5 Scams To Watch For After The Holidays

Middle-aged African American man with coffee looking up articles on laptopThe mad holiday rush may be over, but scammers aren’t slowing down. The post-holiday weeks bring an increase in scams that, unfortunately, are quite believable during this time of year.

Don’t be the victim of a post-holiday scam! Read on to learn about five common ways fraudsters seek to dupe consumers after the holidays:

1.) Gift-picking
With the holidays behind us, many people are enjoying new, and often expensive, gifts. These can be top-of-the-line electronic devices, luxury entertainment systems or phones with four-digit price tags. If you’re the lucky recipient of such an expensive gift, you may be targeted by old-fashioned thieves who are looking for a good picking.

Protect yourself by keeping your gift under wraps. Dismantle all packaging that contained your gift. Discard them in a covered trash or recycling bin instead of leaving them at the curb where potential thieves can spot them and peg you as an easy target. For extra precaution, consider hauling your boxes off to a communal dumpster or the local recycling station.

2.) Charity scams
The last two days of December see more charity donations nationwide than the rest of the year. While this may speak well of our goodwill, it also offers scammers another opportunity to help themselves to other people’s money.

Be wary when giving charity this time of year. Don’t donate to any organization without first checking it out on a charity vetting website, like CharityNavigator.com. If you have a favorite cause you like to give to, contact them yourself instead of clicking on an ad or calling a number that appears to represent them.

3.) Underpriced gifts for sale
You may think you just found a real steal of a deal on Craigslist from a seller who is eager to get rid of a gift because “My wife didn’t like it.” But, be suspicious of any prices that seem too good to be true; they are likely to be scams.

If an item for sale appears authentic, proceed, but with caution. Don’t rely on email communication. Instead, get the seller’s phone number and street address. If possible, ask for references and pictures of the item. If everything appears to check out, arrange to meet the seller in a well-lit, populated area, preferably one with ample security-camera coverage. Finally, never wire money online to any seller—let the cash and item change hands at the same time.

4.) Belated holiday e-cards
Don’t assume every e-card that lands in your inbox with a heading like “Oops! I’m late!” is legitimate. Too often, e-cards are ridden with malware and will infect your device as soon as you click on an embedded link. The e-cards may even bear the name of your friend, but don’t be fooled; scammers can easily pick these names off the internet. Authentic e-cards will include a confirmation code for you to copy and paste at the issuing website, so only open e-cards that are accompanied by a code.

5.) Post-holiday ‘sales’
The holiday shopping frenzy is over and retailers are eager to drum up more business. This makes the post-holiday sale scam seem especially believable. Your social media platforms may be exploding with ads that are offering exclusive deals and deeply discounted prices at your favorite stores. While some of these ads may be legit, lots of them are scams.

Here’s how to spot the fake ads and differentiate them from the real ones:

The URL is off by one letter. Carefully check each landing page as you make a purchase.
The site is not secure. Always look for the “s” after the “http.”
The words “deals” or “discounts” are part of the URL. Authentic retailers sell from their home site and will rarely create a new website just to sell sale items.
The store’s logo is missing from the website. Look for a genuine store logo on every landing page.

Post-holiday scams are everywhere, but by knowing how to spot a scam, you’re already one step ahead of the criminals. Stay alert and stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a post-holiday scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

SOURCES:
https://blog.aarp.org/2017/12/30/protect-yourself-from-post-holiday-scams/

https://www.google.com/amp/amp.fox5atlanta.com/news/i-team/beware-post-holiday-loan-scams

https://dayair.atomicdevbox.com/blog/post-holiday-scams-to-know-about/

Fake Check Scams On The Rise

Married woman writing check out at homeIn early September, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) released a report warning about a spike in fake check scams across the country. While these scams are not new, their occurrence rate has doubled over the last three years and is up 12% from 2017.

The BBB further announced that billions of dollars in fake checks circulate each year, and that the number of victims this scam snares annually is close to 500,000.

The amount of money lost from these scams is just as staggering: The FTC reported losses of approximately $40 million from fake check scams in just one year.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this scam is the fact that the largest pool of its victims falls between the ages of 20 and 29 – a segment of the population that is far more familiar with electronic payment methods, like PayPal and Venmo, than with the archaic paper check. This makes them easy victims for the scam.

Aside from ordinary paper checks, this scam can also be pulled off with cashier’s checks and money orders. Regardless of the medium, each of these scams involves a scammer “overpaying” a victim and requesting the check be cashed with the difference being deposited into a designated account belonging to the scammer.

Steve Baker, an investigator with the BBB, cautions: “What they all have in common is that the check is counterfeit, and just because the money is credited to your account does not mean the check is good.”

Here are the most common variations of the fake check scam:

  • “Buyers” send sellers a check written out for more than the asking price of an object sold on an online marketplace, such as Craigslist.
  • Lottery “winners” are rewarded with an inflated prize and given instructions to pay back a part of the check to cover taxes or fees.
  • “Employees” are granted checks for supplies, with instructions to wire back a part of it to the “company.”

In each case, the fake check or money order seems to clear in the bank or credit union. It is only a few days later, when the victim’s payout to the scammer is deposited and the account does not have sufficient funds to cover it, that the scam becomes clear.

The BBB warns that this scam can be hard to spot, especially for millennials who may not be familiar with paper checks. To that end, learning what to look for to determine a check’s authenticity is the public’s best weapon against this scam.

Wondering if a check is a fake? Hold it up to this checklist:

  • Is the check’s paper stock weak and flimsy?
  • Check the company’s name and address. Are they spelled correctly?
    Every check will have an identification number printed toward its top and again at the bottom. Verify that these numbers match up.
  • If you’re allegedly holding a lottery-winning check in your hands, the check should be written out from a state lottery commission. If it’s made out by a random company, it’s bogus.
  • Look for the special ink required for the Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) code that’s at the bottom of the check.
  • The check should have a routing number from its bank. You can Google the bank to find out if the routing number is genuine.

Aside from knowing how to recognize a fake check, it’s important to know which kinds of transactions are likely to be scams. If you come across any of the following, run the other way and don’t look back:

  • You’re asked to wire money to a company you’re not familiar with.
  • You’re given a check by a “buyer” that is made out for more than the item’s sale price.
  • You’re given a check from a foreign bank you’ve never heard of.
  • You’re asked to pay a fee to claim a “prize.”

Now that you know how to spot a fake check and which kind of transactions to avoid at all cost, those scammers don’t stand a chance!

Your Turn:
Have you ever been targeted by a fake check scam? Share your story with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://www.semissourian.com/story/2549480.html

https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/local/ozarks/2018/09/05/better-business-bureau-releases-report-fake-check-scams/1202964002/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/fake-check-scams-an-exploding-epidemic-new-report-says-better-business-bureau/

Apple Pay, Samsung Pay And Tokenization: How To Stay Safe With The Wallet Of The Future

ApplePay and Samsung Pay logosLeft your wallet at home? No worries; you can still pay for those purchases! Just use your phone.

Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and other mobile wallets are revolutionizing the checkout experience by blending two developments in payment infrastructure to save you time: near-field communication (NFC) and token encryption.

Approximately one-third of all payment terminals nationwide have been updated to accept Apple Pay. However, it only works on phones equipped with the necessary NFC equipment. If you already have an iPhone 6 or a newer iPhone, though, all you need is the preinstalled Passport app. There are simple, on-screen instructions for adding a debit or credit card. You can even add your Advantage One card!

Samsung Pay is structured similarly, but only works on select Samsung Android devices. However, Samsung has incorporated magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology as well. Hold a phone against a payment terminal and it will emit a signal that simulates the magnetic strip on a debit or credit card.

In terms of convenience, this means you can use Samsung Pay on almost any payment terminal in the country. The only situation where Samsung Pay won’t work is when you need to insert your card into a slot, such as at a gas station. Otherwise, though, you’re free to use this payment method even if the merchant hasn’t updated their equipment.

Both payment methods use a process called “tokenization” for maximum security. In the simplest terms, tokenization is the use of a non-secure piece of data to stand in for a secure one. It’s like arcade tokens. The secure data is the quarter, which you exchange at a machine for a token. That token then tells the arcade machines you have a quarter (or credit) to play. The game machine never sees the actual quarter, but accepts the token that stands in its place.

Apple Pay and Samsung Pay work the same way. When you make a payment with one of these services, the app creates a token – a random series of numbers – that corresponds to your account, along with a one-time security key. It transmits that data to the payment terminal, which sends that token to the “token vault,” a secure database that links these tokens to the actual accounts. If the security key is correct, the token vault will transmit a charge directly to the linked cards and return a verification of funds to the payment terminal. Since the token vault is hosted at the payment processor, the point-of-sale terminal never sees your card information.

This is different from a swiped or keyed transaction. Ordinarily, the terminal reads your credit or debit card information directly and transmits it to the payment processor, which then sends it to your financial institution. This means your card’s information is stored in three different places, any of which could be the site of a data breach.

With tokenization, your information is seen only by the payment processor and your financial institution. That’s fewer points of failure along the information chain and there is less vulnerability for your sensitive data.

This also means that Apple and Samsung have no idea what purchases you’re making. For fans of internet privacy, this is heartening news.

There are other layers of security involved in these services. To use Apple Pay, you’ll need to use TouchID, FaceID or input your PIN. For Samsung Pay, you’ll have to authenticate your fingerprint, input a PIN or confirm an iris scan. If your phone gets swiped, a thief will have a hard time using it to go on a shopping spree. In contrast, if a criminal grabs your actual wallet, they can do enormous amounts of damage to your finances and credit score before you even realize it’s gone.

Whether you’re a die-hard Apple fan or a staunch Samsung supporter, mobile wallets are an efficient, secure way to pay. Download the app, link your [credit union] card, and start leaving your wallet at home!

Your Turn:
Are you an Apple Pay fan, or do you use Samsung Pay? Brag about your brand loyalty and the reasons that drive it in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://www.theverge.com/2016/12/6/13864376/35-percent-apple-pay-us-merchants

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokenization_(data_security)

http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/10/20/how-apple-designed-apple-pay-to-avoid-the-pitfalls-of-traditional-payment-systems

http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2016/12/22/the-promise-and-challenges-of-biometrics/#21c6fc044202

https://www.idropnews.com/iphone-7-vs-google-pixel/iphone-7-vs-google-pixel-apple-pay-android-pay-comparison/28596/

https://www.sans.org/reading-room/whitepapers/casestudies/case-study-home-depot-data-breach-36367

https://www.cnet.com/news/apple-pay-vs-samsung-pay-vs-google-pay-which-mobile-payment-system-is-best-chase-pay/

How To Create And Keep Strong Passwords

Woman holding tablet in lap browsing a website.Your passwords are the keys to your life. And when it feels like there’s another big security breach every week, you want to be sure those passwords are strong and safe.

Follow the 6 steps below for super-strong passwords that will keep scammers guessing.

Step #1: Choose a password manager
The best way to ensure your passwords are secure is to use a password manager like 1password, Lastpass or Keepass. These services generate encrypted passwords for every website you use. You will then create one master password to use for logging into all of your accounts.

Step #2: Create an unbreakable master password
This code can open up every password of yours to potential scammers; so be extra careful about choosing one that is virtually unbreakable. Follow these rules for a strong password:

  • Make it long. Many sites require a password that is a minimum of 8 characters long, but a 12-character password is even stronger.
  • Be creative. Avoid using names, places and recognizable words, since these are easily cracked.
  • Mix it up. Vary your capitalization and the kinds of characters you use, switching back and forth from letters to numbers to symbols.

You can run your password through an online password checker like the one on OnlineDomainTools.com to test its strength. Once you’ve created a super-strong master password, work on memorizing it. Write it down and then rip up the paper as soon as you’ve memorized it.

Step #3: Update all your passwords
Next, sync all the websites and accounts you use with your password manager. Follow the guidelines on your password manager for this step, as they differ with each service.

When you’re through, you’ll only be able to log into these sites with your master password.

Some sites employ outdated systems that won’t work with a password manager. For these sites, you will need to use different passwords. You can slightly amend your master password for these sites or create new ones using the guidelines above. Use a different password for every site.

Step #4: Use two-factor authentication
Add another layer of protection by choosing two-factor authentication whenever you have that option.

Step #5: Be careful with security questions
Security questions are extremely insecure; anyone can Google the answers. If all a scammer has to do to retrieve your password is answer a security question, the strongest password is worthless.

Treat security questions like passwords. Never answer them truthfully. Instead, make up mnemonics or nonsensical answers that are difficult to crack, but easy for you to remember.

Step #6: Don’t let your browser or phone “remember” your passwords
Keep your passwords in your head and not on your devices. Otherwise, you’ll be in deep trouble if your computer or phone is swiped.

Your Turn:
What’s your best tip for creating a super-strong password? Share it with us in the comments.

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/lifehacker.com/how-to-create-a-strong-password-1797681069/am

https://lifehacker.com/four-methods-to-create-a-secure-password-youll-actually-1601854240

https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp

Beware The Blackmailing Scam!

man looking at laptop screen with hands at temples. Floating danger symbols all around himBlackmail and extortion are some of the oldest tricks in the book—and for good reason: They work. When a criminal threatens to share potentially explosive information with everyone they know, the victim easily panics and is willing to pay any price to protect their privacy and their pride.

In a fresh twist on this age-old crime, scammers have taken to the internet. Online blackmail is nothing new, but a fresh wave of these scams hit the web last month, and it’s already ensnared dozens. Learn how to spot these blackmailing scams and you’ll get to keep your privacy, and your money, too.

Here’s what you need to know about the most recent blackmailing scams.

How it works
The victim gets an email from an alleged hacker claiming to have cracked their passwords, broken into their computer and used their webcam to watch their online activity. They may threaten to reveal that the victim has been visiting disreputable sites or to use their personal information to empty their financial accounts. The scammer then shares a willingness to back off—for the right price, of course.

As proof that they are “legitimate” hackers, the scammers will share an actual password that the victim has used many years ago. They may even include the password in the subject line of the email to grab the victim’s attention and ensure they actually open the email. Often, they’ll also include other bits of stolen data in their message to appear authentic.

If you receive an email like this, don’t panic. There’s no professional hacker behind the scam, no one has watched your online activity, and there’s not much the scammer can do with the information they may have.

The inclusion of the password might give you a scare, but there’s a simple explanation for how the scammer got hold of it. Over the last decade or so, there have been lots of massive database breaches within major corporations, sites and retail stores like Yahoo, eBay, Target, Macy’s, Sony PlayStation and dozens more.

Thanks to these breaches, there are now huge amounts of personal data and passwords floating around the internet. This data can be easily nabbed by a partially skilled hacker or bought on the black market. Once a scammer gets their hands on a password, they’re free to exhort the victim to pay a steep price in exchange for their privacy or security.

How to spot the scam
Many potential victims recognize this scam for what it is as soon as the hacker claims to have dirt on them. For many others, though, the outdated password is their clue. However, for victims who have been using the same passwords for years, this old code might still be in use and the scam can seem legit.

Now that you are armed with the knowledge that this scam is making its way around the internet and may contain an actual password you once used, or that you may still use, you are already a step ahead. If you receive an email with your password in the subject line, stay calm. Simply ignore the message. Better yet, delete it from your inbox and give it no further thought.

How to protect yourself
There’s not much you can do about any bits of your sensitive data that may be loose on the internet. However, you can do your part to protect yourself from falling prey to this, or a similar scam.

Here’s how:

  • Update your passwords frequently and use strong, unique codes for each site you visit. You can use a password generator like 1password or LastPass to make this simpler.
  • Choose two-factor authentication when possible.
  • Never open emails from suspicious or unknown sources.
  • If you are targeted, alert the FTC at ftc.gov.

Don’t let those scammers fool you! Be alert, be aware, and learn how to spot these scams for what they are.

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a blackmailing scam? How did you spot the ruse? Share your experience with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/23/technology/personaltech/phishing-password-email

https://tech.co/online-scams-to-watch-out-for-2018-07

https://www.theguardian.com/money/scamsandfraud

Do You Need a Co-signer for Your Auto Loan?

If you don’t have enough income or good enough credit, you may need a co-signer

As with any type of loan, your income and credit history will be major determinants of whether you are approved for an auto loan application. If you’ve been denied for an auto loan, you may want to consider using a co-signer.

Understanding how a lender determines loan approval
According to a January 2016 article in The Balance by author of “The Everything Improve Your Credit Book” Justin Pritchard, the lending company or financial institution must have reason to believe you will pay back the loan in order for you to be deemed worthy to receive the auto loan. A financial institution looks at two factors to determine whether you are credible: your credit score and your income.

Your credit history is a true indicator of how well you repay your loans; if you’ve borrowed money through loans previously and have successfully paid them off, or are making on-time payments, the lender will be more likely to believe you are a safe bet and will approve your loan application. On the other hand, if you have a poor credit score from defaulting on loan repayments, or don’t have any borrowing history, the financial institution may not want to approve you for a loan, explains Pritchard. To the financial institution, such a person is a bad investment, as the likelihood of the financial institution being repaid decreases.

Lenders also consider the income of the individual in deciding on a loan application, says Pritchard. In fact, the financial institution often calculates a debt to income ratio to determine if you make enough income to cover the expense of the loan payment each month.

Larger vehicles are generally more expensive than smaller ones, but smaller cars can also be more costly depending on the make and the engine build. The price of the vehicle and its calculated monthly payments under a loan in comparison to your monthly income will determine whether you have a low enough debt to income ratio to afford the monthly payments.

When to bring in a co-signer on your auto loan
If you have poor or no credit history, or your debt to income ratio is deemed too high by the lender, you will likely not be approved for a loan. In essence, the financial institution has determined you are too risky and will likely struggle to repay the loan, so it is unwilling to work with you.

A co-signer can help you meet the income and credit score requirements of the financial institution, as the financial institution considers the added income and credit history of the co-signer to the loan terms, explains Pritchard.

“Co-signing happens when somebody promises to pay a loan for somebody else. This happens when a [financial institution] won’t approve a loan (or it won’t approve the original application, but it’s willing to lend if a co-signer is involved),” says Pritchard in an October 2016 article in The Balance.

To the financial institution, the co-signer acts as a backup plan to collect payment if you default on the loan repayment. And if the co-signer has good credit history, the financial institution knows that at least one person on the loan has experience borrowing and repaying loans on time, adds Pritchard.

“The co-signer (who presumably has strong credit and income) promises to ensure that the loan gets repaid by signing the loan agreement with you. In other words, the cosigner takes full responsibility for the debt — if you don’t pay off the loan, your co-signer will have to do it.

“As a borrower,” Pritchard explains, “you need to have sufficient income and good credit to qualify for a loan. Using a co-signer therefore boosts your appeal as a borrower to the financial institution if you can’t meet the loan application requirements on your own.”

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Could You Get In-State Tuition at an Out-of-State School?

Ways you can save money on tuition and fees
According to the College Board, in-state tuition at a public four-year university for the 2016-17 academic year runs an average of $9,650; if you’re an out-of-state resident at the same school, tuition runs $24,930. But it is possible for an out-of-state resident to pay closer to that in-state tuition rate.

“A number of regional, state and college-specific programs allow some students to qualify for in-state or heavily discounted tuition at out-of-state public schools,” writes Kaitlin Pitsker of Kiplinger Personal Finance.

Regional level
There are four regional compacts that exist in which certain out-of-state residents can apply for in-state tuition. The Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) and New England’s Regional Student Program (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) allow for this as long as the student pursues a major that isn’t offered in his or her home state.

Meanwhile, the Midwest Student Exchange (Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin) and Western Undergraduate Exchange (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) also offer steep discounts to a number of students across the country.

In addition to the stipulation regarding majors for the first two programs, there may be school-specific restrictions as well.

State level
Individual states may also have reciprocity programs. For example, the in-state flexibility could extend to an entire neighboring state or perhaps a few select bordering counties in a neighboring state. Again, the benefits of such programs vary, but in many instances the state-level programs are more advantageous than the regional compacts.

College level
Many colleges also offer discounts in order to attract students from out of state. These often are based on GPA and test scores.

Special circumstances
Children of parents who are in the military or work in public service are often eligible for tuition flexibility. Other times, nonresident fees are waived for children of alumni or those with strong academic credentials.

The bottom line is that you should never take that glaring “out-of-state tuition” figure at face value. Research thoroughly and talk with a guidance counselor, school registrars or financial advisers in order to get the best education for the best value.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Common Items You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle

Reduce your carbon footprint in 2016 by recycling more than ever before
As the New Year begins, RecycleItems_Featured you may find among your list of resolutions the pledge to create less waste and recycle more. According to the EPA, American consumers created 250 million tons of waste in 2010 alone; astonishingly, more than one-third of that waste was material that could have been recycled or composted. The following five items are commonly considered trash destined for landfills, but they are absolutely recyclable.

Cell phones
At the rate that technology is moving, Americans are swapping out their cellphones for newer and smarter models at a quicker turnaround than ever. If you have old Nokias and flip-phones from years past lying around, you can put them to good use by donating them to any number of organizations. For example, Cell Phones for Soldiers provides active-duty military members and veterans with a cost-free means of communication. The organization has provided 216 million minutes and recycled nearly 12 million cell phones since 2004. Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine program collects phones and equipment for recycling and uses the money raised from selling refurbished phones to contribute to victims of domestic violence.

Used oil
If you change the oil in your lawnmower or motorcycle with regularity, or if you own a deep fryer that requires new cooking oil every so often, then you know well that you have to go out of your way to dispose of it properly. The American Petroleum Institute suggests visiting http://Earth911.org to see if there are any motor oil or cooking oil recycling facilities in your area. Two gallons of used oil alone is said to provide electricity enough to power an average household for nearly 24 hours. The website can also provide information on facilities that specialize in recycling batteries and electronics.

Sneakers
There is a lot that can be done with even the smelliest pair of old sneakers. For example, Nike operates a Reuse-A-Shoe program that repurposes old shoes for the creation of Nike Grind, a material which is used in the creation of tracks and gym floors. Another recycling program, One World Running, collects shoes that are still serviceable and provides them to runners in third-world countries. Old shoes can also find new purpose through donations to The Salvation Army, Goodwill or your nearest homeless shelter.

Brita water filters
Brita’s product line ensures the cleanest drinking water imaginable, and the company has taken steps to see that the filters used in its pitchers and faucets are not contributing to landfills. Brita’s partnership with Preserve allows for the former’s filters to be used in the creation of the latter’s razors, toothbrushes and cutting boards. Once a filter is exhausted, simply give it three days to dry out, wrap it in a plastic grocery bag and drop it off at the nearest Gimme 5 location to your home. In 2014, Gimme 5 collected a total of 254 pounds of #5 plastic, or the equivalent of 1.3 million used Brita filters.

Bras
It is not terribly uncommon to donate bras to Goodwill with other clothing items, but the Bosom Buddies Bra Recycling program offers an alternative means to putting old bras to good use. The Bra Recyclers is a textile recycling company that focuses specifically on repurposing bras by either donating them to women in need around the world or harvesting them for their materials. This serves the purpose of both reducing energy usage and providing affordable clothing to those less fortunate.

To make 2016 a greener year, be sure to research what you can and cannot recycle before you take out the garbage. You might just be surprised to see all the things that have greater utility than simply going to a landfill.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.