14 Tips to Avoid Cyber Monday Scams

cyber-monday-discountIn the frenzy of limited time offers, last minute sales and one-click shopping, it can be difficult to stay secure while you shop online, particularly on days like Cyber Monday (December 2nd, 2013).

Last year, consumers spent about 1.5 billion dollars on Cyber Monday, up 16% from 2011. Industry experts predict this season will see even more growth. Coupled with the boom in sales is a predicted increase in the amount and severity of online scamming and data theft.

Will Pelgrin, CEO of The Center for Internet Security (CIS), a non-profit organization focused on improving the cyber-security posture of both the private and public sector, shares a few helpful tips about staying secure online this season.

1. Don’t Click on Pop-up Ads

Though it may seem obvious, malicious pop-up ads still pose one of the largest threats to web shoppers. According to Pelgrin, studies have shown that a large amount of consumers will click on the “ad” regardless of its message. Be mindful of what pop-ups say, it could be evidence of a security threat.

2. Keep Software Up-To-Date

Though many systems automatically update your software as new features become available, it’s important to keep your programs as current as possible. To avoid security holes, update apps and software minimally once a week, as newer versions appear.

3. Use Strong Passwords

An essential part of online security in any sense is using strong passwords. This means no birthdays, dog names or variations of “1234″ for any of your accounts. For help making a strong password, check out this guide: How to Create a Secure Password.

4. Install Antivirus and Anti-Spyware software

When shopping, you don’t want others to be able to track what sites you’re visiting and what information you’re entering online. If you need help choosing, check out this guide here: 5 Best Free Antivirus Software Options.

5. Enable ‘Timeouts’ on Mobile

According to Pelgrin, more and more consumers are doing the bulk of their holiday shopping on mobile phones. If you’re one of those consumers, make sure to enable a lock screen password, in case your device is lost or stolen. “If your phone isn’t timed out, you’re leaving the keys to your kingdom to whoever picks it up,” says Pelgrin.

6. Use a Secure Connection

Pelgrin recommends that any and all online financial transactions take place through a secure, private Wi-Fi connection, as opposed to using the more vulnerable free Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or library.

7. Avoid Email Advertisements

Your inbox is likely swarming with holiday promotions from all of your favorite (and likely least favorite) brands. To avoid being hacked, the CIS recommends you always enter the shop’s URL in your browser, rather than following the links contained in an email.

8. Shop at Companies You Know

Before you buy from a merchant on Amazon, Etsy or Ebay, check their rating and number of sales. Make sure they have good return policies and clearly posted contact information. If worried, you can always check on a businesses legitimacy through the Better Business Bureau.

9. Use Credit, Not Debit

“There are more security protections on your credit card that may not exist while using your debit card, should your info be taken,” says Pelgrin.

10. Ensure Your Site Is Secure

If you are entering your financial information on a webpage, make sure the URL begins with “https” as opposed to “http” or has a lock in your browser’s search bar.

11. Be Wary of Charity Sites

Though the holidays are frequently the most popular time to make donations to charity, Pelgrin urges consumers to check the legitimacy of your charity’s website.

“Fraudulent sites pop up during disasters and holidays like clockwork. Be alert,” he says.

12. Check Your Location and Privacy Settings

Many apps and websites will automatically share your GPS location by default. Sometimes, apps will change your settings once downloaded. Check what services your downloads have access to in your phone’s privacy settings.

13. Check Your Statements Frequently

According to Pelgrin, some hackers will do very low level theft once obtaining your information, charging small amounts to your credit card to avoid detection. Stay on top of your account statements and keep a record of how much you spend and where.

14. Add Browser Extensions and Security Apps

Pop-up blockers and malware detection extensions will add an extra layer to your security this season. For some free Internet security tools, check out this other article: 8 Best Free Tools for Internet Security.

Are you aware of our latest ID Theft Protection Services? First Financial’s latest ID Theft Protection products can easily be set up, there are options for setting up a credit score tracker, as well as a virtual vault to store your important documents and passwords online, and should an ID Theft incident occur – you’ve got an advocate on your side assisting you every step of the way. Ask us how to get started today!*

Happy Safe Shopping!

Click here to view the article source by Max Knoblauch of Mashable.

*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.

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“Tis the Season”…..Protect Your Family NOW

Santa-caption2Don’t look now, but identity thieves are gearing up for the holidays just like you. They know that transactions are flying around and everyone is looking for great deals. A “perfect storm” for prying on people and catching you off guard because “it’s the holidays”!

There are so many ways for thieves to steal personal information and unfortunately they know that during the holidays people tend to be easy targets. According to the “McAfee Highlights of the Top 12 Scams of Christmas” the schemes used by thieves can be as simple as selling “bogus gift cards” online or as sophisticated as setting up “fake charities”.

The simple fact is that we can’t be “on-guard” all the time and there are far too many ways that you and your loved ones could be subjected to one or more of these scams. Many of these scams lead to identity theft events that can be very harmful. So how does anyone feel completely safe from these crafty identity thieves? Make a small investment and obtain the ultimate safety net…purchase high quality, identity theft recovery and restoration services like we offer here at First Financial. It is much less expensive than monitoring services (which you can actually do quite easily yourself), and provides the greatest form of ultimate protection.

As you’ve just learned, identity thieves go into a frenzy during the holiday season and it can happen to anyone, anywhere – regardless of how careful you are, your age, income, or where you live — so don’t wait until you become a victim and do something to protect yourself! First Financial has arranged with Santa to obtain this kind of service for members from a top quality company that has been in business almost as long as Santa himself…over 77 years. This deal is better than any other you’ll find under the tree this year.

With Fully Managed Identity Recovery services from First Financial, 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.

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 new ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!*

*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.

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Online Shopping Tips to Prevent Fraud this Holiday Season

Xmas timeCyber Thieves are officially out these days to steal your credit card information or any other private personal information they can intercept as you shop online during the holiday season. Ongoing awareness of these scams is critical so that you are cautious and informed in order to protect your personal and financial information.

Take a few moments to read over these tips to ensure your financial and personal security:

  1. Be extremely careful when using free Wi-Fi hotspots to shop online, as you may be watched by data sniffers.
  2. Only shop on secure, reputable Web sites that: A. You know via other means (the press; you shop at their store) B. Look for “https” in the URL, C. The Web site has a small padlock icon in the bottom right corner of your browser or the URL turns green, signaling a “safe” site.
  3. Never offer more personal information to online stores than absolutely necessary (e.g., Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, PINs)
  4. Never use the same password across multiple Web sites, and do not use your name, pet’s name, birthdate, dictionary word or other easily guessed attribute as a password. Use a combination of letters, symbols and numbers and vary upper and lower case.
  5. Leave suspicious Web sites immediately (they ask for more information than normal or require you to double enter information).
  6. Do not respond to emails, text messages, and phone calls that advertise the sale of gift cards, holiday gifts, promotions, contests and jobs – unless it’s a reputable company or store you frquently shop at and you know it’s a legitimate advertisement.
  7. Log out of your online accounts when you are not actively shopping, and password protect your smartphone, iPad and laptop in case they do go missing.
  8. You should ensure your home computers are secured with a firewall and antivirus software before performing any online transactions. Operating system patches should be downloaded when made available by software vendors. Make sure you also protect mobile devices (mobile phones, tablets, etc.) used to conduct online transactions by installing antivirus software.
  9. Use automated account alerts and frequently monitor your credit card charges and bank balances, allowing you to catch fraud immediately.
  10. Only cyber shop on a non-public (e.g., not in a library) computer with a secure Internet connection, updated anti-virus software and up-to-date operating system.
  11. Try to avoid tempting holiday offers, such as free downloadable applications for smartphones, antivirus software, screen savers, ring-tones and electronic greeting cards, which may be infected with viruses and/or malware.
  12. Only donate to known charities and only when you have initiated the gift. Never send money (via check, cash or electronically) based solely on a wall post, email or phone call. Respond to such correspondence by contacting the charity on a reputable phone number or Web site.
  13. If you shop on auction sites like Craigslist or eBay you unfortunately you might purchase merchandise that will never be delivered. Be sure to follow the best practices published by Craigslist and other public auction websites to avoid scams.
  14. Fraudsters often place bogus advertisements for free prizes on social media like Facebook and Twitter. We urge you to not respond to these advertisements.

If you take these tips to heart, you will not only save yourself the stress of shopping in person, you won’t have to think twice about doing your holiday buying online. It is crucial that you immediately report any unauthorized transactions to First Financial if you notice any fradulent activity on your accounts. You can contact us by calling 866.750.0100, e-mailing info@firstffcu.com or stopping into any one of our branches. You can also report scams to the Federal Trade Commission or call toll-free1.877.FTC.HELP (1.877.382.4357).

Take the Stress Out of the Holidays

reduce-stress-holiday-resized-600As soon as we put away our shorts and sandals, we start to feel the pressure of the holidays creeping in. After all, it will be here before we know it, right? But there are things you can do to have a more enjoyable holiday season, and it all comes down to advance planning.

First, put pen to paper and make a written plan, including gift recipients and a detailed budget – both a total budget and a breakdown of that budget by recipient. Once you have your budget, you can begin matching up gift ideas to that budget, and don’t forget to be creative! When you give yourself enough time, you can even plan to make gifts to save on gift expenses. Plus, people tend to overspend more when they shop at the last minute, making desperate purchases – so give yourself plenty of time to get the items on your list. By shopping early, you give yourself enough time to actually enjoy the holidays – and you can shop from a better selection and with fewer crowds.

As you shop, try to keep your distractions to a minimum. That means only go when you are not tired or hungry or have to keep up with family members. Start with the clearance racks and don’t let a salesperson talk you into something you don’t want. And remember, gift cards or charitable donations can offer a stress-free alternative for you, and can be a welcome gift to the hard-to-shop-for person on your list.

When paying for your purchases, try to use cash so you won’t be tempted to rack up credit card debt, and read any fine print involved with special promotions and offers. Always keep your receipts and ask about the return policy. When you get home with the receipts, include a gift receipt with the gift and keep the original receipt in a secure and organized location.

Get togethers can also be stressful at the holidays. Advanced preparation can help alleviate at least some of that stress. You can begin with a written plan, including dates, menus, travel arrangements and the like. Pin down and make arrangements for all the details of your travel as far in advance as possible, and if you are having house guests, start making preparations early for their arrival, such as any home repairs or other accommodations needed. You can even cook many dishes in advance and store them in the freezer, and you can also enlist the help of family members and friends who will be joining you as well.

When the holidays are done and gone, take a deep breath and relax. Treat yourself to something soothing – and then start saving and planning for next year.

Contributing sources:http://missourifamilies.org/features/financearticles/holidays.htm;http://voices.yahoo.com/why-shopping-christmas-early-good-idea-9914129.html?cat=74

*First Financial is not responsible for the content listed on any external websites.

 

6 Ways to Stay Out of Debt this Holiday Season

creditcardspending1-resized-600Do you panic every January, about how you’re going to get back on track and recover your finances from holiday-related spending? Stop worrying and try something different this year. Start strategizingnow for ways to avoid running up those bills and starting 2013 with a mountain of debt in the first place.

1. Start saving now. Open up a savings account or a Holiday Club Account. The Holiday Club concept predates our credit card-centric era, first becoming popular during the Great Depression and coming back into favor during the last recession. Offered by a number of financial institutions across the country today, they instill savings discipline via tactics. You can even set up an automatic deposit so money can get funneled toward your holiday expenses without any additional effort on your part. Open up a Holiday Club account with First Financial to start budgeting yourself this holiday season.

2. Use credit card rewards. Have a cache of points or miles? Take a look at your redemption options to see if they can be turned into gifts. If you’re a First Financial VISA Platinum Credit Cardholder – be sure to check out your current rewards status at our CURewards website. You might be able to “buy” gift cards with your points that you can give or spend to buy presents, or even electronics. This is another way to purchase holiday gifts without dipping into your bank account.Thanks to Shop America’s Credit Union Member Discount, First Financial members also have access to more than 1,200 online stores, giving you major discounts when you shop online. And, every time you earn $10 or more in cash back from your purchases, you’ll get a check as a thank you! So whether you’re looking to do your online shopping with Target, Macy’s, Best Buy, Apple or hundreds of other stores, you can save and get paid to shop online. Don’t forget to take advantage of this opportunity for the holiday season!

3. Don’t open store credit cards. Yes, you’ll probably get 10% or 15% off, but retail cards can be trouble for a few reasons. First, opening new credit cards can deliver a hit to your credit score, especially if you open several within a short time period. The typically low credit limits of store cards also make it easier to max them out faster, another activity that looks bad on your credit report. This could cost you if you plan to take out a loan or try to refinance your home in the near future. But the more immediate problem with store cards is their high APRs. Some store credit cards charge as much as 25% or so in interest — just a few percentage points lower than many non-branded cards’ penalty rates. The stores and the banks that run their card programs count on large numbers of people not paying their balance in full, an especially likely scenario during the run up to the holidays, when many people adopt a buy now, pay later mentality. If you absolutely have to revolve a balance, use a card with the lowest APR you can find.

4. Start shopping now. Retailers would rather not spill the beans on this little secret, but Black Friday isn’t the savings bonanza it’s made out to be. Sure, there are all the ads, and the doorbusters, and crazy hours that seem to creep further into Thanksgiving dinner every year, but a recent survey foundthat several other shopping holidays including Labor Day, Memorial Day, July Fourth, New Year’s Day, Columbus Day and President’s Day all offer a higher overall percentage of discounts. A second survey found that electronics — one of the most popular categories, especially when it comes to those much-hyped doorbusters — are actually cheapest in early December.  So if you want to burn off that turkey and gravy shivering in a sleeping bag outside your local big-box outlet this Black Friday, be our guest — just don’t expect to score the best discounts.

5. Try gift card exchanges. Gift card markets like the one at PlasticJungle.com and GiftCardRescue.com, are places where people list gift cards they’re willing to unload at a discount. So if you’re looking for a brand they’re trying to get rid of, you can essentially buy yourself a discount. Obviously, the offerings vary from day to day on these sites, but a quick check turned up discounts on retailers like Build-A-Bear Workshop, Ann Taylor, Gap Kids, and the Sports Authority. The percentage off any given retailer varies widely among sites and even among sellers on the same site, so it pays to do some comparison shopping. If you don’t mind taking a “haircut” on the value of an unwanted gift card, you can also use these sites to sell unwanted cards and earn a few extra bucks. And, if you’re looking to purchase a VISA Gift Card for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list – don’t forget to stop into your nearest First Financial branch and pick one up. Holiday themed gift cards are available in amounts ranging from $10 to $1,000 – with a low $2.50 activation fee

6. Hit the dollar store. No, you don’t need to buy gifts here, but savings experts say dollar stores are a great source for wrapping paper, greeting cards, and decorations. If you do a lot of entertaining around the holidays, dollar stores are also good for disposable flatware, plates, tablecloths, and the like.

Happy Shopping!

Article Source: http://moneyland.time.com/2012/09/19/6-ways-to-stay-out-of-debt-this-holiday-season/#ixzz27OZo1VYA

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Holiday Crime Prevention Tips

burglar-resized-600While we are in the season known as the season to be jolly, it’s also the season to be wary of thieves, burglars, pickpockets and other holidaygrinches. Nothing can ruin the holiday spirit faster than becoming victim of a crime. Here are a few strategies from the Atlanta Police Department and Midtown Blue that will help you enjoy the holidays without incident.

Protecting Your Home

Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave your house or apartment, even for a few minutes.

Don’t openly display your Christmas tree and gifts in the front window so it’s easily visible from the street. It’s too tempting for a potential criminal to smash the window and grab the wrapped packages. Plus, you don’t want them to be able to plan a later break-in based on their earlier observation.

Don’t advertise not being home. Burglars look for occupancy cues like outdoor lights burning 24 hours a day, piled up newspapers, mail, or advertising flyers hanging on the door knob.

Use an inexpensive light timer when you are away and ask a neighbor to pick up your newspapers and mail.

If you go out for the evening, turn on lights and a radio or television so the house or apartment appears to be occupied.
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Burglars know to look for the hidden door key near the front entrance. Don’t hide spare keys under rocks, in flowerpots, or above door ledges. Instead give the spare key to a trusted neighbor.

Burglars prefer to enter through unlocked doors or windows. A holiday problem can occur when exterior Christmas light extension cords are run inside through a window and prevent it from being secured.

Don’t post your family name on your mailbox or on your house. A burglar can call directory assistance to get your telephone number and call your home while in front of your house to confirm that you are away.

Don’t leave descriptive telephone answering machine messages such as, “You’ve reached the Wilson’s … we’re away skiing for the Christmas holidays … please leave a message.” Bad guys love to hear that they have plenty of time to break in and completely ransack your home.

After Christmas day, don’t pile up empty gift boxes from your new computer, DVD player, or stereo receiver on the street for the garbage man. Burglars appreciate knowing that you have expensive gifts inside for them to steal. Break the boxes down or cut them up to conceal the items better.

Shopping Prevention Tips

Stay alert to your surroundings.

Shop before dark if possible. Coordinate shopping trips with a friend. Never park in an unlit lot or area, no matter how convenient it is. bag_dating_200951-resized-600

Be extra careful with purses and wallets. Carry a purse under your arm. Keep a wallet in an inside jacket pocket, not a back trouser pocket.

Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. At this time of year, “con-artists” may try various methods of distracting you with the intention of taking your money or belongings.

Lock your packages and gifts in your vehicle’s trunk. Keep you vehicle’s doors locked and windows closed. This is especially relevant for SUVs.

Have your keys readily available in your hand before you go to your car.

When you return to your vehicle, scan the interior of your car to be sure no one is hiding inside. Check to see if you are being followed.

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Pay for purchases with a check, credit card, or debit card when possible.

To discourage purse-snatchers, don’t overburden yourself with packages. Have your purchases delivered whenever practical.

And… never drink and drive! Have a safe and happy holiday.