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.

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.