How to Avoid Winter Utility Scams

In a recent blog, we shared ways to spend less money on winter utility bills. This week, we’re focusing on winter utility scams. Just this fall, PSE&G released an alert that scammers were impersonating their representatives, noting 1,000 of their customers in 2022 reported being a victim of a scam. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the warning signs and develop strategies to avoid any future scams from happening to you.

What is a utility scam?

A utility scam is when someone pretends to be your utility company to take your money. It can look like a call from your gas, electric, or water company threatening to cut off your service if you don’t pay a bill immediately. It could be an individual impersonating a utility company employee at your door saying they need to repair equipment and that you have to pay on the spot. It could also be someone calling for your information to process a bill.

How to avoid a utility scam

Knowing the signs is the first step in avoiding a scam. If you ever feel uneasy about an email, phone call, or visit from your utility provider – trust your instincts. Chances are you’re getting contacted by a scammer. Here are signs of a winter utility scam to look out for.

  • Threats of disconnecting your service if a bill is not paid for within the hour
  • Requests of an immediate payment through a payment app, gift card, or even Bitcoin
  • Requests for personal or card information
  • In person demands for payments and high pressure door-to-door sales
  • Offers of products or services with drastic, too good to be true savings

Do your research! If you see an offer from a utility company, search them online with words like “scam” or “reviews.” It’s also recommended that you get any offers or savings in writing before accepting or signing a contract.

What to do if you encounter a scam

If you’re contacted by a fake utility company (or suspect you were), contact your current service provider, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and contact your state attorney general. It’s also recommended that you let others know about the scam so they can avoid it too. If you’ve already paid a scammer or gave them your personal information, contact your bank immediately. The FTC also has a handy guide for victims of a scam with advice and resources.

You can count on First Financial to go above and beyond to help you avoid fraud and protect your finances. If you ever see something suspicious, you can always contact one of our financial experts to help you determine if the offer, website, or service is legitimate. Contact our member services department at 732-312-1500 or visit one of our branches.

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

Social Media Quizzes Can Lead to Phishing Attacks

We’ve all seen the quizzes, games, and survey questions asked on social media such as what was your first car, your pet’s name, your high school mascot, which character are you most like, and so on.

Personality tests, surveys, and online quizzes ask seemingly innocent questions, but the more information you share online over a public forum like Facebook – the more you risk it being misused. Scammers could do a lot of damage with just a few answers that give away your personal information, especially details that are often used as answers for online security questions.

This type of scam is called phishing, which is the fraudulent practice of sending emails or other messages that appear to be from reputable companies in order to get individuals to reveal their personal information.

What can scammers do with the answers to your online quiz questions?

  • Use your quiz or survey answers to try and reset your online accounts and passwords.
  • Potentially gain access to your bank account once they have the answers to your security questions that you have posted online.
  • Hack into your social media accounts by being able to answer security questions from online quiz responses, and then send malware links to your followers with another shared “quiz.”

Here are some ways you can protect your personal information on social media:

  • Maintain strong passwords and use multi-factor authentication when logging into your social media and online accounts.
  • Keep your social media profiles private – anyone can see what you are posting if you have a public page, and you won’t know who’s looking. Also refrain from listing your personal contact information and where you live on your social media accounts.
  • Steer clear of online quizzes and questions, or don’t answer them truthfully using the same answers you would use in online banking or other related account security questions.
  • When online accounts do require security questions, treat these answers like you would with other secure account passwords. Do not share this information with anyone.

If you suspect an online quiz might be a phishing scam, report it to the FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/

At First Financial, our goal is to help protect our members from scams and identity theft. If you have any concerns or questions about any of your First Financial accounts, please call member services at 732.312.1500 or visit one of our branches.

Article Source: FTC.gov

Ways to Spend Less Money This Winter

If you’re a homeowner, you probably already know staying warm in the winter can be costly. Heating your home itself can make up more than 40% of a utility bill. On top of that, natural gas inventories have dropped this year, causing prices to increase by 300%. Staying warm is important, and luckily there are tricks to cutting those costs without having to completely turn off your thermostat.

Winterize your home

To avoid cold drafts and heat from escaping, winterizing is essential. Don’t get stuck wondering where the cold air is coming from – get ahead of it with this checklist:

  • Seal your windows and install thermal curtains
  • Get a weatherstrip seal to cover door gaps
  • Clean or change your furnace filter
  • Ensure your attic is properly insulated
  • Caulk gaps you find around your windows or on the walls
  • Install a programmable thermostat

Prevent winter damage

Without proper maintenance and preparation, homeowners risk having pricey damage to their homes. Severe winter conditions like snow and ice can lead to strain on your roof and gutters, plumbing problems, flooding in the basement, cracks in the foundation, and even potential fires. This can lead to heavy repair fees and long-term issues. Here’s what you can do:

  • Clear your gutters
  • Hire a chimney sweep
  • Clean your dryer vents at least once annually
  • Install monitoring devices on your water pipes

Use heat alternatives

If you plan on lowering the heat to cut costs, make sure you’re stocked up on blankets, slippers, warm pajamas, and heating pads. A space heater is a good alternative if you’re warming a small area as well. During the day, you’ll want to take advantage of the natural sunlight and keep the curtains open (but close them when the sun goes down).

Cook at home & buy in bulk

Save money on dining out and cook cozy meals at home like soups, pasta dishes, stews, or pot pies. Not only will these meals warm you up, but they’ll also keep the kitchen toasty from using the oven or stove. When getting ingredients for these meals, it’s best to buy in bulk from membership stores. This way you can save on your grocery bill and spend less on gas by reducing the amount you’re driving to the store.

Choose an inexpensive resolution

The post-holiday season is the time of year when many people choose a New Year’s resolution to start fresh. However, many tend to buy into expensive membership programs that they slowly stop using. If your goal is to get fit, try at-home workouts instead of joining an expensive gym (especially if you’re not really going to use it). Are you looking to break your record on good reads? Get a library card and borrow books instead of buying new ones.

No matter what winter brings, the team at First Financial can help you better manage your money and reach your financial goals. Call us at 732.312.1500 or stop by any of our local branches.

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What to Buy After the Holidays for the Best Deals

Forget Black Friday deals and sales – after the holidays is when you’re going to want to shop for the lowest prices. It’s tempting to buy items for yourself around the holiday season, but waiting out the frenzy could actually save you more money than you’d think. From winter clothes and holiday decorations to electronics and toys, here’s what you should plan to buy after the holidays for the best prices.

Holiday decorations

While you might plan to get all your holiday decorations in October or November, it’s smarter to stock up right after the holidays. Artificial trees, festive lights, ornaments, and more – are going to be marked down by about 50% and might even hit more than that off. That’s why it’s so important to plan ahead for the holidays and know what you need before the season starts. Stores know shoppers may be last minute with their holiday goods, and that they will pay full price in a pinch.

Winter attire

Even though we’re in the midst of the winter cold, the day after Christmas marks the beginning of spring for retailers. Meaning, stores will need to make room for their spring attire and start to reduce prices on winter merchandise to do so. While you might want to invest in a new coat or snow boots ahead of the colder months, it’s advised that you hold off until the holidays blow over.

Electronics

In need of a new laptop, iPad, Kindle, or gaming console? Retailers typically enter what is known as the “open box season” for electronic goods after the holidays. All those gifted tech items that have been returned are leaving stores with a surplus of items they need to get rid of. This presents an opportunity for consumers to buy the items they’ve been waiting for at a lower price.

Toys

In December, kids are eager to put together their wish lists of the year’s most popular toys, but parents should ideally save some of the higher-priced items for after the holidays to get better deals if they can. This presents an opportunity to start teaching your children money management and shopping strategies early on. By enforcing smart shopping habits, you can show your family useful financial skills that can be used throughout their lives.

Travel fare

Travel enthusiasts know winter is the best time to book a low-priced vacation. Typically, consumers are strapped for cash after Christmas and aren’t thinking about financing their next trip yet. That’s why travel, hotel, and airline companies will have lower prices and great package deals right after the holidays. Plus, now’s a great time to stock up on items like luggage and travel accessories too.

The key takeaway here is that prices are typically based on demand. If you’re shopping for something when everyone else is, you can expect to pay full price. If you’re strategic and know what you’ll need in advance, it’s best to shop when others typically aren’t.

If you want to learn more shopping and money-saving strategies, look no further than the experts at First Financial! We’re here to help you better manage your money and reach your financial goals. Call us at 732.312.1500 or stop by any of our local branches.

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this January 2023

Happy New Year! We hope you enjoy some of these great winter events in a town near you this month, as we kick off 2023.

January 6:

The Little Mermen will be at House of Independents on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park at 8pm. The ultimate Disney tribute band returns! Come and enjoy an evening of music, dancing, and epic sing-alongs. Tickets cost $17 and can be purchased online here.

January 7:

Bruce Springsteen Symposium at Monmouth University (West Long Branch) takes place from 9am to 5pm. The Archives and Center for American Music will present this celebration of the 50th anniversary release of Springsteen’s debut album. Tickets are $50 per person, and more information can be found here, or call the box office at 732-263-6889.

January 8:

New Year’s Holiday Victorian Tea at the Mathis House in Toms River from 11am-3pm. The Inn will remain decorated for the holidays through the end of January, and will be featuring various events on most days of the week! Don’t miss this great Sunday tea that also includes live music, a five course meal, and a tour of the historic Mathis House. Cost is $50 per adult on weekends (weekdays is $40), kids up to age 12 are $20, and under age 5 are free with a paid adult. Call 732-818-7580 for reservations or go to https://www.mathishouse600main.com/

January 13:

Commemorative Breakfast Celebrating the Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Sheraton Hotel in Eatontown from 7:30am to 9:30am. The YMCA of Greater Monmouth County will be holding their 34th annual commemorative breakfast buffet with various keynote speakers. Tickets are $35 for adults, and $10 for those ages 16 and under. Purchase your tickets at https://ymcanj.org/mlk

January 15:

Lacey Township High School Flea Market from 9am to 2pm at 73 Haines Street in Lanoka Harbor. This is the 13th annual event to help the Lacey Fishing Club fund trips, outdoor experiences, and scholarships. Get ready to shop and support! Admission is $5. Learn more here.

January 18:

Wonderous Winter Walk at the Manasquan Reservoir (Howell) begins at 10am. Toss on your winter gear and tag along with a Park System Naturalist as you explore the Manasquan Reservoir in the wintertime. Meet in the Environmental Center parking lot. This event is open to all ages; under 18 must be with an adult. Sturdy footwear is recommended, trails may have inclines or tree roots to step over. Free to attend! Learn more here, or call 732-751-9453.

January 20:

Miniature Golf Tournament at Ocean County College (Toms River) begins at 6pm in the Larson Student Center. Don’t miss an evening of competition, food, drinks and fun! Call 732-557-8000 to learn more, or sign up here.

January 21:

Bluebird Workshop takes place at the Manalapan Community Center on Rt. 33 West from 10am to 11:30am. This event is a great opportunity for the entire family to learn how to attract these beautiful birds to your yard or nearby trails, by providing a habitat for them. Did you know Eastern Bluebirds help control backyard mosquitos naturally? For more information click here.

January 29:

Seashore Open House at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park (Long Branch) from 1-4pm. Engaging hands-on activities will entertain and educate you and your family about the shore and the sea. Speak with a Park System Naturalist about your own shell collection or the aquatic animals on display. You can even create a beach keepsake to take with you. This event is free to attend! Call 732-229-0924 with questions, or click here.

Know anyone getting married in the near future? The Jersey Shore Wedding Expo will take place from 12pm-4pm at Ocean Place Resort & Spa in Long Branch. It’s the largest Jersey Shore Wedding Expo featuring over 10,000 square feet of bridal show exhibits. There will be hundreds of ideas to plan your wedding, dozens of vendors, live shows, prizes, honeymoon giveaways, and much more. To learn more and reserve your spot (this event is free to attend) call 732-571-4000, or click here.

 

3 Financial Resolutions to Make in 2023

Now is a great time to look ahead and plan for the upcoming year. Many people notoriously set New Year’s resolutions that fall to the wayside halfway through January, but we want to help you set realistic and achievable goals. Here are some resolutions you can maintain throughout 2023.

Reframe your perspective on saving

It’s easy to set large savings goals at the beginning of the year that turn out to be unattainable later. Try to reframe the way you think about saving this year. Beginning or increasing your contributions to retirement savings, emergency funds, or specific savings goals is a realistic first step for many people. Instead of trying to save a large sum of money in one pot to cover all expenses, saving smaller amounts in different areas reframes your goals and makes them more attainable. Remember, any contribution to your savings accounts no matter how small – is a step in the right direction!

Get a better understanding of your credit

In an ideal world, a year is enough time to get out of credit card debt or improve your credit score. We know that emergencies and unexpected expenses are sometimes unavoidable. Understanding how credit works is a great way to set yourself up for success!

There are plenty of tips and tricks to know about your credit. For example, did you know that you can lower your interest payment while paying the same amount each month – by making two smaller payments throughout the month instead of one single payment at the end? And did you know that closing a credit card after you pay it off, actually lowers your credit score? There are plenty more adjustments you can make that will benefit you in the long run. If your goal is to start building your credit, explore First Financial’s credit card options with no annual fees!

Build a budgeting plan that works for you

Being realistic is a great way to ensure you’re able to maintain your goals. Understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all journey to finances. Just think about all the times you tried to save by cutting out things you spend on, and ultimately failed. When you’re starting your financial planning for 2023, make sure you look into all the ways you can budget.

There are plenty of resources on the internet with budgeting options that can fit your life better than a traditional approach. Putting effort into finding a plan that works for you is the best way to ensure you can stick to your New Year’s resolutions. Need a starting point? Check out our financial resources page!

Improving your finances starts with a single step in the right direction. Start planning for financial success in 2023 and set yourself up for long-term financial achievement! To speak to an expert about tools available through First Financial, call us at 732.312.1500 or stop by any of our local branches.

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