blog (tips and opinions)

Equifax Data Breach : What We Know and Where To Go
On September 8, we (along with much of the financial community) learned of the data breach involving Equifax, one of the 3 main credit-reporting agencies in the United States. While this credit union does not routinely use Equifax for obtaining credit reports, this nevertheless is concerning to us and to our members.

Below  is the exact correspondence we (WCCFCU) received from Equifax on September 8, 2017.
On July 29th, our security team discovered the unauthorized access and acted immediately to stop the intrusion. Upon discovering the incident, we engaged a leading, independent cybersecurity firm which has been conducting a comprehensive forensic review to determine the scope of the intrusion, including the specific data impacted. We also reported the incident to law enforcement and continue to work with them. 
We are also writing to let you know that we have found no evidence of unauthorized activity on any of our core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases, including ACRO (the database into which we incorporate the data that you furnish to us).
We value our relationships with our data furnishers and pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting data. We are conducting a thorough review of our overall security operations and will continue to work hard to provide superior data security.
We have established a dedicated website, www.EquifaxSecurity2017.com, that contains information about the cybersecurity incident, information to help consumers determine if they have been potentially impacted and information to enroll in the complimentary credit file monitoring and identity theft protection.
Sincerely,       
Equifax Data Contributor Services
 

 

If you go to the link and find out your personal information was, in fact, part of the Equifax data breach, Equifax will allow you to enroll in their Trusted ID Premier service. This is a screen print of what will be provided if you sign up for the service. 


Due to the size of this Equifax breach, response times may be slower than expected. 

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Helping Out After Hurricane Harvey: Where, What & How To Donate

Link directly to the Forbes.com article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/08/28/helping-out-after-hurricane-harvey-where-what-how-to-donate/#a34ba283c798

AUG 28, 2017 @ 09:02 AM Forbes.com

Hurricane Harvey made landfall over the weekend. The category 4 hurricane crashed into the Texas coast, devastating families and businesses. At least two people have been reported dead, and estimates place the total cost of property damage and lost business in the billions.

If that isn't bad enough, Harvey is now a Tropical Storm and is lingering off the coast, dumping water onto coastal Texas, including the Houston area. As the rain continues, many people are in danger due to flooding while others have lost homes and property. Houston is the fourth most populous metropolitan area in the country: over two million people call the city home, while the metropolitan area counts nearly 6.7 million as residents. By geography, the Houston metropolitan area covers 9,444 square miles, larger than the state of New Jersey.

I know that many of you, like me, want to know what you can do to help out. Some of the tax rules that apply to charitable donations - like checking to see that the organization has its paperwork in order - are good rules to follow even if you're not claiming a tax deduction. So with that in mind, here are a few tips to keep in mind when helping out during Harvey:

  • Cash is king. While you may want to send food and other items, the infrastructure may not support those donations. Many organizations have been clear that cash, or cash equivalent, is preferred (but keep reading). Keep receipts if you intend to claim those donations on your tax return.
  • Stay put. Yes, we all want to get in our cars and help but don't rush to help without checking first. There are already professionals and trained volunteers on the scene, and due to the potential for more flooding, relief officials have asked that folks stay off the roads where possible. If your services are needed and you do volunteer, remember that you can claim a tax deduction for your out-of-pocket expenses but not for your time.
  • Be smart. Be wary of personal solicitations on your doorstep or over the phone. Make sure that gifts made by checks or credit card gifts are secure. And don't send money by text or using apps like Venmo without first verifying the organization and the contact information. If you don't want to donate online or by text, most organizations have alternatives, like donation forms that you can mail together with a check (never send cash through the mail). Always keep excellent records of donations since the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that you do so for tax purposes - and having the information available is handy if you want to follow up with another donation.
  • Do your homework. Check out the credentials of a potential donee/charitable organization before you donate. Charity Navigator is useful for gathering information about existing charities and has a Hurricane Harvey specific section. Forbes has its own list of the largest charities in the US complete with details on revenues, corporate pay, fundraising efficiency, and more (just click on the individual charity's name for more info). Finally, you can always confirm charitable status through the IRS web site using the EO Select Check Tool. Remember that some organizations (like churches) may not be listed, so don't be afraid to ask organizations which don't appear on the list for more information.
  • Check with the organization first. While most organizations prefer cash, there are some soliciting in-kind donations (see below). Those wish lists may change as needs are assessed and storage for items may be limited. Check with the organization before you send or drop off anything. And if you're planning to claim a tax deduction for any in-kind goods, be sure to keep receipts showing what you paid for the items.
  • Use caution when donating to individuals. For tax purposes, you can only deduct contributions to qualified tax-exempt charitable organizations. Donations to individuals are never deductible for tax purposes even if the individuals are really deserving. But there's another, non-tax reason to use caution: money solicited for individuals could be part of a scam and even if it's not, the money might not be spent as advertised. Keep in mind that once you hand over the cash, you have no control over how it might be used.
  • Rely on oldies but goodies. There’s nothing wrong with new charitable organizations but there is something to be said for those that have been around for awhile - like the Red Cross. Brand new organizations may not have the facilities in place to offer the most effective relief - or they could be scams. Use caution before handing over your cash.
  • Pay attention to the rules. The rules for charitable giving apply even in extraordinary situations although sometimes those rules may be tweaked to allow for more generosity. Stay informed. Be sure to document your gifts and get receipts. And never hesitate to ask the charitable organization or your tax professional if you have questions.

(For more tips on making your charitable donations count for tax purposes, check out this article).

If you want to help but aren't sure where to start, tax-exempt charities that have indicated they are accepting Harvey-specific donations include:

  • American Red Cross. To make a financial donation, visit the their website, call 1.800.RED CROSS or text HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation for those in need.
  • Catholic Charities of USA. To make a financial donation, visit CCUSA's disaster-specific website or text 71777 to make a donation.
  • Global Giving. To make a financial donation, visit their website or text HARVEY to 80100 to donate $10 to Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
  • Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that will accept tax deductible donations. The fund is administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity. To make a financial donation, visit the GHCF website.
  • Salvation Army. To make a financial donation, visit www.helpsalvationarmy.org, call 1.800.SAL ARMY, or text STORM to 51555.

(Please note that these are not endorsements of a specific charity. If you're not a fan of those organizations listed, there are many other charities which would welcome your support.)

Corporate donor sites and giving challenges include:

  • GoFundMe has created a landing page that aggregates the campaigns already created to help those affected by Harvey.
  • United Airlines will match the first $100,000 raised through its charitable campaign. United MileagePlus members who donate a minimum of $50 to any of United's charitable partners will receive up to 1,000 bonus miles (details, which download as a pdf, are here). Remember that for tax purposes, if you receive something of value in exchange for a donation, your charitable deduction must be reduced accordingly.

In addition to financial donations, what else can you do?

  • Austin Pets Alive is seeking families that can foster cats and large dogs. In addition to cash donations, the organization can also use in-kind donations like large plastic or metal bins with lids. Space for some items is limited so check with the organization first before you gather supplies. If you can help with fostering or in-kind donations, check out their website for details.
  • The SPCA of Texas has also put out a call for foster homes to help care for the animals already in shelters and those coming from the Gulf Coast. You can sign up at www.spca.org/foster. The organization is also accepting financial donations and in-kind donations, including cat litter, litter boxes, towels, blankets, large wire crates, toys, treats, pet beds, newspaper and gas gift cards.
  • Donations of blood are also needed. You can't claim a tax deduction for giving blood but it sure is a terrific way to help. Find your nearest donation center by entering your zip code here.
  • I know from past disasters that if you're able to write a handwritten note or two and send to those who are on the front lines of these disasters including police and fire departments, schools, and churches to offer your good wishes, it is typically appreciated.

If you know of other specific requests, please let me know by leaving them in the comments below, send an email (click on the mail icon next to my name), or message me on Twitter. I'll make updates to this post as information becomes available.

(Last updated: August 28 at 10:55 a.m. EST)

 

Consumers, be wary: Identity theft is on the rise

(JUNE 2, 2017 - OHIO CREDIT UNION LEAGUE). If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you’re not alone. Thirty-three percent of Ohioans reported that they'd been victimized by fraud and/or identity theft in a year-end 2016 survey conducted by the Ohio Credit Union League. More could have suffered at the hands of fraudsters without knowing it yet. 

In 2015, Ohio had the twelfth greatest number of identity theft-related complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission. Dayton ranked 34th and Cleveland/Elyria ranked 38th among the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas with the most identity theft-related consumer complaints. 

According to a study by Barclays, most identity theft that occurs happens in the United States (about 47 percent); 55 percent of these identity thefts are caused by a malicious outsider, followed by an accidental loss of the card (25 percent). EMV chips (which stands for “Europay, Mastercard, and Visa” and is a global standard to authenticate and secure global card transactions) have caused a decline in the use of counterfeit cards. 

These days, 45 percent of identity theft is committed online. Online fraud gives hackers and predators a multitude of ways to get your information. From creating fake forms to posing as legitimate companies, the internet has spawned a wide array of tactics to get your personal and financial information, which means consumers need to remain vigilant.

 Some of the most common forms of identity theft are:

Child ID theft: Children’s IDs are vulnerable because the theft may go undetected for many years. By the time they are adults, the damage has already been done to their identities.

Tax ID theft: A thief uses your Social Security number to falsely file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service or state government.

Medical ID theft: This form of ID theft happens when someone steals your personal information, such as your Medicare ID or health insurance member number, to get medical services or to issue fraudulent billing to your health insurance provider.

Senior ID theft: These ID theft schemes target seniors. Seniors are vulnerable to ID theft because they are in more frequent contact with medical professionals who gather their medical insurance information, or caregivers and staff at long-term care facilities who have access to personal information or financial documents.

Social ID theft: This type of thief uses your name, photos, and other personal information to create a phony account on a social media platform. 

Despite the prevalence of identity theft, only half of the League’s survey respondents closely monitor their accounts to check for fraudulent transactions. On the other hand, 10 percent figure that someone will let them know if any of their accounts have been compromised and just leave protecting their identity and accounts to their financial institutions. 

Here are some steps savvy consumers can take to protect themselves from identity theft:

  • Guard your (and your children’s) personal information: Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your Social Security number when absolutely necessary. Ask if there is an alternative way for you to verify your identity. Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information and store personal information in a safe place.
  • Keep an eye on your accounts: Pay attention to billing cycles. If bills or statements are late, contact the sender. Collect mail promptly and put your mail on hold when you’re away for several days, so thieves don’t have a chance to get to account information on mail left in your box. Review your receipts and compare them to your account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions. Shred receipts and credit card offers and other paperwork you don’t need, but that could contain personal information.
  • Be vigilant online: Install firewalls and virus detection software on your home computer and create complex passwords that fraudsters can’t easily guess. Change passwords often, especially if a company or organization has your information and has suffered a database breach.
  • Order your credit report once a year: Review it to make sure it doesn’t include accounts you have not authorized. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information. You can pull this information for free at sites like www.CreditKarma.com. 

To learn about credit unions in your community and how they can help in the event of identity theft or fraud, visit www.aSmarterChoice.org.

 

May 22, 2017

Before you take off this summer, let us know.
(We may ask if we can hitch a ride along with you, but even if you say "no thanks", we do want your card to work properly).

Your Debit and Credit Cards might be tagged for potential fraud if they are used in a manner inconsistent with your usual patterns.There is also a daily limit for transactions on your WCCFCU Debit Card, so check with us if you think you might need that limit raised temporarily. Transactions on the WCCFCU VISA Credit card are capped out at your credit card limit. 
Let us know before you head out of town, so we can monitor your card and not be alarmed when a transaction shows up in New Mexico and we think you are still in Ohio. Just call us (330-669-2117) with your approximate dates of travel and destinations. 
Make sure we have updated phone numbers to contact you in case we have a concern. Go to MoneyPass.com and AllianceOne.coop to find ATMs near where you will traveling. 

 

Travel smarter and save bigger this summer vacation

Spring flowers are in full bloom, which can only indicate one thing: summer is nearly upon us. For many, that means it’s time for a well-deserved vacation with family and friends. In a year-end 2016 survey conducted by the Ohio Credit Union League, an overwhelming majority of respondents, 71 percent, are planning to get some rest and relaxation with a vacation this summer.

Whether heading somewhere new or traveling back to a family favorite, most Ohioans plan their vacations in advance, but at varying times – 34 percent plan six months to a year in advance, 31 percent plan three to six months in advance, and 15 percent plan one to three months in advance. And, while ample time to organize is important, budgets definitely play a role in those plans as well, with 70 percent of Ohioans surveyed noting the cost of the trip as a major influence on where they go for vacation. Other factors included travel distance, scheduling, and amenities or activities at the destination.

We all want and need downtime, but a large financial burden will long outlive the benefits of a vacation. In 2016, households likely to take a vacation spent $1,798 on average, up roughly 11 percent from 2015, according to Condé Nast Travel. In addition, a survey conducted by ValuePenguin noted that the typical vacationing family spends 44 percent of their travel funds on transportation.

Since many vacation decisions are driven by cost, here are a few tips to spend wisely when you take those hard-earned vacation days.

  • Scheduling matters: When planning low-cost trips, timing is everything. To save money booking accommodations, try traveling during an off-season or even a few weeks before peak-season starts. If you’re booking airfare, do so at least a month in advance, if not earlier. Airlines price their flights differently depending on the day of the week, so use an airfare tracker site or app, like Hopper, to keep up with changes.
  • Travel smart: Many vacation destinations take advantage of the naiveté of travelers, so tourist hot spots may be higher priced than smaller, locally-owned places. Do your research before deciding where to say, what to eat, and what activities you should embark on and you’ll likely save during your trip.
  • Use rewards: Even though you may not consistently travel, airlines, booking services, or even your credit union’s credit cards may offer rewards points that can be redeemed for airfare or other vacation expenses.
  • Set aside a little at a time — If traveling is important to you, make room for vacation savings in your annual or monthly budget. Use your local credit union to open a savings account specifically for vacations; credit unions are also a great resource to consult if you’re looking for ways to save and budget for vacation.

 

February 11, 2017

FBI Warns of Online Dating Scams

Millions of Americans visit online dating websites every year hoping to find a companion or even a soulmate. But as Valentine’s Day gets closer, the FBI wants to warn you that criminals use these sites, too, looking to turn the lonely and vulnerable into fast money through a variety of scams..

These criminals—who also troll social media sites and chat rooms in search of romantic victims—usually claim to be Americans traveling or working abroad. In reality, they often live overseas. While their most common targets are women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, and/or disabled, but every age group and demographic is at risk.

Here’s how the scam usually works. You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you. He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is e-mailed to you. For weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a connection. You may even be sent flowers or other gifts. But ultimately, it’s going to happen—your new-found “friend” is going to ask you for money.

So you send money...but rest assured the requests won’t stop there. There will be more hardships that only you can help alleviate with your financial gifts. He may also send you checks to cash since he’s out of the country and can’t cash them himself, or he may ask you to forward him a package.

So what really happened? You were targeted by criminals, probably based on personal information you uploaded on dating or social media sites. The pictures you were sent were most likely phony lifted from other websites. The profiles were fake as well, carefully crafted to match your interests.

In addition to losing your money to someone who had no intention of ever visiting you, you may also have unknowingly taken part in a money laundering scheme by cashing phony checks and sending the money overseas and by shipping stolen merchandise (the forwarded package).

In another recently reported dating extortion scam, victims usually met someone on an online dating site and then were asked to move the conversation to a particular social networking site, where the talk often turned intimate. Victims were later sent a link to a website where those conversations were posted, along with photos, their phone numbers, and claims that they were “cheaters.” In order to have that information removed, victims were told they could make a $99 payment—but there is no indication that the other side of the bargain was upheld.

While the FBI and other federal partners work some of these cases—in particular those with a large number of victims or large dollar losses and/or those involving organized criminal groups—many are investigated by local and state authorities.

We strongly recommend, however, that if you think you’ve been victimized by a dating scam or any other online scam, file a complaint with our Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov).

Before forwarding the complaints to the appropriate agencies, IC3 collates and analyzes the data—looking for common threads that could link complaints together and help identify the culprits. This helps keep everyone safe.

Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of an online dating scam.

Recognizing an Online Dating Scam Artist

Your online “date” may only be interested in your money if he or she:

  • Presses you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal e-mail or instant messaging;
  • Professes instant feelings of love;
  • Sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine;
  • Claims to be from the U.S. and is traveling or working overseas;
  • Makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event; or
  • Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).

Do not send money through any wire transfer service to someone you met online. The chances of recovering your money are very slim.

One way to steer clear of these criminals altogether is to stick to online dating websites with nationally known reputations. Finally, the FBI advises not to send money through any wire transfer service to someone you met online. The chances of recovering your money are very slim. If you believe you are the victim of an online dating scam or any Internet facilitated crime, please file a report at www.ic3.gov.

https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/sandiego/news/press-release...

Posted: January 8, 2016
Here's a great and short video describing the credit union difference, and explaining how we work in accordance with the Seven Principles of a Cooperative.