Bellas-Business-Lawyer-300x194Should your small business be dealing in the online currencies (“cryptocurrencies”) like Bitcoin? What are they, anyway, and what are the risks and benefits?

Bitcoin is what’s known as a “cryptocurrency,” a digital coin that buyers and sellers of goods and services can use to undertake transactions over the Internet such as restaurant bills and tuition fees. Bitcoin is not the only such cryptocurrency—Ethereum is another example—but it’s probably the best known.

One acquire Bitcoins in one of several ways: as payment for goods or services, by purchasing them at a Bitcoin exchange, by exchanging them with a willing partner, and through what’s called competitive mining, which involves using special software to solve math problems. They are stored in one’s encrypted online “wallet” and transmitted via a “blockchain” when a transaction is consummated, assuming the price of the good or service does not exceed the buyer’s available balance. One can convert Bitcoins to cash if another party agrees to buy them.

George Bellas Business LawyerIt’s the holiday season: time for small businesses to plan their annual parties and give employees a chance to celebrate, unwind and get to know one another better, right?

The correct answer is yes, but. But you need to make sure that employees understand they are still at a work-related function and certain behavior remains out of bounds. But if you are planning to serve alcohol, employees need to comprehend that’s no excuse for being sloppy drunk and obnoxious.

But if they are over-served, employees need to know that’s no excuse for sexual harassment–nor, in the age of #metoo, is anything else. It’s not only morally and ethically wrong but can result in a legally problematic morning after for not only the perpetrator but also your business.

George Bellas Business Attorney
The Federal Communications Commission will vote December 14 on whether to repeal so-called “net neutrality” rules.  Those in favor of the current rules, established in 2015, say this would mean a playing field tilted toward those with money to pay Internet service providers for rapid content delivery speeds, giving them a fast lane to consumers’ desktops, tablets and phones.  What would that mean for small businesses?

The plan, put forth by current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and supported in writing by the two other Republican appointees on the five-person commission—thus making its passage likely—would reverse the Obama era decision classifying Broadband Internet Access Service (BIAS) as a telecommunications service. Instead these providers—which include wired telephone companies, wireless carriers and cable television service providers—would be reclassified as offering information services.

The 2015 classification, which received a 3-2 affirmative vote in the then-Democratic-controlled FCC, was affirmed in June 2016 by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In declaring broadband providers as telecommunications services, the FCC promulgated rules that stopped providers from blocking access to content and applications, slowing the speed with which users could access content, and charging fees to those willing to pay to have their content disseminated more rapidly.

The new iPhone X uses facial recognition instead of a thumb print.  That is cool, right?ransomware-300x211

Not so fast.  Facial recognition software is just one of a group of metrics that is referred to biometrics, which includes facial scans, fingerprints and iris scans and all verification or identification data excluding the individual’s name and demographics.   And there are serious privacy concerns with the use of this biometric data.

What makes this more interesting is that Illinois has a very strict law about the use of this data.   The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act was adopted in 2008 and requires companies using biometric data to get the consumer’s consent to use the data and to explain how it will be used and how long the data will be retained.  And, it gives consumers the right to sue the companies for using the biometric data.   It is this penalty which is promoting a number of suits that have been filed in Illinois regarding the use of the biometric data.

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Under a new Illinois law, non-compete agreements must be premised on a legitimate business interest and narrowly tailored in terms of time, activity, and place.  In addition, under the newly enacted Illinois Freedom to Work Act, employers are prohibited from entering into non-competes with employees who make less than $13/hour.

To prove the point, the Illinois Attorney General filed a suit in October against a payday loan company (Check Into Cash) because the employer required all store employees, including those making under $13 an hour, to agree to a one-year non-compete.  The suit alleges that the non-compete prohibits all store employees from working “directly or indirectly . . . as an employee, officer, consultant, or in any other capacity, for any individual, firm or entity, which provides deferred presentment, deferred deposit, and/or any other payday advance services, . . . and/or any other consumer lending services or https://www.businessattorneychicago.com/files/2017/11/11.1.17-1-300x150.jpgmoney services.”  The suit contends that the non-compete in question: (1) prohibits employees from working within 15 miles of any Check Into Cash location, not just the store the employee works in; (2) prohibits employees from working for any company that directly or indirectly provides consumer lending services, regardless of whether that company competes with Check Into Cash; (3) applies equally to all store employees, regardless of position or time spent with the company; and (4) applies to employees who make less than $13 an hour.  See: http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2017_10/20171025d.html

Employers should review their non-compete agreements to ensure compliance with Illinois law.  All restrictive covenants should: (1) be supported by adequate consideration; (2) narrowly tailored, in time, activity, and geography, to protect the employer’s legitimate business interests; and (3) not apply to low-wage employees as defined by the Freedom to Work Act.  If the employer is concerned about a low-wage employee’s exposure to trade secret information, they should also consider other means of protection, such as confidentiality agreements.

Can Student Loans Ever Be Discharged?

Yes, and there’s a new tool to help bankruptcy lawyers deter29905732 mine whether clients qualify

Contrary to common perception, not all student loans can be wiped out in bankruptcy court. Although the Bankruptcy Code does protect federal loans and some private loans from discharge, student loans can be discharged if the debtor can prove an “undue hardship,” which usually means you’re living in poverty and not likely to escape any time soon.

Responding to Negative Online Reviews

How can business owners or professional service providers fight back against online negative reviews, and when should lawsuits be part 26569957of their arsenal?

Review sites like Yelp provide customers a way to share their feelings with fellow consumers and the businesses they’re reviewing, and business owners need to monitor them to protect and e nhance their brand reputations. They should not only express appreciation to happycustomers but respond quickly and civilly to those who are not.

Are you among the estimated 143 million Americans whose identity information might have been compromised by the hack into the server of credit bureau Equifax? If so, freezing your credit is probably the best thing you can do to protect yourself, experts say.

This requires contacting all three major credit bureaus either by phone or on their website to request a freeze. This will involve a small fee depending on where you live, which you can check at the TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax websites.

Doing so will throw roadblocks in the way of identity thieves who might want to open a credit card or take out a loan in your name. The only downside aside from the nominal cost is that you will have to unfreeze your credit the next time you want to make a major financial transaction, which very well might cost you again—although again, not much. You will be given a PIN code for purposes of unfreezing, so keep this information in a safe place.

BIG WOES FOR ZILLO

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Zillo, the gigantic online real-estate database company, has a gigantic headache, legally speaking. It is currently the target of a class action lawsuit in Illinois. Zillow is the website that allows a person to search for properties for sale–properties located just about anywhere. And Zillow’s cornerstone feature–Zestimate–allows one to look up the estimated value of a property–most any property, most anywhere, whether it is for sale or not.  (Your own home may well be listed there right now; just go to the site and put in your address.)

Lots of people love Zillo; it is free, comprehensive and convenient.   Its legal problems stem from its Zestimate feature.

CYBER-SECURITY–A VITAL PRECAUTION

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It is time for businesses to give cyber-crime protection high priority; the sooner the better.  The mounting numbers of cyber-attacks on businesses are a serious threat to every sort of commercial enterprise.  Cyber intrusions have become really dangerous, sophisticated, and commonplace.

Businesses are attacked (whether they know it or not) on an average of 16,856 times a year, according to statistics compiled by IBM. That’s 46 attacks every business must deal with every day — or nearly two attacks an hour. Most of these–the vast majority of them–never get past a business’s firewall. But on average, about 1.7 attacks get through.