Don’t Get Scammed At The Gym!

Personal trainer in a gym reviews the exercise & diet with her clientAs soon as the calendar hits Jan. 2, the gyms are packed with people who are eager to make good on their New Year’s resolutions. If you’re one of the thousands of newbies making your way to fitness centers this month, beware of these five subtle scams that can end up thinning your wallet more than your physique.

The free trial
Free trials at fitness centers are super-popular right after the holidays. It sounds like a no-brainer: no money, and you get to try out the gym for free! Unfortunately, though, free trials can ultimately end up costing you a pretty penny. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns against sharing your credit card information with a gym that’s offering a free trial because many will start automatically charging you a monthly fee unless you remember to cancel your “membership” by a certain timeframe. You may even find yourself committed to a full year!

The fix: Read the fine print carefully on any free trial offer. If possible, only take advantage of a free trial offered without asking for any financial information.

The no-cancellation policy
Gyms depend on strong membership numbers. This can sometimes translate into high-pressure sales tactics-or worse. Lots of fitness centers will not let you out of a contract until a full year is up, no matter what. You’ll be stuck paying that membership all year even if you find the gym is not the right fit for you, if you develop a medical condition that makes use of the gym impossible or you end up moving out of town.

The fix: Before signing up for a gym membership, ask about their cancellation policy. If it’s too rigid, look for another gym.

“Certified” personal trainers
Another way gyms get you is by charging you extra for the service of an on-staff personal trainer. The catch? Lots of these “trainers” have not completed their certification process, or may even be completely untrained! This means you’re essentially paying through the roof to have a glorified coach help you work out. You can also end up getting injured if the trainer puts you through a workout that is overly strenuous for your personal capacity.

The fix: Before signing up to work with a personal trainer, ask to see their certification. Look for NSCA, ACSM, NASM and ACE.

No health-history form
In our litigation-happy society, every business and service provider is deathly afraid of being sued. Gyms are no exception. To help them avoid getting dragged to court for injuries incurred while using their machines, many fitness centers have stopped making new members fill out a health-history form and/or a PAR-Q-a standard questionnaire for exercise readiness. This way, instead of reviewing members’ health histories and lifestyle details so they can direct them toward appropriate machines and workouts, gyms have effectively absolved themselves from exercise-related injuries.

The fix: Be wary of signing up at gyms that don’t ask any questions about your medical history or personal lifestyle.

Equipment-maintenance fees
Many fitness centers have started charging members a quarterly or monthly equipment-maintenance fee on top of their membership dues. This practice begs the question: If you’re paying a fee for the upkeep of the exercise equipment, why are you also paying a membership fee?

The fix: Ask about any additional fees before signing up for a gym membership.

Get fit without the gym
If you’re looking to shed some pounds and build muscles this year, you don’t need a gym. You can download some great workout tutorials online, invite some friends over and exercise at home! There are also lots of exercises you can do without any expensive equipment, like squats, lunges, T-handle swings, push-ups, pull-ups, dips, stretches and more. For an aerobics workout, you can bundle up and go for a walk, sprint or jog outdoors instead of running nowhere on a treadmill in a noisy gym. You can get fit without paying a small fortune!

If you need the commitment to working out that a gym membership can give you, go for it, but proceed with caution. Avoid getting scammed at the gym by looking out for the less-than-savory business practices, and by doing extensive research on any fitness center you might want to join.

Best of luck on your fitness quest in 2020 from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union!

Your Turn:
Have you had an unsatisfactory business relationship with a fitness center? Share it with us in the comments.

Learn More:
joe-cannon.com
nattyornot.com
witn.com

Everything Is Figureoutable By Marie Forleo

book cover of Everything is Figureoutable with text in front of author Marie ForleDreaming up big goals is easy; it’s finding a way to achieve them that can sometimes feel impossible. Maybe you decided this is the year you kick that addiction, double your contributions to your retirement account or finally pull yourself out of debt. Whatever your big dreams may be, Marie Forleo’s new book Everything is Figureoutable will show you how to make them happen.

Forleo describes her mom as a woman with the tenacity of a bulldog and the language of a truck driver. The author’s chief philosophy, and the primary principle of her book, is centered on the wise words her mom shared with her, “Nothing in life is that complicated. You can do whatever you set your mind to if you just roll up your sleeves, get in there, and do it. Everything is figureoutable.”

Forleo’s book shows readers how to achieve any goal, whether they want to launch a business; get their finances under control; leave a dead-end job or learn how to tap dance. With her trademark blend of candor and wit, the award-winning TV host, entrepreneur and public speaker breaks through the barriers that hold us back and inspires readers with the overpowering message that they can achieve anything they dream up. All it takes, she claims, is retraining your brain for ultimate productivity and achievement.

Forleo draws on real-life anecdotes from guests on her podcast and show, MarieTV, to highlight the success rate of her theory. She also backs up her claims with academic research and surveys that are sprinkled throughout the book.
Everything is Figureoutable is a quick, engaging read that may just change your life. Readers will discover:

  • A simple practice that can make you 42% more likely to achieve your goals.
  • How to overcome a lack of time and money.
  • What to do if you’re multi-passionate.
  • How to handle criticism, haters and imposter syndrome.
  • How to differentiate between fear and intuition.
  • A fail-proof test to guide you in making the right decisions, especially in high-stakes situations.

One point of criticism readers have with Everything is Figureoutable is Forleo’s broad promise that her book and philosophy can help people move past any problem, including mental health issues. These readers claim that issues like depression, addiction and trauma, require the help of professionals trained in the mental health field. At the very least, they believe Marie should have made mention of seeking professional help under such circumstances, in addition to following her philosophy.

However, readers who enjoy mental equilibrium are finding the book to be incredibly inspiring and life-altering. As Forleo says about Everything is Figureoutable, “It’s more than just a fun phrase to say. It’s a philosophy of relentless optimism. A mindset. A mantra. A conviction. Most important, it’s about to make you unstoppable.”

Your Turn:
Do you agree with Forleo’s premise that everything is truly figureoutable? Why, or why not? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Learn More:
booksamillion.com
goodreads.com
amazon.com

Step 11 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Track Your Progress

A young professional man makes selections in ann app on his laptop.Update every bit of progress you make on the debt spreadsheet you created earlier this year. Keep your spreadsheet in a visible place so you can quickly and frequently track your progress.

Watching those numbers shrink will give you the motivation you need to work harder and make it all happen quicker. Just imagine; one day, you won’t owe anyone a single dollar!

Your Turn:
Does tracking your progress motivate you to work harder? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Learn More:
Step 1 of 12 Towards a Debt-Free Life

Don’t Get Scammed By Santa!

Close-up of Santa's face and glove as he peeks into the mailbox that you are in.Someone’s been naughty this year-and we’re not talking about you! Those awful scammers don’t take time out for the holidays, and if you don’t know what to expect you can be their next victim.

One of the oldest holiday scams, which is even more prevalent in the age of the internet, is the letter-from-Santa scam. Here’s all you need to know about this Christmas-themed scheme.

How it plays out
In this ruse, scammers set up bogus websites where parents can order legitimate-looking letters from Santa for their children. The cost is less than $30. All they need to do is share some details about their child along with their credit card information, and the letter is supposedly as good as mailed.

Except that it’s not. Unfortunately, anyone who follows the instructions detailed on the site has just fallen prey to a scam. They’ll never see that promised letter, or the money they paid for the privilege of receiving a note from Santa. Worse, the ring of scammers now has the children’s information and their parent’s credit card details.

This set of circumstances can have all sorts of unhappy endings, from identity theft to emptied accounts. Sometimes, the scammers will go after the child’s credit, which will likely go unchecked for years. When the children are grown and try to open a credit card or take out a loan, they may find that their credit score has been destroyed by these scammers over the years, all without their knowledge.

Some sites will even offer to send the letter at no cost. All you need to do is share some details about your child, like their full legal name, date of birth and home address. Of course, this is also the work of scammers looking to steal your child’s identity.

How can I tell it’s a scam?
There are legitimate websites where you can order a letter from Santa for your child at no risk of identity theft or a ruined credit history. But how can you weed out the phony sites from the authentic services?

We’ve made it simple. Look for the following red flags, which should alert you to the fact that a site is created by scammers:

  • The fraudster reaches out to you repeatedly
    Promotional emails and ads are one thing; targeted marketing that is so aggressive it borders on harassment is another thing entirely. If a company doesn’t stop sending you emails or alerts about its services, you may be dealing with a scam.
  • The site is not secure
    As always, check for the lock icon and the ‘s’ after the ‘http’ in the URL; both indicate a site’s security. Also, look for security badges on the bottom of the webpage and click on them to see if they’re actual links to the security company they allegedly represent. Scammers often post static images of well-known security badges, which do fool people into thinking the site is safe.
  • You need to answer too many questions
    Yes, a service sending your child a letter from Santa will need to know your child’s name and mailing address. They may even ask your child’s age so they can send an age-appropriate letter. But there’s no need for them to be privy to your child’s exact date of birth, and certainly not their Social Security number. If the questions in an online form are making you uncomfortable, opt out.
  • You can’t reach a representative by phone
    Most websites will have the company’s toll-free contact number on the site’s homepage. If you suspect fraud, try the number. If the company is bogus, the number will likely be a fake.
  • You can’t find any positive reviews about the company online
    An online search on a legitimate service should bring up basic information and some positive reviews about the service. If a search turns up empty, and of course, if it turns up any reports of past scams, the “company” is run by crooks.

If you’ve recognized a company as a scam, be sure not to click on any links that are embedded in their emails. Flag their emails as spam, and delete every email, message and alert it sends you.

You can still send your child a letter from Santa. Try a legitimate site like Portable North Pole or or better yet, create and send one yourself!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a letter-from-Santa scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Learn More:
consumeraffairs.com
news.yahoo.com
aarp.org

Beware The Apple Support Scam!

Apple logoIf you have an iPhone, iPad or a Macbook, you need to know about this recent, hard-to-spot scam. Hackers are impersonating Apple support in an effort to scrape sensitive information from Apple users’ devices. These scams can be difficult to identify and are often successful.

Here’s all you need to know about the latest phishing scam and how to keep yourself safe.

How does this scam play out?
In the Apple support scam, hackers are spoofing Apple’s support number and calling iPhone users to offer them technical support. The scammer will tell the victim they’re calling about a data breach that needs immediate attention. They’ll claim the victim’s Apple iCloud account is compromised, hacked or has been showing suspicious activity. To fix the problem, they’ll say they need access to the victim’s device. They’ll go on to ask for the Apple user’s login credentials, passwords and other sensitive data. Their ultimate goal is to gain access to the victim’s iCloud account.

Sometimes, the scam takes the form of an automated message sent to the victim announcing that evidence of suspicious activity has been found in their iCloud account. The victim is instructed to call a specific number to reach “Apple Support.” Once victims makes that phone call, they’ll be greeted by a legitimate-sounding welcome message complete with estimated wait times, as if they’d actually reached the real Apple Support. They may even be directed to press the number one to reach a support adviser or supervisor. Of course, once they’re connected to a “representative,” they’ll be speaking to a scammer, who is waiting to ask for their iCloud account credentials and login information.

One of the reasons this scam often works is because of the sophisticated way it’s executed. The scammers use high-level spoofing technology to make it appear as if Apple Support is actually calling the victim. Apple’s iconic logo even appears on the victim’s phone as the call comes in. Unless the victim is aware of this ruse and knows to be on the lookout for it, it’s difficult to determine this call is a scam.

How do I know the caller isn’t really an Apple representative?
In high-tech scams like this one, it can be challenging for targeted victims to separate fact from fiction. If you receive a call like the one described above, and you’re unsure if the caller is a legitimate Apple representative, it’s fairly simple to find out the truth. As soon as the caller starts asking for your Apple ID password, iCloud credentials or verification codes to provide you with support, you’ll know you’re talking to a scammer. Apple has made it clear that its reps will never ask for any of this information over the phone.

What is Apple saying about this scam?
The Apple Support Twitter feed is full of tweets from iPhone users asking if these calls are legitimate. Apple provides these users with a link to a helpful article about avoiding phishing scams. The tech giant has also warned users to verify a caller’s identity before providing any personal information over the phone. Unfortunately, though, this step can be difficult to carry out in real life when the caller ID makes it appear as if the scammer is calling directly from Apple Support.

Perhaps the best advice the company gives for avoiding this scam is, “If you get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Apple, hang up and contact us directly.” If you follow this advice, you’ll never run the risk of sharing your personal information with an alleged Apple Support representative who is really a scammer.
Apple also advises iPhone users to activate two-factor authentication as an added layer of protection for their accounts.

Scammers are always looking for new ways to hack the personal information of unsuspecting victims. Always be on the alert for scams like this one and never share sensitive information over the phone. Stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by the Apple Support scam? Tell us how you recognized the scam in the comments.

Learn More:
forbes.com
fox29.com
support.apple.com

Quit Like A Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, Or Trust Fund Required

Quit Like a Millionaire title in red marking pen font on white backgroundHow do you go from living on just $0.41 a day to retiring at 31 with a cool million dollars?

Find out in this groundbreaking new book by Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung, two leaders of the FIRE movement (Financially Independent, Retire Early).

In Quit Like a Millionaire, you’ll get the full-blown account of how Kristy went from a childhood of poverty in China to being a world-traveling millionaire, all without hitting on any miracle investments or becoming a hotshot entrepreneur. Instead, Kristy followed a perfectly logical and mathematical plan that allowed her to build wealth on her own terms.

Here is just a sampling of the steps Kristy took and those she recommends for readers to reach her goal:

  • Decrease your daily spending without compromising on quality of life.
  • Build a million-dollar portfolio.
  • Fortify your investments to survive bear markets and black-swan events.
  • Use the 4 percent rule and the Yield Shield.

Quit Like a Millionaire is packed with fascinating snapshots of Kristy’s journey, along with loads of actionable advice you can immediately start implementing into your own life. The clear investment strategies and financial planning outlined in the book break through any excuses and bring the life you never thought possible into the realm of reality. At times instructive, often hilarious, and always inspiring, Quit Like a Millionaire is your ultimate roadmap for a life of financial independence.

Readers are devouring this offering from a famed millennial revolution couple, though some complain that the book is too U.S.-centric and does not present a universal manifesto for early retirement. Others claim it takes some financial knowledge on the part of the reader for granted, without offering any tips or “how-to” help for true newbies in the world of finance. Most readers, though, are calling Quit Like a Millionaire a page-turning, mind-opening book that is sure to find its place on the bookshelf of personal finance classics.

Are you wondering if it’s possible for you to quit like a millionaire? Pick up your copy of this just-released book and find out today!

Your Turn:
How do you feel about early retirement? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Learn More:
amazon.com
netgalley.com
goodreads.com

6 Ways To Spot A Payday Loan Scam

glowing green neon sign over black background that spells out "pay day loans"Payday loan scams may seem like old news, but they’re more common than ever. In fact, in 2018, the FTC paid a total of $505 million to more than one million victims of payday loan scams.

In this scam, a caller claiming to represent a collection agency who is acting on behalf of a loan company tells victims they must pay their outstanding balance on a payday loan. They’ll ask victims to confirm identifying details, such as their date of birth or even their Social Security number. They claim they need it as proof that they’ve seen the victim’s loan application and actually do represent the company. Unfortunately, the caller is actually a scammer trying to rip off victims or steal their identity.

In many payday loan scams, victims may have applied for a payday loan but not yet completed the application, or they may have submitted the application but not yet received the funds. In these scenarios, the victim has unknowingly applied for a loan with an illegitimate company which proceeds to sell the victim’s information to a third party. This way, the caller can appear to be an authentic loan collector because they know lots of information about the victim.

If you’ve applied for a payday loan, be on the lookout for these six red flags, any of which should alert you to the fact that you’re being scammed:

1. You’ve never received a payday loan
While these scams usually target people who have filled out an application for a payday loan, fraudsters often go after victims who haven’t completed one or who have done so but have not yet been granted the loan. Obviously, you can’t be late paying back a loan you never received.

If you haven’t completed your application or you haven’t yet received an answer from the loan company you applied to, you’re talking to a scammer.

2. The caller demands you pay under threat of arrest
Scammers often dishonestly align themselves with law enforcement agencies to coerce victims into cooperating. A legitimate loan company will never threaten you with immediate arrest.

3. The caller refuses to divulge the name of his collection agency.
If the caller actually represents a collection agency, they should have no problem identifying this agency by name. If they refuse to do so, you may be looking at a scam.

4. You can’t find any information about the agency the caller allegedly represents.
The caller is sometimes willing to name the agency, but the company is completely bogus. If you’re suspicious about the call, do a quick Google search to see what the internet has to say about this company. If you can’t find any proof of the company’s existence, such as a web page, phone number or physical address; or the search turns up evidence of previous scams, hang up.

5. You have not received a validation notice in the mail.
By law, anyone representing a collection agency and attempting to collect on an outstanding debt must send a validation letter to the debtor. This letter will inform the borrower that they can dispute the debt within 30 days. It will also detail the amount of money owed and the party to whom it must be paid.
If you have not received any such letter in the mail before the alleged debt collector calls, you’re probably looking at a scam.

6. The caller only accepts immediate payment over the phone.
If the caller was reaching out to you on behalf of a legitimate collections agency, they’d be happy to work out a payment plan with you, and provide you with an address to which you can mail your payments. When a “collector” insists that you pay in full over the phone and refuses to furnish an address to which you can mail your payments, you’re likely talking to a scammer who is only interested in getting your financial information and your money.

If you find yourself struggling to survive financially between paychecks, call, click or stop by Advantage One Credit Union today. We’ll be happy to help you learn how to keep your finances it optimum health.

Your Turn:
Have you ever been targeted by a payday loan scam or a similar con? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
lendedu.com
scam-detector.com
avvo.com

Messaging Apps

WhatsApp logo - WhatsApp text with dialog balloon filled with grass green fill color with white classic rotary phone handset icon in balloonWhatsApp
The Facebook-owned messaging app debuted in 2009 as a mobile alternative to Skype. Now, just a decade later, it has easily cornered the market with a user base topping one billion.

WhatsApp offers users an extensive platform for text and video messaging along with a brilliant, cellular-powered voice call feature, allowing users to connect from around the world. There’s no word or minute count with WhatsApp; the only limit is your data.

Best features
WhatsApp offers a simple, clear interface that’s easy to use and everything you’d expect from a messaging app; however, its best feature may actually be its popularity. With 1.5 billion users in more than 180 countries, it’s safe to assume the contact you’re messaging or calling is a WhatsApp user, too.

Aside from its broad reach and many convenient features, WhatsApp has distinguished itself from other messaging apps though its outstanding network connection, especially in picking up dropped calls.

Glaring glitches
The one feature missing on WhatsApp’s platform is the message self-destruct feature. Unless you connect to a third-party app like Kaboom, your WhatsApp messages are there to stay.

Some users also complain that WhatsApp calls don’t offer the clearest connection.
Viber logo - purple dialog balloon with a white classic rotary handset and the word "Viber" in white. "Connect. Freely" is written in purple print underneath the balloon.

Viber
With over 800 million users, Viber is easily WhatsApp’s biggest competitor. The messaging app created a name for itself by being the first of its kind to offer the ability to seamlessly transfer calls between mobile devices and desktop computers.

Best Features
The primary feature setting Viber apart is its high-bandwidth connections, which allow for HD-quality voice calls. There’s nothing tinny or fuzzy about a Viber call; it’s all crisp and clear. If you’ll be using your messaging app primarily for phone calls, this may be a deciding factor for you.

Viber’s huge selection of stickers to add to your messages is another outstanding feature that is a favorite with the younger crowd.

The app also offers self-destructing messages that delete after a predetermined amount of time for added privacy.

Glaring Glitches
Viber has a rich interface that many users find cluttered and complicated. The vast library of stickers can also be overwhelming, not to mention further complicating the interface. If you like your apps clean and simple, this issue may really annoy you.
Viber’s smaller user base, (1.1 billion users) is another negative point of the app. Like WhatsApp, Viber allows you to call Viber users all over the world at no cost. But, if you want to use the app to call a non-Viber user, you’ll have to pay a small fee.

How they stack up

App NameNumber of UsersMessage Self-DestructClean InterfaceClear Connections
WhatsApp1.5 billion as of 2019NoYesNo
Viber1.1 billion as of 2019YesNoYes

Your Turn:
Are you a WhatsApp addict, or do you prefer Viber? A dark horse third option, perhaps? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
pcmag.com
webwise.ie
whatsapp.com
viber.com

Take Caution Before You Borrow Someone’s Charging Cable

Young black male teen enjoys content on his phone that is plugged into a wall charger.You know the feeling. It’s like a bona fide coffee addict running low on caffeine, or like a hiker almost out of drinking water. You’re travelling and your phone is running low on juice. Frantic, you’re searching for a place to plug in and recharge. The last thing you want is to be completely stranded in a strange place with no way to order an Uber or pay for your dinner. In one last desperate move, you search through your bag for the charging cable you always keep there – and then you remember you lent it to your friend and never got it back.

What to do?

And then, like an angel, a stranger appears out of nowhere with a friendly smile on their face. They’re holding a wonderful, beautiful charging cable in their hands.

“Do you want to use this?” they ask.

What do you do?

A. Smile your thanks, grab the cable and plug in your phone.
B. Say “No, thank you,” before walking away, dead smartphone and all.

If you chose B, you made the right decision. Cybersecurity experts are warning against using a stranger’s charging cable or even borrowing one from an airport official or front-desk concierge at a hotel.

“There are certain things in life that you just don’t borrow,” says Charles Henderson, global managing partner and head of X-Force Red at IBM Security. “If you were on a trip and realized you forgot to pack underwear, you wouldn’t ask all your co-travelers if you could borrow their underwear. You’d go to a store and buy new underwear.”

Henderson heads a team of hackers that clients privately hire to break into their computers to identify vulnerabilities before blackhat hackers do. Henderson’s team will often send clients a compromised iPhone cable in the mail to see if the client will plug it in or if they’ve learned to be more cautious by discarding the charger instead.

Henderson warns that cyberhackers can easily implant charging cables with malware that can be used to hijack mobile devices and computers. This can spell complete disaster for the desperate traveler who graciously accepted the spare cable from their fellow passenger and plugged in their device.

At the annual DEF CON Hacking Conference in Las Vegas, a hacker known as MG showed the attendees how he had modified an iPhone lightning cable to serve as a hacking device. MG used the cable to connect an iPod to a Mac computer and then remotely accessed the cable’s IP address to take control of the Mac. These compromised cables are available on the Darknet for just $200 each.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that charging cables left over by previous guests in the front desk of the hotel are any better than a cable offered by a stranger.

“If the front desk had a drawer full of underwear,” says Henderson, “would you wear those?”

Unlike most scams aiming for as wide a target base as possible, using a charging cable to hack a victim’s device can only be pulled off on one victim at a time. Lucky for us, this means the charging cable hack isn’t as popular or widespread – yet. Henderson warns that the relatively inexpensive technology required for the hack and the fact that it is so easy to make the cable look completely innocent could mean an upsurge in these scams in the near future.

For now, it’s best to be aware of this threat and to practice caution when travelling.

Henderson adds that using public USB charging stations is currently a larger threat than compromised cables. These stations can easily be compromised and open your device to all sorts of malware and vulnerabilities. It’s best to use your own charger at all times.

“In a computing context, sharing cables is like sharing your password,” says Henderson, “because that’s the level of access you’re crucially conveying with these types of technology.”

To avoid falling victim to this hack, always pack an extra charging cable in your handbag. If you forgot to take one along or you can’t seem to find it, purchase a new one to use while you’re away. You can find charging cables in almost any convenience store for under $10 – a small investment for your safety.

The next time you’re running low on juice and a stranger offers you the use of their charging cable, make the safe choice!

Your Turn:
Have you ever been targeted by using a borrowed charging cable? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
forbes.com
headtopics.com
frnews.ng

Step 10 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Make It Automatic

Young black woman manages her finances and checks her credit card balances on a laptopNow that you’re maximizing your payments toward the debt you’ve prioritized, make sure it happens by automating your payments. Set up an automatic transfer in your designated amount from your checking account or your savings account to that debt each month, and it will be well on its way to disappearing!

Your Turn: How much time can you save each month by making all of your payments automatic? Brag about it in the comments!