Archive for the ‘Your Money and You’ Category
DDoS attacks are mentioned more frequently in the news these days, but what are they? The initials stand for “Distributed Denial of Service” and refer to cyber attacks which are performed by harnessing thousands of personal computers through spyware and malware and instructing them to navigate to a specific website, overloading the server and resulting in the website being inaccessible to legitimate users.
While there may be any number of motives for such attacks, the goal is to render the targeted website useless for as long as possible. When there are hints of a pending attack, it is best to be proactive. Internet rumors have indicated that a possible large-scale DDoS attack on American financial institutions might occur on Tuesday, May 7, 2013. As a precaution, anyone who transacts business on financial institution websites is encouraged to refrain from doing so on that day. Plan ahead and schedule online transactions in advance if possible. If you need to transact on that day, consider physically going to a branch or calling the institution.
Generally, it is not a good idea to wait until the last minute to schedule an online payment or transfer. Always look ahead and schedule transactions well in advance to give yourself a cushion in the event of unforeseen roadblocks. You’ll also have peace of mind, which is a great benefit of thoughtful planning. PFCU’s Online Banking and Bill Pay, for example, allow you to schedule one-time or recurring future payments and transfers and have options for all sorts of convenient reminder texts or e-mails. The internet is a valuable tool in communication, organization, and information-gathering. Just be careful not to rely on it to the extent that you can be affected by temporary interruptions in service. Always have a backup plan.
There are more Safety and Security blog articles here. To get fraud alerts as soon as we communicate them, “Like” our PasadenaFCU Facebook Page and/or follow us on Twitter @Pasadenafcu. The Safety and Security tab of our website is a great place to read up on internet safety, too.
With the success of cyber Monday, more retailers than ever are offering great deals exclusively online. Unfortunately, many cyber thieves are set to make Santa’s “naughty” list as they prey on unwary, bargain-hunting shoppers with a variety of scams. Here are some ways you can keep these Grinches from stealing your Christmas:
- Purchase and install a firewall and anti-virus software before making online purchases. If you already have protective software, be sure to keep it updated. You should receive notices when updates are available.
- Don’t click on links that advertise “free” items, gift cards, holiday gifts or employment. If interested, go to the website of the company purported to be making the offer (don’t get the web address from the e-mail) and verify the legitimacy of the offer. If you don’t see the offer, try calling them.
- Free cell phone app offers can be tempting, but if you are interested in one you learn about in a text, social media or e-mail, look for it in a recognized App store.
- Be very careful of electronic greeting cards-they may contain spyware or malware, thus installing trouble on your device in a pretty package!
- Resist the temptation to click on “Free” offers on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Follow the safety tips on online auctions like ebay and Craigslist to prevent paying for an item you never receive.
- It’s wonderful to give to charities at the holidays, but be wary of phone or e-mail solicitations for donations. You want to ensure that you are actually giving to the charity of your choice and not an imposter. Look up their website and contact them on your own to arrange a donation. PFCU has dozens of non-profit community partners we work with that would be worthy recipients. The Federal Trade Commission also has a Charity Checklist.
- Watch your accounts online for fraudulent activity so you can shut it down quickly. Our online banking is free and easy to initiate at www.pfcu.org. You’ll find demos for both Online Banking and Bill Pay. You can even set up text and e-mail alerts so you know right away if specific types of items hit your accounts.
- Look for secured sites that have https in the web address. The “s” stands for “secure” and represents additional security to give you peace of mind.
- Check out McAfee’s “Avoid the 12 Scams of the Holidays”
- Bookmark and check frequently the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) Online Security Tips
With these tips, your holidays should be “smooth sledding”. The additional assurance these tips bring will make your holidays much more enjoyable.
Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and other social media sites have profoundly impacted society in many ways. They have facilitated reunions of old friends, helped people with similar interests find one another, allowed groups to organize more effectively and have helped businesses like PFCU grow. Many of our new members found us online. There has been a lot of talk about what to share and not to share online. Have you thought about that question in terms of answers to your security questions for our free Online Banking and Bill Pay services, as well as those of your other online accounts? You should.
Multi-factor authentication, as we have discussed elsewhere, is an important way of staying a step ahead of identity thieves. In an effort to share information with your friends on social media sites, however, you may be giving the answers to some of your security questions away. In school, teachers punish students who get caught cheating but online if you unwittingly give the answers away you could get punished by financial loss or headaches with cleaning up the very real mess of fraudulent use of your accounts.
Often people want to share their hometown on Facebook or other sites so that individuals they knew in childhood can find them. That seems innocent enough, but often one of your security questions will be “What city were you born in?” One way around that is to determine alternative answers to those questions to use when setting up multi-factor authentication. The trick here is not to forget those answers. As it is, we often get phone calls from frustrated members who have forgotten the way they input the answers and find themselves locked out of their accounts. Try to use the same combination of capital and lower case letters all the time in case-sensitive data fields, and don’t make that combination obvious. For example, Pasadena might become pa$aDena. Notice that we used a dollar sign instead of a letter ‘s’ and put the capital in an unusual place. Someone born in New York might, instead, list the city that is home to their favorite sports team or the city their parent was born in. As long as you remember, you will not tip off a criminal. One woman who wanted to make sure her recently-divorced spouse could not access her accounts listed her mother’s maiden name as “freedom”. A humorous answer like that may make it easier for you to remember how you answered the question.
Often people will post their favorite foods, movies, performers or songs on social media sites because they enjoy those things. Since many of those items may show up as security questions in the account set up process online, make sure you give different answers to ensure that you won’t hand your account over to thieves.
While taking a few moments to review the answers to your account authentication questions may seem inconvenient, it is nothing compared to the hassle of cleaning up identity theft. Since you’re already online, why not go through your accounts and make sure you haven’t revealed information thieves can use to steal from you? That way you can enjoy the benefits of social media and rest easy about your online security.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.