gave it the appearance it was from the attorney in Belize. The author included information about Belize-specific regulations on the purchase of property by a foreign company. The email included the standard confidentiality notice and legal disclaimers that are commonly part of emails from attorneys. Lastly, it included a professional signature block with the attorney’s name and contact information.”

It was when the real lawyer got in contact with S.K. to query why the money had not been sent across to them that the scam was discovered.

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An investigation revealed that the email from the “lawyer” had an extra “s” in the address, meaning the fake email was “deliberately created to deceive the recipient into believing he was communicating with the seller’s attorney.”

Recent data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center shows that “CEO fraud” – or business email compromise – was responsible for a loss of over $26 billion for businesses during June 2016 and July 2019, and affected all 50 US states as well as nearly 180 countries.

In 2015 Christopher Sinclair – Mattel’s CEO – emailed an employee requesting $3 million be transferred to a new Chinese vendor. As their company policy demanded any transfers of money required approval by two upper-level managers the employee complied. However when mentioning the payment to Mr. Sinclair later he was unaware of the incident. And while the bank, police and FBI were promptly called it took a long time for the company to have their money returned.

Similarly, an unidentified US defense contractor was conned into sending sensitive military equipment worth millions of dollars to a gang of international con artists. Court filings show that some of the equipment was so top secret nobody was supposed to be aware it existed with the “highly sensitive” equipment was valued at $3.2 million.

Scammers usually create false email accounts with similar addresses to the legitimate accounts that they have hacked into and generally target employees who have access to the business’s accounts, high-level executives and sometimes celebrities.

Once the information has been removed from the hacked email accounts the scammers not only steal names, account details and information about the financial transaction, they also analyze the style and tone of the messages to ensure their fake email is plausible.

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They then email the buyer requesting the next payment be wired to a bank account they look after, with the money disappearing immediately.

Online crime has been around for many years however these scams have only been noticed in the last five years. An FBI supervisory special agent was quoted as saying, “There are always digital artifacts left behind in online scams – IP addresses used to illicitly access someone’s email, for instance – and this data is often used not only to track down individual suspects but also to make connections between schemes that may not otherwise appear to be linked.”

The stolen money from S.K. was transferred almost immediately to corporate accounts at JPMorgan Chase as well as Bank of America in Atlanta. A further $200,000 was then sent to banks in Nigeria and China while a suspect was spotted withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash at several JPMorgan Chase branches.

Investigators discovered the accounts in Atlanta had been opened by “Prince Okoli” who had also paid $10,000 into his own personal account. Surveillance photos at the Atlanta banks were compared to Okoli’s driving license and they realised they had a match. When pushed for a comment Andrew Wong, Okoli’s court-appointed lawyer – would not respond.

Although scammed consumers have limited liability with losses often covered by the financial companies involved, corporations sending money to incorrect recipients are not normally covered. When filing for Chapter 11 protection earlier this year, fashion brand Diesel USA cited cyber fraud losses as one of their reasons for bankruptcy.

There are recommendations from the FBI for companies to have protocols in place so that requests for large sums of money require strict verification, such as two-factor authentication.

They also recommend you always inspect your emails for incorrect or misspelled URLs, misspelled names or information that does not quite look right. Never give out information that could be used against you to new contacts without vetting them independently first.

Tennis

What It’s Like To Be A Low-Ranked Tennis Player On The Tour

Marina Yudanov is the 536th best tennis player in the world. It is an unremarkable statistic that hides a remarkable story. Back at the start of 2017, Yudanov, 29, was earning more than £30,000 a year as an engineer for Volvo in her native Sweden.

She was financially secure and settled, physically at least, in the buzzing second city of Gothenburg. But something was missing. That was when she threw herself into the cut-throat world of a hustling lower-level tennis pro, in search of what might have been.

She funds this testing journey herself, giving everything on court and scrimping everywhere off it. Mammoth road trips over expensive plane tickets, cheap rental flats instead of hotels, sometimes sharing a twin room with the player she is facing the next day.

“Nothing of what I say is me whining or complaining, I really am not,” Yudanov says. “I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to do this but it is very difficult.” Yudanov was once a teenage national champion, but a promising junior career flamed out as the pressures of academia, adolescence and sporting excellence bore down on her.

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“I had been in the top juniors of my age, ranked 250 in the world at 16. But all those things were too much for me,” she says. “I was hanging out with people who were not good for me, smoking, drinking and seeing older men. I thought, ‘I hate this’ and I walked away when I was 18.”

For the next six years, Yudanov didn’t pick up a racquet. But tennis crept back into her life, first as a practice partner for a friend, then as a tentative competitor in national tournaments. Then, aged 27, she handed in her notice. “I had got myself somewhere with a good salary, but every single day I just wanted to get out on court and compete,” she adds.

“I was getting up at 5am to go and do some kind of fitness before work and directly after work I would go and play tennis. It would fill my existence. People at work were like ‘oh that is great, follow your dream’. In the back of their head they thought: ‘What the hell does this girl think she is doing, quitting her job to travel the world and lose money playing tennis?’”

And losing money, certainly at the start, is pretty much inevitable. As an unranked player, as Yudanov was in the summer of 2017, you are a freelance bounty-hunter. Starting a tennis career from scratch involves searching out tournaments with tiny pots of prize money and ranking points, which in turn give you a chance to enter the next tier of slightly larger events and slowly inch your way up the sport’s greasy pole.

Yudanov began with 20,000 euros of family savings, approximately £18,000, to help her cover the costs of travel, accommodation and equipment as she started out. Every decision in her career is an investment. A wager that she will collect enough points and prize money at an individual event to offset her costs.

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The major purchase she would make to help her career if she came into some unexpected money would be a campervan or motorhome to travel to tournaments in. “There are a lot of mental sums in deciding the itinerary,” Yudanov says.

“You check and see if the prize money and the points on offer and if your ranking is going to be good enough to get you in. If there are very few tournaments on a particular week globally, then you are going to have to travel further to find one because the fields will be stronger.

“If I go long haul, can I afford the investment of a plane ticket over there? Can I be there a few days in advance to cope with the jet lag or is that too expensive? Is there another player who might make the journey as well who I could share costs with and practice with? It is a gamble every time.”

Yudanov knows her rewards from tennis won’t be measured in millions of dollars. The bottom line for her is that initial family investment in a last grab at a disappearing dream. She has stemmed the rapid losses she incurred as she found her way on the professional circuit, but is down to her last 5,000 euros, about £4,400.

“I don’t have 10 years ahead of me to keep playing,” she says. “How much time do I have left to keep doing this and how long can I justify playing full time? My end goal is to make a living from competitive tennis. If I get there I want to play forever. Because tennis is where I show everything that I am.”

California Law

New California Law Would Allow N.C.A.A. Athletes to Make Money

As a general rule, college athletes are not paid more than the cost of their tuition, regardless of how much money they may make for their university. Many have decried this longstanding national policy as unfair, and recently California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that would allow college players to hire agents and strike endorsement deals, upending a policy considered standard in every other state. The law was passed despite the extensive lobbying of universities and powerful organizations who opposed the measure. Though the law is not set to go into effect until 2023, it is already causing confusion and pushback among college sports teams and leagues.

According to Newsom, while the law only applies to California, it represents “a big move to expose the farce and to challenge a system that is outsized in its capacity to push back.” Newsom considers it fundamentally unfair that the only students who are not able to monetize their image, likeness, and skills are athletes, even though these students generate perhaps the most revenue of any student group. It has long been the philosophy that student athletes attend university to earn a degree, not to make money, but as the industry of college sports has exploded this view is starting to change, much to the chagrin of colleges and student-athlete organizations. The N.C.A.A. has called the measure “unconstitutional” and is developing a legal defense against the law.

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When the law goes into effect in a few years, it will directly contradict current N.C.A.A. guidelines, which govern the participation of student-athletes in sports. Currently, the guidelines strictly prevent student-athletes from making money in a variety of ways, ranging not only from banning sponsorships but to preventing athletes from selling autographs and monetizing social media accounts. This means that after the law goes into effect, student-athletes who hire agents and win endorsements will violate N.C.A.A. guidelines despite being legally allowed to do so, potentially incurring fines from the N.C.A.A. It’s not currently clear whether the N.C.A.A. could legally enforce such fines.

As California is among the most populated states in the country, it would be difficult for the N.C.A.A. to afford to penalize the state’s universities and athletes, who make up a significant portion of the American college sports industry. And although the law only applies to California, it is sure to have reverberations throughout college sports in general, as leaders will be forced to decide whether to change their rules barring athletes from making money in order to accommodate Californian student-athletes, or simply ban these athletes from competitions.

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As the 2023 deadline approaches, other states are looking into the possibility of ensuring that student-athletes can receive compensation as well. Because California is such a large and influential state, they are likely to lead the way on this and similar legislation, and there’s a good chance other states follow suit. The enacting of similar legislation, or the lack thereof, is likely to be a determining factor in the question of how the N.C.A.A. changes its rules.

With this law, California is intending to force the N.C.A.A.’s hand, as Newsom claimed they were “not going to do the right thing on their own.” Both Republicans and Democrats were in favor of the bill, but as 2023 is still four years away, there is time for the law to be modified depending on how developments in the industry proceed. The law had the support of LeBron James, who hosted a television show on which Newsom signed the bill. Because only a small percentage of college athletes become professional athletes, the law is thought to give more students an opportunity to make money off of their athletic abilities which they hone during the course of their education.

Train travel

Should You Consider Traveling By Train Instead of By Plane?

If there’s one aspect of traveling that can really put a damper on the experience, it’s the stress and frustration of dealing with airports. They are often crowded, the food is usually overpriced and mediocre, and going through security is a pain. Air travel generally involves spending long hours sitting in airports, where access to electrical outlets is limited, cellular data networks are congested and sometimes fail, and free Wi-Fi is nowhere to be found. And the experience is not much better once you get in the air; seat sizes have been steadily decreasing over the years to fit more people onto planes, in-flight entertainment options are usually limited, and meals are generally limited to bags of chips and small cups of soda. Nevertheless, plane trips are widely regarded as a necessary evil when traveling to sufficiently distant destinations, and are generally more bearable than a long car trip.

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In many cases, however, there is a better way to travel, which is to take a train. There are several benefits to doing so. For instance, the drive to a train station is often much shorter than the one to an airport, and train tickets are nearly universally cheaper than plane tickets. You don’t have to go through security when boarding a train, nor do you have to deal with long waits in airports, and selections for food and beverages are often better. Also, trains happen to be a more environmentally-friendly form of transportation than planes, which have recently been found to pollute more than previously thought, and cell phone reception on trains is generally better than at airports and in the air. Of course, for sufficiently long distances, taking a plane can be your only option, but for a trip that would take one hour by plane it may be a better idea to take a five-hour long train trip when all factors are taken into consideration.

The quality of the time you spend on a train is often better than the time you spend in the air travel process, as you often have more legroom and opportunities for relaxation or work.

One such factor is the hidden additional time it takes to fly beyond the time spent in the air. Regardless of how long your trip to the airport is, you generally have to wait at least a few hours in the airport before boarding the plane, and it’s always recommended to arrive extra early as a precaution. The disembarking process also takes time, as you find your luggage while navigating an unfamiliar airport, and then you’ll often have to wait to be picked up by a taxi service or a relative. All of this time adds up, and a one-hour flight can quickly become a five-hour affair, making a train trip of similar duration more appealing. Furthermore, the quality of the time you spend on a train is often better than the time you spend in the air travel process, as you often have more legroom and opportunities for relaxation or work.

The New York Times writer Elaine Glusac compared details of traveling between various popular Americans cities by train and by plane in order to test the theory that train trips are often more desirable than plane trips. Her results, surprisingly, argued that for many trips we tend to imagine as necessitating air travel, trains were a superior form of transport. The trip from Boston to New York City, for instance, is both cheaper and faster by train than by airplane, as is the trip from New York City to Washington. The trip from Boston to Washington, however, is a better deal by plane. The trip from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, was recently made easier by the signing of an agreement between the United States and Canada to allow travellers to clear customs and immigration before leaving a country, and taking a train instead of a plane allows travelers to save both time and money on this trip.

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With the advent of the Internet, it’s never been easier to do research on travel opportunities. One popular online resource is Hipmunk, which allows users to input the details of their journey to compare prices and travel times between different airlines and automatically includes details for taking a train instead. Before embarking on any trip, you should look into the various rules and restrictions of your travel method of choice, as both airlines and planes impose limitations on the size and type of luggage you can carry, among other rules. When planning a trip, make sure you take all eventualities into consideration, as a thoroughly-planned trip is much likelier to be a successful one than a spontaneous journey.