Staying Secure During Summer Vacation Season

By Dave Wall

As the school year comes to a close, families will be preparing for their annual summer vacations. Whether they’re heading off to a golf resort, a Caribbean island, a tour of Europe, an amusement park, or anywhere else, they’re all looking forward to some down time away from work and school to spend with their families.  Regardless of their destinations, one thing is certain – they’ll want to stay in touch with friends and family members, and many will even spend a few hours each day working.

That means they will be looking for ways to connect to the Internet, which also means there’s a good chance they’ll cross paths with hackers targeting unsuspecting vacationers. As mobile device use continues to grow, and as an increasing number of tasks can be accomplished on them, users are constantly looking for ways to connect, whether it’s to post the latest vacation photos to Facebook, pay a credit card bill, make dinner reservations, or play online games.

Cyber criminal recognize the need to stay connected and look for ways to target unsuspecting users. Vacationers can be an easy target.  They are often looking for easy access and depend on public WiFi access points to get online and, despite constant education from media and government organizations and service providers, many people aren’t careful enough when signing onto WiFi hotspots, ignoring the risks of connecting to unknown or unsecured networks, which make it very easy for hackers to intercept communications and steal sensitive data.

Often, they’ll set up open networks (access points with no password encryption) with SSIDs that appear to be legitimate networks – they might include a hotel or restaurant or some other name that sounds official – hoping to lure users onto their networks. Hackers then need only be within range of the hotspot to intercept data, or they may send users to a false landing page with a link to “register,” which actually installs malware on their devices, allowing the thieves to access any stored data, including bank account and other financial information.

Here are a few tips to help you keep your devices and sensitive data secure when you travel anywhere outside your trusted home network.

  • Never use open WiFi (those without password protected access).
  • Make sure lock screens and security are active on any devices.
  • Avoid any online shopping or other financial activity.
  • Use cash, travelers checks, or gift cards in lieu of credit cards to avoid account information being stolen, especially internationally.
  • Don’t use, accept or click on links, websites, attachments, or flash drives that could give hackers access to your devices.
  • Consider connecting through a VPN, even if you are using a secure WiFi connection. Most public access points aren’t yet using the latest encryption technology. A VPN will help protect your information even if it is intercepted.

While these guidelines may require a few extra steps when you’re getting online, they will help protect you falling victim to identity theft and subsequent fraud, which can take years to overcome. Staying informed of the latest fraud schemes and security threats can also help. Sign up for our security eNewsletter to keep yourself up to date on everything you can do to help keep you and your family safe on vacation, at home, or anywhere else you find yourself.

How to Stay Smarter Than Scammers

By Dave Wall

Scammers are constantly looking for new angles to exploit in their efforts to swindle unsuspecting victims. The Better Business Bureau says scams are a $50 billion burden on the American economy, a number that is very likely to grow as we continue to shift to a digital economy and online activity continues to grow, along with tools to perpetuate fraud.  In fact, scams reportedly already have an impact on one-quarter of U.S. households.  Surprisingly, while the elderly continue to be a major target, recent reports show millennials are actually more susceptible to scams than senior citizens.

Among the reasons scammers are so successful is they are able to convince their victims their intentions are legitimate. Often, they pretend to represent well-known, reputable brands and target people’s emotions.  But, there are several ways to avoid falling into these carefully laid traps, including knowing what information is typically requested by phone or email, and verifying requests for information separately with the organization before providing any personal details.  It also helps to be aware of what the latest active scams are.  Here are a few that are at the top of the list currently.

Publisher’s Clearing House imposters
This is one of the many prize scams and one that seems to never go away. “You’ve won!” is always an easy way to get someone’s attention. The financial part of the scam can some in one of two ways.  The first is a requirement to pay taxes and fees up front in order to collect winnings, which is typically requested via Western Union or some other wire service because they are virtually untraceable.  The second is by sending “winners” a fake check and request for fees to be sent back.  When the fake check bounces, victims have already paid the fake fees.  A simple rule to follow is if you are asked to pay fees for winning a prize, it’s probably a scam.

9/11 Victim Compensation Fund
This is a situation where scammers are trying to collect valuable personal information that can lead to identity theft and fraud. Callers identify themselves as being from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and tell people they may be entitled to compensation.  They ask for personal information, like social security numbers, bank accounts, medical histories, employment verification, and other details, claiming it will allow them to verify their eligibility.  Organizations like this will never ask for sensitive information like this over the phone.

Bitcoin schemes
Scammers are increasingly using the growth of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to cheat people. Basically, they are promising huge returns on a cryptocurrency invesment when victims also help recruit additional people into the scheme.  It’s a crptyo version of the old chain letter.  Others simply promote a cryptocurrency project, looking for investors with the promise of doubling or tripling the investment, but shut down the operations after collecting large sums of money.  Because people are required to send funds in cryptocurrency, the transactions become nearly impossible to track or recover.  Scammers often try to lure targets into investing in the latest tech trends.  In the first two months of the year, more than $1.3 billion had been stolen in cryptocurrency scams.

Chinese Consulate Impersonators
Another recent scam targets people with Chinese last names, pretending to be a representative from the Chinese Consulate and asking for personal information or even payments in order to avoid some form of trouble with the Consulate. While the current scam centers around the Chinese Consulate, scammers modify their schemes regularly and could very easily adapt this same scam to just about any population group.  Regardless of the form of payment or information requested, realize the consulate it not going to request sensitive information or payment over the phone or email.

FTC Computer Access
This one involves scammers identifying themselves as FTC representatives claiming targets are owed a refund that can only be done through remote access to their computers. Specifically, many of these calls specifically reference the FTC’s Advanced Tech Support refund program.  These and other requests to provide access to computers or install software are scams intended to allow access to computers and networks in order to steal personal (or corporate) information.

There are only a few of the latest scams that are being used to target unsuspecting targets. While it may be difficult to keep up with all of them, there are some keys to avoiding falling victim to them.

  • Do not provide sensitive or identifying information over the phone, email, or social media.
  • Never send money to someone you don’t know or haven’t met. Organizations won’t ask you to provide banking information over the phone in cases like these.
  • Any time you send money for purchased good or services, use secure, traceable payment options.
  • Avoid clicking unknown links or visiting unfamiliar websites, especially in emails you weren’t expecting or from senders you don’t know. Also be aware that email and caller ID spoofing is easy and intended to fool you into thinking the call or email is legitimate.
  • Make sure any online transactions are done on a secure site (the URL should begin with “HTTPS”).

Follow the old theory: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Follow these simple steps to reduce the risk of falling victim to these or any other scams. The bottom line is this: if you aren’t sure, independently verify with the organization that’s contacting you. You can always check the FTC’s list of latest scams to help protect yourself. If you suspect you are dealing with a scam, report it to the proper authorities immediately.

The Savings Spotlight Series, Part 3: Mid-Career Planning

By Chaz Gaines

In the Savings Spotlight Series, we’ve made the case that there are numerous stepping stones throughout our lives that lead us down the path to financial well being. At every point, you’ll need to take a different approach. A teenager, for instance, might be saving for their first car. An individual nearing retirement is going to have a drastically different goal, and method, for reaching their savings objective.

Already in this series, we’ve provided useful savings tips for both first-time banking customers and recent college graduates. In Part 3 we’re going to fast forward a decade or two along our path to retirement, focusing in on the savings needs of individuals in the middle of their careers.

Maximize employer benefits: Most of the businesses that offer retirement benefits will no longer contribute after you’ve left the company. Now, nearing the height of your earning power, you should be doing all you can with the remainder of your working years to take advantage—especially if your employer will match your contributions.

Balance retirement and college funds: Many individuals at this stage in their lives must reconcile the need to have a forward-thinking retirement-oriented saving strategy while simultaneously helping their children get started on their own path. It can be challenging, but your focus when crafting a budget and savings strategy should balance both.

Bolster your emergency account: Many individuals at this stage in their working life have been at their jobs for twenty years or more—making them feel quite secure. But sometimes, business decisions are out of our control, and many families get blindsided by that false sense of security. Even if you expect success, a failure to keep an emergency cash account funded could put your family at risk. Many experts believe you should have at least six to nine months salary readily available in case of emergency.

Expect the unexpected: Just like it’s important to plan for emergencies throughout your life, it’s important to plan for the end of your life too. If you were to pass away today, your grieving family would still have to keep paying the mortgage, fund college accounts and plan for retirement—all without your income. While this is a sensitive matter in which thinking about money should be secondary, it’s nonetheless a reality that your family will have to cope with. Securing life insurance will provide the coverage your family will need in the event that the worst comes to pass. Some policies, like whole life insurance, even have features to assist with your savings goals.

Shift investments to meet changing goals: Every investment vehicle offers a unique benefit. So if your financial goals are shifting, shouldn’t your savings strategy? When we’re young, we have more ability to rebound from a risky investment. We also have more time to let a certain, conservative investment grow. Now, in the middle of your working life, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on whether the vehicle that got you this far is going to be the vehicle that gets you all the way to the finish line, or if it’s time to trade in.

To learn more about crafting the best saving strategy for you and the needs of your family, check out our Online Learning Center or stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Stratford or Milford today.

FDIC Reports 10 Scams Targeting Banking Customers- Part 1

By Dave Wall

The holiday season is upon us once more in Milford and Stratford, and we’d be willing to bet that you’re one of the millions of Americans that has already helped to make the 2017 holiday shopping season a record-setter. But in the flurry of transactions and the general chaos that is the holiday season, it can be difficult to stick to financial security best practices.

However, according to the FDIC, it’s now more important than ever.

In a recent report, the FDIC issued a list of 10 scams being perpetrated today by con-artists looking to empty bank accounts, steal financial data and ruin much more than your holiday.

In this series, we’ll take a deeper look at the list so that you can stay on alert through the holidays and throughout the rest of the year, too.

  1. Government Imposter Frauds: If you get a call, an email or letter from a government agency requesting that you make an immediate payment or provide personally identifiable information (PII) on the spot, you’re the target of a government imposter. Government agencies will never ask for PII or a payment in the moment.
  2. Debt Collection Scams: Criminals will often pose as debt collectors or law enforcement officers in an attempt to shake down unsuspecting individuals who may already be having a tough time dealing with debt. If the individual cannot produce records, or threatens violence or arrest, you will know that it is not a legitimate claim.
  3. Fraudulent Job Offers: Background checks are part of many legitimate job offers. But some con artists are now using online classified ads to draw in job seekers with cryptic promises of employment. They’ll request personal information to conduct what they claim is a background check, when in reality they’re using the information to steal your identity. You’ll have to do your due diligence when looking for employers, so be sure to gather all the facts about a company before you comply with a background check.
  4. Phishing Emails: Phishing emails use spoofing software to mimic the email address of your contacts. They will then disseminate an email—typically with malware embedded within a link in the body of the text—in the hopes that someone will click the attachment. This will then give the hacker remote access to your device, helping them to find your financial records and PII.
  5. Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue: There are plenty of homeowners out there having a hard time making ends meet. But if you’re approached by a loan broker or consultant with an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. They’ll promise you anything in exchange for a down payment or personal information, but in many cases victims end up getting foreclosed on anyway. In other cases, victims are even tricked into signing away ownership of their property to the scammer.

To learn more about how to follow financial security best practices, stop by a Milford Bank office location in Milford or Stratford, or check out our Online Learning Center here. And be sure to keep watch for Part 2 of this series, when we’ll be delving into the FDIC’s remaining 5 scams targeting banking customers today.

Three Reasons Milford Bank is Grateful for You This Thanksgiving

By Susan L. Shields, President & CEO

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? At The Milford Bank, we’re thankful for you—our customers. All year long, we get the privilege of seeing you stop in our office locations, take part in community events with your families, and watch as you build your businesses up from the ground floor with pride. So, in the spirit of the holiday, we wanted to take a brief moment to tell you why we’re so grateful to share the Milford and Stratford communities with you.

You’re community minded: You’ve always got the option to do your banking with one of the big corporations, but you, like us, understand the importance of doing your business locally. By supporting us, we’ve been able to continue supporting your businesses and families for nearly two centuries. For that, we are grateful.

Not only that, but you believe in supporting local charities and events, too. Whether you’re stopping by one for a guest lecture on a lunch break or participating in our annual 5K, our customers love to stay active.

Always striving to learn more: Not only are our customers always staying active in the community, but they’re also voracious to learn more. That’s why we provide a wealth of resources online, and always relish the questions we’re asked when you stop in a branch location. By continually seeking out financial education, you’re taking the necessary steps to provide for your family for years to come. And for that, we are thankful.

Innovation oriented: Though our customers love supporting a community bank, we’re thankful that our customers still love all the innovation and new technology available in the financial sector today. Your innovative spirit has emboldened us to continually seek out new ways to provide a superior customer service, whether through our mobile banking app, our website, or in our branches.

Everyone has something to be thankful for this holiday season, and for The Milford Bank team, we know that it’s our customers. So thanks to all of you in the Milford and Stratford areas, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

The Milford Bank and Food 2 Kids Team Up To End Child Hunger

By Celeste Lohrenz

When sitting around the table looking over piles of turkey, potatoes, stuffing and pies this Thanksgiving, it can be easy to forget that there are some in this world who aren’t so fortunate. In fact, child hunger is still a considerable issue in communities like Milford and Stratford today, as well as in most other communities all around the world.

But did you know that for only $7.00, you can help feed a child suffering from hunger in your community for a weekend? For just $280, you can provide weekend meals for a child for an entire school year. Weekends are particularly difficult for these children, as they don’t have access to their school’s cafeteria.

With this in mind, The Milford Bank has teamed up with Milford Food 2 Kids, a local organization dedicated to ending child hunger. Through the end of November, we will be raising donations at all of our office locations in Milford, with all contributions going to shore up the food gap for our community’s food insecure kids.

Donations collected will fund bags of kid-friendly food—enough to last six meals—and will be handed out to children identified by partnering schools’ teachers and counselors as being the most in need.

At The Milford Bank, we’re dedicated to improving the lives of all members of our community, and strive to partner with others that cherish the spirit of giving. To learn more about ways that you can get involved with us in your community, click here.

 

Money Talks—How You Should, and Shouldn’t, Discuss Your Finances

By Pat White

There are few things in life more uncomfortable than talking about finances. In fact, people are even seven times more likely to discuss their love life with a total stranger than they are their salary. Despite the difficulties we have with communicating about our money, it is nonetheless important to do so.

If you have children, it is imperative that they learn early how to respect and recognize the value of a dollar. Whether they just opened their first checking account or are saving up to buy a car, it’s up to you to guide them. The lessons you impart onto your children now will forge an indelible mark on their financial decision making processes for years to come.

Couples might find this topic a little more difficult. Each partner comes in with habits and strategies of their own already in place. In these cases, it isn’t necessarily a matter of educating the other partner, as with children. Instead, it’s a matter of having open and honest communications about where you stand now, where you want to end up, and how you’ll get there as a couple. This is as true for a middle-aged couple planning for retirement as it is for a couple that has just started dating.

Of course, when having these conversations, you should be mindful of the fact that it can be a touchy subject. In order to make sure the conversation is a productive one, consider the following tips on how you should, and shouldn’t talk about money.

Point the finger at yourself: In a partnership, both parties need to agree to a strategy—and stick to it. But what do you do when your partner strays from the plan? You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to call their attention to it. But we’ve all made mistakes, and they might remind you of that fact. Such conversations can quickly escalate into finger-pointing, justification and hurt feelings. Instead, turn the attention onto yourself. Mention to them how you intend to curb your own overspending, or give an example of how you overcame a similar obstacle in the past. They’ll likely get the point without the feeling of being under attack.

Make it about the math: Numbers don’t lie. They’re objective, rational and provable. So why do difficult conversations about money quickly get overtaken by emotion? It’s when we stray from the numbers that our passion can get the better of us. When talking about money be sure to set aside any other grievances you may harbor and simply stick to the facts at hand.

Finding the middle ground: Currency only works because we all accept the value of money as a society. But that doesn’t exactly mean that everyone values money in the same way either. Some are happy to watch their savings account grow, while others would rather spend their paycheck right away. As such, you can’t assume to have all the answers when talking finances with others.  Appreciate their perspective as you’d hope they would do for you, and always be ready to find a compromise that meets the needs of you and your partner, family or business.

Talk in percentages: Calling attention to your finances can make those in different economic circumstances uncomfortable. In some social circles, it’s even considered a faux pas. In order to have an honest conversation without calling attention to your actual worth, speak in percentages. Rather than saying you’ll invest $20,000 into a Mutual Fund, say that you’re investing 20 percent of your assets instead. It keeps the conversation vague enough to be respectful, while open enough to be engaging and honest.

Of course, at The Milford Bank it’s our job to talk finances. We’ve heard it all before and are always ready to listen. If you’re ready to talk finances, stop by an office location in Milford or Stratford today. You can also find more valuable resources at our Online Learning Center.

 

Equifax Data Breach Hits 143 Million Americans

By Susan Shields

These days, there aren’t many big financial decisions that you can make without a credit report. You’ll need one to buy a home, lease a car, and maybe even land a job. But if you had your credit report put together by Equifax, you may be one of 143 million Americans with personally identifiable information now up for sale on the black market following a data breach at the agency.

According to Equifax, the breach began in mid-May and lasted through July. Among the information obtained by hackers includes peoples’ names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and even driver’s license numbers. Additionally, over 200,000 individuals had their credit card numbers stolen.

If you’ve been affected and fail to act, an individual who obtains your records can devastate your life. You may be on the hook for faulty loans, parking tickets, and any other poor choice made by a criminal in your name.

Recently, the FTC put together a set of recommendations to see if you’ve been impacted and, if so, what you can do about it. Read on to check out the steps you need to take to ensure the security of your credit. But be sure not to begin until you’re on a secure Internet connection.

  • First, see if you were affected. You can find out by clicking here.
  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion for irregularities.
  • Put a credit freeze on your files—you’ll have to unfreeze them to do another credit report, but it will also be harder for someone else to make a new account in your name.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts for charges you don’t recognize.
  • If you decide against freezing your credit, place a fraud alert on your files to warn creditors to verify the identity of anyone who attempts to use your information to secure a line of credit.
  • File your taxes as soon as you get the necessary information so that scammers don’t beat you to the punch and steal your refund.

There’s no arguing that the financial technology at our disposal today can make banking more convenient and cost effective. But we must always remember that emerging technology must be respected and handled with the utmost care. As long as you maintain a strong cybersecurity strategy, you’ll be able to stay ahead of the would-be scammers that seek to take advantage of the unsuspecting today.

To learn more about how you protect your finances, check out our Online Learning Center. You can also stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Milford or Stratford for more support.

New Poll Reflects Americans’ Preferred Long-Term Investment Strategies

By Patty Gallagher

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to long-term investment planning. Every individual, and every family, has different needs and wants, expenses and assets. As such, it can be difficult to get the right context to help you make an informed decision that will suit your needs. And while you cannot make your financial decisions based on what works well for others, it certainly helps to understand how the rest of the community is choosing to plan for the long haul.

If you’re a Milford or Stratford resident thinking about where your assets would best serve your long-term savings strategy, consider the results from a recent Gallup poll which ranked Americans’ favored long-term investment vehicles.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers:

Real Estate: According to the Gallup poll, Americans seem to have regained their confidence in the real estate market following the Great Recession of 2008. In the past six years, the percentage of poll respondents choosing real estate as their preferred long-term investment has climbed from 19 to 34 percent—making it the most popular of all poll choices.

Stocks and Mutual Funds: Similarly, consumer confidence in the stock market appears to have recovered from the Great Recession as well. Today, 26 percent of survey respondents cited that their go-to method for long-term savings was the stock market, up from just 17 percent in 2011.

Gold: Oftentimes, people will invest in precious metals like gold or silver when the stock market is turbulent and unpredictable. Such was the case following the Great Recession—in 2011, gold was by far the most popular long-term investment vehicle for survey respondents, with 34 percent making it their go-to option. But as the economy has rebounded, that number is now down to just 18 percent.

Savings Accounts and CDs: While the return on your investment won’t always be as high as with other vehicles, savings accounts and CDs present a conservative and guaranteed rate of return. Interest rates, however, have remained flat in the subsequent years following the Great Recession, which has resulted in little change in the popularity of these types of investments. In 2011, 14 percent of Gallup poll respondents cited savings accounts and CDs as their preferred long-term savings option. Today, that number still sits at 13 percent, largely unchanged.

Bonds: While all the other survey options mentioned in the Gallup poll all gained in favorability (besides gold), the one investment vehicle which lost ground was bonds. Bonds were more popular at the height of the Great Recession during less certain times, but now that the economy has leveled off, bonds have become less of a priority for a majority of Americans.

If you’re still uncertain about where your long-term savings should go, you’re not alone. Clearly, Americans’ saving preferences are varied and subject to change as their lives do. But there’s no reason to go it alone: The Milford Bank has been helping families save for their futures for generations. If you’re a Milford or Stratford resident looking to grow your retirement account, stop by an office location in your area today. You can also learn more by checking out our Online Learning Center.

Is Generation Z About to Transform the Real Estate Market?

By Paul Mulligan

After spending years living in the shadow of the baby boomer generation, Millennials have now taken center stage. As a demographic, Millennials represent the largest percentage of the labor force, and recently reached a record high in spending power.

But Generation Z is hot on the heels of Millennials, and based on findings from a recent National Association of Realtors report, this unique group is poised to transform the real estate market. But what is so different about Generation Z? How will their characteristics shape real estate? And what will this mean for members of this maturing generation from Milford and Stratford that will be looking to become first time homebuyers in the next five to 10 years?

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key findings from this report:

Co-habitation is on the rise: David Reiss is a professor of law and research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. In the National Association of Realtors report, he wrote, “Since the financial crisis there has been an increase in multigenerational households, driven in large part by financial limitations and insecurity as well as by marital status and educational attainment. Young adults are more likely to live at their parent’s home in recent years than they have been for more than a century.”

What does this mean for the real estate market? You can expect to see greater interest in multi-unit dwellings as Generation Z reaches maturity. Similarly, it will not be uncommon for aging Baby Boomers to purchase larger homes with their children in mind, rather than downsize as has traditionally been the case.

Digital services inform architectural design: Generation Z, much like their Millennial predecessors, are all about technology. They can manage most of their lives directly from their phones, and this factor may disrupt the new construction market. For instance, food delivery services that can bring fresh groceries and ready-to-cook meals right to your door greatly minimize the need for a refrigerator. As these types of services become commonplace, it is likely that builders will have to make unique design decisions reflective of changing needs, wants and expectations.

Generation Z will flock to passive homes: 72 percent of respondents aged 15 to 20 stated that they’d be willing to pay more for products or services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. As it pertains to real estate, younger buyers are looking for environmentally-friendly properties. Passive homes, oriented around solar power, filtered fresh air and high-efficiency insulation, are expected to be in high demand.

Walkable neighborhoods: Pushed out of cities by high prices and disinterested in the calm of the suburbs, Generation Z is expected to flock to neighborhoods just outside of major urban centers. These emerging population centers are going to be developed into “walkable neighborhoods”, which have all the necessary conveniences within several blocks.

If you’re a Milford or Stratford resident getting ready to buy your first home, call, click, or stop by any office of The Milford Bank today. Our experienced personnel will guide you through the process, from pre-approval to closing, ensuring that you find the right home for your family. You can also get more great educational resources on our Online Learning Center here.