Savings: Your Key to Success

You have wants. You have needs. And you have two ways of paying for them – pull out the credit card or use the money you have set aside. Which would you prefer?

It’s a safe bet that most people would choose to have a stash of cash from which they could pay for everything from impulse purchases to long-term financial goals. But how do you save when there are bills to pay and the paycheck only goes so far?

Do It Now

Even without a specific goal, saving immediately will make you feel good. Have debt? Put a little aside anyway. Acquiring a savings habit as soon as possible is critical. By setting a little aside each month while aggressively paying down your obligations, you will graduate into being debt free with a happy little nest egg in place. And in the event of an emergency you won’t have to touch the credit cards and feel like you’re driving in reverse.

Set a Goal

All achievable goals share the same five factors:

– Specific – describe your goal to the smallest details

– Measurable – how much do you need to save?

– Actionable – break it down into reasonable action steps

– Realistic – could you really achieve this goal in the given time?

– Time-bound – what is the time frame for the goal?

Put it somewhere. How much you have, your time frame, and personal risk tolerance will determine the best home for your money. A few accounts you may consider are:

– Savings account – A great starter account. Interest and risk are low and minimum deposit is small.

– Money market account – This savings account pays slightly better interest but may require a higher minimum balance.

– Money market fund – A very secure mutual fund account. Invested in high-quality, short-term investments. Higher deposit, interest and risk.

– Certificates of deposit (CDs) – Generally a three month to seven year investment commitment, CDs offer higher and fixed interest rates, but with a greater initial deposit and penalty for early withdrawal.

For mid to long-term goals, you may opt for investment rather than savings vehicles. After you’ve saved enough in one of the above accounts, you can transfer your money to mutual funds, bonds, or individual stocks if you wish.

Impossible? Not at all. With careful planning, savings is the key to successfully managing your money and getting everything you want.

Revised February 2016.

Popups in Apple Apps Steal iCloud Credentials

Scammers truly don’t give up. That’s because once they find something that works, it works really well, and it can result in a significant payoff. Recently, some of them have figured out how to trick Apple iOS users into giving up their iCloud passwords. And it is a surprisingly simplistic attack. It pays to take a few seconds to read and analyze why you’re being asked for credentials to anything. That’s because this one is so good, it can fool anyone.

Felix Krause, a software expert explained in a blog how scammers are taking advantage of our conditioning of just entering our Apple credentials whenever we are asked, without so much as a pause to consider what we are doing.

The scammers are building popups requesting credentials inside apps. He didn’t get into the gory details or publish the code, although he did say anyone who can program for iOS would be able to do it very easily. Krause created a fake popup that is identical to the actual one that Apple sends.

Take some time when installing apps and updates to make sure the request for any credentials is a legitimate one. There are some ways to avoid falling into this trap:

– If you see a popup, hit the home button on your device. If the app and the popup both disappear, it’s phishing. If they don’t, it’s a genuine request.

– Get into the habit of entering your password manually, rather than putting it into any popup. That means going into the settings and enter it in the app there.
Clear the fields of all text you may have entered and cancel the request.

– In addition, when you are looking for an app to install on any device, do some research first to make sure it isn’t riddled with malware. Read the reviews and if there is something wrong with it, it’ll show there. If there aren’t many reviews and the ones that are showing are all glowing, they may have been planted by whoever put the app up.

Also, avoid sideloading any apps (downloading from sites other than the official app stores). While getting them from the official app stores does not guarantee they are safe, the risk of downloading malware is significantly lower when doing this.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security

Netflix Update Steals Your Login Credentials And More

Netflix customers are once again being targeted in a recent scam. The scammers are posing as an employee of the streaming website in an attempt to steal Netflix login credentials and payment card information. They will use the payment card details to make purchases themselves or sell the information on the Dark Web. What do they do with the login credentials? They try the login combination on other sites, hoping to get to your bank account or into some other site that has very sensitive information that they can also steal and sell.

Researchers at PhishMe discovered this most recent scam. Emails purport to be from the Netflix support team asking users to update their accounts.

Any time you are asked to update account details, don’t click links in email messages. Instead, go directly into your account using a previously bookmarked link you are confident is safe. Otherwise, carefully type the website URL into the address bar. Do a quick check to make sure you see that “https://” before putting in any details. If all is clear, go ahead and login and change your account details that way. This goes for any site; not just Netflix.

The email is addressed as “Dear Valued Customer,” rather than personalized. This suggests it is a mass campaign and should certainly be considered suspect. There is a link in the message where you can click to “update” easily, but that link is malicious and will direct you to a fake webpage.

In this attack, the hackers hope you use the same login credentials on multiple sites. They will try to reuse the passwords in an attempt to get into your financial accounts or healthcare accounts, for example. That’s why you should always use unique passwords for each account you have.

A couple of months ago, another Netflix scam was going around asking users to update payment details to avoid having their accounts deactivated. If you see that one, the same advice applies.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security

Your Clutter Is Costing You

What is the current state of your closet? Is it stuffed to the brim with clothes, shoes, suitcases, cleaning supplies, your high school chemistry textbook, etc., or can you do cartwheels in there? Is every horizontal surface covered in piles and piles of stuff or bare, save for a few knickknacks?

If your house is filled with clutter, you probably know you won’t make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, but you may not be aware that it could be costing you money too. Many people buy or rent bigger (and usually more expensive) places so they can have more closets or other storage space. They may also opt for the smaller space and pay rent on a storage unit. A clutter-filled house can also lead to increased entertainment costs; you don’t want your friends to see the mess (or are sick of seeing it yourself), so you go out. Duplication is another way that clutter can cost you. Have you ever spent money on something you already had because you had no idea where it was, and did not want to spend hours looking for it?

If the thought of actually having to go through all your stuff makes you sweat, don’t worry. Here are some tips that can help make the decluttering process as painless as possible:

Do a little at a time: You are less likely to get discouraged and give up if you set a series of small goals spread out over time (e.g., clean the closet in the master bedroom tomorrow, clean the garage next weekend) instead of trying to clean up the whole house at once.

Take a picture of sentimental items: Do you have some items that you never use but can’t throw out because of their sentimental value (such as the doll you bought for your daughter who is now 25)? Taking a picture can make it easier to part with. You will have a reminder even if it’s no longer collecting dust in your closet.

Donate or sell: While some of your items may be worn out and only welcomed by the trash bin, there may be many things you can sell to a consignment or thrift store, or donate to charity. Think of your cleaning as putting money in your pocket or helping others, instead of just a chore.

Use the “one in, one out” rule: After you go through all that effort to get rid of what you don’t need, you probably don’t want the house to revert back to its former messy state a few months from now. A good solution is to get rid of something whenever you purchase something new. You buy a new t-shirt at the mall—when you get home, go into the drawers and get rid of an old one.

By taking the time to declutter, you’ll be cleaning all the way to the bank.

Revised January 2016

Maintain and Save

When we’re looking to save money, the first thing most of us do is scrutinize our every purchase to see where we can squeeze out unnecessary spending. After all, a nip and a tuck here and there can add up to a bundle of savings over time! What many forget, though, is the cost savings that can result from proper maintenance of the things we already own – especially the really high-ticket items, like a home and car, which can be costly to repair and even more expensive to replace.

R. L. Polk reports the average person holds on to a new vehicle for just under six years. That’s longer than it was before the Great Recession, but with the average new car price topping $33,000, it makes good budget sense to find ways to extend the ownership period as long as possible. Just think of the boost it would be to your retirement savings if you bought just one fewer car in your lifetime, and instead directed that cash to an IRA or 401k account!

Here are some simple things you can do to keep your car and other stuff in good shape for the long haul.

Get Regular Oil Changes

Be sure to read your vehicle’s owner’s manual to find out how often oil changes and other preventive maintenance is recommended. Nobody knows more than the manufacturer about what your car needs to continue running properly. Plus, not following the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule could affect your warranty.

Check Tires Regularly

A flat tire’s not just inconvenient and expensive to replace. If not fixed promptly, a flat tire can lead to costly wheel damage. In addition to checking tire pressure monthly, have tires rotated, balanced and alignment checked regularly. Oftentimes, this regular maintenance is included in the warranty for new sets of tires.

Following Cleaning Instructions

If the tag says “dry clean only” believe it! Professional cleaning can add up, so you may be tempted to try laundering at home, but it’s a false economy if it means you ruin an expensive item of clothing. Instead, look at care instructions before you buy and decide then whether or not it’s a smart purchase.

Rotate Your Mattress

Some super-premium beds have different maintenance instructions, but if you have a standard mattress and box springs set-up, you’ll get longer life out of it by rotating it at least twice a year. If you notice sagging sooner, go with a three-month rotation schedule.

Replace AC Filters Regularly

A home’s air conditioning system is one of the most expensive items to replace if it goes bad. Twice-yearly maintenance is a prudent investment, and replacing filters regularly is really important since clogged filters can cause the system to burn-out prematurely.

Maintain Exterior Paint

Shabby and peeling paint doesn’t just make the outside of a home look unkempt. A proper paint job protects surfaces from the sun and weather, and helps ensure that cracks are repaired, preventing leaks and helping to keep destructive pests like termites at bay.

Don’t Get Hooked Unsubscribing

Clicking the ‘Unsubscribe” button in a harmless looking spam email brings a new level of security threat. Phishers have come up with a way to take advantage of us by combining our curiosity and frustration with spam emails. It’s created a new cyber gnat determined to get your valuable information. Always looking to take advantage of human nature, cyberthieves have a variety of tried and true scams at their fingertips. It’s time to think twice before hastily unsubscribing to spam emails.

One effective tactic has information phishers sending a phony but legitimate looking spam email from your bank. It claims you owe a negligible amount for an obscure bank fee. To avoid any future charges to your account, you’re instructed to simply click the “Unsubscribe” button and all future fees will be removed. Surprise! It’s a fake button redirecting you to a bogus bank web page. Maybe it’s a combination of a legitimate looking website and the desire to put this annoying little financial fiasco behind you…but you cave. Never would you suspect that you just unleashed malware on your device and put your sensitive info up for grabs with one little click.

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a US non-profit news website provides identity theft education and information to consumers. The ITRC states “Phishing attempts are another form of spam email that tries to entice you or coerce you into complying with the scammer’s intentions.” The organization suggests a few ways to reduce the risk of your information getting into the wrong hands.

-Delete the email without opening it. Opening spam alerts the sender to you being an active reader, possibly increasing their spam efforts.

-Mark it as spam. It alerts your email provider to the sender and IP address as unsolicited, blocking the sender from future email spam. Usually there is an icon somewhere in your email client to click to accomplish this.

-Actively report the spammers directly to the email service provider being used and/or report the scam to the company he or she claims to be representing.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security