Spring has Sprung Scams: Facebook Marketplace

With Spring in the air, a lot of people have started their Spring Cleaning, selling unused, unwanted items on Facebook Marketplace. Facebook Marketplace has become a hotspot for scammers. Here are some things to look out for:

Prices that are too good to be true

One red flag to watch out for is if a seller is offering an item at a price that seems too good to be true. Scammers often lure in buyers with significantly low prices to attract attention. In the end, the buyer never receives the item. Another warning sign is if the seller insists on using unconventional payment methods or requests personal information such as your bank details or social security number. Never share your personal information and report any suspicious behavior.

Rental Scams

A scam that has become increasingly popular is rental scams. These scams show fake listings for a number of different items. Such as, boats, bikes, equipment, properties, etc. In this scenario, the scammer will ask for payment upfront or a deposit to secure their rental. The victim then ends up with no rental and lost money. Protect yourself by first seeing the rental in person and paying after, use reputable rental platforms instead of Facebook, be cautious of below-market pricing, and avoid wire transfers.

Return Scams

In this scam the buyer states that they want to return the item that they purchased, they will ask for a refund. The scammer will then either not return the item or return a similar item that is broken or something totally different than the original item. The fraudster will send fake tracking information to show “proof” that they are returning the item. To avoid this scam, sellers should wait for the returned item and check that it is in good condition before issuing any sort of refund.

Two-Factor Authentication Codes

Never share a two-factor authentication code! If someone asks for this code, there’s a high chance that you are speaking to a scammer. These codes are ONLY meant for you. Phishers will ask you to send them this code to verify that you are who you say you are. In reality, they are really going to use this code to log in to one of your accounts. You are at risk of being hacked if you share a two-factor authentication code.

Trust your Instincts

To stay safe while using Facebook Marketplace, it’s recommended to meet sellers in person, in a public place, and inspect the item before making any payment. Share your meeting location/plan with a friend or family member and avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you. Additionally, trust your instincts – if something feels off or suspicious, it’s better to walk away from the deal. By staying informed and alert, you can enjoy the benefits of Facebook Marketplace without falling prey to scams.


https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2024/facebook-marketplace.html

https://www.comparitech.com/identity-theft-protection/top-facebook-marketplace-scams/

https://www.facebook.com/help/2374002556073992

Emergency Funds – Not Just For Adults

Divvying up your kid’s allowance into different jars, each with a specific label and purpose, has become pretty standard. Your kids probably have one jar for savings, one for spending and maybe another for giving.

What most parents and kids omit, though, is one more jar for emergencies. Yes, emergencies, even for kids. Granted, they won’t be shelling out thousands of dollars for a roof repair or a medical crisis like their parents might, but emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, and to all-sized people.

No one needs convincing that having funds for an unexpected expense is crucial to financial security. In fact, building an emergency fund is the first of Dave Ramsey’s famous seven baby steps for getting out of debt. It’s definitely something you want to build into your kids’ psyche. So why not start now?

Some examples of small and not-so-small emergencies for children are:

  • The pair of new sneakers left in the locker room after PE, now gone forever
  • The shattered car window from an overeager, but poorly aimed, baseball
  • The huge data plan overage charge
  • The misplaced spending money for an afternoon at the mall

So yes, kids have emergencies. Helping them set up a fund to pay for some of these mini crises instead of bailing them out each time will teach them to be prepared.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Help your kid add an extra jar to their existing set and mark it for emergencies.
  • Allocate a portion of your kid’s weekly allowance or chore payment to the emergency fund.
  • With your child, create a goal for the new jar. For a younger child, $25 should be enough, with the number steadily growing to about $100 for preteens.
  • Once the jar has hit its target, revert back to the original division of money among the other jars.

The next time your child has a financial emergency, have them pay for all or part of it. It’s okay to share the costs for larger emergencies, or even for smaller ones. Your child will still learn responsibility by coughing up some of the funds on their own.

These should be situations due to negligence, irresponsible behavior or simple forgetfulness on the part of your child.

When the fund is depleted for an emergency, be sure to encourage them to replenish it by going back to step two.

Remember, it’s baby steps like these that will prevent your child from having to crawl their way out of debt later on in life.

Don’t Get Caught in an Emergency Scam!

Your grandson’s calling – and he’s in bigtime trouble! He’s been kidnapped and being held for ransom, so he needs you to wire over money ASAP.

Before you wire over anything, stop! You’re probably being scammed. Here’s what you need to know about emergency scams and how to protect yourself. 

How the scams play out

In an emergency scam, a target gets a phone call, email or text message pretending to be a close relative. The caller will claim to have been caught in hot waterwhich can be anything: a kidnapping, an issue with the police, a car accident or getting stuck overseas with no money. 

The caller will then ask the target to send over money pronto, using a wire transfer or prepaid debit card. While emergency scams are commonly played out with a grandparent of an alleged caller, they can also target the parents, uncles, aunts, and siblings of the “caller.”

Unfortunately, if the target follows the caller’s directions by sending over money, these funds will go into the scammer’s pockets. 

Red flags

Here are some signs that can alert you to the possibility of an emergency scam:

  • Your “relative” calls to tell you about an emergency situation they’re in, but they ask you not share this information with family members or anyone else.
  • You’re urged to act quickly.
  • You’re asked to send money by a wire transfer, prepaid gift card or cryptocurrency. 
  • You’re asked to share sensitive information over the phone.

Protect yourself

Follow these tips to help keep yourself safe from emergency scams:

  • If a friend or family member calls you with an urgent request for funds, hang up and call them directly from a number they’ll recognize. 
  • Never wire money or send a prepaid gift card to an unverified contact. 
  • Ask an alleged caller some questions about your shared memories to determine if they actually are who they claim to be.
  • Always be cautious and avoid acting rashly regardless of the situation.
  • Don’t share your personal info with an unknown contact. 
  • Don’t be afraid to share details of a phone call with other family members and friends.

Stay safe!

Building Financial Resilience: Strategies for Overcoming Financial Stress

In today’s fast-paced world, we face many financial challenges as we juggle a lot of responsibilities. The constant pressure to earn enough for covering day-to-day expenses while remembering to put away money for your financial goals never lets up. To make it even more difficult, life only gets more expensive as time goes on. However, despite the inherent hurdles, overcoming financial stress and living a financially fit life is very doable. Let’s take a look at key strategies for building financial resilience. 

Manage debt

Debt can be a big source of financial stress. To effectively manage debt and gain control of your finances, take a proactive approach:

  • Assess your debts and choose which to prioritize.
  • Create a repayment plan, like the snowball or avalanche method. 
  • Maximize debt payment until you’ve paid them all off.

Build an emergency fund

Building an emergency fund is important for creating financial resilience. Here’s how to do it:

  • Start small. Gradually increase the amount you regularly save over time. 
  • Automate your savings. Make saving automatic by setting up regular transfers from your checking account to a separate savings account. 
  • Aim for three to six months’ worth of expenses.  While this can take time, make this amount your ultimate goal so you can weather any surprise and keep your finances intact.

Set financial goals

Setting clear financial goals will empower you to take control of your financial well-being and build your financial resilience. Follow these steps to successfully set financial goals: 

  • Identify your short-term and long-term goals. 
  • Make your goals specific and measurable. 
  • Break goals into actionable steps.

Practice self-care

Taking care of yourself is a vital part of reducing financial stress. Find time to pursue your interests and to take frequent breaks from the daily grind. And it doesn’t have to put you into debt, either. You can go for a walk alongside a beautiful lakefront, learn a new language, visit free galleries showcasing your favorite art or develop a hobby by watching free DIY videos.

Managing money responsibly in current times is super-challenging, but financial resilience is within reach. Use the tips outlined here to achieve and maintain financial resilience. 

Practical Budgeting Made Easy

With the right tools and information, building a budget can be quick and easy. Here’s how to create a simple and practical budget for the time-strapped consumer. 

Review your income and expenses

Most budgeting plans recommend tracking income and expenses for three months. If you’re pressed for time, though, you can choose to look at one month and review your spending and income throughout this time. Review your checking account details and credit card statements to see where your money went and what funds came in. 

Compare income and expenses

Hold up your two numbers from the previous step and see how they compare. If your income outweighs your expenses, you’re doing great! If it falls short, you’ll need to trim your expenses in the next step or look for ways to boost your income. If the numbers balance each other out, it’s still a good idea to trim expenses to leave some budget wiggle room.

Assign a dollar amount to every expense category

Next, review the ways you spend your money and assign a dollar amount to each category. Include fixed and changing expenses as well as savings contributions.

If you’re pressed for time, you can make your categories more broad. For example, instead of setting a separate number for groceries, work lunches and dining out, you can set a larger number for all monthly food expenses.

If your income does not cover your expenses or just barely covers them, look for ways to trim the fat however possible. 

Jot down your dollar allocation on paper, or create a digital version of your budget and upload it to your personal devices for easy access.

Use technology

Harness the power of technology to help you track and manage your expenses well. A budgeting app can make tracking your monthly spending super-easy. You can upload your budget to the app and track expenses throughout the month. The app will let you know how much you’ve spent in each category and warn you when you’re approaching the limit. 

Live with your budget

You’re ready to live with a budget! Remember to keep your monthly expense categories in mind as you spend throughout the month. 

If you find it too hard to keep track of your spending throughout the month, the money envelope system can make it easier. Simply withdraw cash amounts for each non-discretionary expense category in your budget at the start of the month and only use the money in these envelopes to pay for these costs throughout the month.

Review and adjust

Your budget is up and running! Review your spending plan regularly to see if it’s still working for you and adjust as needed.

Budgeting doesn’t have to take a lot of your time or be overly complicated. Use this guide to learn how to create a practical, easy budget that works. 

How to Avoid Romance Scams this Valentine’s Day

Don’t be the next victim of a romance scam! Here’s all you need to know:

How the scam plays out

In a romance ruse, a scammer will create a bogus online profile and attempt to connect to singles on dating apps and websites, as well as through social media platforms. After a connection is formed, the scammer will work to build up the relationship with the victim, calling and texting often. Once the scammer has gained the victim’s trust, the scammer will spin a sorry story and ask the victim for money.

The scammer may explain that they cannot meet in person because they are currently living or traveling outside the United States. They’ll claim to be a doctor working for an international organization, a blue-collar worker in the middle of a construction project or to be part of the military and currently serving overseas. They may ask for money to help cover travel expenses, pay for medical treatment, cover customs fees at the airport or to pay for a visa or other official travel documents.

The scammer will ask for payment via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Once they’ve received the funds, they will disappear. Alternatively, the scammer will ask their “date” to share personal financial information and then go on to empty the victim’s accounts.

How to spot a romance scam

If you’re in the market for a new date and you’re hoping to meet someone online, look out for these red flags:

Profile is too good to be true. If a single’s profile has unrealistic credentials, including a magazine-worthy photo, you’re likely looking at a scam.
Single rushes into the relationship. If the contact comes on too strong, too fast, it may be a scam.

Single asks you for money. Don’t believe a money-starved story of someone you just met online, especially if they start asking you to help them out.

How to play it safe online

Avoid falling victim to romance scams and similar ruses by following basic online safety rules.

First, never share personal details online with anyone whose identity you cannot verify. This includes all financial information, credit card details and personal information that can be used to unlock a password on any of your accounts.

Second, only visit secure sites and keep all the settings on your social media pages private. Never engage in conversation with a stranger who reaches out to you on a platform you’ve just begun using, or who sends you personal texts or emails you without any prior communication.

It’s equally important never to send money to anyone online.

If you suspect a romance scam

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a romance scam, take these steps to avoid further damage:

Research the name on the profile to see if the details check out. You can also use an online background checking tool, such as BeenVerified or TruthFinder, to verify the credibility of the profile.

Do a reverse-image search of the profile picture to see if it’s a stock photo or an image that was plucked off the internet. You can also ask the contact to share a current photo of themselves.

If your research confirms your suspicions, stop all communication with the scammer immediately. Block the scammer’s number and flag their emails as spam. If you’ve already paid a romance scammer with a prepaid gift card, call the company that issued the card to ask them to refund your money.

Report the scam to the FTC. It’s also a good idea to alert the website or app that the scammer is using. You may also consider warning your friends about the scam.

Follow the tips outlined above to keep your love life scam-free.

How do I Prepare for Tax Season?

Gather your documents

The first step in prepping for tax season is to gather all the necessary documents. Depending on your personal circumstances, these can include:

  • W-2 forms
  • 1099 forms
  • Receipts and invoices
  • Mortgage and loan documents
  • Investment statements
  • Business income and expenses
  • Other miscellaneous income

Organize your finances

Store all your documents and receipts in a folder, binder or digital file so you can access them whenever necessary. This will help ensure you don’t miss any deductible expenses.

Prepare your personal information

In addition to your income information, you’ll need the Social Security number and date of birth of each dependent you claim. It’s a good idea to have this info, and any other details your tax preparer will need, ready before you start your return. 

Review tax law changes

The tax code changes every year, and some of this year’s modifications may impact your tax situation. Be sure to review the most recent updates so you can take advantage of any new deductions or credits. 

Determine your filing status

Your filing status determines the tax rates and the standard deduction you’re eligible to take. Choose the status that best fits your situation. The most common filing statuses are:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Head of household
  • Qualifying widow(er)

Learn the deadlines

It’s important to be aware of tax filing deadlines. For most individuals, the deadline to file federal income taxes is April 15th. If the 15th is on a weekend or holiday, the deadline is typically extended to the next business day. 

Choose your filing method

You can file a paper tax return and mail it to the IRS, use tax prep software like TurboTax or H&R Block, hire a professional tax preparer or e-file your return on your own.

Plan for next year

Finally, use the tax season as an opportunity to plan for the future. Consider adjusting your tax withholding to avoid owing large sums at tax time or receiving large refunds. 

You’re ready to file your taxes!

Which Purchases Should I Charge to My Credit Card?

Q: I’m reevaluating my credit card use and wondering if I’m doing it right. Which purchases should I charge to my credit card?

A: Your credit score, which is the key to long-term loans at favorable rates, employment opportunities and more, depends on your credit card usage. To build credit, you need to use credit. You want to make sure you use your cards, but you don’t want to spend more than you can pay. In addition, there are some purchases that are best off being made with a credit card. 

Here are six purchases you may want to charge to your credit card:

1. Electronics and appliances

It’s a good idea to pay for big-ticket items, like electronics and appliances, with your credit card. This will provide you with an insurance of sorts on these purchases, such as doubling up on the offered warranty. Some cards also offer price protection, which covers the difference if the price of an item drops after you’ve bought it. 

2. Car rentals

Here, too, paying with a credit card can provide you with a level of insurance on the car. The insurance likely won’t be as robust as temporary insurance you might buy through the rental service, but it will probably offer some collision coverage at no extra charge.

3. Purchases made abroad

When traveling and making purchases abroad, a credit card is usually your best way to pay. Cash has the risk of loss or theft and debit cards may have fees for transactions that are made outside the country. They may not even be accepted at some vendors. Credit cards from well-known issuers, on the other hand, are accepted almost everywhere and are a lot safer to carry than large sums of cash. In addition, many credit card companies offer a favorable exchange rate.

4. Fixed monthly bills

If you’re looking for an easy way to build credit, pay a fixed monthly bill, such as a subscription or payment for phone or internet service, on your credit card each month. This will ensure regular transactions are made on your card. As long as you’re paying your credit card bill on time or early each month, you will show a pattern of responsible credit usage!

5. Online purchases

When shopping online, you’re usually best off paying with a credit card. Unlike other forms of payment, credit card transactions are always traceable and provide some coverage for fraud. 

6. Mobile phone bills

Another good candidate for credit card payments is your monthly mobile phone bill. Many credit card companies offer some coverage for phones that are lost, damaged or stolen if the card was used to pay a specific number of bills and the cardholder is up to date on their bills.

8 Creative Ways to Save on Heating Costs this Winter

Q: I’ve sealed all leaky windows and doors in my home, but my heating bill is still astronomical. Is there anything else I can do to keep my heating costs down?

A: Sealing air leaks is a great first step toward lowering your heating bill. Luckily, there are many other methods for hacking your way to a lower heating bill.

Here are some creative ways to save on heating costs.

Dust your vents

This can be an easy, effective way for lowering your heating bills. Dust acts as a natural insulator and can block some of the hot air from heating your home.

Lower your thermostat 

The Department of Energy recommends setting your thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter for maximum energy savings. For every degree you crank it down over an 8-hour period throughout the month, you can shave 1 percent off your heating bill. If you can lower your thermostat by 10 degrees at night or while you’re at work, you’ll save 10 percent off your heating bill! A programmable thermostat can do the job for you so you don’t have to remember to turn it down.

Turn on your ceiling fans

Most ceiling fans are equipped with a “summer” and “winter” setting. In the wintertime, set the  blades to move in a clockwise direction so hot air, which naturally rises toward the ceiling, can be blown downward to warm up the room.

Use aluminum foil

Tape a piece of aluminum foil behind the radiator to reflect heat into the room instead of into the wall.

Use zone heating

If you live in a large home, keep the lesser-used areas just warm enough to prevent pipes from freezing. Close some of the vents in these rooms and shut the door to keep that heat in. On the flip side, open the doors of the rooms that see heavy use so hot air can flow evenly throughout the house.

Rearrange your furniture

Check if you have any furniture situated near your heating vents. You don’t want to be paying all that money just for hot air to be flowing into the underside of your living room sofa.

Let the sunshine in

The low-in-the-sky winter sun can give you hours of free solar heat each day — if you let it in. Be sure to open the curtains in the early morning hours and to close them at night to keep that warm air inside. You may also want to swap your curtains for thicker, insulated ones in the winter for further protection against the cold night air.

Humidify your air

Use humidity to your advantage by investing in a humidifier for the winter. Moisture helps to hold onto heat and will keep the air warmer longer.

6 Financial Resolutions for the New Year

It’s a brand-new year, so now is a great time to set budget-friendly resolutions to pave the way toward a more financially fit future. Here are six financial resolutions to get you started.

1 – Create (and stick to!) a budget

If you don’t have a monthly budget, let’s get one started! Track your spending and income over several months, and then make a list of all expenses and all monthly income streams. Assign a dollar amount to each expense category. If your columns are equal, or your income is more than your expenses, you’re doing great. But, if your expenses are more than your income, you’ll need to trim your spending or find ways to increase your income.

After you’ve created your budget, or if you already have one, resolve to actually stick to it each month. You can use one of the many budgeting apps, like YNAB, to help. 

2 – Build an emergency fund

An emergency fund is your financial safety net. Experts recommend having three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. Resolve to build an emergency fund this year by setting aside a small sum of money each month until you have a nest egg that can get you through virtually any emergency. 

3 – Trim your expenses

Have your expenses started trickling upward in any area(s)? Identify your weak points and brainstorm for ways to start spending less. Small change today adds up to big bucks tomorrow.  

4 – Pay down debt

Make this the year you pay down debt, or at least make real headway toward getting rid of it for good. You can choose to prioritize high-interest debts, or work on paying off your smallest debt first to keep your motivation going. Maximize payments on your chosen debt until it’s paid off. Then, keep on rolling to the next debt on your list until you’re completely debt-free. 

5 – Automate your savings

It’s all wonderful to resolve to put more money into savings each month, but how do you turn those good intentions into reality? Set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to your savings so you never forget to feed your savings. 

6 – Expand your financial education

Invest in your financial education this year by reading books, taking online courses, listening to podcasts or attending seminars on personal finance. 

Your Complete Guide to Santa Shock Recovery

The holidays are over, and with the start of a new year, we are often dealt a case of “Santa shock”. Its main symptoms are the result of the house and daily schedule being in disarray as well as those first post-holiday credit card statements haunting you as the ghosts of purchases past!

The good news is, all it takes is some self-care and planning to make a full recovery from Santa shock. Here are four ways you can bounce back from the post-holiday slump.

Declutter and reorganize

Get your house organized! To ease the overwhelm, move all the holiday clutter into one area. Then make a list of all you need to do to get your home looking liveable. Finally, enlist the help of all household members to divide and conquer it all. In no time, your living space will be looking neat and organized again.

Reestablish routine

Getting back into a normal post-holidays routine can be challenging, but the sooner you start, the easier it’ll be to get back into real life. Set a regular sleep schedule, plan balanced meals and reintegrate exercise into daily life. Returning to a structured routine will help you feel more grounded and reduce the disorientation that often accompanies the post-holiday season.

Help your budget recover

Get your budget back on track after the holidays with these tips:

  • Consider a no-spend month. Resolve to only spend money on what you truly need for an entire month after the holidays. This will help your budget get back on track quickly.
  • Assess your holiday spending. Take a look at how much you spent so you have an idea of how much you’ll need to pay off sooner than later.
  • Make a plan for any carryover debt. If you put a bit too much on credit (meaning “borrowed money”) during the holidays, make a plan to pay it off as soon as possible. 
  • Consider opening a Christmas Club Account for next year. A Christmas club account will allow you to spread the cost of the holidays across the rest of year to help pay for all of the season’s expenses without taking on debt. 

Prioritize self-care

The holidays can leave you feeling drained. To fully recover from Santa shock, prioritize self-care in the weeks after the holidays. This may mean reading a book, meeting friends for coffee or indulging in a spa day. Whatever revives you!

Follow the tips outlined here to recover from Santa shock and transition smoothly back into real life.

Financial Preparation for The New Year

The new year is almost here. Are you ready?

Usher in the new year with plans for financial improvement and resolutions to do more.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Tune your budget

It’s great to start off the new year with a plan. A budget is just that — a plan — that starts with the income you expect and your fixed expenses such as your mortgage, insurance, and utilities. The plan incorporates your savings goals, and the remaining money is designated for your other expenses. A realistic budget will help you set your financial goals and will remind you to stick to them. Now is the perfect time to assess last year’s budget or create a new one if you don’t yet have one in place.

Reviewing how you spent last year’s money will help you make better financial decisions for the year ahead. While thinking about it, include a method for tracking your spending. You can do this on a spreadsheet or tag items in your checking account.

Even with a solid plan, there can be surprises along the way, so be sure to build an emergency fund into your budget.

Plan ahead to meet your goals

Consider how you will accomplish your goals. You might have shorter-term goals, such as purchasing a new home, as well as longer-term goals, like retirement. Each set of goals requires different kinds of planning and saving.

Financial planners recommend setting up a separate savings account for each goal. This way, your progress toward that goal is clear.

It’s best to work backward for determining how much you need to save for each goal. Determine the cost of your goal and then establish a reasonable timeframe as well as how much you’ll need to save each month to reach it.

Spend mindfully

Make your financial future more secure this year by identifying your wants and needs. Your needs are necessary for survival and include food and shelter. Your wants are simply things you desire-like a luxury car. Tend to your needs first. Then, if there is money remaining, consider your wants.

This might sound obvious, but for many of us, the lines between wants and needs are blurred.

Maximize tax contributions

Tax deductions can be a valuable source of savings. If you have employer-matching funds available, take advantage of them. Also, verify with your HR contact and your accountant that you are contributing the optimal amount to your 401(k) and IRA.

Check your flexible savings account (FSA)

If you have unspent money in your FSA, now is the time to use it. Your pre-tax dollars in such accounts typically need to be spent before the end of the year or they are lost.

Put the brakes on holiday spending

Avoid going overboard on holiday spending or you might spend the beginning of the year trying to pay it all back.

These are just a few of the many ways you can prepare financially for the coming year. With a little attention to some often-overlooked details, a little perseverance, and a little mindfulness throughout, you’ll be moving forward with a strong foundation and positive outlook.

6 Naughty Holiday Scams to Beware of This Season

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Unfortunately, though, not everything about the holiday season is all happy and nice. As always, scammers are on the scene, ready to turn the joyous season into a nightmare. Here are six naughty-list scams to watch out for this holiday season. 

Online shopping scams

In this classic scam, a shopper is lured into a bogus site that appears to belong to a popular retailer and proceeds to purchase an item that does not exist. Alternatively, a too-good-to-miss deal will be heavily promoted through pop-up ads and emails. In either scenario, the shopper will never receive the ordered item and won’t be able to reclaim their lost funds. In some cases, the product will be delivered to their home, but it will be of inferior quality, in poor condition or completely different from the advertised item. 

Protect yourself: Only shop reputable websites. Check the URL of each landing page you visit to ensure you are still on a trusted site. Also, if a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is.

Charity scams

Here, a charity targets do-gooders in the weeks leading up to the holidays, asking for donations. Unfortunately, though, the charity is completely bogus, and the money will go right into the hands of scammers. Sometimes, scammers will impersonate a well-known charity and use its name and/or logo to appear authentic. 

Protect yourself: If you want to donate money to a specific charity, seek it out yourself instead of following a link or an ad. It’s also a good idea to verify charities on sites like Charity NavigatorGuideStar or CharityWatch

Gift card scams

Gift cards have always been a popular choice for holiday gifting, but scammers have found ways to exploit them. In a gift card scam, fraudsters convince victims to share their gift card codes by pretending to be tech support or another believable contact. 

Protect yourself: Never share sensitive information with an unverified contact. 

Porch pirates

In this simple but devastating scam, thieves stake out private residences and snatch up delivered packages from porches soon after they arrive. Scammers may even follow UPS and Amazon trucks so they can pilfer more easily. They’ll wear hats, hoodies or masks to avoid detection via security camera, and once they make off with the goods, there’s virtually no way to recover the packages. 

Protect yourself: Track your ordered packages, and once notified that an item has been delivered, bring it inside immediately. If you aren’t home when an item’s been delivered, ask a neighbor to take it in for you. 

Travel scams

Traveling during the holidays can get expensive, and scammers know this. In holiday travel scams, they’ll offer vacation packages, or what looks like a dream vacation rental at rock-bottom prices. Then, they’ll disappear once the victim has paid. Alternatively, the victim will arrive at their vacation to find it is quite different than the way it was promised. 

Protect yourself: Don’t believe travel deals that are far too cheap for what they are offering. Research any travel agency you are using and be wary of sites and/or ads containing poor grammar and/or lots of spelling mistakes. Finally, be sure to read reviews on vacation rentals before booking and to do a reverse image search on the rental to see if it’s an authentic pic or a stock photo. 

Romance scams

The holiday season can be lonely for some people, and romance scams tend to pick up this time of year. In this scam, a love interest will build a relationship with an unsuspecting target, and then ask the victim for funds to help them out of a financial tight spot. 

Protect yourself: Be wary of anyone who wants to build a relationship very quickly. It’s also a good idea to do a reverse image search on any photos a new love interest has shared with you to determine if it’s authentic. As always, never wire money to an unverified contact. 

Don’t let scammers be your Grinch this Christmas. Watch out for these and similar scams, and use the tips outlined here to stay safe!

What’s the Best Way to Pay for Holiday Shopping?

Q: Holiday shopping season is here, but I can’t pay for it all! What’s the best way to fund my holiday shopping?

A: When it comes to covering the cost of your holiday shopping, you have several choices. Let’s take a look at some options and explore the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed decision.

Credit cards

For many shoppers, the most obvious way to pay for a purchase you can’t cover now is with a credit card.

Pros:

  • Significant purchase protection.
  • Convenient payment method.

Cons: 

  • Interest charges for unpaid bills can be very high.
  • You may be paying off these bills for months or years.
  • Extended debt can hurt your credit score. 
  • You may be more tempted to (or unknowingly) overspend. 

Savings

Dipping into savings to pay for your holiday purchases can free you from sky-high interest charges but comes with drawbacks.

Pros: 

  • You’ll enjoy a debt-free holiday season.
  • No incurred interest charges.

Cons: 

  • Depleting the savings that’s meant for emergencies can leave you up a creek later.
  • You’re losing the money your savings may have earned had it been invested or saved longer.

Unsecured/holiday loan

An unsecured loan, also known as a personal loan or holiday loan, is a loan that’s taken out with no collateral. 

Pros: 

  • You’ll secure quick funding. 
  • Low interest rates compared to credit cards.
  • You can stretch the repayment over a longer term for smaller monthly payments. 

Cons: 

  • You’ll need to pay the full monthly payment when it’s due.
  • You may be hit with a fee if you pay off the loan early.
  • Missed and late payments can hurt your credit score.

Check out our Holiday Loan Special!

Holiday club account

When you open a holiday club account , you’ll make regular contributions toward your set goal throughout the year, and then have funds you’ll need for covering your holiday purchases when the season arrives. 

Pros:

  • Holiday costs get more manageable when spread across the year. 
  • Favorable dividend rates.
  • Prevents overspending and accumulating new debt. 

Cons: 

  • Funds in the account cannot be accessed until the goal (or preset date) is reached. Tying up savings can be irresponsible for those who do not have an emergency fund. 

Use this guide to make an informed choice about paying for your holiday shopping. 

Don’t Get Caught in a Utility Scam!

Knock, knock! It’s your energy company, here with the bad news that your bill is overdue, so we’re shutting off your electricity unless you pay up right now. 

Sounds like a nightmare, right? Well, it’s going to get worse: this is a scam. Pay the visitor at your door, and you’ve just paid a scammer. 

It’s happening a lot more lately. So, here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to keep the lights on without falling victim.

How the scam plays out

In a utility scam, a target receives a phone call, email, text message or even an in-person visit from an alleged representative of their gas, water or electric company. This “rep” will claim to be collecting a past due account that’s pending shutoff unless payment is made immediately. They’ll often ask for the payment to be made via wire or through a prepaid gift card. Unfortunately, any money paid will go directly to the scammer, and not to the utility entity they claim to represent. 

What to do if you’re targeted

Do not engage with the caller or visitor. If the alleged rep sent you an email or text message, mark it as spam, block the address and do not respond. You can also call the company the scammer claimed to represent to confirm that your account is not pending shut off. 

Red flags

Watch out for these red flags which can help you avoid a utility scam:

  • A demand for immediate payment with no prior warning. Authentic company reps will always give you ample warning, in writing, before enacting a shutoff. 
  • Pressured to act quickly. Scammers want you to act now and think later. 
  • The “representative” cannot provide details about your account or a means to verify their identity. 
  • They request a specific form of payment. Prepaid card requests are almost always a huge red flag in any scenario.

Stay safe

To avoid utility and similar scams, follow these precautionary measures:

  • Never wire money or send a prepaid gift card to an unverified contact. 
  • Keep the security on your devices at its strongest and updated settings.
  • Update your spam list often. 
  • Never share your personally identifiable information with an unverified contact. 

Utility scams pose a real threat to your financial security. Follow these tips to stay safe!

10 Hacks for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving That Doesn’t Break the Bank

Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is an enjoyable, rewarding experience, but it can also be a bit much for many of us. The expenses can be sky-high, the to-do list seems endless and the dinner itself can be a harried and breathless affair that puts a damper on any holiday cheer. 

Here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be this way. Consider these 10 hosting hacks to help you enjoy a calm and stress-free Thanksgiving that doesn’t break the budget. 

  1. Start planning early

Instead of waiting for the overwhelm to hit a week before Thanksgiving, start planning now. Look through your favorite recipe blogs, food magazines and cookbooks to compile a list of dishes you want to serve. Reach out to friends and family who are joining you for Thanksgiving dinner and inquire about what, if any, dishes they plan to bring. At this time, you can also ask about any dietary restrictions any of your guests may have. 

Next, make a detailed menu and start listing the ingredients you’ll need to purchase. You can also jot down any other purchases you’ll need to make, such as decor items and serving dishes. Aside from making your prep easier, planning your menu and purchases early will help you make more responsible money choices as you shop. 

  1. Create a detailed schedule

Next, start scheduling the tasks you’ve just listed into your weekly and daily schedules. For example, a few weeks before Turkey Day, you can shop for drinks and any dry and frozen ingredients. You can do all the baking two weeks before the big day, prep your marinades, sauces and salad dressings a week before, the appetizer and sides a few days prior to Thanksgiving, and finally, the entrees on Thanksgiving Day. You may want to write everything down on a calendar so you can get a clear snapshot of what you need to do each day with just one glance. 

Of course, if you prefer to marathon-cook for seven hours straight on the day before Thanksgiving, that can work, too. Just make sure you’ve taken care of all the other to-dos, such as shopping and planning the decor, well in advance. 

  1. Consider a buffet

If you hate missing all the best parts of the conversation at the Thanksgiving table because you’re busy in the kitchen, you may want to consider a buffet-style meal. While it’s definitely a departure from the traditional sit-down dinner, a serve-yourself meal can be a great way to make things easier for you. You can also get away with offering fewer dishes when it’s all served at one time instead of a formal meal with staggered  courses. 

  1. Delegate

If no one’s offered to help you cook, don’t be afraid to assign small jobs to your guests so they can be part of the prep. It doesn’t have to be anything too time-consuming on their part, but for you, just knowing that Cousin Jen is bringing the mashed potatoes and your mom will bring her famous pecan pie for dessert means two menu items off your head. 

  1. Set up a kids’ corner

If you’re hosting families with children, create a kid-friendly area with games, coloring books and activities to keep the little ones engaged. This way, parents can enjoy the meal without worrying about bored and restless kids. You can also offer kid-friendly menu options like fries and chicken nuggets to keep guests of all ages happy and well-fed. 

  1. Use disposable dishes

Are you ready for a super-quick clean up when the party’s over? With today’s robust dinnerware options, you can have your convenience without compromising on your conscience. There are so many eco-friendly disposable options, from compostable cutlery to bamboo plates and so much more.

  1. Set up a self-serve drink station

Create a self-serve drink station with a variety of beverages to cater to different preferences. Include water, non-alcoholic options and a signature Thanksgiving cocktail to keep things festive. This encourages guests to help themselves, freeing you up to focus on other aspects of hosting.

  1. Keep the centerpiece simple

With so much going on at the table, there’s no need to overthink the centerpiece. A simple wooden board filled with seasonal gourds will add that festive touch to the table without breaking the budget. Add some pillar candles from a dollar store to complete the look.

  1. Cook two small turkeys

If you’re hosting a crowd, consider cooking two small birds instead of one large one. You’ll save on defrosting time, freezer space and the stress of choosing the perfect recipe. You may even save money on your entree by splitting it into two with this hack.

  1. If it’s stressing you out, let it go

The best part about being the host is that no one has to know what you’d planned to serve. So if you’re finding that one dish is stressing you out and will cost more than it’s worth at your table, just let it go. Leave it out, and no one will know the difference. 

Despite what personal experience may tell you, Thanksgiving does not have to be stressful or expensive. Use these hacks for a stress-free Thanksgiving holiday.

Beware of Mobile App Scams

In today’s digital world there’s an app for practically everything; the weather, mobile banking, socializing, games, entertainment… the list goes on. There are millions of downloadable apps for your phone and electronic devices. With all these convenient apps, there’s more ways for fraudsters to take advantage of innocent mobile app users. Unfortunately, mobile app fraud can come in numerous forms and is not always easy to identify. Here’s some things to look out for:

  • Fake apps: These apps are made to look like the real apps that the user is intending to download. Also called Malware apps, these apps make it hard to know whether you are downloading a real one or not. Here’s how to spot a fake mobile app:
    • Reviews/Downloads. If the app has few downloads and short/vague reviews, chances are it’s a scam. A reputable app will have lots of downloads and descriptive reviews.
    • Research. Look into the app developer. See what other apps their company has created and if they’re reputable.
    • Details. Make sure the images look professional, no misspellings, different fonts, or anything else that may seem off. A true app developer will also have a description and instructions/features of the app.
    • Signs you may have downloaded a fake app; strange messages, battery drainage, random pop-ups, and spikes in data usage
  • Vishing (Voice Phishing): Voice Phishing is when a scammer calls or leaves voice messages pretending to be from a reputable company or agency. They will attempt to illicit an action such as downloading a malicious application or request personal information such as a credit card number to defraud that person or company. Vishing makes the user believe they are talking to someone or a company they trust. Often Vishing will be done in conjunction with caller ID Spoofing.  If you are being asked to download an application or for credit card information from an inbound call, it is best to verify the caller. Validate the phone number by performing a call back to that number. It’s also best to call the number on the back of your bank card if you’ve received a voicemail from a number you don’t know.  Be cautious of anyone that wants sensitive information.
  • Remote Access Scams: This last scam tends to use both fake apps and vishing/phishing to mislead the victims. Remote access scams are when scammers impersonate trusted workers such as tech support, banks, government agencies, etc. This is typically done by vishing or phishing; they call the victim or send them a text and/or email of an urgent issue that needs to be resolved right away. Fraudsters will then trick victims into giving them control of their device by downloading an app, remote desktop software, or built-in tools. Once these fraudsters have remote access, they can access sensitive information such as passwords and financial information. With all that information they can commit identify theft, hold your information hostage, and/or sell your information on the dark web. Here’s how to protect yourself:
    • Only download apps from trusted sources, never click a link from an unknown sender
    • Before downloading an app check its reviews and ratings
    • Research all apps before downloading
    • Regularly update your operating system and app versions
    • Be cautious when answering unknown numbers, hang up right away if they’re asking about sensitive information
    • Never give remote access to someone you don’t know

Sports Gambling App Scams 

With football season back in full swing, so are sports betting scams. It’s Sunday, you place a bet, and you win. But as soon as you try and cash out it says declined, you try again. It keeps saying declined. You contact someone about this issue, they say that they need more information and/or identity verification. No matter how much information you give them, you never get your money. Not only do these fraudsters now have your money, but they also have any personal information that you shared with them.  

Avoiding Sports Gambling Scams: 

  • Delays in getting paid. One of the most common tricks used is the slow payout scam. Fraudsters delay payment in the hope that the user reverses the request for payout. A scammer will typically request more identity verification before a “payout” is made to slow the payment process, when really, they aren’t going to pay you at all.  
  • Look for verified apps. It’s important to look for sports books that have been approved by your area’s gaming commission. Do not enter any personal information/payment information on apps that can’t be verified. And only download apps from the app store, not through links or pop-up ads. Bookmark websites you know are safe, so you don’t click on a website made to look real. 
  • Phishing and identity fraud. Phishing redirects a user to a fake website and will then collect personal information, such as passwords and security info. These links are made to look like the real deal but beware! Look at the URL, make sure it’s taking you to a trusted site, never open a link from an unknown email, number, or pop-up ad. 
  • Read the fine print. Gambling sites/apps typically offer incentives or bonuses for new users. But they could be misleading, often they’re too good to be true. Be sure to read the fine print carefully. “Risk-free” doesn’t usually mean there’s no risk, typically money lost will turn into a credit that you can use only to place other bets. Even legitimate sports betting apps have the right to freeze your winnings if they suspect there’s an unfair advantage or irregular playing pattern. Be sure to take the time to read the important details. 

Stay on the lookout for phishing scams, only place bets on verified sports betting apps, and don’t believe the too good to be true bonuses (they really are too good to be true). 

https://www.scams.info/blog/player-protection/sports-betting-scams/

https://www.bbb.org/article/scams/26620-bbb-scam-alert-betting-on-a-big-game-dont-fall-for-a-sports-betting-scam

https://lifehacker.com/how-to-spot-a-shady-online-sports-betting-site-1848525467

Super-Scary Halloween Hacks to Save You Money

Don’t let Halloween costs spook you! Here’s eight great hacks for saving on costumes and decor.

  1. Ghastly ghosts

Create an army of floating ghosts using nothing but white trash bags. Gather a bunch of bags and stuff them with crumpled newspaper. Tie the “head” with a rubber band and use a permanent marker to draw spooky faces on your ghosts. Hang your frightful friends around your house and yard to scare your party guests and trick-or-treaters.

  1. Spooky bird houses

Create a mini haunted house to hang on your door or decorate your table using a basic bird house, black paint and cotton. Paint the bird house black and stretch cotton over it for a cobwebby effect. Finish it off with a few paper ghosts peeking out the windows and doors, and you’ve got yourself a tiny haunted house!

  1. Shark attack!

For a fun and freaky costume that costs next to nothing, go as a surfer being eaten by a shark. Dress in swimwear, with a towel slung over yourself if the weather makes it necessary, and apply fake blood to a visible spot on your neck or arm. Use face paint to create a shark bite and apply the blood so it surrounds the bite and drips out. For a fun touch, attach an inflated or stuffed toy shark to your costume. 

  1. Mason jar lanterns

For easy DIY decor, paint Mason jars with spooky designs and insert battery-powered tea lights for a bewitching glow. Line your walkway or porch with these lanterns to welcome trick-or-treaters.

  1. Creepy crawlers everywhere

Use an inexpensive package of plastic spiders to scare your guests silly! Freeze some in ice cubes for a spooky surprise in everyone’s drinks, scatter some across the table to make someone shriek and even add some to your soap dispenser to really freak everyone out. Let your trick-or-treaters in on the fun by sprinkling some into your bowl of candy. 

  1. An eerie flicker

For a super-easy and super-cheap centerpiece, paint old wine bottles black. Use matte paint for the best effect. When your candlestick holders have dried, insert long orange taper candles into each one to add a festive look to your table. 

  1. Care for a lollipop?

Turn your pumpkin into a fun lollipop dispenser with the help of an electric drill. Drill small holes in your pumpkin and then stick a lollipop into each hole. Set it up on your steps for an adorable, help-yourself trick-or-treat.

  1. Retro costume

For a costume that will make everyone laugh and won’t cost a penny, go as your college-aged self. Dig out your old clothing and accessories, and if you had a crazy hairstyle back then, incorporate it into your costume, too. 

Should I Adopt a Minimalist Lifestyle?

Q: Minimalism is all the rage, and with everyday expenses at an all-time high, I’m wondering: Should I adopt a minimalist lifestyle?

A: The minimalist movement, or the idea of living with just the barest of necessities, has exploded in popularity in recent years. Let’s take a closer look at this trending lifestyle choice so you can make an informed decision about embracing its philosophies.  

What is minimalism?

The generally accepted definition of minimalism is: Less is more. But adopting a minimalist lifestyle is more than just decluttering. It also means getting rid of, or whittling down, any expense category in your budget along with any activity you engage in that is not necessary for your life or peace of mind. 

Getting started on minimalism.

There are lots of ways to live a minimalist life. Here are some popular ways to get started:

  • The 90/90 rule. Choose an item in your home and ask yourself if you’ve used it in the last 90 days and if you will use it within the next 90. If the answer to both questions is no, toss it. 
  • The 30-day declutter. In this challenge, throw out one item from your home on Day 1, two items on Day 2 and continue this progression until Day 30, when you throw out 30 items. 
  • The 100-item life. Here, you choose 100 essential items you need to live with and toss out everything else you own.  

It’s important to know there is no “right way” to embrace this lifestyle. Since minimalism means living with what you need and what brings you joyit will look different to everyone. As long as you are left with a home and a lifestyle that fills you with peace and serenity, you have adopted the minimalist lifestyle.

Pros of living a minimalist life

  • Improved mental health. Evidence shows that a cluttered life is a stressful life.
  • Increased opportunities to experience life at its purest level. Walking away from extraneous commitments can free you up to experience the true pleasures in life. 
  • More room in your budget. When you throw out all unneeded expenses from your budget, it’s easier to save and avoid falling into debt. 

Cons of living a minimalist life

  • Feelings of deprivation. If taken to an extreme, a minimalist life can be depriving and ultimately backfire.
  • Unhealthy obsession. Minimalism can require a lot of brain power. If you spend all day thinking about your stuff, it still owns you.
  • Owning just a few items means a large initial outlay. You’ll need to invest in a few items that really last, and these don’t come cheap.
  • It can be isolating. Unless you jump into this lifestyle with a partner or friend, it can be a very lonely life. 

Use this guide to make an informed decision about embracing a minimalist life. 

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