How to Find the Best Deals Online

When a birthday or the holidays roll around at the Scharer household in Athens, Ohio, 39-year-old Greg Scharer has no need to make a shopping list and check it twice. Instead, he turns to his favorite online shopping destination, Woot , for daily deals. This year, he was able to buy shock-resistant cameras for his three children at $12 apiece (approximately one-third of the price at Toys“R”Us).

“It’s incredibly convenient -- as you’re waiting at a dentist appointment or traveling, you can be on your phone looking at different things you need,” says Scharer, who uses the mobile app WootWatch. WootWatch scrolls all of Woot’s various offshoots -- like Kids Woot  -- to aggregate its daily deal offerings. “Along with saving time, I find it typically saves me between 30 to 70 percent off retail prices.”

Scharer’s not alone in his shopping habits. Many busy parents are embracing the ease of online shopping in the cloud -- using websites, online services or mobile apps to bargain-hunt versus trudging to the nearest brick-and-mortar store. So how can one navigate the Web to find the best deals and steals? Here are the five best ways to discount-hunt in the cloud:

No. 1: Start your spree by comparison-shopping.
“Your first line of research should be price comparison sites, which are very powerful for getting a quick idea of what the item you want costs,” says Brad Wilson, editor in chief of Brad’s Deals . PriceGrabber  is SmartMoney.com’s top pick , while NexTag and Shopzilla  are other popular options.

No. 2: Snag both offline and online deals with coupon-based sites.
Whether shopping online or off, coupon codes can be a bargain hunter’s best friend. Coupon aggregators like Brad’s Deals and RetailMeNot  offer both printable and online coupons, which can be redeemed for everything from free shipping to can’t-pass-up prices. “People don’t realize just how many coupons there are and how easy they are to get,” says Wilson, whose site currently shares 4,500 active coupons for 1,500 retailers.

No. 3: Use social networking.
Let other savvy shoppers do the work for you! One mom, Stephanie Moisio, has filled her Twitter feed with family shopping bloggers (like @babygoodbuys, @dealseekingmom  and @freebies4mom), who post deals they find online. "It's nice to do all your deal-seeking in one convenient place," says Moisio. When shopping on her Android, she follows their tips to make smart purchases, often using the Ebates  mobile app in tandem to earn cash back at participating stores.

No. 4: Get your daily deal fix delivered to your inbox or phone.
You may have heard of the popular Groupon, but there are other deals to be had. Subscribing to free daily sale sites like Woot, Zulily and Yugster  gives you access to limited-time discounts available only to members. For a more local flavor and deals on meals and more, get the best of the rest with an aggregator like DealMap . 

No. 5: Be smart about sharing personal information.
When shopping online, always make sure your site of choice is encrypted for safety; you can tell by whether it has “https:” in its URL. Also, use a credit card with built-in benefits like extended product warranties, identity theft protection or customer-friendly dispute options. But try not to stress too much. Says Wilson: “If you apply a dose of common sense to the process, you’ll be perfectly fine.”

Web Tools for Starting a Small Business

More and more people own home-based businesses. And these days, Web-based services make it even easier than ever before to get your small business up and running. “It used to be, back then, that you would be embarrassed about working from home,” says Barbara Weltman, an attorney and author who started a business in her Millwood, N.Y., home in 1983 and has since written numerous books on small business, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Starting an eBay Business. “You took an outside address so it wouldn't sound like you were out in the suburbs. But that's not so anymore.”

Web-based tools can now help you start a business, get legal work done, professionalize your accounting and billing, and collaborate with others. If your home business still needs to get out of the dark ages -- or you want to get off on the right foot -- here is how Web resources can help you get organized:

Step 1: Research how to start your business.
If you're just launching your business, the Internet is a great place to start your research. For basic information and resources, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)  offers tips on setting up a business, getting financing and whether there are any government programs for which your business may qualify. In addition, the Business Owner's Toolkit helps you select a business, write a plan, get loans, market your work and more.

Step 2: Make sure your business is legal.
Most state government websites allow you to download the forms you need to incorporate or to form a limited liability company (LLC). You can always hire a lawyer to help, but a lot of do-it-yourself resources online make such paperwork easy to navigate. BizFilings or Legal Zoom feature resources you can use to make your own legal decisions -- such as whether you should file for an LLC versus other types of corporations like a C Corp.

For tax liability issues, Weltman recommends turning to government tax websites, such as the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and state tax departments, to research any obligations that you may have to meet. You can download the tax booklets you need and place an online order for a federal employer identification number or state sales tax number.

“You also have to be aware that if you have any employees, including yourself, and you incorporate, there may be labor rules you need to know about,” adds Weltman. She recommends federal and state labor department websites to research labor laws.

Step 3: Get cloud-based finance and accounting services.
Many home businesses rely on popular accounting desktop software, such as QuickBooks from Intuit. But QuickBooks now has a cloud-based subscription offering, which means that all your business financials can be maintained online. So if your computer gets stolen or crashes -- or you’re on the road -- you can still access and download your records from any online computer. And so can your bookkeeper or accountant.

One free product that Weltman recommends is MyBizHomepage which extracts information from your QuickBooks software and displays it on your computer screen in an easy-to-understand “financial dashboard” graphic. “It lets you follow -- for free -- all your cash flow, so you know when things are going to be collected and when things are owed,” says Weltman.

Outright.com is another free online accounting service for light accounting needs, such as tracking income expenses and tax obligations. Bill.com costs $25 per month for one user and automates many aspects of small-business accounting.

Step 4: Stay organized.
One of the drawbacks to running a business from home has traditionally been the difficulty of staying on the same page with others. But not anymore. You can get organized with a bevy of cloud-based tools. For starters, you may already be using an online calendar tool, such as Google Calendar, which you can share with clients or business partners to schedule meetings.

iGoogle is free too and lets you bring all your tools together in once spot including Google Tasks or apps you select like SmartSheet, which offers template spreadsheets you can use to manage and share projects online. Or you can manage projects, contacts and documents with a cloud-based tool like the $99-a-month suite from Highrise -- which you can also access from your mobile device. And if you need a truly “virtual assistant,” Onebox manages your calls, faxes and conferencing entirely online for between $49.95 and $99.95 a month, depending on how many extensions you need.

3 Sneaky New Online Scams to Avoid

Most of us can recognize a shady email or Facebook post when we see one. I mean, how many of us actually know a Nigerian prince, right?

But hackers are pulling fresh tricks to dupe us into parting with our money or privacy. In the past four months alone, instances of malware on mobile phones have doubled, making smartphones a hotbed for wrongdoers. And according to the Federal Trade Commission, 9 million Americans lose their identity to hackers every year.

Don’t want to become a stat? Here are the three new online scams and how to avoid them:

Online Scam: Your Dating Match Is Actually a Fraud.

The scenario:
You’re in search of cuties on Internet dating sites when you meet a handsome U.S. Army serviceman stationed in Iraq. The guy is friendly and open about the war and his post-battle dreams. Best of all, he has a hot mug. What starts as a mere flirtation grows into a deep, personal relationship … in which your new man is comfortable enough to ask you to lend him some money.

How it works: That guy may not be an actual serviceman, but a scammer hoping to work his way from you heart to your wallet. The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) has been notified of this scam hundreds of times in the past six months. The CID says the scammers assume the identity of real-life soldiers, coupling their names and ranks with photos of other soldiers found online. Sometimes, the scammers paint the Army as a downtrodden entity, in which soldiers need pay for Internet connections, leave papers, medical treatment, special laptops, international telephones or a flight home from Iraq or Afghanistan.

How to steer clear: Army CID spokesperson Chris Grey says that the Army has plenty of support programs for soldiers overseas and that an actual soldier would not be making such monetary requests. The CID warns women to be suspicious of the following:

  • Anyone claiming to be a soldier, proposing marriage and asking for financial help early in a new relationship -- especially if it’s someone you haven’t met in person.
  • A new soldier boyfriend claiming that the Army won’t allow him to access his bank accounts or credit cards.
  • Suspect postal addresses. Soldiers serving overseas usually have an APO or FPO mailing address. Don’t send money to a third party or company.

If you think you’re talking with someone who is impersonating a soldier, report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.

Online Scam: A Simple Celeb Search Brings You Viruses.

The scenario:
You search online for your favorite celebs, whether it’s to get the latest dirt or find out just how they maintain their bikini bods. Harmless, right? Until your screen freezes and your computer gets slow.

How it works: This latest online scam plants viruses on PCs when gossip seekers search for stars online. Heidi Klum is currently the most dicey celebrity to search on the Web. Searches of “free downloads,” “videos” or “screensavers” coupled with her name stand a 1-in-10 chance of installing malware on otherwise clean PCs.

How to steer clear: Install an antivirus and antispyware program on your computer and devices. Limit widespread Google searches for sexy celeb pics. Instead, search within a well-known Hollywood blog, like PerezHilton.com or OMG.Yahoo.com.

Online Scam: Your New Favorite App Isn’t an App at All.

The scenario:
You just discovered a new addictive game on your phone or downloaded a beautiful wallpaper. Best of all, it’s free! But then you get your phone bill and … whoosh! There goes $1,000. How did this happen?!

How it works: What you really downloaded was a dangerous program in disguise that sends unauthorized texts from your phone and racks up your phone bill. Equally common is a program with which hackers steal your personal information, compromising your identity. Last year, an estimated 4.6 million Android users downloaded a seemingly innocent Star Wars and My Little Pony branded wallpapers to their phones, which collected and sent user data, like subscriber identification and phone numbers, to a site in China.

How to steer clear:
Always download your apps from a trusted source, like the iTunes store or the Android Marketplace. Apple and Google have a tough process for accepting new apps, and they police their stores for malware problems.

Have you ever fallen for an online scam? Share your story in our message board below.

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5 Smartphone Picks Made Simple

Looking to upgrade your phone? Not yet sure which model to plunk down your hard-earned cash for? Worry not: We’ve made this easy guide to clear up the confusion. Here are your best choices in various categories.

Texting and Photos: T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide
The latest addition to T-Mobile’s myTouch family has one of the best cameras on the market. It’s also ideal if you want a full slide-out keyboard with keys that are spaced out well and a device that’s still thin.

  • Cost: $149.53 - $529.99 *
  • Pro: A wide range of shooting and editing modes. Take the SweepShot mode, for instance: You move the camera from right to left, and the camera stitches together a panoramic image instantly.
  • Con: No HDMI port for linking the phone to your TV to view entertainment -- something that most of the latest phones include.

Streaming Video: Samsung Droid Charge
This smartphone is a strong second LTE phone for Verizon -- perfect for people who like to stream high-quality video, use video chat or play Web-based games. You can even use it outside: The phone has a bright screen built exactly for that purpose.

  • Price: $29.99 - $659.99 *
  • Pro: Service from the 4G LTE delivery system is very fast.
  • Con: The battery dies within a few hours when the mobile hot spot is on. (In comparison, some phone batteries last 10 hours or more.)

Slim Size: HTC Sensation 4G
Gorgeous display, beautiful design and powerful internal components. And, of course, it travels light. The smartphone also offers some excellent ways to customize your home screen. For instance, it allows you to store your four favorite apps at the bottom of the screen. Thanks to this feature, you don’t have to sort through multiple menus to reach your email.

  • Cost: $99.99 - $559.99 *
  • Pro: Includes the latest version of the easy-to-use Sense interface, with the Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) operating system running underneath. Sense offers some useful new functions and is an elegant way of multitasking.
  • Con: Some documented antenna issues may affect your reception.

Multitasking and Games: T-Mobile G2x (with Google)
The latest in the G series of Android phones and tablets is a no-frills powerhouse for gaming, multitasking and video. Also, users of other phones often complain about how difficult it is to remove the back panel to get at the battery. But with the G2x, your battery-removal woes are over. The battery cover is very easy to remove, and it doesn’t feel flimsy.

  • Cost: $149.53 - $519.99 *
  • Pro: The phone is superfast, thanks to souped-up internal components, including a dual-core Tegra 2 processor.
  • Con: Call quality can be uneven, and it’s difficult to see the screen in sunlight.

3D Images and TV: HTC EVO 3D
This model packs a lot of smartphone power: You can capture 3-D images or video, and then view them on the device or any 3-D TV. It’s a gorgeous phone, and it’s definitely the best one on the Sprint network -- a great successor to the original EVO.

  • Price: $49.53 - $579.99 *
  • Pro: The Snapdragon processor supports advanced 3D technology, including HD video.
  • Con: Call quality is uneven.

* Prices vary widely, depending on your mobile service plan, which can come with deep discounts on your hardware but may require you to sign a long-term contract.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

4 Collaboration Tools to Transform Your Projects

One of the best features of the cloud is that it makes it easy to create, edit and share projects with others, no matter where you are. And when you’re dealing with projects that require a lot of talking, planning and creating with an extended team, online collaboration tools are especially handy.

Sure there’s Google Docs. But have you explored your other options? Whether you’re gearing up for a new product release at work or planning a fundraiser with three of your best friends, these four tools will make it easier to get all of your projects done.

1.  Skype
Use it for … Holding and saving group video calls

Skype isn’t just for video calls to grandma anymore; it’s a viable tool for holding virtual meetings and collaborating. You can participate in group video calls with up to 10 people at a time, and if some users aren’t at a computer, they can still join via mobile. With Skype’s screen sharing feature, you can all view the same file or PowerPoint, without having to send them to each other. (Go to “Coversations” then Share Screen.”)

  • Best feature: Ability to record video calls for editing, viewing and even posting to your website. (Use third-party app VodBurner Windows only.)
  • Cost: Nothing, it’s free.

2. Teambox
Use it for …
Complex project management
Teambox is a full-featured project management tool that lets you manage a lot of tasks for a lot of people. You can hold discussions in conversation threads, create and assign tasks, share files, make calendars, log hours, post status updates and more. The tool pulls in some familiar social networking concepts -- commenting, @usernames and activity feeds -- to make the interface more intuitive.

  • Best feature: Integration with Google Calendar. Never miss a deadline again.
  • Cost: Free, if you want to track three or fewer projects. A tiered pricing model applies to more projects: $12 per month for six projects, $29 a month for 20 projects, $99 a month for 100 projects.

3. CoTweet
Use it for … Managing social media as a team

It’s smart to use Twitter to keep in touch with customers, but assigning that responsibility to one person might not be. (What if customers start tweeting product questions that that one representative doesn’t know how to answer?) CoTweet lets companies of all sizes manage their day-to-day social media conversations from a centralized dashboard. The tool helps you engage, track and analyze conversations, all while increasing visibility for your brand or team.

  • Best feature: The On Duty capability emails you when something requires action so you don’t have to waste all day glued to the Twitter feed.
  • Cost: The standard offering is free, although the enterprise version offers far more features, such as reporting, analytics and Facebook management.

4. Join.me
Use it for … Serious screen sharing

With Join.me, you can send multiple people a link that will enable them see what’s on your computer screen. It’s a simple but handy tool when you want to walk someone through a document or a presentation or edit a document together in real time. Your cursor then becomes your pointer, and your conversations become a lot more efficient when you can point to exactly what you want instead of saying things like, “see that spot right there, to the left of the middle third of the fourth column?”

  • Best feature: Ability to invite a whopping 250 people to view your screen!
  • Cost: $29 a month.

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