Thursday, April 28, 2016

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?

SOURCES:
https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/273221?utm_source=google-news&utm_medium=syndication&utm_campaign=google-editors-pick&google_editors_picks=true

Monday, April 25, 2016

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.
SOURCES: 
http://www.mtgprofessor.com/A%20-%20Down%20Payment/what_is_the_yield_on_a_larger_down_payment.htm
http://www.mtgprofessor.com/A%20-%20Down%20Payment/how_much_should_i_put_down.htm 
http://www.consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb/122/what-is-private-mortgage-insurance.html
http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/07/avoid_pmi.asp 
http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/down-payment-assistance-still-available.aspx
http://homeguides.sfgate.com/can-personal-bank-loan-out-down-payment-home-97705.html 
https://www.mortgagehippo.com/blog/down-payment-assistance-programs/

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Keeping A Checkbook Register- A 20th Century Solution To A 21st Century Problem



Thirty years ago, trying to spend more money than you had wasn't just embarrassing; it was a scandal. Since checks didn't process instantly, a shopkeeper would have no way of knowing until days after the purchase. Writing one bad check would cost you check-writing privileges at that establishment and possibly land your likeness on a "wall of shame."

Balancing your checkbook was critical, since there was no online account history you could check. You had to document every transaction in the checkbook register for keeping an accurate running balance. You got a statement once a month, which you would use to double check your work - and the work of your financial institution! 

With modern technology, many people don't bother to balance their checkbooks any longer. Most transactions that had been made with a check are now made with a debit card. Many consumers don't even carry a checkbook, which means no register. But who cares, right? 

You should! Balancing your checkbook can still do wonders to improve your financial awareness and security. Let's look at the hows and whys of this "ancient" art and what mastering it in the 21st century can do for you. 

A check register for a new age

At its core, a check register is just a running list of credits and debits (money in and money out). You could just keep a notepad, but it would be easy to lose. Plus, it's just one more thing to carry around. It's much easier to put something you already have to work.

If you always carry a checkbook, the pages in the back can still be an effective check register. If you'd like something a little more modern, there are plenty of options. A quick check of an app store shows more than a dozen checkbook balancing apps for both iPhone and Android devices. If you're looking for something shareable, a Google Sheet that you and your partner share could help with a joint account.

Whatever you use, the process is the same. You write your current checking account balance on the first line. Whenever you write a check or use your debit card, you write the check number if it's a check, the date of the transaction, a description of the transaction, and the amount. Follow a similar process for online bill payments or automatic withdrawals. Then, subtract the debit from your balance and write the new balance next to the transaction. Any time you add money to your account (a credit), do the same thing, but adding instead of subtracting.

Once a month, sit down with your checkbook register and compare it to your account statement. Put a checkmark next to items that appear on your account statement. This is called reconciling your checking account. 

Say goodbye to overdrafts! 

The most obvious reason for keeping your checking account balanced is to have constant tracking of your finances. You'll never have to worry if this tank of gas is going to put you in the red or that you can't really afford to meet friends for drinks. In fact, this method can actually provide you MORE security than checking your balance on a smartphone app.

Different transactions process at different speeds. If you run your debit card as a credit card, that transaction goes to a payment processor, then to your credit union, then back to the payment processor, then to the merchant. The whole process can take as much as 3 days (more if it is over a holiday weekend). If you use your debit card at a busy restaurant, the manager may not get around to processing the receipt until a day or two later. Of course, if you write a check, the person you write it to may forget about it until the next week! All of these can cause your account balance to inaccurately represent your funds available.

By updating your account balance as soon as you make the transaction, you can avoid the chain of overdrafts that can really put you in a bind. Even if you never have a problem with your account balance, the security that comes from being sure is invaluable. You can't put a price on that peace of mind. 

Fraud alert! 

Double-confirming your transactions is a great way to stay ahead of identity thieves and other forms of fraud. Because you've documented all your transactions, you should be able to quickly spot any irregular expenditures. You'll be able to spot stolen cards, fraudulent purchases and merchant overcharges quickly, and your record will be an excellent form of evidence on your behalf. 

Facing your finances 

A lot of us have monthly subscriptions we're not using. Maybe you signed up for a free trial of a cloud storage product or music streaming service and forgot to cancel. Maybe it's a magazine subscription you thought you canceled a year ago. Whatever it is, it's easy enough to not think about it.

When you perform your reconciliation and really examine your statement, you'll see your spending habits differently. You'll see (and have to record in your register) all those little expenses. This makes a great time to cancel those recurring charges!

Being forced to write down all your spending also forces you to put an extra step between desire and gratification. Would you really be so quick to whip out plastic to grab a snack if it meant an extra transaction to record? Could you, at the end of the month, justify all those daily indulgences? Keeping records can be a great way to get your spending under control.

Keeping a checkbook register might seem like an outdated habit, but knowing where your money goes is a timeless need. If you would like help setting up a checkbook register or want to better understand how you can take charge of your finances, call, click, or stop by Destinations Credit Union today!

It might be the first step you take on the road to financial security.


SOURCES: 
http://www.bankrate.com/finance/checking/why-balance-checking-account.aspx

Monday, April 11, 2016

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. 

SOURCES: