Amy Jo Martin: Your Social Score Is the New Credit Score

Gone are the days of traditional college admission packages, loan application processes and hiring decisions. It’s no longer enough to have just a stellar SAT score, a polished resume or a flawless business plan. Social media is changing the way we communicate and the way we are perceived, both positively and negatively. Every time you post a photo, or update your status, you are contributing to your own digital footprint and personal brand. This footprint can help or hinder you, depending on how you approach your social media presence. This may seem daunting, but it shouldn’t be. Think of this shift as an opportunity to further build your personal brand and call attention to your best attributes.

In a recent study published by University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, nearly 100 percent of universities in the U.S. have social media accounts. Granted, not all of them are using it on a consistent basis, but the mere fact that almost all universities in the country have some sort of social media presence tells us that the use of social media by universities is no fad. In the same study, 49 percent of universities have some sort of written policy regarding social media. This figure will only rise as more universities evolve alongside social media and begin to incorporate it into the admissions process. Many universities are now offering either coursework or majors in social media.

Not all universities use social media to eliminate applicants (although according to a 2012 Kaplan study, 35 percent of admissions officers found something on Google or on an applicant’s Facebook page that negatively affected their chances of being admitted), many universities view social media as a way to learn more about a particular applicant, and to find evidence of their passions and achievements.

Here’s a scenario to consider:

Applicant A and Applicant B look the same on paper. Both shine academically, boasting incredible transcripts, essays, and SAT scores. Both have an impressive list of extracurricular activities and outstanding recommendation letters. The difference is Applicant A has thousands of engaged Twitter followers and Facebook friends. You are able to get a more holistic picture of the applicant by seeing how Applicant A engages with his/her followers and tweets about the issues he/she is passionate about. Applicant B may have a social media presence (what college-age kid doesn’t?), but never took the time to fully develop it and turn it into an asset by having a “neutral” (i.e., not keg stand) avatar photo, removing inappropriate language, and posting information that spotlights passions and strengths.

As the college admissions representative, you can only choose one. Who would you choose? In this case, Applicant A’s smart use of social media gives him/her an edge, over an otherwise perfect Applicant B.

Universities want to recruit the students that they believe will best represent the university while in school and beyond. Students with a robust social media presence and clearly defined personal brand stand to become only more influential. These students are positioned to become leaders in their respective fields, which will reflect positively on the university.

The scenario remains the same for job applicants. When choosing between two similar applicants, hiring managers are increasingly turning to social media outlets to supplement information they are unable to glean from applications or interviews. Although it is illegal to make hiring decisions based upon information obtained from social media networks (age, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.), many companies still use them to get a sense of cultural fit within the organization.

Even if you are not a student or job seeker, your social media “credit score” can still determine whether or not you are granted a loan and what kind of rates you receive. For the moment this is on the cutting edge, but don’t expect that to last for long. Several organizations are taking your social media “credibility” into consideration when making decisions. Lenddo, a company offering small loans to individuals, is based on the idea that the stronger your social ties (i.e. the more people that will vouch for you), the more likely you are to repay your debt. Your social media reputation can actually be parlayed into a life-improvement loan. Another vanguard organization is MovenBank, a financial services company that has developed a proprietary algorithm called CRED to analyze your financial stability. CRED takes into consideration your social media “street credibility” (along with other information from financial institutions) when determining what rates you will receive. If you are perceived as more influential, you are more likely to refer new customers, which will ultimately affect the company’s profit. The more customers you refer through your social networks, you’ll get better rates and less fees.

This is where proper social media education becomes critical in an applicant’s success. Personal branding and social media education can prevent debacles that may thwart a qualified candidate from being accepted into their dream school or organization. Social media training isn’t just preventative though. It’s essential to maximize your efforts in these growing communication channels. After all, social media isn’t really media. It’s communication.

We all have personal brands and most of us have already left a digital footprint, whether we like it or not. Proper social media use highlights your strengths that may not shine through in an interview or application and gives the world a broader view of who you are. Use it wisely.

Airline Mogul Claims He Was Framed During Child Porn Sentencing

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The founder of a South Texas cargo airline was given 30 years in prison Wednesday for federal child pornography charges, after undercover officers posing as young teenage girls said they caught him engaging them in explicit online chats.

Robert L. Hedrick was sentenced in federal court in Brownsville, Texas. The 61-year-old Hedrick – who at trial blamed former business associates for conspiring to frame him – said Wednesday that he couldn’t apologize for crimes he didn’t commit.

“I can’t ask the court for anything,” Hedrick said Wednesday, according to the Brownsville Herald. “I was framed. I didn’t do what I was charged and convicted of.”

Prosecutors had asked for 90 years in prison, but Hanen set sentences on other charges to run concurrently due to Hedrick’s age, the newspaper reported.

Hedrick founded Pan American Airways, a cargo airline he set up in a building that once belonged to Pan American World Airways – the once-renowned airline that collapsed in 1991. Hedrick’s airline ran flights between the U.S. and Latin America. He was also president of a global pool supply company and a logistics company, according to trial testimony.

Hedrick testified on his own behalf in May, jumping from secret government contracts during the Cold War to business disputes to a failed marriage.

Prosecutors presented evidence at trial tying Hedrick to the chats with undercover officers posing as 13- and 14-year-old girls. They said Hedrick sent detectives 136 images of adult and child pornography, along with a webcam video of himself masturbating, and played in court an audiotape of Hedrick talking explicitly about sex.

Authorities found more than 2,400 images and 18 child pornography videos on Hedrick’s laptop and two external hard drives, prosecutors said. Some of the children in the materials were later identified as known victims of sexual assault, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys denied it was Hedrick at the keyboard, trying to use the Internet’s thin veil of anonymity to raise doubts among jurors, and claimed he had a long list of enemies with the motivation and money to set him up.

Prosecutors on Wednesday said they presented victim impact statements from two witnesses and their families.

Hedrick was also ordered to pay $5.4 million in restitution.

U.S. charges three Swiss bankers for conspiring to hide US$420M offshore

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan announced charges Wednesday against three Swiss bankers, who the government said conspired with U.S. clients to hide more than $420 million from the Internal Revenue Service.

The indictment named Stephan Fellmann, Otto Huppi and Christof Reist, all former client advisers with an unnamed Swiss bank. None of the bankers have been arrested, authorities said.

More to come . . .

© Thomson Reuters 2012

Brazil’s Equatorial to control Rede Energia in deal with CPFL

Dec 19 (Reuters) – Equatorial Energia will gain a
controlling stake in troubled power company Grupo Rede Energia
under an agreement between the two companies and CPFL
Energia, according to a…

After Newtown, a president unleashed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Barack Obama came across like a president unleashed on Wednesday as he invoked the Connecticut shooting tragedy not only to address gun violence, but to tell Republicans to “peel off the partisan war paint,” accept that he won the election and get on with the job of averting a fiscal calamity.

Walmart Guns Out Of Stock Following Newtown Massacre

Demand for guns is soaring in the U.S. after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, pumping up the price of firearms and ammunition as sellers race to replenish their stock.

Walmart has reportedly run out of semi-automatic assault weapons in five states, including Pennsylvania, Kansas and Alabama, according to a Wednesday report from Bloomberg. The nation’s largest retailer doesn’t sell guns online, and instead directs customers to search their ZIP code to find out if a nearby store carries the gun they’re seeking. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg, and it said it was not willing to provide comment to HuffPost.

“It’s a money-grab out there,” said Mike McGovern, an IT project manager who said he woke up the morning after Friday’s massacre and bought a Glock 19 handgun at a Western New Jersey gun store that was packed with customers.

When McGovern returned home, he said he logged on to several online forums for gun owners and found an unusually high number of advertisements from arms dealers, including one ad that said, “Get ‘em while you still can,” referring to the prospect that last week’s shooting will lead to stricter gun control laws. Soon enough, online sellers were boosting prices, McGovern said. On CheaperThanDirt.com, a leading web-based gun store, the price of a magazine for assault weapons jumped from $30 to $60, one firearms blog noted.

Not all high-profile shootings cause gun prices to rise. The killings last summer in Aurora, Colo. didn’t boost demand enough to affect gun prices, said S.P. Fjestad, author of the Blue Book of Gun Values, a firearms pricing guide published annually. But last week’s massacre has sparked a gun-buying craze in America that’s prompted retailers to overcharge, and consumers to overpay, said Fjestad, citing anecdotal evidence.

On Monday, a police officer in the Chicago area called Fjestad to tell him about his recent experience buying guns from a Virginia-based dealer, Fjestad told HuffPost in an email.

Fjestad said the officer had contacted the dealer on Dec. 12 to inquire about a new, modified AK-47 and a “tricked out” AR-15, which would cost $600 and $1,000, respectively, the dealer reportedly said. The officer decided to hold off, and called the dealer again on Saturday. The prices had jumped to $1,000 and $1,600, respectively — but the officer bought them anyway.

“I asked him why,” Fjestad recalled, “and his reply was, ‘They didn’t have any more, and I believe the prices won’t go down.’”

Have you bought or sold a gun since the Sandy Hook shootings? We’d like to hear from you. Send us an email: nhindman@huffingtonpost.com.

Such anecdotes have become increasingly common in recent days. Another police officer, who lives in the South Shore of Massachusetts and asked to remain anonymous because he didn’t want people to know he was stockpiling guns, bought an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle on Saturday morning. He now owns three. Asked why, the officer said, “They’re investments.”

“I bought an AR-15 in ‘92, right before the ‘94 ban,” he explained. During the federal ban on assault weapons — which began in 1994 under former President Bill Clinton and was lifted in 2004 — “the value of that gun roughly doubled,” the officer claimed.

In those years, it was illegal to manufacture weapons in the banned categories, but weapons already in circulation could be resold. If an assault weapons ban is passed again, which many gun owners are expecting after comments on Wednesday by President Barack Obama, the officer said he plans to advertise the gun in his precinct, or the local gun club, and flip it for a profit.

The officer said he was deeply troubled by last week’s shooting, but was not concerned by the fact that such incidents frequently cause firearm sales to surge. “My concern is not the guns, it’s how many people like Adam Lanza are out there,” he said. “I have kids who are the age of those kids in Connecticut. But I’m not naive enough to think that if you outlaw guns, or a certain type of gun, a guy like that can’t kill.” The officer added, “Look what Timothy McVeigh did with a truck, fuel and fertilizer.”

Others contacted by HuffPost reported making recent gun purchases out of fear for their personal safety and their family’s safety. Lena Smith, an office manager and single mother of four living in Auburn, Wash., said last week’s events motivated her to start the process of obtaining a concealed weapon license.

“I do not intend to keep an arsenal of firepower in my home,” she said in an email to HuffPost. “I will purchase a small .38 special revolver.” Smith said, “I hope and pray that I will never ever have to use my gun … however, in the event that I am out in public with my children and someone has decided to carry out heinous acts as we saw at Sandy Hook, the Aurora movie theater, the Clackamas Town Center, the Tacoma Mall, I will be ready to protect myself and my children.”

Rob Frates, the manager of Discount Shooter, a local gun shop in Roseville, Calif., said he sold four AR-15s on Monday. “You tell a child they can’t have something, they want it even more, and it’s no different with these guns,” Frates told HuffPost. “There are millions of them out there, and the main thing that’s driving up the price is all the talk in the media putting a negative spin on the firearm.”

In the wake of the shooting, a bevy of retailers suspended sales of the AR-15, reportedly used by Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook killings — but it hasn’t stopped America from reaching for firepower.

“The manufacturers [of the AR-15] can’t keep up with the demand,” said Robert Caselnova, the owner of Cas Firearms, a gun store located less than 10 minutes from Sandy Hook Elementary.

Despite the surge in gun sales, which have been climbing in 2012, being in the gun business is tough following such incidents, Frates said.

“It’s like selling alcohol after a high-profile drunk-driving accident,” he said. “And it’s especially difficult because I have small children myself, at a school less than five minutes down the road.”

Closing Bell: TSX moves higher, but Wall Street loses ground after fiscal cliff talks hit snag

TORONTO — The Toronto stock market moved higher on Wednesday driven by strength in the mining and metals sector, while Wall Street lost ground after plans to avert the “fiscal cliff” hit a snag in Washington.

Here are the closing numbers

TSX — 12,403.63 +69.29 +0.56%

S&P 500 — 1,435.81 -10.98 -0.76%

Dow —13,251.97 -98.99 -0.74%

Nasdaq — 3,044.36 -10.17 -0.33%

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 69.29 points to 12,403.63, as key commodities prices were mixed. The TSX Venture Exchange gained 0.52 of a point to 1,176.52.

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The Canadian dollar was down 0.25 of a cent to 101.20 cents US.

The TSX metals and mining sector gained 2.8%, with Sherritt International (TSX:S) rising 6.5% to $5.75 and Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) lifting 49 cents to $35.99.

Energy stocks rose 0.4% as the February crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose $1.58 to US$89.98 a barrel. The January contract expired at the end of the session.

March copper declined 4.8 cents to US$3.61 a pound while February gold bullion moved back $3 to US$1,667.70 an ounce.

Traders south of the border showed they’re losing patience with budget negotiations between President Barack Obama and Republican leaders that appear to be making little headway.

The White House threatened to veto House Speaker John Boehner’s backup plan to avoid automatic tax increases and government spending cuts that are set to take effect Jan. 1 if no deal is reached on cutting the government’s budget deficit.

Boehner had proposed a “Plan B,” separate from negotiations with the White House, that would extend decade-old tax cuts for everyone making less than $1-million a year.

The Dow Jones industrials lost 98.99 points to 13,251.97, giving back most of the gains made in the previous session. The Nasdaq fell 10.17 points to 3,044.36 while the S&P 500 index was off 10.98 points at 1,435.81.

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Concerns are that if a budget plan isn’t reached by the year-end deadline then markets will begin a steep selloff to contend with the possibility the U.S. could dip into another recession that could spread to other economies of the world.

“Each of the two sides realize the deadline is pending and if they don’t get it done, I can see getting into a little bit of political football where the point at each other and blame the other guy,” said Greg Eckel, portfolio manager at Morgan, Meighen and Associates.

“The public down there recognizes, and will hold both parties responsible, I think. They don’t have the option to back out and point at the other guy. They together have to get this done.”

The U.S. Commerce Department said that builders broke ground on fewer houses in November, likely in part due to superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast. The report says builders began construction of homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 861,000. That’s three% lower than October’s annual rate of 888,000, which was the fastest since July 2008.

“Keep in mind that growth in housing starts was extremely strong in the prior three months, so some giveback is not a concern at this point, especially given what permits did in November,” BMO Capital Markets economist Robert Kavcic wrote in a note.

Meanwhile, the Teranet-National Bank Canadian housing price index fell in November from a month earlier. The composite index covering 11 major urban centres stood at 154.02 last month, down 0.4% from October.

And Canadian bank CIBC is forecasting “very mediocre” domestic growth next year, blaming weakness in the world economy and an absence of key economic drivers at home. CIBC says it now expects economic growth of only 1.7% in 2013, down from its previous estimate of 2%.

The International Monetary Fund has told the Bank of Canada to hold off on interest rate hikes until the economy improves. The IMF report outlines a domestic economy that is doing reasonably well in the face of global headwinds, but also one that is vulnerable to external shocks.

Shares of Uranium One (TSX:UUU) gained 7%, or 15 cents per share, to close at $2.26.

Activity in the uranium industry was in focus as Cameco Corp. (TSX:CCO) completed a US$430-million deal to buy one of Australia’s largest undeveloped uranium deposits from BHP Billiton Ltd. (NYSE:BHP). Cameco shares rose 51 cents to $20.51.

General Motors will spend $5.5 billion to buy back 200 million shares of its stock from the U.S. Treasury by the end of this year. The Treasury plans to sell its remaining stake in GM over the next 15 months, allowing the automaker to shed the stigma of being partly owned by the American government. Shares of GM were up 8% to $27.62 in New York.

GM also announced it is moving production of the next version of its Camaro sports car from its Oshawa operation in Ontario to a plant in Michigan to save costs.

Here’s the news investors were watching today:

Economy still too weak to raise rates, IMF warns Canada

House prices fall in 10 of Canada’s 11 major markets for first time since 2009

UBS fined $1.5-billion after traders bribed brokers to fix Libor rate

GM Canada won’t build new Chevrolet Camaro in Oshawa

ON DECK THURSDAY

ECONOMIC NEWS

  • Bank of Japan announces monetary policy decision

CANADA

8:30 a.m.

  • Survey of employment, payrolls and earnings (Oct)
  • Retail sales (Oct): Economists expect 0.2% gain

UNITED STATES

8:30 a.m.

  • Weekly jobless claims: Economists expect 360,000 new claims, up from last week
  • Real GDP (Q3): Economists expect 2.8% growth annualized
  • Corporate profits (Q3)

10 a.m.

  • Existing home sales (Nov): Economists expect 2.3% rise from last month
  • FHFA house price index (Oct): Economists expect 0.3% gain
  • Philadelphia Fed index (Dec): Economists expect a reading of -3
  • Leading indicators (Nov): Economists expect 0.2% decline

CORPORATE NEWS

CANADA

  • Research In Motion Q3 earnings: Analysts expect a loss of 35¢ a share

UNITED STATES

  • ConAgra Foods Q2 earnings: Analysts expect 55¢ a share
  • Carnival Corp. Q4 earnings: Analysts expect 11¢
  • Nike Q2 earnings: Analysts expect US$1