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.

9 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Not surprisingly, online shopping has increased significantly over the past four months, with restaurants and retail stores being closed and even those that were open using curbside pickup or delivery.  That trend continues, and even when the pandemic subsides, almost half of consumers say they will continue to use online shopping for home delivery or curbside pickup.

Many have found that online shopping is simply a more convenient option.  In many cases, it offered an opportunity to get items that were otherwise unavailable because stores were closed or items were out of stock due to high demand.  That’s all true, as long as the items arrive as scheduled.

But, many people have also reported not receiving their purchases.  In fact, the FTC says it has received more reports of problems with online shopping, with more than half saying they never received their items.

In some cases, there have been delays, or items have simply gotten lost in transit.  Companies like Amazon typically do a good job letting customers know when their items are delayed.  In many cases, if the item is lost somewhere in transit, Amazon will offer customers the opportunity to request a refund, even though the item may eventually still arrive.  It’s good customer service.

Over the past several months, thousands of unverified, fraudulent sites have popped up claiming to have many high-demand products available.  Once they receive payment, they simply don’t ship the items and, when customers call to inquire, they claim delays due to the pandemic to avoid being detected as fake for as long as possible.  It was a concern even before the pandemic, which only created another opportunity for fake sites.  Some of these sites even mimic legitimate retailers, making it even harder to tell what’s real and what’s not.

The good news is there are ways to limit your exposure to these scams.  Here are a few tips for smart online shopping to help you steer clear of any issues and make sure you get the products you order.

  • Try recognized brands first. They may not always have what you’re looking for, but it’s a good place to start.
  • Be wary of sites selling products that are in short supply, or name brand products at much lower prices than you would normally pay.
  • Make sure the website is and HTTPS site (not just HTTP), indicating a higher level of security. This is important any time you make online purchases.  Also click on the padlock next to the web address, which will give you even more information about the site’s security.
  • Also check the URL itself. Some fake sites use addresses very similar to legitimate sites to fool people.  If you typed in the address manually, double check it to make sure you didn’t make a mistake.
  • Keep your browser updated. Most browsers will warn you if you’re about to go to an unsafe site.
  • Also keep you security software updated. This is another tool to help avoid malware from suspicious sites.
  • Examine the reviews. Many sites pay for fake 5-star reviews that all sound about the same.  Look for a variety or reviews and ratings.  You can also use sites like Fakespot, which analyzes and rates the validity of reviews on sites.
  • Other resources are available to help check website reputation, like URLVoid or Google Transparency Report. You can also check the Better Business Bureau for its ratings.
  • Pay with a credit card. This may be the best way to protect your money when buying online, regardless of the site.  If something happens and you don’t receive your purchases, or if they aren’t as advertised, you can contact your credit card issuer to dispute the charges if.

Online shopping is often very convenient, and it can be a way to get items that aren’t readily available locally.  But, there’s no question scam sites are a growing issue.  But, scammers are successful because they rely on unsuspecting victims.  Arming yourself with the information and tools to avoid scams or low-quality product knock-offs will help keep you from being disappointed or losing money.

Tired of Annoying Sales Calls? Here’s How to Stop Them

By Celeste Lohrenz

If you were stuck at home for the past several months, like many of us, you may have noticed a lot of calls between 8am and 9pm.  Those are the hours when legitimate telemarketers are allowed to place their marketing and sales calls.  Normally, you would have just deleted them from your answering machine, but if you’ve been at home, you probably became much more aware of them.

The calls might come from any number of businesses looking to sell you their products and services.  They might be companies you have done business with in the past, or others that have acquired phone lists from another organization.  Regardless, they can become annoying quickly, and you’re not alone in feeling that way.  Unwanted calls are the top consumer complaint the FCC receives.

The good news is you can significantly reduce those solicitations by signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry.  Basically, the Registry is a listing of phone numbers that legitimate marketers may not call, so adding your phone numbers should help get rid of at least some of those calls.  With mobile numbers also starting to get into the marketing cycle a lot more, you can also add your cell phone to the list.

You probably can’t eliminate them all, though.  Companies you’ve done business with in the past 18 months, or have requested information from, are still allowed to call you.  But, you can always ask to be put on their internal Do Not Call list, which should do the trick.  There are, however, other exceptions, too.

  • Emergency notifications (like the COVID-19 updates you have gotten)
  • Political calls (which are likely to increase in the months leading up to the presidential election)
  • Charities
  • Debt collections
  • Surveys
  • Purely informational calls

The difference is that these organizations are not selling products or services, and are exempt from the Registry because they rely on phone calls to make sure information gets to people or to collect data or research.  As with other businesses, though, you can always request most of these organizations put you on their own Do Not Call lists.

You can sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry online or by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the number you want to register.  Your phone number will usually be added to the Registry the next day, but it might take up to a month for sales and marketing calls to stop, because companies are only required to check the Registry and update their records every 31 days.  But, once you are on the Registry, your number won’t be removed unless you request it.

The bottom line is that, while you can’t eliminate all inbound calls from unknown sources,  you can significantly reduce them.

Saving Money Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

By Cortney Meng

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a financial mess for many people.  Some were laid off, others were furloughed or had shifts reduced, and college students had a hard time finding sources of summer income.  Nearly 70% of American household incomes have been impacted.

The disruption has caused millions of people to dip into their savings accounts, emergency funds, and even retirement savings to manage during the pandemic.  Others have built up credit card debt or have taken out personal loans.  The situation has caused people to rethink their finances, with three-quarters of Americans saying they plan to either save more money in general or put more towards their emergency funds.

That’s not always easy, but personal savings apps like Plinqit – by HTMA Mobile Apps – can help.  With Plinqit, you simply set up your account, define your savings goals and a schedule for making deposits to the account.  Because the Plinqit account is linked to your checking account, there’s not additional effort needed, and Plinqit accounts are FDIC insured, so there is no risk.

The idea is that Plinqit will help eliminate the challenges with saving, including simply remembering to add to your emergency or other savings accounts.  Depending on your goals and means, you can select to add to your Plinqit savings on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, and you can define the amount that is deposited.

You can check on you progress through the app at any time to see how you’re progressing towards your goals.  You can even set up to five separate saving goals at once.

Plinqit is free to use, though  you may want to add a “break the safe” penalty for withdrawing funds before you reach your goals to help discourage dipping into the account.  But, maybe best of all, when you achieve your goals, you will be rewarded with an additional amount.  You may also earn additional savings by referring others to Plinqit, or by using the Plinqit tool-builder that will help you learn even more about saving money.

There’s never a bad time to start saving, but now may be just a little better.  The Milford Bank is currently offering a $25 savings bonus for singing up an achieving a savings goal through Plinqit.  The thing with saving is that every little bit helps, and small amounts add up to significant savings quickly.  And it works – Plinqit users have saved more than $1 million since the service was launched last year.

Whether you’re replenishing your emergency fund or just starting one, trying to pay back a loan, or have a wedding or other expense in the future,start saving now so you won’t have to worry when you need the extra money.

Sign up at milfordbank.plinqit.com by August 15th and get a $25 bonus upon completion of your primary goal!

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.

Buying a Home Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

By Paul Mulligan, Senior Vice President, Consumer Lending

Buying a home can be a stressful experience.  Even if you’ve done it before and are looking to move, upgrade, or downside, it takes some work.  If you’re a first-time buyer, it’s likely to be an even more nerve-wracking experience because you don’t know what to expect.  Whether you’re ready to start shopping for a home now, or if it’s part of your future plans, here are a few things to consider that can help make the process a little smoother for you.  Especially in the current environment, with fewer houses on the market, being prepared can make it easier to act quickly on the house you want.

Down payment – Look at how much you have saved for a down payment.  If you haven’t started, that may be the first place to start.  Putting more down on your home initially will reduce your monthly mortgage payments, but you want to make sure you don’t drain your bank account completely, because there are always things that seem to come up when buying a home, whether it’s repairs, additional furniture, or other things.  Also look into how different down payment amounts might change your interest rates, mortgage insurance, and other variables.

Know your costs – There are any number of additional expenses that can come up during the home buying process.  In addition to your regular monthly expenses, make sure you know what to expect in terms of insurance, inspections, legal fees, and other costs you might incur during the process.  Some are small, but others can be larger expenses that could impact your down payment or savings.  Don’t forget moving expenses.

Assistance programs – The local bank in the area you’re looking to buy a home may have first-time home buyer programs that might provide a number of benefits.  The Milford Bank, for instance, offers an application fee refund, discounted interest rates, prequalification certificates, and low down payment options.  Milford, Stratford, West Haven, and Orange and eligible for the first time homebuyer program.

Check your credit report – One of the first things your lender is going to do is check your credit report.  Make sure your report isn’t showing any inaccurate or fraudulent activity.  If there is something suspicious, you will want to give yourself enough time to address it.  You may also want to avoid opening new lines of credit before applying for a home loan, since that could impact your credit score.  The truth is, you should check your credit report regularly.  Since each of the three major credit agencies is required to give you one free credit report each year, you can easily do it three times a year without incurring any cost.

Compare lenders – There are plenty of lenders out there.  Do your homework, don’t overlook your local bank, and consider more than rates. Local institutions, such as The Milford Bank, often offer more personalized service and are certainly much more easily accessible if you have questions or if problems come up.  They can also provide easy access to additional financial services, including future home equity loans when you’re looking to make larger improvements or renovations.

Plan ahead – As you start thinking about and looking for homes, think about your future plans.  For instance, if you’re also thinking about starting a family, you may want to make sure you have enough space without having to immediately move again.  That could mean giving up a few nice-to-have features in exchange for a little more space, in order to stick to your budget.  On the other hand, if you’re serious about relocating when you start a family, or for any other reasons, you may want to consider a slightly smaller home that will allow you to save a little more

The fact is, if you’re currently renting, you may find you can get into a home of your own for something very close to what you’re paying in rent – or less – especially if you’ve prepared well and planned ahead.  You’ll also have the added benefit of being able to deduct mortgage interest from your federal income tax.  But, don’t go into it without having all the information you need.  Talk to your bank’s mortgage specialists professionals and your tax planner.  They can help answer any questions you have, including how much you can reasonably afford to spend on a home.