Saturday, July 30, 2016

With 'Pokémon Go,' If You Gotta Catch 'em All, Consider The Price

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union

If you were alive in the 1990s, you might remember a new craze that swept the world in the form of a Nintendo Game Boy game called Pokémon. The premise of the game is incredibly simple. You capture monsters, train them and pit them against the monsters trained by your opponents. What made the game so popular was that simplicity combined with the social aspect. Not only could you duel against computerized opponents in single player mode, you could also link two handheld consoles together and battle your friends.

Each new generation of Nintendo handheld console had a new iteration of the same essential premise, with new creatures to capture, of course. The game remained popular, but it never had the same monstrous cult appeal of the original. The core problem is a hardware one. It's hard to convince adults and older teens to buy a dedicated handheld gaming console when they have a phone that can provide endless distraction.

Finally, the makers of Pokémon have found a way to solve that problem. They brought Pokémon to the mobile marketplace with a free app called "Pokémon Go." It's available for iOS and Android devices, but it does require usable GPS functionality. It's been incredibly popular. USA Today reports it has been downloaded over 15 million times, and Survey Monkey claims there are more than 20 million players. The success has been surprising even to the companies responsible for producing it; game servers have been crashing under the weight of unexpected traffic. The game is a perfect storm of convenience and nostalgia.

The game has been largely unchanged. A graphical update makes it look modern, but the concept is still the same. Catch Pokémon and battle them against other trainers. The big departure is that the gamepad has been replaced with something larger: the player's body. You move your digital avatar around the game world by walking with your phone. Walking defines much of the mechanic of the game: Pokémon can be found in the real world outside the house, and various other game components incentivize players to be active.

Players can also obtain supplies at businesses that are registered as "Pokestops." Getting within a few yards of a registered business or local landmark allows players to gather needed materials and may encourage them to step inside to check out a sale. In order to do battle with others, players need to head to "gyms," which are set up in public places like churches, libraries and bus stops. At first glance, the app seems like a positive step in gaming. Rather than sitting in a bedroom playing games all summer, kids of all ages are encouraged to go outside and play with friends. It seems like a great generational compromise.

Still, there have been concerns about the game. News programs have reported instances of distracted players wandering into traffic, with some being seriously injured or even killed while playing. Further, the addictive history of the franchise should encourage some caution about the micro-transactions that are embedded in the app.

Safety concerns

Anything that commands your attention while you're moving is a potential health hazard. What makes "Pokémon Go" uniquely hazardous is that it encourages exploration while being distracted. Players could be led into potentially unsafe areas in pursuit of rare creatures.

The best way to avoid these concerns is to encourage collective Pokémon exploration. Two people playing the game and exploring together, or two people playing one game, could be far more resistant to danger. There's also no reason to head to unfamiliar territory while playing. Pokémon appear to populate the world randomly, so there's no need to wander off an established route to catch 'em all. If a young child is interested in playing, it may be helpful to establish a "collection route" that takes them by several "pokestops" and takes a known amount of time.

It's also important to remind kids about the physical boundaries that don't appear as easily in the virtual world, like porches, fences and curbs. If you wouldn't go somewhere without asking to get a ball back, don't go there in pursuit of Pokémon!

At launch time, there were concerns that the app was peeking through users' calendars, emails, and stored files in Google Drive. Google has clarified that these are not and have never been available to the app manufacturer. It's still a good idea to pay attention to what permissions an app is requesting, but there are no immediate privacy or data security concerns with Pokémon Go.

Cost concerns

There are two big cost worries with "Pokémon Go." First, the app includes micro-transactions: small fees charged for in-game content. These are used to buy in-game items that otherwise come in limited supply. While they cost small amounts, with the most expensive item being $5, many of these purchases can add up. It may be helpful to link the account with a pre-paid debit or credit card as a means of limiting the purchasing power of a potential player.

The other concern is in accounting for wireless data. The app takes players away from home wifi locations, which means it needs a constant stream of wireless data access. While consumption rates will vary, 4 hours of play could easily use 0.1GB, about a quarter of a percent of a 4 GB family wireless share plan. Be sure to monitor mobile data consumption on phones being used to play the game, and have a plan to cut off data access to avoid overage charges if that limit is approached.
"Pokémon Go" can be good, clean, healthy fun. It could also be a source of trouble. Talking to players about these risks and what to do to manage them can ensure everyone gets to have a great time.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

How Can I Know If My Too-Good-To-Be-True Deal is Legitimate?

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union 

Q: I was shopping for a new handbag online and noticed a huge difference in prices between retailers. One had a bag for $20, while the other had the same for $200! The first option seems too good to be true. Should I be wary of that amazing deal? 

A: It's possible, though very unlikely, that someone is selling brand name goods at a fraction of the price. It's far more likely, though, that the cheaper goods are counterfeit. They're made to resemble the original, but use low-quality materials and little or no quality control in the manufacturing process.
Counterfeit goods used to be confined to small luxury items sold by street vendors. Sunglasses and watches were the easiest to vend to tourists and others who were prepared to deal in cash yet unprepared to carefully scrutinize the goods. The rise of the Internet as an international marketplace has resulted in the proliferation of the "fakes" industry. A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that around 2.5% of all global trade is in the form of counterfeit goods.
While the most common targets are luxury goods, modern counterfeit manufacturers have moved on to products where the deception is even more difficult for lay people to detect. Car parts, computers, and pharmaceuticals are among the growing pool of off-brand goods that are being marketed at name-brand prices.
It's not just the fashion-conscious who should be concerned. These products aren't held to any production standards. There's no telling what could be in a counterfeit drug, or whether a counterfeit car part will even work. These products take advantage of the trust consumers put in established brands and could result in serious injury or death.
Even if you're buying shoes (one of the most commonly counterfeited products, according to the OECD), it may not be harmless fun. Because the manufacturers operate outside the law, they frequently circumvent all labor safety standards. The counterfeit goods may be manufactured by children, or in conditions that fail to meet even the most basic safety standards. The chemicals used to treat vinyl or leather in counterfeit manufacturing facilities are also exceedingly hazardous, and may contain toxic levels of lead even after arrival.
The profits from the counterfeiting industry may support a wide range of dangerous elements. Organized crime groups, drug cartels and terrorist organizations are among those that use counterfeit goods to finance some of their operations. Because of all these scenarios, supporting the fakes industry is not a decision to be made lightly.
Counterfeit goods are like any other online scam. You need to take steps to protect yourself against being shortchanged. If you're worried about buying counterfeit goods online, take these steps.
1.) Watch the price 
It's possible that a vendor is selling goods at an impossibly good deal. If you're buying from last year's stock of brand name goods, or if the goods are returned or were previously opened, you might get 40% off the retail price. If you're seeing a brand name good for 10% or less of its retail price, it's got to be too good to be true. 
2.) Check the label! 
Most counterfeit goods are made to pass an initial visual screening. Manufacturers will put as much effort as possible into making the knock-off item shiny, with the logo being highly visible. They hope to distract consumers from exercising more careful scrutiny.
One of the most common errors in counterfeit goods manufacturing is the manufacturer's address. Counterfeiters will use the corporate headquarters address, while manufacturers will list the location the goods themselves are manufactured. Minor errors in spelling or formatting of care instructions can also serve as red flags for counterfeit goods. 
3.) Evaluate your source 
Reputable vendors want nothing to do with counterfeit goods. The brand has value to the retailer as well. If asked, vendors should be able to clarify their supply chain. They should take steps to ensure their goods are legitimate.
If you're buying something pre-owned, it can be difficult to keep the same level of scrutiny up. Check labels and serial numbers as carefully as possible. If an item has survived one owner, odds are good it's not counterfeit.
When shopping online, stay away from auction sites like eBay, which are rife with counterfeit goods. Look for authorized retailers or online versions of brick-and-mortar stores. These retailers are more likely to have those supply chain controls in place.
Many cities also have places that are infamous for selling counterfeit goods. Trust your instincts if you're on vacation. If an area is surrounded by street vendors selling normally expensive branded merchandise, find another place to shop. 
4.) Pay your taxes 
One of the most common ways criminals get caught is through the IRS. If you're concerned with the authenticity of a retailer, ask for a receipt. If you don't get one, that's a huge red flag. If you do, look for sales tax. Because counterfeiters are already breaking the law, they don't bother to report their sales or pay sales tax. This exclusion also reflects part of the "incredible deal" they are able to offer on brand name goods. If a store is paying sales tax, odds are good they're on the level. 
Okay, now it's your turn to share: What do you do to check the quality of the goods you purchase? Are there brands you always trust, or retailers you recommend? Ever have an experience you've regretted but learned some tips that might be beneficial to others? We'd love to know!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What are my options for digital banking?

Plenty. We live in the digital age, where you don't even need to leave your couch to do anything; from buying groceries to meeting the love of your life. Destinations Credit Union is part of the many financial institutions allowing you to bank from a mobile device, and even through a mobile app!

In fact, The digital age is ushering in a new era of green banking, and the planet is healthier for it already. Mobile banking saves gas that you would spend on making a special trip to a branch. It saves paper that would be used on statements or receipts. Of course, the advent of the credit card is cutting down quite a bit on the paper, metals and energy used to make, track, and replace dollars and coins. Sites like Paypal or GoFundMe allow you to pay or be paid instantly, which cuts out the need for paper in checks or, again, receipts and paper money. The same goes for the ability to pay bills automatically online, either through your online/mobile banking page or through the company's website. 

Are there any risks to digital banking? 

While the benefits are fantastic, digital banking does come with a few small risks. Some people find keeping a budget to be more difficult when they can just look at their phone and rationalize a purchase they don't need simply because their balance seems okay. This is best solved with separate accounts for savings and spending, so you never think you have more money than you do. Also, although you can do quite a lot of your banking online, you can't do everything. There are still some important tasks that you need to do in person, including setting up new accounts and making deposits over a certain threshold.

Of course, the biggest concern with banking in the digital age is the ever-looming threat of hackers. Robbery no longer looks like a tall man in a ski mask with a revolver. Instead, most robbery happens through identity theft, perpetrated by a much scarier, faceless criminal who could be anywhere. Protecting security is at the forefront of everyone's minds, and Destinations Credit Union uses industry-leading security protection technology. You can help by choosing strong passwords and avoiding online banking from public computers. Fortunately, identity theft is still quite rare. In fact, online banking has helped reduce much of the danger that comes from having paper with personal information on it sitting in the garbage can for anyone to find. The benefits that online banking provides continue to outweigh the risks. 

Are there any banking initiatives that directly support environmental sustainability? 

For starters, an ethical financial institution is one whose primary goal is to support sustainability and the long-term health of its community. Credit unions nationally have led the charge by identifying and supporting local businesses. The less distance goods have to travel, the less CO2 gets pumped into the atmosphere. Destinations Credit Union has also contributed to green initiatives across the community, such as conversion to a mostly paperless system and our annual shred day. Buying an energy-efficient car or building green features into your home can help build a sustainable future. 

How can this help me? 

In addition to the long-term benefits of going green, sustainable banking offers many advantages. Online banking can be done at any time and any place - no waiting for the branch to open, no wasting extra gas money driving to the ATM. Having receipts and monthly statements emailed to you keeps them all in one place, which allows for easy organization and budgeting.

The ability to be paid instantly allows you to, well, be paid instantly. No more waiting for a check to cash or losing it at the bottom of your purse. With automatic bill payments, you can put the bills right out of mind and never have to worry about forgetting them again. This does great things for your stress level and your credit score. In the end, saving the earth can also save you time, money and energy. 

How can I go green banking? 

In the year 2016, green banking is easier than ever. If you're ready to be a part of the future, take these four easy steps:

  • Download our app for easy access to your accounts from anywhere in the world (note, you must be enrolled in and know your online banking credentials to use the app).
  • Enroll in paperless statements and get your important financial updates via email.
  • Set up direct deposit to split your paycheck between your savings and your checking and/or to make loan payments.
  • Use online bill pay to automatically and securely pay your bills each month.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Volunteer Your Child For Success Later In Life

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union
Volunteering is one of the most selfless acts a person can do. It's all about experiencing things as someone else experiences them, and making life a little better for the both of you. Some parents would rather their children spend that time studying instead of doing something selfless. Volunteering, to them, is nice in theory, but just not worth it. What if, though, volunteering could help you as much as it helps your community? There's nothing selfish about seeking a win-win.
Here are three excellent (if slightly selfish) reasons to volunteer:
1.) Do it for the money
The Corporation for National and Community Service estimates that, in the last year alone, volunteers across America have provided an estimated $184 billion in the value of their service. At first glance, that might seem impossible, but if we take it down to each individual person, it starts to make sense. Let's pretend a volunteer at a soup kitchen got paid. Let's say their minimum wage is $7.25 and they worked three hours every week, times 10 different volunteers at that soup kitchen. That's $11,310 each year that the soup kitchen can spend on countless other things: fresh or canned food, extra for patrons to take home, or even something as simple as more comfortable chairs. The more time your child spends volunteering, the less money your city (and you as a taxpayer) have to spend on keeping that city clean and healthy.
2.) Do it for the job
Though some might see volunteer hours as less time your child could spend at a job, statistics show that volunteering helps a lot in the long run. The Corporation for National and Community Service says that volunteers have a 27% better chance of finding a job than non-volunteers. On a more long-term note, volunteer hours are always on a college's top list of things they look for on an application. Volunteering may mean lots of hours and transportation right now, but the shining spot on your child's resume in the future makes it all worthwhile.
3.) Do it for growth
Volunteering, in the end, is all about two things: making a difference and growing as a person. If your child has the opportunity to impact someone else's life, it will always change their own. Even the thanks they get from something as dull as collecting trash or shelving books is enough to show them the impact they can have.