6 Summer Fraud Scams to Avoid All Year

Here are summer’s most prevalent financial scams that are catching consumers by surprise. However, many of these scams are ongoing all year long and you should be on the lookout for them constantly.

1. Gift cards, secret shoppers, and fake offers.

How the scam works: Consumers are drawn in by a phony email or social media post to become a “secret shopper” in exchange for some form of financial gain. When a consumer agrees to participate, the fraudster seals the deal by delivering a very large counterfeit check. The criminal then asks the consumer to deposit the check and purchase gift cards with the funds – keeping a small portion of the proceeds as compensation for being the “secret shopper.” The victim is asked to email photographs of the gift cards, front and back, so the criminal can use them immediately – before the counterfeit check has a chance to bounce.

The takeaway: The bounced check and all associated damages are the responsibility of the consumer because the criminal and his or her email address are long gone by the time the check bounces.

2. “You can never be too rich or too thin” and other email scams.

Some consumers are attracted to “get rich” and “get thin” offers, and unfortunately an age old diet scam has surfaced again, targeting consumers with spam emails. When an unsuspecting consumer signs up for the “self improvement” deal, that individual agrees to recurring billing for the proposed service.

The takeaway: This ongoing billing arrangement is difficult to stop. And, in some cases, the stolen card information used for payment is also used for other fraudulent purposes.

3. Counterfeit money orders.

Fake money orders are frequently used for online purchases from websites like Craigslist. The problem is that high quality counterfeit money orders are hard to distinguish from the real thing.

The takeaway: If you think you could potentially have a counterfeit money order, call the U.S. Postal Service verification line at 1-866-459-7822. The U.S. Postal Service can verify the authenticity of money orders 48 hours after they are issued – and they can also offer tips on how to recognize fake money orders in the future.

4. “MSN” help desk fraud.

This form of fraud is usually directed at the elderly. A criminal calls an unsuspecting consumer and warns that his or her PC – however seldom used, is riddled with viruses. The fake technician offers to assist, and then dispatches the victim to a local big box store to buy prepaid gift cards which are given as payment for the tech support services.

The takeaway: Losses to victims of this scam can soar well into the thousands – and the criminals are willing to take every nickel without remorse. Some big box stores have started to try and identify consumers who may be embroiled in these scams, but they can run into roadblocks when victims are either mentally incapacitated – or reluctant to admit they have fallen for a scam.

5. Card cracking.

This rip-off scheme typically victimizes the younger crowd. A fraudster reaches out to a young person via social media and convinces the potential victim that they can both benefit by helping each other out – with the young account holder receiving a small sum of $100 or so, as compensation for cooperating with the fraudster. The victim then gives the criminal access to his or her online banking credentials, so the criminal can deposit counterfeit checks into the account. The fraudster also typically requires the usage of the account holder’s debit card and, in some cases, accompanies the co-conspirator to an ATM to perform withdrawals against the counterfeit checks that have been deposited. This is especially troubling if the account holder is a minor in the company of an adult criminal.

The takeaway: All financial damages, including non-sufficient funds checks, fall back onto the young consumer. And that easy $100 profit? It was fake as well.

6. Direct mail scams.

Bogus but official looking letters are delivered every day to random consumers with stern requests for Social Security Numbers and other personally identifiable information. Some of these letters are printed on what looks like big bank letterhead and in all cases, there is at least one “official looking” hard copy form that the consumer is asked to fill out and return.

The takeaway: The addresses on these letters and the return envelopes provided are criminal addresses. They are not P.O. boxes belonging to actual businesses or financial institutions. The main objective in this instance is identity theft, and this scam has been known to be very convincing to consumers.

Bottom Line: An informed consumer is an empowered one. Recognizing the signs of fraud will reduce your risk of becoming an identity theft victim.  Don’t wait until it’s too late! Enroll in Sherpa identity theft protection from First Financial. The best part? You can enroll right online, 24/7. You can trust in First Financial and Sherpa to help keep your personal information protected. Packages begin at just $5.99 per month – so click here to enroll today!

Article Source: John Buzzard for Co-Op Financial Services

Disney Vacationing on a Budget

How can you experience the magic of Disney without going broke? Is it possible to travel to Disney World without completely blowing your vacation budget? Here are a few tips to make your Disney vacation a bit more affordable.

Timing is everything. Whether you have to fly or not, the time of year you visit Disney can make a huge impact on the bill. Airfare will be cheaper during non-peak travel times, and so will the park entrance prices. Try to travel from September to early November, or January through mid-March (before Spring Break). If you travel during these times of the year, you’ll not only save money, you’ll also save time waiting in lines. Not to mention the Florida sun won’t be as overbearing. Even if you can’t get away during the off-peak season, try to plan to go during the week. Weekend fares are always more expensive, both in the air and at the park.

Look for less expensive lodging. Disney has a big variety of resorts on their property. Some of the pricier hotels are as much as $2,000 a night! Thankfully, there are also the Disney Value Resorts. There are three levels of pricing for these on Disney property hotels. The Pop Century Resorts will save you the most, with prices as low as $69 per night in the off-season. Outside hotels are also an option. You just have to decide if you want to trade travel time for the money you’re going to save. If your family likes camping, you could stay at the park for less than $50 a night. Florida’s warm weather makes it possible to camp outdoors in the off-season without freezing. Plus, you’ll also have free access to transportation to the parks with the Disney shuttle service.

Think about a meal plan. Disney meal plans can save you up to 25% on eating. You can also take water and snacks inside the park to save some additional cash. Study your restaurant options online before heading into any of the parks. You don’t want to blow your food budget on meals at Cinderella’s Castle at $65 a person, when you can eat at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot for the Princess Storybook Dinner and pay a lot less to eat with a princess.

Try to find other places to get more for your money. Fastpasses help you get into rides quickly and waste less time in lines, but they’re first come, first serve. Disney now has FastPass+ for on Disney property reservations. You can book your rides before you leave home!

Skipping Fastpass? Look for attractions that are lesser known, where the lines are shorter. You should also buy multi-day passes depending upon the length of your stay. This can save you over $100 per person a day, since a one day pass is about $150 a person.

Disney has also developed My Disney Experience, an interactive space (and app) for you to plan your vacation. It lets you make reservations and find fun things to do, make payments, and allows you to split your Walt Disney World vacation into manageable financial segments.

If you are planning ahead for a future summer vacation, think about opening a First Financial Summer Savings Account. This account will allow you to save all year long, and deduct the funds in July and August when many families plan to vacation.

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Click here to view full Rewards First program details.

Article Source: Vincent King for Moneyning.com

Small Business Spotlight: The Revolutionary Lounge Cafe

I am pleased to present a blog post which features one of our current businesses, how they got started, and how First Financial has helped them grow their business. If this inspires you to want to expand your business goals or see how First Financial can assist you further, feel free to reach out to me. Keep reading to learn more about our featured Business of the Month, The Revolutionary Lounge Cafe in Toms River. — Matt Brazinski, Assistant Vice President of Business Development

The revolution is here! Peter Perea and Jill Mulligan have teamed up to create The Revolutionary Lounge and Cafe, a coffee house that has adopted a theme based on the United States’ part in the American revolution.

Peter Perea (Builder and Handyman) and Jill Mulligan (General Manager and Chef)

Years in Business: 8 years

What do you love most about the business?

It’s a cliche answer, but it would be the people. We have a really wonderful and loyal following throughout Ocean County and even further. Folks who love real coffee, real tea, and simply just real ingredients and local flavors – are able to appreciate what we do and that’s awesome to see. Beyond that, we are able to take more time with having a creative design inside our space. Certain coffee chains are all the same inside, but our cafe has the love of a lot of people throughout it’s design, and that’s enjoyable to see for a change. Not to mention, we have a continuous flow of coffee and espresso available at all times which doesn’t hurt either!

What has your biggest challenge been in business?

The biggest challenge is simply choosing what you want to do today, tomorrow, next week, and next year. Business is always changing and evolving, and you want to do everything – but when you’re small you’ve got to pick and choose what works best for you. That can be tough when you’re a little impatient and want to give everything a try.

What do you like most about banking with First Financial?

Cliche again, but the people and the cozier atmosphere. Sure, it’s still a financial institution, but FFFCU isn’t some giant too-big-to-fail Wall Street heavyweight…it’s a local place with local people whom we’ve come to know and appreciate. The folks at First Financial know our business, and that’s a lot more than you’ll get out of any big bank. We’re a small business, so we want to support the companies out there that support small businesses too, and that’s First Financial.

What is your key to success?

Most people will occasionally complain that they don’t have enough hours in the day to accomplish everything they want, but we’ve discovered that with a continuous flow of caffeine you can reach hummingbird-like speeds and squeeze about 2 hours out of every 60 minutes. With 48 hours in a day how can you fail?

To learn more about The Revolutionary Lounge Cafe and see their menu, click here, email hi@revlounge.com or call 732.608.7819. You can visit their new location at 1256 Indian Head Road in Toms River.

Ready to grow your business? Call the Business Development Department at 732.312.1500, email business@firstffcu.com or stop by any branch location. Learn more about our Business Account products and services on our website.

6 Easy to Forget Expenses to Include in Your Budget

Creating a budget is never easy, it can take months or even years to perfect the process. Plus, life is always changing so a budget that worked a few months ago might not necessarily work now. One of the most common reasons people find budgeting so hard is because there are so many different expenses to keep track of. The big ones, like housing and food, are pretty obvious. However, often there are little things we forget about that can derail a budget from the start.

The next time you evaluate your budget, consider these six expenses that people often forget to plan ahead on:

1. Celebrations

It seems like every week, we’re always celebrating something. From birthdays to weddings to holidays, our schedules are jam packed with social events. However, we often forget that these celebrations come with hefty price tags. Gifts, travel costs, and party attire can add up quickly. Not accounting for these items can really throw your budget off. For example, if you know you have a few weddings coming up in the next year, be sure to set aside funds to cover any associated costs. Also be sure to increase your budget during the holiday season to account for gifts and travel.

2. Pet Care

We love our pets, but there’s no denying that caring for them can get expensive. We tend to only think of pet care expenses in terms of things they use everyday, like food – but any pet owner knows that there are many other major costs associated with our furry friends. Healthcare, including regular veterinary visits, is a big one. Grooming and pet sitting is another. These are expenses for your pet that may not happen every month, but they’re regular enough that you should include them in your annual budget.

3. Coffee

Any good budget will include a category for food and dining, but don’t forget to include coffee in there as well. We all know how much a cup of coffee can cost – anywhere from $2 for a regular cup to $6 for a latte. Whether you make your own or go to your local Starbucks, make sure you understand how much you’re really spending on your coffee addiction every month.

4. Home Maintenance

Many first time homeowners are unpleasantly surprised by the cost of home maintenance. Aside from utilities and minor repairs, there are several recurring expenses, such as lawn maintenance, landscaping and weather proofing that homeowners often forget. Expenses like these can drive up the cost of owning a home considerably.

5. Me Fund

When we’re trying to stick to a tight budget, we often forget about ourselves. If you’re trying to cut your budget, spending on things you enjoy is likely the first expense to go. Don’t underestimate the value of having a me fund, though. It can be anything, from a night out to a pedicure – but doing even something small from time to time can drastically improve your mood and increase your productivity.

6. Emergency Fund

The one thing people most often forget to account for is an emergency fund. This is also the most important.  In life, you never really know what can happen, and you need an emergency fund to protect you from whatever life throws your way. Your budget should include a portion set aside for emergencies. Many recommend that you have 3 months of expenses on hand at any given moment. You can decide the amount you’re comfortable with and then start to save up for it. Just remember to make this a priority.

Need help setting up a budget? Check out our easy Budgeting Guidebook and Worksheet.

Article Source: Connie Mei for Moneyning.com

Financial Advice for Millennials

The Great Recession created a perfect storm for millennials. It was the worst financial crisis the United States had seen since the Great Depression, and it left millennials playing catch up with their finances in the hopes of someday being able to retire. But even as they fight to break even, millennials continue to accrue debt.

The Federal Reserve recently released a study showing millennials have accumulated more than $1 trillion in debt including mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and student loans. Additionally, Schwab’s 2019 Modern Wealth report revealed that 62 percent of millennials are living paycheck to paycheck while only 38 percent feel financially stable. Despite that statistic, millennials also say they spend nearly $500 a month in nonessential purchases.

While the numbers above look grim, there is still hope for millennials pursuing the “American Dream.” It is important to remember that paying off cars and credit cards, buying a home and working toward retirement are not impossible feats. Like everything else in life, finances are about balance and finding an approach that works best for you.

Create a budget. Budgets are not “one size fits all,” and no two people will have the same financial goals. First, find a strategy that balances rewarding life experiences and saving for the future. Be realistic when crafting your savings and spending goals. For example, you can’t expect to go immediately from saving nothing each month to saving $500 a month. Start with a number that is easily attainable and increase the amount when it’s feasible.

Automate your finances. It’s easy for us to spend more than we save. The trick to overcoming that urge is to put our finances on autopilot. If your paycheck is set up with direct deposit, have a portion of it automatically deposited into a savings account that you don’t touch. Also, set up recurring transfers from your checking account into your savings account. Automatic bill pay is another great way to get ahead. Using online bill pay ensures that your bills are paid on time and you don’t have to remember to pay them (or buy stamps to mail them out)!

Track your spending. How much money do you spend at Starbucks each month? How many Amazon boxes arrive at your door each week? Chances are, like most of us, you don’t keep track of a $5 purchase here or a $10 purchase there. But those small amounts begin to add up and they can add up quickly. There are a number of apps like Mint, Quicken, and Twine – that aggregate your financial transactions and organize them by category so you can create and monitor a budget. Get some budget set up tips here.

Avoid impulse purchases. Overspending is a common interference to achieving financial goals. The more we give in to unplanned or excessive purchases, the harder it is to save money or stick to a budget. Rather than caving to those impulse buys, implement new habits to help avoid traps. Give yourself a waiting period for large purchases. During that waiting period, talk to someone such as a friend, partner, or spouse who is financially sound – and get their opinion about the purchase before you pull the trigger.

Consider a side hustle. Part-time work is a great way to make a little extra money that helps trim down debt or pad a savings account. There are multiple rideshare apps and food delivery apps that allow you to work when you want and as much as you want. If you have a particular skill set like writing or computer work, you can always look for ways to contract out those skills to make a little extra money doing freelance.

Trim your monthly expenses. Do you have a gym membership you never use? Are you paying for cable you barely watch? Does GrubHub make regular deliveries to your place? The average millennial spends more than $500 a month in nonessential purchases. Look at your budget and see where you can trim items. Replace cable with a streaming service. Make dinner at home. Get rid of that gym membership you never use and go for a run outdoors. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can build back your savings by eliminating unnecessary bills.

At First Financial, we offer our members a variety of services including financial planning and credit management counseling. We want to help you find a way to save for your future in a way that also meets your immediate needs. Contact us to schedule an appointment to review your financial situation and find a path that gets you where you want to be.

Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this July 2019

It’s time for some fun in the sun! Enjoy the beautiful weather and all the sights and sounds this summer season brings. Now is the perfect time to gather your family and friends to check out these free or inexpensive events in a town near you.

Independence Day Fireworks Schedule 2019

July 3:

Freehold, Dusk at Freehold Raceway

Bradley Beach, 9pm Beachfront

Manasquan, Dusk at Main Beach

Ocean Township, Dusk at Mike Cernigliaro Fairgrounds at Joe Palaia Park

Lakewood, Lake Carosaljo at dusk

Jackson, Six Flags at 10pm (nightly July 3 – 6)

July 4:  

Long Branch, 9pm Oceanfront Promenade (The entire day will feature the city’s annual Oceanfest event)

Seaside Heights, 9:30pm on the boardwalk

Asbury Park, Oceanfront at dusk

Pt. Pleasant, Dusk at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk

Brick, Windward Beach Park at 6pm (Summerfest Concert Series)

*For more Monmouth and Ocean County towns with fireworks – click here or here.

July 6: Jackson Township Fireworks, Music and Food Trucks at Johnson Memorial Park from 3-8pm. Fireworks will take place at dusk. Free admission. Get more details here.

July 7: Classic Car Show and Oldies Day at Monmouth Park Racetrack (Oceanport) from 11am-5pm. There will be over 150 antique cars to admire, old school entertainment featuring Big Joe Henry from NJ 101.5 FM, live performances from The Cameos, pony rides, face painting, a bounce house and more.  Admission is $5, parking is $5 and kids under 12 are free. Learn more here.

July 10-14: Ocean County Fair at Robert J. Miller Airpark (Berkeley Township). Wednesday and Thursday hours are 5-11pm, Friday and Saturday hours are 11am-11pm, and Sunday is 11am-5pm. 2019’s Ocean County Fair will be 5 days filled with entertainment, 4H displays, animals, rides, games, music and food. There will be a chainsaw carver, pig races and a hands on butterfly encounter. $8 per person and children under 10 are free. Learn more at http://oceancountyfair.com/ or call 732-914-9466.

July 12: Movies in the Park (Howell) begins at dusk at the Howell Library hill on Old Tavern Road. How to Train Your Dragon is the featured movie of the night. The event is free, just bring your own blankets or lawn chairs. Non-perishable food item donations will be collected for those interested in bringing anything for the local food bank. For more information call 732-938-4500 ext. 2106 or click here.

July 13: Freehold Township Day at Michael J. Tighe Park from 4-11pm. There will be food vendors, merchandise, kids rides, activities for teens, live bands, an antique car show, and fireworks at 9pm. Learn more here.

July 14: Surf and Turf Seafood Festival at Monmouth Park Racetrack (Oceanport). There will be live music, pony rides, facepainting, a bounce house, fresh local seafood, and more. Admission is $5, parking is $5 and kids under 12 are free. Learn more here.

July 17: Belmar Sandcastle Contest from 7am-1pm at 18th Avenue Beach. The competition is free and open to participants of all ages! Bring your shovels and creative flair for a day of sculpting in the sand. Learn more at http://www.visitbelmarnj.com/ or call 732-681-3700 ext. 214.

July 21: Movies on the Beach (Seaside Heights) from 8:30-11pm at Carteret Avenue Beach. This event is free to attend. Bring your own beach chairs and blankets. This showing will feature Lego Movie 2. Get more information at http://www.exit82.com/ or call 732-830-3700.

July 24-25: Christmas in July at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk (Pt. Pleasant) from 2-6pm. Get in the holiday spirit at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk! Enjoy photos with Santa, strolling entertainment and lots for kids to do. For more information, click here or call 732-892-0600.

July 24-28: Monmouth County Fair (Freehold) takes place at the East Freehold Showgrounds on Kozloski Road. There will be plenty of rides, 4H competitions, great food, and lots of entertainment. Wednesday through Friday hours are 5-11pm, Saturday is 11am-11pm, and Sunday is 11am-6pm. Admission is $8, kids 12 and under and seniors 65+ are free. Learn more here or call 732-842-4000 ext. 4312.

July 27: Kites, Crafts and Cones Festival (Ortley Beach) from 12-8pm. The craft show will take place from noon to 7pm, kite flying from 6:15-8:30pm, and all day there will be free face painting, balloon art, and ice cream for sale. For more information call 908-303-9624 or go to http://friendsofortleybeach.org

We hope everyone has an enjoyable summer!