Category Archives for "Personal Finances"

How to Save Money While Travelling, Airlines, Airports and Car Rentals

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

When we are travelling, most of us figure that if we have to pay for it we are probably being ripped off or paying too much and that will often be true.  We constantly get stuck paying annoying and usually hidden fees to part us with more of our money.  However there are ways to avoid paying pesky extra charges especially with airlines, at the airport and when renting a car.


Ticket Prices:  Airline prices are constantly changing, and it is hard to know if you are actually getting a good deal.  Using a price alert app will help you to get the best price for your flight.  If you want to really save money on that flight use your frequent flyer miles, but don’t forget that you still have to pay taxes.  When checking the price of your flight make sure that it includes taxes and surcharges so that you don’t get any nasty surprises!

Cancellation Fees:  It can be expensive to change a flight reservation so if you think that you might have to change your flight make sure that you buy a more flexible airfare that allows changes.  Even if you have to pay more it will usually be worth it.  

Booking on the Phone: If you prefer to speak to a real person when booking your flight, you will usually have to pay for this, but you can book online for free.  If you are really not keen on booking online then consider using a travel agent to do the work for you.

Travel Insurance:  Make sure that you get reliable advice when buying travel insurance to make sure that you are fully covered.  Your travel agent can usually advise you.  If you are booking on line be aware that many airlines will include travel insurance in the cost of the flight, and you have to deselect the insurance optionso that you do not pay for something that you are buying elsewhere. 

Airport Parking:  Using a Park and Fly is usually your best choice if you have to park at the airport.  However, pay attention to the dates that you reserve, and read the fine print.  Make sure that you are paying for the correct amount of time that you will be away. Ahead of time watch out for online deals and coupons.

Once you are at the airport you are essentially a hostage and anything you buy will be overpriced.  Avoid buying food at the airport by packing sealed non liquid snacks and an empty water bottle that you can fill once you have passed through security. 

Baggage Fees:  Pay attention when you book your flight to see how many (if any) are included in the price as well as the maximum weight allowance, so that you know what you will have to pay when you check in.  To avoid luggage charges if possible, travel with only a carry-on bag, but watch out because these also have restrictions now.

In-flight Meals and Drinks:  On many airlines especially budget ones, you have to pay for drinks, meals and snacks.  To avoid overpaying for what is usually a poor meal bring your own snacks and a water bottle.  Other things that you might be charged for during your flight are entertainment devices, headsets, blankets and pillows.  Also, if your destination requires payment of a departure tax (such as Cuba) make sure you are aware of this and keep back some currency to pay for it).


Decide if you really need to rent a car at all? There might be a cheaper alternative. If you just need the car to get around town, consider using a car sharing service.  If you are only going from one place to another, consider using public transit or ride sharing.  

If your travel plans allow look into camper van and car relocations.  Rental companies often have a glut of vehicles in the wrong place for their upcoming reservations and if it fits your plans it is a good option to save money on car rentals.  You will be given a number of days to relocate a vehicle. You are charged around $5 per day then usual rental rates for extra days.  Though you don’t usually get free mileage you get an allowance to get to your destination plus a bonus amount.  You will also get a fuel allowance. 

If you really do have to rent a car watch for advertised specials (such as fly-drive deals).  You should take out insurance but before you buy the rental company insurance check if you are covered for car rentals under your own or your credit card insurance.   Be aware that adding additional drivers to the rental agreement will mean extra fees which are never worked into the fees.  If you are under 25 you will probably have to pay a surcharge for car rental.  

Lastly, if you bring the car back empty, the rental agency will charge you way more to fill up on gas than if you brought it back full.  Make sure you fill up the car at a gas station close to your drop off point.  

Money Tips for Travelling Abroad

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Accessing and converting money while travelling abroad will always cost you but there are some ways of doing this that will cost you less.  Converting your money can comes with some horrendous fees which are often invisible to you, to help you here are some of the most common high fee currency exchanges to avoid.  

Converting Currency – Having some of the local currency in your pocket when you arrive in a foreign country may make you feel more comfortable, getting your cash before you leave Canada is a good idea.  Check online for the best exchange rates at local banks and currency exchanges.  Once you arrive at your destination do not exchange cash at an airport currency exchange counter, their fees are hugely overpriced sometimes as much as 15% more than at a bank.  While you are away use local bank branches or currency exchanges in town to convert your cash.

Watch out for money converting scams such as being short changed, check that the amount you are quoted is what you actually receive. 

Credit Card Conversion – most credit cards companies will add on a foreign exchange fee of around 2.5% when you use your card abroad.  To avoid these fees, get a travel credit card with free foreign exchange.  These often come with other travel perks, but you will also pay an annual fee.  Beware of vendors offering to sell to you in your home currency they are not doing you any favours, the deal will come with bigger and mostly invisible charges.

Debit and ATM Conversion – Banks also get a slice of the pie from currency conversion fees.  Hidden fees on ATM withdrawals and debit card charges are taken as a percentage of your transaction.  Although this is a fee, it is usually at the lowest conversion rate that you will find except for special exchange free credit cards.  If you are using an ATM machine abroad, make sure that it is bank affiliated as private machines will add an extra fee on top of the currency conversion fee.

Credit Card Cash Advances – If the ATM will not accept your debit card you may have no option but to use your credit card for a cash advance. Whether at home or abroad this type of transaction is expensive.  You will be charged a credit card advance fee as well as compounding interest from the day that you make the withdrawal on your entire credit card balance.  To avoid excess charges, go online as soon as you can and pay off your card in full (including the withdrawal service charge), preferably before withdrawing cash.

Traveler’s Cheques – Traveler’s cheques used to be the cheapest way to access cash while abroad but now fewer places are accepting them and they are harder to cash.  You will also pay commissions and fees on traveler’s cheques, and vendors may charge you a fee to cover the cost of cashing them. 

Buying an Airline Ticket Online? Look Out For These Scams

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

We all get excited when we think we have scored a deal especially when it comes to cheap airline tickets.  However, it pays to be cautious when buying online as airline ticket scams are fairly common and those thinking they have got a great deal can soon find out that they have been conned.  When you find a deal, research the company offering it.  Check out review sites and online forums to look for complaints and warnings about scams. 

The best way to protect yourself is to make friends with a travel agent and let them advise you when there are air travel deals to be had.  Buying tickets through a licensed travel agent is always the safest way to go so that you are covered under the Consumer Protection rules and regulations in effect in your province.

If you are buying tickets online, as well as booking on a registered travel agency website here are some tips to follow to avoid scams.

1.  Make sure that you are fully informed before you press submit:  Read the fine print to make sure that you know exactly what you are getting.  Double check dates, times, connections, seat allocation and luggage allowances.  

2.  Watch out for Phishing Scams: It is easy to be lured in by sites offering lower prices for the same flights offered on other sites.  Once you click accept to make a purchase, they collect all your credit card data then tell you that your payment was declined.  They may then ask you to wire payment which results in your money being stolen and your credit card being compromised.

3.  Be Sure that the Airline or Hotel has a Record of Your Booking:  Before you set out on your trip make sure that you check with the airline and the hotel directly to make sure that you have a legitimate booking.

4.  Watch out for the airline ticket credit scam:  Airline tickets are bought with stolen credit cards by scam artists who then cancel the tickets and get a credit and confirmation number.  They then offer the ticket credit for sale online at a discounted price saying that they are unable to take the flight.  You will be asked to wire money to pay for the flight and when you try to use the credit with the airline you will not be allowed to as it was bought with a stolen credit card.  

5.  Make sure you read the refund or exchange policy on your airline tickets:  Make sure that your ticket allows for you to make changes or to cancel your trip, otherwise you will be paying fees to make changes.

6.  Make sure that you are aware of flight time changes:  Sometimes on-line booking sites save money by putting passengers on cheaper flights without warning them beforehand of the time changes.  These changes can affect the remainder of your journey causing missed connections. Make sure that you check directly with the airline for any flight or time changes or cancellations at least 24 hours before departure and ask them to notify you of any changes to your booking.

7.  Make sure that you know what currency is being used on the website:  It is easy for Canadians to think that they are paying in Canadian dollars when they are actually paying in US dollars which is a big price difference.   Make sure that you know if you can be charged more if the exchange rate changes.  Try and get a fixed price that is not affected by changes in the exchange rate.

From an article by The Travel Industry Council of Ontario

Travel Booking Scams and how to Avoid Them

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Summer is here and it’s time to think about getting away from it all.  We all know how scammers are trying to trick us at home, but did you know that they are also busy trying to scam you out of your trip? In a report from the Association of British Travel Agents Fraudsters conned UK holidaymakers out of approx. $12 million Can in 2018 with an average financial loss of approx. $2800 Can per person. Fraudsters are using more and more sophisticated methods to target destinations and popular times of the year when demand is high, and availability is limited. People are looking for a good deal, and once they find out that they have been conned, it can be difficult and expensive to get a legitimate booking.

Here are five major booking scams to watch for and how to avoid them:

1. Fake Websites That Look Real

About 53% of travel scams are related to the sale of airline tickets.  This can include booking on a fake site, receiving an imitation ticket or paying for a ticket that you never get.  These types of scams are also common with accommodation and package deals.  Often people do not check that a site is authentic before booking and some don’t even know how to check.  

Before paying a deposit make sure the web address is legitimate.  Check the domain name, .net or .org are rarely used for shopping sites.   Also check for https:// (rather than http://) which should always be on the payment page showing that the site is secure.  Other clues to a fraudulent website are misspellings, wrong words or characters, fuzzy or low-resolution pictures of logos, trade associations and payment and card companies.

2. Being Directed Away from Trusted Sites for Payment

Fraudsters lure people away from trusted sites and request payment on a separate site, often offering a better price.  Alarm bells should also ring if you are asked for payment via an online bank transfer.

You should never pay by online bank transfer, always pay by credit card as you will get more protection from fraud.  If you are scammed, paying by credit card will give you a better chance of getting your money back.   Keep all communications on trusted websites.

3. Avoid Pop-ups Advertising “Amazing Deals”

Unsolicited promotional emails can often look legit but will sometimes click through to a fake website.  Watch out for the tell-tale signs of a fake website, and definitely avoid fake competition scams, like the current ones by phone for Westjet and Marriott Hotels.

Validate deals by logging on directly to trusted websites.  Once you know that the deal is valid use that trusted website to make your bookings.  

4. Fake Accommodation Listings

Accommodation bookings account for 25% of all reported scams.  These scams can include luxury villas at discounted rates. Sometimes the villas do not exist and other times they are offered without the owner’s knowledge.  These scams happen most often with accommodations in France and Spain.

It pays to do your research to make sure that this is a real listing, contact the owner or agent directly and again minimize risks by booking through a trusted platform. 

5. Using Unsecured Networks While Away

Booking travel when away from home can be a major security concern as your private data can be exposed via clouds and wi-fi.  The majority of vacationers use wi-fi during their trip and many do not check the security of their internet connection despite getting pop-up warnings. Public wi-fi includes both secured and unsecured networks.  Unsecured networks can be connected without the use of a password or login.  Secured networks require you to register for an account or password before connecting.   

Avoid sharing sensitive data or bank information over unsecured networks. Consider using a VPN that will encrypt your data and to help keep your connection secure.

From an article in The Guardian International Edition

How Do Credit Card Companies Make Money?

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances

If you think that because you pay off your credit card balance each month your credit card company is not making any money off of you….then think again.

Credit card companies make money in several different ways; from fees including annual fees, interest and transactions paid by businesses that accept credit cards.

Money from Interest:  

The majority of the money made by credit companies comes from interest payments that cardholders make.  If you pay your balance each month then you do not pay interest.  Look for credit cards that offer lower interest rates.

Money from Fees 

Annual Fees:  Annual fees are usually paid for cards with a high rewards rate and those for people with a less than good credit rating.  If you choose a rewards card you need to make sure that the rewards that you will receive each year are higher than the annual fee that you are paying, otherwise the card is probably not worth having and you should go for a card with no annual fee. 

Cash Advance Transaction Fees:  Unless it is an absolute emergency you should not use your credit card for cash advances.  This type of transaction comes with fees, very high interest rates and no grace period.  There is usually a fee if you are use an ATM to withdraw the money ranging from 2% to 5% or a flat fee amount such as $5.

Balance Transfer Fees:  If you transfer a balance from one card to another to get a lower interest rate, then you will usually be charged 3% - 5% of the amount transferred.  

Late Fees:  Not making at least your minimum payment by the due date will earn you a late fee.  If you are continually late it can also earn you a report at the credit bureau.

Foreign Exchange Fees:  If you use your credit card to pay for buy something abroad using your card you are charged a spot rate and an additional percentage usually 2.5%.  To avoid paying these extra fees look for a card that has no fees though they are few and far between.

Interchange Fees:  This is the amount that the merchant pays as a processing fee and it is equal to a percentage of the transaction.  This is called “interchange” and usually accounts for 1% - 3% of the transaction.  The fees are set by the payment network and are usually based on volume and value of transactions.

How you can limit the amount of money that credit card companies make from you:

  • Pay your balance in full each month to avoid interest charges.
  • Make sure you pay your bill on time to avoid late charges
  • Don’t use your credit card for cash advances.
  • Choose a credit card without balance transfer fees.
  • Pay an annual fee only if the rewards are greater than the cost.

Credit Card Terms That You Should Know

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Small Business

If you are thinking about applying for a credit card it pays to shop around to find the best one for you taking your lifestyle into consideration.  Things to consider are the interest rate, the annual fee (or no annual fee) and cards which offer rewards and cash back.  It is also important to know the basic credit card terms and definitions so that you know exactly what you are signing up for.

Annual Fee:  This is the yearly charge you pay to use the card and its benefits.  If you want travel points and cash back, you usually have to pay a yearly fee.  If you are not wanting the rewards or other benefits, there are cards with no annual fee.

Annual Percentage Rate:  This is the annual cost of borrowing money on your credit card.  Cards have a variety of APR rates, for purchases, balance transfers, cash advances and penalties for not paying on time.  The APR on purchases is charged after the grace period ends.

Credit Limit:  The credit limit is the most that you can spend on your card.  If you have a short credit history, then your credit limit will probably be small.  As gain more credit history your limit will increase as long as you make your payments on time.  It is important not to go over your limit, though that is difficult to do as the credit card company will usually decline transactions over your limit.   If you do go over your limit you will incur charges.

Credit Score:  Your credit score tells the lender how likely you are to pay back the money loaned to you on your card.  Everything about credit cards affects your credit score including the number of cards that you have, your entire payment history, and other factors associated with your debt history.  Your credit score can also affect other areas such as getting a loan for a house or car.

Due Date:  This is the date when your minimum payment is due, usually by 5pm on that day.  If you do not make your payment by the due date you will incur a late fee and perhaps an increased APR and a report will be sent to the credit bureau.

Grace Period:  This is the time period when interest is not assessed after a purchase is made.  With some cards there is only a grace period if you do not have a balance on your card.   

Late Payment Fee:  If you don’t make at least your minimum payment by the due date, you will be assessed a late payment fee.  The late payment fee is based on the size of your balance.

Minimum Payment:  Your minimum payment is the lowest amount that you can pay each month and still remain in good standing with your credit card company.  It will usually be between 1% and 3% of your outstanding card balance.  Paying only your minimum payment each month is not good for your credit score and it will take you a long time to pay off your debt.  

Revolving Balance:  A revolving balance on your credit card is the amount of your credit limit that you have used and not repaid.  This is the part of your credit limit on which you pay interest every day because you did not pay it off at the end of the previous month.  If you pay your balance in full each month you will not have a revolving balance.

Security Code (CVV):  The security code or Card Verification Value (CVV) on your credit card is mostly used when you make online purchases.  It keeps your card safe from credit card skimmers as the CVV code is not included in the magnetic strip on your card.

For more information about credit cards go to:                                 

Places Where it Can be Risky to Swipe Your Debit Card

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Canada is among the biggest per capita users of debit cards in the world and more than 99% of transactions occur without incident every year.  We are lucky in Canada that we are protected by the Canadian Code of Practice for Consumer Debit Card Services and Interac policies.  This means that your financial institution must reimburse you in full if you are a victim of debit card fraud as long as you took reasonable care to keep your account and PIN safe.   

Financial institutions are continually upgrading card security to foil would be thieves, and the introduction of chip technology means that the store terminal and your card communicate with each other during the transaction and carry out security checks to ensure that the card is valid.  This technology is very difficult to duplicate, and it means that debit card fraud losses have dropped by 92%.  Despite this protection from your bank, you should still be extra vigilant when using your card in the following places.

Non-bank ATM’s - A favourite method of stealing debit card details is through card skimming.  This happens when you swipe your card through a skimming device in what you think is a legitimate transaction.  The skimmer retrieves your debit card information which the thief will get when he picks up the skimmer.  These devices are often placed on ATM’s which are not attached to a bank, especially those in gas stations, hotel lobbies, small stores, or any outdoor locations.  As the ATM’s are not owned by a bank, they are not always well monitored so become a target for thieves. 

Mobile Vendors - Thieves can pose as legitimate street vendors swiping your card through mobile card terminals when they are actually swiping your card through a skimming device.  You should be especially careful when using your card at events, street markets and other places where small businesses process card payments remotely.

Gas Stations - Skimmers are often found here as the readers are not always well monitored.  Before you swipe your card, give the terminal a slight tug and if it does not feel secure do not swipe your card.  You should pay for your gas inside or go to another gas station.  It is better to suffer the inconvenience rather than having to deal with debit card fraud.

Self-Checkout Lines - Self-checkout lines in major retailers are also a prime target.  Skimming devices are placed over the card readers often by a team of thieves one watching the camera while one places the skimmer over the card reader.  Your information can also be stolen remotely using Bluetooth technology.  Once they have your information it can be used to create clone cards, or scan be sold on old to others for fraudulent purchases.

How you can find out quickly if your debit card has been compromised

Your bank will usually investigate if they see any unusual activity on your card and you will often be reimbursed before you even know it has happened. However, it is a good idea to continually (at least once a week) monitor your bank account so that you can report anything suspicious immediately.  Your current bank card can then be cancelled and a new one issued with a new number and PIN number.  

To try and minimize your losses consider regularly changing your PIN number, keeping only a small amount of money in your checking account and turning off any overdraft protection.  You are not liable for any fraudulent charges, but it can be a hassle dealing with debit card fraud. 

Tips to Keep Your Credit Card Safe

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Today, more than ever it is crucial to keep your credit card information safe.  How often do you think about the safety of your credit card transactions and what you can do to guard against theft?            

Here are some precautions to consider:

  1. As soon as you receive a new card sign the back for more protection should your card ever be stolen.
  2. Make sure that you don’t let anyone see your PIN (personal identification number) when you put it into a card reader or ATM. Always choose a number that you will remember.  Do not use birthdays, phone numbers, social insurance numbers or family names, and NEVER write the number down and save it in your wallet.
  3. Do not give out your credit card information to a caller.  Make sure that you initiate the call and know that you are dealing with a legitimate business. Never give out your number over a cordless phone as these can be scanned easily and cheaply by radio scanners.
  4. Make sure that you always get your card back after you use it and that you watch the sales person as they are processing your purchase.
  5. Always check your monthly statement and make sure that the charges are all yours.
  6. Destroy any voided or cancelled sales receipts yourself and cut up expired credit cards.
  7. Keep a list of your credit card numbers and toll-free numbers and keep it in a safe place so that you have it should you need to contact the credit card company to report a lost or stolen card.
  8. If your credit card is lost or stolen report it immediately to limit your liability.

If you are using your credit card for online purchases, follow these guidelines to avoid credit card fraud and identity theft.

  1. Only use websites that you trust. Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails as they could lead you to a fake website which has been set up to steal your information.  The safest way is to go directly to the website by typing the URL in in your web browser.
  2. Don’t make online credit card purchases from public places.  As public computers are less secure there is more chance of your information being stolen.  You are not safe even if you are using your own computer in a coffee shop, hackers have access to the same wi-fi signal and can intercept your information. 
  3. Make sure that your home computer is protected by the latest up to date anti-virus and anti-spyware from a reputable company.  Do not use anti-virus software advertised in a pop-up ad or from a link in an email.
  4. Check the reputation of a business with the Better Business Bureau if you have never bought from them before.  Do not use your credit card at any website with a poor customer service record.   
  5. Never give out more than the normally required personal information such as your address and phone number. Do not give out your social insurance number. If the site seems to be asking for more than the normal amount of information log out and don’t use it.  
  6. Make sure that the credit card entry page that you are using is secure.  To do this, check the URL in your browser bar. Secure sites have addresses starting with https:// and there should be a lock or a seal in the bottom right corner. 
  7. Avoid leaving your credit card information on the website for future purchases.  Although this is more convenient, if the site is hacked then your information could be compromised.  
  8. Always print your online purchase receipts and make sure that the amount that you are billed matches the amount on your credit card statement.
  9. Think about using a credit card with a a small credit limit to buy online.  If your account is compromised criminals will not have access to thousands of dollars.

Online shopping can be a treasure trove for fraudsters as the securities that are present when you buy at a brick and mortar store are not present online, such as using your pin number to verify your purchase.   So, it is best to take precautions to avoid the hassle of fraudulent charges and your account being compromised.

The Personal Tax Filing Deadline is April 30th – Some Last Minute Reminders

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Personal Income Tax

The deadline for filing your personal taxes April 30th is almost here.  Here are some things to remember before you start the filing process.

1.  Most Canadian residents need to file an income tax return for the previous year to pay the correct amount of income tax owed, pay back overpayment of benefits or to claim benefits.

2.  If you file late and owe money the CRA will charge you interest and penalties on the unpaid amount.  So even if you know that you will have to pay, help yourself by at least filing on time.

3.  Before you tackle your income-tax return be sure that you have all the following information on hand.

  • Information from the CRA including your notice of assessment from the previous year.
  • All your tax information slips such as T4’s from employers, as well as your investment information slips and RRSP contribution receipts from your bank.
  • Information on other income such as self-employment income.
  • Receipts for tax deductions such as medical expenses and donations.

4.  Decide how you are going to file your taxes either a paper copy or online using NETFILE, and make sure that you have the correct tax package for your province. The advantage of using NETFILE is that you get immediate confirmation that your return has been received and if you are owed a refund you will get it much faster, sometimes within two weeks of filing.

5.  If your taxes are complicated for example if you run a small business it is often better to use a tax professional to prepare and file your return, however to save yourself some money you should still spend time sorting your receipts and getting everything ready for your accountant.

6.  There are a few different ways to pay any income tax due; by mailing a cheque to the CRA, using online or telephone banking, using the CRA’s My Payment Service or making a payment at your bank.  If you have to pay your taxes by installments you can set up a payment arrangement with the CRA.

7.  Set up a direct deposit with the CRA so that your tax refund and any benefit payments are deposited directly to your bank account.

Need Help With Your Return? Where to Get Answers to Your Income Tax Questions

By Randall Orser | Investments , Personal Finances , Personal Income Tax

The April 30th deadline is rapidly approaching.  If you are in a panic about your tax return and need answers to some questions, here are some places you can go for help.

1.  If your tax return is complicated it is always best to get a tax professional such as Number Crunchers® to complete it for you. We know all the ins and outs of tax returns and we can answer your questions and make sense of the chaos.

2. If you still want to go it alone, get a Canadian Income Tax Package.  This used to be mailed out but can now be downloaded and printed from the CRA Website.  The package includes line by line instructions to help you to fill out your return.

3. Head to the CRA website at to find forms and publications by topic.

4. The CRA has an automated Tax Information Phone Service (TIPS) for personal and general tax information.  To find out more go to  Before calling you need to make sure that you have the following information on hand: your social insurance number, your month and year of birth and the total income that you recorded on line 150 of your 2017 return.

5. Tax information for individuals, businesses, charities and trusts can be found at

6. Phone Inquiries – you can reach a CRA representative by calling 1-800-959-8281 but expect to wait a while to talk to someone, they are extremely busy at this time of year.  They do have extended evening and weekend hours up to April 30th, (9am to 9pm local time during the week and 9am to 5pm Saturdays local time) and they do suggest calling Thursday or Friday when the phones are usually less busy.

7. For help with CRA online services you can go to their E-Service Help Desk at

8. If you need help with a very basic return that does not include bankruptcy, deceased individuals, capital gains or losses, employment expenses or business or rental income and expenses there are Volunteer Income Tax Preparation Clinics offered by the CRA.  These are only to help people who meet their basic eligibility requirements such as maximum income levels.  For more information about locations go to

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