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These articles were prepared for the March 13, 2005
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
U.S. 1 Survival Guide
Sreenath Sreenivasan, more commonly known as Sree, is a self-styled
guru of the Internet, with the imprimatur of Columbia Graduate School
of Journalism, where he is associate professor of professional
practice. "My work is to find ways to make the Internet more useful to
people," he says. That he does, by way of his web site, www.sree.net,
his appearances on WABC-7’s "Tech Guru" segment, his weekly Web Tips
column for Poynter.org, and his "Smarter Surfing: Better Use of Your
Web Time" workshop. He has taught the workshop worldwide to more than
9,000 journalists, lawyers, bankers, diplomats, management
consultants, public relations professionals, students, and others.
Sree presents his workshop on Thursday, March 17, at 7 p.m., at the
West Windsor Library. The event is sponsored by PWA, a networking
group for professional nonfiction writers. Admission is free, although
reservations are recommended. Call Laura Muha at 609-758-6533. For
information on PWA, contact Robin Levinson at 609-584-9330 or E-mail
Growing up as the child of an Indian diplomat may have given him the
knack of finding his way around exotic places like the Internet. He
was born in Tokyo, went to kindergarten in Moscow, moved to New York
at age nine, where he attended P.S. 6 on the East Side, went to high
school in Burma and then Fiji, and attended St. Stephens College in
India. At 15 he had his first byline in the Fiji Sun newspaper, and he
eventually got a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University.
Sree observes that on the Internet, "everybody is in the same confused
boat." He likens the Internet to New York City, a destination that
many people find scary. But Manhattan has changed a lot, he says, "and
people should go out and explore it more." Who would have ever
imagined that Times Square would have a Disney store? "You used to put
your windows up and drive fast through 42 Street," he remembers.
Similarly, many people find the Internet an overwhelming melange of
scary places. What Sree wants people to realize is that once you can
find your way around, the Internet is a great resource and one that
people should start exploring immediately. At his upcoming workshop
Sree aims to provide tools to make the most of time spent on the ‘Net:
Find facts and data. Sree observes that researchers often depend on
"online sources that aren’t accurate." He recommends an online
encyclopedia as a place to get the facts. But, he warns, "you get what
you pay for," and each reference site has a different billing scheme.
Britannica.com gives away a couple of paragraphs, but charges a
monthly or yearly fee for full articles. Encarta.com gives away some
articles but charges for the rest. Encyclopedia.com is free but offers
only short items.
A different kind of informational site is statistics.com, which offers
links to statistics in a variety of subject areas, including
government, marketing research and demographics, health, business and
others. If your kids are doing a report or you are planning an
international vacation, you can try a site like worldinformation.com.
It offers key facts, visitor’s information, key economic indicators, a
country profile, and about 18 other categories. To search 24,200 free
public record databases, try searchsystems.net.
Get more out of Google. Google is a great search engine and the one
that Sree recommends, but its capabilities go far beyond standard
searches. At toolbar.google.com/deskbar/, for example, you can
download software that allows you to search Google directly from your
word processor, as long as you are connected to the Internet. Through
Google News, you can search and browse 4,500 news sources that are
Google also has a word definition function. For example, if a user
types "define:palliative," 14 different definitions are displayed from
different locations on the Internet. Google’s "scholar" option allows
a search of just academic journals and related publications. You can
also find recipes, innovative maps, and calculator functionality
Discover useful web sites that you didn’t even know you needed.
Freetranslation.com translates between English and a number of other
languages. Howstuffworks.com does exactly what it says. For example,
under "electronics stuff," you can find out how a cell phone works.
Among the categories are also travel, science, computers, and health.
Bartleby.com offers full-text access to thousands of literary works
whose copyrights have expired, as well as to some contemporary
reference volumes like the Columbia Encyclopedia (2001), the
Encyclopedia of World History (2001), Roget’s Thesaurus, and
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Www.hoovers.com offers profiles of
For journalists Sree offers useful information on his website,
www.sree.net/stories/web.html, including how to find sources
quickly in a variety of subject areas, reporting tips, writing tips,
and ways to track news effectively, and find transcripts of speeches
and TV shows.
Sree promises attendees at his workshops that they will come away with
at least 10 new websites, and he suggests that users try a new website
once a week. Like New York City, he concludes, "the web is pretty
harmless, and it has a lot of interesting places that can make life
– Michele Alperin
What is the biggest source of consumer fraud in New Jersey? No, it is
not identity theft, but you were close. Back in 2003 identity theft
had cost America $37 billion annually. New Jersey was bilked of $5
billion. In two short years identity theft has sprinted ahead, up to
$50 billion nationwide, and $7 billion statewide. Despite these
impressive numbers, identity fraud comes in second to home
repair/remodeling scams. Auto repair finishes third.
When six homeowners in the posh suburb of Upper Saddle River were
defrauded of over $1 million, they were asked, "Why didn’t you call
the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs?" Their unanimous answer
was "Who?" The education coordinator of this department, Dave
Biederman, is laboring hard to make sure no one ever asks "Who’s
that?" again. On Monday, March 21, at 1 p.m. at Princeton’s All Saints
Church, Biederman gives a free talk, sponsored by the Women’s College
Club of Princeton, on all the major types of fraud, how consumers can
protect themselves, and the far-reaching recourses available through
New Jersey’s Department of Consumer Affairs. Call 609-924-2958.
"This is my retirement job," says Biederman. He grew up in North
Arlington and graduated from Rutgers in l954 with a B.A. in history
and philosophy. After earning a law degree from Yale, he joined the
U.S. Army "for three years of which I loved every minute." Staying on
in South Carolina, Biederman taught history briefly before returning
to New Jersey and to government service.
Biederman immediately got behind the Richard Hughes gubernatorial
campaign in l962. From there he served as chief of staff for the state
highway department, before taking a 37-year hiatus from government
service, working with Jeryl Industries in its real estate development.
After retiring, he returned to public service at the Newark office of
New Jersey’s Department of Consumer Affairs. Biederman’s advice:
Been defrauded? If you suspect a consumer fraud or have been the
victim of consumer fraud, call the Consumer Affairs Action Line:
973-504-6260. To learn the record of a specific company, call
Want to learn more? Biederman and his team of experts are always
willing to come and talk with your group about the ways in which
consumers can protect themselves. Call him directly at 973-424-8110.
There exist almost as many scams as there are scammers, Biederman
admits, but he does offer a few cautionary modes of defense for the
Household repair. Biederman has 1,001 tales about both predators and
prey. "One individual householder in Wayne recently was defrauded of
$1.5 million on a single home," he says. "It is difficult to believe
he could get in so deep without a little foreknowledge of his
The defense mechanisms when dealing with contractors are few and
simple, but mostly ignored by the average homeowner. First, when
interviewing any contractor, get three references. It’s best if you
can inspect the site of his previous handiwork. While talking with the
reference slip in a few questions to find out if he is a shill or a
legitimate customer, for example: "So, how long have you known Andy,
the contractor?" Also be sure to ask each reference how thorough was
the contractor’s cleanup job.
Check your local building inspector to see if this contractor is
licensed in this town and if he has received all the proper permits
for the job. While you’ve got the inspector on the line, informally
inquire into this contractor’s history. The Department of Consumer
Affairs and the Better Business Bureau will acquaint you with any
judgments or legal complaints made against the contractor.
Finally, Biederman says, every job of more than $500 in the state of
New Jersey legally requires a written contract. Make sure it specifies
a beginning work date, an end date, permit responsibilities, and any
Identity theft. A 35-year-old CPA from Livingston lies sick in his
bed. The phone rings. It is his friendly local banker. "Now,
Phillips, I’m going to have to scold you. You moved and never told us
that you now live in Elizabeth…and by the way, the bank has just
okayed your $20,000 personal loan." Fortunately, "Mr. Phillips" (not
his real name) was quick on the uptake. After explaining to the banker
that it was not he who lived in Elizabeth nor he who had requested a
$20,000 loan, he called each of the major credit reporting agencies.
"There are only three of them (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax),"
says Biederman, "and this is the right first move." The goal here is
to stop immediately any further crimes.
Your next step should be to try to catch the crook. Fortunately, the
Livingston CPA nipped the crime in the bud. The local police turned
the case over to the FBI, who turned it over to the Secret Service.
They discovered that the theft of Phillips’ identity was just one of
series of thefts by a gang running up and down the East Coast using
stolen identities to make quick loans. When they caught the gang,
Secret Service agents were led to a Jersey City warehouse containing
250 folders full of stolen identities.
"The Mafia – of every nation – loves identity theft," says Biederman.
"They don’t have to kill anybody, the theft is easy, and the profit is
enormous." The average bank robber nets between $2,500 and $3,500. But
stolen identities are currently considered cheap at $25,000 each.
One seldom-used recourse for the individual experiencing credit card
or similar theft is to swear out an affidavit of loss and send it to
the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC will pass your affidavit to the
Superior Court and you can be legally declared a victim, absolving you
of the fraudulent debt. "When you show up in court," says Biederman,
"no one – certainly not the thief – will show up to contest it." One
interesting defense against a consequence of identity theft is to sign
your credit card on the back not with your signature, but with "Ask
for Photo ID."
Auto repair. "There is no safety in size," warns Biederman. Recently
Sears Auto Centers were found out. For years their mechanics had been
charging for four-wheel alignments when only two-wheel alignments were
needed. One knowledgeable individual suspected this scam, and
complained to the Department of Consumer Affairs, which sent an
investigator and uncovered the fraud. Sears paid $500,000 to New
Jersey in fines and made full restitution for more than 3,000
The defense mechanisms for auto and home repair are similar, but
trickier. You can always get your estimate up front and ask your
mechanic to call with an exact figure before work begins. But the
state does not license and inspect service stations. If you plan to
use a repair service frequently, ask for references and make a few
calls. While references are not typical in this trade, beware of
anyone not forthcoming.
Comparing prices for a set job, a muffler replacement for example, may
get you the cheapest, but not necessarily the most honest, repair
person. Short driving an ailing car from station to station and asking
for bids, you may just have to gauge the content of an individual’s
character, and examine the results of your trust afterward.
As Biederman watches all forms of fraud rise dramatically, he wonders
if we have become too fast and loose with our money. "None of the
people in our fraud detection department buys anything over the
Internet," he says. Perhaps if we are a little more circumspect in
spending, we might be less likely to become victims. It is possible to
cheat an honest man, but it’s a lot tougher to cheat a smart one.
– Bart Jackson
Today over $1 billion worth of goods will cross the U.S.-Canadian
border. Tomorrow, another $1 billion and so on. Nearly one quarter of
all New Jersey’s exported goods go to Canada’s 32 million people. Yet
despite this already high rate of traffic with our nearby neighbor,
New Jersey businesses are fighting to tear down the increased
post-9/11 security strictures and create even more trans-North America
partnerships. The fight is important enough to bring New Jersey’s
acting governor and Canada’s former deputy prime minister, John
Manley, to Princeton to talk trade.
In hopes of bolstering this desire for continental unity, Canada’s New
York Consulate is hosting an elaborate, if slightly mis-named, "New
Jersey Canada Day." This two-day event begins on Tuesday, March 22, at
5:30 p.m. at Princeton University’s Prospect House with an impressive
list of speakers, including Pamela Wallin, Canada’s Consul General to
New York; New Jersey Acting Governor Richard Codey; Virginia Bauer,
New Jersey secretary of economic growth and tourism; and Princeton
University president Shirley Tilghman.
On Wednesday, March 23, at 8:30 a.m. at the Nassau Inn, Canada Day
continues with panel discussions and a luncheon. The first panel, "Why
Open trade with Canada is Important to New Jersey Business," features
Leslie Schweitzer, senior trade advisor to the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce; Chris Padilla, trade representative for Intergovernmental
Affairs and Outreach; and Perrin Beaty, president of Canadian
Manufacturers and Exporters.
The second panel, "A Practitioners Guide to Doing Business in Canada,"
features Schweitzer, along with William Lash of the U.S. Department of
Commerce; and William Spear, international trade specialist for the
New Jersey State Commerce Commission. Former Deputy Prime Minister
Manley is keynote speaker at the 12:30 p.m. luncheon. For details and
registration call 212-596-1625.
Profitable links. Tab Borden has kept the trans-North American trade
light burning in Princeton’s window for several years. As head of the
Canadian Government Trade Office, a micro-mission from Canada’s New
York Consulate, Borden labors to connect New Jersey and Canadian
partners in the field of biotechnology – a New Jersey natural.
Born in West Saskatchewan and having grown up in every part of Canada,
right up to Nova Scotia, Borden graduated with a business degree from
the University of Dalhousie in Halifax (Class of 1979). After working
in several charter banks, he joined government service, where he has
remained. Borden began his four-year post at this mission in August,
Borden’s task at the Princeton trade mission is to find American
distributors for Canadian manufacturers. Typically this entails
partnering large new Jersey pharmaceutical firms with smaller Canadian
manufacturers to bring goods to market. This past winter Borden
connected a small Canadian company, which needed capital to bring its
product onto American shelves, with New Jersey-based Novartis. "Not
only do you get an increased flow of funds into the new product," says
Borden, "but you get governmental cooperation." The FDA and its
northern equivalent, Health Canada, work to allow overlapping clinical
For the smaller and mid-size firms seeking a Canadian distribution
platform, Borden connects with his American counterpart, Dina Volpis,
an international trade specialist. (To work with Borden, call
609-333-9940; or visit his Princeton office on 10 Skyfield Drive. To
work with Volpis, call 973-645-4682.) Issues they deal with include:
Drug smuggling. Ever since the current U.S. administration pushed
through medical reform bills last year, it has been illegal for a poor
American granny to receive affordable Canadian pain killers for her
crippling arthritis. If she can’t afford big pharma’s markup, she is
supposed to go without. However, enforcement being kinder and gentler
than the law in this case, no one is throwing granny in the slammer
when she receives her pills.
As a result, this unpopular law has rebounded like Prohibition.
Busloads of Americans seeking remedies for high blood pressure,
diabetes, high cholesterol, and depression routinely cross into
Canada, Canadian Internet prescription drug sales boom, and now an
increasing long list of American governors, cowed by seniors and their
pesky tendency to vote, refuse to enforce the international ban. There
are even Asian Internet drug store companies claiming to be Canadian
to attract American buyers.
"We in Canada," says Borden very calmly, "see this as strictly an
American domestic trade issue. We keep our hands out." Interestingly,
on the international drug price scale, Canada is in the middle. Europe
has even cheaper drug prices, with France at the bargain end. The U.S.
drugs are the priciest.
American pharmaceutical firms are understandably irked when they see
Canadian firms, blessed with huge demand, fill their orders by buying
American drugs wholesale and then selling them back to Americans at a
rate below what the American companies charge.
Pouring oil on the waters, Borden reassures all American pharmas by
stating the simple fact that his nation has neither the desire nor
ability to handle the pharmaceutical needs of both its own citizens
and those of a nation with eight times its population.
Cutting the glass. Even with post-9/11 security measures, the
Canadian-U.S. border remains remarkably open. Goods flow easily and
financial transfers are no more involved than they are in transactions
with, say, Ohio. Actually, this is not all good. Many businesses have
grown relatively lax in assembling documentation, with the attitude,
"Oh, it’s only Canada." But, says Borden, "If you don’t review all
required documentation and have it in order, your goods won’t be
allowed to cross the border. It’s not a long process, but it entails
more than most businesses think."
Borden recommends that American traders invest in an experienced
customs broker to shepherd the goods through. For firms with a
Canadian partner, it is a good idea to have that company send an a
representative to help speed the import process.
Yes, rules have to be adhered to, and tensions over drug imports
eased, but all-in-all trading with Canada affords Garden State
companies an easy first step into international commerce. The barriers
are few, the distance is relatively small, and the markets are hungry,
making it an ideal trade partner.
– Bart Jackson
This past year, the Small Business Administration (SBA) facilitated
over $602 million in loans to 2,800 businesses in the Garden State.
The key word is "facilitated." There is a common misunderstanding that
the government agency shells out the money, but that is not the way it
works. The SBA does not examine a start-up’s books or drop checks in
In point of fact, you will probably never see a loan official from the
SBA. You will only notice his signature at the bottom of your bank’s
loan as a co-signer. Don Swartz, economic development specialist with
the SBAs explains the loan process in "How to Get Financing for Your
Business," a seminar, sponsored by SCORE, the service corps of retired
executives, and taking place on Tuesday, March 22, at 7 p.m. at
Merrill Lynch, at 7 Roszel Road. Cost: $25. Call 609-926-7559.
Sponsored by SCORE, this event also features Laura Washington of
Sovereign Bank and Bob Small, partner with the Ressler & Small, a CPA
firm with offices at 1540 Kuser Road in Hamilton and 36 South Broad
Street in Trenton. The panel explains bank requirements and SBA aid
for both beginning entrepreneurs and owners of existent companies.
Swartz grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, entered the Navy in l967,
and completed his combat tour in Vietnam as a Marine in l968.
Returning home, he entered Scranton University, earning a B.A. in
business, followed by several graduate courses in finance.
Upon his graduation in l975, flooding from Hurricane Agnes wrought
enormous flood damage throughout the Scranton area and Swartz joined
the SBA to help businesses get back on their feet. He continued in SBA
service with only one break: as director of a Vietnam Veterans
Outreach Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. "It was," he recalls
wryly, "eight very interesting years – but eight was enough. I was
glad to return to the more hopeful SBA." Swartz has served as a
supervisory loan officer for the entire northeast. Today he handles
the offices for southern New Jersey. The Mercer/Middlesex region are
serviced both by his southern office in Gloucester County, at
856-415-2283, as well as the northern office in Newark, at
Banks drop all their loan applications into three baskets. Those that
meet all the standards, fall in the "YES" basket, and the applicants
receive the check. Those wholly outside the standards, for example,
those indicating bad credit, fall in the "NO" basket and the applicant
gnashes his teeth. The third basket is marked SBA. Those who fall just
a bit short on one criterion, maybe collateral, may get their
applications sent to SBA loan officials.
If the SBA reviewer smiles upon the application, the entire power of
New Jersey’s taxpayers and government gets behind the loan and
guarantees a certain percentage of it. It is returned to the bank with
the SBA’s blessing – and the loan goes through. The applicant himself
did not ask for this SBA review. In fact, he couldn’t ask for it. The
entire process is the lending bank’s call.
Why banks nix. Loan applications generally miss the YES basket for
four reasons. The first and swiftest cut comes to those with bad
credit. If this is your problem, not even the SBA can help push it
through. But on the remaining three criteria, the SBA can provide some
An equity injection of 20 to 25 percent is demanded by most New Jersey
banks. Lenders want the entrepreneur to put up this stake to cut down
on the chance that he will walk away. Coming up with this initial
capital has proved a towering wall to many otherwise prepared
entrepreneurs, but the banks rarely bend on this potential deal
Another hurdle involves the repayment schedule. The return schedule
must fit the lender’s risk requirement, not, alas, the borrower’s
ability to repay. "If, for example, you are investing in inventory,"
explains Swartz, "that is material that should be turning over
quickly. The bank may want repayment in as short as three months. Yet,
if it is evident that will not work, they will refuse the loan."
A real obstacle for many new business is the universal bank
requirement for collateral. The bank requires some tangible asset
against which it can fix a lien. If those tangible objects are in the
form of improvements to a building the business does not own, they are
not collateral. Patents and intellectual property that are not yet
bringing in income are not collateral, but accounts receivable are.
Banks can draw on their value long after a firm has folded.
Your home, car, stock portfolio, and baseball card collection may also
be considered collateral if the lender so deems.
What the SBA can do to help. Typically institutional lenders turn over
to the SBA applications that fail narrowly in only one aspect. At that
point a SBA loan official reviews all the paper. Perhaps the business
is short 15 percent of the required equity injection, but it seems
otherwise strong. The SBA will not pony up the remaining 15 per cent.
Instead, it will return the application to the lender with an SBA
approval, which entails a positive guarantee for the major percentage
of the loan. With this guarantee, the bank has the peace of mind to
put the loan in the YES basket – and cut the check.
Bank loans get backed on a sliding scale. Notes of under $150,000 are
guaranteed up to 85 percent. For $150,0000 up to the $2 million
maximum, the SBA stands behind 75 percent. Additionally, the SBA
charges both bank and borrower a fee of 2 percent of the guaranteed
portion of the loan.
Legally, the SBA cannot turn down a loan for want of any collateral.
"But that law can be quite misleading," says Swartz. He explains that
if a man applies for a business loan and has no home as collateral,
the SBA will consider his application. But the man who owns his home
and has not included it as collateral gets turned down. "We are
risking the taxpayers’ money," says Swartz. "I’m certainly not going
to have them stand behind a venture in which the company owner himself
is hedging his bet."
Where else to look for help. "The SBA should never be considered the
final word for the entrepreneur trying to link up with a bank," says
Swartz. He points to the increasing support afforded by urban
enterprise zones, empowerment zones, and county-based loan programs.
Each of these will often take a second lien position and give the
business the added cash to meet bank standards. The SBA also has its
own Microloan Lender Program that will find second lien lenders for
amounts up to $35,000.
So, skeptics wonder, is the SBA playing riverboat gambler with my tax
dollars, guaranteeing all these rejected loans? The annual default
rate on commercial loans runs usually about .04 percent. Only four out
of every 10,000 businesses end up sticking the bank with the hassles
of foreclosure. The rate of SBA-guaranteed loan defaults is actually
slightly less than the average bank rate. This means that New Jersey
may get called to financial task for one or two businesses a year. On
the credit side, the Garden State gets another 2,798 solid, tax-paying
businesses that provide goods, services, innovations, and jobs.
– Bart Jackson
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