Avoiding Scams In The Workplace: Keeping Yourself And The Rest Of Us Safe

Pop quiz: What do the data breaches at Target, Home Depot and Sony all have in common? Give up? They were all caused by employee errors. These, along with about 500 other breaches, are confirming what many security professionals have worried about for years. In the digital age, the weakest link in our information security is us: humans. The most common cause of data breaches around the world is employee error or negligence.

This kind of negligence can take a few forms. It can be an employee responding to a phishing email or downloading a piece of malicious software on a company computer. An employee could fail to adequately secure his login information (by, say, writing it on a sticky note and attaching it to the monitor) or could leave company technology vulnerable to theft.

As with many other complex, human-focused problems, no single solution can address this problem. There are structural and technological changes that can help mitigate the risks posed by employee error. While these changes are developed and implemented, here are three simple steps you can take to help keep your workplace safe from hacks. 

1.) Read something, say something 

Everyone thinks they can detect a scam. It’s a line of thinking called the general attribution error, that what’s true of “most people” can’t possibly be true of us and the people we know. We constantly believe we’re the exception rather than the rule, and our susceptibility to fraud demonstrates this well. Most people consider themselves intelligent, discerning Internet consumers. Yet, a recent Google study found that 45% of users fell victim to a fake login page.

Scammers wouldn’t keep using these tactics if they weren’t working, and even if you are savvy enough to spot 99 phishing attempts in a row, the one you miss is all it takes for another big data breach to happen. If you work at a company with 100 people who are all as adept as you are at catching these emails, every scam attempt works on one person on average. Worse still, some hacking attempts begin by sending out emails from the first victim to people on that person’s contact list. When that happens, one person falling victim to an attack can quickly increase the credibility of subsequent attacks.

The solution to the general attribution error is the power of collective wisdom. If you receive an e-mail that’s clearly an attempt to solicit sensitive information, don’t just delete it and move on. Forward it to your company’s IT representative. Mention it to a colleague. Ensure that everyone knows this scam is circulating at your company.

If you do fall victim to one of these hoaxes, don’t try to cover it up. You might face disciplinary action for opening malicious emails, but you will face disciplinary action if your login credentials are used to expose sensitive information! 

2.) Off the clock? Lock it up! 

The VA breach, one of the biggest data leaks that hit some of the most secure data in the nation, was caused when an employee improperly took confidential information home to continue working. The information was stolen and the integrity of the VA’s servers was compromised. Taking work home with you might be a good way to get ahead, but unless your home can provide the same level of security as your office, it’s just not worth it.

If you must take work outside the office, keep it in a secure place. Ideally, you should place it in a safe or locking file box. Failing that, keep it in a locking briefcase or other lockable container. If you’re working with paper copies, don’t forget to destroy or return them once you’re done.

If you have a standing arrangement with your employer to do some work remotely, there are still a number of steps you can take to keep your work technology safe. If you work on a laptop, invest in a cable lock. This piece of hardware works like a bicycle lock. You loop it around a heavy object and fit the lock into your computer’s power port. Should a dedicated thief rip the lock out of the port, the computer will be rendered inoperable, turning a catastrophe into a hardware replacement.

Also, don’t connect to unsecured wireless networks. Anyone can join these and set up monitoring software on them to steal data in transit. If you work on your home wifi, set up a security protocol. Don’t forget to change the default administrator password on your router. Most manufacturers have a default router password which would enable scammers to access your network. 

3.) Keep it out of the office! 

Most people spend at least some part of their work day browsing the Internet. Modern technology has made work more efficient, so some employees think they can do a little browsing during slow times. The problem is that recreational browsing can expose the office to risks.

Even the most tame hobbies can have risks. Searching for “download sewing templates” could take you to websites dotted with malicious software masquerading as innocuous archives and executables. If your interests run to games or gambling, the Internet can be a very dangerous place for your work computer.

If you’re interested in gaming, you might be tempted to load up a USB drive with a few fun titles. It’s very easy to accidentally save sensitive information to that USB, which becomes a liability. USB drives are the bane of IT security people everywhere, since they’re easy to lose, steal or swap.

If you have downtime at the office, stick to browsing sites you know and trust, or the ones permitted by your IT department. If you feel the need to explore the darker side of the Internet, be sure you do so at home where you can better control the sensitive information on your computer. 

Your Turn- 

One final way to beat the bad guys of the Internet is to work together with other good guys. Share your wisdom – your tips, tricks and experiences in keeping information safe! Let us hear from you: What are you doing to keep your workplace safe?



Your Down Payment On A House

Q: I’m hoping to buy a house in the next few months. How much of a down payment should I have saved up?
A: When you think about your down payment, balance is key. If you think you might sell the house within just a few years of ownership, having a large down payment exposes you to greater risk if real estate prices fall. However, a larger down payment can also mean lower monthly payments.
The value of $1,000 is pretty hard to quantify, especially in a real estate market that might have $30,000 homes and $300,000 homes. Instead of thinking about the amount of money, think about a percentage of the value of the house. When making these decisions, here are three questions to ask yourself.
Can I put 20% down?
A down payment of 20% is something of a magic number. With 20% down, borrowers are no longer responsible for carrying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI is a protection most lenders require to cover their investment in you should you not repay your loan. The premiums for this insurance are paid by you, either as a lump sum at closing or included with the mortgage payment, and thus make your monthly payment higher. PMI usually costs between 0.5% and 1.0% of the value of the loan, though prices vary based upon several factors. Using this model, on a $100,000 loan, expect to pay around $83 more per month.
20% is also a magic number for interest rates. Lenders see a 20% down payment as a sign of a responsible borrower. Meeting that down payment amount means the borrower typically has a lifestyle of spending responsibly and saving money, both of which are signs of a solid credit risk. Regardless of your credit score, a 20% down payment can help save on the costs of the loan.
Can I get help to get there?
There are a wide variety of home buyer assistance programs designed to help people reach that 20% threshold. These come in two forms: grants and delayed repayment loans. They’re offered by housing departments at all levels of government and frequently go unused because home buyers don’t think they qualify.
Grants are no-strings-attached checks that you have to use for a specific purpose, in this case, the down payment on a home. Many are limited by income level or region of purchase, but they are definitely worth exploring. Even more options are open to first-time home buyers, former or current members of the armed forces and people in public service-oriented professions.
Delayed repayment loans are similar. These are second mortgages held by an organization for a portion of the total cost of the house. They do not begin accruing interest until after you’ve paid off your primary mortgage, and some of them are forgiven after you’ve owned the home for a certain amount of time. These are available from housing authorities and private organizations all over the country.
One important note: While you can get a lot of help, you cannot use another loan, even one from your parents or relatives, as part of your down payment. Doing so is a federal crime and can get you in serious trouble! In the best case, lenders will be suspicious of large deposits you can’t explain, and may even refuse to issue the mortgage loan.
If you can’t get to a 20% down payment, there are several options. You could make the smaller down payment, understanding that you’ll have to pay higher interest rates and PMI. You could also look at houses in lower price ranges. You might also decide to postpone home ownership and focus on saving so you can get there the next time around.
Should I go over 20%?
Making a very large down payment is an investment. Think of your mortgage like a savings account. You make an initial “deposit” when you make a down payment. A portion of your payment goes into your account each month while the rest goes to cover interest, which is the price you pay for living in your savings account. The return on your investment in the large initial down payment is the lower total interest you’ll have to pay.
When deciding if you want to put more than 20% down, think of your mortgage rate like the rate of return. If you can put another $1,000 down, that’s $1,000 less you’ll need to borrow. If your interest rate is 4%, then the return on that investment is $40 in interest you don’t have to pay. On the other hand, you don’t have that $1,000 to invest somewhere else now. If your retirement account earns 5%, then that same $1,000 will earn $50 if invested there. Making the larger down payment will end up “costing” you $10 in the long run.
As with any other investment decision, weigh the pros and cons. It may have a comparatively low rate of return, but the risk is negligible. Unless the value of your house drops dramatically, you won’t lose your down payment. It can be a smart move to put down as much as you can, but make sure to leave your retirement fund and emergency fund intact.

Zika Virus – How To Keep Your Family Safe

Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you’re involved in recreation league sports, hiking, or barbecues, there’s something for everyone. Usually, flying pests are just a nuisance. The worst they do is provide a minor irritation to an otherwise fine outing.

This year looks to be different, though. The Zika virus, a blood-borne illness transmitted by mosquitoes, has been identified throughout the United States. Florida, Texas and Kansas have already confirmed cases and more states are likely to follow.

The symptoms of Zika are not terribly severe. Infected people may experience body aches, fever, rash and eye redness. That’s, of course, if they experience any symptoms at all. Odds of death from Zika are remote and hospitalization is rare. People with compromised immune systems may be at greater risk, but the greatest threat posed by Zika is the risk of birth defects.

A woman who is pregnant may transmit the disease in utero to the fetus. This infection dramatically increases the risks of a birth condition known as microcephaly – an underdeveloped brain. Babies born with microcephaly will face risks of seizures, developmental delays and the loss of sensory function.

There’s no treatment, vaccine or cure for Zika virus. The only step you can take to reduce the risk of transmission is to reduce the primary risk: mosquitoes. Some municipalities have begun sterilization and spraying efforts to control these pests, but individuals can also take steps to reduce their exposure to Zika.

The panic surrounding Zika has also led to an upswing in aggressive sales tactics for mosquito eradication products. Unscrupulous salespeople will exploit public fear about the disease and promise to sell products that will eliminate mosquitoes. If such a product existed, it would be used around the world by people everywhere. If you’re worried about mosquitoes and your family,  it’s best to be pro-active and eliminate mosquitoes on your own terms, rather than find yourself duped into the latest scam fad.

Before diving to the home improvement store and filling your cart with mosquito repellents, remember that not all solutions are created equal. Let’s run down the most popular products and consider the pros and cons of each, so that you can make an informed decision on how to keep your family safe. 

1) Traps 

Mosquitoes find humans through three different means: heat, scent and breath. Mosquito traps draw mosquitoes in, then seal them in a collection container and kill them. These devices usually run between $50 and $400, with more expensive versions having more complex mechanisms to attract mosquitoes and more efficient means of killing them.

The best part about mosquito traps is that they’re entirely passive. Attach them to a power supply and let them work. They’ll require some cleaning and maintenance to ensure their effectiveness, but they’re the least labor-intensive of options we’ll discuss. The biggest traps claim to be effective over about an acre of land, although independent reports have yet to verify this claim.

The biggest downside of mosquito traps is that they’re an incomplete solution. Mosquito traps only kill adult mosquitoes. They do nothing about eggs or larvae. Since these systems will never be 100% effective, traps alone are not enough to combat Zika. 

2) Bug stomping 

There are a variety of steps homeowners can take to stop mosquitoes from spawning in the first place. Some of these are fairly obvious, like draining areas of standing water and filling them to prevent the puddles from forming again. Doing so prevents mosquitoes from breeding nearby and can help eliminate the threat. For more intensive measures, some people use chemical insecticides, either in a scheduled misting system or as a one-time treatment.

The use of chemical insecticides seems, at first glance, like an easy solution. Many chemical sprays not only kill adult mosquitoes but also prevent mosquitoes from spawning in those locations again. Using a controlled quantity of chemical can prevent any health risks.

However, chemical sprays are powerful environmental influencers. If applied insufficiently, they can produce resistance and immunity among the pests. If applied in too great a quantity, they can cause damage to plants, pets and people. Their use is best left to professional exterminators, which raises the cost. 

3) Repellent 

This is by far the easiest solution, although many people find the process annoying. Keeping a bottle of spray-on insect repellent by the door and spraying yourself down before every outside session may seem irritating, but it’s one of the most effective steps you can take. More traditional remedies, like citronella, may provide some repellent, but are no more effective than any other smoking candle.

When choosing a repellent, the chemical attribute which ties most highly to success is DEET concentration. For serious, long-term outdoor activities, concentrations of 30% provide maximum protection for the longest duration. For family barbecues or fireworks shows, concentrations of around 10% provide a smaller range of coverage for about two hours. Because of the risk of accidental consumption, 10% concentration of DEET is the highest level that is recommended for children.

For those concerned about spraying chemicals, the FDA has approved a clothing treatment insect repellent. Look for products containing permethrin, or the brand name Insect Shield. Both the CDC and the EPA endorse these products for use in insect control.

When it comes to the safety of your family, make sure you separate truth from fiction. If anyone claims they can make mosquitoes disappear overnight, run the other way. The best approach involves a combination of efforts to make sure you get all the protection you need. 


Don’t Drink The Water! How To Be On Alert For Water Purifier Scams

For millions of Americans, warming weather and longer days mean more than just baseball and allergies. It’s a great time to be rolling up your sleeves, opening up the toolbox and getting started on home improvement projects. With recent crises like the water quality in Flint, Michigan, prominent in headlines across America, many consumers are beginning to pay more attention to their own local water quality. 

There are many legitimate ways to improve your home’s value by improving its plumbing. You could add an in-line purifier, a water softener or a tankless water heater. However, not all plumbing improvements are created equal, and many people don’t think about what comes out of the tap unless it’s brown or has a foul odor.

Imagine, then, two men coming to your door wearing navy blue jumpsuits. They say they’re from the water company and they need to do some tests on your tap water for public safety. They pour a small quantity in a beaker and claim to be testing for lead, mercury or some other contaminant. They tell you that, if the substance they add turns red, your water is dangerous and potentially toxic. They add a few drops and swirl it around. Lo and behold, your tap water turns a menacing blood red!

These gentlemen are quick to reassure you that this is not an unsolvable problem. It’ll take them a few days to get the parts together, but they can install a system to treat your water for just a few hundred dollars. If you write them a check now, they can get to work right away and have you and your family safe in minutes!

Of course, there is no real danger… in your water. These men don’t work for the water company and the substance they added to your water was food coloring. They might install a $20 water purifier, which is available at any hardware store, to your kitchen sink, and walk away with hundreds of your dollars. You’ve just been the victim of a water purifier scam.

Now that you know how it works, you can take steps to help keep yourself from being a victim. Like most other scams, the advice is pretty straightforward. Ask for identification, do your own research and be proactive. 

Who are you, again? 

If your life goes according to plan and you never encounter a major plumbing disaster, you may never see an employee of the water company. Your only interaction with them will be a monthly bill. On that bill, though, is a number you can call to connect with a service manager. A quick phone call to verify the identities of the “workers” who offer to help you out should scare away most scammers.

Don’t be afraid to ask anyone who comes to your door for proper identification and don’t be shy about verifying that information. Anyone who represents a legitimate organization will want you to know they represent someone you trust. That will bolster their credibility and make the rest of their job easier. It’s only people who are trying to deceive you who want to short circuit your research.

Water companies, like any other employer, try to keep their employment costs low. If they had so little work to do that they could send people door-to-door to test water for free, you’d be paying much more on your monthly bill than you do currently.
Also, be careful of people who claim to be “certified” by a government agency, like the EPA. The EPA doesn’t endorse any specific brand of water purifier, nor would it. There are many different water filter suppliers across the country, and no single one would be appropriate for all situations. If a product bears an EPA seal, that means the company has registered its product with the EPA and nothing more.
Test your water yourself
If you have concerns about the quality of your drinking water, there are a number of services available for putting your mind at ease. For starters, your water company is required to provide analysis and test results to members of the public.  Call your water company and ask for the latest test results of the water supply if they have not already provided it to you. Take that information and compare it to EPA standards for clean drinking water.
If you have a well, many state and local environmental agencies will conduct testing for bacteria and other common contaminants for free or for a reduced price. Maintaining clean drinking water for all citizens is a public health concern, and many agencies are willing to cooperate to ensure your water passes that standard.
If you have concerns about the water supply in your house, you can order a chemical analysis of your house’s tap water. There are kits for sale in many hardware stores that will test for acidity, runoff contamination and bacteria. These are the most common problems facing home plumbing systems. Many labs also offer independent chemical analysis, though these may run hundreds of dollars, depending upon the level of detail required.
Fix it!
There are many solutions available for DIY water purification. These can be as simple as a water filter pitcher, which removes many common impurities and can help with taste and odor.  If you’re looking for something on a larger scale, many companies sell whole-house water filtration systems, though these can also cost hundreds of dollars.
As people become more health conscious, drinking water may become a serious issue for home-buyers. Purifiers and softeners can also help to extend the life of your plumbing and fixtures by eliminating mineral deposits before they have a chance to corrode your house plumbing. These improvements may also be worthwhile in terms of the value they add to your house.
Access to clean, safe drinking water is an important part of everyone’s well-being. Don’t let scammers play on your fear and destroy your peace of mind. Whether you’re looking for help finding a reputable contractor or are undertaking a serious renovation on your own, stopping by Destinations Credit Union can be a great first step.

What To Do When The Rent Is Due – But You’re Coming Up Short

Yikes! I’ve got a rent payment due in a couple of days. Payday will come too late and I’m a few bucks short! What can I do?
Everyone can relate to this experience or one that’s similar. An unexpected bill or a short paycheck puts you behind, and you spend the rest of the month playing catch up. Finally, a big, important bill comes up and you’re out of backup plans. That grim feeling of panic creeps up your spine. Your heart races.
This is a financial crisis!
The first step is to silence that panic. Take two or three deep breaths. Although it is a problem, it’s one you need to solve, not one to give up on. A practical plan is needed to come up with the money.
Rather than going through a list of things you can do, it might be easier to talk about places to look. Let’s go through a few locations you can go to try to find those few extra dollars. This task is going to be equal parts creativity and hard work, so roll up your sleeves and get your thinking cap on!
1.) Your job
You may be thinking that if your job paid more, you wouldn’t be in this mess. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t a few ways you can get a couple extra bucks out of your place of employment. Much of this is going to depend upon the kind of employer you have, but some of these suggestions may be of some help.
Begin by asking for a few more hours in the next week. Explain your situation briefly to your employer to see if there are special projects coming up in the future that you could get a jump start on now. Most employers are carrying around long lists of projects to be done and they’re waiting for someone to have the free time to tackle them. This could be the opportunity you need to prove yourself for a promotion while helping to bail you out of your tough spot.
If this doesn’t work, you might look for other odd jobs you could do around your office. If the floors need sweeping or the bathrooms need cleaning, this could be a way to turn a few hours into a solution to your financial woes. Your boss knows you and your work ethic, so she may be more likely to trust you than a stranger from off the street.
Consider asking your employer for an advance on your next paycheck. If your current situation is the result of an emergency, explain that to your employer. This will certainly be cheaper than a payday or title loan. Your “collateral” for the loan is your good name with your employer, so do this sparingly. Too many requests for an advance could be a red flag, signaling to the employer that you’ve got serious problems on the home front. Remember that this is money you’re borrowing from yourself from next month, so if you’ve got no cushion next month, all you’ve done is bought yourself a small bit of time.
2) Your house and neighborhood
Now might be a good time to take stock of your furnishings and appliances. Are there any you’ve been planning to upgrade in the near future? If you can do without them in the interim, you could move up your plans a little bit and put them up for sale. If you do, be sure to do as much maintenance as you can beforehand. If it’s a piece of furniture, give it a quick rub with furniture polish to cover any scratches or dings before you photograph it. If you have the time and energy, sanding and re-staining furniture can make an old piece of wood look new and beautiful. This little upgrade can mean the difference between selling for $20 and $100!
If it’s appliances you’re considering upgrading, the smaller it is, the easier it’ll sell. If you can use an old phone for a few months until your contract upgrade comes up, putting a smartphone up for sale can net you a few hundred dollars. The same advice applies to electronics. Dust them, polish any dings in the case, and round up the original box if you can. Make it look as new as possible.
For items that don’t sell well, like CRT televisions, you’ll really need to flex your creative muscle. It won’t sell as a television, but the front might work as a mirror frame! Taking the guts out and converting it into a planter or terrarium can also turn something worthless into something that might net you a few dollars.
While you’re testing the market for your used goods, you might also keep an eye out for day labor positions. Is your neighbor planning on doing some serious landscaping this weekend? Offer your skill with a rake for a few hours. The new parents next door might want a night out; could you sit for them while they grab dinner and a show? Maybe a bachelor neighbor can’t cook toast. He might enjoy a home-cooked casserole that just needs to be thrown in the oven! These likely aren’t enough to make you rich, but they could get you out of a jam.
That’s right. Destinations Credit Union is here to help you through thick and thin. Many of the services offered at our branch location are meant to solve the very problems you’re facing. Before you give up or turn to a title loan or payday loan service, give us a call.
There are several options available to you, including many services that other lenders charge much, much more for. As a member of Destinations Credit Union, you can get better terms, better interest rates and more personal service than you can at any place you’ve seen advertising on TV. We also provide financial self-help services that can help you avoid these sticky spots in the future. Whether you need help drawing up a budget, setting up a savings account for an emergency fund, or dealing with out-of-control debt, Destinations Credit Union is here for you!