Is 2015 The Year Of The Health Care Hack?

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union

If 2014 was the year of major retailers being involved in security breaches, 2015 has thus far been the year for insurance companies. Anthem led the way earlier this year with a hack that compromised the personal information of hundreds of thousands of victims. Now, Premera Blue Cross, one of the largest health insurance providers in the Pacific Northwest, has been the target of a security breach.

Security experts are still attempting to discover the full extent of the breach. Hackers evidently accessed housing data from as far back as 2002. It is believed that at least 11 million people were affected by the breach.

Premera also has dozens of subsidiary organizations, clients, and contractors each with its own set of records. Technology experts from the health care provider are working tirelessly to determine the extent of their information that was compromised. Vivacity, a workplace wellness provider, and Connexion Insurance Solutions, which focuses on small- to medium- sized businesses, were both affected, too.

The vulnerability has been in use for some time. Company officials say the first breach occurred in May of 2014 and was only discovered in January of 2015. The FBI, in coordination with private cyber security firm Mandiant, is working to uncover the size and severity of this attack as well as to find the perpetrators.

Criminals have stolen a wide variety of personal information from the provider. Names, addresses, and Social Security numbers are the obvious targets, and these are frequently used to commit identity theft or cloning. A surprising amount of health information is also used to illegally obtain prescription medication or commit insurance fraud. This form of medical identity theft is growing as a black market solution to higher medical costs. In 2014, 2.3 million people were victims of this kind of fraud and each victim had to pay an average of $13,500 to resolve the problem.

There appears to be a strong connection between the attacks made on Premera and those made on Anthem. In both cases, hackers registered domains with common misspellings of the company’s name and used those sites to collect login information. These usernames and passwords were then used to breach the company at higher and higher levels. These tactics, and several others, point to Chinese hacking group Deep Panda.

As these groups grow bolder, it’s more important than ever to keep up with your own best practices in medical identity theft prevention. The FTC recommends following these three steps to keep yourself safe:

1.) Watch your medical records

Medical identity theft results in bills to you for procedures done to someone else. Unscrupulous doctors bill insurance companies for procedures they never did or for more costly versions of operations than what they performed. They count on instant reimbursement, knowing the insurance company will try to collect the fraudulent charge from the policyholder. Medical identity theft confounds this process. In other instances, criminals use your identity to get medical treatment and bill it to your insurance, leaving you on the hook for the charges.

These charges will show up in a few places. For instance, you may get a call from a collection agency over a medical bill. You may also have a medical bill arrive in the mail for a procedure you didn’t have. Your insurance company may also notify you of a change in your premium or coverage based on a new medical condition. Each of these is a red flag that you’ve been the victim of medical identity theft.

2.) Review your records

The Health Insurance Privacy Protection Act (HIPPA) requires that healthcare companies keep and maintain detailed records about patient services. You have the right to obtain a copy of those records. In most cases, your best bet will be to contact a major provider of medical services, like a national pharmacy.

You may also need to contact your insurance provider for copies of their records. They have the same record-keeping and disclosure requirements that providers do, but they may charge for the service of providing records. If you can narrow down a window of time during which you suspect your account was compromised, you can save yourself both time and money.

Providers may refuse to comply with your request for disclosure because they fear violating the privacy of the identity thief. Fortunately, an appeals process exists for this decision. You need to contact the person named in the privacy policy as the patient representative or ombudsman. If you are still unsuccessful, you can contact the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights.

3.) Get corrections to your records

You can submit requests for corrections to each provider that has charged you for services. Such a request should explain the reason for the error and include documentation that the charge is, in fact, an error. Examples would be proof that you were nowhere near the provider at the time of the charge or a letter from your doctor stating that you have never experienced the condition that was treated.

If your provider refuses to change or reverse the charge, ask them to place a notice of dispute on your account. This notice will show credit agencies that the charge may not reflect your borrowing habits and will help you mitigate the impact of a poor credit score. Such a notice should also stop the collection calls.

This pattern of security leaks means everyone is potentially at risk. You can’t avoid digitizing your health care information. But you can take steps to keep your identity safe. Credit monitoring services can provide you with peace of mind. Knowing you’ve got a team of dedicated professionals watching your back around the clock can help you sleep soundly at night.


Saving At The Vet: How To Keep Your Furry Friends From Breaking The Bank

We all love our pets. Cats, dogs, ferrets and furry babies of all sorts are members of the family. They eat and sleep under the same roof. They give affection when you’ve had a rough day. Your fridge, mantle and social media are full of pictures of your animals clowning around, just like any other family member.
Also like every other member of your family, if your pets get sick, they need medical care. Medical care for a family member – whether they are furry or not – can get expensive. Unlike what you have access to for other members of your family, veterinary insurance is something offered by very few employers.

This unfortunate circumstance can set families up to make tragic decisions. If your faithful furry friend needs medical care to save its life or daily medication to keep dangerous conditions at bay, costs can add up quickly. Yet, putting a price on your pet’s life isn’t easy. If there are multiple animals involved, veterinary bills can become a real source of stress. Letting a pet die because of costs, though, can wreak havoc on your emotional well-being.
There aren’t easy answers to these decisions, and sometimes they’re unavoidable. However, you can take steps to avoid these challenges. Let’s take a look at three steps you can take to keep your furry friends safe and your savings account flush. 
1.) Stock a veterinary first aid kit 
Lots of pet health crises can be handled by a compassionate hand and some basic interventions. Scrapes, burns, and bruises can all be handled without professional intervention. Many accidental ingestion incidents can be solved with an expert consultation and a little bit of caring.
A first-aid kit for pets looks an awful lot like a first-aid kit for humans. You should have supplies for dealing with cuts and scrapes, like gauze, adhesive tape and an antiseptic spray or cream. For general illnesses, you need a thermometer to check for fever (make sure to get a fever thermometer- small mammals have natural body temperatures between 100 and 103), diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergic reactions, and hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting if necessary. You should also include activated charcoal or milk of magnesia to protect against accidental poisoning. Other things to include in an emergency first-aid kit include a blanket, a leash and a muzzle.
It may be frightening to muzzle or restrain your pet, but try to see it from their perspective. Your pet is in pain and relying on instinct. Muzzling will help you feel more calm and secure, since you won’t be worried about being bitten. That calmness will translate to your pet, who will be easier to tend to when they are a little less panicked.
Before you take any steps to heal your pet, speak to an expert. Many veterinarians have emergency contact hours where they may be willing to walk you through basic first aid. The ASPCA also maintains an animal poison control number where you can speak to a trained representative. They can tell you if you need to induce vomiting, what dosage of activated charcoal to administer, or if you need to seek in-person veterinary help immediately. 
2.) Negotiate 
Most veterinarians got into their practice because they genuinely love animals. They want to help your pet feel better. If you’re not sure about your ability to pay, be up front about that. There may be several options available to you.
If it’s prescription medication, you may be able to have it filled elsewhere at a considerable savings. Online pharmacies are usually able to offer discounted prices on many medications and animal medications are no exception. These institutions may require a phone call or a fax from your vet, but most veterinary offices are well-equipped to provide that authorization. When your vet recommends a medication, ask for a written prescription so you can shop around to find the best price.
You may also be able to negotiate the cost of a procedure. Veterinarians may know of local charities that help fund care for animals in need. They may also be willing to reduce the cost themselves, or work out a payment plan with you. No one – especially your vet – wants to see an animal life lost over finances. 
3.) Consider pet insurance 
“Pet insurance” sounds like a ridiculous luxury good for the mega-rich. In truth, it’s no different than any other kind of insurance that protects against expensive calamity. Compared to a veterinary emergency, these plans are very affordable. If you have an older pet, it’s worth considering. 
Programs like PetAssure offer a 25% discount on any veterinary services you need at “in-network” veterinarians. There’s no deductible and no limits or exclusions. At $100 per year for 1 dog, the program offers considerable savings.
Every part of veterinary care is expensive. Blood tests on a dog, for example, can easily cost $200. If you need two blood tests in a year, PetAssure pays for itself. In fact, on average, dog owners spend between $500 and $1,000 each year on veterinary services. Getting a 25% discount on that price for $100 is an incredible savings.
Other programs offer more coverage for more money. Healthy Paws, for example, offers 90% coverage for about $230 per year. How much you choose to insure is a matter of personal risk tolerance, but getting some form of insurance is a great way to get peace of mind. 

Rebuilding An Emergency Fund

A significant financial crisis can wipe out your emergency savings.  If this has happened to you, rebuilding your savings must be a priority. 

All the best financial experts agree you need to keep an emergency fund. Keeping 3-5 months of living expenses in a savings account, certificate account, or investment account can be the difference between a temporary hardship and a life-long debt trap. Using that money instead of credit cards or short-term loans is a lot less expensive in the long run.

There are many reasons why you might need to use that money. It could be from an unexpected expense, like a medical bill or a car repair. It could also be job loss that forces you to tap out your savings. Whatever the cause, it’s a whole lot cheaper to pay for it out of savings than to have to borrow, and it’s much less embarrassing than having to beg friends or family to cover your bills.
In the midst of a stressful crisis, it can be hard to focus on the positive. It’s important to take a moment to congratulate yourself for having the foresight to manage your problem. Things could be much worse than they are now. In addition to all the stress you’re currently feeling, you could have a big ball of debt to add to it. It’s not because of luck, it’s because of good planning.
Despite that relief, you’re not out of the woods yet. Without savings, you’re in a position of significant insecurity. Another crisis right now, even a very minor one, can cause financial problems that will create a ripple effect on into the future. You could find yourself in a much worse position in three months’ time than you are now.
Getting back to a position of financial security should be your highest priority. That means rebuilding your emergency fund as quickly as possible. These three steps will have you back on track before you know it.

1.) Make an emergency budget – and stick to it! 
Without an emergency fund, you’re one blown tire, one missed shift or one broken arm away from a financial catastrophe. That’s why an emergency fund is so important. Cut spending wherever you can. If you can do without cable for a few months, call and suspend service. Temporarily cutting back on media, clothes, and other discretionary spending is also a great idea.
Also, consolidate your savings. If you’ve been saving for a vacation, a new car or some other big ticket item, stop putting money into those “buckets” until you rebuild a few months’ living expenses. Once you return to having a decent cushion, you can get back to saving for your other priorities.  Visit a Destinations Credit Union Member Service Representative to see if there are higher rate options for your saving or if refinancing a loan from elsewhere could cut your payment amounts.
If these cuts aren’t enough, finding money in more extreme places might be helpful. If you can, spend a few months taking public transportation. If it works out well, you might find yourself thinking about selling your vehicle for another quick infusion of cash.
Remember, a budget is only as good as your commitment to it. If you make extreme cuts that you can’t keep, you’ll end up spending even more because you feel entitled to it. Make sure your budget is realistic and humane! 
2.) Build income wherever you can 
There’s no secret about building your savings. You can only save the difference between your income and your expenses. In your budget, you worked on the minimizing expenses part of that equation. Now, it’s time to turn your attention to the income side.
Raising your income at work could be as easy as asking for a raise. It could also mean taking additional hours or picking up extra shifts from co-workers. You don’t have to do so for the rest of your career, just for a few months until things get better.
You may also need to boost your income outside work. Selling old clothes and books can be a source of quick cash. Picking up freelance or contract work can also be a way to earn extra money. It’ll create a stressful few months, but it’ll be worth it to get back to security. You might also make connections that could help your career over the long term. 
3.) Build a backup plan 
The worst thing that could happen right now would be another crisis with no way to pay for it. You may not have the money to deal with it, but you’ve still got your financial smarts. It’s time to make a plan. 
Think about what you’d do now if you lost your job, even without your emergency fund. Make a list of phone calls you can make to find temporary work. Who in your network do you know who could use your skills on a temporary or contract basis? Do you know anyone who, if you absolutely had to, you could call for a quick loan? 
There are a few other questions to ask. What stuff sitting around your house would you sell if you had to? What does your food budget look like with $50 taken out of it? It’s easier to make these decisions when you’ve got the time and space to reflect on it. Making these choices with a past due notice in hand is much harder to do. 
Hopefully, you’ll never have to use these ideas, but you’ll feel better for having thought about them beforehand. It’s also something pro-active you can do instead of worrying. Taking action, any action, to remedy your situation can help fight the stress involved in insecurity and get you in a better head space. That alone is worth the effort. 


Don’t Panic: A Last-Minute Guide To Tax Preparation

It’s the second week in April. Spring is in the air. The flowers are blooming. We’re just past opening day for the Orioles (Go O’s!). As you begin to enjoy the pleasantness of this time of year, do you have that lingering feeling that you’ve forgotten something?

April 15 is Tax Day. That’s the day all returns must be postmarked or e-filed to the IRS. If you haven’t started yet, you may be feeling a bit of panic as the deadline races up to meet you.

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t panic!” There’s still plenty you can do, and so long as it’s in the mail or in the Internet tubes by midnight on April 15, you’ll be fine. Take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee, and make a plan. Also consider these three handy tips: 

1.) You can file for an extension

If you do nothing else to prepare for tax day and there’s no hope for getting your return done on time, do this. The IRS will, in most cases, approve an automatic 6-month extension for individuals. Form 4868 asks you to estimate your tax obligation, your total payments and the balance due. If you’re due a refund, there’s no problem. You’ll get your refund as soon as you file your return and you’ll have until Oct. 15 to do so. If you owe additional taxes, Form 4868 also includes a way to send estimated payments.

If you’re filing on behalf of a corporation or partnership, you can still qualify for an automatic extension of five or six months, depending upon the entity type. The form to fill out there is 7004. It’s a bit longer, but requires the same basic information and also includes the option to pay your estimated tax immediately.

There’s a penalty involved in late payment. You’ll be charged 5% each month or part of a month your return is late, to a maximum of 25%. These charges will be at least $135 or the balance of your taxes due, whichever is smaller. The IRS may excuse these penalties if there’s a good reason you didn’t file on time. Attach a statement to your return explaining why you didn’t pay on time (not your request for extension) and the IRS may forgive the penalty amount. These exemptions are typically granted for people who were out of the country or deployed to a combat zone for a significant part of 2015.

You’ll be responsible for interest on the amount due, plus penalties. The IRS charges 0.5% per month or part of a month your account is past due. They’ll charge that on the whole unpaid amount. So, if you were to pay your tax bill in full on April 16, you’ll be charged a full month’s interest.

As expensive as filing for an extension can be, it’s better than the alternative. If you don’t file, the IRS will eventually file for you. They don’t have any incentive to get you any deductions or credits. If you end up owing more than $25,000 in interest and penalties, the IRS will be knocking on your door!

2.) Filing isn’t actually that hard

For most people, filing your taxes takes less than half an hour. If you worked only one job, have one bank account, and don’t have a lot of deductions, you won’t have to fill out more than a few forms. The 1040-EZ is pretty accurately named. It is, in fact, easy.

You really only need your W-2 and you can file from your computer desk. Make a game of it. Set a clock- see if you can beat a 20-minute time goal!

3.) Don’t forget the little deductions!

If you’re really scraping to cut your tax bill, there are a few easy deductions you might miss. For example, if you subscribe to a financial newsletter, that’s a deductible expense. If you consulted with an attorney or another paid professional to prepare a will or trust for your assets, that’s also deductible.

Your medical expenses can be somewhat flexible, too. For instance, if you installed a hot tub on the advice of a physical therapist, that can be deductible. Laser eye surgery can also be a deductible expense if it promotes the proper functioning of the body.

There’s a thin line to walk with aggression. It’s very unlikely you’ll get any grief from the IRS provided you can prove most of what you’re claiming. At the same time, saving a few bucks on your taxes isn’t worth a massive headache.

If you’re getting a refund, make sure to directly deposit it to your Destinations Credit Union account!


The Three Best Jobs For College Students

College is a place for learning, but one of the best ways to learn is by doing. If you’ve been keeping up with friends who have graduated, you know the job market can be a cruel and unforgiving place. To prospective employers, your GPA, your extracurricular activities and your major matter a whole lot less than the all-powerful “experience.” You need a job!

In addition to the resume boost, a little disposable income can really take the pressure off your budget. Being able to finance a spontaneous road trip, a midnight taco run or a ticket to your favorite band’s show without having to dig yourself further into debt is a great feeling. How can you squeeze in work experience between classes, projects and a social life? It’s all about choosing the right job. Here are three jobs ideas. 

1.) Retail sales 

Getting a job working in sales is a great way to start a career in marketing, advertising, or business. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, because you’ll learn the fundamentals of convincing people to buy. Look for stores you shop at regularly. If you’re a clothes horse, Kohls or GAP might be your best bet. If you’re more outdoorsy, REI or Sports Authority could be a better fit. These places do most of their business after hours and on weekends, so you can work around your class schedule. 

2.) Freelance writing 

If you’re thinking about a career in journalism, getting some bylines under your belt is a necessity. One of the best ways to do that is to sell your own work. Sites like Blogmutt will pay a few dollars for a few hundred words, while sites like Elance offer longer-term projects. Either way, the work is the focus, not the hours. You can tackle projects in your spare time, earn a little money, and build your portfolio in the process. 

3.) Fitness instructor 

You know you need to get to the gym anyway. Why not make a gig out of it? Teaching yoga or leading a calisthenics class can be a great way to get your sweat on while building your resume. If you plan to go into education or physical training, this experience will set you apart from your peers. Even better, you’ll learn how to market yourself – which is a valuable skill in any endeavor.

Financial Literacy Month – Celebrate Knowledge!

“April showers bring May flowers” goes the old saying. It’s also a great lesson about the importance of saving – where weathering some light showers can pay dividends during the nicer days that are to come.

April is Financial Literacy Month, and a great time to think about some important lessons everyone can learn about finances. Whether you’re a parent looking to make talking money with your kids easier or a professional looking for a few tips, there’s always something to learn. Here are some fun activities you can do to expand your financial knowledge.

1.) Make a financial date night

Most people dread doing anything with their money. Unless there’s a serious issue, they don’t think about their bills or their paychecks. When something serious comes up, they do little more than panic and figure out how much money to throw at it so it’ll go away. Money is scary, and not dealing with it is the easiest thing to do.

If you want to improve your knowledge of finances this month, schedule a financial date night. It doesn’t matter if you’re partnered or on your own, it works the same way. Pick a day when there’s nothing good on TV, no major social events and no serious distractions. Put some light music on. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Sit down with your bills, your paycheck and anyone else who matters to your finances, and figure out where you stand.

This can be a time to make dealing with your finances fun. You can do a little daydreaming and figure out what your future looks like. Jot down some goals and think about how you can achieve them through your monthly budget. Make a financial date night part of your monthly routine!

2.) Build a list of needs and wants

One of the best ways to build an efficient budget is to start from a list of priorities. What do you spend your money on each month? Make a list of all your expenses. Then, break them into one of three categories.

The first category is the essential, non-negotiable bills. These are your big-ticket essentials that have serious consequences for missed payments. Your auto loan, your rent or mortgage, your utilities and your taxes go here. This is the bare minimum you need to bring in each month.

The second category is the essential, negotiable obligations. These are unsecured loans such as credit cards and student debt. You need to pay them, but if you have to miss a payment, these are the ones to miss. Paying these off is a priority after you make your essential payments, and you may have some room to negotiate and reduce these payments if things get dicey.

The third category is the inessential spending. This is everything else you spend money on each month. This is the best place to make cuts when you want to shift your priorities.

Making a list of priorities is the first step to making solid plans and reshaping your own financial destiny. When you know where your money is going, you can start to move from financially existing to intentionally spending. That’s the beginning of improved financial literacy.

3.) Take charge of your retirement planning

Financial security means planning for the day when you can’t work anymore. Financial literacy is all about taking an active role in thinking about that future. There are a few concrete steps you can take in April to put yourself ahead of the game.

If you’re not already doing so, contribute to your employer’s 401(k) program. Most employers will match contributions up to a certain level. If you’re not contributing enough to get the full amount of that match, you’re leaving money on the table. Set up automatic contributions out of every paycheck to automate that savings.

April 15 is the last day to contribute to an IRA for 2014. Even if you’ve already filed your taxes, you can file an amended return to get credit for your contribution. More importantly, you can add to your retirement nest-egg and take advantage of the tax benefits of those accounts. Visit Destinations Credit Union to open your IRA today.

There’s also no shame in asking for help. Retirement laws are complicated, and it takes an expert to really understand their intricacies. Speaking with a qualified financial planner can take some of the guesswork out of it. This conversation can also help you clarify what retirement looks like: what your goals are, how much you need to save to achieve them and what programs are available to help you get there.

If you’re counting on Social Security to provide for your entire retirement, you’re in for a rude awakening. Benefits are shrinking and the fiscal solvency of the program is always in danger. Taking an active role in your retirement planning is the best way to get some peace of mind about your future. It’s never too late. Retirement planning you do at 50 is better than retirement planning that never gets done!


New Discoveries In TurboTax Fraud: Keep Informed And Stay Safe!

With the April 15th deadline now visible on the calendar, many Americans are finally sitting down to do their taxes. The good news? A standard return isn’t that hard and there’s still plenty of time to get it done. The bad news? One of the most popular online tax filing services is still compromised.

New reports in the Washington Post describe a new breed of tax fraud using the online platform. Previous attacks would focus on filing fraudulent returns using stolen personal information. Such returns were usually riddled with errors designed to inflate the amount of a potential refund, which would be routed to an account far away.

New attacks seem to have taken a different direction. Criminals use stolen email and password information to amend recently filed returns. The only change they make is the account number into which any refund will be deposited.

While only a few people have been victims of this kind of fraud, investigators are still working with TurboTax to identify the source of the leak. In the meantime, additional security measures have been added to online accounts. New logins will be required to answer credit report style identity verification questions, like former addresses, roommates and employers. So-called “knowledge-based authentication” (KBA) procedures are of suspect value.

Fraudsters with access to personal information can find it remarkably easy to get more. Real estate transaction databases can quickly eliminate possible choices about former addresses. The multiple choice nature of the questions makes it possible to mechanically “crack” the authentication procedure in relatively short order.

To make matters worse, fraudsters are getting better at covering their tracks. According to security blog KrebsOnSecurity, more and more scammers are registering accounts using stolen identity information on Because accounts aren’t necessary for e-filing, many people never have cause to create one. One thing they are useful for, though, is getting copies of past tax returns. This is a vital step in protesting a fraudulent return.

Scammers have identified this weak point in fraud prevention and begun registering accounts using stolen personal information. This presents one more hurdle in the face of fraud reporting. It also gives scammers more time to take the money and run. Without an account, the IRS is bound by policy not to disclose any information on a tax return to anyone not designated on the return as an approved party. This does mean they’re protecting the privacy of criminals, but there’s little they can do about the policy at this point.

The core of the problem, according to Krebs, is that the IRS uses those same KBA procedures. Sophisticated scammers are increasingly adept at bypassing these procedures. That means one less barrier between them and your money.

If you think you’ve been the victim of tax-related fraud, there are still steps you can take. Read on for three ways you can fight back against tax fraud and get your money back!

1.) Create an account and use a strong password

The current KBA authentication protocol can be broken into relatively easily. If you register your account now, you can create a much stronger password to protect yourself. At time of press, the IRS is not allowing new accounts to be created, but new procedures for account verification are forthcoming.

Once you’ve created your account, use a strong password that includes numbers, letters and symbols. Make it unique to your IRS account to reduce the possibility that your password will be compromised. Once you create your login information, write it down and put it with this year’s tax documents (preferably locked in a safe location). You’ll need it again next year!

2.) Request a copy of this year’s tax return

If you think your information has been used to file a fraudulent tax return, you’ll need a copy of the return to file a dispute. If you can’t get it with an account, you’ll need to get a hard copy. The IRS has a form for this and they’ll charge a small fee for processing.

The from you’re looking for is Form 4506. This will get you a printed photocopy of the return, including all information about refund destination. This may help you track down the stolen money, and it will definitely help you in proving to the IRS that this wasn’t your work.

3.) Beware of ‘Money Mule’ scams

Increasingly, international fraudsters are having difficulty getting the money out of the country. That’s why they turn to Americans who are desperate for a buck. They’ll advertise on sites like Craigslist for “financial processing assistants.” They use your checking account to receive the funds, then you’ll wire or send a portion of the proceeds to another bank. It’s one way of eliminating the paper trail of tax fraud. That’s been the laundering scheme of choice for many tax fraud perpetrators this season.

It’s clearly illegal and very dangerous, but it also makes it possible for scammers to steal money in the first place. Beware of any job solicitation that offers to pay you for your ability to have a checking account. If they were a legitimate business, they could get one all their own and wouldn’t have to pay you for the privilege!