All You Need To Know About Open Enrollment

Open enrollment is here again, and for many Americans this time period – and the entire Healthcare professionals and patienthealth insurance market – spells confusion.

Is Obamacare still in effect? Are premiums really increasing as much as predicted? Do I need to take action now if I’m happy with my insurance plan? What’s the difference between all the plans offered in the marketplace?

So many questions! No worries, though. We’ve got answers. Read on for the complete rundown on open enrollment, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and today’s health insurance options.

1.) The ACA – still in effect?

Before you go shopping for a cheaper or better insurance plan, bear in mind that the Affordable Healthcare Act is still up and running. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the current administration has overturned the program or will soon do so. While an alternative health care plan has been proposed, there has been no change in the current system thus far, and it is not likely that there will be within the next few months.

What does this mean for the average American?

The ACA has made it mandatory for every American to have sufficient health care coverage. The penalty for failing to comply with this law is the higher of $695 per adult or 2.5% of household income.

The ACA also oversees the government-run health insurance marketplace in which insurance plans can only be purchased during open enrollment. In most states, the open enrollment period for 2017 is about 6 weeks long, running from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. The following states have extended their enrollment period: California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and Washington.

2.) Rising premiums or cheaper rates?

If you ask the average Jane or John Doe if insurance costs are rising or falling, you’d probably get an earful about ever-climbing premium rates and health care costs. On the flip side, though, is the government, claiming their subsidized plan and the expansion of Medicaid has health care costs steadily declining.

In fact, both arguments are true. The silver plans on the ACA marketplace rose by an average of more than 30% this past year – and 2018 is looking a whole lot worse. Premiums are expected to rise by as much as 34-50% this coming year.

The current administration has claimed it will stop paying for many of the key payments to insurers it’s previously shouldered as part of the ACA. This factor, coupled with the overwhelming uncertainty surrounding the ACA, has led insurers to drastically increase their premiums.

The 80% of customers who receive subsidized insurance through Obamacare will be shielded from these price hikes; it’s the other 20% who will bear the brunt of the unstable marketplace.

The premium increase rates will vary by state and by the individual, but it is quite possible for an Obamacare customer who was paying $593 a month in premiums in 2017 to be saddled with a monthly premium of $1,001 in 2018!

All this uncertainty has led to another significant development: Many providers have left the marketplace plans. This means your doctor may no longer be part of your insurance plan. Be sure to find out about any possible changes before open enrollment is up, even if you aren’t looking to change your plan.

3.) Where to apply

If you do not receive insurance coverage through Medicaid, Medicare or your workplace, you may want to consider changing your insurance plan this year. To find out what your options are, visit Most states offer insurance coverage through this site, while others will redirect you to a private state-run site where you can purchase a marketplace plan.

4.) Available marketplace plans

Here’s a quick synopsis of each category of plans available in the ACA marketplace:

  • Bronze: lowest monthly premiums, highest out-of-pocket costs and very high deductibles.
  • Silver: the most popular plans available, silver offers moderate premiums and out-of-pocket costs, with lower deductibles than bronze plans.
  • Gold: high monthly premiums but lower out-of-pocket costs and deductibles.
  • Platinum: the most expensive plans in the marketplace, platinum plans have the highest monthly premiums but the lowest out-of-pocket costs and very low deductibles.

There is also a catastrophic plan available for individuals under age 30 and people who have received an exemption from the marketplace due to extenuating circumstances. These plans include free preventive care, low monthly premiums and very high deductibles.

5.) Choosing your plan

When shopping for a marketplace plan, it’s important not to base your decision on price alone. Many of the cheaper plans come with a heavy price. Your primary care provider or your child’s pediatrician may not be covered under some of the less expensive plans. You may need to pay out-of-pocket for many or all prescription drugs. Lastly, a higher deductible can mean that you’ll end up paying for all of your health care needs in 2018 without “cashing in” on your premiums before the year is over.

Be sure to shop around for a plan and do lots of research before making your decision.

Be an educated consumer this open enrollment season so that you make the best decision possible. Your health is too important for anything less!

Your Turn: The nationwide health insurance challenge has been hotly contested for years. If you had the power and means, how would you change the current system? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!


Beware Of Banking Scams

Scammers never take a break. They’re always dreaming up ways to con you out of yourImage of man using computer money. Recently, there’s been a significant uptick in scams involving checking accounts at many financial institutions.

In these scams, criminals will utilize social media to connect with the victim.

They usually pose as representatives of a bank or credit union and milk the victim for sensitive information, like account numbers and passwords. Since the scammers are using the credit union’s social media accounts, the victims often won’t hesitate to share this information. When the scammers have what they need, they will proceed to empty the victim’s accounts and then disappear.

Often, when the scammers receive a response from the victim on social media, they will redirect the victim to what appears to be the financial institution’s website. The victim, thinking they are on the site they frequently use, will quickly input their username and ID, which the scammers will then use to empty their accounts or open credit cards in the victim’s name.

Sometimes, the scammers will impersonate helpful member representatives who are seemingly looking to answer your questions. You’re used to our representatives being helpful and always on call to assist you, so you won’t see anything strange with the scenario.

Other times, the scammer may claim your account has been compromised and you need to immediately update your information. They’ll be oh-so-helpful with this step. Until you share your information with them, that is.

Still other times, scammers will pose as representatives of a sweepstakes or some other contest that you’ve “won.” All you need to do is share your account information and your passwords to be made into an instant millionaire! Except that, of course, you won’t.

Don’t be the next victim! Be aware and be alert. Here’s what you need to know about this scam:

1.) Check URLs

Scammers are becoming increasingly more suave at posing as companies their victims are familiar with. You can check a site’s authenticity by double-checking the URL on the web address. Make sure it matches Destinations Credit Union’s site exactly. You can also check a site’s security by looking for the “S” after the “http” on the web address.

2.) Be suspicious

Awareness can be your best protection. It’s easy for a scammer to pose as a member representative on social media, but if you’re on guard, you’ll spot these fakers. Is a representative claiming there are problems with your account when everything seems to be in order? Are they asking you to share sensitive information through insecure channels? Is someone promising you’ve won a contest you’ve never entered? If things don’t add up, it’s best to opt out.

3.) Reach out to your credit union

It may be difficult to determine whether the people you’re talking to are the real thing. If you think you’re dealing with Destinations Credit Union but things suddenly start looking fishy, there’s a simple solution. Hang up or log out of whatever medium you’re engaged in and call Destinations Credit Union yourself. You can always reach out to us at 410-663-2500. This way, you’ll know you’ve really reached us and you’re not being scammed. Be sure to call this number and never use another number suggested by a suspicious-acting “member representative.”

4.) In case of fraud, take action

If you suspect you’ve been taken for a ride, let us know as soon as possible. The sooner you catch a scam, the better off you’ll be. We’ll also be able to alert our other members and work on catching the crooks who’ve conned you.

It’s also a good idea to let the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) know about the scam. The more information you share, the easier it will be for the feds to nail those scumbags. Contact the FTC at

5.) Protect yourself

It’s a good idea to practice basic safety and protective measures with your accounts.

Here’s how:

  1. Safeguard account details: Never share account information without being certain about who you are talking to.
  2. Use good password hygiene: Use complex passwords and change them often. Be sure to use different passwords for each of your accounts.
  3. Choose extra protection: Opt in for two-factor identification when logging into your accounts. That’s an extra level of protection for you and another hurdle for scammers to scale.
  4. Set up alerts: Choose to receive an email or a text message when transactions on your account exceed your typical level of spending.
  5. Monitor your accounts: It’s a good idea to check your accounts on a regular basis, and with our mobile app, this is now easier than ever. In most cases, you will be responsible for fraudulent charges on your account if you report them more than 60 days after your monthly statement is delivered.


Why & How to Plan Ahead for Health Care Expenses

Health care is something that most Americans overlook when budgeting. Medical debt child with nursecan get out of control if you don’t have health insurance or you don’t plan ahead for unexpected health care expenses.

But how do you plan ahead for health care expenses?

Here are a few tips that can help you start the planning process:

  1. Research health insurance plans and medical costs. To plan ahead for your health care expenses, you will need to understand what type of health insurance plan you have and the medical costs that you may incur in the upcoming year.
    • Determine how much to save based on your deductible, co-payments/co-insurance and/or out-of-pocket maximums. You can contact your health insurance provider to find out the amount of your deductible.
    • Estimate how much to save based on any medical bills you received in the previous year.
    • Calculate how much to save based on any prescriptions you had to pay for in the previous year.
    • Attend workshops and seminars presented by your employer or health insurance organization to get a better understanding of how to get the most out of your health insurance plan (and spend the least amount of money out of your own pocket).

Everyone’s situation will be different. Use what you think will be best for you to determine how to save money on your health care costs.

  1. Start the planning and budgeting process. A best practice is to use a budgeting tool to outline all of your monthly expenses, including any estimated health care costs. A visual map of your financial plan will give you something to follow to ensure you are meeting your savings targets every month.
  2. Consider Opening a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA). These enable you to save for health care expenses in advance (on a pre-tax basis). Not only are the funds untaxed, they can also be used to cover the cost of co-payments, co-insurance, out-of-pocket maximums, and prescriptions.

The Bottom Line: You’ll Save Money in the Long Run

Ultimately, planning ahead for health care expenses is like planning ahead for retirement. With retirement, you plan ahead to cover all of your bills in the future. The same concept applies for health care expenses. The money you save will enable you to cover the costs of any medical expenses you incur in the future.

Courtesy of Accel Members Financial Counseling, Destinations Credit Union’s partner to provide its members free unlimited financial counseling.

13 Life Hacks to Reduce or Eliminate Medical Debt

Almost every American faces medical debt at some point in their life. So you’re not aloneiStock_000009697836_Large if you’re scared of the prospect of medical debt damaging your personal credit and causing you to go into a financial crisis when you least expect it.

Fear not! There are ways to avoid having your financial dreams derailed by a medical emergency, an unexpected procedure, or unnecessary medical expenses. Here are some life hacks we came up with that can help you reduce or eliminate medical debt:

  1. Stick to Doctors Within Your Network – If your plan requires that you visit doctors within your network, stick to those doctors so you don’t have to pay out-of-network fees.
  2. Pay Your Medical Bills In Full –Chances are you will receive a discount. Many hospitals offer a 10% discount when you agree to pay your bill in full.
  3. Don’t Switch Plans to Visit a Doctor Out-of-Network Once – You can save money if you only have to visit an out-of-network doctor once a year. Changing your plan for the sake of one service can result in higher health insurance plan premiums over the long term.
  4. Opt For “Minimum Essential Coverage” Instead of Expensive Health Insurance Plans – If you’re cash strapped and healthy, a minimum essential coverage may be your best option. These plan usually only cover preventative care and other basic medical services—not hospitalizations and outpatient surgery.
  5. Utilize Charity Care Programs – Your hospital may offer discounted services to low-income people. It’s a little known secret that you can apply for charity care programs that may reduce or eliminate your entire bill if you qualify. To get started, just call the hospital that has billed you and ask them if you can apply for their “charity care program”.
  6. Find Out What’s Covered by Your Health Insurance Provider – Before you schedule a medical procedure, find out what’s covered and at what rate. If you determine the cost will be high, talk to the referring doctor about lower cost alternatives.
  7. Request a Payment Plan – If you owe a medical bill that you are not able to pay in full, you can usually get on a payment plan with lower minimum payments. As long as you continue to pay the bill monthly, the debt should not show up on your credit report. All you have to do is call to make arrangements before the debt becomes delinquent.
  8. Use Urgent Care Centers – Find out if urgent care centers are included in your health insurance plan network. They often charge a flat fee for labs, therefore you won’t have unexpected bills later on. They can also help with a variety of problems that don’t require hospitalization, which will also save you money in the long run.
  9. Ask for Prescription Samples or Coupons – Some prescriptions are free at pharmacies such as Walmart and Meijer. When filling your prescription, ask the pharmacist if any samples or coupons are available.
  10. Combine Doctor Visits to Save Money – When visiting your doctor, make sure they address multiple issues at once so you don’t have to go back for repeat visits.
  11. Get Refills on Prescriptions from a Family Doctor Instead of a Specialist – For example, if you go to a dermatologist to get a prescription for acne, instead of going back to the dermatologist for a refill on the prescription, it may be cheaper to go to your family doctor or a general practitioner to get a refill.
  12. Research the Costs of Certain Procedures/Appointments – Research the costs of procedures and appointments ahead of time so you can choose the lowest cost provider.
  13. Apply for a Grant from the Healthwell Foundation – You can apply to receive financial assistance with covering your medical bills. If approved, they may cover $6,000 per year in medical insurance premiums (for certain diseases). Visit for more information.

Courtesy of Accel Financial Counseling, Destinations Credit Union‘s financial counseling partner.

The IPhone X And Decoy Pricing

There’s always been an aura of mystique surrounding the Apple company. From their<> on November 3, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. legendary launches to the throngs of people camping outside stores for a new product release, Apple is a master at marketing.

It’s more than just marketing, though. Apple’s most recent launch has led experts to believe that the company’s real strategy is pricing. In fact, retailers are always manipulating our spending habits. For instance, every time you pick up some groceries, your choices are likely influenced by pricing tactics like BOGO (Buy One Get One free), anchoring (Their Price: $35.99; Our Price: $29.99) and high-end pricing (Chef’s Special Rib Eye: $69.99; Rib Eye: $45.99).

While all these methods may mess with our ability to determine if we are indeed getting a good deal, the tactic that Apple favors is decoy pricing. While there are several ways to employ decoy pricing, every instance includes the existence of one product whose sole purpose is to promote the sale of another product.

Say you walk into the ice cream store and notice three different sizes of ice cream cones available for purchase. You can buy a small ice cream for $2, a medium-sized cone for $5, or a large cone for $6. When presented with this choice, most people will choose the large since, at just one dollar more than the medium, it appears to be a fantastic deal.

Now imagine this scenario minus the medium option. Would you still take the large? Many people would opt for the small, but when offered next to the medium, the large comes off looking like a great choice. The medium acts as a price decoy to manipulate consumers into choosing the large.

Another example is one that was employed by the British magazine, The Economist. In an effort to boost subscriptions, the magazine offered a special deal: $59 for the web version only, $159 for the print edition and web version or $159 for the print version only.

Clearly, the magazine was trying to sell its combo subscription. In order to make it look enticing, it offered the print version-only option for the same price. This way, when readers choose the combo deal, they think they’ve scored a bargain. In this case, the print edition acted as the decoy.

Now that we understand how decoy pricing works, let’s take a closer look at Apple and the iPhone X.

Approximately a year after the iPhone 7 hit stores, Apple introduced two new devices: the iPhone 8 (and 8 Plus) and the iPhone X. While the iPhone 8 has been in stores for a while, only a few million iPhone Xs were available for pre-order, and only another few million were on the shelves in stores on the official launch day, Nov. 3.

What do these new phones have to offer? The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, priced at $799, look shockingly similar to the iPhone 7. A closer look, though, reveals that they offer an improved battery life and an updated camera. The iPhone X, on the other hand, stands out as the first phone with a four-digit price tag. The regular version is retailing at $999, with enhanced versions available for a whopping $1,129.99. The pricey phone offers facial recognition, wireless charging and a full screen.

There’s just one glaring question: Are people really going to shell out more than a thousand bucks for a phone? Experts believe that, in order to make that happen, Apple first introduced the iPhone 8 as a price decoy.

A consumer looking to buy a new iPhone this year has three primary choices. The cheapest option is the iPhone 7. These are great phones that have been on the market for year and whose prices have dropped to $750. Next up is the iPhone 8, retailing at $800. These phones are new to the market and offer slight improvements on the iPhone 7s. Lastly, there’s the choice of spending a thousand dollars on the brand-new iPhone X, expected to become an instant status symbol.

Two things can happen here: For one, customers who aren’t ready to drop a thousand bucks on a phone will go for the iPhone 7. In fact, these phones are currently outselling the iPhone 8. People are choosing these because they are so much cheaper than the iPhone X with only several minor differences.

Alternatively, the staunch Apple fans, who need to own the latest product, will choose the iPhone X – it is the latest phone. The iPhone 8 doesn’t stand a chance next to this device – and Apple knows it.

In other words, the iPhone 8 was created to act as a decoy for both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone X. Ironically, though, there are only a few minor updates the iPhone X has over the iPhone 8.

Looking to buy a new iPhone? Think twice before making your selection. Are you being manipulated by pricing tactics, or are you making a sound decision based on your personal needs and what you can afford?

Your Turn: Do you think decoy pricing and other manipulative pricing tactics work? Or are the consumers smarter than retailers think? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!


Beware Of Debt Relief Scams

Anyone saddled by debt would love a quick way out. After all, it isn’t easy to be debt reliefconstantly squeezed and stressed out from more debt than you want.

Unfortunately, though, unless you’ve won the lottery or suddenly inherited millions, there really is no way but the slow way. You’ll need to make those monthly payments steadily until the day your loans are all fully paid.

But that’s not what dozens of scammers would have you believe. In a recent crackdown on student loan relief scams, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has revealed that Americans have been collectively conned out of nearly $100 million by these scammers.

More than 42 million Americans have student loan debt, with their outstanding balances totaling more than $1.4 trillion. This makes student loan debt the second largest segment of U.S. debt, topped only by mortgages. It also makes these borrowers the perfect targets for scams.

The FTC, partnering with 11 states and the District of Columbia, has recently announced “Operation Game of Loans,” the first federal-state law enforcement initiative pursuing deceptive student loan debt relief scams. This nationwide crackdown includes 36 government actions against scammers alleged to have used deception and false promises to bilk more than $95 million from victims.

The operation has already charged more than 30 organizations with unlawful schemes. The organizations have been accused of falsely claiming to be affiliated with the Department of Education, misleading advertising and collecting upfront fees with deceptive intent.

In a typical scam, the “organization” will promise to use the victim’s money for paying down their debt, reducing their monthly payments or even forgiving their loans entirely. In truth, the scammer has no intention of doing any of that, and is instead enjoying an easy payday courtesy of the victim’s hard-earned money.

Most organizations targeted in this crackdown claim to “assist” student loan debtors, but several defendants have also victimized desperate homeowners, making false promises to consumers that they would provide mortgage relief and prevent foreclosure. As with the student loan scams, these payments went toward lining the scammers’ pockets and made no dent in the victim’s’ mortgages.

If you are currently paying off a student loan, educate yourself so you don’t fall prey to these scams. There is legitimate help available for students struggling to repay their debt; you just need to make sure it’s the right kind of help.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

1.) Visit the FTC site

The FTC has recently updated its consumer education on student loan debt relief scams. You can read up on the warnings at As a follow-up to “Operation Game of Loans,” the FTC will be hosting a live online panel in late October. The panel will include a Twitter chat with state attorneys general and a Facebook Live session with experts detailing ways to avoid student loan debt relief scams. Be sure to check the FTC website for updates on this and future scheduled panels.

2.) Know that there’s no fast way out

When seeking help with a loan, it’s important to remember that there will never be a quick and easy way out. Only scammers will promise fast loan forgiveness. If you come across a company offering to get rid of your debt within the month, run the other way and don’t look back.

3.) No upfront fees or shared information

You should never have to pay for a service before it’s been rendered. If you’re asked to pay a fee as soon as you’ve made contact with a debt relief organization, that’s a sure sign you’re being scammed. Legitimate organizations will only ask to be paid after they’ve helped you out.

On a similar note, be careful about sharing sensitive information. Don’t share your FSA ID (the username and password used to log in to U.S. Department of Education websites) with anyone.

4.) Verify affiliation

To appear legitimate and attract victims, scammers often claim that they are affiliated with a governmental body or with a private loan company. It’s easy to make these claims, but it’s a lot harder to prove. The best way to confirm that you’re dealing with an authentic entity is to contact these agencies yourself.

You can apply for loan deferments, forbearance, repayment and forgiveness or discharge programs directly through the U.S. Department of Education or their loan servicer. These applications are completely cost-free and you will never need the assistance of a third-party company to avail yourself of these services. To review your options, visit  For private student loans, contact your loan servicer directly to be certain you’ve reached the right party.

If you feel like you’re in over your head with your student loan payments, don’t hesitate to call, click, or stop by [credit union] today. We’re always available to help you manage your money in the best way possible.

Your Turn: How do you manage your student loan payments? Share your best tips with us in the comments!


FAQs About Share Secured Loans

As a member of Destinations Credit Union, you already know we’re here to help you iStock_000003173522XSmall dollarmanage your money and let it grow in the best ways possible. That typically involves wisely using only the products and services best suited to your needs and goals.

One of our most convenient products is share secured loans. If you’re wondering what these loans are, and if they’re for you, read on!
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about share secured loans.
1.) What are share secured loans?
Share secured loans are essentially a way for you to borrow, using your own savings as the collateral. Instead of using all your savings to make a purchase, thus losing out on all future dividends and your emergency safety net, you’re borrowing against that sum while your money stays in your account. You will pay interest on the amount borrowed until the loan is paid up, but most borrowers find the convenience to be a reasonable offset.
2.) How does it work?
In a share secured loan, your credit union will place a hold on the amount you want to borrow against. There is usually a minimum you can borrow, ranging from $200 to $500, and a maximum set at 80-100% of your entire savings balance. When you apply for the loan, your credit union will grant you the amount you requested in the form of a check or a deposit into your checking account. You can make payments on the loan through a monthly automatic withdrawal from your checking account, via direct deposit or by sending in a check each month.
3.) Who would benefit from a share secured loan?
While there are many benefits to a share secured loan, borrowers with damaged credit who may not otherwise qualify for a loan stand to gain the most. Since there is minimal risk, most credit unions will grant instant approval of a share secured loan without requesting a credit report. However, your credit history will have an impact on your interest rate.
4.) When will the funds I am using as collateral be available for me to use again?
The availability of these funds varies by credit union. Some credit unions will release these funds in predetermined amounts as you make monthly payments on the loan. Others will not allow you to access the frozen portion of your savings account until you’ve paid the entire loan.
Regardless of your credit union’s policy, your shares will continue to earn dividends while your funds are frozen.
5.) What are some advantages of a share secured loan?
  • Inexpensive. Since the lender is taking very little risk, they don’t need to charge a high interest rate to make their risk worthwhile. Interest rates on share secured loans are often only 1 to 3% above the dividend rate on your savings account. Since your account is earning dividends throughout the life of your loan, the actual loan ends up costing you much less.
  • Convenient. You can usually get on-the-spot approval for a share secured loan. Your credit union only needs to verify the amount in your savings, approve of the amount you want to borrow, and place a hold on the funds you’re using to secure it. Once you’ve been approved for the loan, you can use the money in any way you’d like.
  • Improve your credit score. While the actual loan won’t improve your credit rating much, you can use the money you’ve borrowed to pay off outstanding loans and increase your credit score.
  • Low requirements. There is generally no credit check when you apply for a share secured loan. As long as you’re a member of Destinations Credit Union and you have enough in your account to sufficiently cover the loan, we’ll be happy to help you take out a share secured loan.
6.) Are there any disadvantages to a share secured loan?
Though the advantages abound, don’t assume that everything about share secured loans are beneficial. Here are some factors to consider before taking out a share secured loan:
  • Increased risk to the borrower. When your own money is used as collateral, it’s your money at risk of being lost. If you can’t repay the loan, you’ll lose the funds you borrowed against.
  • Less credit reward. Your actual loan will not affect your credit score much, even if you are timely with your payments. Since they pose no risk to the lender and usually don’t require a credit report, they don’t offer future lenders much confidence in your financial stability.
  • Interest fees. If you are choosing between liquidating a savings account and borrowing against it, it is probably cheaper to empty your account because it won’t cost you anything. Borrowing always comes with interest having to be paid, and even when the interest rate is favorable and the cost is offset by the dividend payments to your account, it still isn’t free.
Still unsure about share secured loans? Feel free to call, click, or stop by Destinations Credit Union to have all your questions answered!
Your Turn: Have you ever taken out a share secured loan? Share your experience with us in the comments!

The Story Behind the Sonic Breach

It’s been a rough go of things when it comes to the security of debit and credit card as sonicwell as personal information. The massive Equifax breach has already left many Americans feeling unprotected and insecure while Yahoo experienced yet another breach soon afterward. To top it all off, the popular burger chain Sonic Drive-in announced in late September that its payment portals had been compromised.

Experts estimate that information for millions of cards was hacked from the nearly 3,600 Sonic locations across 45 states. The card numbers and details are now up for sale on the darknet.

Here’s what you need to know about the latest in a long line of nationwide security breaches:

What happened?

The breach became a reality when Sonic’s card processing company reported “unusual activity” on a large number of cards that had been recently used at Sonic. Further investigation uncovered a tremendous data breach with the potential to affect millions of consumers.

Sonic utilizes a single point-of-sale system that is deployed at the majority of its locations. Using sophisticated malware, hackers were able to access the system. The malware copied the information on every card that was swiped in the payment terminal, and then sent it back to the hackers.

The hackers then put this information up for sale online, where buyers can use the card details to rack up huge bills, empty accounts or even steal victims’ identities.

While Sonic was quick to share this basic information with the public, it can be months before more details are known and shared with concerned customers.

This breach is similar to the one that hit Wendy’s last year, lasting nine months and affecting 300 restaurants. It took that long to determine the issue and resolve it because many of Wendy’s locations are franchises. Approximately 90% of Sonic’s joints are franchises as well, thus adding to the delay.

Who was affected?

Anyone who’s used a debit or credit card at any of Sonic’s locations during the last year may have been a victim in the breach. It is still unclear exactly how many customers were affected by the breach, though it is estimated that there may be as many as five million victims in this malware attack.

While most cards with compromised info were linked to activity at one of Sonic’s locations, it is possible that other companies’ security systems were also breached.

How did Sonic react to the attack?

Sonic has announced that it will offer all customers 24 months of complimentary fraud protection through Experian’s IdentityWorks program.

Sonic was also quick to hire third-party forensic experts to help investigate the attack and identify the hackers. They have also promised to research ways for improving their current system to better protect customers in the future.

How can you protect yourself from this and all future data breaches?

1.)   Find out if you were affected: If you’re a regular, or even an occasional, Sonic customer, find out if you were affected by the breach. Review your recent account information on all your cards. If you spot suspicious activity, alert your card issuer and place a freeze on your account. You can also place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus. This will warn creditors that you’ve recently been targeted in a hack, alerting them to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is actually you. Lastly, accept Sonic’s offer of two years of free fraud protection.

2.)   Use fraud protection: Even if you haven’t been affected by this breach, it’s a good idea to sign up for fraud protection. These services don’t usually come free, although, in light of its recent data breach, Equifax is now offering a full year of protection with their TrustedID program, free of charge. Fraud protection services will ease the stress of monitoring your credit for fraudulent activity and unusual behavior.

3.)   Monitor your accounts: It’s always wise to keep a sharp eye on your money – and that means more than just checking that your wallet is safe. Review all checking account activity several times a week to determine whether your account information or debit card has been hacked or stolen. Also, never throw away a credit card statement without carefully reviewing it to be sure every transaction belongs to you. Additionally, it’s wise to shred such paperwork rather than throwing it in the trash. Finally, request a credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies once a year to see if anyone is using your name to rack up a huge bill or take out a generous loan.

4.)   Set up alerts: You can receive notice about suspicious activity almost as soon as they happen by signing up for alerts. Place a maximum transaction amount on your credit and debit card so a thief won’t get away with a huge purchase. You can also limit your transactions to a specific area or region of the country so long-distance hacking won’t work.

Your Turn: How do you protect yourself from data breaches? Share your best tips with us in the comments!