Cryptocurrency Scams to Look Out For

In recent years, the rise of cryptocurrencies has brought exciting opportunities for investors and financial institutions alike. As digital currencies gain mainstream acceptance, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risks associated with them. Cryptocurrency scams, in particular, have become a prevalent issue, affecting both individuals and institutions. According to the Federal Trade Commission, cryptocurrency scammers have stolen more than $1 billion since 2021. Plus, these investment scams are one of the top types of fraud recently affecting younger individuals.

This week we’ll explore some common cryptocurrency scams and provide you with valuable insights on how to protect yourself and your finances.

Ponzi and pyramid schemes

Ponzi and pyramid schemes have been around for decades, but they have found a new medium in the world of cryptocurrencies. These scams involve promising high returns on investment by recruiting new participants and using their funds to pay existing members. Eventually, the scheme collapses, leaving many investors with significant losses.

To protect yourself, be cautious of any investment opportunity that guarantees unusually high returns without substantial underlying value or a proven track record.

Fake Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) provide a means for new cryptocurrencies to raise capital. However, scammers have exploited this fundraising model by creating fake ICOs. They often lure unsuspecting investors with promises of revolutionary technologies and huge profits.

To avoid falling victim to fake ICOs, conduct thorough research on the project, its team, and its whitepaper. Look for credible sources of information and seek expert advice before investing your hard-earned money.

Phishing and social engineering

Phishing attacks are a common tactic used by scammers to deceive individuals into revealing sensitive information. In the context of cryptocurrencies, scammers often create fraudulent websites or send phishing emails pretending to be legitimate cryptocurrency exchanges or wallet providers. They aim to trick users into sharing their private keys, passwords, or other confidential details.

Always verify the legitimacy of websites and double-check email addresses before sharing any personal information.

Pump and dump schemes

Pump and dump schemes involve artificially inflating the price of a low-value cryptocurrency by spreading false information and hype. Once the price rises, scammers sell their holdings, causing the price to crash and leaving unsuspecting investors with losses.

To protect yourself from these schemes, be skeptical of sudden price surges and do thorough research before investing in any cryptocurrency. Rely on reputable sources of information and consult with financial experts if needed.

Malware and fake wallets

Scammers have developed sophisticated techniques to target individuals’ cryptocurrency wallets and steal their funds. They create malware-infected applications or fake wallets that capture users’ private keys or seed phrases, allowing scammers to gain access to their funds.

To mitigate this risk, only download wallets from trusted sources and keep your devices and software up to date with the latest security patches. Use hardware wallets for added security, and never share your private keys or seed phrases with anyone.

Signs it’s a scam

When it comes to scams, there are some common red flags to look out for. If you catch any of these signs are have a feeling something is off, it’s best to assume it’s a scam. These red flags include:

  • Big promises or claims that feel too good to be true, like getting double in investments or free money
  • Only accepting payments in cryptocurrency
  • Grammatical errors and misspellings in social media posts and emails
  • Fake endorsements, reviews, or comments
  • Minimal details about the investment
  • Multiple transactions in one day

If you think you’re a victim of a cryptocurrency scam, or any potential fraud, immediately report it to the Federal Trade Commission. While cryptocurrencies present opportunities, it’s crucial to remain vigilant and educate yourself about the potential risks. By understanding common scams and adopting best practices, you can safeguard your finances and protect yourself from falling victim to fraudulent activities.

Crypto could be a good option for some, but it’s always best to consult with professionals who have your best interests in mind. Remember, anything that seems too good to be true probably is. We’re here to help you avoid scams – check out our blog posts about the many different types of scams and how to protect yourself. And make sure to subscribe to our monthly email newsletter so you don’t miss out on important information!

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized financial planning or legal advice. We suggest that you consult with a qualified financial professional. Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Common Financial Mistakes We’re All Guilty Of

Some financial mistakes are all too common. So common in fact, that you might not even realize you’re making one. Keep reading to find out what some of the most common financial slip-ups are, and how you can avoid or get yourself on the right path to correcting them.

1. The Problem: Using credit cards for everything. This financial mistake is very common (quite arguably the most common), and can get you in a lot of trouble if you aren’t careful. We know it’s very easy to swipe/insert your chip card and go, or pay with a credit card that’s already saved in your digital wallet or P2P payment app. However, living on credit cards comes with the potential to rack up a huge amount of high-interest debt if you aren’t paying your bill in full each month. Over time, this interest and debt will continue to increase if you keep using your credit card. This only leads to a vicious cycle of accruing debt.

The solution: Set a budget for yourself, pay only with cash or a debit card, and when that money is gone until your next paycheck – it’s gone. Try not to live above your means, or keep purchasing and adding on debt and interest with out of control credit card spending.

2. The Problem: Not checking your credit report. ID theft is all too common these days – most people have been a victim of some type of financial scam or a fraudulent purchase. If you don’t check your credit report from time or time (or at the very least once a year), you could be a victim of identity theft and not even know it.

The solution: All consumers are able to get at least one free credit report per year through Be sure to check yours at least once a year, and make sure any open financial accounts or loans are actually yours. If you find any mistakes or fraud on your credit report, you will need to file a dispute with one of the credit bureaus. Should there be fraud on your credit report, it’s also a good idea to add a security alert to your credit report.

3. The Problem: Looking to buy a home you can’t afford. Sure, owning a home is probably one of the biggest financial milestones in life – however, buying one you can’t afford is sure to become a nightmare. Financing a home you can’t afford will create enormous financial stress, and not leave you much room to pay for other necessities. In turn, you may end up reverting to problem #1 above – and finance other things you can’t afford on credit cards. This could all snowball into massive amounts of debt you might never be able to financially recover from, and lead to bankruptcy and/or foreclosure.

The solution: Set a realistic homebuying budget for yourself. Check out our handy homebuying guide and checklist to ensure you find the perfect home for you, without putting too much strain on your finances. Also keep in mind future expenses that come with homeownership – furniture, maintenance, and utility bills. Be sure you can afford the monthly mortgage payment along with these additional expenses comfortably before you put an offer in.

4. The Problem: Not planning ahead for your financial future. This common financial mistake is multifaceted. The first mistake consists of not having an emergency savings account. Throughout life, financial emergencies and unexpected expenses are going to pop up. Not having an emergency savings account to fall back on should your car break down or if your home gets a leaky roof, may lead you to again revert to problem #1 at the beginning of this post – charging on high-interest credit cards.

Another financial problem that stems from not planning ahead is having minimal or no retirement savings. Many of us put off the thought of retirement – thinking that it’s way off in the distant future, but the reality is that it takes years of working and saving to secure the funds you’ll most likely need once you’re retired.

The solution: Start putting money into an emergency savings account as soon as possible. This can be extra money not spent leftover from each paycheck, or you can even set up a direct deposit from your paycheck that goes into a special savings account automatically. Setting up an automated direct deposit will most likely allow you to save more and faster, because it takes the thinking out of it and your savings will continue to grow. It’s like that phrase, “set it and forget it.” This way, when you truly need the money in an emergency – it’s there.

As far as retirement is concerned, the sooner you start investing – the more money you’ll have in your retirement years. Many employers even offer matching retirement contributions, which you should definitely look into if this is something offered by the company you work for. If you don’t know where to begin with retirement planning, it’s best to talk to a local financial advisor to help set you on the right path.

At First Financial, we’re here to help our members achieve financial success and meet their goals. You can get in touch with our representatives at 732.312.1500 or by stopping into any of our local branches.

For more money advice, subscribe to our monthly email newsletter!

A First Financial membership is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. See credit union for details. A $5 deposit in a Base Savings Account is required to establish membership prior to opening any other account/loan. 


Facebook Contest Scams: A Personal Journey Through Fraud

With as many scam blogs as I’ve written or fraud cases I’ve been informed of over the years, you’d think I’d be pretty savvy in spotting or becoming a victim of one myself. And up until last week – I was. I’m sharing a Facebook contest scam with our readers in hopes that it will prevent someone else from becoming a scam victim too. I’d also like to showcase how “good” some of these fraudsters are, and that these scams often play on people’s emotions and allure them in with attractive advertising online when they’re vulnerable.

Keep reading to prevent this type of scam from happening to you, or if you also fell for the same type of scam – how to stop any fraud or ID theft from continuing.

Here’s what happened

After going through an emotional personal situation recently, I found myself being unable to sleep one night. As many of us might also do in that instance, I reached for my phone and decided to scroll through my Facebook feed for a bit until I got tired enough to hopefully fall back to sleep.

After a few minutes, I saw a series of ads that were targeted to my age range, gender, geographic area, the personal situation I had experienced, and one of the women in the ad even looked like me. She was holding up a Michael Kors handbag I had actually been looking at online a few weeks ago but hadn’t purchased. The ad content mentioned, “Enter to win a Michael Kors tote bag, all you have to do is answer 3 easy questions!”

I should have trusted my instincts that told me this is too good to be true, but against my better judgement (and lack of sleep), I proceeded anyway. Before I answered the questions, I did look through the comments on this contest ad that I was about to fill out, and they didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. I also went to the advertiser’s page and saw what looked to be legitimate Facebook users who had commented on the contest post, thanking the advertiser for their bags and with actual photos of the bags they had won and received in the mail.

One user profile commented when someone else asked if the contest was real, “Yes! It was even posted on the Michael Kors page story that they had extra inventory and would be providing retailers with discounted bags to make room for a new summer line.” I even went to that page, and when I (obviously) didn’t see it in their story, told myself it had probably just expired and would be posted again later.

After convincing myself this was legit, I answered the three simple questions. Sure enough, I was selected as a “winner” and would now get my chance to open one of the digital contest gift boxes and see if that box contained the purse prize. Naturally, it did. I was then brought to what appeared to be a secure website form that had a lock icon up top next to the web address.

The message at the top of this form said, “Congratulations, you’ve won! We’ll ship your Michael Kors tote bag within 1-2 business days, just pay $9.95 for shipping and handling.” That’s where I really went wrong, I should have known that any contest or sweepstakes that tells you that you’ve won – now pay us (even if it’s a small nominal or shipping fee), is always a scam.

Thankfully, my guard was somewhat up – and even though I entered my name and shipping address into the fraudulent contest website, I used a landline phone number instead of my cell phone, an old email address that I never use anymore but hadn’t gotten around to deleting yet, and a store Mastercard that had a zero balance instead of my main debit or credit card.

As soon as I entered my card number with its expiration and CVV code and hit submit, I knew I had made a big mistake. Luckily, I had fraud alerts setup on this store credit card, and I immediately received a possible fraud alert text from the card issuer. When I checked my email account, there was what appeared to be a legitimate email – with all the contact information I had entered, as well as an order number and a message that said the bag would be shipping within 1-2 business days, and I would receive another email once it shipped with tracking information.

Even with all that, I still had an uneasy feeling after getting the fraud alert text and I called the customer service number on the back of the card I had used. When I got a representative on the phone, he told me in addition to my $9.95 purchase in question – there were already 12 other pending charges to my account. As he named them all, not one of them was me. The scary part was around half of the pending charges on the card were legitimate purchases that I had made at various merchants in the past (probably so that if I looked at my account I would think I made those purchases).

My card was then shut down immediately, a new one was issued, and all pending purchases to that card were blocked. Had I used my debit card or my main credit card, this scam would have been a much bigger headache – but luckily fraud alerts had been setup for this card and I knew right away that something might not be right and called customer service.

What to do if you paid a scammer with a credit or debit card online

  • As soon as possible, contact the bank or company that issued the card.
  • Tell them a fraudulent charge was made.
  • Have them reverse any transactions, close the card, and issue you a new card by mail.
  • Continue to monitor your account to ensure no additional fraudulent charges take place.
  • Make sure any automatic payments setup using your previous card are updated once you receive your new card.
  • File an online case with the FTC and the FBI’s Internet Crime Center.

If you paid a scammer with another payment method or gave them access to a device, review this helpful guide on what to do. Also visit for more tips on what you can do when your personal information gets lost or stolen via a scam.

How to avoid a social media contest scam

If you ever feel uneasy about something – trust your instincts. Always do your research and search online with words like “scam” or “reviews” using the contest or advertiser name, or the prize. It’s also important that if you do have a social media account, that you keep your personal, demographic, and even company pages you follow – private and not public information. Many of these scammers are very sophisticated and will target certain social media users who follow various product pages and online shops, so that they can advertise their scam later on.

When I went back to the contest page afterward to report it to Facebook, I noticed a few comments from people saying, “this is a scam” and similar. However, a few minutes later, all those comments disappeared. When I looked at the Facebook profiles of the people who said they had won and posted photos of their bags, all of their profiles were all created within the last three weeks, they had no friends or activity on their pages, and only a public profile picture. I wish I had thought to check those out before I had unknowingly given my credit card information to fraudsters.

In the end, I luckily was able to catch this scam right away and took it as a very big learning lesson. I hope my experience helps others avoid these types of scams in the future and be more mindful of online contests and ads that target their victims through social media – I know I will!

If you ever see something suspicious online, you can always contact one of our financial experts to help you determine if the offer or website is legitimate. Should you see any fraudulent activity on one of your First Financial accounts, contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 or visit one of our branches.

Get scam savvy and look out for more fraud trends by subscribing to First Financial’s monthly newsletter.

Tips for Starting Your Own Business

Starting your own business is an exciting and rewarding endeavor. It allows you to pursue your passion, be your own boss, and create opportunities for yourself and others. However, launching a successful business requires careful planning, financial management, and a solid understanding of resources that can support your entrepreneurial journey. Here, we’ll provide you with valuable tips and insights on starting your own business in New Jersey, along with essential financial advice.

Develop a comprehensive business plan

A well-structured business plan is the foundation for any successful venture. It outlines your business goals, target market, marketing strategy, financial projections, and more. Consider seeking guidance from our business experts who can provide valuable insights and help you create a solid plan.

Manage your finances effectively

Financial management is crucial to the success of your business. Here are some key tips to consider:

  1. Separate personal and business finances: Opening a business account with us will help you track your business expenses and income separately, ensuring accurate financial reporting and easier tax filing.
  2. Create a budget: Establish a detailed budget that covers all your business expenses, such as rent, utilities, inventory, marketing, and employee salaries. Stick to this budget as closely as possible to avoid overspending.
  3. Monitor cash flow: Keep a close eye on your cash flow by tracking your incoming and outgoing funds. Proper cash flow management will help you identify potential issues and make necessary adjustments to ensure your business remains financially stable.
  4. Plan for emergencies: Set aside an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses or for any periods of reduced income. We can help you establish a business savings account or provide access to lines of credit for added financial security.

Leverage financial products for businesses

At First Financial, we offer a range of products and services tailored to meet the needs of small business owners. Here are a few that might benefit you:

  1. Business loans: Whether you need funds to start your business or finance an expansion, we offer business loan options to help you build or expand your business.
  2. Merchant services: We can provide you with the tools and resources to accept credit and debit card payments from your customers, making transactions easier and more convenient.
  3. Business credit cards: At First Financial, we offer a VISA Business Cash Plus Credit Card, which offers perks like 1.5% cash back, a 10-day grace period, and no annual or foreign transaction fees.*
  4. Financial education and support: The team at First Financial offers workshops, virtual seminars, and one-on-one consultations to help you improve your financial literacy, develop your business skills, and navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship.

Network and seek mentorship

Building a strong network of like-minded entrepreneurs and seeking mentorship from experienced business professionals can provide invaluable guidance and support. Check with local organizations like Ocean County Business Association and Monmouth Networking Exchange to see what events and resources are available. Another great resource for business owners in Monmouth County, NJ is Score of Monmouth County. Be sure to also check out other local networking organizations in your area such as LeTip, BNI, and chambers of commerce.

Starting your own business requires careful planning, financial management, and leveraging the resources available to you. By following these tips and taking advantage of the financial products and support, you can set a solid foundation for your entrepreneurial journey. Remember, the team at First Financial is not just a financial institution – but a trusted partner invested in your success.

Take the leap, pursue your dreams, and let us be your trusted companion as you embark on your next journey. Call us at 732.312.1500, email or stop into your local branch to get started.

*This APR of 18% is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. 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. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees of 3% or $10, whichever is greater; Late Payment Fee of $35, $10 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of $35. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa® Business Cash Plus Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan. Your First Financial Visa® Business Cash Plus Card will earn cash back based on your eligible purchase transactions. The cash back will be applied to your current credit card balance on a quarterly basis and be shown cumulatively on your billing statement. Unless you are participating in a limited time promotional offer, you will earn 1.5% cash back based on eligible purchases each quarter. No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date.

Spring 2023 Newsletter

We hope all our members and their families are enjoying this beautiful Spring season!

In a continued effort to go green, we’re publishing our quarterly member newsletter electronically – it can also be found on our website and social media sites. Paper copies will be available in our branches.

The Spring Newsletter features the following articles:

To view a copy of our Spring Newsletter, click here.

Wishing you a great second quarter of the year!

Financial Tips for Your Backyard Makeover

Summer is just around the corner, and now is the perfect time to spruce up your backyard. However, before you dive into your backyard makeover project – it’s essential to consider your budget and financial goals. With that in mind, here are some financial tips for your backyard makeover.

Set a budget

The first step to any home renovation project is setting a budget. Determine how much money you can realistically afford to spend on your backyard makeover, and stick to it. It’s easy to get carried away with all the different options available, but keeping your budget in mind will help you make more informed decisions about which projects to prioritize.

Prioritize your projects

Once you’ve set your budget, it’s time to prioritize your backyard makeover projects. Start by making a list of all the improvements you’d like to make and then rank them based on importance. Consider factors such as the condition of your backyard, what the project would be used for, and what would add the most value to your home. This will help you focus on the most important projects and ensure you don’t overspend on unnecessary ones.

Consider DIY projects

Another way to save money on your backyard makeover is by tackling some of the projects yourself. Not only will this save you money, but it can also be a fun and rewarding way to spruce up your backyard. If you’re handy with tools and have some experience with home improvement projects – consider taking on tasks such as painting, constructing garden beds, building a fire pit, and more.

Shop around for deals

Before you start buying materials for your backyard makeover, do some research to find the best deals. Look for sales at local home improvement stores or search online for deals on materials such as pavers, plants, and outdoor furniture. You can also consider buying gently used items from local buy-and-sell groups or garage sales.

Consider financing options

If your backyard makeover project is more extensive than you initially thought, you may need to consider financing. At First Financial, we offer a variety of loan options to assist you in financing the backyard of your dreams.

  1. Home improvement loans are unsecured and don’t need to use your home as collateral to qualify. Lenders will use your credit score to determine your interest rate and qualifications.*
  2. Home equity loans are similar to home improvement loans in that they are paid out in a lump sum that you can repay over time in regular fixed monthly payments.**
  3. A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a secured loan backed by your home, allowing you to qualify for lower interest rates. Our HELOCs have a maximum borrow amount of $75,000 and an LTV of up to 70%, and allow you to advance from your approved credit line as you need it. ++
  4. Credit cards with a lower interest rate may be good for smaller home improvements, especially if you can find a card with added perks. We offer four credit card options with benefits like a 10-day grace period and no annual fees.+ Our Visa Cash Plus cards, for example – offer UChoose Rewards on all purchases that are redeemable for travel, merchandise, gift cards, and cash back.

By setting a budget, prioritizing your projects, considering DIY options, shopping around for deals, and exploring financing options – you can make your backyard makeover dreams a reality without breaking the bank. If you need help determining the best financing path for your home improvement project, feel free to ask our financial experts for advice. Call us at 732.312.1500 or stop into your local branch to get started.

Happy renovating!

*Available on primary residence only. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Home Improvement Loan and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth of Ocean Counties. See credit union for details. Rate will vary based off of applicant’s credit rating. Not all applicants who apply will be approved, subject to underwriting guidelines and credit approval. Lien position and appraisal valuation may affect the maximum loan amount. Not all applicants will qualify for maximum Loan to Value (LTV) ratio. It will be based off of creditworthiness, property type, occupancy, lien position, and loan amount. Rates will be affected by LTV or combined LTV if there is another lien on the property. Loan amounts over $7,500.00 will be required to give First Financial FCU a security interest in their property. Rates will vary based off of lien position and whether the loan is mortgage secured or unsecured. For mortgage secured Home Improvement loans First Financial FCU (FFFCU) will waive closing costs at inception of loan. If loan is terminated within the first 2 years of opening, closing cost waiver is revoked and are required to be paid back by member to FFFCU.

**First Financial FCU (FFFCU) will waive closing costs at inception of loan. If loan is terminated within the first 2 years of opening, closing cost waiver is revoked and the borrower(s) will be required to pay back closing costs in full to FFFCU. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Home Equity Loan, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. See FFFCU for details or visit for all current rates. Rates for financing up to 80% of Appraised Value less other Mortgages.

+APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. 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. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees of 3% or $10, whichever is greater; Late Payment Fee of $29, $10 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of $29. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

++ LTV= Loan to Value Ratio. Rates will vary with the market based on Prime Rate and may change quarterly. Subject to credit approval. Available on primary or secondary homes only. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a home equity line of credit, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. Subject to underwriting guidelines. See credit union for details.