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Financial Self Defense: Internet Hygiene

The Best Computer Time Investment You Can Make

Wash your hands after you use the bathroom. Cover your mouth when you sneeze. Brush your teeth daily. These are all basic elements of personal hygiene. We practice them, in part, to minimize the amount of gross stuff that our bodies do, but we also practice them to help protect us from disease.

You might think “Internet hygiene” means wiping down keyboards after you use them and not spilling things on your computer. While these are good habits, there’s another range of behaviors that security experts call “Internet hygiene,” and it can be the difference between a safe and effective Internet and a world of hackers, bots, and identity thieves.

For most people, the beginning and end of cyber-security is a piece of anti-virus software. Imagining that there is nothing on their computer worth stealing, most users don’t take their online security very seriously. Increasingly, that’s the attitude hackers are counting on people exhibiting.

One such recent cyber attack, a malicious worm called Game Over Zeus, infected around 10,000 computers. The worm allowed hackers to remotely control infected computers, using them to launch attacks on major websites. In addition, users frequently found their personal files encrypted. A window created by the worm would inform them that, unless they paid a ransom that sometimes was as much as a few thousand dollars, they would lose access to the contents of their hard drive forever.

How did such a vicious worm spread so quickly? Hackers have gotten better about choosing their targets. It’s easy to find out-of-date software and exploit known structural weaknesses in it to gain control of a computer. From there, it’s a trivial task to create emails that look like they come from the owner of that computer, which makes it easier to infect that person’s friends and family members’ computers.

Security expert Tom Kellerman compares the state of a compromised computer to a neighbor who always leaves the front door to an apartment complex unlocked. Not only can thieves break into the neighbor’s apartment, but they can use their expanded building access to more easily break into other units. If you aren’t maintaining the security protocols on your computer and being vigilant about what links you click, you aren’t just putting your own security at risk. You’re creating a more dangerous Internet for your friends, co-workers, and family, too.

The lesson of Game Over Zeus is pretty simple. Computer viruses spread a lot like human viruses. They infect people who don’t practice good hygiene, then spread to their friends and family. If you wouldn’t sneeze on your hand before pushing buttons on an elevator, don’t practice unsafe internet behaviors.

How can you practice good Internet hygiene? You don’t need to be a tech guru to keep your PC safe. Security experts consistently recommend you take at least these five steps.

1.) Download an anti-virus software program, like AVG or McAfee, and keep it up-to-date. Schedule updates for it to run when your computer is on, and don’t interrupt the process. Do the same thing with an anti-malware program, like MalwareBytes. Tens of thousands of new malicious programs are being created every day. If you’re not regularly updating your security software, you might as well not have it.

2.) Run scans of both anti-virus and anti-malware software on a weekly basis. Just like people with strong immune systems can get sick, even if you have a Mac computer, you can still be infected with malicious programs. If you’re on the Internet, you’re at risk.

3.) Do it right away. If your computer gives you a message that it needs to download or install critical updates, do it the first time you see the warning. It’s annoying to stop what you’re doing and restart your computer, but it’s better than having your computer compromised. When IT professionals call something a “critical update,” it usually means it fixes a known software exploit. Make sure the message that pops up is from a trusted source, however. There are malware programs around that use fake “critical update” popups to infiltrate your computer.

4.) Don’t click links that take you to sites you don’t recognize, even if they’re emailed to you by a friend or family member. These emails are frequently generated by bots to keep malicious software spreading. You clicking that link might make you yet another disease vector.

5.) Don’t download, install or run any software you don’t recognize. For these bots to keep spreading, at some point human beings have to authorize them. If you’re installing software you think might be dangerous, you’re putting your computer and the computers of everyone you know in jeopardy.

This might seem like a lot of work, but it’s the price of doing business and living in a digital age. With the convenience of a world of information at your fingertips comes the responsibility to maintain the health of that system. Do your part – install and update security software, and be constantly on guard for threats!

Important Information Regarding Home Depot Stores Data Compromise

NASA FCU member account security is our highest priority. We are monitoring account activity and will continue to do so for those who made credit or debit card transactions at a US or Canadian Home Depot store in 2014, from April on.

If you discover any suspicious or unusual activity on your accounts, or suspect fraud, be sure to report it immediately by contacting us at 1-888-NASA-FCU.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

How do I know if the Home Depot data breach impacts me?
If you shopped at a United States or Canadian Home Depot store in 2014 from April on, you should check your account for any suspicious or unusual activity. If you see something that appears fraudulent on your NASA FCU credit or debit card then please contact NASA FCU immediately at 1-888-NASA-FCU (627-2328).

What is Home Depot doing about this?
Since Home Depot first became aware of a potential breach, their forensics and security teams have been working around the clock with leading IT security firms, banking partners, and the Secret Service. They felt it was important to let everyone know that they’re confident there has been a breach. They acknowledge that it’s frustrating not to have all the details, and assert that customers won’t be responsible for any fraudulent charges. Home Depot is also offering free identity protection services, including credit monitoring to any customer who used a payment card at a Home Depot store in 2014, from April on.

Tell me more about the identity protection services Home Depot is offering.
Home Depot is taking steps to protect customers’ payment card information. If you need identity repair assistance during the next 12 months, starting on September 8, 2014, Home Depot has a team of dedicated fraud resolution investigators available to assist you. They will do the work to recover financial losses, restore your credit, and make sure your identity is returned to its proper condition. For additional protection, Home Depot is also making available at no cost to customers, a service that includes credit monitoring, identity monitoring, and an identity theft insurance policy. Customers who used a payment card at a Home Depot store in 2014, from April on, are eligible to receive these services. For more information about these services and to enroll, please visit https://homedepot.allclearid.com/

What information was compromised/stolen?
Home Depot has confirmed that their payment data systems have been breached. Their investigation of the details of the breach is likely to take some time. At this time, there is no reason to believe debit card PINs were impacted; however it is always a good idea to review your bank statements carefully and call your financial institution if you see any suspicious transactions.

Should I block my card at this time and get a new one?
If you want to leave the card open and continue to monitor your statements you may do so. If you wish to block your credit or debit card and have a new card reissued we can help you do that as well.  Debit cards can be reissued instantly at one of the following branch locations: Annapolis, Bowie, Collington, Columbia, Falls Church, Greenbelt, Headquarters, Oak Hall and Rockville.

Were social security numbers included in the breach?
Your social security number is in no way related to your debit/credit card therefore, it was not included in the breached data.

7 Ways To Save Without Suffering

We all know we should save more money than we do. Whether we need to pay down debt, build an emergency fund or save for retirement, we need to cut spending and increase our savings. It’s the only way to build financial security.

Yet before considering what to cut back on, try these handy tips to save money without noticing the difference.

1.) Stop subscription music.
If you pay for a subscription Internet radio service like Pandora or Spotify, you’re probably overpaying for music. The same is true if you’re paying on a per-song basis through a service like iTunes. Consider, instead, buying CDs. You can find Imagine Dragons 2012 project Night Vision for under $5 on Amazon, or the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack for less than $8. Streaming music services have cut the bottom out of the physical media market, and you can pick up the savings. Just copy the songs to your computer and transfer them to your mp3 player, and you can jam out for less.

2.) Cut back on cable
Take an honest look at how many movies you watch in a month. If you’re paying $15 a month for HBO or a similar fee for another premium channel package, you’re paying for a lot of content you probably never watch, and the overall selection is limited. For half the price of HBO, you can subscribe to Netflix or another streaming service and get a lot more viewing options. You could even go with Amazon Prime and get free two-day shipping on all your purchases while getting access to a fairly hefty video library.

3.) Time your vacations to travel for less
Summer tends to be the most popular travel time for tourist-happy destinations like Miami and New Orleans. If you’re planning a trip to one of these stops, traveling between February and April can save you money on your hotel reservation. Hotwire, the hotel booking site, sees an average decline of 30% at tourist locations during the offseason.

4.) Swap to an off-brand cell provider
You can cut down your cellphone bill considerably by switching away from a big-name carrier. If you’re on Sprint, AT&T or Verizon, you can save a considerable chunk by switching to a brand like Cricket, FreedomPop or Straight Talk. These carriers buy time in bulk from the major companies and resell it at a discount. They don’t subsidize phones or maintain well-staffed stores, so their costs are lower. You can get unlimited talk and text for one line for less than $15, and data, if you need it, for less than $20 for a 2 GB per month plan. These services don’t always travel particularly well, so if you need your phone while far from home, they may not be right for you. Still, at that price, it can be hard to say no to savings on a phone bill.

5.) Start reading paper books
Just like the streaming service has cut the core out of the price for physical media, the popularity of e-readers has done the same thing to the dead tree pulp market. This is particularly true in used books, where time-tested classic paperbacks can be had for as little as a penny. More current and popular titles, like John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, can be had on eBay for under $5, compared to the $10 for an ebook. Cheaper still, head over to your local library to get your fill of new releases, old classics and great books you’ve never heard of.

6) Check out Amazon Subscribe and Save
For commonly used goods, like tea and coffee, Amazon’s Subscribe and Save function can cut back on the time and money you spend shopping. If you go through a 72-count box of K-Cups every month, you can save $2 per month off your coffee bill by scheduling automatic deliveries of your java through Amazon. A dedicated tea drinker can save $1 per month on a 160-count box of Yorkshire Gold. With free shipping for orders over $35 (or if you have Amazon Prime, as mentioned above) and automatic ordering, this system can be your set it and forget it path to savings.

7.) Get rebate shopping!
For costs you can’t avoid, like groceries, it’s best to avoid as much pain as you can. That’s where online rebate apps come into play. Newly released iBotta, available for iOS and Android devices, offers a list of participating retailers and a list of rebates, usually between $.25 and $1.00. One of the most popular is a $.25 rebate on a gallon of milk – something you’ll likely buy anyway. After you finish shopping, you take a picture of your receipt with a smartphone or tablet and upload it to iBotta. They confirm your purchase and credit your rebates, along with bonuses for regular redemption, referring friends, and completing other challenges. iBotta can be an easy way to knock $5-10 off your grocery bill.

Payday Loans: A Serious Problem

We’ve all been there. It’s the middle of the month and you’re two or three weeks from your next paycheck. You’re driving to work like usual when a dashboard light starts flashing. The engine starts making noise. You don’t know what it means exactly, but you know it won’t be cheap. It’s weeks until payday, and you don’t have the money you need right now.

Ideally, you’ll have an emergency fund, a credit line or a HELOC you can use for those sudden, unexpected crises. Sometimes, though, you don’t have the best tools available.

If you’ve seen ads on TV for quick cash services, you probably thought they were too good to be true. They are. Most often, these are “payday loans.” This is a short-term loan against your next paycheck. It’s a really bad deal.

You write a personal check to the lender for the amount you want to borrow plus the lending fee. The lender holds the check until your next payday. At that point, they either cash the check or extend the loan for a longer period of time. Those extensions usually cost the same as the fee. They charge a new financing fee on the loan, and then you’re responsible for the whole amount. This fee adds up quickly, which can turn your one-time emergency into a crippling debt crisis.

The fees are usually the highest that are allowed by law. $15 charged per $50 loaned is not uncommon. In a hypothetical scenario, if you borrowed $100, you’d have to write a check for $130. If you need an extension, you’d have to pay a new fee – $45 for the new loan. You’d now owe $175. If this pattern continues, you can be in serious financial trouble very quickly.

If you miss a payment on one of these loans, you can be in for terrible consequences. For starters, your credit score will suffer. The terms of repayment can also allow the lender to garnish your wages, seize your car, harass you at home or work or even take you to court. The contract you sign with a payday loan provider has all kinds of terrible traps that are hidden in the fine print. These costs are why most people who use payday loans use them only as a last resort.

New Responsive Design Site

Different-devices

Today we officially launched our responsive design site. Now you can access our full website from your tablet or smartphone seamlessly. See the updated site now on your smartphone or tablet by visiting nasafcu.com or just resize your browser image by dragging the corner and watch how our site changes to fit your screen size.

Have any comments for feedback about this update? Use the contact form below to let us know what you think.

New Credit Score Rules: What You Need To Know

Credit scores are a serious source of worry for most folks. You already know they can affect the interest rates you are approved for on your loans, your car insurance payments, and even your job prospects. What you may not know is that, last week, the Fair-Isaac Corporation (better known as FICO), changed its rules governing the formulation of credit scores.

In a statement, the company said it was making these changes to better serve the changing demographics of borrowers. FICO’s new criteria will make it easier and cheaper for more people to borrow. They’re updating their standards in response to the financial reality that most Americans are facing. However, the changes could take as much as a year to take effect.

Consumer advocacy groups have been after FICO for years to ease their scoring criteria, and with good reason. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, says around 15% of home buyers have been turned down for mortgages because of what he calls “excessive tightness” in credit score procedures.

For an average consumer, the change will probably be about a 25 point increase. That’s often not enough to move a loan application from denied to accepted, but it is enough to improve interest rates for most borrowers.

The company was quick to point out that this was not about making it easier for people to borrow. Rather, the move was based on valuation. The old model was making credit seem too risky, leading to higher prices. The new FICO 9 scoring system provides a more accurate picture of the risks that are involved in lending.

This is a bold step for the credit scoring agency, and it will provide some much-needed relief to consumers. It could also help spur growth in the housing sector as more people get mortgages at lower rates. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

  • Unpaid medical bills matter less. If you have a large bill that’s outstanding at a hospital, even if it’s been referred to collections, it will no longer impact your credit score. Previously, any unpaid medical bill, even if it was a result of insurance delays or billing complications, would appear as an account in delinquency. Under the new system, though, medical bills of any size will no longer affect your credit score. Given how common medical bankruptcies are, FICO has decided that unpaid medical bills are no longer a reliable indicator of whether someone will pay their bills on time.
  • Accounts that have been settled or paid off with a collection agency will no longer count on your credit score. Under FICO 8, accounts that had been referred to collection, even after they had been settled or paid in full, were a negative on your credit report. In the aftermath of the recession, 77 million adults have at least one debt in collection. Under the new system, those accounts with a repayment plan in place will not factor into your score. People who have been responsible users of credit for the rest of their lives but ran into trouble in the last several years will see their lives improve considerably.
  • FICO is changing the way it handles people with little to no credit history. So-called “thin files” had previously been categorized as bad credit risks. The new model takes a more nuanced look at how people have used their limited credit in addition to a lot of other data. This change should make it much easier, especially for young people, to get home loans and other lines of credit.

While not all lenders will adopt these standards immediately, most experts expect institutions will flock to the new standard. Industry leaders believe the most conservative institutions could take as long as 18 months to analyze the effects of implementation. Still, they will come around once they realize that FICO 9 offers them a chance to expand their lending portfolio with confidence.