Kiplinger

6 Scams to Watch Out for This Holiday Season

From fake gift cards to stealthy skimmers, thievery thrives this time of year. Learn to stay safe and keep your privacy intact.

By the Editors of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—for scam artists and other would-be thieves. Every time you swipe your credit card at the register or enter your personal information on a Web site, you risk having your sensitive data fall into the wrong hands. And as you count down the remaining shopping days in the season, you may let down your guard in a mad dash to check everything off your list. “The holiday season is a busy time for consumers, when we do the majority of our shopping for the year, and hackers are priming themselves for the wave of data coming in,” says Yaron Samid, founder of personal finance app BillGuard (which was acquired by lending site Prosper in October 2015). “This is the Super Bowl of scam season.

To keep your holidays happy and your identity safe, be wary of these six common scams.

1. The Scam: Phishing

You get an email luring you to a fake deal site promising unbelievable savings on your Christmas gifts—often popular electronics and gadgets. But it’s really just a ruse to get your credit card information and other personal data.

The Fix: You can easily avoid this threat by not clicking on links in emails from unknown sources. Even if the email seems to be from a legitimate retailer, you should type its Web address directly into your browser rather than clicking on an email link, to be on the safe side.

Also, shop only at sites you are familiar with or that are recommended by a reliable source. You can check with install the Better Business Bureau. (Although to verify that the merchant is legitimate. And make sure that wherever you shop online is secure: The url on any checkout page should begin with https:// and have a lock symbol next to it in the browser.

2. The Scam: Empty Gift Cards

The gift card you buy from a discount site might actually have no value. Criminals can spend the funds and replace the scratch-off material that covers the card’s PIN, so the card seems unused when sold for a percentage of its face value.

The Fix: Buying discounted gift cards online is a great way to save money. You just have to be sure you use legitimate resellers. Consider trying the Gift Card Granny  and Raise.

3. The Scam: Skimming

You innocently withdraw money from your checking account at the local drive-through ATM. Unfortunately, bad guys have attached a stealthy device to the machine’s scanner that lifts your account information when you swipe.

The Fix: Samid recommends using only indoor ATMs because they offer additional security that is likely to deter scammers. Gas stations are also prime targets for this particular threat, so he suggests paying inside instead of at the pump. It may be less convenient, but it’s not as troublesome as dealing with the repercussions of identity theft.

4. The Scam: A Fake Charity

You get an email, a phone call or even an in-person request asking you to contribute to some seemingly worthy cause. But the solicitor turns out to be a fraudster who plans to take your credit card information and profit from the kindness of strangers like you. “Scammers are leveraging the fact that people are feeling particularly generous around the holidays and are more susceptible to charity requests and helping other people out,” says Samid.

The Fix: Check on the legitimacy of any charity before you give. Sites such as Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance can help you verify the quality of a charity and decide whether it’s worthy of your largesse.

5. The Scam: Nonstandard Payments

You go to make a purchase on Ebay or Craigslist, but the seller asks you to pay by money order or some other random way. “Any nonstandard forms of payment like these are almost always a scam,” says Joe Siegrist, cofounder of password management site LastPass.

The Fix: Stick to the more usual ways to pay. Credit cards are a particularly safe method of payment because they come with fraud protection. You can easily dispute any unfamiliar charges.

6. The Scam: Fake Tech Support

You get an unsolicited call from someone saying he’s providing assistance from the maker of your computer. Then he walks you through how to yield control over your machine. Once he has taken over, he’s free to swipe any sensitive data you have stored there.

The Fix: Just say no. “Microsoft and Apple will never call you and ask you to take these types of steps, and they’ll never email you with these requests either,” says Siegrist. “Be wary of anyone who contacts you with these requests.”

Also make sure you use a unique password for each and every account you have. Apps such as Dashlane, Keeper and Siegrist’s LastPass can help you create and keep track of all of them.

Other ways you can protect yourself: Take advantage of your free annual credit report to make sure no fraudulent activity has been going on in your name. And keep a close eye on all your account statements. If any charge, big or small, seems odd or unfamiliar, be vigilant and check whether you need to dispute it. “There is no substitute for your checking your own card statements during the holiday season,” says Samid. “You are the frontline of defense.”

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5 Simple Ways to Save Money This Winter

Spending a little time now can save you money at home and on the road over the cold winter months.

Winter is right around the corner. Now’s the time to start winterizing your home to help curb high utility bills and your car to help prevent unexpected car repairs. Here are 5 quick tips to get you started

1. Have a pro inspect your HVAC system. Heating your home is a large chunk of your energy bill, so it’s important to have your home heating system checked regularly to make sure it’s running at peak efficiency. If it’s struggling due to old, dirty filters or failing components, your energy costs can go up.

EnergyStar.gov recommends having your system tuned up once per year. Contact a qualified HVAC contractor to inspect your system. For more home tips, read “15 Simple Ways to Winterize Your Home.”

2. Install a programmable thermostat. One of the easiest ways to manage your energy use is to install a programmable thermostat. (Although there are special considerations if you have a heat pump.) These thermostats can automatically adjust the temperature in your home at certain times of the day.

Dialing back your thermostat about 7-10 degrees for 8 hours a day can cut your home heating costs by about 10%, depending on the severity of your climate. Also, you can lower your home’s temperature even further while the house is empty during the day, and then turn it up about the time you come home. You’ll find plenty of programmable thermostats at different prices and with different features.

3. Use curtains strategically. It sounds almost too simple, but use the sun to your advantage! Open the curtains of south-facing windows to let the sun heat your home. Close them at night to keep out the cold. For a boost, try lined, insulated curtains; they can help prevent heat loss, block drafts and keep out some of the cold.

4. Switch to LED lights, inside and out. Love to light up your house for the holidays? Do you put up decorations for Halloween and keep your house brightly lit with cheery colors through St. Patrick’s Day? Save on electricity costs by switching to LED lights. Most decorations now have LED counterparts.

While LEDs can be a more expensive initial investment, they can last much longer than traditional bulbs, so your long-term replacement cost can be less—and less frustrating thanks to fewer burned out bulbs! LEDs also produce less heat and use less electricity, so over the long haul you’ll see savings.

5. Be proactive about winter car maintenance. Change your battery if it’s old, check and replace worn belts and top off important fluids. Taking care of the small things now can help you avoid a costly break-down and expensive towing charges later.

And as the temperature drops, so can your tires’ air pressure. Inflating them to the correct pressure can save you money on gas. For more information about winterizing your car read “Get Ready for Winter With Our Car-care Checklist.”

Bonus tip: Use your NEA member benefits! Save on a programmable thermostat, insulated curtains or even LED holiday lights when you shop at stores such as The Home Depot, Kohl’s, Best Buy and more through NEA Click & Save.

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Save with Dave: The NEA Personal Loan Program

The NEA Personal Loan can help you pay for things that may seem a little out of reach. These include paying off credit cards and other loans, home remodeling projects, weddings, baby expenses and more.1 And with low Fixed APRs, you can wrap up a variety of expenses into one monthly payment.

·         Fixed APR rates of 7.99% to 15.99%2

·         Loan amounts from $5,000 to $25,000

·         Terms from 36 to 72 months3

·         No application fees

·         No annual fee

·         No prepayment penalties

·         0.25% interest rate discount with AutoPay enrollment

If you have questions about the NEA Personal Loan Program, please contact us at 1-800-637-4636.

How to Protect Your Identity Following the Equifax Data Breach

Equifax has announced that cyber criminals have exploited a vulnerability in their website, allowing them to gain access to certain files. The data breach appears to have taken place from mid-May through July 2017. The company discovered the unauthorized access on July 29 of this year.

Cyber criminals stole names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses. In some cases, driver’s license numbers and even credit card numbers were accessed. During the company’s investigation of this breach, it was also found that there was access to some personal information for some UK and Canadian residents.

 

How do you know if you have been involved in a data breach?

Usually, data breaches are disclosed via the company’s press release, which reaches news outlets in no time. If you hear about a breach involving an institution you do business with, contact the organization in question to check whether your data has been compromised. You can visit the organization’s website to see if there is a statement about the breach with any instructions about what to do next, or you can call the company’s customer service phone number.

 

Helping protect yourself in the event of a data breach

You may not know if you have been affected by a breach, so your best action is to be proactive. You can use the tips below to stay ahead of the bad guys and know what to look out for.

  • Routinely monitor all of your financial accounts for suspicious activities, such as transactions you did not make. If your institution offers account activity alerts via text or email, sign up for them.
  • Cyber criminals can now use these data to access other online accounts you may have via password reset questions. These questions usually ask your personal information about yourself such as a parent’s maiden name, previous addresses and other details. If you have used any of these data in those security questions, you should change those questions immediately.
  • If the information that was leaked in the breach was a Social Security number or other personally identifiable information, you may want to consider putting a security freeze on your credit report. This will prevent other institutions from accessing your report entirely, which will prevent opening any new credit lines or credit extensions under your name. Also, be sure to contact the Social Security Administration about next steps if you’re dealing with a data breach that involves your SSN.
  • If you do encounter suspicious activity on your account, contact your bank immediately and inform them of the activity as well as the fact that your information was exposed in a breach. Secondly, contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and file a report.
  • If a password was involved in the breach, change it.

 

These are just a few of the precautions one can take to help protect against identity theft.

Breaches are more common these days, and the payoff for cyber criminals may be lucrative. As a result, it can be helpful if you add another layer of protection to your digital life by using an identity theft protection service. Such services can help protect your personal information by sending you alerts if suspicious activity is identified within their network, or if new accounts are opened with your Social Security number†.

As an IEA/NEA member, you have access to the NEA Identity Theft Protection Program powered by LifeLock®. NEA members receive 30 days of LifeLock identity theft protection at no-cost and 10% off* LifeLock membership.

 

This article is authored by an employee of Norton by Symantec.
No one can prevent all identity theft.
† LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.
* Credit card required at enrollment. At the end of the no-cost 30-day trial period, if you do not cancel, your card will be billed automatically on a monthly or annual basis depending on what you elect at the time of enrollment. Offer is for new LifeLock members only. Offer is available for LifeLock Standard™, LifeLock Advantage™ and LifeLock Ultimate Plus™ memberships only. Not combinable with other offers.
Symantec, the Symantec Logo, the Checkmark Logo, Norton, Norton by Symantec, LifeLock, and the LockMan Logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Symantec Corporation or its affiliates in the U.S. and other countries. Other names may be trademarks of their respective owners.
Copyright © 2017 Symantec Corp. All rights reserved.
Kiplinger

9 Ways To Stretch Your Back-to-School Budget

Cut the cost of out-of-pocket classroom expenses with these savvy money saving tips.

Shopping for all the things you need to get back to school—books, supplies, clothes and more—can put a serious dent in your budget. For the 2015-2016 school year, educators spent an average of $487 on out-of-pocket classroom supplies, according to the most recent survey of K-12 teachers conducted by SheerID in partnership with Agile Education Marketing.

It pays to look for deals, coupons, special offers and tools that help you trim the cost of shopping a little—or a lot.

 

Try these 9 tips to get you back to school without blowing your budget!

  1. Use your NEA member benefits.Save on your back-to-school needs—get discounts on brand name clothing, electronics, books, computers and other merchandise and services from hundreds of leading companies and local retailers through the NEA Click & Save program. You can also earn WOWPoints on purchases that you can spend later in NEA Click & Save stores. It’s easy to use and well worth the time. As of May 2017, NEA members have collectively saved over $12 million!

To find out more about the kinds of items you can buy through NEA Click & Save, read our popular article titled “10 Everyday Discounts You’re Missing Out On.”

While you’re back-to-school shopping, get the most out of purchase rewards with the NEA Cash Rewards Card. You’ll earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 3% cash back on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery store, wholesale club and gas purchases each quarter. And there’s a special incentive for new account holders: You can qualify for a $150 cash rewards bonus by using your new Cash Rewards credit card to make at least $500 in purchases within 90 days of your account’s open date.

And don’t forget to check out our extensive Teacher Discounts list for books and magazines, clothing and jewelry, classroom supplies and teaching aids, professional development, electronics, food and much more. We’ve scoured the stores and done the deals-searching for you!

  1. Share your wish list

If you hand out a classroom “wish list” to tell parents what you need, save on time and copying by posting your list online, suggests Kathryn Lagden, who works for TeacherLists.com and is vice president of strategy for the site’s parent company, School Family Media.

“Declining school budgets make it more and more necessary for teachers to figure out creative solutions to keep try to their classrooms supplied,” Lagden adds. She says TeacherLists.com is a free service that makes posting and sharing wish lists “really simple and effective.”

Right now, there are more than 800,000 (teacher) lists on the site, Lagden says. The most often requested items are basic supplies such as tissues, markers, paper towels and re-sealable bags.

Lists can be posted for individual classrooms or the entire schools. Make your list, post it once, then maintain or update it as needed. Parents can access your list instantly on their computers or smartphone while shopping in stores, or on any device, any time.

  1. Ask for donations

Join a gifts-in-kind organization like the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources, suggests NAIER president and CEO Gary C. Smith. NAEIR collects donations of new merchandise from US corporations such as Microsoft, Stanley Tools, 3M, Rubbermaid and many others, and redistributes them for free to their not-for-profit members, including teachers and schools.

The donated items include free class materials, office and art supplies, janitorial supplies, sporting goods, tools, toys, software books and media, personal care items, party goods and more, Smith says. Teachers browse catalogs of available supplies and ask for what they need. Typically, members pay “a modest annual membership fee, plus nominal shipping and handling costs,” Smith says. (At time of writing, NAEIR was offering educators free membership.)

  1. Go social

Shop for supplies and classroom needs online, suggests frugal living, shopping and travel expert Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com. “Sign up for emails from your favorite stores, or follow them on social media, to hear about sales as soon as they’re happening,” he suggests.

Try free tools to manage those emails. Kristen Strem, spokesperson for Unroll.me and Slice, says people save money when their promotion and deal emails are organized in one easy-access place. Your “roll-up” (screen) on Unroll.me shows all your special offers, sorted and saved daily, so they’re not forgotten, lost, or buried under the crush of spam.

  1. Opt for apps and online coupons

Don’t bother clipping paper coupons, says Lal. “A teacher’s time is valuable” and “it’s easier to find coupons online.” Try sites such as Retail Me Not, Coupon Sherpa and Coupon Cabin.

Or, before you buy, search “coupon code” plus the item name, adds Brad Hines, a lesson plan creator on Teachers Pay Teachers and personal finance blogger. “There is zero excuse” not to look for coupons on every online purchase but if you don’t have time, he suggests an app called Honey that finds coupons for you automatically at the time of purchase.

For shopping on your iPhone and Android phone, a mobile app called Shopular can help you save money by delivering “geo-targeted coupons” to your phone while you’re shopping, at the retailer’s doorstep.  See who else is selling the product and who has the best price (including tax and shipping fees) with the PriceGrabber app.

Use RetailMeNot‘s mobile app to get sale information, find discounts and load coupon codes to your phone while you shop. Show the code on your phone at the checkout counter to redeem your coupon.

  1. Take advantage of free shipping. Look for free shipping offers and plan your purchases to take advantage of the savings they provide, suggests Lal. Many stores offer you free shipping when your order totals a certain dollar amount. If you want to buy one item but it doesn’t cost enough to qualify for free shipping, don’t check out yet. Save your cart and keep shopping until you’ve added enough items to the order to get free shipping.

 

  1. Comparison shop

Use price comparison tools to make sure you’re getting the best deal. “When shopping for school supplies, don’t buy the first thing you see. Shop around to make sure you’re getting the best price” or use a price comparison tool like Priceblink.com, suggests company founder and Savings Expert Karl Quist. He says Priceblink finds best deals, free shipping, coupon codes, and more, saving users time—and an average “15 to 20 percent” on everything from highlighters to printers to office equipment including printers, tablets, laptops, and more.

For example, Quist found a Canon MB2020 all-in-one printer priced at $129.99. The deal sounded good because the price was “marked down from $179.99” at Office Depot. But when Quist checked the same printer through Priceblink, it showed “several other stores have it available for $89.99—that’s a difference of $40,” he says.

  1. Save after the fact
    Saving money after your purchase with tools like Slice that monitor price drops, suggests Strem. The app makes it easier to get a “price match refund if that backpack you bought recently went on sale,” she says. And its handy receipt tracking feature “is great for teachers who buy classroom materials out of pocket and plan to expense later” or claim as a deduction on that year’s tax return.
  2. Time your shopping.

Just as holiday products are cheaper after the holiday, school supplies are cheaper after the school year begins. “If you can, wait to buy school supplies until after Labor Day,” Lal says. “Prices will drop severely late in the season.”

Bonus Tip: Be super-organized and shop a year ahead!

Hines takes timed shopping a step further. “Buy with next year in mind” to save even more. When you find a sale or special price on something your classroom will need next year, buy it now and store it for later instead of waiting until you need it, when it may not be on sale. Bonus: if the price goes up during the year, you’ll save even more by buying now.

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NEA Home Financing Program – Getting Your Home, and Your Mortgage, Ready for Summer

Through the NEA Home Financing Program, with financing provided by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, NEA members, their parents and children have access to a wide range of home loan options to meet a variety of needs and receive a special benefit after closing.

Spring is a great time to take a fresh look at what needs to be done around a home and consider any home financing goals you have for the future.

Things to check around the house

No matter where you live, now is a good time to take inventory of what to take care of at home, to ensure that you’re ready for the months ahead. Be sure to check off the following items:

  • Check the batteries in the smoke alarms and flashlights
  • Replenish any emergency items like water
  • Have your air conditioner inspected by a professional
  • Check exterior doors and windows for cracked or broken glass

Review insurance needs

It’s important to evaluate homeowners insurance coverage on a regular basis. This will help make sure that coverage keeps pace with the cost to repair or rebuild a home and replace its contents, including any upgrades made over time. While this could lead to higher premiums, it helps to be more adequately insured and less vulnerable to high out-of-pocket expenses.

The following are just a few items that can affect insurance and the premium being paid:

  • Home remodeling project
  • Installation of a pool or trampoline
  • The age of a house and roof—and the materials
  • A home-based business

To ensure that you’re properly covered, contact an insurance agent and review coverage every year. In addition:

  • Consider combining your policies. Many insurance companies offer discounts for bundling policies.
  • Purchase umbrella liability insurance to protect yourself against claims that may exceed your current coverage limits. Umbrella policies generally offer $1 million or more in additional coverage at reasonable rates.

Think about your future home financing needs

A regular mortgage check helps you think about whether your mortgage still aligns with your current goals, such as making renovations, buying your next home or a vacation property, refinancing your current mortgage, or helping one of your children buy their first home. Checking in with your home mortgage consultant to evaluate your current situation only takes a few minutes and is a great opportunity to help ensure you’re making the changes necessary to meet your goals. Even making a small adjustment, such as changing your payment schedule, could benefit you in the long run.

Add to your list a look at the NEA Home Financing Program.  You can buy a new home or refinance with this Association member benefit.  After closing on a loan through the NEA Home Financing Program, you’re eligible to receive a MyMortgage GiftSM award from Wells Fargo approximately 6 weeks after closing — $500 for buying a home, or $300 for refinancing your home – for use at participating retailers. 1

To learn more, call the NEA Home Financing Program at 800-632-4968 or visit us online.

 

 

  1. Eligible individuals can receive the Wells Fargo My Mortgage GiftSM award approximately 6 weeks after closing on a new purchase or refinance loan secured by an eligible first mortgage or deed of trust with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage (“New Loan”), subject to qualification, approval and closing, when identifying themselves as eligible. The My Mortgage GiftSM award is not available with any Wells Fargo Three-Step Refinance SYSTEM® program, The Relocation Mortgage Program® or to any Wells Fargo team member. Only one My Mortgage Gift award is permitted per eligible (“New Loan”). This award cannot be combined with any other award, discount or rebate, except for yourFirstMortgageSM. This award is void where prohibited, transferable, and subject to change or cancellation with no prior notice. Awards may constitute taxable income. Federal, state and local taxes, and any use of the award not otherwise specified in the Terms and Conditions (also provided at receipt of award) are the sole responsibility of the My Mortgage GiftSM recipient.
Wells Fargo Home Mortgage has a services agreement with NEA’s Member Benefit Corporation in which NEA’s Member Benefit Corporation receives a financial benefit for providing agreed upon services. You are encouraged to shop around to ensure you are receiving the services and loan terms that fit your home financing needs.
Information is accurate as of date of distribution. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage is a division of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. © 2017 Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. NMLSR ID 399801
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Limited Time Offer: $50 Bonus With NEA® Online Savings Account

Your savings can grow faster with the NEA® Online Savings Account through Discover Bank, Member FDIC. You get a rate that’s consistently among the nation’s highest—5x the national savings average 1. Plus you get additional member-only benefits:

  • No minimum deposit to open

  • $50 Bonus 2 for members who open and fund a new NEA Online Savings Account by May 31, 2017 and make an initial minimum deposit of $500 or more by June 15, 2017.

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IEA Member Benefits Launches New Website

“No foolin!”  (This is April Fool’s Day, don’tcha know.)

IEA Member Benefits has launched a new website in response to advice from the IEA Technical Specialist. This will make IEA Member Benefits more visible to you, our valued members.  Now you can get to all of the benefits available to you as an association member more quickly.

See us at ieamemberbenefits.org and continue to learn and use the dozens of benefits available to you that makes your membership valuable.  Be sure to bookmark this site.

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May is Member Appreciation Month!

This notice is a month early but we wanted to give you a “heads up” so you can get ready! We’ll remind you again with the May newsletter.

NEA Member Benefits is going all out to celebrate NEA members throughout May! Here’s how we’re appreciating YOU all month long

31 Days of Giving – You’ll have a chance to win awesome daily prizes – or the grand prize of $1,000 – every day in May! Starting at noon ET on May 1, go to neamb.com/appreciation every afternoon to find out that day’s giveaway. You can enter once a day, every day, through May 31.

Limited-time deals and freebies – You’ll also have access to lots of exclusive discounts and gifts to thank you for all the hard work you do every day.

This is our way of saying “thank you” for everything that you do to help shape America’s future.

Don’t miss out: Go to neamb.com/appreciation starting May 1!

From the IEA Executive Director

"I feel that being an IEA member is a professional right and responsibility. Partnering with MBC just makes your membership an even more valuable resource."

Sue (Scott) Wigdorski
Idaho Education Association
Executive Director

From the IEA President

“The IEA is the voice for public education in Idaho, the leader in professional development opportunities, and the greatest source for support for the education profession. Having access to discounts from an array of vendors through Member Benefits is an added bonus for members!”

Kari Overall
President
Idaho Education Association

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