How to Recognize Scam Calls and Keep Your Money Safe

By Tina Mason

On any given day, you probably get phone calls from numbers you don’t know.  Those dreaded spam calls continue to become more frequent and the total number grew by 18% globally last year.  In the U.S. that growth was even more significant, with Americans receiving an average of 28 spam calls a month (up from 18 a year earlier).

What’s worse is the situation is expanding.  What was once limited mostly to landlines has expanded to mobile phones.  In fact, 46% of Americans said they get spam calls on their cell phones every day in February of this year.

The problem is these calls aren’t just a nuisance; many are from scammers trying to con people into giving up their money.  Unfortunately, it’s working – Americans lost nearly $20 billion due to phone scams in 2020.

The good news is you can avoid falling victim by staying informed about the latest scams (the FTC regularly updates its site with common scams), by knowing how to identify them, and by simply following some best practices.

Auto warranty scams – This one has been going on for years.  It usually starts with a pleasant recorded voice introducing him- or herself and claiming to be from the “Vehicle Service Department” or something similar.  The recording continues to explain that your vehicle warranty is about to expire unless you extend it with them immediately.  They might even have specific information about your vehicle they have obtained through any number of ways.  The warranty these scammers are offering is usually a service contract of some kind that could actually cost you more than you would pay for vehicle maintenance and repairs.

Pyramid sales schemes – These may seem like legitimate business opportunities selling products from your home.  But when you look at them carefully, you’ll see your compensation is based on how many new sales people you recruit, not how much product you sell.  In addition, you will typically be required to buy a certain amount of product, even if you already have enough inventory on hand.  Ultimately, you’re more likely to lose time and money than make a living.

COVID-19 scams – There are several kinds of scams trying to leverage the coronavirus pandemic.  Some try to sell you a vaccine.  If you haven’t yet been fully vaccinated, remember that the COVID-19 vaccine is being administered for free.  You can find a local vaccination site here.  Another scam involves scammers posing as FEMA workers reaching out to cover costs associated with family members that may have died due to COVID-19.  Unless you have already registered with FEMA for their funeral assistance program, they will not reach out to you.  If you get a call or email from someone claiming to be with a government agency, it’s most likely to be a scam you don’t want to get involved with.  And no, your social security number will not be suspended – yet another government-related scam that has been around for a long time.

Utility scams – Have you gotten a call from someone claiming to be with your electric, water, or gas company, claiming your service is going to be cut off unless you make payment immediately?  Again, almost certainly a scam.  Your actual utility companies may threaten to cut you off if you are delinquent on your bills, but they will send notifications – you can also verify your account through their website if you’re not sure.  Or, simply call them if you think you may have missed a payment – in which case you may have to pay a late fee, but they probably won’t threaten to cut off your service yet.

Payment options – One of the things to note is most scammers don’t use the normal payment methods when they try to get you to pay them.  Having you send a check or pay online on your oil company’s site doesn’t get them any money.  They will often ask you to use Western Union of other money transfer services, or some ask you to add money to a reloadable gift card.  More tech-savvy scammers may also want you to pay with cryptocurrency.  They use these methods because they are mostly untraceable making it almost impossible to recover the money.

The bottom line is this: Legitimate businesses will identify themselves clearly and won’t threaten you on the phone.  Most will also work with you to arrange payment plans if you’re experiencing difficulty.

If an offer seems too good to be true – like winning a large cash award from a drawing you didn’t enter, or a get-rich-quick job offer – it probably is.  Never agree to anything before you have done your research.  In fact, many people today don’t even answer phone calls from numbers they don’t know.  That way, they can just delete the phony voice mail messages and, if they think it could possibly be real, can look up the correct phone number (never call back a number given on a voice message you think could be fraudulent) and call the bank, store, service provider, government agency, or whoever the caller claimed to be with.

The same goes for emails.  Don’t click on links, don’t call numbers on emails because they could be fake, and assume offers are fraudulent unless they come from one of your trusted relationships.  Even then, take care to look carefully at email addresses, names, other personal details, as well as grammar and spelling.  Most fraudulent of phishing emails have mistakes in them that should raise a red flag.

Again, if you have any uncertainty, look up phone numbers yourself and make a few phone calls to verify the legitimacy of any call or email you get.  It may take a few extra minutes, but that small effort could keep you, your family, and your money safe.

But, if you make a mistake and think you have fallen victim to a scam, the first thing you should do is contact your bank so they can help you with your bank accounts and make sure your funds aren’t accessible to scammers.

Why Small Businesses and Community Banks are a Perfect Match

By John Darin

May is Small Business Month, celebrating the importance of small businesses to our national and local economies.  Small business owners and their entrepreneurial spirit are a cornerstone of our economy and our local communities.  In Connecticut, they comprise 97% of business and employ half of the state’s workforce.

Small Business Month also recognizes that small businesses have unique needs.  Every business needs a bank and there are certainly several national brands to choose from.  But, just as there are many options for your personal banking, there are local alternatives that may be beneficial for small businesses.

Community banks were instrumental in helping small businesses make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.  Early during the pandemic, when the first round of Paycheck Protection Funding was exhausted, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved more than 1.6 million loans to support small businesses, totaling more than $300 billion.  About 60% of those loans were handled by community banks.

Like small business, community banks are important to the success of local communities and can offer benefits that large national brands can’t.

Personalized service –  When you go into or call a local bank, you’re getting attention from the same people every time – not a call center agent located across the country.  You’ll save time because your bankers know you and your business, creating deeper bonds because they see your business as a personal relationship, not an account number.  As a result, they will go the extra mile to give you personalized attention.

Faster action – Time is money.  As a business owner, getting answers from your bank quickly is important.  Because community banks aren’t spread across the country, their decision-making process is often simpler and faster because it happens locally.

Lower fees – Many community banks offer lower fees or better terms and interest rates than their national counterparts.  For small businesses, every dollar saved or earned makes a difference.

Local for local – Local banks are proud of their local communities and tend to be very active in local activities.  They know the local business and support various organizations and events that support the local economy and benefit both businesses and residents.  This helps build their communities and create a better place to live and work, which help attract new residents and businesses.  As a small business, the local community is important to your success, and community banks play a big role.

Know your customer – Every business is unique.  Personal attention combined with local intimacy also gives community banks a chance to really know their customers and their business banking needs.  As a result, they are able to provide a higher level of care and service that caters to each individual business.  That knowledge can also play into your bank’s decision-making because they are able to factor in what they know about your business, you as the business owner, and the local community.  It becomes about more than just entering data into a formula.

Small Business knowledge – Community banks understand small businesses.  Remember that they are, in fact, small businesses just like you, so they have an inherent first-hand knowledge of what it takes to succeed as a small business.  That knowledge translates into a service mentality designed to help small businesses succeed, rather than trying to force them into cookie-cutter approach designed for large enterprises.

Business services – Community banks have built service portfolios to meet your business needs. They aren’t a one-trick pony and offer a variety of business banking services.  From commercial loans and business lines of credit to retirement and employee benefits management to online banking and much more, don’t think that just because they are smaller, your community bank isn’t well-equipped to serve your business needs.

As a small business, you know you have specific banking needs.  You also know the large national brands aren’t as agile or flexible when it comes to meeting your needs – they can’t be.  So, when you think about your financial needs, remember there are local alternatives to those big brands that can be a much better fit for you.  Find out exactly how The Milford Bank can help your business by getting to know one of our local professionals today to learn how they can help make running your business a lot easier.

Get Rid of Your Old Electronics Safely

Recycling is an important part of our daily lives.  In fact, it’s the law, and there is a list of items that are designated for recycling only in CT and may not be placed in the garbage.  There are many reasons, but among the biggest is the fact that landfills are filling up and could be gone within the next two decades.  There are also environmental hazards associated with landfills when toxic chemicals leak into the soil and air when items aren’t disposed of properly.

Using recycled materials avoids environmental damage from mining, drilling, and harvesting trees. E-recycling, in particular, has become increasingly important – and a major problem.  Often, as people replace old electronics and simply throw their old ones away.  In 2019, the U.S. created almost 7 tons of e-waste (that’s 46 pounds per person), but recycled a mere 15%.  The value of the raw materials in that e-waste is about $7.5 billion.

According to the EPA, recycling 1 million laptops saves enough energy to power more than 3,600 homes for a year.  Recycling also creates jobs.  It’s estimated that, for every landfill job, there are 35 jobs in recycling processing and recycling-based manufacturing.  So, the more we recycle, the more jobs we can create.

One of the problems is people don’t always know where or how to recycle their old electronics.

Every year, as part of its ongoing commitment to the community, The Milford Bank promotes recycling with its Shred & Recycle Days.  The event gives residents an opportunity to easily and safely discard their old e-waste and documents.

The next Shred & Recycle Day is coming soon, from 9:00am to noon (or until the trucks are filled) on Saturday, May 8, 2021, at The Milford Bank location at 295 Boston Post Rd, Milford.

Financial Literacy: Teach Your Children to Save

One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is a financial education.  We all want our children to succeed in life, which means helping them become financially stable.  Once they reach college age and leave the comfort and safety of your home, a solid understanding of banking and financial best practices is critical to helping them avoid getting into debt at an early age.

More than three-quarters of adults live paycheck-to-paycheck, and 40% say they wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency expense.  Looking towards the future, a third of Americans have no retirement savings, and almost a quarter have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.

Saving isn’t easy.  Neither is avoiding debt.  But it can be easier if children learn about banking and finance from an early age.  Currently, fewer than half of U.S. states require high school students to pass a personal finance course as a graduation requirement.  But, parents have to manage finances every month, which gives them an opportunity to teach their children good financial habits.

The American Bankers Association (ABA) understands that financial literacy is critical for children, and since 1997, the ABA Foundation has sponsored its Teach Children to Save program to promote financial literacy to millions of elementary and middle school students.

Today, April 22, is this year’s Teach Children to Save Day.  It’s a free national program that is designed to help young people develop savings habits at early ages and covers topics like saving, financial decision making, interest, banking careers, and more.  The goal of the program is to help children understand the value of saving and develop the knowledge, tools, and skills to make informed financial decisions throughout their lives.  The ABA has created a series of interactive resources for you and your children of all ages (including high schoolers and young adults) to help build their financial literacy.

The Milford Bank also supports financial literacy for children and offers its own Centsible Kids program designed to teach smart money habits to your kids.  The Centsible Kids program includes a free, kid-friendly mobile app – available for both iOS and Android devices – that encourages your children to become financially literate at an early age.  Key features of the Centsible Kids app include:

  • Games that teach financial knowledge and skills
  • Enabling kids to track spending, saving and giving goals
  • Foster positive family conversations around money
  • Allows safe tracking of money virtually without connecting to your actual bank accounts.

We know children pick up habits very quickly.  That means they will pick up good financial habits just as quickly as they will pick up bad ones.  So why not put them on a path to financial success early by helping them develop good savings and spending habits, encourage giving, and giving them a chance to practice their math skills in the process?

To learn more about the Centsible Kids program and app, contact any office of The Milford Bank.

Why Mutual Banks Make Sense

By Jorge Santiago

Mutual banks have been around since the early 1800s.  There are currently about 470 in business across the country and nearly all of them are also classified by the FDIC as community banks.  They were initially created to provide savings opportunities to the working class, something they couldn’t easily get from commercial banks that focused on business customers.  Mutual banks offered individuals a safe place to deposit funds and earn interest, with a tradition of providing quality service to their customers.  Those values remain core to mutual banks today, which lead to several benefits that are passed on to customers.

Corporate Structure

The basic idea behind mutual banks is they are not controlled by stockholders or other direct owners.  Rather, their customers – the depositors that bank with them – are considered mutual owners.  As a result, mutual banks don’t make decisions based on shareholder interests, but focus on how they can deliver maximum value to their customers and support the communities they serve.

Customer Security

Nearly all mutual banks – like The Milford Bank – are insured by the FDIC, and on average, mutual banks have a Tier 1 capital ratio (an indicator of capital security) well above the minimum level and are considered “well capitalized” by the FDIC.  In addition, mutual banks are traditionally conservative when it comes to investments and spending, looking for safe opportunities and avoiding high-risk investments.  It’s one of the reasons mutual banks were almost the only banks that successfully navigated the Great Depression and why they continue to provide a safe banking option today.

Customer Service

Mutual banks have a longstanding reputation for quality service that stems from their focus on depositor value rather than corporate ownership.  Because customers are viewed as owners, serving their needs and delivering a high level of personalized service is their top priority – including a broad service portfolio, convenience, local access, and banking expertise.

Product Breadth

Today, mutual banks offer most of the same services private customers can get from larger commercial banks.  They are investing in digital banking technologies to make banking easier and more convenient, including tools to encourage saving.  They have knowledgeable local staff ready to provide valuable banking information and advice to help customers make responsible financial decisions.

Commitment to Community

Mutual banks are localized, which means they have a vested interest in their local communities.  Not only do their employees live and work in those communities, but so do their customers.  As a result, mutual banks tend to be very active in their communities.  Many offer special events in their towns – like The Milford Bank’s annual Shred & Recycle Days and the Milford Moves 5k – and regularly support local organizations and businesses through a number of initiatives.  Mutual banks espouse community values that reflect their dedication to their customers.  The Milford Bank, for instance, supports more than 100 local organizations throughout the year with not only financial support, but also time dedicated by its team to help these community groups.

When deciding where to put your money for safekeeping, you have options.  By nature, mutual banks can offer benefits that many larger corporate financial institutions cannot.  If you want to know exactly how you local mutual bank can support your banking needs, give them a call or go visit one of their offices for some firsthand detail.  Ultimately, the most important factor is that your money is safe and you have access to the services and expertise you need, when you need it.  As a client, that’s the commitment you’ll get from mutual banks.

How to Avoid Job Scams

These are challenging times for everyone.  Most people have had to adjust to new work environments, and our personal and social activities have been largely non-existent for many months.  Unfortunately, many people have also found themselves laid off or furloughed as businesses have been forced to cut back staffing or close entirely.

If you’re in the job market, be aware that the increase in job seekers has also driven an increase in fake job postings that are often mixed in with legitimate offers.  Just as bad actors prey on unsuspecting victims through email and phone scams, they are also taking advantage of the increased unemployment rate to con people into giving up personal information and money.

That said, there are many good, legitimate job opportunities available, especially as businesses continue to adjust to this new environment and find a need for more personnel, and with many employers looking for seasonal help during the holidays.  As you look for a job, just be aware that the real jobs may be intermingled with fake offers.  Here are a few things to look for that can help keep you from falling victim to a job scam.

Fees – You may come across job offers claiming to have many customers lined up and all you need to do is pay a certification, training, or placement fee.  That’s, at best, suspicious and, most likely a scam.  Legitimate employers won’t ask you to pay for placement or training.  These offers will collect your fees and never actually turn into work.  That’s not say certain certifications aren’t helpful for some jobs, but those are things you should look into on your own, separately from your job search.

Financial information –  Be wary of prospective employers who ask for your financial details, like credit card numbers or bank accounts.  Certainly, you may need to provide bank routing information if you’re going to take advantage of direct deposits, but make sure you know who you’re giving the information to.  You may want to wait a few pay cycles and deal with physical paychecks, just to make sure everything is legitimate.  If your bank enables mobile deposits, you can easily get the funds into your account without having to find time to visit a branch.

Government jobs – Remember one simple fact:  all Federal government jobs are listed online.  If you get a solicitation for a “new” or “previously undisclosed” government job, don’t reply to it.  If you’re interested in a government job, check out availability directly and follow the steps to apply.

Interviews – With very few exceptions, be wary of anyone offering to hire you without an interview.  Legitimate employers will want to meet prospective employers.  If you are offered a job based on an email or messaging exchange, or an extremely short phone call, there’s a good chance it’s a scam.

Job requirements – Make sure you know the job requirements and that those requirements make sense for the job.  Scammers often try to minimize or simplify requirements to increase their rate of “success” and to limit questions that could expose them.  Ask specific questions about the job.  Most scammers will either stop engaging or will avoid the question by telling you not to worry about it and that they will train you.

Video interviews – It’s never a bad idea to suggest a video interview.  Being able to see your interviewer can provide visual clues as to whether they are authentic or not.  If they’re not willing to use video, there’s a good chance they aren’t offering a real job – especially in today’s environment where video has become the norm.

Contact information – As with phishing emails, check your correspondences for warning signs – especially email addresses.  Scammers often use email addresses that are similar to legitimate companies, but have slight differences.  Also verify phone numbers by looking them up online.

With all that in mind, realize there are plenty of real opportunities out there and your instinct will likely be correct.  If it seems questionable or too good to be true, it probably is.  All you need to do is be a little smarter than the scammers.  They are looking to con people – they aren’t in the hiring business.  Use that to your advantage as you look for a job.  Of course, if you think you may have been exposed to a scam and possibly given away any personal information, contact your bank to make sure your accounts haven’t been compromised.

How to Keep your Kids Safe Online

With the world having gone completely digital there’s very little we can’t do online and through our smartphones or tablets.  Without question, it adds a new level of convenience to our lives.  Our kids, too, are living much of their lives online as they interact with friends, do schoolwork, play games, stream content, and more online.  In many cases, in fact, it’s fair to say kids spend more time on their phones and laptops than their parents.

With that convenience, though, comes responsibility – responsibility to behave safely and appropriately in a digital society.  As parents, we have an inherent responsibility to protect our children, and how, that extends into the digital world.  It has to – there’s too much malicious activity and cyber crime that could impact your entire family.

So, the theory is, if your kids are old enough to be online, they are old enough to be taught how to do it safely.  Here are some tips for helping to keep your kids (and the rest of your family) safe in a digital world.

Set ground rules – Maybe the first thing to do is set ground rules for online activity.  However old your kids are, make sure they understand your expectations.  That might mean setting digital curfews in the evening, no phones at the dining table, limits on non-schoolwork usage, permission to download apps or games, and more.  Some devices and applications allow you to set limits on certain apps, which can help.  Mobile carriers also offer family safety apps that can help monitor and track usage.  As a parent, you shouldn’t feel bad about monitoring your children’s online activity – their friend lists, applications, search or chat history, and other data – to make sure they are building safe habits.

Security ­– Perhaps the most important thing for your kids to understand is security.  The moment they start interacting online, your kids will potentially be exposed to millions of cyber threats, which also put your home network, and all devices attached to it, at risk.  Make sure you install appropriate security software on each device and keep it updated, and be sure your kids understand they are not to disable or uninstall them.  It’s also best to enable multi-factor authentication for all apps that offer the option (most do these days), to make it harder for accounts to be hacked.  Finally, understand that many apps request access to data that isn’t needed for the apps to function.  Make sure you look at those permissions carefully and only allow access to information that is absolutely necessary.  You may want to require parental approval for downloading and installing any new apps, especially for younger children.

Passwords – Teach your kids to use the same safe password guidelines you do.  They should avoid using the same password on multiple sites; they should change passwords regularly and monitor accounts for fraudulent activity; and importantly, they should never share account information with others.

Privacy – Kids tend to document their lives through photo and video. Remind them to respect others’ privacy when posting and that they should only post photos or videos they don’t mind being in the public domain.  Also make sure automatic geo-tagging is turned off for photos and videos.  In fact, it’s a good idea to disable location access to all apps, then enable them for specific apps that need it, like tracking apps that help you keep tabs on their location.

Social media – Social media can be overwhelming, and many adults don’t even think before posting.  When your kids are old enough to have their own social media accounts, talk to them about using good judgment and common sense on these apps.  Remind them that once they post something, it’s impossible to take it back.  Also make sure they understand the risks of connecting with people they don’t know on social media.  Kids often see social media as a popularity contest – the more follower or likes, the better.  Teach them that’s not the case and that the safest policy is to only accept friend or follow requests from people they actually know.

Safe habits – Teach your kids about phishing scams and help them understand how to identify potentially malicious emails, text messages, pop-ups, emails, and links that are designed to get them to share personal information.  Educating your kids early will help them recognize potential threats early and develop safe digital habits.  If you get a phishing message, use it as a teaching moment by showing your kids and explaining to them why it’s suspicious and how to handle it.

File sharing – At some point, your kids are likely to start exchanging files with friends, and possibly even using P2P file sharing applications.  Make sure they understand there are risks with P2P networks, like potentially malicious code embedded in flies from unknown sources, which could your network and files to others.  There’s also the issue of downloading copyrighted content illegally.  If they need share files with others, make sure they are using legitimate software that has been properly installed with appropriate settings to ensure no private information is shared.  Also make sure any files they receive from others are scanned by their security software before use.

At some point, it becomes impossible to keep children from becoming part of the digital society, especially once they start needing to access online tools for school.  The fact is, many of the applications websites, and services available today provide unique social and educational opportunities that can be helpful.  Your goal should be to help your children understand the risks and develop habits that will reduce those risks while allowing them to be part of the online world.  While there are no guarantees, following these guidelines can help.

Want more tips for keeping yourself and your family safe? Sign up for our security alerts e-newsletter here.

What Are You Doing with Your Old Electronics?

By Lynn Viesti Berube

Most of us have gotten into the good habit or recycling our plastic, glass, cardboard, and other materials on a regular basis, largely because it’s fairly easy to do and the items are collected on a regular basis by cities and towns.  But what about all the old electronics that are collecting dust in our homes?

There are more than 260 million smartphone users in the United States today.  That means 80% of the population is replacing their phones every few years – or more frequently for those who always want the latest and greatest.  Tablets, laptops, smart watches, fitness trackers, game consoles, and all sorts of other electronic devices also have fairly short replacement cycles.  Then there are other items, like printers, monitors, televisions, and other items, which eventually get replaced as well.  It all adds up to an awful lot of e-waste, which has increased by 20% globally over the past five years.  That figure is projected to grow by another 40% by the end of the decade.

The problem is that only about 17% of e-waste is documented and recycled or properly disposed of, which presents two problems.

First, these electronics contain many valuable raw materials that could be reused for new electronics or other items.  These include iron, gold, palladium, copper, and more, all of which have to be mined and processed to build new components.  Reducing the demand for new materials can save resources and money and reduce pollution.

The second issue is that, if not recycled, many of these old electronics end up in landfills, where hazardous chemicals can seep into and contaminate soil and water in surrounding areas, creating long-term health risks.  In addition, much of our waste is eventually transported to and dumped in Third World countries, who have little understanding of its potential impact.

There’s also the simple problem that some items aren’t disposed of at all and simply create clutter in homes.

There’s simple answer – recycling.

The Milford Bank is again hosting its Shred & Recycle Day, Saturday, October 10th, at its 295 Boston Post Rd, Milford, location.  The annual event allows residents of Milford and surrounding towns to get rid of not only old electronics, but also old documents that need to be shredded.

The event will be held from 9:00am-1:00pm, or until the two shred trucks are filled.  Electronic recycling is free to the general public, and document shredding is free for The Milford Bank’s customers (others may also take advantage of the service for a small $5 per box fee, all of which will be donated to Milford Food 2 Kids).  There is a three-box limit per household or business on paper, and no limit on electronics.

The Milford Bank is working with AFA Electronic Recyclers, a state-recognized e-recycling facility for electronic waste.  AFA addresses one of the concerns some people have around data security with its process, which includes completely dismantling and storage devices and shredding the data platters where the data is actually stored.  This provides data security for customers, while allowing all other components to be recycled for parts and raw materials.

If you have old electronics lying around the house, this is your chance to not only do a little fall cleaning, but do you share for the environment as well.  Take some time to collect those old items and dispose of the properly at The Milford Bank’s Shred & Recycle Day, Saturday, October 10th.