Watch Out for This Chip Card Scam

Make sure you don’t fall victim to this chip card scam

The country isCreditScam_Featured progressing quickly on the path to replacing magnetic strip swipe cards with new, more secure chip cards. The switch to chip cards marks an effort to improve security and prevent fraud and identity theft.

The move to embrace this technology, which is already the standard in many other countries, was partially motivated by the highly publicized security breaches at several major retailers over the past few years. While the move to chip cards will improve security overall, there are some scammers who are trying to take advantage of the temporary confusion during the switch.

Last October marked the deadline for retailers to update their point-of-sale systems so that they could read the new chip cards. Any retailers that didn’t meet that deadline were at risk of being held liable for fraudulent transactions that may have been prevented with the new chip card systems.

“The new cards provide more security because the microchip creates a unique code for each use to help authenticate a transaction,” according to Kathryn Vasel of CNN Money. “Older cards store that payment data in the magnetic strip on the back, which is easy to steal, replicate and put on fake cards.”

As retailers across the country switched over, financial institutions began sending out new cards. During this time, a new identity theft scam arose. The scammers pose as financial institutions and send emails in an attempt to collect valuable personal information. They sometimes ask people to confirm or provide updated personal information so that a new card can be sent.

Other times, they provide a link that they claim will take people to their financial institution’s website so they can start the process of getting a new card. Unfortunately, these sites are used to gather information that can be used for identity theft. Even if you don’t input any information, just clicking the link can cause problems.

“If you click on the link, you may unknowingly install malware on your device,” according to Colleen Tressler, a consumer education specialist with the Federal Trade Commission. “Malware programs can cause your device to crash, monitor your online activity, send spam, steal personal information and commit fraud.”

You can avoid these scams by keeping in mind that your financial institution will never ask you for personal information over email or the phone. If you receive a call asking for information, hang up and call back yourself, using the number provided on the back of your card. You may have to give your account number over the phone when you call, but since you typed in the number yourself, you know the correct people are hearing it.

Likewise, do not respond to emails with any personal information. If you think you may have a legitimate email from your financial institution, it is important to close the email and navigate to the financial institution’s website from a new browser. That way, you know you are going to the correct URL — one that you type in yourself — and not risking a link that redirects to a scammer’s site. You should also check that the website you are on is secure before putting in any information. If you can’t find the page that the link referred to, you can call your financial institution to confirm the email was legitimate before you use the link.

If you keep this information in mind and remember that it is always better to play it safe and take the extra step to ensure that your communications are with your actual financial institution, then you can stay safe from this chip card scam.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Foods You Should Always Buy Organic

Five foods to purchase organic in the new year and beyond

If you are oneOrganic_Featured of the countless Americans who have resolved that 2016 will be the year in which you finally begin to tighten up your diet, you have certainly been spending more time in the produce aisle at your local grocery. Here, you may have discovered that most fruits and vegetables are offered in higher-priced organic options. You may have also noticed organic labels on meats, grains, dairy products and even the cookware in which you prepare your food.

If you do not typically purchase organic foods, you may be wondering what differences make organic products so much healthier that they are worth an extra cost. To help your future decision-making, here are five foods that you should always buy organic.

Milk
According to LiveStrong.com, approximately 20 percent of all milk sold in the United States is derived from cows that have received the genetically-modified Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). This hormone stimulates the insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) hormone, which some studies associate with an increased risk of cancer. Organic milk, on the other hand, comes from cows that are fed organic food and are not subjected to the same battery of antibiotic and growth hormone treatments that other cattle receive.

Apples
The saying goes that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but a high concentration of pesticide residue on these delicious fruits may ultimately have the opposite effect. According to WhatsOnMyFood.org, the USDA Data Program found more than 47 pesticide residues on apples, six of which are considered known or probable carcinogens and five of which are considered neurotoxins. Thiabendazole, a probable carcinogen and known developmental or reproductive toxin, was found on 81 percent of all apples tested by the USDA. As organic apples are not treated with pesticides, there are no such residues to be found.

Cucumbers
These green vegetables are great in salads and ideal for making homemade tzatziki sauce for gyros—never mind that they are rich in vitamin A, vitamin K and potassium. However, the USDA Pesticide Data Program also finds that they are home to as much as 86 pesticide residues, including endosulfan, an organochlorine insecticide that has been banned or phased out in more than 80 countries. While a number of these chemical traces will be removed by simply peeling off the skin, organic cucumbers should always be considered in lieu of regular cucumbers.

Meats
The reasons for choosing organic beef, pork and poultry are similar to the reasons for choosing organic byproducts. Cows, chickens and pigs among other animals are treated with growth hormones and antibiotics and eat foods containing herbicides and GMOs. The presence of these additives in meat can lead to an increased risk of cancer, and the heavy intake of antibiotics can lead to the creation of resistant bacteria, meaning that the higher price of organic meats is well worth it. Certified organic meat must be grain-fed, cannot be fed meat byproducts, and must be descended from a mother that was only given organic feed during the formative stages of pregnancy.

Potatoes
The soil in which potatoes are grown is typically treated with heavy fungicides in order to prevent blight, and potato vines are also treated with pesticides that include neurotoxins, carcinogens and hormone disruptors. Organic potatoes are considerably more expensive than the alternative, but the lack of any additives more than makes up for it. Sweet potatoes are considered cleaner than regular potatoes, but they are also not additive-free unless they are purchased in organic form.

Buying more organic products will result in a higher grocery bill, but it will likely result in a cleaner bill of health and a better sense of well-being. Buying these products organic every time will help keep your body cleaner and have a positive impact on your health moving forward.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

The Basics of Creating Your First Budget

Take the time and make a basic budget to keep your finances afloat

Are you preparing toFirstBudget_Featured graduate? Congratulations on taking the big step of moving out into the real world. The autonomy is a great feeling, but it comes with its share of responsibilities, such as handling your own finances. Creating a basic budget will help you keep track of your income, expenditures and savings. All it takes is a pen, paper and about 30 minutes.

Here are the steps you should follow, and each should take less than 10 minutes:

Discern your overall income
Do you have a full-time job where you obtain a set income each pay period? How about a part-time job (or two) at which your hours are unsteady? The latter is the more complicated aspect of step one, so you first need to add up how much you make after taxes from every income source you have — use the minimum amount you will bring home as a basis if you work varying hours each week. It is better to under budget than to go over budget.

List your fixed expenses
Next, you need to list all the expenses you have each month that never vary.

“Your budget will need to reflect the fixed costs of living for your new lifestyle, including rent or housing payments, utilities, car payments, credit card payments and other expenses you don’t expect to change each month,” says Sabah Karimi, columnist for U.S. News & World Report Money.

Identify new expenses
This includes student loan payments, health insurance and the like — things you aren’t used to paying on your own. These are likely fixed expenses but may not be, which leads you to the next step.

Think of all your variable expenses
Any expense that changes from month to month should be listed here. That could be those bills that come regularly yet aren’t always the same amount (i.e., utility payments, gasoline, grocery tab), or expenses for other travel, entertainment, etc.

“You decide how much of your monthly income goes toward these purchases, and you can adjust the amount at any time. Prioritizing what’s most important to you after your fixed and new expenses, and your savings are taken care of, is one of the crucial aspects of putting together a budget,” Karimi says. “Create categories and play around with different numbers to figure out what you are comfortable with and what you can truly afford.”

Decide how much you want to save each month
There should always be a line in your budget for savings. It doesn’t have to be much, but putting aside a percentage of your pay each month will give you a nice nest egg for the future or in case of emergencies.

With any luck, your expenses will be less than your total income. If not, some of your variable expenses need to be reconsidered to make your budget work. Many people opt to put this hard copy of the budget into a spreadsheet or other budgeting tool, but it’s not always necessary. As long as you stick to your plan and update it as needed, your finances should be in good shape.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Understanding Loan Consolidation

The upsides, the downsides and the caveats

Plain and simple, DebtConsolidate_Featureddebt consolidation doesn’t always save you money. Student loans are most often consolidated, but it’s also common for people to take out a consolidation loan to roll any number of debts into one. While either of these could be a great idea, there are also many instances in which loan consolidation does not make sense. It’s best to know all the facts before taking action.

Student loans
“Consolidation is like refinancing — you get a new loan, the new loan pays off your old loans and you pay the new consolidation loan instead,” summarized Heather Jarvis, student-aid expert at U.S. News & World Report.

This is generally a great option for young people just getting out of school, as you can consolidate most federal student loans, including those in default. Consolidation takes all your debts and rolls them into one, making for a much simpler monthly payment schedule. Remembering to pay all your bills, let alone multiple education loans, can be a tough task for a 21-year-old just starting out in the real world.

Other times when student loan consolidation makes sense, Jarvis said, is when you need to escape default (as it stops the collections process), you want to change your variable interest rate loan to one with a fixed rate (for easier financial planning) or you have federal loans from a private lender that you’d like to make eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (since only direct loans are eligible).

Student loan consolidation does have its potential downsides, so beware. First of all, Direct Consolidation Loans can’t be reconsolidated. You get only one chance at making consolidation work for you, so make sure not to waste it. Also, private loans (nonfederal) are not eligible. And that’s not all the possible disadvantages.

“You’ll have the option of taking longer to repay, so a consolidation loan could cost you more over time (since interest keeps adding up until you’re done). If you consolidate while you are in school — currently allowed under limited circumstances — you’ll lose your grace period. In addition, if you’re close to paying off your loans, consolidation might not be worth the effort,” Jarvis explained.

General debt consolidation
Debt consolidation loans can combine various types of personal debt, but the most common is credit card debt. It’s a viable option for people who have several credit cards and struggle to make the minimum monthly payment to each creditor. Also, it helps reduce the number of collections calls and letters you may be getting from creditors or collectors, thus improving your credit score and overall financial health over time. Furthermore, you can more easily manage your finances with a single monthly payment to one source.

Types of consolidation loans
There are two basic types of consolidation loans — secured and unsecured — each with its own set of pros and cons. The major difference is that secured loans are tied to an asset used as collateral (house, car, etc.) in the event of a default; while unsecured loans are based on your credit history instead of being attached to an asset.

According to Joel Greenberg, president of Navicore Solutions, a nonprofit financial counseling organization, you should do your homework before jumping into a loan like this, as it won’t always save you money.

“Compare your existing minimum payments to what your payments will be for that same debt under the DMP [debt management plan], including fees and voluntary contributions. If the latter doesn’t save you 5 to 10 percent, it’s the wrong choice,” Greenberg advised to Bankrate.com.

For more information on student loan consolidation, visit the Federal Student Aid website at https://www.studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/consolidation. You can also go to the America’s Debt Help Organization page at http://www.debt.org/consolidation/loans/ for further details on general debt consolidation loans.

Better yet, talk with the experts at your financial institution for facts pertaining to your specific situation so we can help devise a plan that works for you. www.aofcu.com/csa

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.