Thursday, July 30, 2015

Q&A: Google and Cybersecurity

Google had a good day in mid-July. It's safe to say it had a better day than you did, even if your day was fantastic. The company set a record for the largest single-day increase in value in the history of American investing at nearly $67 billion, breaking the previous record held by Apple.  Google did well enough that if it wanted to relax with a weekend of video games, movies, and pulp novels, it could simply buy Nintendo, Loews, and Barnes and Noble with the money it made just in that one day.

That day was less enjoyable for Google's customers, though. As investors were thrilled by YouTube's growth, Gmail users were beset by faulty spam filters which hid so many legitimate emails that Linux founder Linus Torvald took to an online op-ed calling out the tech giant. The misstep was a rare occurrence from Google, but considering it followed a much-ballyhooed revision to its Gmail platform, it was worrisome for many. When considered in the context of major hacks of the U.S. government and infidelity website Ashley Madison this summer, the Gmail problems had people wondering what security Google has in place for the largest privately-held collection of American's data.

Don't leave your cyber security in doubt. We're here to answer your questions about your online safety. 

Question: Everyone is always going on and on about online security, but nothing has ever happened to me. Should I even care? What's the worst that could happen? 

Answer: If you've never paid attention to your Internet security and never had a security problem, you're probably fine. You clearly have a rabbit's foot offering you magical protection from scammers, spammers, spoofers, and identity thieves. Or maybe you have been compromised and just don't know it yet.

If black hats get their hands on your machine, there's no telling what they could do. In some cases, you're looking at spyware and malware that's merely annoying. In others, your personal and financial information could be compromised. You might even have had your identity stolen. Online security is crucial, and you really can't be too careful.

Question: I don't have Gmail. I use Outlook. I don't use Android. I have an iPhone. I'm good, right?

Answer: Internet security is like a 1980s slasher flick: The instant you let down your guard, something bad is going to happen. No, you're not safe and Google isn't bad at security. They're actually pretty good at it.  Their cyber security task force is responding to the perception of a problem, not an actual problem.

Conversely, consider the products offered by Apple: Apple is slow to offer security updates for OS-X and sometimes bizarrely laconic when it comes to iOS apps.  While Google and Microsoft update their iOS apps every two weeks or so, Apple often waits months. Apple also doesn't support security updates for older versions of OS-X, so if you're still running Snow Leopard or anything older, Apple stopped updating security on your machine last year, leaving about 1 in 5 users behind.  When El Capitan comes out this fall, it will likely mean that security updates will end for machines still using Mountain Lion. 

Question: How do I know if my security is up to date? 

Answer:  Every reputable piece of software you use, on your computer or on the Web, should allow you to view your security settings.  If you can't find your security settings, Google it or look for help on the site.  If you still can't find your security settings, consider using different software. 

Question: What do I do if I think something fishy is going on with my account information? 

Answer:  For our members, let Destinations Credit Union know right away.  The sooner we know, the sooner we can protect your important financial information.  You may have your credit or debit card information stored at your favorite shops and you don't want anyone to mess with your cards. After you've gotten in touch with us, get in contact with whomever is in charge of the site where you have suspicions.  See what they recommend.  It may be a good idea to notify the police.  Anyone who has access to your online profile is likely to have your home address, too.

Now is a really good time to protect yourself.  Update your password for all of your main accounts and any others you can think of.  Don't write your password down, try not to make it obvious, and try to keep your passwords separate.  It may be a lot of work, but it will pay off in peace of mind.

Sources:
http://fortune.com/2015/07/21/activist-investors-tech-companies/

Monday, July 27, 2015

Is It Time To Upsize Your Home?


Life rarely turns out the way we plan, and when a surprise comes along, it's usually not an opportunity to simplify our lives.  If you're one of the many parents blessed with one more angel than you had planned for, you understand just how such surprises can make the simplest things much more complicated. Or maybe the innocent angel you've been raising has entered adolescence and wants some space alone.  Or maybe it's gone the other way for you:  You bought a house when prices were low and wages were tight, and now that you have some equity and a higher income you'd like to bump up your standard of living.

If any of those scenarios sound familiar, it might be time to upsize your home. But is expanding right for you? 

Upsizing is great ... 

You probably don't need anyone to tell you that a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood would be fantastic.  If you could get the kids out from under your feet, you could go back to reading that book you never finished or start that workout regimen you've been putting off, or whatever it is that makes you want to plunk down your hard-earned money for a new home.

But there are really strong arguments to be made for upsizing that might not be as obvious.  For example, you may not actually want more square footage.  One way to upsize without getting a giant house full of rooms you might not need is to look into adding outdoors space.  Some homes have gorgeous patios, outdoor kitchens and even wood-burning outdoor pizza ovens!

Another alternative to upsizing your space is to move into the home of the future.  That Cape Cod or Queen Anne you're in right now might be beautiful, but is it built for the 21st century?  Are the speakers built into the walls?  Is it set up for home automation?  Or does it have that one bizarre room with no outlets, like some mid-century houses in the Midwest?  For some people, particularly those with a home business, it can even be worth paying more every month if doing so moves you to a neighborhood with faster Internet.

Baby Boomers have been upsizing their homes at a surprising rate, often moving into larger homes for retirement.  Usually, people move into larger homes because they want the space and retirees presumably have an empty nest.  Moreover, as we get older, it can be harder to lug a vacuum up the stairs or commit to mowing an enormous lawn every weekend.  But Boomers have learned the value of luring others over, often choosing houses on artificial lakes or in gated communities with kid-friendly amenities.  Suddenly, the big house is a blessing, because there's room for everyone at Thanksgiving!  If you're wanting to cut down on your travel time or increase your hosting duties at social events, a bigger house might be just the ticket. 

... But maybe not? 

You've been through this before, when you bought your current place. Buying a home is a little tedious and a lot expensive.  As you're looking back on it, you might wonder why you'd ever go through that process again when it might be easier just to ask one of the kids to sleep in a tent out back or put up guests in a nearby hotel.

The good news is that it's not going to be that difficult this time.  You know what you're doing and you should have fewer surprises.  You've got the down payment set up through the equity in your current home.  And if you're already financing through [credit union], a new loan approval will be fairly quick and easy. 

What about right now? 

If you're considering the idea of upsizing your home, now's the time for action. The dollar is gaining steam and plenty of economists are predicting we're likely to see interest rates go up at some point this fall.  If you can get in before then, you'll save some real cash in the long run.

It's also a good idea to act now because you can catch both sides of the housing recovery.  If your home has regained its value, but you know a neighborhood that hasn't gotten back to full value yet, you can make a shrewd investment to get a bigger, nicer house in the other neighborhood and wait until that new home gets to the value it should have been selling at all along.  Right now, you've got a great buy low, sell high opportunity.

If you're ready, or you think you might be ready to think about being ready to upsize your home, give Destinations Credit Union a call.  Rates are still fairly low.  If you don't know if you can afford to upsize, give us a call anyway.  Our home loan specialists can help you figure out if upsizing is the way to go, help you build a budget, or show you our construction and remodeling loans if you're looking to upgrade your new home before you move in.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A New Kind of Grandparent Scam


For years, con artists have preyed on the elderly, claiming to be their grandchildren and in trouble with desperate need for money.  This is the traditional grandparent scam and it dates back to as long as grandparents have had home phones.  Scammers know that grandma will do anything to help out, and they also know members of "the greatest generation" are excellent marks for phone scams.  In the traditional version of this scam, someone calls and tells the grandparent their grandchild has been jailed for a minor offense in a foreign country or has had a medical emergency befall them. Of course, other situations that would present an immediate need but be very hard to quickly verify are also used, so there is no one sure tell based upon circumstance. 

In reality, the grandchild is not under arrest, in the hospital or in trouble at all. At the very moment the scammer says the grandchild is in the middle of an emergency, he or she is probably just staring at a cellphone screen, possibly while they're in class, oblivious to the whole situation.

A new version of the scam has been making the rounds this summer and it has a 21st century hook. The FTC, the BBB and various news organizations are reporting that scammers are now claiming to be debt collectors and getting older Americans to fork over credit card information or wire money to the scammers.  Sometimes the collectors claim to be after young people, threatening that if grandma doesn't come through with the cash, the grandchild will be arrested, have their license revoked or lose their job. Other times, the scammers claim the grandparents are on the hook for the debt and use their fear of losing their credit rating to finagle some easy money out of a frightened victim.

The debt collection angle is new to the grandmother scam, but hardly a new scam in itself.  Con artists have been calling with fraudulent debts and fabricated threats for years, often claiming a long-forgotten payday loan or other non-traditional debt has been turned over to the police. But as people have gotten wise to phony debt collection scams, they've combined the routine with grandparent scams to make a new scenario that feels very real.With student loans and credit card debt through the roof, it's easy to believe a loved one could have all sorts of debt we don't know about. With the pressure on, it's difficult to find out if it's true.  But, if you didn't co-sign a loan, you can't be held responsible for paying it, no matter what someone tells you over the phone.  In fact, it's illegal for a debt collector to tell you if someone else has a debt at all. If you've ever called a credit card company on behalf of your spouse, you've probably experienced the privacy laws in action, because the credit card company won't even talk to you.   

If you feel pressured to make a payment or provide personal information over the phone, try to get off the line as quickly as possible.  Offer to call them back, if necessary.  The more they try to keep you on the phone, the more likely it is that they're fraudsters who are after a quick buck.  If you think you might be a potential victim of such a scam, let the FTC know immediately, at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

Then, let Destinations Credit Union know so we can make sure your accounts are safe, issue new information if necessary, and prevent any fraudulent charges.  We can also show you how to go through your credit report and find out if you have any debts you don't know about. 

When someone pressures you on the phone, it's always a good idea to take a break and figure out what's really going on.  

Sources: