Saturday, February 28, 2015

Q & A: Anthem's Data Breach And What You Need To Know




Q: I keep hearing about Anthem being a hacking target. What happened and am I at risk?

A: Anthem Inc., the second-largest health insurer in America, was targeted in a major security breach over the last month. New reports suggest hackers have been trying to compromise the company's systems for months and may have been inside their system since December. According to the company, 80 million Anthem customers may have had their names, Social Security numbers and addresses compromised.

This is a unique event in the recent history of cybersecurity. Previous hacks, like those affecting Home Depot or Target, were attacking hardware. Hackers were exploiting vulnerabilities in computer hardware and software to gain access to confidential data. Here, the company is reporting that hackers had a different target: company employees.

Anthem reports that, beginning in December, hackers acquired login credentials of five employees. The employees could have been victimized by malware or social engineering scams. The hackers trying to beat Anthem didn't need to find a flaw in the computer infrastructure. Instead, they just had to find a weakness in the people operating those systems.

Once they had these credentials, hackers used their access to do two things. First, they breached the company databases. Once inside, they exposed addresses, dates of birth, employment history, employment information, income data, medical ID's, names and Social Security numbers. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that payment information was not compromised. That means there's no need to cancel credit cards that were used to pay Anthem bills yet. Second, hackers created a number of phony email accounts with Anthem domains.

There are two ways victims might be affected by this scam. First, they might have their personal information stolen. This group exclusively consists of current and former Anthem customers. Given the timing of the hack, this will likely result in a fraudulent tax returns and possibly other instances of identity theft.

The second wave of victims is only just now emerging. The fake email accounts have been used to send wave after wave of "phishing" attacks to Anthem customers. These attacks take the form of an email apology with an offer for a year of free credit monitoring. Recipients of the email are redirected to another website to enter their Social Security number and other personally identifying information. This information is then used to commit any of a smorgasboard of identity theft crimes.

Anthem is currently being sued in several states. One lawsuit alleges current and former Anthem subscribers were misled about the security of their personal information and is seeking unspecified damages from the provider in overpaid premiums. Another pending lawsuit is seeking damages resulting from the frauds themselves. Until these lawsuits are settled, Anthem will likely not make any public statement of responsibility or apology, as this could be viewed by the courts as an admission of guilt. At this time, Anthem is offering no free credit monitoring service nor has it made any statement to members outside the press.

If you're an Anthem subscriber, there are a few steps you should take as soon as possible. To find out if you're an Anthem subscriber, check your insurance card. If you're part of a group plan at work, you may need to ask your HR representative if your plan is administered through Anthem. In the meantime, take these three steps.

1.) File your taxes.

This will be one way to check if your Social Security number has been compromised. The state of Connecticut is encouraging their citizens to file early if they're Anthem customers so hackers using stolen Social Security numbers will be easier to detect.

2.) Put a fraud alert on your credit report.

Contact any one of the three major reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax, or Transunion) and explain your worries. A fraud report on one account will create a fraud report on all three, so there's no need to duplicate your efforts. This report will notify you if anyone attempts to open an account in your name during the next 90 days. If you're absolutely sure your number has been compromised, it might be worth putting a freeze on your credit history. This will prevent anyone from checking your credit or from opening up any account in your name, including you. While drastic, this measure is a sure-fire way to keep yourself safe.

3.) Get proactive with government services.

Notify the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service of the possible fraud to ensure that no one attempts to file a change of address form in your name. The US Postal Service also maintains a similar service. These steps will ensure that you'll at least get a paper trail if someone makes an attempt to steal your identity.

Anthem is maintaining a toll-free question line.  Customers with concerns or fears should call 877-263-7995.  They have also created a website - www.AthemFacts.com - with up-to-date information about he scope and severity of the breach.  They have made it clear that future contact with customers affected by the breach will be made by mail. 
 
SOURCES:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Finance In The Classroom: Tools For Talking To Kids About Money


Getting kids interested and involved in finance can be a real challenge. There's a gap between what they may want to know and what they have the experience to understand. Finding age-appropriate reading materials, activities, and discussion topics to keep them engaged is a complex problem. Whether you're a teacher, a church leader, a baby-sitter, aunt, uncle or a parent, being able to engage kids in these conversations is an important skill.
  
Fortunately, the Utah Department of Education has created a set of resources for all of these groups. The website, Finance in the Classroom, can be found at financeintheclassroom.org. It's a solid collection of resources for kids of all ages.
  
For younger children, the site features a wide range of fun flash games that help them get used to counting money, saving and budgeting. Most of them will respond well to mobile devices and touch screens, meaning that kids can learn valuable lessons on their devices instead of playing mindless games that teach very little in the process. Some games are slightly more advanced and tackle topics like credit card management, investing and even macro-economic policy making! The interactivity is a great way to keep kids entertained and serves as a starting point for financial conversations.
  
Older children may be interested in the various calculators on the site. These include applets that help kids see how much college might cost, how much they should save, and how inflation might affect them in the future. There are also a list of book recommendations for further reading and education.
  
The site also features some tools for adults, like mortgage calculators and credit checklists. There are also quizzes and other tools designed to test adult financial literacy. More than that, though, the site offers discussion-starters and in-home activities designed for parents and children to undertake together. The activities are broken down by grade level and organized around themes like "scarcity" and "supply and demand." Most of the activities don't need much in the way of supplies or planning and can help solve the rainy Saturday afternoon problem of what to do.
  
This site is not without its flaws, though. The amount of information can be overwhelming and it doesn't appear to get regular updates. Some of the information is specific to Utah laws, like specific college savings programs. Still, as a collection of free tools and games, Finance in the Classroom is a great place to start.  

For teens and young adults, Destinations Credit Union offers "On Your Way" - a social network for those interested in learning how to manage their money.  There are interesting blog posts, contests and videos to help this group better cope with new financial responsibilities.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

America Saves Week - Saving For The Future Can Save The Day



The week of February 23-28 is America Saves Week. The event, put together by the American Savings Education Council, began in 2007 as a way for organizations and individuals to talk about one of the most serious problems facing American consumers: the lack of savings. While American consumers are in a better position than they were at the height of the economic crisis in 2007, we still have a long way to go.

Only 64% of households have sufficient emergency funds to cover temporary crises like car repairs, medical bills, job loss or some other serious life change. That number is down 7% from 2010. 68% say they are saving more than they are spending, down from 73% in 2010. It seems as though the lessons of the great recession have been forgotten.

This lack of savings puts individuals at risk of financial ruin, but it also places the economy itself in jeopardy. Declines affecting one industry are bad news for the economy, but they don't trigger a credit crunch without a number of other problems. Low rates of consumer savings and high lifestyle maintenance debt can make job loss a vicious cycle. Consumers with high debt loads find themselves unable to spend, which slows growth in the rest of the economy. This leads to job loss in other sectors, snowballing throughout the economy.

Savings and low debt represent a way to fight back against this cycle. Reducing debt and increasing savings provides a way for consumers to maintain their lifestyles through career setbacks, which prevents the worst parts of economic crises. That's right: You can save the day with your savings.

If you're interested in participating in America Saves week, here are three great ways to do so.

1.) Make a pledge and set a goal

By making a commitment to spend less, save more and get out of debt, you can motivate yourself to do just that. The America Saves week website, www.americasavesweek.org, has a pre-written pledge you can sign. It's a great first step toward building personal wealth and making yourself a backstop against recession.

The site also lets you set a monthly savings goal. If you're just starting out in trying to get your finances under control, you might set a small goal - such as save $40 a month for 3 months. The website has a calculator that lets you see how much small savings add up over time. If you're a veteran saver looking for a way to keep yourself on track toward a goal, the tool will let you work backward from a vacation budget or loan balance to see how much you need to save each month.

Let Destinations Credit Union help with your pledge. Sign up for automatic transfers from checking to savings (or create your own within online banking) to keep yourself honest to your pledge. With a Kasasa Rewards Checking, you can attach a savings account and your rewards are automatically swept into the savings.  With these tools, you'll be at your goal in no time!

2.) Show the world what you're saving for

It's easy to get discouraged when your goal is something abstract. "Savings" is hard to compare in your head to a new cellphone game or a dinner out. That's why it's so important to make your goal something concrete. Save for a vacation, or for a new vehicle, or for your education.

Picking a concrete savings goal is step one in keeping yourself motivated. Next, you'll want to document your goal. Snap a picture of yourself with what you're saving for. If you want to pay off your mortgage, take a picture of yourself in front of your house. If you want a new car, take a picture of yourself behind the wheel at a dealership. If it's a tropical vacation you're after, take a picture of yourself in a swimsuit in front of the giant piles of snow outside. Document your goal so you'll always have something to look at when you get discouraged.

Best of all, snapping that picture could get you $500 toward your goal. Share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media. Use the hashtag #imsavingfor. Then, navigate to the America Saves Week website and let them know what you did. You'll be entered in a drawing for $500 to kickstart your savings and you'll inspire your friends to set and follow their savings goals as well!

3.) Stay inspired

There's a rush of enthusiasm that comes from starting a new project. At first, it's novel and effortless. Then the days drag on. The novelty starts to wear off. The project becomes just another routine. A missed day turns into a missed week. The enthusiasm that characterized the start of the project just isn't there.

Make sure this doesn't happen to you with your America Saves Week pledge. Take some time to flip through the inspiring stories, like Mary Brown. A Wisconsin resident, Brown spent 7 years in Milwaukee public housing before saving to her goal of $2,000. Now, she's finished her B.A. and moved her family into their first home. Stories like these remind us of the power of commitment, discipline, and dedication.

Take time each day to reflect on the progress you've made and the challenges you've overcome. Take a look at your goal and think about how good you'll feel once you've accomplished it. Thank yourself for helping to keep the economy strong and your career on track. Most importantly, keep saving!

SOURCES:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Job Seekers Beware: 'Re-packing' Jobs Could Lead To Jail Time!



We keep hearing the economy is improving, but that news rings hollow for many Americans. Long-term unemployment is still a reality for 2.8 million people. They're isolated and increasingly desperate, making them a perfect target for cyber-criminals.

The Better Business Bureau is reporting a new breed of cyber-crime that turns innocent people into accessories in the distribution of stolen merchandise. The scam starts like a lot of others, with a job offer from an anonymous company. The work sounds ideal. It's work-from-home, set your own hours, and work as much or as little as you like. Best of all, it's easy. You receive shipments at your house, then repack them and ship them to another address.

If you sign up, you'll receive packages containing products and instructions about shipping them to other addresses, sometimes overseas. Your employer will want you to cover shipping, but promises to reimburse you for costs on top of your salary. At the end of the month, you get a check from your employer.

The first bad news comes when you attempt to cash that paycheck and it turns out to be fake. All the work you've done, plus the shipping costs you paid out of pocket, are gone. It'd be bad enough if it ended there.

Worse yet, you might end up facing criminal charges. At the very least, you'll be an accessory to the theft of the goods you handled. If you helped to redistribute those goods, you handled stolen property. Even if you didn't know the goods are stolen, if you didn't ask questions where a reasonable person would have, you're guilty.

To make matters worse, if you shipped those items internationally, you likely had to lie on customs documents. That's a federal offense. The scammers just tricked you into taking all of the legal risk while they keep the money.

Similar scams are common in money laundering. A scammer will contact you or leave a post on a job board asking for financial service assistance. They'll send a check and ask you to deposit it, then wire them back some of the money. You can keep a portion of it as your payment. The check was written against stolen funds and the issuing institution refuses to pay it. You're out whatever you wired the scammer and could face charges as an accessory to fraud.

These scams are an unfortunate part of the job search process. They prey on the uncertainty and desperation that characterizes long-term unemployment. The widely anonymous nature of the Internet provides a perfect cover for schemers. If you want to keep yourself safe, follow these tips: 

1.) Be proactive in your job search 

It's possible that your dream job may fall in your lap, though it's far more likely that you'll have to work really hard to get it. If you post your resume on a job site and walk away, it's possible that the only people who are going to contact you are scammers. If you work with a recruiter or employment agency, you'll form a contact that can help you land the job you want.

Working with an agency will also help you weed out the scams. You'll have someone you know and trust to sort the real opportunities from the bogus ones. They'll help put your resume in places where it needs to be instead of in the wrong hands. 

2.) Check the links 

Many of these scams work by "spoofing" a legitimate job posting. You'll see an email saying that X company has reviewed your resume and thinks you would be a good fit for this position. The email will contain a link to something designed to look like a legitimate job posting on a big job board like Monster or Indeed.

Checking to see where links are really going is a hassle, but a quick mouse-over the link will show you the URL. If you don't recognize the domain (the first part after the http:// and before the .com or .org), don't click the link. Report the email as the scam attempt it is. 

3.) Watch for keywords 

"Repackaging" or "reboxing" are common keywords in these scams. For money-laundering, scammers often refer to the work they are proposing as "payment processing" or "wire transfer assistance." It's worth taking a moment to think about what you'd be doing. No legitimate business would need a personal checking account to move money around. If they're a business that can pay for your services, they have a checking account. Similarly, they have an address and postal services.

If an employer is seeking your personal information before they've hired you, they're not a potential employer. They're crooks trying to steal your identity. It's as simple as that. 

SOURCES: 
http://www.tylerpaper.com/TP-News+Local/212834/look-out-for-reshipping-job-scams#.VNJ-I9X3-ix  
http://career-advice.monster.com/job-search/getting-started/money-laundering-reshipping-scams/article.aspx
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm