Don’t Answer Calls from These Area Codes

Robocalls have got to be one the most annoying inventions of the 21st century. Unfortunately, those phone calls can do a lot more than disrupt your dinner to send you running to the phone just to hear about an offer for an extended warranty on your car. Using sophisticated spoofing methods and dogged persistence, they can swindle unsuspecting targets out of hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, using nothing but a phone. In fact, according to data from Trucaller, Americans lost close to $30 billion to phone scams in 2020.

Technology has made it far too easy and cheap for scammers to place a huge number of robocalls in seconds. New robocall platforms can make up to 5,000 simultaneous calls a second for as little as a dollar. Even if only 10 of these phone calls have their desired effect on the targets, the scammers have pulled in a solid profit. 

Here’s what you need to know about phone scams and how to avoid them. 

Traffic pumping

According to federal law, rural carriers are allowed to charge wireless and long-distance carriers higher fees for calls to local subscribers. To earn a quick buck – or a few hundred – rural carriers partner up with chat lines, adult entertainment numbers and “free” conference call service providers, as well as other numbers that are based overseas. Their goal is to artificially inflate the call volume in the home area codes of the rural carriers so they, in turn, can bill the wireless and long distance companies an exorbitant amount of money and give the chat lines a kickback,too. This is known as “traffic pumping.”

The bad news for private consumers is that their wireless or landline provider will pass the higher cost structure onto them. Sometimes, the caller will be warned of a higher charge, but other times, the consumer will believe these calls are completely free – until the bill arrives.

Area code alert: The 712 area code and the 218 area code are infamous for traffic pumping. 

The one-ring scam

In this ruse, scammers use robocalling technology to call wireless numbers and hang up after only one ring. The scammers are hoping the target will be curious and careless enough to return the call. If they do, they will likely be calling a number in the Caribbean, which can cost them up to $30 a minute. A prevalent one-ring scam that originates in Japan brings that cost up to $50 a minute!

Whenever you receive a call from an unfamiliar number, it’s best to let it go to voicemail instead of picking up. Curious enough to return a one-ring call? First Google the number to see who the caller is. If it’s a scammer, you’ll likely find some warnings posted online when you look up the number. 

Area code alert: The FTC warns consumers about returning one-ring calls from these area codes: 

  • 268–Antigua and Barbuda
  • 284–British Virgin Islands
  • 473–Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique
  • 664–Montserrat
  • 649–Turks and Caicos Islands
  • 767–Commonwealth of Dominica
  • 809, 829, 849–Dominican Republic
  • 876–Jamaica

When an unfamiliar number comes up on your phone screen, you’re better off waiting for a voicemail to determine if you have a legitimate caller before calling it back. You can also Google the phone number itself. If the number is a scam, chances are good that others will have posted warnings about it online. 

Protect your phone

If the robocalls are driving you crazy, there are steps you can take to limit the amount that reach your phone. First, place your number on the Do Not Call list. You can also reach out to your phone service provider to ask about robocall blocking functionality they may offer, though you may need to pay for this extra service. Finally, consider using a robocall-blocking app, like Hiya, YouMail or RoboKiller

Think twice before picking up the phone on an unknown caller, or returning a call from an unfamiliar number. Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a phone scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

10 Tips for ATM Safety

With shorter days approaching, bringing more hours of darkness along with them, it’s more important than ever to brush up on ATM safety. Using a compromised machine can mean risking identity theft and/or having cash stolen. With this simple machine, all it takes is a few short minutes for a victim’s life to be completely ruined. 

Here at Advantage One Credit Union, we take our members’ safety very seriously. We use multiple protective measures to keep you, your information and your money safe when you use one of our ATMs. We keep our machines well-lit, have security cameras in place and we’re careful to place them in areas with lots of foot traffic to keep isolation to a minimum. 

However, it’s important for you, as the member, to be aware of basic ATM safety so your transactions are never compromised. As with all banking platforms, you are the first and best defense for protecting your personal information and your money. Here are 10 tips to help you keep your ATM transactions completely secure.

1.Keep your PIN private. Your personal identification number should always be kept personal. Don’t share this number with anyone and don’t write it down anywhere or keep it stored in your phone. It’s also a good idea to choose a unique PIN for all your accounts and to change your number once a year to keep it fresh.

2. Check the ATM for a card skimmer. Scammers are experts at hiding their tracks and often do so by attaching a card skimmer to the payment terminal of an ATM. The skimmer fits right over the card slot and will read the card information as soon as it’s inserted. It is then passed onto the criminal, who may be hiding just a few hundred feet away. Sometimes, a skimmer is instead placed over the keypad to pick up the PIN. Look for a skimmer by checking to see if the card slot feels loose, is colored differently than the rest of the machine, or if the keypad is too thick or looks newer than the ATM. 

3. Bring a buddy. A lone target is always more vulnerable. If possible, and especially if you’re using an ATM late at night, bring a friend along. 

4. Be aware of your surroundings. As you use the machine, it’s crucial to be aware of your surroundings and to look for anything suspicious, like characters lurking nearby or dark cars parked in the area for far too long.

5. Use your body as a shield. Never let an ATM you are using be in easy view of a criminal. Stand close to the machine to block it from view and cover the keypad with your hand while you input your PIN. This way, no one will be able to steal your information just by watching you complete your transaction. 

6. Have your debit card ready to be used. Make sure you can remove your card in just a few seconds when you reach the ATM. Those precious few moments of rummaging through your purse or wallet until you find your card can give a criminal the time they need to make their move. 

7. Put away all cash as soon as you complete your transaction. If you’re making a withdrawal, be sure to move all cash out of sight as soon as the machine spits it out. Have your wallet or an envelope ready so this takes as short a time as possible. Never count cash in public; you can check that you’ve received the right amount when you’re safely in your car.

8. Lock all doors and roll up passenger windows when using a drive-thru ATM. If you’ll be remaining in your vehicle to complete your transaction, keep it as secure as possible.

9. If you suspect foul play, leave immediately. If something, or someone, looks suspicious, cancel your transaction, grab your card and leave the area as soon as you can.

10. Be sure to take your receipt. Don’t leave any evidence of the transaction you just completed.

If you think you’ve been the victim of ATM fraud, report it immediately. If you report the scam within two days, your liability is capped at $50. 

Stay safe!

Your Turn: How do you protect your information and your money when using an ATM? Share your tips with us in the comments.

4 Scams to Watch Out for this Black Friday

Black Friday has traditionally been the day that kicks off the holiday shopping season, sending hordes of crowds surging through malls and big-box stores all over the nation. Unfortunately, it’s also been a day that kicks off the season of shopping scams. 

Here are four scams to watch out for this Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season:

  1. The Amazon Prime service fraud scam

In this ruse, a scammer posing as an Amazon representative will call a target to notify them about an alleged problem with their Prime account. The victim will be prompted to download a tool on their computer or mobile device. That “tool” will give the scammer remote access to “help them resolve the problem” that is at hand. If they comply, the victim will then be instructed to log onto their banking account, supposedly so the caller can be compensated for their time. Unfortunately, doing this will give the scammer direct access to the victim’s accounts. 

  1. Phishing emails

Phishing emails are nothing new, but they can be difficult to spot among the barrage of promotional emails flooding inboxes during this time of year. 

Here are two common variations of phishing scams: 

  • Account verification. The victim receives an email appearing to be from a retailer they frequently shop. It informs them that someone has tried to hack into their account. They’re asked to verify their account, or update their account details, through an embedded link. Doing so, however, will give a scammer access to their account. The scammer can now rack up a huge bill and leave the victim to pick up the tab. 
  • Order confirmation. The victim receives an email asking them to confirm an order made through Amazon or another large e-tailer. They’ll be asked to verify the order details through an embedded link. Unfortunately, doing so will give their personal information directly to the scammers. 
  1. Delivery issues

The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the way Americans shop. It’s resulted in the volume of U.S. online purchases increasing steadily, according to the Census Bureau’s quarterly e-commerce reports. Scammers are well aware of this, and they’ve been quick to capitalize on the opportunities to pull off delivery scams, especially this time of year. 

Delivery scams generally take the form of a message appearing to be from UPS, FedEx or another delivery service, informing the victim of a “delivery issue” with an order. They’ll be asked to confirm or update their information with the provided link. Doing so will give the scammer access to their financial information and open the door to identity theft and more. 

In another variation of the delivery scam, a victim will be asked to pay a fee for covering a customs charge or tax. Of course, these fees are invented by the scammer, who will gladly pocket the money. 

  1. Non-delivery scam

Another scam whose prevalence has spiked with the increase in online shopping is the non-delivery scam, which involves a purchased gift that never arrives. The victim, likely lured in by an ad promising a super-low price on a desired item, rushed to complete the purchase without researching the seller. Unfortunately, the seller then disappears and the victim has no way of notifying them about the no-show or requesting a refund. 

How to avoid Black Friday scams

Follow these tips to keep your shopping free of scams:

  • Don’t open links in emails sent from unverified contacts. 
  • Never allow a stranger access to your device and/or accounts. 
  • Don’t share sensitive information on the phone or online with an unknown contact.
  • If contacted by an alleged representative of Amazon or another large company about an issue with your account, hang up and check your account to see if an issue is actually present.  
  • Always keep the privacy and spam settings on your computer and mobile devices at their strongest settings. 
  • If you have an issue with an ordered item, contact the retailer directly through their site and not through a pop-up ad appearing to represent them. Likewise, it’s a good idea to not click through to “support links” that are posted on troubleshooting forums, as they may not be to legitimate service sites. 
  • Only purchase items from reputable sellers. When shopping on a new site, look for a physical address, a customer service number and copy that’s free of spelling errors and typos. 

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a Black Friday scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

8 Holiday Shopping Hacks to Help You Save Big This Season

Ready, set… charge! The holiday shopping season is here, and between inflated prices, the rising cost of gas and the urge to splurge this time of year, it can be harder than ever to stick to your budget. Here, we’ve listed eight holiday shopping hacks to help keep your spending under control while still finding the perfect gifts for everyone on your list. 

  1. Make a list and check it twice

It’s not just for groceries—this tried-and-true shopping hack can really help you keep costs down this holiday season. When you shop with a list in hand and you’re careful to stick to it, you can make responsible shopping decisions instead of buying anything and everything that catches your eye. 

  1. Compare prices

In the age of apps and the internet, comparison shopping is a lot easier than trekking across town from store to store. All it takes is a few quick clicks to check if the item you want to purchase is available elsewhere, and for less. You can also use a price-checking app like ShopSavvy and BuyVia to make the search for the hottest deal even easier. 

  1. Don’t shop alone

Grab a friend when you shop to help keep you on track. You can share your intended budget with your friend, or let them know which gifts you’ll be looking for on this particular shopping trip and ask them to gently remind you to stay within budget and on-plan as you browse. A friend can also come in handy when you find a fantastic BOGO (buy one get one free) offer, but only need one item — go splitsies to gain some savings. 

  1. Take advantage of rebates and refunds

Wouldn’t it be awesome to get paid to shop? When you make a purchase through a rebate app like Earny or Rakuten, you get cash back for every purchase you make.

Why not get paid from the retailer, too? Some retailers offer refunds for late deliveries or will give you money back if there’s been a price change on an item since you’ve purchased it. Use a free app like Paribus to scan your receipt and search the web for price drops and to track policies that may help put more money back in your pocket. 

5. Buy discounted gift cards

Gift cards are a great way to save time on gift-shopping — and money, too! You can find discounted gift cards on sites like GiftDeals, Raise and CardCash for big-name brands of all kinds, including Lowe’s, Old Navy, Starbucks, Amazon and dozens more. Best of all, the person receiving the gift card never has to know you snagged it at a discounted price.

  1. Shop with coupons

No need to touch a pair of scissors to take advantage of coupons in 2021! Before completing an online purchase, do a quick search of sites, like RetailMeNot, to check for available coupons that can bring down the price. You can also use a browser extension, like Honey, which will automatically find and apply coupons while you shop.

7. Shop early

It’s always a good idea to get your shopping done well before the holidays to keep from overspending when you’re harried and pressed for time. This year especially, with delivery delays and supply shortages expected to last into 2022, it’s best to tackle your holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. When you shop with a clear head and when the store shelves are still well stocked, you’re more likely to stick to your budget and make responsible spending decisions.

  1. Buy electronics on Black Friday or Cyber Monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are rarely worth the hassle — with the exception of electronics. While most big-ticket items, like furniture and home appliances, are usually cheaper during other sale events, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals you’ll find on TVs, laptops, audio equipment and other electronics will likely be the best you’ll find all year. If any of these items are on your list, plan your purchase for Black Friday weekend for steep discounts. 

The holidays are coming, but that doesn’t mean you need to kiss your budget goodbye. Follow the tips outlined above to save big on gift-shopping this year. 

Your Turn: What’s your favorite holiday shopping hack? Share it with us in the comments. 

What to Expect for Holiday Shopping 2021

The holidays are coming and it’s time to hit the shops! Retailers and consumers around the nation are anticipating a holiday season that’s a lot closer to pre-pandemic days than last year’s festivities. Unfortunately, though, suppliers are cautioning consumers to expect supply shortages, shipping delays and higher price tags than ever.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what you might expect to see this holiday shopping season.

Supply shortages

You may have already noticed the dearth in available products, from household goods to the season’s hottest toys, when shopping for the holidays and everyday goods. Suppliers are struggling to stay ahead of shoppers’ demands while still catching up on the manufacturing lag they experienced during the lockdown. Suppliers are also dealing with a labor shortage, which makes it challenging to meet their own manufacturing quotas. Finally, many manufacturers rely on other suppliers for the materials they need for fulfilling their product demands — shipping delays (described in more detail in a moment) and worldwide supply chain bottlenecks are slowing down their production processes even further.

Shipping delays

Even when manufacturers manage to keep the supply of their products ahead of the demand, there can be significant delays when the goods land in the U.S. To illustrate, in mid-September, a record 70 cargo ships were waiting to dock in the LA and Long Beach ports, two ports which handle approximately 40% of the country’s imported goods. The logjam is a direct result of a scarcity in available storage containers, as well as uneven deliveries of shipped goods as suppliers race to catch up with demand.The backup has since decreased in intensity but is still present, and will likely continue to be a kink in the delivery chain deep into 2022.

Understaffed shops

Don’t expect the royal treatment when you hit the shops this holiday season. Salespeople are likely to be even more overworked and stressed than they usually are during this time of year, as employers face massive staff shortages and are forced to place extra responsibilities on their workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent report, there are 10.4 million job openings in the U.S. right now, a number that has more than doubled since last year. Retailers are struggling to provide their standard level of service with fewer hands on deck, and the harried salespeople you encounter may very likely be doing the jobs of several workers.

Fewer deals and higher prices

Don’t count on finding super-hot deals this season while shopping to complete your gift list. In fact, the prices you’ll find on toys, clothing, electronics and other items will likely be higher than usual, thanks to factors like inflation, the rising cost of fuel and supply that falls well below demand. With shoppers eager to get their hands on the few goods that are available, retailers also have less of an incentive to offer promotions and steep discounts on any gift items. This isn’t the year to plan on shopping the sales to help you stay within budget.

Shop early

As a consumer, there’s not much you can do to fix the supply shortages and delays in shipping. What you can do, though, is shop early to avoid facing bare shelves and a delivery date that’s weeks past the holidays. In fact, suppliers and retailers are urging consumers to get started on their holiday shopping before Halloween this year to get the best selection at the best prices. If you’re the kind of shopper who doesn’t think about gift shopping until two weeks before the holidays, this may be the year to rethink your approach.

A scarcity in supply, delivery backups, staff shortages and high prices will likely make holiday shopping more challenging this year. However, by planning ahead and starting early, you can enjoy this season’s gift shopping and still stick to your budget.

Happy shopping!

Your Turn: How will your approach toward holiday shopping be different this year? Tell us about it in the comments.

All You Need to Know About Multi-factor Authentication

In our digital world, passwords are as much a part of our lives as Netflix and Amazon. Keeping information stored in dozens of accounts across the web can make it easier to stay on top of your finances, order a new pair of jeans or even schedule a dentist appointment. Unfortunately, though, passwords can be relatively easy for scammers to hack, opening the door for identity theft, credit card fraud and more. 

Here’s where multifactor authentication (MFA) comes into play. As a means of securing your information, MFA provides an extra layer of protection for your accounts and sensitive data. 

Here’s all you need to know about MFA, how it works and why it’s an important step in protecting your information. 

How multifactor authentication works

Multifactor authentication utilizes two or more factors to allow the user to sign into an account. Generally, these will consist of something the user knows, like a password or PIN, along with one or both of the following: 

  • Something the user has. This can include a phone, key fob or smartcard. 
  • Something the user is. This can include an iris or fingerprint scan, or voice or facial recognition.

Accounts that use MFA will not allow the user to sign into their account unless both factors are verified.

Why multifactor authentication is crucial for protecting sensitive information

While passwords can provide some protection against hackers, they’ve proven to be an abysmally weak barrier against hackers. A recent study by Digital Shadows, a digital risk protection company, found evidence of approximately 15 billion passwords and logins floating around the darkweb as a result of 100,000 data breaches. These passwords are up for sale to  other cybercriminals, potentially providing them with access to the victims’ financial accounts, credit card information, Social Security data and more.

In addition to opening up the door to sensitive information, a single password can give the hacker entry into a victim’s private life. For example, by hacking into a victim’s Google password, the cybercriminal now has access to their email history, which can include important correspondence and other information; calendar, which can provide a complete picture of the victim’s upcoming events and meetings; YouTube account, which unlocks the victim’s viewing history and uploads, and any other apps that allow users to sign in with a Google account, such as Asana and Mint.

Unfortunately, passwords can be cracked by amateur hackers, even without a data breach. Many consumers make it even easier for hackers to break into their accounts by using weak, ineffective passwords that are simple to guess, and by using the same password across multiple accounts. For these reasons, using MFA when available — especially for accounts that store highly sensitive information — is crucial for ongoing security and protection. This way, in the event of a data breach or hack providing a criminal with your password or login credentials, your information will still be protected. Without access to your account’s second factor for authentication, the hacker has no way to gain entry into your account. 

Where you may encounter MFA

In general, the more sensitive the data an account stores, the stronger security measures the company hosting or providing the account will use. Consequently, you’re most likely to encounter MFA on banking apps and accounts, money management apps, investment apps and the like. Depending on your line of work, you may also need to use MFA to sign into your personal workplace account. Finally, some retailers may offer clients the option of using MFA to sign into their accounts. 

Under each of these and similar circumstances, using MFA means a login time that’s a bit longer and more complicated than just inputting a password or PIN. However, measuring this inconvenience against the time, stress and money it will take to recover from a potential data breach makes it more than worth the extra few minutes. 

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Which means of MFA is your favorite? Tell us about it in the comments.

We Should All Be Millionaires

We Should All Be Millionaires: A Woman’s Guide to Earning More, Building Wealth, and Gaining Economic Power

Title: We Should All Be Millionaires: A Woman’s Guide to Earning More, Building Wealth, and Gaining Economic Power

Author: Rachel Rodgers

Hardcover: 304 pages

Publisher: HarperCollins Leadership

Publishing date: May 4, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • Women, people of color, and anyone who is part of a systematically marginalized group and wants to learn how to become a millionaire.

What’s inside this book?

  • A fascinating history lesson on how women and people of color have been prevented from building wealth for centuries.
  • Financial lessons that self-made millionaire, Rachel Rodgers, has learned on her journey to wealth. 
  • A step-by-step guide on how to overcome obstacles and build wealth.
  • An explanation why much of the financial advice you may have heard in the past is patriarchal nonsense. 
  • A complete overview of Rodgers’ $10K in 10 Days Challenge.

4 lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  1. Why earning more money is not selfish or greedy.
  2. How to stop making destructive decisions and start making million-dollar decisions instead. 
  3. How to let go of financial shame.
  4. Strategies to earn more money and fatten your financial accounts. 

4 questions this book will answer for you: 

  1. Why are only 10% of the world’s millionaires women? 
  2. How can I overcome shaky confidence and imposter syndrome to build wealth? 
  3. How can I gain more peace, prosperity and joy? 
  4. How can I set and enforce “Million Dollar Boundaries” in every aspect of my life?

What people are saying about this book: 

  • We Should All be Millionaires” is a must-read, not only to help you become more financially abundant and empowered, but also so that you can become a much-needed agent of change, equality, and equity that our world needs.” –Mastin Kipp
  • “This book is an honest, realistic, and inspiring look at what it really takes to become an extremely high-earning woman. Rachel Rodgers will give you a million dollar attitude with a bank account to match.” –Sophia Amoru
  • “As a Black women, we are accustomed to the story that we are required to struggle in order to find financial stability or success. This book needs to be read by every woman who is ready for a blueprint for being joyful, finding ease, and growing wealth while standing up for causes that need our voices and attention.” –Rachel Cargle

Your Turn: What did you think of We Should All be Millionaires? Share your opinion in the comments. 

5 Steps to Take After a Data Breach

Data breaches show up in the news almost as often as celebrity couple breakups. According to Risk Based Security’s Mid-Year Data BreachReport, there were 1,767 publicly reported breaches in the first half of 2021, exposing 18.8 billion records. One of the most far-reaching of these breaches was the T-Mobile data breach in August, which has impacted more than 50 million people. 

A data breach exposes confidential information of its victims, which can include Social Security numbers, account information, credit card numbers, passwords and more. If your personal information has been compromised by the T-Mobile data breach or another exposure, take these five steps to mitigate the damage. 

Step 1: Read all alerts and notifications from the compromised company

The business whose data has been compromised in the breach will generally reach out to all potential victims to notify them about the exposure. They may instruct all recipients of this missive to check for signs that their information has been exposed and/or direct them toward their next step. If you believe your information may have been compromised in a breach, it’s important to read every message you receive from the exposed company. 

Step 2: Alert your financial institution 

Next, let Advantage One Credit Union know your account may have been compromised. This way, we’ll know to keep an eye out for signs of fraud and place an alert on your account. We’ll be watchful of requests to approve any large transaction or withdrawal, and we’ll contact you if we notice any suspicious activity. 

Step 3: Change any exposed passwords

A data breach generally means passwords of all kinds have been compromised. It’s best to change as many as possible after a breach to keep information and money safe. The quickest way to do this is by using a password manager, which allows you to store unique, complex passwords for each account. Although it’s important to have a different password for each account, it’s best to start by changing passwords you know were a part of the data breach.

Step 4: Consider a credit freeze

A credit freeze alerts lenders and credit companies to the fact that you may have been a victim of fraud. This added layer of protection will make it difficult, or impossible, for hackers to open a new credit line or loan in your name.

You can freeze your credit at no cost with all three of the major credit bureaus, Equifax, Transunion and Experian. You’ll need to provide some basic information and you’ll receive a PIN for the freeze. Use this number to lift the freeze when you believe it is safe to do so. 

Step 5: File an identity theft report

If your accounts have been compromised and you believe your identity has been stolen, file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) immediately. This will assist the feds in tracking down the scammers responsible for the data breach. It will also help you return your finances to their usual state as quickly as possible.

Take these precautionary measures to protect your information from future data breaches of any kind:

  • Monitor your credit. It’s a good idea to check your credit accounts for suspicious activity on a regular basis. You may also want to sign up for credit monitoring, a service that will cost you $10-40 a month for the promise of notifying you immediately about any suspicious activity on your accounts.
  • Use strong, unique passwords. Use a different password for each account, and choose codes that are at least eight characters long. Use a variety of numbers, letters and symbols–and vary your capitalization use as well. Choose two-factor authentication when possible, and non-password authentication, such as face recognition or fingerprint sign-in, for stronger protection.
  • Browse safely. Never share sensitive information online and always keep your security and spam settings at their strongest levels.

Your Turn: Has your personal information ever been exposed in a data breach? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Should I Trade in my Car Now?

Q: I’ve heard that used cars can currently fetch a pretty penny from dealers because of a nationwide vehicle shortage. Should I trade in my car?

A: The auto market has been red-hot for months as manufacturers scramble to catch up on pandemic-induced supply shortages. While circumstances vary, this can be a great time to get top dollar on a used car. 

Here’s what you need to know about the current auto market for sellers.

How high did prices go?

According to online automotive resource Edmunds, the average transaction price for a used car in the second quarter of 2021 was $25,410, which is up 21% year-over-year. This was the first time the average list price for used cars in the U.S topped $25K. Also, fewer than 1% of used cars on dealership lots were priced below $15,000 during this quarter, compared to 18% offered below this mark the previous year. 

Why have prices of used cars increased so sharply? 

Several interconnecting factors have led to the increase in auto prices. 

First, the pandemic put a freeze on the production of new vehicles for nearly a full business quarter. Factory output at the time of the nationwide lock-downs was reduced by 3.3 million vehicles and sales dried up, which also reduced the volume of trade-ins. This led to a decrease in the available supply of used cars and led to a driving up of prices. 

With production on pause, chip-makers focused on the electronics industry instead of creating semiconductor chips for automakers. When production resumed, manufacturers faced a worldwide shortage of these chips, which experts predict will last well into 2022. Consequently, manufacturers have been limited in the number of new cars they can make. This, too, means there are fewer trade-ins and fewer used cars available for buyers, leading to an increase in prices.

A third factor that has influenced the fall in the supply of used cars is the months-long shutdown of business and leisure travel during the lock-downs. Car rentals were virtually unused at this time, prompting the agencies to hold onto the cars in their lots instead of selling them to used car dealerships. This, of course, led to a reduction in the number of used cars available for sale and contributed to the spike in prices.

Finally, the single factor unrelated to the pandemic that has decreased the supply of used cars is the fact that today’s used cars were manufactured during the Great Recession. During this time, automakers faced severe financial challenges and the number of cars sold during that time was far lower than average. Today’s dearth in used cars, then, is also a trickle-down effect of the Great Recession and now directly impacting the current auto market. 

Will the market settle down soon?

Auto prices are already showing signs of leveling off, with some used car prices dropping by as much as $2,000 over the month of July. Many drivers are eager to sell their cars at top dollar now, adding more used cars to the available supply. Car rental agencies are also recovering from their business freeze during the pandemic, adding their own vehicles to the available pool of used cars. While it will take some time for the market to recover completely, it does seem to be cooling off from its post-pandemic sizzle. 

Should I trade in my car now? 

If you plan on trading in your car sometime in the near future, you may want to do so sooner rather than later. With inventory still low, dealers are eager to get their hands on as many used cars as possible and will offer you more than you’d typically expect. Be sure to check what price you can get from several dealers before you sell. It’s equally important to note that those same inflated prices will work against you if you plan on buying a new car now. 

Used cars can fetch a pretty penny in today’s hot auto market, but it’s crucial to weigh all factors carefully before deciding if trading in your car now can work in your favor. 

Your Turn: Have you recently traded in your car? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Beware Cryptocurrency Scams

As one of the hottest investments on the market, cryptocurrency has been enjoying the spotlight for quite a while, and scammers are eager to cash in on the excitement. Cryptocurrency scams are particularly nefarious since the digital currency is not regulated by any government, and once it has transferred hands it usually cannot be reclaimed. Here’s what you need to know about cryptocurrency scams and how to avoid them. 

How the scams play out 

There are several ways scammers are using cryptocurrency to con people out of their money. 

  • Blackmail. In this ruse, scammers send emails to their targets claiming they have compromising photos, videos, or embarrassing information about them. They threaten to go public with these unless the victim pays up in cryptocurrency. Of course, the scammer is lying about the materials they possess and this is illegal blackmail and extortion.
  • Social media. Here, a target receives a social media message appearing to be from a friend and asking them to send cryptocurrency immediately to help them out of an alleged emergency. If the target complies and sends cryptocurrency to their “friend,” they’ll never see that money again. 
  • Mining. In this scam, bogus websites lure targets into what appear to be opportunities for mining or investing in cryptocurrency. The site may even offer several investment tiers, promising bigger returns for a more significant investment. Unfortunately, any money invested through these sites can never be withdrawn. 
  • Giveaways. These “giveaways” appear to be sponsored by celebrities or big-name cryptocurrency investors, like Elon Musk. Victims are promised exponential returns for small investments in cryptocurrency, or for simply sharing some personal information. Of course, none of it is real, except the loss you’ll experience if you fall victim.
  • Romance. Through online dating sites, scammers convince victims they have met a legitimate love interest. As the “relationship” deepens, the victim’s long-distance date starts talking about fabulous cryptocurrency opportunities with incredible returns. The victim acts upon this advice, and sadly, loses their money to the person they believed was a new romantic partner. 

In each of these scams, the victim has no way of recovering the cryptocurrency they shared if an “investment” has been made. Scammers also use common spoofing technology to make it appear as if they represent a legitimate business or website. As always, when in doubt, opt-out. 

How to spot a cryptocurrency scam

Look out for these red flags to help you avoid cryptocurrency scams: 

  • You’re promised big payouts with guaranteed returns for a small investment in a specific cryptocurrency. 
  • A celebrity or famed cryptocurrency investor is sponsoring a cryptocurrency giveaway.
  • A friend contacts you on social media, claiming they are caught up in an emergency and need immediate rescue, but only through cryptocurrency. 
  • You’re promised free money in cryptocurrency in exchange for sharing some personal information.
  • A caller, new love interest, organization, or alleged government agency insists on payment via cryptocurrency.

Be sure to follow common safety measures when online and never share personal information or money with an unverified contact. If you are unsure whether you’ve actually been contacted by a friend or an authentic business, reach out to them to learn the real deal. Finally, if you’re looking to invest in cryptocurrency, never click on an ad or email; look up secure investment sites like Robinhood and Coinbase on your own.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by any of the above cryptocurrency scams or a similar scheme, immediately report the scam to the FTC. If the scam was pulled off on social media, let the platform owners know so they can take appropriate measures. Finally, let your friends and family know about the circulating scam.

Cryptocurrency offers unique opportunities for beginner and experienced investors alike, but scammers are exploiting digital currency for their own schemes. Proceed with caution to keep your money and your information safe. 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a cryptocurrency scam? Tell us about it in the comments.