Archive for the ‘Your Money and You’ Category

Multi-Factor Authentication Foils Cyber-thugs

We sometimes get complaints from members who are frustrated with the set-up and maintenance of security for their online account access.  Here are some reasons not to loathe the security questions, site keys and other safety measures in place online:

Six federal regulators governing the financial sector have combined forces to strengthen the online security of your accounts.  Together, they make up the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC).  The guidelines they set forth are designed to help financial institutions like PFCU make sure the individual attempting to access your accounts electronically is actually you. 

The First Line of Defense

If you aren’t used to strong online security, it can feel a bit like jumping through a series of virtual hoops.  Keep in mind, the “hoops” are meant to be easy for you to navigate, but difficult, if not impossible, for anyone who may have tried to steal your identity to breach.  

First, there is the authentication process.  One or more of the following are used to authenticate you:

            -Something you have (ATM/Debit Card)

            -Something you know (Password, PIN, or Personal Identification Number, site key)

            -Something you are (biometric device, etc.)

The more factors are included, the stronger the defense of your accounts.  That is why PFCU combines several factors to protect you.  We include a site key, for example, which is an image specific to you accompanied by a phrase you create, which let’s you know you are at our site.  If you log in and don’t see your site key, escape right away, try to enter through our website and, if you still don’t see it, contact us promptly. 

Layers

To maximize security, the “hoops” are utilized at different points in the transaction process so that someone who may be able to overcome one obstacle may be tripped up by another.  For example, after completing one transaction, it may be necessary to re-enter a PIN or answer a security question before the next transaction.  The layers of security can help us identify suspicious activity.  They can also limit exposure to losses should someone gain unauthorized access to one transaction.  Setting up the answers to security questions and selecting a site key might seem cumbersome, but the process is much easier than filing police reports and dispute forms. 

  Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Get Tricked into Making Expensive Phone Calls

An old scam to trick people into making costly long distance phone calls has resurfaced and can cost you time and even money.  Typically, a message is left in your voice mail system for you to call someone regarding an urgent matter, such as information about a family member or, perhaps, a contest you’ve “won”.  The number ends up routing you to a foreign country where you are then charged huge amounts of money for every minute you stay on the line. 

“809,” “284,” “876,” are a few of the area codes you need to look out for.  If you receive a message from an unfamiliar area code, do not automatically call back.  Look up the area code and verify that it is in the US.  An easy way is to go to areacode.org

You can also ask your phone company to block foreign calls if you aren’t in the habit of making them. 

You can read more on the Federal Communications Commission website.

The Safety and Security tab of our website also has some great information about scams of all kinds to avoid, and there are other fraud prevention articles here at PFCUandyou.com.

Enjoy using your phone and/or mobile phone for communication with known friends and family, but exercise caution when using it for other purposes.

Protecting Your Group or Organization Accounts

Every day there are thousands of organizations across the country putting enormous time and effort into fundraising. From bake sales to candy bars, from cookies to popcorn, people are always coming up with creative ways to raise money for a good cause. Now, imagine that an unscrupulous leader in the organization who steals hard-earned money raised by the group destroys all of that effort. It has happened to church groups, schools, scouting organizations and sporting clubs. A few clear, simple rules can keep it from happening to your group.

One of the reasons we all participate in such organizations is that we want to have fun and build community. There is a general feeling of good will generated and it’s easy to let our guard down. Unfortunately, many otherwise honest people may succumb to temptation if they fall on hard times. One way to look at it is for all members of the group to be mindful not to put one another in a position where they could become suspect if money went missing. Care of the organization’s funds should be a constant collaborative effort.

• Elect trustworthy individuals as officers, but don’t put anyone in a situation where they are easily tempted to defraud the group
• Keep a system of checks and balances that the group agrees upon
• No one should be offended if anyone in the group wants to look at bank statements, ledgers or other records-books should be open at all times
• Frequent, transparent reporting should be made to the group and verified independently by different group members
• We encourage groups to sign up for online banking and e-Statements so that different members can easily go online any time to review accounts
• Rotating officers frequently can prevent any one individual from getting too comfortable
• When large sums of money are brought in, the group should determine specific actions for use of the funds and initiate procedures for follow-up
• Officers should take care to avoid even the appearance of impropriety
• Use mobile apps like our new Sprig Mobile Banking as a way of quickly checking account activity

Young or old, the members of an organization work hard to raise money for specific purposes. Use the administration of those funds as a way to teach kids about cooperation, money and planning and keep the experience pleasant for everyone. In conjunction with our Free Girl Scout Troop Accounts, for example, PFCU offers extensive financial literacy training with the help of children’s author Sam Renick. After he and his Sammy Rabbit character delight and educate the kids, their parents often tell us they learned a lot, too! Don’t let money ruin friendships, familial relationships and the integrity of your group or organization. Encourage one another to be vigilant in a collaborative way and applaud each other for being cautious.

Ramnit: A Cyber Worm that Can Really Ruin Your Day

Staying ahead of malicious computer programmers is a challenge and requires an ever more complicated combination of precautions to ensure that your financial data is not getting into the wrong hands.

In a recent article, we warned you about “spiders” on the worldwide web.  Another particularly dangerous threat is known as a “worm”.  A worm is able to spread to other computers without being transmitted through e-mails or malicious websites.  One such worm is the “Ramnit” which has surfaced in Europe but is quickly spreading throughout the world.  The Ramnit takes advantage of the viral aspect of sites like Facebook.  Programmers realize that many people use the same password for social networking sites that they use for their bank accounts.  This makes it very easy for a worm to capture data and provide access to the funds of unsuspecting victims.  In addition, it sends messages to a user’s friends disguised as an article or other link and then prompts them to click.  As many as a million people a day click on erroneous links that then infect their computers, and the results can be a real headache.  If it seems unlikely that a friend would send you particular message, they probably didn’t.  Beware. 

Pasadena Federal Credit Union constantly monitors fraud alerts and works with online services that invest millions of dollars annually in security.  Our web hosting company has received numerous awards for their attention to security and we regularly review their efforts. 

Unfortunately, even a well-constructed password by itself is not very effective these days in protecting accounts.  Our new Online Banking and Bill Pay upgrade includes some new multi-factor authentication steps.

            -A site phrase selected by the user

            -A site key, which is a picture unique to each individual that helps verify they are on the actual site they intend to log into and not an imposter site

            -Security Questions

Never use the same password for multiple accounts and do not use a password a stranger could guess, such as your birthdate, social security number, address, nickname or other information.   These can open the door to identity theft.  Keep a log of hints that would help you recall a password but which would be meaningless to anyone else.   

When answering security questions that are things others might easily discover about you, such as names of relatives, your favorite color, etc. consider purposefully choosing an alternative answer (one that you will remember).  For example, if your niece is named Susie but she has blond hair, you might consider saying her name is “Blondie”.  Remember that someone who gains access to your social network also gains access to a potentially rich mine of information about you.  They can often determine things such as the names of family members, so those answers may not be the best ones to protect you. 

We have a very helpful demo on our website that walks members through some the exciting and helpful changes effective on our Per$onal Branch Online Banking and Bill Pay beginning February 9, 2012.  Watch it to familiarize yourself with these changes.

Let Your Pink Slip Help You Get Out of the Red

Your pink slip could be your ticket to lower rates!

Many people have worked hard to get their cars paid off and still have plenty of miles to go before they need a new vehicle.  It’s a great feeling to have that pink slip in hand!  But, if one still has credit card payments or other unsecured debt, money may be slipping away.  If you are in that position, why not let your pink slip work for you?

While mortgage rates are at historic lows, many people with good credit can get even lower rates with a loan against their vehicle.  At PFCU, for example, our best rate can be had on new or used vehicles for up to 60 months, and there is no pre-payment penalty, so if things change you can react easily.  Consolidating higher interest debt with a car loan can help your credit score, too.   But be careful.   These loans, which are often referred to as “Car Title Loans” or “Pink Slip Loans”, are offered by a score of predatory lenders, but they are actually the same car loans your credit union has always offered!  Isn’t it great to know you can get a fantastic rate without all the fees at a credit union known and loved in the community like PFCU?  You can even apply right here, right now!

There are a few things to consider when determining if refinancing a vehicle with a clear title makes sense. 

  1. What is the value of the car?  Is it an older vehicle?  PFCU will finance up to 100% of Kelly Retail Bluebook value of cars 2003 or newer, although the rate on model years 2003-2004 is a bit higher.  
  2. How is your credit?  In most cases, your rate will be determined by your credit score.  Applying for a loan is quick and easy, and your loan officer will be able to tell you what your rate and payment will be.  A peek at your credit card statements will show how much you are paying toward interest every month, and they generally indicate how long it will take to pay off the balance if you just make the minimum payment. It can be very discouraging to make payments month after month with little reduction in the principal. An auto loan is usually amortized to pay off completely in two to seven years.  Remember how you paid off that car once?  You can do it again! 
  3. When do you plan to get a new car?  A good practice when paying off a car loan is to put the amount of the former payment into a savings account for maintenance and repairs, and ultimately for a down payment on a new car.  If you haven’t done that, you will need to make sure you can cover maintenance and have the means to get a new car when the time comes.  Chances are, by paying off your credit cards with a car loan, you will lower your payments each month.  Perhaps you can start by putting the difference away into a savings account earmarked for car expenses, whether it’s maintenance or repairs on your current vehicle, or a down payment.  
  4. Get Gap coverage and Mechanical Breakdown Insurance.  The Gap will pay off your loan if your car is stolen or totaled and you owe more than it’s worth.  Plus, with ours you even get $1,000 toward a new car! 

 Mechanical Breakdown Insurance will help you manage repair costs so there are no surprises.  It’s like the extended warranty you get at the dealer, but MUCH less expensive.

To summarize, refinancing a vehicle with a clear title is something to explore.  Call one of our friendly loan specialists and we can help you determine if it makes sense for you right over the phone.  Your pink slip might get you from red ink to black sooner than you think.

Fuel Efficient Cars Pay For Themselves … And Then Some!

 

There are now many fuel-efficient cars on the market to save you money.

Even though gas has dropped below $4 per gallon, if you have a long commute to work, run errands on the weekend and/or take trips out of town, fuel takes a big chunk out of your monthly budget. If you drive an SUV, large pickup truck or an old gas guzzling sedan, the hit to your wallet is even greater.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could reduce your fuel bill AND drive a new car? You can! In fact, a brand new fuel efficient car could pay for itself in the first month … and then some!

According to the gas mileage savings calculator on auto website edmunds.com, if you trade in a 2007 Chevrolet Suburban, Cadillac Escalade or Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab for a 2011 Toyota Yaris sedan, Chevrolet Aveo sedan, or even a Volkswagen Jetta, you would save from $271 to $372 per month on gas: easily covering a monthly loan payment after your trade-in, and then some*.  In some cases, the value on your SUV may actually be worth more than your new car!

Let’s look at some specific numbers.

Say you own a 2007 Chevy Suburban LT 2500, and trade it in for a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta four-door sedan.  The Suburban is still worth $17,265, and the new Jetta with typical options sells for only $15,450.  Now, let’s assume you financed the Suburban over six years and still owe $15,000.  If you sell it for $15,000 and pay off your loan, you’d have to finance the entire Jetta.

A deal breaker?  Nope!  You’d still come out ahead.  Way ahead.

Let’s assume you have average credit and don’t qualify for the lowest available rate; we’ll assume you have an interest rate of 6.99% APR. Your Suburban monthly payment was $681.77, and the SUV only gets 14 miles to the gallon.  Your new Jetta, financed over five years, would have a monthly payment of $305.86; and, gets 29 miles to the gallon.

So, you’d save $271 per month on gas alone … PLUS, another $375.91 on your monthly car loan payment … AND, you’d be driving a brand new car!

That’s almost $650 added to your monthly budget, a better choice for the environment, and a brand new car that’s covered by a dealer’s warranty!  You’d save even more if you purchased a smaller vehicle that has even better gas mileage than the Jetta.

How much is your used vehicle worth?  Edmunds.com is a good resource, but you might also want to try Clearbook.com, a popular new website that uses used car listings to determine the current market value of your vehicle. Simply enter your zip code, make, model, options, mileage and condition to receive a low, average and high price.

Loan rates still at historic lows, making the cost of financing a new vehicle very affordable. At PFCU, our loan rates for new and used cars are currently as low as 2.99% APR for terms up to 5 years.  You can apply online or print an application to complete and return to us by mail, fax, or in a branch.

*Gas savings based on 2,000 miles per month at $3.80/gallon gas.  Loan payments assume an interest rate of 6.99% APR.

Arroyo Time Bank: People Helping People

Time is money
Time can be a valuable currency

The credit union motto is “People Helping People” and that’s what our new community partner, Arroyo Time Bank is all about.  Learn more in this informative Guest Blog:

What is Time Banking?

At its most basic level, time banking is simply about building community one hour at a time by doing something for someone else in the community. That hour is recorded in the time bank, then you get an hour to spend on having someone help you. It’s a simple idea, but it has powerful ripple effects in building community connections. Have you ever wished you had someone to help you get something done during your day? In a Time Banking community, your neighbors help you get it done.

Our Relationship with Money and PCFU

Pasadena Federal Credit Union (PCFU) and the Arroyo Time Bank (ATB) both value community and work to strengthen the community as a whole, which is why we chose Pasadena Federal Credit Union as our financial institution. 

    Currency, at its most basic level, is a medium of exchange, a way to get things or get things done. As such, using time as a currency is complementary to what you do with your regular currency (U.S. dollars). Instead of banking on the gold standard, time banking uses the “friendship standard” to create an alternative currency. Your investment in your relationships creates your earning and spending capacity.

As a banking institution, PFCU supports and builds the community through community oriented lending practices and community service. A time bank like ATB builds one-on-one relationships in the community through reciprocity. This reciprocity is tracked through the earning and spending of time credits. 

Time banking is not intended to replace money. It is intended to build community, providing a safety net of friendship for us all.

Five Core Values

There are five core values in time banking. First, we are all assets. We believe that every human being has something to contribute.

Second is redefining work, the concept that some work is beyond price; valuing whatever it takes to raise healthy children, advance social justice, and make the planet sustainable. That kind of work needs to be honored, recorded, and rewarded.

Third is reciprocity. Helping works better as a two-way street. We can help each other build the world we both will live in.

Fourth is building social networks. We need each other. Networks are stronger than individuals. People helping each other reweave communities of support, strength and trust.

Fifth is respect. Every human being matters. Respect underlies freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and everything we value. Respect supplies the heart and soul of democracy. When respect is denied to anyone, we all are injured. Time Banking honors the unique gifts, talents and resources that each of us has to share, regardless of age, employment or ethnic background.

Our Projects
      The Arroyo Time Bank pioneers and supports several community-wide projects to fit the needs of our diverse community. These include the following: the Neighborhood Fruit Picking Project, the Altadena Urban Farmer’s Market, and the Neighborhood Resilience Project at the Armory’s Madison Casita.
 

For more information on Arroyo Time Bank events, projects, and for instructions on how to join, please visit the Arroyo Time Bank website  AND, Arroyo Time Bank members are now eligible to join PFCU!

Spending Smart at 6 and 60 – Sammy’s Gold Karat Tip #1

Hello to All My Friends!

The next few months I am going to share some tips with you on how to “spend smart.” I like spending money almost as much as I like saving money to build my future. I like spending money almost as much as I like saving money so I am prepared for emergencies and to make dreams come true. How about you?

Sammy’s Gold Karat Spend Smart Tip #1: when you choose to spend, never, ever, spend more than you have. Do not do it when you are six or sixty!

One good way to not spend more than you have is to break down each dollar you earn or receive and separate it into categories.

Here is an example:

Sample Spending Plan

Saving                   10 cents

Giving                   10 cents

Investing                10 cents

Smart Spending   70 cents

Total                     $1.00

Notice, my plan is to never, ever spend more than seventy cents of every dollar I earn or receive. Why? It is simple. As much as I like to spend, building my future and giving are more important to me than spending everything I have. I think spending seven dimes or less out of every ten dimes I earn or receive is smart. What do you think?  What do your parents think?

Always spend less than you have! I know you can do it. Now, go get to it!

Your friend,

Learn more about Sammy and his mission to help kids get in the habit of saving money and make dreams come true at www.itsahabit.com

© 2011 The It’s a Habit Company, Inc.

Data Breaches: The More You Know, The Safer You’ll Be

Phishing Prevention

Educate Yourself to Prevent Phishing

On April 4, 2011 online marketer Epsilon, a unit of Alliance Data Systems Corp., announced that it had experienced a data breach affecting approximately 2% of its 2,500 clients worldwide.  It is the largest data breach ever known to occur, affecting tens of millions of customers of companies from Disney, Target and Verizon to Chase and Citibank.  The information compromised consisted of the names and e-mail addresses of customers.  No account numbers were known to be involved. 

PFCU is not a customer of Epsilon, so our database and e-mail communications were not affected by the breach.

You may occasionally receive e-mails claiming to be from a store or financial institution you do not do business with asking you to verify information as though you are a customer.  The senders are “phishing”, or randomly targeting as many people as possible to find someone who actually has an account there and might fall for their scheme to gain sensitive information.  With the Epsilon breach, malicious hackers can use the names and e-mail addresses they’ve stolen to engage in a very specific type of phishing called “spear-phishing”.  By knowing the places people shop or have accounts, they can send targeted e-mails to actual customers that appear to be legitimate communication from the companies. They can thus attempt to trick people into giving them their account numbers or other important pieces of information.  This improves the effectiveness of the attempt.

Many of the companies involved have already communicated with their customers, advising them of how they intend to deal with the breach.  Companies will not send you e-mails asking you to verify personal information.  To be safe, always contact a company at the website or phone number you have on file for them.  Do not use links in an e-mail to direct you to any site which requires passwords or the inputting of personal data.  

PFCU has always taken a proactive approach in protecting the personal information of our members.  We have stringent firewalls, which we constantly monitor.  We recently unveiled our new Online Banking and Bill Pay with enhanced security features.  We asked members to select a site key, which is a custom picture that is visible when they log in to our website.  It is accompanied by a site phrase created by our member, which further personalizes the site.  Members who do not see these features when logging in should assume they are not accessing our actual site and contact us right away.  Members also had to select and answer several security questions.  While these steps can seem like an inconvenience while one is setting them up, the inconvenience of dealing with a compromised account is far worse.  Safety first, as the saying goes. 

Some of our members might remember the Heartland security breach in 2009, which affected our debit cards.  PFCU took an aggressive approach to protecting our members, closing and reissuing hundreds of cards, even though there had not yet been any fraudulent activity.  Many other financial institutions adopted a wait-and-see approach, which may have been more convenient for them, but may also have resulted in extra headaches for some of their customers when their accounts were raided.  PFCU takes your security seriously and will always take a cautious approach to protecting your money. 

Your money is safe at PFCU.

Safety First at the ATM

ATM, PIN, Safety, Security

Don't Let Others See Your PIN

On Sunday night, March 27, a young Moreno Valley woman was killed at a drive-up ATM machine.  As we grieve for her tragic loss,  it serves as a reminder to each of us to do what we can to protect ourselves and others as we go about our daily activities. 

ATM machines are convenient and easy to use.   As we drop by an ATM to get cash quickly, it can be easy to let our guard down.  Here are some quick and easy tips to help keep you safe:

-If the ATM you’re about to use doesn’t look right, don’t use it.  If you are at all uncomfortable, find another ATM.  PFCU members can text an address, intersection or zip code to 692667 to locate surcharge-free ATMsDroid and iPhone apps are also available to locate 7-Eleven V-Com machines available indoors, 24/7.

– Be wary of anything about the ATM that looks out of the ordinary, such as odd-looking or unfamiliar equipment.

– Be leery of a jammed ATM or persons surrounding the ATM, pretending to be technicians.

-If possible, use an indoor ATM machine, especially at night.  PFCU members can use any 7-Eleven, Costco, or Bank of the West ATM machine free of surcharges.  One of our ATMs is also located inside the Pasadena Police Department lobby.

-If you must use an outdoor ATM at night, ensure that it is well-lit, and that there are no shrubs or bushes or other large objects a person can hide behind nearby

-Bring someone with you when you use the machine, if possible

-Stay alert, look around you as you perform your transaction, multi-tasking is admirable, but this is not the time to be distracted with a cell phone call

-Have your ATM or Debit card in your hand and ready to use before approaching the machine

 -Leave your wallet in your pocket.

-If anyone suspicious starts to approach you, cancel your transaction and leave immediately

-If anyone follows you after you withdraw from an ATM, go to a crowded area and call the police

-If you use a machine in an enclosed area that requires your card to enter, do not allow anyone to follow you in

-Even though it’s a quick stop, don’t leave your engine running, your car doors unlocked or your keys in the ignition

-Immediately put your cash, ATM card and receipt away upon receiving them.  Do not count your cash at the machine, even inside a store or restaurant.  You don’t want anyone nearby to see how much cash you have.  Save your receipt. 

– Check your accounts regularly to make sure there are no unauthorized transactions.

– If your ATM card is lost or stolen, or you suspect fraudulent activity, promptly notify the Credit Union

-When using a drive-up ATM, ensure that all doors are locked and passenger windows are shut

-Try to avoid a drive-up ATM situated in such a way that your car is “trapped” from being able to drive away quickly if necessary.

-Using your free hand, shield the pin pad from the view of others when entering your PIN (Personal Identification Number)

-Memorize your PIN and never write it down

-When traveling, make sure you know the numeric version of your PIN, as some foreign ATMs do not include letters on the keypad

Debit cards are a safe, convenient alternative to carrying cash and are accepted at most stores and restaurants.  Traveler’s Checks are also great when going out of the country.  As much as possible, plan ahead.  When visiting a branch, try to anticipate instances when you will need cash and withdraw accordingly.  Many grocery stores will allow cash back on an ATM or debit card transaction and there is usually no fee.  Pick up a few incidentals or a pack of gum to receive cash in a secure location. 

Your safety is important to us.  Use common sense and don’t take chances.  It’s just not worth the risk.