New Year, New Scams
Gas, electricity and water are necessities that usually aren’t thought about a lot. However, in the winter they can be prime vehicles for scams. If someone called to say your account was overdue and that your service would be shut off – it’d be frightening. You would do whatever they say to avoid the consequences which is exactly what scammers hope.
The Department of Consumer Affairs warns of a new scam targeting utility customers. A scammer calls claiming the consumer is overdue on a utility bill, and that someone is coming to turn the power off. The scammer will instruct the victim to buy a prepaid debit card. The scammer asks for the number on the card and then takes its whole value. Transactions on these cards are difficult to trace, which means recovering the money is nearly impossible.
If you’re targeted by one of these scams, do not comply. Here’s a few things to remember.
Know your rights
A utility company representative would not tell you that your service will be shut off in minutes unless you pay immediately. There are regulations that govern how and when service can be turned off. The company is required to send a notification of termination, a letter identifying the reason, the date, and how you can prevent this shut-off. This process is cumbersome, so most companies won’t send one until you’re more than two payments behind.
Turning your service off is expensive, so utility providers will first make several attempts to contact you. If you are called, ask for a record of past attempts at contact. A utility company will gladly provide this information; a scammer will hesitate when questioned.
Pay it right
Utility companies process hundreds or thousands of payments every day using established procedures. They will never insist on a specific means of payment. Always choose a secured means of payment, like your credit or debit card. These cards offer fraud protection and limit your liability if something goes wrong with the transaction.
If you’re not using online banking, Five Star offers automatic bill payment to make paying your bills simple. You can access it through www.fivestarcu.com.
If you’ve run into payment trouble with utility companies in the past, work to get ahead on your utility payments. If money is the issue, there are federal and state programs designed to help. One such program is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides utility payment credits for low-income individuals.
If you are called by a scammer, use the procedures above to ensure you do not become a victim.
Don’t get scammed this holiday season
The holiday season can be beautiful time spent with family. So many memories are made not just at Christmas but the weeks leading up. With the holiday season, comes scams. It’s an unfortunate part of the holidays. There are a few practical things you can do to ensure that you are not taken advantage of or have your Five Star account compromised.
Before we got any further, always remember that your account is our utmost priority. We take great pride in keeping it and all of your information as secure as possible. But, scammers are everywhere and they are more sophisticated today than they were this time last year. The old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Always remember that when shopping online and through Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. They will simply copy a picture from the internet and post it when they don’t really own the product. It’s always good to ask specific questions about the product before you buy.
Another scam that happens a lot during the holidays is the email scam. You receive an email from FedEx, Amazon, or UPS stating that there is a problem with a delivery. Even though you did not order anything, they will try to make you think you did. They ask for personal information or credit card numbers to clear up the problem. Remember, large companies will never ask you to divulge sensitive information in an email or through a text. They will always ask you to update your account information on their actual website. Look closely at the email reply address and it is usually not affiliated with the major company. The big retailer also appreciates when you alert them that their name is being used in a scam.
Finally, be smart when you purchase online and have the packages delivered. Thieves will drive through neighborhoods looking for packages on doorsteps. If you are going to be out of town or working, alert a neighbor to be on the lookout for you package. Another idea is to have the package delivered to your work address; assuming that is allowed at your workplace. Some simple ideas can help ease the stress of the holidays by not having to take extra time to talk to the police or your financial institution about being scammed.
The holidays are a wonderful time. The smarter your are while making purchases the less likely scammers are to be successful.
Don’t Let Debt Crush You
One of the more common questions Five Star gets is, “How can I pay down debt when I have so much?” This can be one of the most stressful things in a person’s finances and especially marriages or young earners. There are a few steps that you can take to help reduce debt and get control of your finances. It will take some work at first, but it will be worth it.
First start out by figuring out how much you owe, to whom you owe it, at what interest rate you’re paying it back, plus any other fees, penalties or costs that go with any of your debts. This gives you a snapshot of how much debt you have. Sometimes it’s hard to look at it, but that’s the first step to paying it down. Next, lower your interest rate, if possible. A higher interest rate can sometimes eat up a lot of your payment. This is usually the best way to climb out of credit card debt.
A second way to begin climbing out of debt is by consolidating debt into one loan. Make sure the interest rate is lower. This will mean more of your payment will pay down the principle debt. If your car loan interest rate is high, look to refinance the loan to get a lower interest rate. You might also consider selling the car to get one that is cheaper while you get out of debt. This way you can put more money toward existing debt.
Five Star can help you put a plan together to get out of debt. Five Star is offering 0% interest on balance transfers until June 2018. There is a 3% transfer fee, but it will most likely save you money in the long run. You can also get a 5.99% balance transfer with zero transfer fees for life. Check out your options at your local branch or have a Five Star professional call you and get you started on transferring those large balances.
Whose Fault Is Fraud?
Fraud is more prevalent today than any other time in our country’s history. With so much business being transacted online, it’s inevitable it will happen. Five Star goes above and beyond to keep your accounts and debit/credit cards safe. If you don’t know how these transactions work, it is basically you tell a merchant you’d like to buy something, the merchant tells Five Star to pay money from your account, and then Five Star asks you to authorize the transaction. It’s quick and easy.
However, if something goes wrong in that process, you assume it’s the fault of one of these three parties. That’s not necessarily the case. Fraud can happen at the Point of Sale (POS) terminals which is the systems that process credit and debit transactions. POS systems have other vulnerabilities, from PIN tracking keypads to miniature cameras. Always be watchful for small modifications in the keypads and other devices. If something looks suspicious, back out of a transaction or ask for another register to use.
Some businesses keep costs low by using third-party payment-processors, which tally up the day’s transactions of a merchant, bill the appropriate entity, and pay the merchant. In exchange, they take a tiny percentage of each transaction. There’s lots of competition in this niche and that can mean that companies cut costs to stay profitable – often by cutting corners with security. When shopping at unfamiliar places, be extra cautious by using a pre-paid debit card, cash or another form of non-electronic payment. Don’t be afraid to use an ATM – they’re usually maintained by organizations with in-house processing, thus limiting the steps your data goes through.
The last stage in this chain is the clearing house – external organizations that transfer funds, acting as the intermediary for the merchant’s payment-processor and the credit organization. There’s a wide network of American Clearing House (ACH) payment centers. Most of them smoothly process millions of dollars worth of transactions every day. However, occasional mistakes happen and some transactions are processed improperly. Clearing houses are insured against losses and they quickly correct mistakes.
Every payment system has potential for fraud. Electronic payment processing is among the most secure forms of exchange possible, and its failures are fixable. Swipe with confidence, knowing your liability is limited thanks to the strong trail of protection offered by electronic payment processing. Five Star takes fraud seriously and works every day to ensure your account will not be compromised. Take a few seconds before every transaction to make sure the machines and businesses are also taking fraud seriously.