10 Signs You Might Be a Victim of Identity Theft

download (1)Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country, according to the credit bureau TransUnion, with almost 10 million incidents a year. In fact, the bureau calculates that every minute, 19 people become victims, and the average cost to the victim is $500 and 30 hours. ​

Those are some scary stats. The good news is that you can protect yourself by catching potential problems early and enlisting the support of your financial institution. Here are some tips for keeping your identity out of thieves’ hands:

  1. If you lose your credit card, let your card issuer know right away. Not only will the issuer cancel the card and get a new one with new numbers right away, but the customer service representative will let you know if any erroneous charges have already been made on the card and can ​prevent any new ones from going through.
  2. Avoid using ATMs in obscure locations because it’s easier for thieves to install “skimming” devices on them that steal your information when you swipe your card. According to Shaun Murphy​, founder of PrivateGiant, a company that seeks to protect personal information online, consumers should also avoid using their card on websites that do not have the “lock” icon in the browser, because they aren’t as secure as sites that have the icon.
  3. Check your account statements for errors. This is likely the first warning sign you’ll encounter. When checking your statement, you might see an unexplained or inaccurate entry – such as a withdrawal, a check, an electronic transaction or a purchase that you don’t recognize.
  4. Look for mistakes on your credit report. You can request a free copy of your credit report through annualcreditreport.com and review it for any inaccurate information. The most common indicators of identity theft include a credit inquiry you don’t recognize or a new account you didn’t open. That could suggest someone else is impersonating you. Let the credit bureaus know about any errors so the false information can be removed.
  5. Respond to calls from your financial institution. Financial institutions are constantly on the lookout for strange charges on your account; in fact, they might notice a problem before you do. If you receive a notice about a potential problem, be sure to call them back to sort it out. If the message comes in the form of an email, make sure it’s not a phishing email (where a fraudster masquerades as a trusted entity to try to acquire your personal information).
  6. Follow up on odd bills you receive. If you start getting calls from debt collectors related to accounts that don’t belong to you, or you receive bills for medical treatments you’ve never had, then someone else could be using your identity and your health insurance information. Follow up with the provider and your insurance company to protect your account.
  7. Stay on top of missing mail. If you don’t receive your bank statement by mail and you usually do, there could be a problem. The perpetrator may have changed your address with the financial institution. If other pieces of mail are missing, it may mean the perpetrator is collecting information about you to develop a profile. Similarly, if you don’t receive your email statement, someone may have conquered your online account and altered the settings to lock you out. Follow up directly with your financial institution or the biller to get the problem fixed.
  8. You receive unexpected mail. You might get a notice from the post office that your mail is being forwarded to another address when you haven’t requested an address change. Or you receive a letter concerning an account you never opened. Other mailings that could be a sign of identity theft: You receive a credit card in the mail that you never applied for or the IRS notifies you about unreported wage income you didn’t earn. If you find yourself in any of these situations, then it’s time to follow up with the institution sending the mail to clarify the issue.
  9. Look out for errors on your Social Security statement. If the earnings reported on your statement are greater than your actual earnings, someone might have stolen your Social Security Number and is using it for wage reporting services. It’s another red flag that there could be a problem that needs your attention.
  10. Investigate if you’re denied an application based on your credit. If you have good credit but are denied an application for a new credit card or a loan, that may indicate that your identity has been stolen. It’s time to pull your credit report and do a full review of all your accounts to get to the bottom of the problem.

With these strategies in hand, you can help reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days!* To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. **Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

This article is courtesy of US News: Money.

What To Do With Extra Cash

Excited-Woman-Holding-CashFor the first time in a long time – thanks to a rebounding economy and an increased minimum wage in 23 states – salaries are on the rise. Great news, right? If you’re one of the fortunate recipients, what are you going to do with the extra cash? Step one is to make an actual plan to put it to use. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Flesh out your emergency fund.
A fully-funded emergency cushion should include enough cash to support 3-6 months of mandatory spending, but this doesn’t mean you have to cover all of your costs. Your emergency fund doesn’t need to include what you usually would spend in 3-6 months, but what you have to spend. This includes rent, bills, food, gas, and other necessities. This should also be enough to bail you out of a jam if your car breaks down or your plumbing gets backed up. If you dip into your emergency fund, you’ll want to spend the next few months replenishing it.

Pay down debt.
Here’s the deal on debt: The return on your money is equal to the interest rate you’re paying. So prepaying your mortgage – at 3% or 4% before the tax deduction – is less valuable to your bottom line than paying off a credit card at 15% or 19%.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Treat yourself.
This goes back to having a plan. When you get a raise, you have to avoid making impulsive decisions. The last thing you want is to look back years later and regret how you spent your extra cash. But the feeling that you deserve to celebrate is certainly common – and warranted. There is no one way to do this, but think about it long enough to try to spend money on something that makes you happy and that will last. The lasting impact doesn’t have to be material, either – a vacation can create memories that you’ll never forget!

*Article courtesy of Jean Chatzky of SavvyMoney.com.

Unfortunate Home Improvements

Home-Improvement-ProjectHome improvement projects can be a lot of fun — and sometimes add value to your home — but are they worth the money they cost? If you have plans to one day move out of your home (or even if you don’t), you should consider how the project impacts the resale value. Below are some home improvement projects that are typically not worth the cash.

A new pool. We can’t blame you for wanting a pool. However, keep in mind that the cost of installing one and then maintaining it is quite high. Also, if you’re planning on selling down the road, remember that some buyers could be turned off by a pool, like parents with small children.

Extensive customization. While a lot of people might like a kitchen backsplash, the type of backsplash makes a big difference. You shouldn’t go overboard customizing (particularly if you’ve got unusual taste), because if you do, you could risk alienating buyers down the road.

Half measures. If you can add a bedroom, great. Those often are worth the money. However, don’t add square footage to your home in bits and pieces. Eventually the home will look disjointed, and buyers typically want a home that flows well.
Taking away a bedroom. Buyers will want a certain number of bedrooms, so try to avoid converting them when considering altering your space.

First Financial’s Home Improvement Loan is designed to help you create the home you’ve been imagining. It’s time to move your “wants” to the top of your to-do list.*

*Available on primary residence only, subject to underwriting guidelines. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth of Ocean Counties. See credit union for details.

Article courtesy of Chris O’Shea of SavvyMoney.com.

Thinning Out the Document Mess

files_pileWhen’s the last time you took a peek at the filing cabinets in your home office?  A lifetime of financial matters means accumulating a lifetime of documents. Let’s get a grip on things and whittle down the mess. Below is a list of the financial documents you should keep and for how long.

  • Tax returns. The IRS recommends keeping these for at least three years.
  • Investments. Just like the tax returns, keep capital gains tax reports and 1099 forms for at least three years.
  • 401(k) statements. Save the end of year and quarterly statements for the current year. After that, shred them.
  • Pay stubs, credit card, and bank statements. If all is well with your accounts (they are balanced and there is no fraud) go ahead and get rid of these items.
  • Loans. Keep one statement with your current balance. If you have paid the loan off, keep the final statement for at least seven years.
  • Insurance policies. Keep them until the policy is no longer in use.
  • Medical records. Medical bills from your insurance, hospital bills and other medical-related statements should be kept for five years.
  • Real estate records. Keep any purchase, sale or home improvement receipts for as long as you own the underlying asset.

Getting organized is an important step in getting on top of your finances – happy organizing!

*Article courtesy of Chris O’Shea of SavvyMoney.com.

Learn “Blogging for Business: Content Marketing 101” at this Seminar in September 2015

Fotolia_38223665_Subscription_Monthly_XL-1024x709With organic reach numbers free falling on Facebook, the importance of owning your media vs. renting it, is becoming more and more evident. Blogging is becoming the go-to avenue for “expertise” information on endless topics and enables you to reach a vast target audience. This seminar will teach all attendees the basics of blogging for your business and how you can get started right away!

Attending this seminar, you will learn:

  • What is content marketing and why is it important?
  • Where content ideas come from
  • WordPress basics, favorite plugins, and more
  • How to build your readership and sustain engagement

Join us on Thursday, September 17th for networking at 8:30am and then promptly at 9:00am for our business seminar titled, Blogging for Business: Content Marketing 101, presented by Deborah Smith, owner of Foxtrot Media, LLC. Cost to attend this seminar is $10. The seminar will be held at First Financial’s Corporate Office located at 1800, Rt. 34 North, Building 3, Suite 302, Wall NJ. Space is limited – Register today!

Deborah Smith is the owner of Foxtrot Media, LLC a Social Media Consulting and Management company. Deborah got her start in social media over 12 years ago when she launched an E-Commerce business which operated a network of websites serving the Nanny Industry. She began employing email groups, chat rooms and online message boards as marketing and networking tools well before the term “Social Media” was ever conceived. When the new tools like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn emerged, Deborah was an early adopter and soon mastered these tools for her own business. In 2007, she launched her first blog, JerseyBites.com, a collaborative food blog with over 35 contributors throughout the state. JerseyBites now welcomes over 25,000 visitors per month and was recently named content partner to NJ.com for food news in New Jersey. Deborah was also recently named one of 100 Constant Contact local experts in the country. She is an experienced corporate trainer and social media consultant for businesses throughout the tri-state area.

330,000 Possibly Affected by IRS Data Breach

data breachA breach of an IRS computer database reported in May 2015 affected as many as 330,000 taxpayers, reports said Monday, August 17th.

Reports this past May said that thieves used stolen Social Security Numbers and other information in an effort to access prior-year tax return information for about 225,000 U.S. households. This included about 114,000 successful and 111,000 unsuccessful attempts, the report said.

The IRS has now said a review going back to November 2014 shows that another 390,000 taxpayers may have been affected, new reports say – including some 220,000 households for which prior-year return data may have been accessed and another 170,000 instances where there were attempts that failed to clear the authentication process.

The breaches involved use of an online application, “Get Transcript,” that allowed taxpayers to get prior-year return information, the reports said. This application has reportedly been shut down.

The IRS reportedly also noted that while just a few thousand of affected taxpayer accounts were targeted in efforts to defraud, it thinks hackers may be gathering data to use for fraudulent purposes during the 2016 tax-filing season.

If you suspect that your identity has been compromised, you can place a fraud alert on your credit file by calling any one of the three major credit reporting agencies shown below. A fraud alert is a notation on your credit file to warn credit issuers that there may be a problem. The credit issuer is asked to contact you at the telephone number that you supply to validate that you are the person applying for the credit. This is not the same as credit monitoring.

TransUnion: 1.800.916.8800

Experian: 1.888.397.3742    

Equifax: 1.800.685.1111

In accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it is permissible for consumers to request a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax).

To order a free credit report: 

Online: www.annualcreditreport.com or by Telephone: 1.877.322.8228

First Financial would like to remind our members that your accounts with us are monitored 24/7 by an experienced team of security professionals for any suspicious or potentially fraudulent activity. First Financial employs the most advanced fraud detection and prevention technology to guard members’ accounts against unauthorized access and use. If our security team observes any unusual activity on member accounts, we will contact members immediately to determine whether the transaction activity is legitimate and authorized.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days!*

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

We will continue to monitor all members’ accounts for suspicious activity. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please give us a call at 866.750.0100 or email us at info@firstffcu.com. Thank you for being a valued member of First Financial.

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. **Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.