Beware of the Seemingly Perfect Rental: It Could Be a Scam

You finally found a rental property to call home. It’s the perfect location, the pictures look amazing, and the price is much lower than you were expecting to pay. All you need to do is send the landlord a deposit and the first month’s rent to seal the deal.

STOP! Before you do that, make sure you’re not sending money for a property that doesn’t exist. Rental scams are yet another opportunity for scammers to steal money. These scams target both new and existing renters, so it’s important to know what to look for.

View this short video to learn more about rental scams.

Tips for Spotting a Rental Scam

Pictures look too good. If a picture shows a beautifully renovated rental at a price that’s well below market rate, be cautious. Glamour photos can easily be found online. Reverse search an image by right clicking.

The listing has errors. Scammers are smart, but often don’t have very good grammar. Listings that have grammatical mistakes and other formatting errors could be signs of a scam.

Pressure to sign and pay right away. A legitimate landlord or rental agent will typically show you a space before renting it. If an agent is pressing you to sign a contract or pay a deposit without seeing the property first, this is a red flag. Especially if they insist you pay with a digital payment platform like Zelle® or Venmo.

There’s no credit check. Landlords and rental companies typically will conduct a credit check to determine if a renter is creditworthy. While some places don’t require a credit check, be careful. Ensure the agent is not taking advantage of your need for housing by offering a fictitious home with lenient eligibility requirements.

Ways to Avoid Rental Scams

 Always ask to tour the property. Don’t rent a place without seeing it. Schedule a time to tour the property to make sure it exists and looks like the advertisement.

Skip listings that look suspicious. Scroll past spam listings, and be skeptical of listings that are priced well below market value or contain grammatical and spelling errors.

Don’t send money in advance. You should never be charged a fee to tour a property, so turn away from any request for an upfront payment. Avoid sending any seemingly legitimate payment like a security deposit or first month’s rent without seeing the space and meeting the landlord or property manager. If the landlord comes up with a convincing story as to why they can’t meet – it’s best to wait until you can schedule a meeting, or search for another rental altogether.

Slow down and ask questions. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied or pressured. If you do, you could be playing right into the hands of a scammer. Take your time, see the property for yourself, and ask all the necessary questions to make sure this is the right space for you.

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.

To learn more about scams and ways to protect yourself, visit

Zelle and the Zelle related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license.




Winter 2023 Newsletter

Happy Valentine’s Day and we hope your 2023 is off to a great start! 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 Winter Newsletter features the following articles:

Upcoming First Financial virtual seminars and important dates (February and March 2023)
Article – Financial Steps to Take After a Divorce
Message from the CEO
Community Spotlight on our 2022 Holiday Food and Gift Drives
Investment & Retirement Center Article – Double Up with a Spousal IRA
Keep the Car You Love this Winter with a Lease Buyout Loan
Article – How to Avoid Winter Utility Scams
Important information, phone numbers, and branch locations

To view a copy of the newsletter, click here.

Wishing all of our members a great first quarter of the new year!

Guide to Preparing for Tax Season 2023

Tax season can be daunting, but don’t let it overwhelm you! Last year, we shared tips on what to do with your tax return, and this time we’re focusing on tax season preparation. With some planning and organization, you can make sure that you’re ready when the time comes. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you get equipped for tax season 2023.

Gather your documents

The first step in getting ready for tax season is gathering all of your documents. This includes any income statements, like W-2s or 1099s, as well as any deductions or credits you may be eligible for. Make sure to keep all of these documents in one place so that they are easy to access when needed. Additionally, if you made any donations throughout the year, make sure to save receipts from those as well.

Understand tax changes

It’s important to stay up-to-date on any new tax changes that have been implemented since last year. While most of the standard deductions remain the same, there may be some new credits or incentives available that could lower your overall tax amount. New Jersey has incentives for working individuals and families that could help put more money back in your pocket. The IRS also lists any changes that could affect your tax refund in 2023.

Organize your finances

Once you’ve gathered all of your documents and familiarized yourself with the latest tax changes, it’s time to get organized. Knowing how much money you made throughout the year will help determine what forms need to be filed and how much you need to pay. Take some time now to organize all of your financial information so that filing taxes will be a breeze come Tax Day, which is Tuesday, April 18th this year.

Determine how to file

There are two main ways to file your taxes and what you choose will depend on your income level and comfort with the filing process. If you own property or run a business, it’s likely best to work with a professional. Whereas single individuals with one source of income may find it easier to use tax software.

First Financial members get access to tax season discounts through Love My Credit Union Rewards. Members can save up to $15 on TurboTax federal products, and $25 for new clients on tax services through H&R Block (returning clients will receive Tax Identity Shield for free, a $35 value).*

Tax season doesn’t have to be scary! With a little preparation and organization now, you can make sure that everything runs smoothly come April 18th. If you’ve already filed for this year, follow these steps now so that come tax time next year – you’ll already have everything taken care of in advance. Have more questions? Stop in your local branch to speak with a representative today!

*Limited time offer. Terms, conditions, features, availability, pricing, fees, service and support options subject to change without notice. Intuit TurboTax®and H&R Block are tax preparation software products offered to our members through Love My Credit Union Rewards and are not products of this credit union.

Setting Financial Goals as a Couple

Valentine’s Day is next week, and what better time of year than to sit down with your partner and talk about your financial goals as a couple and make plans for your monetary future?


The first step in achieving your financial goals together as a couple, is to talk to each other. Communication is one of the most significant components of any relationship, and discussing your finances together is super important. As you’re both talking, you’ll each want to mention the goals you both have for the two of you, your individual financial goals, and be sure to jot everything down or save them on a note in your phone or on the computer.

As you’re discussing, be sure you’re each respectful of what the other is saying. If you don’t understand something, ask questions – but you never want to make your partner feel bad about one of their goals or that it’ll never happen. Your financial situation as a couple is something you’ll both need to communicate about, see what’s realistic and what isn’t, and find ways to achieve your goals together.


Once your financial goals have been agreed upon and written down, it’s time to prioritize the order of how and when to achieve them. An important component of prioritizing your goals together is to decide which ones are must-haves, and which ones are nice-to-haves. For example, if your family is growing and you no longer have the space to live in a condo – buying a single family home would be a must-have goal. An annual cruise vacation is a nice-to-have. You’ll both also want to do the same with your individual goals.

Another part of prioritizing is how long it might take to reach your goals. Short-term goals are typically ones that can be completed in under a year (for instance, buying new appliances for your kitchen). Long-term goals typically take anywhere from 3-5 years or more to accomplish (boosting your retirement savings or renovating your home). Once you’ve prioritized your list, you’ll want to choose the first goal to achieve. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this, just as long as you both are on the same wavelength.


Now it’s time to plan out how you’ll achieve your financial goals together. The best way to do this is to be specific about what the goal is, measure the goal and track your progress, decide on a way to attain your goal, be realistic about if it’s possible to achieve this goal, and set a time for when you’d like to have the goal completed by. Once your goals are planned out, you can officially begin to put money aside and start working on achieving them as a couple.

Check in on your progress

Once your plan is set and you’ve begun working on your financial goals, it’s important to keep track of your progress and potentially reconfigure your plan if you need to. You’ll want to do this at least once a month if possible. For example, maybe you both have realized you didn’t save as much money during a certain month and didn’t meet your monthly savings goal – but when you went back and reviewed your expenses, you saw that you went out to dinner or bought takeout several times a week. For the next month, try to plan to eat at home instead of dining out. You can meal prep together and plan all your meals in advance so you don’t get tempted to order out if you both come home too tired to cook one night. It’s okay to make mistakes and readjust your budget together – the most important thing is that you are both monitoring your spending, communicating, and changing your financial habits for the better moving forward.

As always, 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.

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

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Identity Theft Awareness Week: What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen

This week is Identity Theft Awareness Week, the perfect time to refresh your knowledge of what to do if your identity is stolen – since fraudsters are getting so creative these days. While it may seem like time to panic, there are plenty of stops in place to not only report the theft – but also return anything that’s been stolen. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you act quickly, should you ever need to.

Know the scope

Not every security breach classifies as identity theft. Identity theft is specifically when someone uses your personal information to file a tax return, open a bank account, or make fabricated medical claims.

There is no one correct way to verify if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. There are both paid and free credit monitoring programs that can scan your history and alert you to any signs of theft. These sites monitor the dark web and credit reports to look for suspicious activity involving your personal information.

Notify agencies

Once you’ve confirmed your identity has in fact been stolen, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can report over the phone at 1-877-438-4338, or online through However, you should know that in the case that you need to go to the police for stolen property or report charges to your credit card, they may request an official report. You will only receive an ID Theft Report if you file your case online, not by phone.

Ensure that you also notify any additional agencies such as Medicare’s fraud office if they are your provider and medical fraud has occurred, the IRS if a false tax return has been filed under your identity, or your state’s labor department if your information was used to file a fake unemployment claim.

Alert other relevant companies or agencies

Outside of government entities, you’ll want to alert any relevant companies that could be affected by this event. Notify your health insurance provider if your identity was used for a false medical claim. Contact the fraud department at companies where the thief tried to open an account or apply for a job. In the event that you know the person behind the crime, your name was used in a police interaction, or another company such as a credit agency requires it – file a report through your local police.

It’s also a good idea to notify your credit card company to shut down affected accounts and freeze your credit report too. This means that anyone attempting to access your credit report will be blocked, and credit bureaus won’t share it with anyone who requests it. Additionally, you’ll want to put a fraud alert on your credit reports with the main three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

Take steps to prevent future theft

Now that you know your information is accessible, you’ll want to take extra precautions to prevent repeated ID theft.

Sign up for your free annual free credit report and if you are a First Financial member, you can also register your debit and credit cards within our mobile app to receive purchase alerts for all transactions or easily turn off one of you cards in an instant if you need to. You may be offered a free account with a credit monitoring service when you report a stolen identity, which you should definitely utilize. If that’s not the case, both free and paid accounts are available through various companies like Credit Karma or CreditWise.

You’ll also want to keep a tighter lock on any accounts with personal information stored. Start using a password manager to ensure your passwords are difficult to crack and enable two-factor authorization whenever it’s offered. Additionally, begin monitoring your identity more closely by making a habit of reviewing your credit report and bank statements.

Identity theft is not a joke! Stolen information gives criminals the ability to strap you with long-term damage, if not taken care of quickly. This Identity Theft  Awareness Week and every week, stay on top of your security, be alert for phishing scams, shred documents with sensitive information, and be smart about where you share your personal details. For more information on what to look out for or if you suspect your identity has been stolen, contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 or visit one of our branches.

Take further identity theft precautions and stay in the know about ID theft scams by subscribing to First Financial’s monthly newsletter.

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

Love is in the air – and there’s so much to love this February with a ton of fantastic events happening in a town near you. Check out the list below of free or inexpensive activities to do with your loved ones all month long.

February 2: Cupid’s Love Shop Holiday Shopping Event (Waretown) takes place from 6-9pm at Breakers Kitchen and Tap on Route 9. Proceeds will go to the local food bank. There will be vendors, a giveaway, face painting, balloon twisting, and a character visit. For every item you purchase, you will get 1 envelope for a chance to win a “love ticket” for a pick of a vendor prize. Find out more.

February 4:

Sea Girt Patriot Polar Bear Plunge will take place from 10:30am to 1pm at Sea Girt Beacon Boulevard Beach (9N Ocean Avenue). This event will benefit Jersey Shore area Veterans with home improvement and housing needs through Coastal Habitat for Humanity, and is $55 to participate. Register here.

Fire and Ice Festival (Cream Ridge) takes place from 10am-7pm at New Egypt Flea Market on Monmouth Road. There will be firepits, food trucks, wine from Cream Ridge Winery, shopping, music, character photos, fire juggling, and more. Admission is $5 per person. Learn more.

February 5: Annual Beef and Brew Fundraiser (Highlands) will take place from 3-7pm at Proving Ground Waterfront Dining on Shrewsbury Avenue. An event ticket is $40 and includes a buffet dinner and two beer tickets. There will also be a gift auction and a pipe band. All proceeds will benefit the annual St. Patrick’s Parade. Learn more and register here, or call 732-291-4713.

February 9: Wine and Bundt Cakes at Laurita Winery (New Egypt) from 7-9pm. The event is $35 per person to attend, and includes a flight of four wines paired with mini bundt cakes. Bring your valentine or enjoy a fun night out with friends, ages 21+. Register online at or call 609-752-0200.

February 10: Clue on Stage at Spring Lake Theater will take place at 2pm (matinee) and 7:30pm (evening performance), located at 300 Madison Avenue. Event tickets range from $30 to $40 per person. Don’t miss the experience of everyone’s favorite classic board game coming to life on stage, in a great evening filled with mystery, murder, and laughs. Purchase tickets online, or call 732-449-4530.

February 11:

Asbury Park Valentine’s Bazaar will take place from noon-6pm at the Asbury Hotel on 5th Avenue. Shop incredible local and regional vendors selling goods and gifts handmade with love. There will be food and libations, photo stations, a flower bar, kids activities, workshops and more. Get more details here, or call 732-774-7100.

Brick Township’s 173rd Birthday Party will take place from 3-5pm at Civic Plaza Activity Center on Chambers Bridge Road. The event celebrates the founding of the town with games, music, hand painting and cake, and is free to attend. Registration is required and can be done online here, or call 732-262-1000.

February 14: Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Company’s Valentine’s Day Fundraiser Rose Sale will take place from 10am-7pm at the fire house on Central Avenue. Rose bouquets range from $20 to $35 and will benefit the volunteer fire company. Surprise your special someone with a beautiful bouquet for a good cause! Learn more.

February 18:

Winter Beach Blast (Toms River) will take place at the Ocean County Mall from 1-3pm. Get a taste of summer at this event featuring crafts, interactive tables, dancing, games (including the world’s largest Twister game), and more – for all ages. There will also be music and entertainment from B98.5 radio. This event is free to attend. Call 732-244-8200 or click here to find out more.

Comedy Night and Gift Basket Raffle (Lincroft) will take place at St. Leo the Great Arts and Athletic Center on Hurleys Lane from 7-11pm. Back by popular demand, the Knights of Columbus are presenting an evening of comedy along with a chance to win some prizes! The show features comedian Joe Fernandes, alongside other local professional entertainment. The cost to attend is $30, and tickets can be purchased online here or call 732-908-4386.

February 19: Summer in Winter Carnival (Manahawkin) will take place from noon-4pm at Holiday Inn on Route 72. There will be skee ball, a milk can toss, food such as chicken fingers, fries, popcorn and cookies. There will also be face painters, a balloon artist, photos, a DJ, and so much more! Admission is free. Reserve your spot online.

February 25: Seaside Heights Annual Polar Bear Plunge will begin at 9am with registration at Blaine Avenue. The plunge itself is at 1pm at 500 Boardwalk (Spicy’s). This fundraiser is a great way to support the Special Olympics in New Jersey. Find out more by calling 732-830-3700 or go to

February 26: Annual Chili Cookoff (Highlands) will take place from 3-7pm at Quarterdeck at Seastreak on Shore Drive. Tickets are $35 per person and includes the sampling of chili, two beer tickets and two voting ballots. There will be performances by bag pipe bands and Daly’s Irish Dancers. All proceeds will benefit the 2023 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Register to attend here, or call 732-291-4713.