Scam Victims Using Western Union Face Looming Deadline To File Refund Claim

There is a looming deadline for victims of scams using the wire transfer company Western Union. There are many scams that tricked thousands of people into wiring cash to thieves. Victims can apply to get the money back that they wired using the service. The scams were numerous and included kidnapping scams and stranded traveler scams among many others. Applications need to be submitted by February 12, 2018 in order to have an opportunity to get any money back.

Click to EnlargeThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against Western Union on behalf of victims. The settlement was for $586 million. The funds will be distributed to victims based on how much they lost and whether or not their claim can be verified. Anyone who was a victim of one of those types of scams between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017 and who has a claim number should make sure to file before the deadline.

Keep in mind that cybercriminals of all types follow the news and you can bet they know this deadline is quickly approaching. Therefore, be on alert for phone calls, phishing emails, or other types of contact where someone will offer to “help” you get your money back for a fee. Don’t click links or attachments and don’t pay anyone for this kind of help. If you need additional information, visit the FTC website and search for “Western Union Refunds.” You can file your claim there too.

Remember that if you ever get a call from someone telling you that one of your friends or loved ones is in trouble, verify that claim independently before sending any money. Give that loved one a call, send a text, or separate email to make sure they are OK. Otherwise, you could become a victim of one of these scams. If you have been a victim, make sure you report it to local authorities as well.

The amount that may be refunded only includes money lost in these scams and does not include any fees that may have been paid. To be clear, Western Union did not perpetrate the scams. The FTC is upset because it believes Western Union was complacent about the fact that it was happening and just didn’t take any action to stop it.

Stay the Course: How to Maintain Motivation for Your Financial Goals

How are those new year’s resolutions coming?

As anyone who’s ever made goals for the year knows, setting them is easy. Following through, however, is another story. This can be especially true when it comes to financial goals. We all want to build a nice savings cushion or pay off debt, but sticking to your plan can be very challenging as the weeks and months roll on, and new expenses present themselves.

To help you stay focused, check out these tips for achieving your financial goals this year:

Save with a friend

It’s always easier to stay motivated when a friend or partner is trying to meet a goal as well. You can keep each other accountable, offer inspiration when one of you gets discouraged, and share the highs and commiserate about the lows of your parallel journeys.

Plus, if you’re the kind of person who’s motivated by competition, you can even turn your goals into a friendly game. Set a timeline and establish a (low-cost) prize for the person who achieves their goal first.

Make mini-goals

It can be easy to become overwhelmed and lose focus if you just dwell on the big picture. For example, if your goal is to save $1,000 by July, don’t fixate on that dollar amount. $1,000 can seem so far from $0.

Instead, break it up into mini goals. Your first big accomplishment might be to save $250 by the end of February, which is a more attainable and less panic-inducing objective. When you hit your mini goals, treat yourself to a modest reward like going to the movies. Setting smaller goals and reaping their rewards will reinforce your dedication.

Get help from a coach

Just as you might consult a personal trainer to help you get in shape, a financial coach can strengthen your money habits in order to attain your goal. A coach is particularly helpful if you want to take control of your finances but aren’t sure where to start, experience frequent setbacks, or need assistance with staying focused.

Five Affordable Indoor Activities Your Kids Will Love

Winter has abundant opportunities for outdoor family fun. But with limited daylight and stretches of severe weather, how do you keep your kiddos entertained when going outside isn’t an option? It’s a tough question for parents on a budget, as you can’t just take your little ones to the movies day after day.

Fortunately, children have an unlimited imagination that can fuel a full day of fun.

So flex your creative muscle, and keep them occupied indoors with these activities:

1. Build a Cushion/Pillow Fort

Kids love to build, so encourage them to take the cushions from your couch and create their own special fortress. They can build different rooms for each person in your family, and even reinforce the perimeter against all enemies with extra pillows from their beds!

2. Have a Dance Party

Do your children literally bounce off the walls after being cooped up inside on a snow day? A dance party is a great way for them to burn excess energy. Designate one area as the dance floor, and have them pick some kid-friendly upbeat music. For a twist, they can even challenge each other to dance-offs.

3. Work on a Puzzle

Puzzles are perfect for kids on days when they’re stranded inside. Depending on their age, they may even be able to stay focused on large puzzles, which can potentially keep them busy for hours.

4. Make a Movie

While children may be more familiar with online videos than feature films these days, they can easily pass the time by making their own movies. Using your phone or another camera with video capability, encourage them to write a script, choose costumes, and act out the characters. Most smartphones even have basic editing tools as well.

5. Bake with Your Kids

If you have a knack for creating sweets from scratch and need to keep your kids occupied, baking can take a bite out of a long winter afternoon. First, have them choose a treat (Cookies? Brownies? Cake?). Then, visit the store together to pick out the low-cost ingredients. Finally, incorporate them in every step of the baking process. It’s a great bonding experience, and when it’s over, you get to enjoy a sweet reward for your efforts.

Is Your Voice Activated Assistant Spying On You?

Twenty million or more homes now entertain a smart-speaker sidekick. Speaking to devices isn’t new, just ask Alexander Graham Bell. But with technology constantly building on top of itself, these little household helpers are now leading the way. With all of their novelty and support, there is a flipside of voice-activation. From casual users to strung-out parents (who kiss the counter it sits on), there are several areas of concern.

Although the devices are trained to recognize the voices of users and family members, it’s far from 100% foolproof. Advertisers are already using voice-activation in TV and radio ads. While you’re cooking dinner, your kids might have a different idea and order a continuing stream of pizza deliveries. A more nefarious character could ask for personal information or turn on the shopping option for a lucrative shopping spree.

Privacy violations are cropping up primarily because once the device is activated, it records what’s being said and in some cases, uploads that data to a server elsewhere.

Earlier this year, Amazon was asked to give up an Echo device to the authorities concerning a murder case. Law enforcement believed the Echo may have inadvertently recorded information about the crime. Amazon relinquished the device, but not without protest. To be expected, voice-activated data vulnerability and privacy invasion hasn’t gone unnoticed by hackers. As smart-speakers grow in popularity, the more smarts you’ll need to protect yourself.

– Always link your smart speaker to your home or office Wi-Fi network. Having it attached to a public Wi-Fi hotspot could spell disaster.
– Using strong passwords with two-factor verification is always smart for any device. Smart-speaker voice-activation is no different.
– Connect only necessary accounts. When a linked email device is compromised, it can be used to spy. Linking banking and other financial information is playing with fire. The more sensitive the account linked the more vulnerable it is.
– Turn off the microphone for the device. It may not be convenient remembering to turn it back on, but you’ll know your privacy is certain when you’re not using it.

Hackers who gain access to the local network can change device settings or remove settings completely. Once they’re in the network, a whole lot of hurt can follow. Make sure you’re not making it easier for them.

© Copyright 2018 Stickley on Security

Catelites Bot Poses Threat To Android Users By Imitating 2200 Financial Institutions

There has been a recent report of financial malware, called the Catelites Bot, that has targeted over of 2,200 financial institutions worldwide through fake mobile banking apps on Android devices. There is a list of institutions that are targeted by this malware — over 180 are banks, credit unions and brokerage firms based in the United States.

About The Malware

Cybersecurity firms Avast and SfyLabs are seeing roughly one to two fake apps per week installing malware onto Android devices. These apps are either side loaded, executed via phishing, or downloaded from malicious adware. Once on the device, the icon looks like a shield with a checkmark and is titled “System Application.” If it’s clicked, it will ask for administrator rights, which should never be granted unless you really know what you’re doing. After the “System Application” app is clicked, it places three icons that are familiar onto the home screen: Gmail, Google Play and Chrome — all apps that users know well and tend to trust.

How It Works

How does the app pretend to be a legitimate financial institution? It uses actual logos and simple overlays to trick users. It not only can steal login details and payment card information, but also has the capability to intercept text/SMS messages, set ringer volumes so that you perhaps don’t notice incoming messages, retrieve running tasks from other applications on the device, and even wipe data from it or lock users out completely.

What to Do

Once the apps are on the home screen, they are irremovable. Cybercriminals are counting on people to open them and enter sensitive information such as payment card information and login credentials. The financial institution’s fake overlay will stay on top of the screen until the user enters credentials. But don’t. If anything looks amiss when opening a financial app, close it down immediately. If you suspect malware is on the device, shut it down and reboot into safe mode. Then delete the malicious apps. This process varies depending on the device, so make sure you find instructions for your specific one. If you are unsure how to do this, take it to an authorized support technician for help.

One good habit to adopt is to always keep current backups of your mobile devices. Should malware strike, you can often reset them to factory mode and reinstall an earlier version to get rid of malware. You can usually back them up to a computer or to cloud storage easily and quickly.

To Avoid Catelites

– Download apps only from official app stores. So far, this malware has only been found on third party sites. It has not been seen in the Google Play Store.
– Make sure that reputable security software is installed on your devices and kept up to date. Many of them will protect you from this particular threat.
– Don’t click links that arrive in email or via text/SMS that you are not expecting or you don’t fully trust.
– Avoid clicking on ads you see on the sides of your browser screens — they could be malicious. If you want to see something the ad is presenting, go to the store’s website directly and search for it there.
– Consider using ad-blocking software on your devices. There are many to choose from, and, as with all apps, do research on them and read reviews before downloading.
– Don’t give administrator access to any app, no matter how nicely it asks. Don’t blindly grant access to other items on your smartphones either. Consider, for example, if a calculator app really needs access to your camera. It doesn’t.

The overlays for this malware are not as sophisticated as some other financial malware, but still pose a significant threat. It counts on peoples’ willingness to enter credentials or payment card information.

As always, exercise caution when downloading apps from unfamiliar sites.

© Copyright 2018 Stickley on Security

Vehicle Maintenance Myths That Could Cost You

A lot of your accumulated car wisdom probably comes via tidbits from friends, relatives, shop teachers, driving instructors and various other fellow passengers on the highway of life. While some of this passed-on knowledge can be incredibly shrewd and useful, chances are some of the information just doesn’t compute.

The Myth: Replace It All

Back in the day, when filters, spark plugs and other car parts wore out faster, it made more sense to have your mechanic replace a bunch of components whenever you took your car in for an oil change. These days, though, just about everything in your car lasts much longer than it did in previous generations. Keeping a detailed service record and cross-referencing it with your owner’s manual will help YOU know when things need to be replaced and not make you reliant on your mechanic for potentially costly decisions.

The Myth: Use Cleaners Other Than Windshield Wiper Fluid

Are you one of those people who likes to use those “sneaky little tricks” to do a job more efficiently? If you are, and you’ve heard the one about using other kinds of cleaning liquids in place of windshield wiper fluid, be aware that while your windshield may seem cleaner, you are also probably stripping your car’s finish in the process.

The Myth: Winterize Or Else!

If you normally share the roads with sled dogs, you may need to take special precautions for the colder months. However, in most areas, all you probably need to do to get ready for winter is check your tire pressure and install snow tires if you have them.

The Myth: Let Your Car Warm Up Before You Drive

This one isn’t complete nonsense. There was a time when cars needed a little run-time before the engine was operating at optimal efficiency. However, unless you drive a classic car, you are only wasting gas by running your engine prior to a trip.

The Myth: Flush It

Some mechanics out there are quite flush happy. They want to flush your transmission, your radiator, your engine oil, and so on. But modern vehicles require these actions very infrequently. Consult with your owner’s manual to make sure your money isn’t just getting flushed down the drain.

The Myth: Put Your Car In Neutral At a Stop Light

The logic (if you can call it that) behind this suggestion is that it is supposed to put less strain on cars with automatic transmission. Shifting into neutral over and over will actually send you to the shop for a new transition much faster than if you had just left it alone.

The Myth: Top Off The Brake Fluid And Forget It

If your vehicle is low on brake fluid, you have a problem. Either the fluid is leaking or your brakes are becoming dangerously worn out. From a money-saving perspective, it may seem counterintuitive to spend hundreds of dollars for brakes, but it’s better than having to pay for repairs and higher insurance rates because you couldn’t stop in time.

There are lots of folks out there who like to share vehicle advice. However, you can do yourself a big favor by at least researching their tips to make sure you aren’t just creating more problems. You’ll also be rewarded for your efforts by having a few more dollars in your pocket.

Ten Car Maintenance Tips That Will Save You Money

– Avoid paying for high octane gas as the benefit doesn’t justify the cost.
– Inflate your tires to the level listed in your car’s owner’s manual, not the maximum listed on the tires. This will help you achieve better mileage and less wear.
– Have your fluid levels checked before every long drive.
– Thoroughly research online reviews of local mechanics to find the best.
– Get your tires rotated at least twice a year to make them last much longer.
– Install a vehicle service app for your mobile device to help you remember when to perform your maintenance.
– Avoid the rapid acceleration and abrupt braking of “jackrabbit” driving.
– Make sure your spare tire is present and in working shape to remove the need for a tow in the case of a flat tire.
– Consult with your trusted mechanic and your owner’s manual about the appropriate mileage benchmarks for oil change. You may not need to do it every 3,000 miles. However, make sure it doesn’t void your warranty.
– Perform the easy task of changing your own air filter instead of paying a mechanic to do it.