Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Troublesome Ticket: How To Spot And Avoid A Fake


After months of dreaming, wishing and praying; after a five-hour car ride without air conditioning and after waiting in line for what feels like a lifetime, you’ve finally gotten into the concert experience of a lifetime. Beaming, you step forward and hand your ticket to the security guard at the entrance. You begin to stride forward, but he stops you dead in your tracks. He can’t let you into the concert because your ticket won’t scan. I’m afraid to be the one to tell you this, but you’ve been sold a fake ticket.
 
In a world where almost everything can be accessed online, live performances are a valuable experience. Unfortunately, scam artists across the globe have realized this and are turning that value against people. Users on sites like Craigslist and eBay have been selling fraudulent tickets for performances and sporting events for years. Concert or sporting event tickets can cost hundreds of dollars at face value these days, and much more than that as the date of the event approaches. Scam artists have tapped into that market big-time. All they need to do is ask you to pay online or mail your payment to a private PO box, and they’re almost untraceable.
 
So, without question, by purchasing tickets online, you’re putting your wallet at tremendous risk. Shelling out hundreds of dollars for a piece of paper anyone can forge is a gamble any way you look at it, but using faulty tickets can pose other dangers as well. For example, if you pay with a personal check, an experienced con artist might attempt to use the information on it  to steal your identity.  Even if nothing else goes wrong with the sale, if you show up to the event with a faulty ticket, you could be arrested for trying to pass it off as real.
 
Given the spread of online ticket exchanges, it may seem that there’s no alternative to buying tickets online. The era of the box office windows may be drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean the safety it provided has gone away. So, what can you do to protect yourself? Try these 6 handy tips.
 
1.) Do your research
For starters, find out as much background information as you can. See if you can find out exactly what a real ticket looks like, so you can spot differences in a forged one. For sporting events, most national sanctioning organizations include holograms and other hard-to-fake pictures on their tickets. When in doubt, contact the venue.
 
2.) Spot the spec
“Spec” tickets are being sold speculatively. These are not tickets that the seller has in his or her possession. They are tickets the seller expects to have after they come up for sale. If you see tickets for events that haven’t been released by the box office yet, this is likely how they’re being sold. Steer clear, as a “spec” seller is just as likely to take your money and run as they are to give you a ticket.
 
3.) Make sellers do their homework
There are ways you can strike preemptively against fake ticket scammers. Ask for a copy of the seller’s invoice, proving that the tickets have been paid for in full. This is no different than asking for a receipt to prove the goods you’re buying aren’t stolen. For season ticket holders selling one event, you can also ask them for the ticket account number, which will always be printed at the top of the ticket.
 
Also, ask the seller why they’re selling. Imagine yourself as a teacher and the seller as a child who’s asking for a homework excuse. Be skeptical of reasons why the seller is missing the event. No one schedules a funeral a month in advance.
 
4.) Deal with reputable websites
Craigslist should be the last resort for buying tickets to events. Check reputable websites like Seatgeek, StubHub and Ticket Exchange before you dive into Craigslist. Better yet, ask your friends if they know anyone with tickets. It’s always easier to deal with friends or coworkers than with anonymous strangers.
 
5.) Trust your instincts
Always be wary of people who are selling tickets at face value or less. Unless prohibited by state law, many people who resell tickets will do so at many times face value. Someone with a last-second conflict will still likely attempt to get at least face value for tickets to a popular event. Think like a scalper. If you saw a ticket for sale below face value, wouldn’t you snap it up, knowing you could multiply your money at the event? If a deal feels too good to be true, you know what to do.
 
6.) Manage the meet
See if you can meet your contact in person. Aim to meet in a well-lit, public place. Many grocery stores and other large retailers offer their parking lots as safe spaces for all sorts of transactions and they would be excellent candidates for this one. As far as payment goes, cashier’s check is the safest way to pay a stranger, since it contains little personally identifiable information and doesn’t require the same level of trust as a personal check. With the rise of mobile payment apps like PayPal and Square, it might be wisest to pay through one of these in order to create a digital paper trail should something go wrong with the ticket. Always inspect the ticket carefully for signs of fraud before handing over any money. If the seller doesn’t agree, walk away.
 
No matter how high-definition the video gets or how free of ads it is, it’ll never compare to the thrill of being at a live performance. That being said, even a live performance is never worth giving up your account information and funds for the possibility of being arrested at the gates. Go enjoy your concert, but never stop being wary of scam artists in the digital age.
 
Bonus Tip: Once you have your tickets in hand, you may be want to share your exciting news on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. That’s cool. You’re excited and you should be. But also be careful not to post a picture of your ticket(s) containing all the relevant info that is unique to your purchase (such as seats and ticket serial numbers). Sophisticated scammers can replicate your ticket using that data and leave you facing a lot of questions when you try to attend the event.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Boating On A Budget: Staying Afloat Without Drowning In Debt!


Memorial Day isn’t entirely a somber occasion. It’s a time to reflect on the sacrifices made by fighting men and women, but it’s also a time to enjoy the beauty and grandeur of the country they defend. The sun is shining, the skies are clear and there’s no better way to celebrate America than by enjoying our personal freedoms on beautiful lakes and rivers.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When A Savings Account Isn’t A Savings Account


article imageFor many credit union members, a savings account is a formality. They know, in theory, that saving is important. Maybe they got a bonus at work and stuck $50 in a savings account. Other savings options  that come with higher rates, such as IRAs or 401(k) accounts, took priority and that initial deposit was quickly forgotten.
Tax-advantaged retirement accounts are fantastic, but it’s unlikely that retirement is your only savings goal. When it comes time to put a down payment on a house, buy your next car or plan an exciting vacation, the money in those retirement accounts will be locked up tight. There’s no way to get to it without taking on massive penalties and paying a lot in taxes.

If you want your money to be there when you need it, no matter when “it” is, now might be the time to take another look at the humble savings account. Even if it’s not your primary savings vehicle, a savings account can offer tremendous benefits. Let’s look at some ways to get the most out of it!

1.) Dividend rate isn’t the only consideration
Many experts shun savings accounts, citing low interest/dividend rates as their chief concern. If you’re looking to maximize your returns, putting all your money in a savings account isn’t the smartest plan. It’s unlikely that your financial plans call for maximizing returns on all your investments, though. While it’s true that higher return investments do exist, savings accounts offer unique benefits.

First, savings accounts are NCUA insured up to $250,000. If something unthinkable happens, you’re promised to be reimbursed for your losses. That’s quite a lot of security for your hard-earned cash.

Another benefit of savings accounts is their liquidity. If you need the money in your savings account tomorrow, you could get it. You can withdraw cash in person, at a branch or from an ATM. You also have access by using our online banking or mobile banking to transfer funds to another account to make payments on a loan. You can also transfer funds to your checking account to conveniently use your debit card without worries of overdrafting.

2.) Automate, automate, automate!
You know that exhausted feeling you get after you’ve been shopping? It never seems fair. Sure, there was some walking involved in your day, but the total amount of physical activity was fairly limited. All you did was make a ton of decisions.

That feeling has a name. It’s called decision fatigue. Making a commitment to something takes willpower and energy, and you’ve only got so much in your tank. Waiting until the end of the month to decide what to do with your household surplus can encourage splurging. Thinking about sensible decisions takes willpower, and you’ve already used your allotment for the month.

That’s why it’s great to know your savings account can be automated. You can set up automatic transfers between your draft account and your savings account or even make it part of your employer direct deposit. Make that decision once and then never have to think about it again. You can save your willpower for more important decisions, and let your cash reserve grow.

3.) You need an emergency fund
Even if you have a high-paying job, you’ve only got as much security as the economy allows. Your company could succumb to competition.Your job could be eliminated. You or a loved one could get sick, requiring you to leave your job or cut back to fewer hours.

Other emergencies could happen. Your car could break down. You could face a big medical bill or fall victim to a scam. What would you do to cover your costs in these situations?

Situations like these are among the leading causes of bankruptcy. People find themselves forced to rely on credit to get through such circumstances. With no way to repay those charges, people are stuck in a constant cycle of debt repayment that ruins financial plans for years.

The best way to avoid this calamity is with a strong emergency fund. How much should you have saved? Most experts agree that 6 months of living expenses is a good target, though that number may need to be higher if you work in an industry with a tight labor market. What’s a living expense? Count anything that you couldn’t cut if you absolutely had to do so. For example, your housing, utilities, insurance, debt maintenance and food. Don’t include luxuries like dinners out or monthly subscription costs that you could stop paying if money got tight.

It’s important to keep that emergency fund accessible. If it’s in a brokerage account, you risk needing to access that money when the market is down. A savings account provides the security and flexibility that you need for your rainy day fund.

4.) Keep your funds separate
If you already have an emergency fund, you may have some other savings goals. Suppose you plan to start a business, but need start-up funding to do so. You might want to put away money gradually over time to make your dreams a reality.

If you keep that money in your draft account with the rest of your funds, there can be a real temptation to spend it. Resisting that urge depletes some of that willpower, which makes it easier to make impulsive choices in other areas. Instead of relying on your self-control to keep those savings safe, you can build separate accounts for each specific savings goal. This will let you track your progress while also keeping the money safe from an Amazon splurge.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Financial Self Defense

Ransomware: The Modern Equivalent Of Being Tied To Train Tracks

When we think of ransom, we typically think of a black-and-white movie with a kidnapper leaving notes made from a variety of newspaper cuttings. Today, ransom is much less melodramatic, much more common and targets something you might not expect: your computer files.
In late 2013, the ransomware threat was added to the list of things that can kill your computer alongside bugs and crashes. Hackers made a new bug that's capable of taking over a computer, encrypting all its files and displaying a brief message demanding money to decrypt them. Sometimes, affected companies or individuals would pay up, the hacker would decrypt the computer as promised and everyone would be on their merry way. Victims would sometimes refuse to pay the fees in the given time and would then lose their valuable files forever. And sometimes, victims would fork over the cash, only to have the hackers disappear with the files still locked and therefore as lost as before the victims paid up.

One study estimates that in its first 100 days as a scheme, ransomware infected 250,000 computers. It earned the hackers a collected $6 million in bitcoins. If that trend continued, we can expect that they've hacked at least 24 million computers in the past two years. including one major hospital that reportedly forked over $17,000 to get its files back.
The original operator of ransomware, Cryptolocker, was shut down in May of 2014. Still, many ransomware copies arose shortly after and continues to wreak havoc. The program continues to evolve, now locking computers and displaying menacing countdowns to create a heightened sense of urgency to pay up.

The question now, of course, is what you should do to protect yourself. For starters, if the only computer you have to worry about is a private computer, ransomware is a less significant risk. Ransomware scammers tend to target computers of companies that have the capability to hand over large sums of money. If your computer handles the larger functions of a company, there are still some steps you can take to protect yourself.


1.) Don't trust online solutions
For starters, there are many software programs that promise to completely rid your computer of ransomware, but those are best left on the virtual shelf. Ironically, some of those alleged file-saving downloads are actually ransomware in disguise. Your best bet is to backup your files however you can - onto an external hard drive, onto a separate computer or even on paper. Anything you do will ensure that, when the hackers come, you'll already have those encrypted files elsewhere. It's advisable to check at least once a month to ensure everything you need is safely backed up.


2.) Hold onto your money

While it might seem like the only option that gives you a chance to get your files back, the FBI has issued a statement asking people not to pay such ransoms. If hackers are paid, they have more incentive to continue, and payment really doesn't influence whether they decrypt your files or not. "The FBI does not condone payment of ransom, as payment of extortion monies may encourage continued criminal activity, lead to other victimizations, or be used to facilitate serious crimes," as FBI Special Agent Christopher Stangl elaborates in an interview. If you're desperate for your files, paying may seem like the only option, but consider the difference that could be made if no one paid them anymore. Crime syndicates would be stopped without any work from the FBI.


3.) Call the cops, but don't hold your breath

Many are currently asking whether anything significant has been done by the FBI to this point. This includes Sen. Ron Wyden, who wrote to James Comey, the director of the FBI, to ask how the agency intended to clean up the ransomware problem. Comey responded that they were making progress, but pointed out that making arrests wasn't easy as "most of the top cybercriminal actors are located outside of the United States." Still, he went on to assure Wyden that, "The FBI is committed to following the money in investigating all crimes with a financial component; ransomware is no exception."



4.) Back up and stay safe

While the FBI has its best men on the task of catching these cyber culprits, it's your responsibility to be as safe as possible until they do. Back your files up. Don't click on any sketchy-looking links. Buy security that a trusted provider assures you is safe. Ransom is no longer a thing of black-and-white movies; but in the digital age, it's still our job to protect ourselves.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Steps You Can Take For Filling Your Pension Gaps 


article image 2After a lifetime of hard work, many people expect to retire in some comfort and enjoy their remaining years. In some lines of work, especially public service professions like police and firefighting, the retirement package is a big part of the recruitment process. Yes, the hours are long and the work is dangerous, but the community values the services these individuals provide and the professionals appreciate the assurances that they will be taken care of after their working years have ended.

Monday, May 9, 2016

How Can I Know If My Too-Good-To-Be-True Deal is Legitimate?


Q: I was shopping for a new handbag online and noticed a huge difference in prices between retailers. One had a bag for $20, while the other had the same for $200! The first option seems too good to be true. Should I be wary of that amazing deal?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Adjustable Or Fixed-Rate Mortgage – Which Is Right For Me?


If you’re mortgage shopping, you may be overwhelmed by the number of options. Dozens of lenders, each with their own rates, terms, conditions and costs, can make the decision feel that way. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult! The choice of which mortgage to go with starts with a simple question: fixed-rate or adjustable? There are many different terms, points and rates associated with each, but narrowing your search to a category can really simplify the process.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Avoiding The ‘Catfish’ And Other Heartless Scams – Financial Safety On Dating Sites


Meeting new people is difficult for many adults. After college and the first few weeks on a new job, the number of people you’ll encounter as a part of your everyday life starts to drop off pretty dramatically. If you’re looking for more than just friendship, it gets even more challenging. Finding other people who are also looking for a relationship involves so much innuendo and hidden meanings, the single life sometimes doesn’t seem like a bad way to live.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Penny Hoarder – A Website For Obsessive Budgeters


Many interests get more interesting when you stick the word “extreme” on them. Tired of biking? Try extreme biking on dangerous mountain roads! Bored with cooking? Venture into the realms of extreme cooking and freeze your next meal using liquid nitrogen! Can the same principle be applied to budgeting?