Cherry Blossom Run 2016

nice runners line of volunteers

Team NASA Federal once again lit up the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run on Sunday, April 3, 2016 with its overwhelming enthusiasm. As in years past, the event brought together credit unions from across the country in support of the Children’s Miracle Network. And once again, the highly spirited members of Team NASA Federal were there, making their support for the kids known in a big way.

Cherry Blossom typically raises around $500,000 each year, and 2016 was no exception, bringing the total amount raised to over $7 million since credit unions became the title sponsors in 2002. NASA Federal employees raised more than $3,100.

This year, the event hosted approximately 16,000 runners, of which 21 were NASA Federal employees and family members and 81 were NASA Federal-sponsored members. Runners were greeted by 91 NASA Federal volunteers, who handed them water and cheered passionately as they passed by the NASA Federal water station.

Thanks to all of the NASA Federal employees, volunteers and runners for their dedication and energy. They make the Cherry Blossom Run special year in and year out.

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Watch out for Two New Facebook Scams

Ostersund, Sweden - August 1, 2015: Facebook website under a magnifying glass. Facebook is the most visited social network in the world

Nearly everyone who has used a computer is on some kind of social media. It could be for keeping in touch with friends and family, to keep up with the latest celebrity vacation photos, or for business networking. Unfortunately, this creates many opportunities for those who like to do so to take advantage of us.

Two Facebook scams are going phishing and hoping to hook a few. One makes a threat to shut down your page and the other targets e-commerce Facebook users. This one will deliver some nasty malware that will interfere with network connections and block access to certain pages. In addition, it installs malware on the hard drive of the computer which will do various things; one is to install ransomware.

In the first instance of this story, a message is posted on the Facebook wall that appears at first glance that it is from Facebook itself. However, there are typos, the grammar is incorrect, and threatens users by saying their pages have been flagged as inappropriate by others and will be removed. It also asks to “reconfirm” your page. Then, if the link that is associated is clicked, it will ask for PayPal information, payment card numbers and details, and other monetary-related details.

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The second case is a “.zip” file that is inserted into an email message. The subject line varies and is something such as “you missed a voice message,” or “there is a voice memo waiting” followed by a series of random characters; presumably to avoid getting flagged by anti-spam filtering products. Therefore, make sure to pay attention to any messages that come in and go directly to the account to check them, rather than clicking links. This is good practice for any online accounts.

Phishing comes in many forms. It can be advertisements on the side of any browser window or inserted into email messages. It can be from text messages and even through the telephone line (vishing). It’s important to know how to identify it and both of these scams have some obvious giveaways.

Remember to never click on links received in email, SMS, text messages, or posted on any social media unless you are 100% certain they are safe. Many times they are phishing for information they can use against you or sell to someone else who will. If you can’t resist, spend a little bit of time finding out through other means (separate phone call, new email message, etc.) before clicking it.

Attachments often include malware and just by opening them, you could unleash something nasty. So, avoid doing so. Again, verify they are legitimate before taking action.

Make sure anti-malware software is installed on all devices that attach to the Internet. Be sure to keep it updated. There usually is an option in settings that will do an automatic update. It’s recommended that this is active.

Keep all operating system software updated with the latest critical and security patches. If the version you are using is not currently supported, upgrade to one that is. This is important because patches are not released for unsupported software. If a vulnerability is found later, it won’t be fixed so that version will always remain vulnerable to attacks.

If you have become a victim of any scam found on Facebook, let them know by going to their help center. The company also has stated that if it plans to shut down your page, it will contact you in a more personalized manner and not by posting something to your wall or commenting on a post.

© Copyright 2016 Stickley on Security

TurboTax Phishing Scam Sends Personal Details to Third Party Hackers

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There really is no foreseeable end to tax scams. That’s because they rely on the tried and true method of phishing. And phishing is incredibly successful for scammers. The Better Business Bureau of Central Oklahoma is warning of yet another scam involving tax preparation software, Intuit’s TurboTax.  They may be the first to report this scam, but it will spread across the county rapidly if it hasn’t already.

In this case, the scammers send phishing email messages with a subject line similar to “important privacy changes.” It includes a link that will supposedly allow the TurboTax customer to “opt out” of having their personal details sent to a third party. However, by clicking that link, a hacker becomes that third party when the malware that is subsequently installed on the computer sends those personal details back to him.

Always keep the following in mind to avoid becoming a victim of this:

Make sure the “from” field has a known email address. It’s easy to mask these, so hover over it to make sure it makes sense to you. Just because it has “TurboTax” or “Intuit” as the sender, the full email address may be completely different.

Pay attention to the wording in the message. If it has typos, poor grammar and spelling, strange uses of English words, it’s likely phishing.

Sometimes we’re in a hurry and may not be paying as close attention to email as we otherwise would be. So, think first. If you haven’t used TurboTax in a while or at all, that is a dead giveaway that it’s not likely a legitimate email. Don’t let curiosity get the best of you.

Hover over URLs in email messages and make sure they go to places that you would expect them to send you. Pay particular attention to the address spelling. Scammers often will use an address that is extremely similar to the real one; often replacing one letter or omitting one letter so that at first glance, it looks legitimate.

If the message is coming to a different email address from what you normally use for TurboTax (or Intuit), it’s phishing. Just delete it.

In addition, if the browser you use has anti-phishing features make sure they are activated. It isn’t a guarantee that phishing isn’t on the page, but it is another check.

Always have anti-malware software installed and keep it updated on your devices and apply critical and security patches for all your software products and operating systems as soon as they are released.

If you are ever in doubt, then err on the side of caution and don’t react to the message at all. Just toss it right into the old “File 13.”

© Copyright 2016 Stickley on Security

2 Helpful Financial Tips for Newlyweds

Couple holding hands

Getting married is one of the most exciting times in your life; one that comes with an endless amount of newfound adventures and responsibilities that will now be shared between two loving people. While planning for the big day may have seemed like an everlasting ordeal, it certainly pales in comparison to the amount of planning needed for maintaining a fun, carefree life together for hopefully many, many years to come.

Experts agree that you shouldn’t wait very long at all into the “Honeymoon Period,” to have the necessary, and sometimes challenging, discussions that are required to fully map out a financial future together. There is much to do, from getting your documentation squared away to setting aside money for that dream retirement vacation.

Here are two helpful financial tips that are sure to help any set of newlyweds better prepare for the happily ever after ending they deserve.

  1. Come Together Legally and Financially– A big part of taking that first step towards a successful life together is getting organized with your legal paperwork and financial responsibilities. After the big day is finally over, make sure you update all of your necessary social security cards, licenses, credit cards, passports, policies, and permits to reflect any name changes you or your spouse may have undergone. Do this sooner rather than later to avoid gaps in service or coverage. Next, lay your debt on the table and see what makes the most sense in terms of utilizing some of your (hopefully large) wedding gift funds; pay off the debts with the most interest first and be sure to look into using a portion to pay against the principle of your house too! You’ll also want to discuss your mutual assets to get a realistic look into the financial landscape of your relationship as well. There are going to be plenty of expenses coming your way, and it is important to come together in an organized fashion as quickly as possible to not only know where you truly stand, but also what you can actually afford in the coming years. Remember, something as easy as over-extending yourself while buying the furniture for your first home can have serious repercussions; the only way to be smart with your money is to be honest with yourselves about what’s possible in the now and what may be a future luxury if all goes to plan.
  2. Plan Ahead…For Anything and Everything– The time is now to start saving for everything from college educations and Disney vacations to retirement, so you and your partner will want to start setting aside certain financial plans together. You should figure out which type of bank account configuration works best for you, as well as agree on what percentage of each of your paychecks goes where when payday comes around. Additionally, make sure you are fully taking advantage of company benefit packages, 401k, and retirement plans; remember, most employers these days match a certain portion of your contributions, so make sure you don’t leave any money on the table at all. On a more serious note, part of being in a responsible, loving union is making sure that your spouse will be taken care of in the event that something happens to you. While no one ever wants to think about an unexpected accident or death, experts agree that some of the first things you need to do after your wedding is make sure you create a will and look into the many different insurance options that are available to you as a couple. You may already have existing life or disability insurances through your employers, but now you can take advantage of each other’s coverage; therefore, make sure you absolutely research the many different ways you can cut costs by avoiding duplicate coverage or even fully joining your spouse’s policy while dropping the cost of yours completely. Having a will is a way to ensure that certain measures will go into place in the event of your passing; something that will be increasingly necessary as your family grows and you have the custody of your children to consider. Be smart, use a real lawyer, and get this done immediately.

2 Ways to Better Use Your Tax Return Money

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If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that no one (and we mean no one!) likes tax season. For most of us, the formulas and deductions are too complex, and tax prep is literally the last thing we want to worry about after a long day of work.

There is, however, one benefit to filing all those W-2’s and saving all of those receipts to write off against your 1099’s, and that’s your tax return money. Depending on what seems to be dozens of different things from withholdings to bracketing, you could be expecting quite a nice chunk of change back come springtime; therefore it is important to put that money to good use for you and your family.

Since your return can change from year to year, and at times by a wide margin, it’s best to view this income as an unexpected bonus rather than a reliable means of funding. That is why you should do something “special” with it when it comes in, rather than just blow it all on the normal groceries you’ve already budgeted for.

Here are two ways that your family can greatly benefit from wise planning and the careful allotment of your tax return money.

  1. Put it Back into Your Home – Considering the fact that your home is not just your largest asset, but the main setting for your family’s life together, it makes perfect sense to invest some of your tax return money into repairs, additions, and other projects. While putting up a new white vinyl fence or updating your kid’s room for the first time since he was in diapers may seem like the most pressing needs, don’t forget to also allocate some of your return money towards paying off a portion of your principle as well.If you get a nice unexpected amount of money come tax season, leveraging it to effectively lower your monthly mortgage payments can significantly increase your ability to further branch out your budgets for other family needs. Find the proper balance between home improvements and lightening the ongoing cost of your home.
  1. Refresh or Add to All of Your Savings Funds– The smartest families are the ones that plan the best, and a great way to set aside proper savings for the future is to establish separate funds for the many goals your family may have. For many of us that means setting up a college savings account for the kids or refilling the “vacation jar” for a special trip you’ve been dreaming of with your spouse. Not all of these funds need to be allocated for planned events, however, and experts suggest that families should absolutely begin putting together a special side account for emergency situations as soon as possible. Let’s face it, things happen, and whether it’s a broken arm during a training wheels experience or a flood from the hot water heater in your basement, you’ll be able to handle life’s many twists and turns much more easily if you plan ahead with a little money set aside for “disaster relief.” Your tax return provides the perfect opportunity for either kickstarting or refilling these essential funds and accounts; you won’t be pulling in money that was previously budgeted for other parts of your life so it’s a win-win that won’t be felt by your wallet at all.

Scammers phish for mortgage closing costs

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Buying a home is exciting. You saved for the down payment, scheduled the move, and are dreaming of planting new roots. Closing is right around the corner…unless a scammer gets your settlement fees first.

The Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Realtors® are warning home buyers about an email and money wiring scam. Hackers have been breaking into some consumers’ and real estate professionals’ email accounts to get information about upcoming real estate transactions. After figuring out the closing dates, the hacker sends an email to the buyer, posing as the real estate professional or title company. The bogus email says there has been a last minute change to the wiring instructions, and tells the buyer to wire closing costs to a different account. But it’s the scammer’s account. If the buyer takes the bait, their bank account could be cleared out in a matter of minutes. Often, that’s money the buyer will never see again.

If you’re buying a home and get an email with money-wiring instructions, STOP. Email is not a secure way to send financial information, and your real estate professional or title company should know that. If it’s a phishing email, report it to the FTC.

Here are some ideas to help you avoid phishing scams:

•Don’t email financial information. It’s not secure.

•If you’re giving your financial information on the web, make sure the site is secure. Look for a URL that begins with https (the “s” stands for secure). And, instead of clicking a link in an email to go to an organization’s site, look up the real URL and type in the web address yourself.

•Be cautious about opening attachments and downloading files from emails, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain malware that can weaken your computer’s security.

•Keep your operating system, browser, and security software up to date.

Learn more about protecting yourself from phishing and what to do if your email is hacked. If you gave your information to a scammer, visit IdentityTheft.gov.

by Colleen Tressler
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC