Are Your Online Shopping Sites Secure?

Shopping online is convenient and can be a huge time saver but if you enter your payment and personal information on an insecure site, you are putting yourself at risk for identity theft. Before entering any personal or payment information on any site, you should always make sure that it is secure. Sites that are secure and protect customers’ information will not have pop-up ads or send unsolicited emails. You should always look for positive customer reviews and check with the Better Business Bureau for a rating. A secure site will also have a physical address and post a refund policy.

You should be able to pay with a credit card and see a padlock or unbroken key symbol signifying that the site is enabled and encrypted.  Finally, the payment page should start with “https” and not “http”. The “s” means that there is a secure, encrypted connection between your device and the site. If you are ever unsure or something does not feel right about a site, don’t make the purchase! Trust your instincts and keep your personal information safe.

 

-Kathryn M.

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Saving Money on Back to School Purchases

Getting ready for a new school year is exciting but also can be very expensive especially if you have more than one child in school. Here are some tips on how to save money when preparing for the new year.

  • Wait to buy school supplies until late August or early September. This can save you lots of money because stores are trying to get rid of merchandise. It is a good idea to buy the essentials before the year begins and wait a few weeks to buy the rest.
  • Only buy what is on the teacher’s list. It may be tempting to buy cute extras but sticking to the list will help you stay within your budget.
  • Repurpose items from last year’s school supplies and your home office. Don’t buy a new backpack or binder unless the old one is truly worn out. Search your home office for unused items that your child could use. You can help your child personalize the item by adding photo collages or stickers.
  • Shop sales and buy in bulk when possible. It may be more convenient to buy everything at one place but you could save money by shopping sales at different stores. Also, buying pencils and pens in bulk can save you money by not having to buy those items multiple times throughout the year.
  • Check mailers and websites for different stores such as Target, Walmart, Office Depot, and Staples to see which items are on sale at each place and plan out where to go for each item you need.

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Money-Saving Apps

For those who have difficulty saving money, there are many apps that can help you set aside small amounts of money to put into savings (without you really noticing). Once those small amounts of money start to add up, you will start to get excited about saving even more money! A few of the most popular savings apps are:

  • Qapital helps you to set aside small amounts of money to meet your savings goals. This app is currently only available to iPhone users with a bank account at Bank of America, Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, US Bank.
  • Digit analyzes your spending and income and automatically sets aside a few dollars every few days to build your Digit savings account.
  • Acorns rounds up your purchases to the next dollar and invests the extra change.
  • Stash helps you invest easily by setting up regular deposits and offers tutorials and lets you decide how aggressively you want to invest.

-Kathryn M.

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Credit Card Perks You May Not Know About

It may be worth the time to go to your credit card company’s website and peruse all the benefits your credit card may have.  Here are just a few:

  • Extended warranties on purchases
  • Return protection
  • Car rental insurance
  • Lost luggage protection
  • Roadside assistance
  • Hotel room burglary insurance
  • Trip cancellation coverage

 

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Saving for College

If you believe your child will attend college, it is a good idea to start saving now to help pay for skyrocketing tuition costs. Although opening a savings account in your child’s name is probably the least complicated way to start saving, it can have some drawbacks. A student with a large savings account in his/her name can miss out on financial aid and grants since financial aid is based on income and assets. Additionally, a savings account does not have any tax benefits.

There are, however, a variety of options that have tax benefits and do not greatly impact a child’s ability to receive financial aid. Two of the most popular plans are 529 college plans and Education Savings Accounts. With both plans, the account does not have tax penalties, qualified withdrawals are tax-free, and they have little impact on financial aid. There are limits on how much and for how long you can contribute to the plan as well as restrictions on how the money can be used. Other options for long-term savings are: U.S. Treasury Bonds and custodial accounts. Both have some tax advantages but there are restrictions on how the money can be used and they can impact financial aid. With any savings vehicle, it helps to start saving as early as possible.

-Kathryn M.

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Ensuring You Don’t Become a Victim of Fraud

It is common knowledge that you shouldn’t download files from an unknown sender. Or if a Nigerian prince emails asking for money, it is a scam. And most people feel that they know how to protect themselves from a becoming a victim of fraud. But criminals are always looking for innovative ways to scam people so it is important to always be on the alert for something suspicious. One new scam that has claimed multiple victims is a phone scam. During the phone call, the scammer will ask seemingly innocent yes or no questions. The person then records you saying “yes” and later makes fraudulent charges to your credit/debit card. When you dispute the charges, the scammer uses the recording of you saying “yes” to defend the charges.

There are also lots of scams that prey on people’s generosity by claiming that they are collecting funds for fallen police officers or firefighters.  Scammers can also manipulate caller ID to make it look like they are calling from a different number. So, how can you protect yourself? Be cautious. If something seems fishy, it probably is. Research the company by doing a quick google search.  Scammers are almost always in a hurry and may even threaten you. Don’t be pressured by them. Always hang up on robo-calls. Also, don’t ever pay in advance for promises (send $300 now and receive a new car in three weeks) or wire money (there is little theft protection when wiring money). Finally, stay informed. You can sign up to receive scam alerts from the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts. You can help protect others by reporting scams to the FTC at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1 .

-Kathryn M.

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How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Identity theft is scary and can be extremely costly if you fall victim to it. There are lots of companies that offer identity theft protection. Although these services are beneficial, they can be expensive. Luckily there are many low-cost ways that you can protect yourself from becoming a victim:

  1. Use strong passwords that include upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  2. Ensure that your electronic devices have updated antivirus software on them.
  3. Keep financial documents in a secure location.
  4. Don’t post personal information (i.e., address, mother’s maiden name, birthdate, etc.) on social media. Also, don’t send account information or social security numbers via email or text.
  5. Don’t give out your debit/credit card information unless absolutely necessary.
  6. Don’t click on links in emails and beware of email phishing scams. Don’t enter your account information online unless you know you are on a legitimate website.
  7. Use online banking to receive statements and review your accounts frequently (at least a few times a week) for fraudulent activity.
  8. Review your credit reports annually. You can request a free credit report from each credit reporting agency each year at annualcreditreport.com. It is a good idea to stagger the reports so that you review one from each bureau every 4 months.
  9. You can put a fraud alert on your credit report if you notice suspicious activity. You just have to contact one of the three credit bureaus (experian.com, www.equifax.com, www.transunion.com). You can also request a security freeze (for a small fee) on your credit report so that only institutions that you currently do business with can request your credit information.
  10. Opt out of unsolicited credit offers. You can opt out at www.optoutprescreen.com.

   -Kathryn M.

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