Don’t Get Ripped Off in a Cyber Monday Scam

Identity theft is a serious risk for online shoppers, and Cyber Monday scams are one way that shoppers are targeted.

There are lots of ways to prevent identity theft and avoid becoming a victim of consumer fraud, but knowing what kinds of sales are likely to be scams makes it easier to shop smart.

A scam isn’t just a phony email, it can also be a shady way of doing business online. Especially on this Cyber Monday, follow these strategies to keep yourself, your bank account, and your identity safe:

  1. Check the return policy. Unless you’re buying something on “Final Sale,” you should be able to return any items you buy online within a limited period of time. Don’t take that for granted though; check the online merchant’s return policy before you buy. If they won’t let you return it, you probably don’t want to buy it.
  2. Read user reviews. You can’t check out the item for yourself online, so make sure you only buy items that have good reviews, and that are sold by reputable online retailers. Read user reviews to see what details about the product aren’t in the description, and whether the seller has scammed customers before. If there aren’t enough reviews or they all seem negative, don’t be fooled.
  3. Don’t do a “discount” search. Cyber Monday is often plagued by spammers who target search engines. Consumers who search for words like “sale” and “discount” may land on disreputable sites that don’t sell the things they claim. Stick to online merchants that you know when scoping out sales this holiday season. Don’t use big search engines to look for deals.
  4. Never click pop-up windows. Pop-ups that ask you to click for deals or to get to a website are almost always bad news. Even if it looks like an ad for a store that you like, it may be a virus in disguise.  Type in the URL by yourself for any store you want to shop at, instead of letting pop-up windows redirect you.
  5. Protect your phones and tablets too. This year there are a lot of holiday shopping apps available for smartphones and tablets. Some of them are real, but others are just a way to get a virus into your phone or to hack into your personal information. Buy your apps from an official store and read the reviews before you install them. Your smartphone is just like a computer, so make sure it stays safe when you shop.

Your Guide to the Ultimate Thanksgiving Turkey

9 Truths About Turkey Roasting

Let’s dispense with the regular turkey gobbledygook that permeates the media at this time of year and get down to basics: You’ve got a big, raw bird sitting in your fridge, a bunch of guests coming with holiday-high expectations in tow, and you need help. Sure, you may have heard all kinds of rules, lore, and even a few horror stories, but here’s what you really need to know to successfully roast a turkey on Thanksgiving.

1. Don’t Wash the Turkey

This directive alone will probably shock you. And it holds true for chicken, too. Would you believe it comes directly from the super-cautious folks at the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a division of the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)? They’ve been advocating sparing your birds a bath for several years.

Here’s why: The moment you run water on your poultry, you start spewing a mist of unwanted pathogens all over the sink and nearby items, such as your dish rack, where clean plates and flatware are probably air-drying. You probably think you are washing bacteria off the bird–but you aren’t. Instead, the easiest and most effective way to eliminate bacteria is to kill them in the heat of the oven. So get that bird onto the rack in your roasting pan, and then dry it inside and out with paper towels. Or if you’re brining your bird, put it directly into its salt bath (more on that next).

And don’t forget to wash every surface the turkey or its juices might have touched. Use hot soapy water, and it doesn’t hurt to follow up with disinfectant. When that’s done, wash your hands well with warm soapy water. Pretend you’re a surgeon prepping for an operation, and scrub both sides of your hands and under your nails.

2. Brining Is Strictly Optional

Brining the turkey was all the rage a while ago, and it still has a devoted following, particularly among those who have the space–preferably a second refrigerator–and a container large enough to immerse the turkey in a liquid brine. Fashions in brine recipes come and go, of course, but if you’d like to try brining, this basic formula will always do the job: For a 12- to 14-pound turkey, stir together 8 quarts water with 2 cups kosher salt in a 5-gallon bucket lined with a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag and soak your raw turkey, covered and chilled, overnight (10 hours).

By contrast, Nathan Myhrvold and his Modernist Cuisine team are fans of injecting the brine directly into the flesh, because they’ve found it prevents the rubbery skin that can result from wet brining.

Molly Stevens, multiple-award-winning cookbook author, prefers dry brining, which involves rubbing the turkey with liberal amounts of kosher salt and letting the bird air-dry in the refrigerator. Stevens likes to leave the turkey uncovered on a rack in a shallow pan (or if it will be sharing the fridge with lots of other ingredients, loosely covered with plastic wrap) for at least eight hours and up to two days. For a 13- to 14-pound turkey, Stevens recommends sprinkling a total of 2 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt–slightly less if using Morton’s–all over the outside and inside of the turkey.

Despite the benefits of dry brining–a technique I, too, support–it still requires valuable real estate in your refrigerator at a time of year when you probably don’t have a cubic inch to spare. (Dry brining takes less space than wet brining, but more than if you didn’t brine at all.)

Besides, if you want to enjoy the benefits of brining without any fuss, buy a kosher turkey. It’s been salted ahead of time as part of the koshering process. By all means do not brine a kosher bird, and ease up on any added salt whenever you use a kosher bird.

3. Consider Deconstructing Your Turkey
If presenting the traditional entire turkey on a platter is a significant part of your holiday ritual–and the meal unthinkable without it–then keep on doing it. But if moist breast meat and perfectly cooked dark meat is more important to you than that brief tabletop cameo of the whole bird, then take a tip from chefs, who’ve figured out how to produce serving after serving all day long on Thanksgiving: Roast your turkey in parts, the white meat separately from the dark meat. Buy just the parts you like, or, if you buy from a butcher, specify that you’d like your turkey broken down into breast, thigh, and drumstick pieces in advance. (Get the remaining parts from the butcher, too, for use in soup.)

Divide the white and dark parts into their own pans and roast on different racks, switching the position halfway through. This allows you to remove the breast when it’s done and let the legs cook longer. The breast meat is moist at 165°F, but the dark meat is better when cooked to a minimum of 170°F, and as high as 185°F if you like yours well done, when the meat practically falls off the bones.

4. Your Oven Needs Plenty of Time to Heat Up
Avoid surprises and help keep your cool by making sure your oven is as hot as it should be. If you don’t already have a good-quality oven thermometer, now is the time to invest in one. Your oven may beep or buzz to indicate it’s supposedly reached the temperature you set it for, but don’t rely on that signal alone. Oven temperatures can actually vary quite a bit (as much as 50 degrees from the number on the dial or panel), so you still need to use an independent and reliable oven thermometer to verify the temp before you put in your turkey. If you already use one of these thermometers, you’ve probably noticed that it takes a lot longer than, say, 10 minutes to heat your oven; it may be more like 20 to 30 minutes before the oven thermometer indicates that the target temperature actually has been reached.

So don’t rush it. And if your oven has a preheat setting, avoid it, and heat the oven on the bake setting instead. Why? The preheat setting in some ovens turns on not only the bottom flame or element (the one used for baking and roasting) but also the broiler at the top. This may make the oven heat up faster, but after the target temp is reached and the broiler switches off, the accumulated heat in the oven’s upper reaches will likely burn the top of your bird.

5. Don’t Stuff the Turkey
An unstuffed turkey cooks more evenly, and faster, than a stuffed turkey, because there’s air circulation within the cavity. Stuffing the bird also poses significant food-safety challenges. The major problem is that the center of the turkey–where the stuffing is soaking up all the juices–is the last place to reach the food-safe temperature of 165°F. That means the meat will be fully cooked before the stuffing’s done, leaving the stuffing unsafe to eat–unless you roast your turkey until the center of the stuffing registers 165°F, at which point the breast meat will be overdone and dry.

Besides, there’s a purely practical reason not to cook your stuffing inside the turkey: The cavity is simply too small to hold the quantities of stuffing that everyone craves, so you’re going to have to cook extra anyway. Simplify by cooking all the stuffing in one pan. It’s so much easier and safer, and I find the results far superior to stuffing cooked inside the bird. We recommend a shallow baking pan, which provides a large surface area on top for plenty of crusty bits while allowing the rest to remain moist and tender.

If we can’t dissuade you from stuffing the bird, we urge you to roast the turkey just until the meat is done, then transfer the stuffing from the cavity to a baking dish and continue baking (or microwave it) until it registers 165°F. (Remember, inside-the-bird stuffing has fresh turkey juices in it that need to be fully cooked.)

6. Basting Is Worth the Fuss
Basting is the most contentious turkey topic. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman believes “basting is a complete and absolute waste of time for turkey. The skin gets crisp from fat, not liquid. Rub the bird with some oil or butter at the beginning to encourage crispness, and you’re done.”

Modernist Cuisine author Myhrvold, on the other hand, is a basting believer. According to Scott Heimendinger, the director of applied research for Modernist Cuisine, his team has found that basting will “heat and dry the food surface more quickly and evenly than either baking or panfrying alone. The result is often a crisp and delicious crust–the very best incentive for basting.”

In other words, the practice of periodically spooning pan juices over the turkey has nothing to do with helping the breast meat stay juicy. It’s all about getting crisper skin.

Molly Stevens takes a balanced view of basting. Sometimes she bastes, and sometimes she doesn’t. She might be in the mood to baste as she putters in the kitchen, or she might skip it in favor of talking with friends and family gathered for the holiday in the living room.

7. Use the Four-Spot Test for Doneness
When it’s time to check your turkey for doneness, the old method of pricking the thigh and looking for clear juices is not reliable. For instance, a heritage turkey, which requires a significant investment of money, may emit rosy-pink juices even at the USDA food-safe temperature of 165°F.

Between supermarket turkeys bred for buxom breasts and the inevitable hot spots in your oven, we urge you to take the temperature in at least four places: both thighs, as well as the thickest part of the breast on each side. (If you plan to serve the wings to gnaw on, take their temperature, too. No need to check them if they’re destined for soup, though.) Don’t remove the turkey from the oven until all these places register a minimum of 165°F. (Some will get there before others, so wait until they all do.)

When testing the temperature, be sure you are using a good-quality instant-read thermometer–and have a second one on hand for backup. And hang on to the directions (or go to the manufacturer’s Web site) for instructions on how to conduct a preholiday test to make sure it’s still accurate (and how to recalibrate it if it’s not).

8. Let the Turkey Rest After Roasting
When the turkey comes out of the oven, it’s hard to resist the urge to start carving, but resist you must. While your bird has been roasting, the juices have been working their way toward the outer part of the roast. If you slice your turkey while it’s still hot, those juices will keep up their momentum, moving right out of the bird and leaving the meat as dry as sawdust.

Instead, do your turkey and your guests a favor and let the bird sit on a platter for 30 minutes. During that time, the juices will move back to where they belong, inside the meat. And you will gain precious time to make the gravy and reheat the side dishes.

Some people like to cover the turkey with foil while it’s standing, but that’s only going to turn the gorgeously crisp skin flabby. Rest assured that even uncovered, the turkey will still be slightly warm after half an hour, and oh, what a dream it will be to carve! Your well-sharpened knife will glide easily through moist flesh rather than saw through dry, tough, fibrous meat.

9. Keep Turkey Leftovers Foil-Free
When you clear the table before dessert, focus first on storing the leftovers. A turkey carcass takes up nearly as much room as an uncooked bird, so break it down now. Remove any remaining breast meat or thigh meat in the largest pieces possible–in preparation for sandwiches–and wrap the meat separately first in wax paper or parchment, then in plastic. Separate the drumsticks from the thighs, and save the drumsticks, wings, and any other bones for turkey soup.

Whatever you do, don’t wrap the turkey in foil. The salt and iron in the bird can corrode the foil, leaving smears of aluminum on the meat.

Now that you’re well armed with this essential information, relax with the confidence that you can handle this bird and enjoy the feast and festivities.

Thanksgiving Safety Tips

Thanksgiving is a day full of enticing smells, good company and lots of laughs – but along with the enjoyable chaos is the reality that cooking fires are three times more likely to occur on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. In addition to cooking and entertaining, Maxons Restorations is reminding families to take a minute for safety. Whether you plan to keep your meal traditional with Grandma’s favorite recipes, or want to add a dash of gourmet to impress your guests, make sure these safety tips are ingredients in all your dishes.

Safety Tips for the Feast

While you get busy in the kitchen, make sure that safety doesn’t get lost in the whirlwind:

  • Keep the cooking range free of clutter. Even though you have myriad dishes to prepare, don’t overload a cook top with too many pots and pans. Trying to cook all your dishes at once could cause grease to accidentally spill onto a range top and cause a fire.
  • Do not try to hold your child in one arm while cooking with the other. Holding a child while cooking is an invitation for a burn. It’s best to keep your child out of the kitchen while you’re cooking.
  • Never put a glass casserole or lid on the stove or over a burner. If it gets hot and explodes, it will send dangerous shards of glass in all directions.
  • Do not pour water on a grease fire. Pouring water on a grease fire can cause the fire to spread. In the event of a range-top fire, turn off the burner, put on an oven mitt and smother the flames by carefully sliding a lid onto the pan. Leave the lid in place until the pot or pan is cooled.
  • Evaluate appliances wisely and look for the UL mark. When purchasing electric cooking products such as electric knives, slow cookers and food processors, look for the UL mark. The UL mark is one of the most widely recognized and trusted safety symbols among consumers. Manufacturers use it to indicate that a product meets specific safety standards.
  • Avoid using a turkey fryer. Because turkey fryers pose a number of distinct safety concerns, including burn and fire hazards. If a family decides they must use a turkey fryer this Thanksgiving use extreme caution.
  • Keep a clean work surface. Be sure to wash surfaces, utensils, the sink and hands after handling raw food. It’s a good idea to identify one cutting board for raw meats and one for other uses.
  • Un-stuff the turkey. According to the USDA, for optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, cook the stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Thaw the bird with care. If using a frozen turkey, the USDA recommends thawing it in the refrigerator in its original wrapping, in a tray or pan that can catch any juices that may leak.
  • Call for help. If you’ve accidentally cooked the giblets inside the turkey, melted the “hock lock” or have any other questions about cooking your Thanksgiving bird, be safe and call the pros at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)

Everyday Essentials for Kitchen Safety

Kitchen safety should remain top of mind throughout the year, not just on Thanksgiving. Here are some great tips to remember in the kitchen.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen in case of emergency and know how to use it. Make sure the fire extinguisher is UL Listed and rated for grease and electrical fires. Read the directions carefully before an actual emergency occurs. The acronym P.A.S.S.can help make sure you use it properly.
    • Pull the pin; Aim the spray nozzle low at the base of the fire; Squeeze the nozzle to spray the contents; Sweep back and forth as you spray the base of the fire.
  • Always keep a potholder, oven mitt and lid handy while cooking.If a small fire starts in a pan on the stove, put on a flame-resistant oven mitt and smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan. Turn off the burner. Don’t remove the lid until the food has cooled.
    • When removing lids on hot pans, tilt them away from you to protect your face and hands from steam. If there is an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed to prevent flames from burning you or your clothing.
  • Never wear loose fitting clothing when cooking. Long, open sleeves could ignite and catch fire from a gas flame or a hot burner. Wear short, close fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking. If you have long hair, be sure to tie it back.
  • Keep smoke alarms connected while cooking. Smoke alarms can save lives. Make sure smoke alarms are installed and working.
  • Stay in the kitchen while food is cooking. Most fires in the kitchen occur because food is left unattended.
  • Turn pot handles away. Make sure that young children cannot reach a cooking pot by turning handles toward the back of the stove.
  • Unplug small appliances that aren’t in use. Not only will you save the energy, but you will also avoid the potential dangers if they were to be turned on accidentally.

Restoring Communities After the Storm

Maxons has been hard at work helping to restore communities after Sandy hit the east coast a few weeks ago.

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“A special thank you to the recovery people from Maxons Restoration, including CEO Damon Gersh, a local Port Washington resident. Thank you Damon for coming through for us during this difficult time, putting us on top of the list, making sure we didn’t incur more damage by waiting.”

Plenty of work for cleanup firms. Now try to get paid | Crain’s New York Business

Our CEO Damon Gersh talks with Crain’s about the current realities of mounting a large scale response after Sandy.
Plenty of work for cleanup firms. Now try to get paid | Crain’s New York Business.

 

Mike Conlon’s business, 360 National Restoration Ltd., is deluged with jobs—literally.

From 23rd Street to Wall Street and from Long Island to New Jersey, the 10-employee Manhattan firm is pumping out water and dehumidifying properties while assisting maintenance companies in cleaning up the soggy mess left behind by the overflowing Hudson and East rivers.

Mr. Conlon said 360 National was still “getting a lot of phone calls” but was “handling the volume” of work, thanks to alliances with other companies that have supplied his firm with additional labor and equipment. A veteran of the restoration field who launched 360 in 2011, Mr. Conlon said that a profitable firm’s revenue can fluctuate from year to year and can exceed $3 million annually.

Throughout the city, small companies providing disaster recovery and tree-removal services are striving to keep up with the onslaught of business. With more work than they had ever imagined, these firms are doing everything from giving top priority to clients in the most hazardous circumstances to hiring more employees to handle the sudden influx of jobs.

Emergency loans

 

But there’s a flip side to the post-Sandy boom in business. Many companies are experiencing the same challenges as some of the customers seeking their help—no electricity, depleted fuel tanks and erratic phone service.

“It’s an unprecedented challenge,” said Damon Gersh, president of Manhattan-based Maxons Restorations Inc., which regularly tackles flood, water, fire and smoke damage for its customers. “Cell service is spotty, and workers are living in blackout conditions.”

Mr. Gersh said business is “far outpacing” his 50-employee firm’s manpower and equipment. “With 9/11, people had dust and could wait a few days, but they can’t wait with water,” he said. “Everyone’s clock is ticking at the same time—commercial, industrial, homes, small businesses—and the jobs we have are very labor-intensive.”

Making matters even worse, many small firms are already experiencing cash-flow problems, courtesy of hiring more workers and buying additional equipment to meet the demand for their services. In the past week, Rohit Arora, CEO of Biz2Credit, which specializes in small business finance, said his Manhattan firm has helped 35 service companies, including tree- and trash-removal firms, apply for loans from banks and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Mr. Arora anticipates an even greater need for small business financing in the next week to 10 days, as more homeowners and business owners return to their properties and seek to repair them but opt to wait until they receive checks from their insurance companies to pay for the work. In good times, it can take anywhere from 45 to 60 days for insurance firms to cut a check for reconstruction projects, he said.

With as many as 40 jobs underway, including 25 that run “several hundred thousand and higher”—as in a large TriBeCa garage submerged in 16 feet of water—Mr. Gersh has partnered with a half-dozen companies from beyond New York City to secure additional personnel and equipment. And for his own arsenal of machinery, which encompasses 20 water pumps and 15 generators, he has purchased more than 50 of each for an expenditure of more than $300,000.

Depleted gas tanks

 

“Our expenses have gone up tremendously, so having a good banking relationship at this point is pretty helpful,” said Mr. Gersh. Although he declined to reveal the profitable firm’s annual revenues, he said post-Sandy business could double Maxons’ annual revenues within a two-month period.

Three-employee firm Erik Maldonado Landscaping in Jamaica, Queens, has brought in an additional worker to handle the upsurge in business, which includes tree removal and leaf pickup. But, according to owner Erik Maldonado, fallen trees blocking side streets and the gas shortage have cut into his company’s ability to meet the surge in demand for its services. Mr. Maldonado said the firm, which generates annual revenue of $100,000, anticipated pulling its trucks off the streets because of depleted gas tanks.

With a 12-person crew, Bill Logan, president of Urban Arborists in Brooklyn, said emergency “triage work,” including removing a large tulip tree with a vertical crack on the Lower East Side, represented his immediate priority. The profitable firm, which generates more than $1 million in annual revenue, is generally handling one to three jobs a day. Urban has no plans to hire more employees because its projects require “highly skilled” workers, Mr. Logan said.

While Urban’s tree-removal fees can go as high as $10,000, depending on a tree’s size, condition and location and whether equipment is required, the post-superstorm work, said Mr. Logan, comes at the expense of designing gardens and fall plantings, which represent “a great deal” of the firm’s revenue.

Tree-removal jobs also take their toll on the human spirit. “It’s exhausting and sad work,” said Mr. Logan. “We love trees and don’t like them destroyed.”