How Much Is Your Data Worth To Criminals?

Joe Welker | March 13th, 2015
Ransomware

There is no way to completely protect yourself and your network, but there are ways to preempt an attack against you and your business.

How much would you pay to regain access to your company’s network if it was compromised and held for ransom? Are you willing to shell hundreds of dollars to take your information back from a cybercriminal, or are you willing (and able) to just walk away and start anew? I wish I were asking hypothetical questions but, unfortunately, the increased popularity of Ransomware has made the risk of such an attack a very, very real possibility.

Sandra Ponczkowski, a manager of the IT security company KnowBe4, recently shared Your Money or Your Life Files, a whitepaper that details the history and real threat of Ransomware, a computer infection that encrypts all files of known file types on your local computer and server shared drives. Once infected, it becomes impossible for you to access your documents or applications that use these encrypted files. The only way to recover from such an infection is to either restore your machine by using backup media, or accommodating the hacker’s demands and paying their ransom.

Unfortunately, I know of several situations where the businesses involved in a Ransomware attack had no choice but to pay ransom demands to the cybercriminal. The silver lining for these companies was that, upon paying the ransom, they were able to obtain the assailant’s encryption key code, which allowed them to unencrypt their data and regain access to their data.

Long-term protection, however, cannot be guaranteed and there is a chance that your data can be held for ransom again.

The literature provided by KnowBe4 details the fluency with which the popular Ransomware infection CryptoLocker changes and adapts once a solution to unencrypt infected data files becomes available. When this happens, the CryptoLocker infection will evolve into a new strain, thus making the previous solution unusable.

While there is no way to completely protect yourself and your network, there are ways to preempt an attack against you and your business. I recommend the following best practices.

  1. Train yourself and your employees about computer safety practices.
  2. Complete a yearly review of your employee’s access rights to company-owned computers, server folders and backup media. For example, only a few, strategic employees should have access to the company’s folders and data. As a general rule, employee access should be restricted to include only the programs and software required for them to do their jobs. This also applies to work-from-home employees who typically attach a USB drive to their machines for backup protection.
  3. If you don’t already, put a disaster recovery in place and test it ever year to ensure accuracy and completeness.

Following these practices should make your business’s Ransomware prevention and recovery much easier. Email Rea & Associates to learn find out more about the importance of protecting your company’s online security.

By Joe Welker, CISA (New Philadelphia office)

 

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Update: Ohio Tax Quiz Appears To Be Working

Lisa Beamer | March 13th, 2015
Tax ID Quiz

According to officials at the Ohio Department of Taxation, while the new Identification Confirmation Quiz may be a pain in the neck, it appears to be working as a identity theft deterrent – Rea & Associates – Ohio CPA Firm

We have learned over the last month that Ohio’s new system of validating taxpayer identification, the Identification Confirmation Quiz, appears to be working.

In an effort to boost security and prevent tax-fraud in the state, the Ohio Department of Taxation introduced the quiz at the onset of the 2015 tax season and began flagging tax returns with data points that are inconsistent with public and commercial data sources. If their returns are flagged, taxpayers are required to take a Quiz to prove their identities.

Read: Theft Safeguards To Cause Tax Return Delays In Ohio

“Through Feb. 18, more than 1.3 million tax returns have been filed with about 874,000 requesting a state income tax refund. About half of the refund requests have been selected for additional screening to ensure that they were not filed by an I.D. thief,” stated Ohio’s Tax Commissioner Joe Testa in a press release. “About 97 percent of taxpayers taking the quiz are passing. That proves they are who they say they are.”

That means about 3 percent who fail the test are being declined to receive refunds that they would have normally received in previous years. As long as that 3 percent consists of actual identity thieves, the results reported are significant.

By Lisa Beamer, CPA (New Philadelphia Office)

 

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5 Tax Deductions To Ease Your Business’s Tax Burden

Lesley Mast | March 12th, 2015
Tax Deductions Add Up

If you made a donation to a nonprofit organization last year, it’s almost guaranteed that you are eligible to deduct at least a portion of your contribution from your income.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported earlier this month that nearly 59 million 2014 federal tax returns have been filed so far this filing season. While that may sound like a lot, there’s still a ways to go as, according to IRS estimates, three of five taxpayers are still waiting to file. For those of you still working on your tax prep, there is still time to claim some valuable deductions. Here are five deduction options to help small businesses make the most of the 2015 filing season:

1. Ohio Small Business Deduction

Many small business owners in Ohio are eligible to receive help from the state on their 2014 tax returns through the Ohio Small Business Deduction. Initiated by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and considered to be “the largest overall tax reduction in the country,” the deduction allows eligible small businesses to take a 50 percent tax deduction on their first $250,000 of business income. However, for the 2014 taxable year only, that percentage was increased to become a 75 percent deduction of “net business income from an individual’s adjusted gross income reported on their Ohio personal income tax return.” Your financial advisor can help you learn more about the Ohio Small Business deduction and help you take your business strategy to the next level.

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2. Section 179 Deduction

When Congress voted in favor of the Tax Extenders Act late last year, among the many tax incentives that were extended included an action to retroactively reinstate the $500,000 depreciation limit on the Section 179 deduction as well as the 50 percent bonus depreciation. Together, these tax incentives have the potential to save you and your company hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment purchases. Limits and restrictions do apply, however, so make sure to work with a trusted advisor who can make sure your purchases actually qualify.

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3. Personal Vehicle Deduction

If you drive your personal vehicle for business, then you may be able to deduct the expenses related to your car or truck as long as the vehicle was actually used for business purposes and not just commuting. A professional advisor can help you determine if you qualify to claim the deduction and can help determine which deduction method is the best one to use given your personal circumstances.

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4. Stock Gains Deduction

Some qualified businesses may also be able to exclude the gains generated by qualified small business stock per provision IRC Sec. 1202. Originally passed by Congress in the 1990s, this provision was designed to help reinvigorate the importance of continued investment into our country’s small business infrastructure. This incentive is a little more difficult than some of the others, but if you qualify, you could realize significant savings. Because of the complicated nature of this particular provision, it is essential that you work with a tax advisor to find out if you qualify.

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5. Charitable Giving Deduction

If you make a donation to a nonprofit organization during the year, it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to deduct at least a portion of your contribution from your income. But there are rules that need to be adhered to. A good financial advisor can help you get the maximum benefit for every dollar donated.

Read More

For more information related to specific tax and deduction questions related to your business, email Rea & Associates.

By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)

 

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Obamacare: Some Taxpayers Get Second Chance To Purchase Health Insurance

Joe Popp | March 12th, 2015
Special Obamacare Open Enrollment Period

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have taken steps to create a special enrollment period to allow individuals and families to secure 2015 health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace. – Rea & Associates – Ohio CPA Firm

Did you get hit with the “shared responsibility payment” for not carrying health insurance on yourself or your family members in 2014? If so, you’re not alone.

Read: Are You Prepared To Pay? Obamacare’s Shared Responsibility Provision

Americans who were unaware of (or who simply didn’t understand) the fees they would be subjected to as a result of not carrying health insurance coverage may have been equally surprised to learn that the open enrollment period to obtain coverage for 2015 closed last month – meaning that even if they wanted to avoid the fees next year, they were out of luck. Fortunately, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) realized this dilemma and took steps to create a special enrollment period to allow individuals and families in this bind to secure 2015 health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace. This will be a big help to those who may have found out that they were eligible for premium subsidies to help pay for insurance – a little too late. The new open enrollment period is March 15, 2015, through April 30, 2015, and is only available for individuals and/or families that:

  • Are not currently enrolled in federally-facilitated coverage for 2015,
  • Had to pay an individual mandate on Form 1040 of their 2014 tax return, and
  • Live in a state with a federally-facilitated exchange (Ohio residents qualify. Those who do not live in Ohio may click here for a full list of other qualified states).

According to CMS, eligible enrollees also must “attest that they first became aware of, or understood the implications of, the Shared Responsibility Payment after the end of open enrollment in connection with preparing their 2014 taxes.” “We recognize that this is the first tax filing season where consumers may have to pay a fee or claim an exemption for not having health insurance coverage,” sad CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in a press release. “Our priority is to make sure consumers understand the new requirement to enroll in health coverage and to provide those who were not aware or did not understand the requirement with an opportunity to enroll in affordable coverage this year.” Note that even if you don’t qualify for this open enrollment, there are a number of qualifying events that let you sign up for coverage on the exchange any time of year. If you want to know whether you qualify for subsidies to help shoulder the burden of health insurance, click here. Or you can email Rea & Associates for any Affordable Care Act questions.

By Joseph Popp, JD, LLM (Dublin office)  

 

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The ‘Van Halen Philosophy’ of Retirement Plan Compliance

Paul McEwan | March 5th, 2015
David Lee Roth Performs

Singer David Lee Roth once said he “found the SIMPLE life ain’t so simple.: We think the same can be said about retirement plan compliance.
Pictured above: David Lee Roth performs with classic rock band Van Halen during a concert in 2012. Photo by Robert Yager

While I don’t really believe David Lee Roth and Van Halen were thinking about SEP or SIMPLE IRA retirement plans when they performed their 1978 classic rock song, “Runnin’ with the Devil,” the connection between the two is an easy one to make.

“I found the SIMPLE life ain’t so simple”

The many small business clients we work with who choose to sponsor these types of retirement plans do so because they are inexpensive to administer and they enable our clients to provide a reasonable retirement benefit for themselves and to their employees. However, these plans are far from simple to operate and, if you’re not on your game, can be full of costly traps. The “Devil” is in the details as they say.

Top 5 SEP and SIMPLE Compliance Failures

Here is a rundown of the top five compliance failures we see. If not identified and corrected in a timely manner, these compliance concerns can result in the loss of favorable tax benefits for you and your employees or potentially large penalties and corrective contributions for your business.

  1. No Current Plan Document – All retirement plans require a governing document that identifies the plan sponsor (and any related employers) and defines the plan’s terms. The IRS provides a model document for you to use for these types of plans, but you have to complete it and keep it in your plan files.
  2. All Employees are Not Covered – Both SEPs and SIMPLE plans require that all employees (including employees of related employers) meeting a minimum eligibility requirement be covered and that they receive the same contribution (as a percentage of their compensation). Other than for minimal service and age requirements specified in the plan document, no other employees may be excluded.
  3. Using the Wrong Definition of Compensation – Compensation used to determine the contributions that need to be made to the plan generally includes all wages, bonuses, tips, commissions and any elective salary deferral contributions, and is limited to a certain dollar amount depending on the year (for 2014 the limit was $260,000).
  4. Untimely Employee Notices and No Summary Plan Description – Sponsors of SIMPLE IRA plans need to tell employees before the beginning of each year whether they intend to make a  match contribution or a profit sharing contribution . Eligible employees must also receive a summary of the basic SEP or SIMPLE plan provisions.
  5. Untimely Remittance of Employee Salary Deferrals – All employee contributions must be remitted to the IRA of each participant within 30 days after the month in which the employee would have otherwise received the money.

A great time to review your compliance with retirement laws and regulations is during tax time at year end. Whether you need help understanding your plan design options or compliance requirements as a retirement plan sponsor, help is available. Email Rea & Associates for more information.

By Paul McEwan, CPA, MT, AIFA (New Philadelphia office)

 

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Is A Sale-Leaseback Transaction Right For Your Business?

Ben Antonelli | March 3rd, 2015
Sales-Leaseback Transaction

Is it a better business strategy to enter into a sale-leaseback transaction on your current office building or other business property? Make sure you know the pros and cons before making any decisions – Rea & Associates – Ohio CPA Firm

Are you looking for a plan to increase your business’s cash flow? If you own business property, you may be able to benefit by entering into a sale-leaseback transaction. But while there several great benefits to this type of agreement, there are also some significant drawbacks. So, before you draw up the paperwork, schedule a time to meet with your financial advisor to find out if the benefit outweighs the risk.

Advantages Of A Sale-Leaseback Transaction

A sale-leaseback transaction occurs when you, the real estate owner and occupier, sell your property to a third party on the condition that they agree to lease the property to you. Entering into this type of arrangement has several benefits, including increasing your business’ cash flow while freeing your business up to allocate the capital to other areas of your business. Additional benefits include:

  • As the seller and eventual lessor, you essentially maintain control of the property, which prevents operational disruptions from occurring.
  • Assuming the current property is financed with debt, this long-term debt can be eliminated from the balance sheet under certain lease arrangements.
  • From a tax perspective, you gain an additional annual “write-off” for the portion of rent related to the land (as land is not depreciated).

Drawbacks Of A Sale-Leaseback Transaction

Perhaps the most significant disadvantage of entering into this type of agreement is that you stand to lose the flexibility that comes with owning the property outright since these transactions usually are for longer terms than a typical property lease (15 or more years). The typical sale-leaseback transaction takes the form of a “triple net lease,” which usually states that you, as the tenant, will be responsible for the net real estate taxes, net building insurance and net common area maintenance. Other disadvantages include:

  • The loss of the real estate’s appreciation value over the course of a lengthy lease term.
  • Significant income tax impact that comes in to play when a property’s sale price significantly exceeds the property’s “book value.” This typically occurs when you are selling a property that has been owned for a long period of time prior to the sale.
  • A decrease in your Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) as your depreciation expense on the property is replaced by the rent expense.

The financial benefits of sale-leasebacks must be balanced with your unique strategic and operating considerations. A financial advisor and business consultant can help identify whether this option is right for you and your business. Email Rea & Associates to learn more about sale-leaseback transactions and other strategic business decisions. By Ben Antonelli, CPA (Dublin office)  

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If You Buy Online You Might Owe Use Tax

Joe Popp | March 2nd, 2015
Ohio Use Tax

Amazon purchases aren’t the only ones to consider when you sit down to file your tax return this year. Other popular online retailers and groups, including Etsy, are also depending on their consumers to pay use taxes on the products they sell. – Rea & Associates – Ohio CPA Firm

If you are one of the millions of people who love to browse and buy online, it may shock you to learn that the Ohio Department of Taxation is looking at you to declare and pay a little more when you go to file your 2014 tax return. From gifts to grocery shopping, many of us use the ease of online shopping to snag a good deal and avoid the hassle of braving the brick-and-mortar shops – especially during the holidays, but sometimes that convenience might come at a price.

Were you charged sales tax for that pair of shoes you bought last October or those books you had shipped to your house in June? If the company you made purchases from doesn’t have facilities in the state or a law that requires it to collect sales taxes for your state, then it’s likely you owe use tax to Ohio – and you have to report your use tax on Line 19 of your Ohio Form IT 1040.

Use Tax Is Not A New Tax

Declaring and paying sales and use tax on your state tax return is not a new responsibility. The Ohio Department of Taxation states that “in transactions where sales tax was due but not collected by the vendor or seller, a use tax of equal amount is due from the consumer.” In Ohio, the use tax rate is the same as sales tax rate you would have paid if sales tax was correctly charged by the vendor.  This is usually the place of purchase (or your home address for shipments from outside Ohio). You can read Ohio’s use tax law in its entirety here.

As a courtesy, Amazon provides a brief explanation of the consumer’s responsibility to pay use tax on its website. Because Amazon suspects its customers aren’t keeping a file of receipts, the online retailer provides customers with the option to create and download an Order History Report, which compiles your download, shipment, return and refund activity and can be used to help calculate use tax.

But your Amazon purchases aren’t the only ones to consider when you sit down to file your tax return this year. Other popular online retailers and groups, including Etsy, are also depending on their consumers to pay use taxes on the products they sell. So make sure you take a second look at that packing slip and receipt.

Little Box, Big Pause

While the responsibility of paying use tax isn’t new, this is the first year taxpayers in Ohio are required to certify their use tax claim before filing their return with the state. If you didn’t shop online or make a “sales tax-free” purchase, you should have nothing to worry about – simply check the box and continue on. On the other hand, if you did partake in online retail therapy in 2014 and don’t have your receipts handy, you may have to pause your tax preparation to give yourself a little more time to find out what you owe.

To find out more use tax, email Rea & Associates.

By Joe Popp, JD, LLM (Dublin office)

 

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Who’s Fishing For Your Data Today?

Joe Welker | February 23rd, 2015
Computer company Lenovo informed the public that  desktop and laptop devices it sold between September 2015 and January 2015 may have arrived to users loaded with an extra (and unwelcome) feature - SuperFish.

Computer company Lenovo informed the public that desktop and laptop devices it sold between September 2015 and January 2015 may have arrived to users loaded with an extra (and unwelcome) feature – SuperFish. Users should not enter secure information on their device until they are certain that their security was not compromised.

If you purchased a Lenovo desktop or laptop between September 2014 and January 2015 you could be susceptible to “SuperFish” – adware that can be found lurking in the depths of your device.

Capable of hijacking Internet traffic data typically used for securing Internet transactions, SuperFish was installed on Lenovo devices by the manufacturer per an agreement with Superfish Advertising, a third-party software developer based out of Palo Alto, Calif.

“In our effort to enhance our user experience, we pre-installed a piece of third-party software … on some of our consumer notebooks. The goal was to improve the shopping experience using their virtual discovery techniques,” said the company in a prepared statement. “In reality, we had customer complaints about the software. … We stopped the preloads beginning in January. We shut down the server connections that enable the software (also in January), and we are providing online resources to help users remove this software.”

Until you are certain that your Lenovo system is safe from adware, refrain from online banking, making online purchases or engaging in any other online activity were security is critical.

To determine if SuperFish is present on your device and how to remove it, Lenovo released step-by-step SuperFish Uninstall Instructions on its website. You can also visit this secure site, which will run a basic scan on your device to determine if SuperFish is intercepting your connections.

Unfortunately, in his article about the Lenovo crisis, Zack Wittaker cites ZDNet’s Chris Duckett as saying that “the only confirmed way of completely removing SuperFish appears to be reinstalling Windows … or moving to another operating system entirely” as simply uninstalling the adware may not remove the root certificate authority.

According to reports from IDC Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker and Gartner, Lenovo shipped more than 16 million desktops and notebooks worldwide during the fourth quarter of 2014. Lenovo’s statement indicates that following models may have been effected:

  • G Series: G410, G510, G710, G40-70, G50-70, G40-30, G50-30, G40-45, G50-45, G40-80
  • U Series: U330P, U430P, U330Touch, U430Touch, U530Touch
  • Y Series: Y430P, Y40-70, Y50-70, Y40-80, Y70-70
  • Z Series: Z40-75, Z50-75, Z40-70, Z50-70, Z70-80
  • S Series: S310, S410, S40-70, S415, S415Touch, S435, S20-30, S20-30Touch
  • Flex Series: Flex2 14D, Flex2 15D, Flex2 14, Flex2 15, Flex2 Pro, Flex 10
  • MIIX Series: MIIX2-8, MIIX2-10, MIIX2-11, MIIX 3 1030
  • YOGA Series: YOGA2Pro-13, YOGA2-13, YOGA2-11, YOGA3 Pro
  • E Series: E10-30

Email Rea & Associates to learn more about the importance of protecting your virtual assets against cyber threats.

By Joe Welker, CISA (New Philadelphia office)

 

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Obamacare: Discrimination Is Not An Option

Joe Popp | February 20th, 2015

Do you provide health care benefits to a few of your employees and not others? This is an eligibility and richness of benefits issue. You may find yourself at risk for eligibility discrimination if, for example, you offer coverage only to the owner and an employee or two and not to the rest of your team. You also run into problems if you are found to be discriminating in the benefits your company provides. An example could be if you offer your management group 100 percent of premiums paid by the company and only offer your staff 50 percent of premiums paid. This is not related to the 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) large employer status.

While it might be possible to set up a plan to comply with the tax non-discrimination rules where employees throughout the company are offered different benefits, you also have to navigate through federal and state insurance laws and other Department of Labor regulations – the short answer is just don’t do it! The penalty for non-compliance is $100 per failure per day.

Do You Qualify For The Self-Insured Health Deduction?

Are you seeking to claim the self-insured health deduction (SIHD) on your 1040? If so, one of the following statements must be true:

  • You were self- employed and had a net profit for the year. (Profits should be reported on Schedule C, C-EZ or F).
  • You were a partner with net earnings from self-employment.
  • You received wages in 2014 from an S corporation in which you:

-        Owned more than 2 percent of shares and
-        Health insurance premiums paid or reimbursed by the S corporation are shown as wages on Form W-2.

Easy enough … until it isn’t.

S Corps: Catch 22

If you are basing your self-insured health deduction on only the S Corp eligibility criterion above, you have to be very careful to a.) not violate ACA non-discrimination and, b.) maintain your eligibility for the self-insured health deduction.

In order to get the self-insured health deduction, S Corp either needs to pay directly or reimburse the owner and include the amount on form W-2. Whichever of those two choices the S Corp makes, the S Corp is providing coverage to that owner.  And, if you remember in the non-discrimination section above, ALL employees of the S Corp must receive the same benefit in order to comply with the non-discrimination rule.  So by doing the actions required to get that owner eligibly for the self-insured health deduction, S Corp is covered by the ACA non-discrimination testing and it had better be sure to offer coverage to everybody.

And if you think you can just get around the rule by simply increasing wages in lieu of paying for or reimbursing shareholder’s premiums, you’re wrong.  Doing this will put you at odds of the self-insured health deduction eligibility rules, making it impossible for your shareholders to claim the deduction.

Let this be your guide:

A shareholder of an S corporation (who doesn’t have a schedule C or one of the other SIHD criteria) will not be able to take the self-insured health deduction unless the S corporation is providing similar coverage to ALL other S corporation employees AND is including the amounts paid directly to the insurance provider or in payments reimbursed to the shareholder on Form W-2.

Remember, you do have options. A tax professional can help identify yours. Email Rea & Associates to learn more.

By Joseph Popp, JD, LLM (Dublin office)

 

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How To Phone For Help

Charlene Meadows | February 17th, 2015
Phone Interview - Rea & Associates - Ohio CPA Firm

While you should never consider a phone interview to be a shortcut, with a little practice and preparation a brief phone screen can be an effective hiring tool.

We’ve all been there. You need to hire a new employee – fast. But you dread the process of advertising for the position and being inundated with countless inquiries and resumes. Going through the process of finding the right employee for the job can be a huge time commitment for everyone involved. And, let’s face it; if you had the time needed to properly filter candidates you wouldn’t be looking to hire a new employee in the first place. For those in need of a better way to winnow the applicant pool, help may be closer than you think.

Instead of filling your calendar with interviews, why not pick up the phone instead.

A brief phone interview is a great tool for employers. Not only does this method of communication allow you to assess their interest in the position, it helps you identify whether the candidate demonstrates specific professional qualities that you are looking for in an employee.

“A good initial phone screen can reveal a wealth of important information, including a candidates skills, experience, motivation, professionalism and salary expectations,” stated Kathryn Tyler in an article about pre-employment screening for the Society of Human Resources Management. “Phone screens can also give under-the-radar applicants – those who might be overlooked if HR were doing only in-person interviews – an opportunity to shine.”

When its time to bring in a new employee, make sure to use all the tools available to you to ensure the person you hire is truly the best fit for the job. A phone screen is just one of your many, many options. Email Rea & Associates to learn more about hiring top-notch employees and the overall impact they have on your company’s bottom line.

By Charlene Meadows, CPA (Mentor office)

 

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