Blogs

Detecting Common Phone Scams (& How to Avoid Them)

 
 Phone scams can happen in a number of ways. From robocalls, to real people pretending to be somebody else, to unsolicited text messages designed to look like they are coming directly from your bank; scammers are getting more and more sophisticated when it comes to stealing your personal and private information. In 2018, the FTC reported more than 3 million calls, stating that the national average is continuing to go up from previous years.
 
“We collected more than 1.4 million fraud reports, and people said they lost money to the fraud in 25% of those reports. People reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud last year – an increase of 38% over 2017.” (FTC, 2019)
 
Scam artists do not discriminate against age, race, gender or socioeconomic status, so how do you go about recognizing them and defending yourself? Our number one piece of advice is to just say “No, thank you” and then hang up. However, if you are interested in learning more about some of the most common phone scams and how you can avoid them continue reading below. Interested in finding new ways to protect your identity? Check out our FREE online education courses.
 

Common Phone Scams

 
“CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve won _________!”
Have you ever received a phone call like this? Saying you’ve just won some tropical vacation that includes a seven night stay while promising you the moon and the stars? Odds are, you’ve most likely been attacked by a phone scam-artist. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Be weary of great deals on travel packages, hotels, flights, etc. That “great deal” could turn into hundreds to thousands of dollars in hidden fees.
 
One-Ring Scams
These are tricky. These are those times that you receive a phone call from an unrecognized number but it only rings once in hope that you will return the call. The caller may even leave a voicemail asking that you return the call because of reasons X, Y and Z. Although, this may seem innocent; the second you hit the redial button you’re setting yourself up to be scammed. The scam actually happens when you return the call. You will get automatically charged a connection fee due to it being an international call that might have been masked to look like a US number.
 
“This is the IRS calling…”
With tax season on the horizon, the number of phone calls that you are going to receive from the “IRS” are likely to go up. You may receive a call stating that you owe back on your taxes, and the caller will then attempt to steal your personal information by threatening you with some type of legal action. Whatever you do, do not give in. The more pushy the caller is the more likely it is a scam.
 
“There’s a warrant out for your arrest!”
Hopefully this kind of phone call will automatically raise a red flag, but it may be more believable if the call is concerning a loved one or a family friend that is in trouble and needing money. It is in our human nature to stay out of trouble so you may be tempted to act quickly in these situations. However, do not wire money to anybody under any circumstances over the phone without first proving their identity. Understand that debt collectors do not have the power to arrest anybody. If you are truly concerned about legal action, hang up and call your local police station to get more information.
 
Google My Business Scams
This one is geared more toward small business owners. First and foremost, you will never receive an unsolicited call from Google asking you to pay money to get your Google My Business (GMB) account set up. GMB is a free service that allows you to be easily found on the search engine. If someone claims to be from Google and asks that you send them money to get “verified” hang up, immediately. GMB has great resources to teach you how to identify scammers on Google My Business Help pages.
 
Charities
In the midst of a tragedy or natural disaster you can expect to receive phone calls from scammers that have set up fake organizations looking to take advantage of your generosity. Before agreeing to anything be sure to look into the organization to make sure that it is a legitimate charity, and don’t give into pressure when asked to donate right away. Contact the state consumer protection office or the Better Business Bureau before choosing to donate.
 
Bank Alerts
Have you ever received a voicemail from a robotic phone operator claiming that there are problems with your debit/credit card? These kinds of phone scams can even come as a well-designed text message that looks like it is coming from your bank. Popular banking scams include; overpayment scams, unsolicited check fraud, automatic withdraws and phishing. Hang up and call your banking establishment’s designated customer service number whenever asked to verify your banking details over the phone.
 

So what do you do?


Use caution when answering phone calls
This may go without saying, but always be cautious when answering unrecognized phone numbers. If somebody really needs to get ahold of you they will leave a legitimate message. If you decide to answer, be sure to ask multiple questions and be patient. If the caller or telemarketer is trying to get you to make an immediate decision - rest assured that it is probably a scam. If the caller asks, “Can you hear me?” Don’t respond with “Yes.” This gives the scammer the opportunity to record your audible consent and then they can manipulate it and use it against you.
 
Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry
This is a free service that allows you to choose not to have your number put on telemarketers call lists. You can register both your home line and your mobile device.
 
Absolutely DO NOT Provide Your Personal Information
Never offer personal or account information over the phone without verifying the caller’s identity. If you’re feeling suspicious, trust your instincts and hang up and initiate the call yourself by using a known number.
 
Use Pins and Passwords
Some scams actually hack into your phone by downloading viruses so they are able to access your personal information, including your banking records. Set the phone to require a password to power on the handset or awake it from sleep mode. If it's lost or stolen any personal information stored on the device will be more difficult to access. Only download authorized apps and if you receive a suspicious text with a link refrain from clicking on the link. Treat your mobile device like your wallet and do everything you can to protect it.
 
Don’t feel bad about hanging up on robotic calls
You may be tempted to follow the prompt to be connected to a representative and ask to be put on their Do Not Call list, but please refrain. This will most likely actually lead to more robotic calls in the future. Just hang up.
 
Contact the Federal Trade Commission

You can do this online or by phone at 1-877-382-4357 to report suspicious calls. For a more-detailed list of common phone scams and ways to avoid them, visit www.usa.gov/common-scams-frauds.
____________________________
 
For more information contact our customer service team at 208-734-1500 or contact us online.
 

The Future of Mobile Wallets

 
The Future is Here - and it’s Cardless.
With more secure and faster payments you would think that mobile wallets would be the next best thing, right? Well… They should be, but in all reality it has taken years for Americans to get behind this innovative idea because it represents that one big and intimidating word that nobody likes - change. Although paying from your phone has proven to be the safest and most effective way to pay for your goods, the general public has developed this unfounded notion that these apps are more risky than the traditional debit and credit cards we’ve grown to know and love.
 
Your Information - At Risk:
Each and every time you swipe your card or insert the chip into a card reader you’re taking a serious chance. A chance that somebody, somewhere is going to steal your valuable credit card and banking information.
 
  • Wireless RFID skimmers are illegal devices that can be inserted into readers from any/all merchants. These are used to steal your credit card information that is then kept or sold to somebody else anywhere in the world. The worst part? It can happen almost instantly. You could be pumping your gas one minute and then have an empty account 5 minutes later.
 
  • Keyloggers are also known as thieves that steal your information by installing a keylogger on your device without your consent and then they can track your every move by tracing the letters and numbers that you type.
 
  • Data Breaches are the most-common way for your information to be leaked into the wrong hands and it has nothing to do with you. This happens when a company or website has your information stored in a relatively secure location, and then a hacker breaks in with a mission to retrieve your personal information.
 
Protect your Assets with Mobile Wallets
The incredible thing about mobile wallet apps is that when you go to scan your phone absolutely zero personal information gets transferred to the merchant - not your card number, banking information, or anything else. The information is encrypted making it virtually impossible to hack due to the retailer never actually handling your information.
 
As if that wasn’t enough protection, if a hacker could somehow receive the encrypted data it would do nothing more than give them your wallet provider’s information (not your bank or card). This is made possible through a process called tokenization. “Tokenization is the process of digitizing a single physical payment card into several independent digital payment means through the use of tokens.” [Gemalto, 2019]. This means that each time you make a purchase your mobile wallet will send a new and unique encryption code to ensure that the numbers are always changing. That’s called secure and in-depth data protection.
 
What happens if you lose your phone? There are barriers in place to keep thieves out. Be sure to set up a PIN code or password to protect your phone. If possible, use biometric scans (Touch ID) on any/all apps that store sensitive information. In regards to your mobile wallet app, be sure to use a strong password that is unlike any of your other passwords. If you take these steps to protect your information you will be much better off than carrying around a physical wallet. Added bonus? One less thing for you to leave in the grocery cart after a long day of shopping!
 
Instant Gratification:
Are you ready to make the switch and ditch your old wallet? There is one last thing you should know that may help you decide whether or not you want to take that massive leap into the future. With mobile wallet apps payments happen in the blink of an eye.
No more standing in line waiting awkwardly and anxiously for the merchant to tell you to insert and remove your card. - Do I enter my card yet? Can I take it out now? What do I do with my hands? - It takes an average of 1-3 seconds to process a mobile payment versus the 12+ seconds (essentially an eternity in the eyes of an American) to read a chip. That means shorter lines, faster service and the opportunity to dig into that brand new tub of ice cream just a little bit quicker.
 
For more information contact our customer service team at 208-734-1500 or contact us online.

5 Tips to Prepare for a Mortgage

Buying a home is one of the biggest investments and commitments that you’ll make in your lifetime. As you prepare to purchase your first (or even second or third) home, you need to establish a solid savings plan along with good spending habits. Below are five tips on how to better-prepare for a mortgage.
 
  • Put Together A Realistic Budget 
    Creating a monthly budget is a great way to save for a down payment on a home while also giving you a better idea of how much you can realistically spend on a monthly house payment.

    • The general rule of thumb is that a household should spend no more than 28% of its total monthly income on housing expenses. Another recommendation is that the household should spend a maximum of 36% on all of their debt, combined. Knowing this, and these numbers, should help as you begin to plan a budget that doesn’t break the bank and leave you financially distressed.

    • Budgeting is a great way to get in the habit of paying a large monthly payment. A great place to start would be by putting an estimated house payment into a designated savings account each month to help you save up for a down payment, while also getting you into the habit of spending $XXXX each month (with money set aside for additional housing expenses that may pop up along the way).
As you sit down and begin to write out your budget make sure to include all of your monthly bills, estimated costs for gas and groceries, and a designated amount of expendable income for eating out/entertainment.
 
  • Save Up For a Down Payment
    Most financial institutions recommend saving at least 20% of your total estimated mortgage when buying a home.

    • The more money you have to put toward a down payment, the lower your interest rates and monthly payments. This can take months, even years to accomplish; which is why is important to start saving early when considering buying a home.

    • Another option is to apply for an FHA loan. These loans, insured by the Federal Housing Administration, are strictly reserved for first time home buyers. They allow lower down payments (3.5%) as long as you have a 580+ credit score. You can still qualify for an FHA loan if your credit score ranges from 500-579 if you have 10% down. Mortgage insurance is required for these types of loans, but it makes buying a home more affordable for those who aren’t capable of saving 20% of their total estimated mortgage cost.
  • Pay Off Your Debt
    Before diving headfirst into a heaping new pile of debt, you should begin working to pay off your smaller loans to help cut back on your monthly costs. A great strategy to apply here is the debt snowball technique taught by personal finance guru, Dave Ramsey.

    The Debt Snowball 
    • This strategy revolves around paying off your smallest loans first while continuing to make the minimum payments on your larger debts. As you pay off each loan, you will then redirect or “snowball”, the funds you were spending toward your next loan on your list, with each payment getting larger and larger without changing your monthly living costs. This strategy may not save you on interest, but it helps keep you motivated to tackle each loan.

    • Think of it this way: Say you have a car loan for $12,000 and a total of $40,000 in student loans. You would dedicate as much of your expendable income as possible toward your car payment ($300/month) until that loan is paid off while still making the bare minimum payment of $400 on your student loans. Once your car is paid off, you would then pay a total of $700/month of your student loans until those are completely paid off.

    • The debt snowball technique is just one of the many strategies used to pay down your debts. Do your research and find one that works best for you. Keep in mind that as you pay off each loan your credit score will change. Some debt can be used to your advantage when it comes to building your credit score (see below).

  • Build Your Credit Score
    Your credit score has a major impact on your ability to finance a home. The higher your credit score, the lower your interest and monthly payments will be

    • Lenders look at your credit score as a way of analyzing whether or not they can trust you to make monthly payments. It is important that you are familiar with your own credit score and that you work to improve your credit score in the months leading up to applying for a mortgage.

    • Make sure not to close any of your current accounts during the same calendar year that you plan to buy a home, as this can drastically affect your score. Be sure not to sign or co-sign for any other major loans during that time, as well. Reach out to a bank mortgage loan officer at Farmer’s Bank for more information on ways to improve your credit score. Contact us at 208-734-1500 or contact us online.

  • Last but not least… Do your homework & be realistic with your goals

    Don’t rush into a mortgage just because you’re in a hurry to close on a home. Be sure to look into different lenders and options to make sure that you get the best deal possible - you’ll be making payments on this mortgage for a good portion of your life so make sure to take your time and do your research. Understand the difference between a 15- and a 30-year mortgage while also double-checking on prepayment penalties to ensure you don’t get penalized for paying your mortgage (or any other loan) off early.

    Realistically set a time frame that you aim to accomplish these tasks so that moving forward you’ll be set up for success. The more upfront you are with your goals and expectations at the beginning of the process, the better off you will be five years down the road when you’re in the smack-dab in the middle of it all.
For more information reach out to our mortgage specialists ,call us at 208-734-1500, or contact us online.

Financial Habits to Help Build your Credit Score

We live in a world that demands good credit. If you want to finance anything - be it a car or a home mortgage - you have to have good credit. Whether you’re trying to raise your credit score due to prior derogatory marks on your account, or you’re starting from scratch with little-to-no credit history; these tips and tricks are proven strategies to help raise your credit score wherever you’re at in life.
 
  • Know What Your Credit Score Is (Weekly and Annual Reports): There are free credit monitoring apps and services that you can use to check your credit score weekly and annually. Both Credit Karma and TurboTax are great resources to give you good perspective as to what your credit score looks like on a week-to-week basis. Weekly monitoring is a great way to catch little mistakes and stay up-to-date on all of the changes happening on a weekly basis. You should also take advantage of the opportunity to request your full credit report one time per year without having an affect on your score.
     
  • Dispute Inaccuracies: As soon as you come across a red flag that there was a hit on your credit, dispute it. A missed payment that wasn’t truly missed or an account opened under your name by somebody else can take a serious toll on your credit score. That is why it is so incredibly important that you dispute any mistakes that you find as soon as they arise. At the end of the day, you are solely responsible for your own credit health.
 
  • Pay Your Bills On Time (Or Before They’re Due): While there are multiple factors that affect your credit score, payment history is the most important of them all. Making up 35% of your FICO credit score, missing a single payment can be detrimental to your credit health. These marks can leave lasting impressions on your credit report for up to seven years. The best way to prevent this from happening altogether is by setting up automatic payments that are scheduled to go through before your bill is due. This will ensure that payments are made on time, and will boost your score even more by paying before the initial due date. Making multiple payments throughout the month is another great way to score extra points on your report, as well.
 
  • Take Out A Secured Loan or Credit Builder Loan: Creditors want to see that you’re utilizing your credit and making monthly payments. By taking out a secured loan, you are putting up collateral to back the loan to ensure creditors that you’ll be making payments on time. You can either use the loan to pay for something you currently need, or save it to repay the loan monthly to guarantee that you’ll have the funds to do so. A Credit Builder Loan is another great option because you will essentially get all of your money back once the loan is paid off. The money you put toward the loan goes into a savings account so that when it is paid off, a large percentage of it is returned back to you while simultaneously raising your credit score in the process - it’s a win-win.
 
  • Apply For A Secured Credit Card: Secured Credit Cards are different from regular credit cards because you place a refundable security deposit on the card that acts as your credit limit. This guarantees that you will never spend more than you already have, but allows you to raise your credit score in a safe and practical way. Some secured cards even offer rewards programs as an incentive to sign up and utilize them.
 
  • Keep Unused Accounts Open - Just Freeze Them: If you have older accounts that you don’t use anymore, push the pause button on calling to close those accounts. Instead, cut up the card and ensure you’ve paid off your entire bill before essentially forgetting about it. Letting your credit accounts age is a great way to raise your credit score over time while keeping multiple lines/forms of credit open looks great on your FICO report. On the other hand, don’t try to open six accounts in a single calendar year. The more hard inquiries you have on your account, the lower your score will drop. Spread out larger purchases to give your credit score a break.
 
  • Keep Total Debt Below 10% of Total Available Credit: Your total available credit is the credit limit on all of your accounts. For example, if you have five cards with $2,000 limits on each card, then your total available credit is $10,000. Therefore, you should keep less than $1,000 total on your cards to maximize your credit utilization score.
 
For more information on ways to improve your credit score reach out to us at 208-734-1500 or contact us online.