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 Unfortunately, any money invested through these sites can never be withdrawn.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. 

Don’t Get Spooked by One of these Scams this Halloween!

That cackling, long-haired witch might send your heart fluttering with fear, but these Halloween scams are even spookier! Here’s what to know about these common Halloween scams. 

 1. The Joker

Desperate for money before the holiday shopping season hits? Looking to pad your pockets with a bit of extra cash? Scammers know this all too well, and target consumers with messages promising loads of money for very little work. All you need to do is send a small amount of money to a designated digital address via CashApp, Venmo, or another money transfer app, and your money will be doubled, tripled, or more. 

Don’t fall for the tricks! Much like another variation of the money-flipping scam, they’ll ask you to share your account information so they can withdraw the money and then “treat” you with the cash you’ve earned. It’s like getting free money – which, of course, doesn’t exist. 

Spot a money-flipping scam through the amateur writing and too-good-to-be-true promises. Any request for you to share your banking information is another dead giveaway. 

2. Night of the Living Dead

This scam can be pulled off at any time of year, but it takes on an extra level of spookiness when yards are decorated with ghosts and cobwebby graveyards. In the deceased identity theft scam, scammers actually steal the identity of someone who is no longer living. They may empty the decedent’s accounts, pass off their credit history as their own and use their Social Security number to collect benefits, apply for a job, and more.

Protect a loved one’s identity from being stolen after they pass on by taking steps to lock down their social media accounts, credit report, and Social Security number. Keep an eye on their accounts until their assets have been lawfully divided. 

3. Trick or Treat

You found the perfect costume online, and for a bargain price! You happily pay up, complete your order and wait for the package to arrive. And wait. And wait. Unfortunately, you’ve been tricked. 

In a variation of the online order scam, the package arrives on your doorstep as promised, but has little resemblance to the way it looked online. The quality may be lacking, the size and color completely off, or important components missing. You may try to find a customer service line, but there’s no working number listed. You may also try returning the purchase, but a street address for returns will be more elusive than the invisible man. 

Don’t get tricked! Only order from reputable sites that display complete contact information for the company. Ignore all offers that scream “Hot Deal! Act Now!” and feature prices that are way below the average sale price. Shop with caution and you’ll only walk away with treats.

4. Hitman

There’s a hitman at your door – and no, this is no disguise! 

In the hitman scam, scammers pretend to be assassins who were hired to take out a target. They’ll send the target extortion emails and messages, promising to spare their life for just a few thousand dollars. Often, they’ll even drop the name of the friend or family member who allegedly put a hit on the target’s life. 

Don’t get scammed! If you receive an extortion message of any kind, contact local law enforcement. Never share money with an unverified contact. And finally, if the scammer shared the name of the person who allegedly hired them, reach out to this person to verify that no, they didn’t put a hit on your life. 

It’s a frightening world out there, but being aware of these scams and following smart precautions, you can protect your money and your information. 

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

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

Beware of Gift Card Scams

Everyone loves a gift card for their favorite retailer or restaurant. It’s like getting money to spend in any way you please! Unfortunately, scammers also love gift cards, but for all the wrong reasons: They often use gift cards to pull off scams. Here’s what you need to know about gift card scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

There are several ways scammers utilize gift cards to con victims out of their money:

  • The IRS gift card scam. In this scam, a target receives a threatening message that’s allegedly from the IRS and claiming they are at risk of arrest for tax evasion if they do not pay up immediately. However, they insist that payment can only be made in the form of a gift card. Often, the scammer will ask specifically for an iTunes gift card, because, as you know, the IRS always asks for tax payments in the form of digital music. 
  • The tech support gift card scam. In this variation, a caller pretends to represent tech support at a recognized company, like Apple or Microsoft. They’ll insist there is something wrong with the victim’s computer and offer to “assist” in fixing the problem. Payment can be made with a gift card, of course. Lucky for you, there is nothing wrong with your computer, but you’ve just been targeted by a scam and are at risk of getting tricked. 
  • The romance gift card scam. A new dating partner found through a dating website asks for money in the form of a gift card to help them out of a sticky situation. Believe them and you’ll lose both your date and your money. 
  • The sweepstakes gift card scam. Congratulations — you’ve won a trip to the Cayman Islands! But first, you have to pay the small processing fee via gift card. Follow directions and you’ll never see that vacation or the money you spent on the gift card again. 
  • The utility gift card scam. You don’t want your gas or electricity cut off, do you? If you don’t pay up with a gift card, the lights might just go out. They won’t, but if you fall for the call, you’ll be out the money you spent on the gift card.
  • The balance-check gift card scam. You spot a discounted gift card up for sale online and happily purchase the card. The seller will send you the card, but then ask you to read the numbers over the phone to confirm the balance. If you comply, the seller now has all the information they need to use up all the funds on the gift card. 

How to spot a gift card scam

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way in recognizing gift card scams:

  • The IRS will never initiate correspondence by phone call, text message, or email. Instead, they will send a letter to taxpayers through the U.S. postal system. 
  • No authentic business or government agency will insist on payment by gift card. 
  • If you don’t recall entering a sweepstakes, chances are you didn’t win it either.
  • A caller or message claiming a matter is urgent and demands immediate action is nearly always a scam. 

In general, gift cards should be used for purchases or to send as gifts, and not as payments. Also, as with all sensitive information, the numbers on your gift card should never be shared over the phone or online. Finally, it’s best to only purchase gift cards through reputable sellers or those that have excellent customer reviews and/or offer a cash-back guarantee.

If you’ve fallen victim to a gift card scam

If you’ve paid a scammer with a gift card or shared your gift card information after being taken by any of the above ruses or similar schemes, take immediate steps to mitigate the damage. 

First, contact the company that issued the card as soon as possible. You can find the customer service number for most companies on the card itself or through a simple Google search. Tell the representative what happened. If you still have them, hold on to the receipt and the actual card for proof should it be required. 

Next, if the scammer continues to contact you by phone, text message or email, do not engage further. Block the scammer’s number from your mobile device and mark their emails as spam. 

Finally, report the incident to the FTC and alert your family and friends about the scam. 

Stay safe! 

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

Scam Free Summer

Hello, summer! It’s the season of flip-flops and ice pops, of sun-drenched afternoons and lazy days at the beach. And, unfortunately, summertime is also prime time for scammers. People are more relaxed, schedules are looser and vacationers are traveling in unfamiliar locations. All of this can lead people to let their guard down during the summer, and the scammers know it. 

Don’t get scammed this summer! Follow these tips to stay safe. 

1. Never pay for a “prize” vacation

So you won an all-expense-paid trip to Aruba? Or a vacay in a remote French chalet? Sounds like a dream come true, but if you follow through, you’ll be caught up in a nightmare.  If you’re asked to pay even a small fee to claim a free vacation prize, you’re looking at a scam. A legitimate company will never ask winners to pay a fee for a prize.

2. Use a credit card when traveling

A credit card will offer you the most protection in case something goes wrong. You’ll be able to dispute unauthorized charges, and in most cases, reclaim your lost funds.

3. Ignore celebrity messages

Celebrities might have a direct line with the public through their social media platforms, but don’t believe a private message appearing to be from your favorite movie star, singer or athlete. A direct message from a celeb asking for money for a charity, or claiming you’ve won a prize, but need to pay a processing fee, is a scam.

4. Check for skimmers at the pump

If you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road this summer, and pumping gas in unfamiliar places, it’s a good idea to check the card reader for skimmers before going ahead with your transaction. A card skimmer will read your credit or debit card information, enabling a scammer to empty your accounts. Here’s how to check for a skimmer on a card reader:

  • Try to wiggle the card reader; this should dislodge a skimmer if there is one. 
  • Check the keypad to see if it looks newer than the rest of the card reader.
  • Touch the surface of the keypad to see if it’s raised.

5. Research vacation rentals carefully before booking

With so many vacationers now booking stays at private homes instead of hotels, scamming travelers is easy. All it takes is a few fake photos, a bogus address, and you’ve got yourself a fake vacation rental. In other vacation rental scams, scammers will falsely advertise a rental as a beachfront property when it’s not, claim that it’s larger or more up-to-date than it is or promise amenities that are missing when you arrive. 

Don’t get scammed! Before booking a vacation rental, read the reviews left by previous guests. If there aren’t any, or they don’t sound authentic, you’re likely looking at a scam. You can also look up the address of the rental to see if it in fact exists and if the location matches the description in the listing. As another precaution, you can ask the owner for more details about the property just to see their reaction; if they sound vague or uneasy, it’s likely a scam. Finally, as mentioned above, use a credit card to pay for the stay so you can dispute the charges if it ends up being a scam.

6. Vet potential contractors well

Contractors who go from door-to-door looking for work are a fairly common summertime sight. Unfortunately, though, some of these “contractors” are actually scammers who are only looking to con innocent homeowners out of their money. They’ll deliver shoddy work at an inflated price, go AWOL once a down payment on the job’s been made or do more harm than good with their “home improvement” work.

It’s best to only hire contractors whom you’ve personally reached out to instead of waiting for one to come knocking on your door. Also, before hiring, thoroughly research a potential contractor, asking for contact info of previous clients, checking out their online presence and looking up the business on the BBB website. Finally, it’s best not to agree to pay more than a third of the total cost of a job before the work commences. Even then, only pay when you see the materials arrive. 

Don’t let summertime turn into scam-time. Stay alert, follow the tips outlined above, and stay safe!

Your Turn: What are your tips for a scam-free summer? Share them with us in the comments. 

Is Plaid Safe?

Q: When using peer-to-peer payment apps, banking apps and free-trading apps, I’m often redirected to the Plaid network, where I’m asked to input personal information. Can I feel safe using Plaid?

A: The instinct to be wary of any service that’s asking you to share sensitive information is appropriate and commendable. Most financial apps will ask you to share your banking information, and some will even ask you to share your Social Security number. But it begs the important question; Should you be sharing this information?

While the safety and security of each financial app is individual, apps that are powered by Plaid are safe to use. Plaid is a reputable company that uses encryption and industry-standard security measures to protect your sensitive information.

Here’s what you need to know about Plaid.

What is Plaid? 

Plaid is a financial technology company that serves as an intermediary between financial services and their users. Apps like Venmo, You Need a Budget and Robinhood use Plaid to securely link their users’ financial accounts to their own platforms. This way, the financial apps do not have access to their users’ information; they instead rely on Plaid to supply it for them.

Plaid works by using a universal Application Programming Interface (API) to share users’ data with other applications. APIs are software intermediaries that allow two different applications to communicate. Plaid has developed an API that can be used by any financial institution or application, making it simpler and safer for users to share their financial information digitally.

How does Plaid work?

When you sign up for any of the 3,000+ financial applications currently powered by Plaid, you’ll be asked to choose your financial institution from a list that’s provided by Plaid. Next, you’ll enter your banking login info and password. Some apps will have you create a new password at this point. Once you’ve logged in, Plaid securely shares the information you’ve chosen to link, such as your checking account number, with the app you’re using.

It’s important to note that Plaid itself does not move money around. The technology merely enables other financial apps and their users to send funds from one account to another. Plaid holds onto your encrypted password information without touching your money, while the linked financial app can move your money, but cannot access or know your login credentials.

Is Plaid safe?

Sharing personal information with an app can be unsettling — and it should be. However, you can rest easy, knowing that Plaid uses the highest levels of security possible. When you link your checking account with a financial application by using Plaid, the company instantly encrypts the sensitive data and then shares it with the application using a secure connection.

According to the Plaid website, the company uses these measures to keep your information secure:

  • End-to-end data encryption. Plaid uses a combination of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-256) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) to keep your personal information completely safe.
  • Multi-factor authentication.  An extra login step adds another layer of security.
  • Cloud infrastructure. Plaid uses secure cloud infrastructure technologies to enable quick and safe connection.
  • Robust monitoring. The Plaid API and all related components are continuously monitored by a security team.
  • Third-party security reviews. Security researchers and financial institutions regularly audit Plaid’s API and security controls.

When using an application that is powered through Plaid, practice standard online safety measures. Check the URL to ensure you have the correct site, look for the lock icon and the “s” following the “http” in the address. Also, make sure the security settings on your device are updated and set to their strongest levels. Finally, if you need to choose a new password for the app, be sure to choose a strong, unique code and not to share it with anyone.

In a world that is increasingly mobile, Plaid safely connects users to thousands of financial apps and 11,000 financial institutions across the country. Follow basic online safety protocol, keep your login info private, and you can use Plaid knowing your information is secure.

Your Turn: What steps do you take to keep your data safe? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
getdivvy.com
plaid.com

Micro-Deposit Scams

It probably doesn’t surprise you to know that scammers are always coming up with creative ways to con people out of their money. Recently, there’s been an uptick in an old scam in which crooks reach out to targets and try to gain access to their accounts through micro-deposits. Unfortunately, too many people have already fallen for this scam, and we don’t want our members getting caught in the trap. To that end, we’ve compiled this guide on micro-deposit scams, how they play out and what you can do if you’re targeted.

What is a micro-deposit?

Before we can explore the actual scam, it’s important to understand how a micro-deposit works.

Micro-deposits are small sums of money transferred online from one financial account to another. The purpose of the deposits is to verify if the account on the receiving end is actually the account the sender intended to reach. Micro-deposits are generally less than $1 and can be as small as $0.02. They are also typically deposited in pairs; within one to three business days of linking accounts, two micro-deposits should appear in your account.

As mentioned, micro-deposits are primarily used to verify account ownership. For example, if you’d like to link your checking account at Advantage One Credit Union with an investment account, the investment brokerage firm will want to verify that it’s sending your dividends to the correct account. Before sending any of your investment earnings, it’ll do a test run by sending a pair of micro-deposits to your checking account. You’ll be notified that the firm has sent these deposits, and asked to verify the amount of the deposit by logging into your newly linked account. Once you’ve completed this step, the brokerage account will withdraw the small amount of money sent through the micro-deposits and proceed with regular deposits of investment dividends, as planned.

How the scams play out

Micro-deposit scams can take one of two forms.

In one type of micro-deposit scam, a crook will open as many investment accounts as they can, linking each one to one of a handful of bank accounts. When the micro-deposits begin to come in, the scammer will quickly transfer the money to another account before the brokerage company withdraws the deposits. Though each micro-deposit is small, when multiplied by thousands, the scammer can pull in quite a lot of money  — until they get caught, that is.

But it’s the other type of micro-deposit scam that concerns us more — and should concern you as well. In this scam, crooks will link brokerage accounts with strings of random numbers, hoping to hit a valid account. When a deposit is verified from an account, they will use additional information about the account holder to withdraw funds from this account as they please. Unfortunately, many people are uninformed about this scam and innocently verify the micro-deposits, giving the scammers free access to their accounts.

[Here at Advantage One Credit Union, we’ve had an alarming number of micro-deposits made to some of our members’ accounts. To protect our members and their money, we’ve started sending automatic text message alerts to members when they’ve received a micro-deposit. This way, the member knows about the deposit and, if they don’t recognize the sender, they can let us know they’ve been targeted by a scammer. We can then refuse to let the deposit clear and consider placing a fraud alert on the member’s account. Most importantly, the member will know they’ve been targeted and they can refuse to verify the deposit.]

What to do if you’re targeted

Micro-deposits are small enough to fly under the radar and you may unknowingly verify one of these deposits with an uninformed click. [However, now that we’ve initiated our micro-deposit alert system, you will know when to be on the lookout for a micro-deposit and the verification request that follows it.] Here’s what to do if you’ve received a micro-deposit from an unknown source:

  • Do not verify the deposit. Without verification, the scammer won’t know they’ve hit an authentic account.
  • Do not click on any links embedded in the verification request message or download any attachments.
  • Let us know you’ve been targeted.
  • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov so they can do their part in catching the scammers.
  • Let your friends and family know about the scam so they can be on the alert as well.

Scammers are using micro-deposits to gain access to our members’ accounts, but Advantage One Credit Union is doing everything possible to stop them before they can do any real damage. Together, we can beat the scammers at their game and protect your accounts and your money. Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a micro-deposit scam? Share your experience in the comments.

Lean More:
schneier.com
learn.stash.com
finextra.com
support.wealthfront.com

Beware of the USPS Smishing Text Scam

Your phone pings with an incoming text. You swipe it open to find a message from the USPS. They’re texting to let you know that the scheduled delivery time for your package has been changed. Unfortunately, though, the message is not from the USPS and you’ve just been targeted by a scam.

Here’s what you need to know about the USPS smishing text scam.

How the scam plays out

In the USPS smishing text ruse, a target will receive a text like the one described above. The message prompts the victim to click on a link to reschedule the delivery. However, if the victim follows the instructions, they’ll be falling victim to a smishing text scam.

The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is warning of an uptick in smishing scams that use the USPS as a cover, conning unsuspecting victims into downloading malware onto their phones or sharing personal information with scammers they assume is the USPS. The scammer will then go on to empty the victim’s accounts or steal their identity.

Individuals who’ve recently made online purchases and are expecting a package delivery within the next few days are especially vulnerable to this scam. To the uninformed, the text looks legitimate, and with just one careless click, the scammer has access to the victim’s device and personal information.

However, with one crucial bit of information, you can protect yourself from falling victim to the USPS smishing scam: The USPS never sends out unsolicited text messages about a package. The company will only send a message when a consumer has signed up for alerts about a package’s delivery. If you have not signed up for messages from the USPS, and you receive a text like the one described above, you know you’re being targeted by a scam.

What to do if you’re targeted

If you’re targeted by a smishing text scam, the USPIS recommends taking the following steps:

  • Verify the sender. Confirm the identity of the message sender by checking with the USPS if you actually have a delivery schedule change. Don’t call the number on the text. Instead, reach out to your local USPS office directly.
  • Don’t reply or click on links. Replying to the message or downloading an embedded link can install malware onto your phone.
  • Delete. Save a screenshot of the text to share with law enforcement agencies and then delete the message.
    Block the number and update the security on your device. Prevent a recurrence of the scam by putting the number on your “Do Not Call” list and beefing up the security settings on your phone.
  • Keep personal information personal. Never share sensitive information, like your Social Security number or financial account details, with an unverified contact.

Report the scam

Do your part to stop the scammers by reporting it to the proper authorities.

First, you can report smishing scams that impersonate the USPS to the Inspection Service Cybercrime Team at the USPIS by email. Take a screenshot of the text and send it to spam@uspis.gov. Make sure your screenshot shows the number of the sender as well as the date it was sent. You’ll also need to include your name in the email so the team can reach you, along with any other relevant details about the scam, such as money you may have lost, links you may have downloaded, and personal information you may have shared. The USPIS will contact you if it needs any additional information to help nab the scammers.

You can also report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov and let your friends and family know about the circulating scam.

Stay alert and stay safe!

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

Learn More:
wmbfnews.com
keloland.com
wkbw.com
link.usps.com

All You Need to Know About Checking Accounts

The most obvious things in life are often overlooked, and your checking account is just one of them. Most people hardly give a thought to this important account and how to best manage it effectively. We’re here to change that.

Here’s all you need to know about checking accounts:

What is a checking account? 

Your checking account at Advantage One Credit Union offers easy and convenient access to your funds. The minimum balance required for opening a checking account can be as low as $25. Like most financial institutions, we also allow an unlimited number of monthly withdrawals and deposits.

Checking accounts are designed to be used for everyday expenses. You can access the funds in your account via debit card, paper check, ATM or in-branch withdrawals, online transfer or through online bill payment.

Making transactions using the connected debit card, or through a linked online account, will automatically use the available balance in your account and lower the balance appropriately.

A paper check is also linked directly to your account, but will generally take up to two business days to clear. It’s important to ensure there are enough funds in your account to cover a purchase before paying with a check.

Maintenance fees 

Many banks charge a monthly maintenance fee for checking accounts.

According to Bankrate’s most recent survey on checking accounts, only 38% of banks now offer free checking, compared with 79% in 2009. Monthly fees can be as high as $25 a month.

Interest rates

Most checking accounts offer a very low Annual Percentage Yield (APY) on deposited funds, or none at all. Institutions that offer checking accounts with interest or dividends will generally charge a monthly fee, with the fee being higher for accounts that have higher rates. They also generally require a minimum balance in the account at all times or a minimum number of monthly debit card transactions. According to Bankrate’s survey, you’ll need to keep an average of $7,550 in an interest-yielding checking account at a bank to avoid a steep maintenance fee.

Security

Funds that are kept in a checking account at a bank are federally insured by the FDIC for up to $250,000. Credit unions feature similar protection for your funds, with all federal credit unions offering government protection through the National Credit Union Association. State and private credit unions may be insured by the NCUA as well, or through their own state or private insurance. Advantage One Credit Union is insured by the NCUA to offer you full and complete protection for your funds.

Managing your checking account 

Managing a checking account is as simple as 1-2-3:

1 – Know your balance

It’s important to know how much is in your account at all times. This way, you can avoid an overdrawn account, or having insufficient funds to cover your purchases. Being aware of how much money you have will also help you stick to a budget and spend within your means. You can generally check your balance by phone [or via online checking or a synced budgeting app].

2 – Automate your finances

Make life a little easier by setting up automatic bill payment through your checking account. You won’t miss the hassle of paying your monthly bills, and you’ll never be late for a payment again. As a bonus, you’ll save on the processing fee that is often charged on bill payments made via credit card.

You can also set up direct deposit to have your paycheck land right in your account.

Finally, ask us about automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to savings so you never forget to put money into savings.

[You may also want to consider signing up for overdraft protection, or to have funds transfer from your linked savings account to checking when your balance is getting low.]

3 – Keep your account well-funded, but not over-funded

Financial experts recommend keeping one to two months’ worth of living expenses in your checking account at all times. This way, you’ll always have enough funds to cover your transactions without fear of your account being overdrawn. You’ll also be able to cover the occasional pre-authorization hold that a merchant may place on your debit card transaction until it clears.

It’s equally important not to keep too much money in your checking account. Once you’ve reached that sweet spot of two months of living expenses, it’s best to keep your savings in an account or an investment that offers a higher APY, such as a money market account or a share certificate.

Checking accounts offer the ultimate in convenience and accessibility. Now that you’ve learned all about these often overlooked accounts, let this financial tool help you manage your finances in the most effective way possible.

Your Turn: How do you manage your checking account effectively? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
investopedia.com
discover.com
bankrate.com
thebalance.com
kiplinger.com

5 Steps to Take After Being Hacked

Uh oh — you’ve been hacked! Finding out someone has cracked open your accounts and helped themselves to your information can be alarming, but there are ways to mitigate the damage while jump-starting your recovery process.

Here are five steps to take after being hacked.

Step 1: Assess the damage

First, take a step back and determine how much damage was done. Unfortunately, one hacked password can often be the gateway to multiple hacked accounts and even complete identity theft. This is especially true if you use the same password for several accounts, or use the hacked account or device for password recovery on other accounts. So, first things first: Review your credit card and account statements for any suspicious activity.  Also, try accessing your email, social media accounts and mobile devices to see if they’ve been hacked.

Step 2: Change your passwords

Once you know which accounts and devices have been hacked, change the passwords and PINs on these accounts. For an added measure of protection, it’s a good idea to change the passwords on all of your accounts that may hold sensitive information. Remember to choose strong, unique passwords for every account. A strong password uses a combination of letters, numbers and symbols; varies the use of capital letters; and does not use a piece of personal information that can easily be scraped off the internet, such as your date of birth or home address. You may want to use a password service like LastPass  or  StickyPassword to make this step easier.

While completing this step, consider signing up for two-factor authentication for any accounts that do not already have it in place.

Step 3: Protect your credit

Now that you’ve blocked the hacker(s) from your accounts, it’s time for damage control.

First, dispute any fraudulent charges on your compromised account(s). If necessary, have the account(s) locked, or even shut and/or deleted.

Next, place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This serves as a red flag to potential lenders and creditors, making it more difficult for the scammer to open up additional lines of credit or to take out a loan in your name.

Consider a credit freeze as well. This blocks potential lenders from accessing your credit report, making it impossible for the hacker to open new credit accounts in your name.

Step 4: Alert the authorities

You can alert the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about a possible or confirmed identity theft at identitytheft.gov.  You’ll also find a detailed recovery plan on the site to help you repair your credit and reclaim your identity.

Hacking is usually done remotely, but it’s still a good idea to let your local law enforcement agencies know about the breach. This way, they can be on the alert if the hacker decides to assume your identity and use your credit cards in stores near your hometown.

Also, if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to let Advantage One Credit Union know what’s happened! Whether it’s a credit card that’s been stolen, a checking account that’s been breached or a social media account that’s been broken into, we’ll do all we can to protect your accounts. If you’ve been hacked, give us a call at 734-676-7000 to see how we can help.

Step 5: Proceed with caution

Once you’ve taken all necessary steps toward damage control and mitigation, you can start thinking about the future.

It’s important to keep a close eye on your accounts for the next month. Look out for any suspicious activity on all accounts, including charges you don’t recall making, large withdrawals of cash and even new loans being opened in your name. If you find any fraudulent activity, be sure to let the account holders know and to follow the steps suggested above.

If you’ve opted to go with a credit freeze, it will generally lapse after 90 days. If your accounts are determined to be safe, consider opening new lines of credit now to jump-start the recovery of your credit health.

If the hacker went all out and stole your identity, it’s best to follow the recovery plan outlined by the FTC . This plan may include replacing your Social Security number, driver’s license and more.

Getting hacked is never fun, but taking immediate and decisive action can help mitigate the damage, as well as speed up the recovery process.

Your Turn: How have you dealt with your accounts being hacked? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
allthingssecured.com
digitalguardian.com

8 Ways to Spot a Counterfeit Bill

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a wave of scams, with no signs of slowing down. These scams are also producing a surge of counterfeit bills into circulation. Using cutting-edge technology, scammers create bills that look just like the real thing to the untrained eye. Unfortunately, once counterfeit bills are passed, their new owner can become liable for passing them on to someone else.

In an effort to combat the reach of counterfeit bills, the Secret Service and the U.S. Treasury have added several identifying features to legitimate dollar bills to help citizens and business owners determine whether they are authentic. Here are some signs that can tell you if a bill is the real thing:

A hologram of the face image on the bill: When held up to the light, the hologram on the bill should match the face on the front of the bill. Scammers will often bleach a lower denomination bill and try to pass it off as a bill of a higher denomination — but they can’t change the interior hologram. So, if the $100 bill is really a counterfeit bill created from a $5 one, holding the bill up to the light will reveal the face of Abraham Lincoln, and not Benjamin Franklin, who appears on authentic $100s.

A thin vertical strip of text spelling out the bill’s denomination: Holding the note up to the light will also display this sign of authenticity on genuine bills.

Color-shifting ink: All new-series bills, except for the $5 bill, were designed with this trick: If you tilt the bill back and forth, the numeral in the lower right hand corner will shift from green to black and back to green again.

Watermark: The watermark of the bill can be seen in an unprinted space to the right of the portrait when the bill is held up to the light.

Security thread: Also apparent when the bill is held up to light, the security thread is a thin strip running from the top of the face on the bill until its bottom. The security strip is positioned to the right of the portrait on $10 and $50 bills, and to the left of the portrait on $5s, $20s and $100s.

Ultraviolet glow: You’ll need an ultraviolet light for this to work, but it’s an instant reveal about the bill’s authenticity. When held up to an ultraviolet light, $5 bills glow blue, $10 bills glow orange, $20 bills glow green, $50 bills glow yellow, and $100 bills glow red.

Microprinting: For yet another sign of a bill’s authenticity, you can look for tiny microprinting on the bill’s security thread, which spells out its denomination in all-caps text.

Fine line printing patterns: Look for very fine lines behind the portrait and on the other side of the bill as well.

What to do if you’ve been passed a counterfeit bill

If a note you’ve been passed does not hold up to the authenticity test, and you believe it’s a counterfeit bill, the U.S. Treasury advises the following course of action:

  • Do not put yourself in a position of danger.
  • Do not return the bill to the passer.
  • If possible, delay the passer with an excuse.
  • Take note of the passer’s physical appearance and record their vehicle license plate if possible.
  • Contact your local police department or call your local Secret Service office.
  • Write your initials and date in the white border area of the suspected counterfeit note.
  • Do not handle the counterfeit note. Place it inside a protective cover, a plastic bag or an envelope until you can pass it on to an identified Secret Service Special agent. You can also mail it to your nearest Secret Service office.

Counterfeit cash can be harder to spot than you think. Don’t get stuck holding the bag! If you think you’ve been passed a counterfeit bill, and the note is missing the signs listed above, follow the advice of the U.S. Treasury to keep your hands clean.

Your Turn: Have you ever encountered a counterfeit bill? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
losspreventionmedia.com
mentalfloss.com
secretservice.gov
businessknowhow.com
wvnews.com