How to Protect Yourself from Work-at-Home Scams

By Matt Kelly

Working from home has been an emerging trend for a few years, as technology has enabled an increasing number of jobs to be completed from anywhere. This year, in particular, though, has seen a massive increase in the number of people working from home. Some are temporary changes, but many companies have seen the benefits of enabling remote working and have already announced long-term of even permanent expansions of their previous WFH policies.

On the surface, it’s a great opportunity for many people who may be looking for primary or secondary income sources, or who have kids or elderly parents at home who need regular attention. It’s also a way for people to save a little more by avoiding commuting costs – including fuel, wear and tear on vehicles, and eating out regularly.

But, as working from home has become more common – a trend most experts agree is likely to continue – scam artists have recognized that many people are looking for opportunities, whether they have lost their jobs, are looking for a supplemental source of income, or need a remote work opportunity to support children in distance learning environments.

They are preying on the uncertainty and stress that the pandemic has created, hoping to trap people into their scams. The only way to avoid it is to stay informed, be smart, and know what to look for, and look for red flags. These include:

• No skills or experience required – While this may not be the case 100% of the time, most jobs require at least some limited experience or at least have some qualifications (even entry-level jobs).
• High pay rate for limited effort – As the saying goes, you can’t get something for nothing. If it feels like a job offers a higher pay than the work that’s being required, it’s likely to be a scam.
• High return guarantees – Look out for “business opportunities” or “partnerships” that claim to pay off quickly, or that are dependent on your ability to recruit others. These are most likely pyramid schemes.
• Up-front payments – Be wary of any company asking you to pay in advance for training, certifications, manuals, or other materials. You may spend the money and never hear from the company again.
• Pressure to sign – Be wary of offers that try to pressure you to sign up or onboard quickly, including on-the-spot offers without any meeting (whether in-person or virtual). Most legitimate companies will want to speak with prospects before hiring.
• Bank details – Look out for companies asking for your banking information right away. Unless you are 100% certain you have been hired for a real company, you could put your financial information at risk. If you have any concerns, you can always ask your bank’s experts whether something seems off.
• Respected source – Just because you see an offer in your daily newspaper or in a popular job site, don’t assume the opportunity is legitimate. It could still be a scam, and if you see something that doesn’t appear quite right, check with the paper or site and report your concerns.
• Testimonials – Fake offers can easily generate many false references that leverage emotional response to difficult or relatable scenarios (e.g., single moms, COVID-19 job loss, etc.), to get people to buy into their scams.

That said, there are plenty of legitimate work-from-home opportunities out there, and there are steps you can take to verify them before going further.

• Do your homework – Check out the company with state or local agencies, and the Better Business Bureau to see whether the company has a good reputation. Also make sure the company is following the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule, which requires employers to disclose information about opportunities they are promoting, including references to back up their earning claims. Also check out the company and its management through online resources to see their histories and reputation.
• Ask detailed questions – Make sure you get specific details about how you will be paid, what your compensation structure will look like (salaried, commission-based, combination of the two), who will pay you, how soon will payments begin, are there any costs to the offer and, if so, how will those be paid and what will you get for it?
• Be smart – The moment you feel something isn’t quite right, don’t hesitate to pause the conversation to do more homework, or even just reject the company outright. Any legitimate company will understand your desire to think things over and generally do your research. In fact, some will even view it as a positive trait.
• Job sites – While it’s not foolproof, there are several reputable job sites that specialize in online or work-from-home opportunities and perform pre-screenings on their postings and companies.

Scammers are smart, and they know how to prey on people’s emotions, especially when it comes to financial issues. Your best defense is knowledge and common sense when looking for a job. In addition to these other guidelines, following one simple rule can help protect you and your personal information: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

How to Avoid Phone Scams

By Pam Reiss

Your phone is probably ringing a lot more than you would like it to, and often, you have no idea who is calling.  We recently talked about how to deal with the annoying sales and marketing calls (phone spam) that we’re all being bombarded with.  But, there’s another big problem that can be an even bigger nuisance: phone scams.  These calls come from criminals looking to prey on unsuspecting victims to get money, information, or both.  There are many different scams going on at all times and they leverage fear, compassion, or simply ignorance to get people to give them information.

Threats, prizes, special promotions are some of the more common tactics scammers use:

  • Debt collection agencies demanding payment;
  • Social Security Administration representatives saying there is an issue with your Social Security number;
  • Lottery scams claiming you’ve won a big prize but need to provide personal information or pay the taxes on your winning;
  • Arrest threats from scammers impersonating the IRS other federal entities;
  • Charities looking for funding, especially after a natural disaster or other crisis;
  • Tech support calls claiming you have a virus or other problem with your laptop or other device, asking you to let them log into your machine remotely.

Currently, there are also many COVID-19 scams circulating, with callers offering masks or sanitizer, testing services, work-from-home opportunities, debt consolidation, or loan repayment plans.  Other scammers are claiming to be with contact tracing services and may tell you there’s an outbreak in your area.

The most important thing to understand if you answer the phone is to never give out any personal information to anyone you don’t know.  That includes things as simple as confirming your name, address, email, or any other information.  Every piece of information you provide, regardless of how irrelevant it may be, is likely to be added to a growing file that scammers piece together and can use or sell to other scammers.  Realize that legitimate organizations aren’t going to call you and ask for sensitive information.

There are really two good options for handling calls from people you don’t know. 

The first is in situations when you answer the phone and realize it’s not someone you know.  Hang up immediately.  That’s the easiest way to avoid giving away any information.  Don’t engage callers, don’t threaten them, don’t even speak to them.  Once you start talking, they realize you are not only willing to answer the phone, but will engage them, which is yet another valuable piece of information.  Don’t even follow prompts to push certain buttons, and do not return single-ring calls.

If you think it may have been a legitimate call from your bank or some other organization, call them – not the number that just called you, but look up their main number – and find out if the call was real.  Legitimate callers won’t mind that you are taking extra precautions.

The other solution many people have started using is to simply not answer the phone if they don’t know the number or it’s not in their phone’s contact list.  Even if you think you might know the number, realize that scammers can easily spoof local numbers to make people think a friend is calling them.  In most cases, friends, family, and other legitimate callers will leave a message and you can call them back.  By not answering, you’re not even providing the small bit of data that you are likely to answer a call – which is valuable information to scammers.

You can also use technology to help.  Your home and mobile phone providers offer tools to help identify or block unwanted calls.  Check with your provider to see what options are available.  Most mobile providers have free and paid versions of call filtering apps that can help protect you.

If you do receive a scam call, you should also report it to the FCC.  How much information you provide is up to you, but the more information you are able to give, the more detail the FTC has to analyze complaint data and identify and react to ongoing scams and identify the individuals behind them.

Scammers count on their victims not being smart enough to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.  Understanding the tactics scammers use and the ways they try to get information from you can help your identity and your money, and help avoid having to deal with recovering funds (which may not always even be possible) and identity theft.

As Digital Banking Grows, Local Banks Still Have the Edge

It’s not surprising to see the use of digital financial tools have increased over the past three months, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online shopping saw a sharp increase with most stores limited to curbside pickup, but digital banking also saw growth. In fact, the U.S. saw a 60% increase in people installing digital banking apps as their local branches were closed.

The surge in usage includes new digital users who had previously never enrolled in online or mobile banking, as well as existing digital customers – almost half of whom say they are now using digital services more frequently. But, despite living in a connected world, customer satisfaction with digital banking isn’t as high as it should be, particularly with larger regional and national banks.

The reason is simple. Despite having a broader geographic reach, larger banks have a hard time competing with local banks on service quality and personalization. The same advantages local banks have in their offices extend into the digital world, creating better experiences and service continuity.

Lower fees and rates – Local banks tend to offer lower rates and fewer fees than larger banks, whether banking is done in-person or online.

Service availability – While large banks often promote having more services, most local banks offer the same services today, including digital and online banking, and are able to more easily adapt their services to their local customers. Local banks are also more likely to offer innovative solutions to help customers achieve their financial goals, such as personal savings apps like Plinqit. One of the biggest drivers of digital customer satisfaction is the availability of P2P payment apps, with Zelle having the greatest positive impact.

Customer service – Local banks have intimate knowledge of their communities and pride themselves on building relationships with customers. As a result, they typically offer more personalized service, including when customers need help with digital banking services. As with any digital services, customers are bound to have questions about setting up services and learning how to use them effectively. Local bank representatives are well positioned to provide the answers.

Local knowledge – Because of their understanding of local demographics, trends, and needs, local banks are more easily able to customize their services to meet customers’ needs. They also work closely with other local organizations to support economic and social growth in the community. Larger banks typically offer exactly the same menu of services to their customers, regardless of location or individual needs.

Now that bank offices are starting to re-open, many customers may go back their traditional in-person banking patterns and enjoy the relationships they have built over the years. But, when they have a need, the digital services and customer support local banks are able to offer will make it easy to move back and forth between digital and in-person banking, as circumstances dictate. To learn more about all the digital services The Milford Bank offers, contact a us to speak with a banking specialist.

Don’t Forget Bulk Pickup to Help Get Rid of Clutter around Your Home

By Pam Reiss

Every year, we all collect all kinds of junk in our homes, including broken items, things we no longer need or use, older items that have been replaced, and more.  They are all taking up space, creating clutter, and keeping our homes from being as neat as we might like them to be.  You probably have things you have forgotten about and haven’t even seen in years.

Whether it’s your living space, basement, attic, garage, shed – or all of them – you’ll be surprised at how much space junk takes up.  This is a great time of year to work on getting rid of some of the clutter around your home to make it all more manageable.

That’s particularly true if your city does bulk waste pickup, as many do this time of year – Milford is starting its bulk pickup on June 1 (see start dates below).  It makes it much easier to get rid of some of your larger junk, instead of having to lug it to the dump or letting it continue to take up space around your home.

The first step is to create a plan.  Take a look at where you want to clean up and take inventory of any larger items you want to get rid of.  Once you remove larger things, you have a lot more space to work with as you clean.  Then, it’s a good idea to work on one space at a time, but if you’re up against a bulk pickup deadline, though, you may want to start by going through each space to take out those items and then go back for the smaller items and organization.

It’s a good idea to create four staging areas for the rest:

  • Garbage/recycling – Anything you are getting rid of goes in this pile. Keep a pile for bulk pickup, and put regular garbage directly into a large garbage bag.
  • Donate/sell – You may have clothes, books, toys, household items that you’ve outgrown or simply don’t use anymore. If they’re in good condition, consider donating them – there are plenty of people in need, and you may be able to take a tax deduction on your donations (consult your tax advisor for specifics).  You can also sell them online through local social media tag sale pages or, if you have a lot, and have the motivation, you can hold a yard sale.  Check with your neighbors to see if they want to have a combined sale.  You may be able to de-clutter your home and make a few dollars in the process to add to your emergency fund.
  • Keepers – Inevitably, you’re not going to want to get rid of everything you haven’t used in a while. There may be things with sentimental value, things you’re saving for your grandkids, and some items with specific uses that you want to keep.  Put those in s separate area and make a logical plan for storing them, including labeling storage bins and boxes to make them easy to find when you need them.
  • Out of place – One of the biggest signs of clutter is things being out of place. Sometimes, it’s out of pure laziness, but often, it’s because putting things back where they belong is difficult, because of the clutter.  Put these things into their own pile, so you can put them in their proper places – or even better, put them away immediately.  In the future, make a point of putting things back where they belong when you’re done using them.

You should check your local bulk waste guidelines for any additional requirements and prohibited items.  Things like old paint, propane tanks, grass clippings and many other items have other disposal specifications.  If you have larger items, you may need to cut them into smaller pieces, or take them to the dump yourself.

Milford’s bulk waste pickup start dates are based on your normal garbage pickup day:

  • Monday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 1
  • Tuesday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 8
  • Thursday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 15
  • Friday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 22

Once you’ve gotten rid of some of the clutter around your home, you’ll be in a better place to make use of the things you own.  It’s also very easy to re-clutter areas you have cleaned.  Keep in mind how much nicer things look when they aren’t cluttered – and how much effort it took to clean and re-organize.  Hopefully, that will help you keep things neater.   Keeping things tidy and in good order is also helpful for managing your budgets.  Now that you know what you have and where you’ve stored them, you will be less likely to buy duplicate items.

How are You Getting Rid of Your Old iPhones and Computers?

By Dave Wall

Every time Apple, Samsung, or any other electronic device manufacturer releases new products, the media tends to grab hold and saturate news feeds with the incredible advances these new product bring for consumer and business users. They’re not wrong of course – think about all the things we’re now able to do from smartphone in our hands.  It’s an unprecedented level of convenience, efficiency, and productivity, and the hype helps generate sales momentum as these new products become available.

But, what is left out is what to do with your old devices when you replace them. Of course, some phones are recycled when they are exchanged for new ones at mobile carriers like Verizon and AT&T.  But when you consider the third-party market for not only phones, but other devices like tablets, laptops, smart watches, and the many other products that permeate today’s digital lifestyles, it’s clear that there’s an awful lot of electronic waste being created.

The United States alone generated almost 12 million tons of e-waste in 2014 according to the EPA. The UN reported that 44.7 million tons of e-waste was generated globally in 2016, and the World Economic Forum reported that number had risen for 485 million tons in 2018.  That makes it the fastest-growing waste stream in the world.  Yet, only about 20% was recycled.  So, where do the rest of these items end up?  Certainly, many are likely collecting dust in homes and offices, but a large percentage ends up in landfills or incinerators, both of which are harmful to the environment.

E-recycling offers an effective way to get rid of old electronics safely, but how should you recycle your electronics? There are many local retailers that will recycle e-waste – some of them regardless of where they were purchased.  And of course, mobile carriers often offer rebates for trade-in that can be applied towards the purchase of a new device.

If you keep an eye on your community events, you will also likely find e-recycling opportunities. The Milford Bank, for instance, will be holding two Shred & Recycle Days this year, making it easy for residents to get rid of their old electronics, as well as paper documents.

The first TMB Shred & Recycle Day will take place on Saturday, May 4, 2019, from 10:00am-1:00pm at the Post Road West branch (295 Boston Post Road, Milford, CT), and will include free e-recycling for anyone and free document shredding for customers (non-customers may still take advantage of the shredding service for a $5 donation to a local non-profit).

The second Shred & Recycle day will take place in the fall, after families have purchased new laptops and tablets for the new school year, on Saturday, October 12, 2019 (10am-12pm).

Recycling electronics and paper provides a constant stream of resources that have countless uses, helps reduce the amount of junk that piles up in landfills across the globe, and reduces the environmental impact of dumping. There are many materials that can be harvested from old electronics that can be re-used to manufacture new ones, including, gold, silver, palladium, and copper.  The WEF values the value of materials that can be recovered through e-recycling at more than $62 billion.  Apple says it was able to collect more than a ton of gold from recycled devices in 2015.  That’s worth more than $40 million.

Take a look around your home. If you have old electronics lying around that haven’t been used for years – and most households do – take advantage of this community service provided by The Milford Bank to do some good for the environment and get rid of some old junk from your home in the process.

 

Are Millennials Putting Themselves at Risk with their Digital Habits?

By Pam Reiss

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the number of reported incidents of cyber fraud continues to increase, reaching to 351,937 in 2018, 16% more than 2017 and a 30% increase from 2014.  Losses from these incidents are growing even faster, reaching more than $2.7 billion last year, an increase of 90% from 2017, and almost 240% more than 2014.  The FTC, which collects data on all sources of fraud, are even more staggering, registering almost 3 million complaints last year alone.

What’s alarming is that no age group is immune.  While there is a correlation between age and amount lost according to FTC data, there is also a reverse correlation between age and frequency of fraud loss.  The median loss increases with age, and Americans 80 and over tend to experience significantly larger losses than any other age group.  But, they are also the least likely to experience loss due to fraud.

In fact, younger Americans under 30 appear to be much more susceptible to loss through fraud than other age groups, falling victim to some sort of fraud three times more often than senior citizens.  This is particularly alarming because it points to younger generations having habits that make them easier targets, which could place them at risk for larger losses as they get older and their savings grow.

A large part of it is the nature of digital natives – Millennials and post-Millennials.  Growing up with the world at their fingertips, they have been immersed in a social environment and are willing to share just about anything.  They have built an resistance to fear of sharing information, and the more “friends” and “followers” and “likes” they have, the more successful they feel, often with little regard for the source of acknowledgement.

That world of social media acceptance has created a false sense of trust, opening the door for criminals, who only need to collect a few pieces of information in order to accomplish their goals.  It’s very easy to set up fake digital personalities to collect personal information or to create entertaining online quizzes to show your IQ, what Star Wars character you would be, or other similar social interactions.

This willingness to share, combined with younger people’s inherently higher level of trust (perhaps we should call it naïveté), makes them easier targets than older generations, which are less likely to trust engagements from people or entities they don’t know.

Whether the result is providing personal information that can lead to fraud, or clicking on malicious links in appear to be legitimate, younger adults can often be more easily manipulated by con artists and cyber criminals.  The good news is there are a number of easy tips that can help keep everyone – young and old – safe.

  • Check senders’ actual email addresses (not just names, they can be falsified)
  • Don’t click on links unless you are sure they are legitimate
  • Don’t open attachments unless you are sure they are intended for you – verify with senders if needed
  • Don’t share personal information with anyone you don’t know, including birthdays and birth cities. Most entities that need this information already have it.  This is a common phone scam tactic
  • If you aren’t sure if a request is legitimate, don’t acknowledge it until you have verified it separately with the organization or friend asking for it
  • Don’t accept friend or follower requests from people you don’t know or who seem out of place
  • Always keep your cyber security software up to date on all devices
  • Monitor your bank and credit card accounts, as well as credit reports
  • Be aware of “free” offers – you can rarely get things for nothing
  • Don’t send money to anyone who isn’t a close friend or family member
  • Be on the lookout for “URGENT” requests for information or money – this is telltale sign of scams
  • Don’t engage in any financial or other sensitive transactions over public or other unsecured WiFi networks – they can easily be hacked and your data intercepted.

Following these simple steps will help keep your identity and finances secure.  It’s inevitable, however, that you will be engaged by a fraudster.  When that happens, be sure to report it.  The more information authorities have, the better then are able to connect scams with their perpetrators and hopefully catch them.

Hopefully, it won’t happen, but if you think your personal or financial information has been compromised, contact The Milford Bank immediately.

 

Identity Theft vs. Identity Fraud: What You Need to Know

By Tyler Haskell

Identity theft and identity fraud are becoming all too common today, with the economic impact to banks, businesses, and customers reaching well into the billions annually. In 2018, roughly 14.4 million American adults were victims of identity fraud, with losses totaling $14.7 billion. The two terms – identity theft and identity fraud – are closely related, but aren’t the same, despite often being used interchangeably.

Identity Theft
Identity theft takes place when criminals acquire personal data, which is then used for subsequent illegal activities, including identity fraud and the sale of information to others. This information can include any number of PII (Personally Identifiable Information) data, such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank accounts, driver’s license numbers, passwords, and more.

There are many ways criminals can steal personal data, from advanced hacking techniques to intricate scams to burglary and dumpster searches. Corporate hacking instances have increased over the past years, with many high-profile breaches being featured in mainstream news, from retail stores to healthcare organizations. The breaches have resulted in millions of customers’ data being stolen. Mobile devices are also a high-value target, simply because of the incredible amount of data stored on them.

Identity Fraud
Identity Fraud happens when criminals use stolen personal data for illegitimate transactions. These may include fraudulent purchases, opening new bank accounts or credit cards, initiating loans, and more.

Identity fraud impacts not only the victims of identity theft, but also the other organizations that become part of the fraudulent activity: merchants, banks, credit card companies, etc. The truth is, everyone is impacted in some way because businesses build the cost of fraud into their pricing structures to help cover their losses.

Protecting Yourself
Recovering from identity fraud is a daunting task that can take 200-300 hours of time and cost $1,000 or more. What’s more, these accounts can appear on credit reports for extended periods, making it difficult for victims to get legitimate credit.

First and foremost, protect your data. Don’t share passwords or account information. Don’t lend your credit cards or IDs to others. Make sure you have high levels of security on your mobile devices and use highly secure passwords on your online accounts – and don’t reuse passwords. Also use two-factor authentication whenever possible.

Be aware of the countless scams being conducted via phone and online. If you even remotely question a request for information or an offer, hang up and call the institution back yourself to verify the request. Legitimate organizations don’t usually ask for sensitive information without you having contacted them first.

Be sure to check your credit report regularly. We can assist our account holders with this by activating Credit Sense on your online and mobile banking app. Credit Sense is a tool that will help you improve your financial well-being. Credit Sense gives you up-to-date personal credit information including credit scores, credit usage, total balances, payment history, credit age and recent credit. You can refresh your credit score as often as you need and get tips on how to improve it. Credit Sense also offers credit monitoring, which gives you protection from fraud with alerts notifying you when something has changed in your credit profile.

While it’s hard to keep your data completely safe, following these simple precautions and staying alert can help you avoid the hassles and financial burden of identity theft and fraud. To help you with best practices for avoiding identity theft, contact us to learn how we are helping protect your identity and funds.