Don’t Let Your House Suffer From The Winter Blues

Like it or not, harsh, cold weather is right around the corner. But with some precautionary measures, you can keep those winter blues in check around your house.

Fortunately, you still have time to prepare for the snow, ice and gusty gales that are sure to show up in the weeks ahead. Here are some tips to help batten down your home’s hatches:

  • Conventional water heaters are typically set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but most households only need a setting of 120 degrees to be comfortable. Check yours and adjust the setting if need be.
  • A big source of heat loss in the winter is a chimney. If you don’t plan to use it during cold weather, install a chimney balloon to retain heat and block drafts.
  • If your water pipes are warm to the touch, insulate them to lower the cost of heating water. The insulation will also help prevent the pipes from freezing. Pre-slit pipe foam is available at many hardware stores. Use duct tape to wrap it into place.
  • Federal, state and local tax credits are available for a variety of energy efficiency and alternative energy projects, such as geothermal heating and solar power. Tap into the internet to find what’s out there.
  • Clear sidewalks, rain spouts and gutters of leaves and other fall-related debris so that water doesn’t back up and freeze, which could cause hazardous conditions and possibly damage.
  • Lower heating bills by replacing deteriorating insulation around doors, windows, garages and attics. This includes applying caulking, weatherstripping, roll or foam insulation, window plastic insulation and other cold-weather barriers.
  • If you’re in the market for new doors and windows, consider those that are storm-ready. They provide for better insulation, and that means notable energy savings in the long run.
  • Got a drafty door? Stick a snake under it – a draft snake, that is. You’ll find them for sale or you can create a homemade version, such as a rolled-up towel.
  • Make sure your snow and ice removal equipment is in proper working order and ready to go at the first sign of a snowflake or a fleck of ice.
  • When’s the last time you had the home heating system inspected? If you can’t remember when, now’s the time to hire a home heating professional to conduct a tune-up and make any necessary repairs. And don’t forget to replace or clean furnace filters once a month during the heating season. Dirty filters increase energy demand and restrict air flow.
  • If you have ceiling fans, let them go to work for you during the winter by flicking a switch on them that will make the blades rotate from counterclockwise to clockwise. The clockwise movement will force downward hot air that accumulates near the ceiling.
  • Shut down exterior water spigots and drain and store gardening hoses.

Being proactive now with your home will put winter in its place and give yourself peace of mind.

Shop ‘Til You Drop During Small Business Saturday!

Do you have big plans to shop small this Saturday? If not, you should make some!

In case you haven’t heard, Saturday, November 26th is Small Business Saturday, and it’s being celebrated in your community and around the nation. This special shopping day has grown in stature since starting out in 2010. And that’s only appropriate, considering the number of small businesses in the U.S. continues to rise every year.

How much? According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses have seen their numbers increase by 49 percent since 1982. That’s an impressive rise, and it’s being fueled even more by Small Business Saturday.

Results from the fifth annual Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, recently released by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, show that more consumers than ever are aware of Small Business Saturday – 58 percent compared to the previous high of 55 percent in 2015.

The survey also revealed another interesting statistic. More than six in ten consumers who know about Small Business Saturday and who plan to shop locally on the day say they’re doing it mainly because they value the contributions small businesses make to their community.

Also revealed by the survey:

  • On average, 33 percent of U.S. consumers expect to do their holiday shopping this year at small retailers.
  • Additionally, 76 percent say they will visit at least one small business as part of their overall holiday shopping.
  • And, 91 percent indicated that it’s important to them to support small, independently-owned bars and restaurants.

That’s obviously great news for small business owners. And it’s great news for the communities where they are located, since folks who spend their money locally are fueling the economies of their neighborhoods.

Make a difference in your community – get out and shop on Small Business Saturday!

It’s That Crazy Shopping Time of Year!

Want to see shoppers go into a frenzy? Watch them in action during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Both days are coming up fast, and that means lots of bargains will be up for grabs. Will you be ready to lock onto the best deals?

There are lots of ways to prepare yourself. Here are some that could give you a leg up on the competition:

Be social media savvy. Many retailers will announce or offer special deals via Facebook and/or Twitter, or you can connect with them through e-mail to receive sales alerts and discount coupons.

Use store credit cards for extra savings. Many retailers offer extra discounts or other perks when using their cards, so take advantage of it.

Research before you buy. Don’t get suckered in by a low price for an inferior product. “You get what you pay for” still holds true, so make sure that the item(s) you’re eyeing up are worthy of your hard-earned dollars.

Don’t be late for the party. If you wait too long to pick up on a bargain, you run the risk of not getting it. With more retailers starting their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving night if not sooner, you may have to readjust your buying strategy to grab the deals before others do.

And don’t ignore the fine print. It’s there for a reason, even though it may be tough to read. We’re talking about disclosures such as “limited quantities” or “limited to store stock.” Another is restricting buyers to one item only.

Be cautious of “too good to be true” deals. Chances are what you see isn’t going to be what you get.

Look for price matching. Many retailers do it these days, including brick-and-mortar stores that will match the price of online retailers.

Take advantage of online comparison shopping sites. They include PriceGrabber.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Come back soon!, ShopZilla.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Come back soon!, FatWallet.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Come back soon! and Shopping.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Come back soon!. And don’t forget to check newspaper ads, too.

Be careful when shopping online:

      • Stick with trustworthy sites and sites where you’ve shopped before.
      • Don’t shop on a public WiFi network. You could potentially expose credit card and other personal financial information to cyber thieves, since these networks don’t have extensive, if any, security protocols.
      • Be aware that the new “chip” credit and debit cards have made it more difficult for crooks to steal your financial information in brick-and-mortar stores. On the flip side, thieves have shifted their attention to online shopping, since the chip cards don’t offer the same safeguards in the cyber sphere.

Best of luck with your holiday shopping, whether it’s on Black Friday or Cyber Monday or any other time during this holiday season.

A To-Do List Before 2016 Fades Away

Where did the year go? It’s hard to believe that 2016 is going to be nothing but a passing memory in a couple of months. But chances are you have more than a few loose ends to tie up before 2017 arrives.

Not sure what we’re referring to? Here are some clues:

  • If you’ve met your medical insurance deductible for the year, consider making some doctor’s appointments soon to address things you might have put off because of the added expense.
  • On a related note, if you have a flexible spending account, check the balance to see if there’s any money remaining. And evaluate whether you’re putting too little or too much in the account, then make adjustments for next year.
  • Is benefits enrollment time coming up where you work? If so, carefully review what benefits you have and check whether any premium increases are on the horizon. If you’re anticipating a jump in price, consider making some adjustments in coverage to offset the increase.
  • Do you still have vacation time and/or personal days hanging out there? If you have a use-or-lose policy at work, then you probably should schedule some days off soon. Or you may be among the lucky ones who can roll over a week’s worth of vacation into the next year. Of course, if you have more than a week, plan now to squeeze those extra days in during the next two months.
  • If you have a 401(k) retirement account, think about increasing your contributions before the end of the year.
  • Now’s a good time to take inventory of your cold-weather clothes. Do you have items that are worn out or just don’t fit anymore? Are you looking for some new styles? If you have stuff that’s still in good shape, donate it to your nearest shelter.
  • Are you in line for a year-end bonus? If you already know how much it will be, you can start making plans now on how to spend it. From a summer vacation to paying off bills, you probably have plenty of options to consider.
  • Assess your holiday decoration needs. Replace any decorations that are broken or worn out. And look for sales on new ones – they usually pop up around this time of year.
  • Speaking of the holidays, have you prepared a gift-giving list? Now’s a great time to get a handle on who wants what and just how much you can afford to spend this year.

11 Things Every Smartphone User Should Know

Your mobile device provides convenient access to your email, bank and social media accounts. Unfortunately, it can potentially provide the same convenient access for criminals. Here are some tips you can follow to keep your information – and your money – safe.

  1. Use the pass-code lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.
  2. Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.
  3. Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.
  4. Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms, and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”
  5. Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.
  6. Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a social security number on your mobile device.
  7. Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.
  8. Be aware of shoulder surfers. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you’re punching in sensitive information.
  9. Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.
  10. Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.
  11. Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren’t very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network.

For more information and tips on cyber-security, check out Bank5 Connect’s Security Center.

Three Ways to Verify a Legitimate E-mail

Many of us are familiar with phishing attacks, which use ‘spoofed’ e-mails and fraudulent websites designed to fool recipients into divulging personal financial data such as credit card numbers, account usernames and passwords, Social Security numbers, etc., however people continue to fall victim to the attack. Phishing has become more sophisticated and are hijacking the trusted brands of well-known banks, online retailers and credit card companies, phishers are able to convince recipients to respond to them.

The email can look just like it comes from a financial institution, e-commerce site, government agency or any other service or business. It often urges you to act quickly because your account has been compromised in some way.

If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, don’t reply, and don’t click on links or call phone numbers provided in the message.

Try to verify the email’s legitimacy with these steps:

  • Contact the company directly.
  • Contact the company using information provided on an account statement or back of a credit card.
  • Search for the company online – but not with information provided in the email.

Delete email and text messages that ask you to confirm or provide personal information (credit card and bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, etc.). Companies don’t ask for this information via email or text. Phishing and other online scams aren’t just limited to emails. They’re also prevalent on social networking sites. Be sure to remove suspicious online ads, status updates, tweets and other posts.

What to Do if You Think You are a Victim?

What You Need to Know about Ransomware

Ransomware is the latest form of malware used by cyber criminals to freeze your computer or mobile device, steal your data and demand that a “ransom” —  typically anywhere from a couple of hundreds to thousands of dollars — be paid.  Below is a breakdown of a ransomware attack and how to identify and prevent one from happening.