October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

Learning how to identify online fraud and understanding how fraudulent activity happens helps with prevention. Here are some past blog posts with information on identity theft and prevention.  AdobeStock_141951442

How Safe are Paper Checks?

Stay Safe And Secure While Banking Online

Stay Vigilant While Shopping Online This Holiday Season

Check out our security section of our website for more resources and tips to protect yourself and your business from cybersecurity threats.

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?

Improve your Cell Phone Battery Life

Are you sick of charging your phone every night only to have the battery die a few short hours later? You’re not alone. The good news is that there are many ways you can fight back and improve your phone’s battery life.

Here are some energy-extending tips:

  • Turn off “Vibrate” mode! A phone set to vibrate uses more power than one that’s only set to ring. If you need to turn off the ringtone because you’re in a setting such as a business meeting, put your phone in silent mode and keep it within sight so you can see if you’re getting an incoming call, text, or alert.
  • If you’re worried that your cell phone battery will die while you’re out and about, consider using a portable USB power bank to recharge on-the-go. There are also phone cases with built-in batteries than can keep your phone from having to be charged as frequently.
  • Keep tabs on your phone’s signal strength. When you’re in an area with poor cellular coverage, your phone has to work harder to pull in a signal which puts a strain on the battery. If you’re having trouble getting a signal and aren’t able to make calls or access the Internet, switch the phone to Airplane mode to conserve battery power until you get to a better coverage area.
  • Find out which apps are sucking up your battery life. By going to Settings > Battery, you can see a list of the top battery-draining apps. Once you know the culprits, you can decide whether they’re worth the constant re-charging, or you can delete them to help improve your phone’s daily battery life.
  • Reduce your screen’s brightness. Keeping the phone on a less-bright setting can help to significantly extend battery life. Most phones also have an auto-brightness feature that automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness based on how dark or light out it is. Using this setting will help to ensure you’re not wasting power with an unnecessarily bright screen.
  • Don’t allow apps to use location services unless you absolutely need them to. Any time an app uses GPS to determine your location, your phone’s battery takes a huge hit. If you have an Android phone, an alternative to revoking access to location services is to visit Settings > Location > Mode, and select the “Battery Saving” feature instead of “High Accuracy”. This will force your phone to use Wi-Fi and mobile networks to determine your location instead of GPS, which drains your battery faster.
  • If you’re looking to boost your battery’s standby time, switch to Power Saving Mode if your phone has it. But beware that this mode could limit the phone’s capabilities.
  • Keep your apps up-to-date, as the latest versions often use less cell phone battery power than their older counterparts.
  • Adjust your phone’s display settings so the screen times out faster when it’s not in use. The longer it takes for the screen to automatically go dark, the more battery power is being wasted.
  • Lastly, it can’t hurt to reboot your phone every few days. Some battery drainage problems can be fixed by simply powering down and restarting your phone periodically.

Boating Safety Tips: Stay Safe on the Water!

If you feel like a fish out of water when you’re not on the boat, you’re not alone. Millions of people flock to lakes and the ocean to enjoy water activities this time of year.

But it’s important not to sacrifice safety when having fun, especially when it comes to boating. Taking the proper precautions before setting sail should always be a top priority. Here are some boating safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Consider a free vessel safety check.
    The U.S. Coast Guard offers recreational boaters a free Vessel Safety Check every year. The courtesy check is performed at your boat (whether that be in a slip, at a launch ramp, or in your driveway) by a certified Vessel Examiner. More information can be found on the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary website.
  • Share your travel plans with someone onshore. Let them know when you intend to depart, where you’re going, and when you’re returning.
  • Check the weather forecast in advance. Don’t take chances if the weather looks iffy, and if there’s a sudden change for the worse while out on the water, head back to land as quickly as possible.
  • Everyone on board should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. And if the boat is 16 feet or longer, an approved throwable device should be onboard the vessel, too.
  • Be prepared for an emergency. Stock the boat with a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, maps, flares, day signals, and anything else you think is appropriate to respond to an emergency situation.
  • Make sure everything is in working order before shoving off. This includes boat lights, radios and other communication devices, as well as the boat’s electrical and fuel systems.
  • Don’t consume alcohol or drugs before or while operating the boat. Both can impair reaction times and heighten sensitivity to such things as sunlight, wind, and noise.
  • Follow the rules. Whether they’re general in nature or specific to the location you’re boating in, obey the regulations. That includes maintaining a safe speed based on conditions such as traffic, visibility, and the boat’s ability to maneuver. And, after leaving the boat launch, maintain a no-wake speed for a distance that’s both safe and legally acceptable.
  • Attach your boat and vehicle keys to a floating bobber. You may also want to invest in a dry bag to help keep personal items like cell phones, wallets, and purses from getting wet.
  • Always have the boat’s registration and certificate on the vessel. For more information on the registration process for boats in your state, visit DMV.org.

Remember to keep these boating safety tips in mind while out on the water, and that ultimately, the boat owner and/or captain is responsible for the safety of everyone on board. Happy boating!

Prepare Your Home for Summer Fun

What’s summer without a little fun and relaxation? The good news is you don’t have to sit in beach traffic every day or plan extravagant outings to make the most of the warmer weather. A little work to your yard and home can go a long way toward creating the perfect outdoor escape. It may mean tackling a few projects now, but once they’re out of the way, you can sit back and enjoy some fun in the sun.

Here are some potential summer home projects you could tackle:

  • Pick out a spot in your yard and add a vegetable or fruit garden. While you’re at it, clear out the weeds, lay down some mulch, and plant some flowers or trees to give your yard a fresh new look.
  • Is your deck starting to look a little worn? Give it a new coat of stain. The same goes for the exterior walls of your house – spruce them up with a new layer of paint.
  • If you’re planning to enjoy a little outdoor cooking this summer, don’t forget to give your grill some attention and TLC before firing it up for burgers and hot dogs.
  • Enjoy a free nature show by attracting a variety of birds to your yard. Put up a bird feeder and bird bath, and maybe even a bird house to help bring some new feathered friends your way.
  • Brighten up the outside of your house with new accent lighting.
  • Create a tranquility garden. Consider ideas such as a fountain or pond, fire pit, Japanese maple trees (for their shape, texture, and colorful foliage), fragrant plants like lilac and sweet bay, butterfly bushes, and porch swings or comfy chairs.

Putting in some work now to create your own backyard oasis will pave the way for good times all summer long!

How to Prep Your Home for Sale

Now that spring has sprung, many people are itching to sell their homes. But before they can do that, there’s a little thing standing in their way – prepping it for sale.

Actually, it could be more of a “big” thing depending on how much needs to be addressed. If you’re like a lot of homeowners looking to sell, you probably have your work cut out for you. Repair projects that have been put off now need attention. The exterior could use a new coat of paint. The list goes on and on.

Getting your arms around all the to-do tasks may seem daunting, but a good place to start is to make a list of things to be done. Need some help? Check out this checklist:

Clean it up. When’s the last time your home had a thorough cleaning? If you don’t have time for it, consider hiring a cleaning company to do the work.

Get rid of clutter. Either trash, sell, or give away what you don’t need. The less clutter, the better your home will look to potential buyers. With ample storage space being a big concern of most home buyers, do you want them to open up your closets to see an overcrowded mountain of junk?

Put things in order. Does the kids’ play room look like a tornado hit it? Is the garage an unsightly mess? Put things in their proper place, no matter what area of the house you’re focused on, but especially high-traffic areas like the family room, kitchen and bathroom.

Keep it neutral. While you may love your bold red living room and your lime green kitchen, prospective buyers may not. Repainting dramatic-colored walls in more neutral, mild tones like tans, greys, and whites can help buyers to envision their belongings in the space.

Let there be light! Prospective buyers are looking for a warm, inviting home, not a dark cave. Open up the curtains and blinds, and thoroughly clean the windows to let in as much natural light as possible. It’s also a good idea to replace any burned out lightbulbs, and upgrade old, outdated light fixtures to help brighten things up and make your home shine.

Cash in on curb appeal. If your home looks like a disaster on the outside, it’s likely house hunters aren’t going to venture beyond your front yard. Cut the grass regularly, spruce up the garden, and put away the kiddie bikes and other toys. After all, we’re talking about first impressions here!

Beware of stinky, smelly things like old sneakers, or leaky bags of trash. Nothing’s more of a turnoff then getting a whiff of a foul odor. And don’t try to mask a smelly problem with candles or air freshener. Address the problem head-on so it’s not an ongoing issue.

Don’t get too personal. In fact, try to put away as many of your personal mementos as possible, such as family photos and collectibles. It will be easier for a prospective buyer to envision what the home will look like with their personal imprint.

Invest in some simple upgrades. New towels and floor mats in the bathroom, a few lightly scented candles, and new knobs to replace worn-out ones on kitchen cabinets are little touches that can go a long way.

When getting ready to prep your home for sale, what’s most important is to think like a home buyer, not a seller. What would you like to see when checking out a home for sale?

Tips For Tackling Your Tax Return

Here are three words that can strike fear in the hearts of many Americans – tax filing season. That is, unless you’re expecting a big refund. If that’s the case, you may have already filed your tax return. But there are millions of taxpayers who have yet to begin this annual rite. Fortunately, they’ll have a little more time to complete their returns this year, thanks to two holidays. Although the filing deadline typically falls on April 15, that’s the same day that Emancipation Day will be celebrated in Washington, D.C., so the deadline has been pushed back to Monday, April 18. However, Massachusetts and Maine’s celebration of Patriot’s Day on April 18 means the deadline in those two states will be extended to April 19. The Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, strongly recommends that taxpayers file their returns electronically, since it’s the fastest and safest way to do so. And the agency advises that refunds be received by direct deposit for the same reasons. More than nine out of 10 refunds will be issued in less than three weeks this year, according to the IRS. And if you’re looking for a freebie, take advantage of IRS Free File. The agency has partnered with companies that are offering free brand-name software to file federal returns. About 100 million individuals and families with incomes of $62,000 or less are eligible for this service, the IRS reports. One of the biggest steps in preparing your tax return is to assemble all your important documents, such as bank statements, W2s, receipts, and mortgage interest statements. To make it easier to keep track of what you need, make a checklist. Other steps you can take include:

  • Find out in advance what credits and deductions you can take advantage of. This may take some research, but it will be well worth it if you end up saving a decent amount of money.
  • Get professional help if you know your tax return is going to be more complicated than usual. Friends, neighbors, and family members can often recommend a trustworthy tax preparer.
  • Use the IRS website – irs.gov – to help in preparing your tax return. The site is loaded with lots of pertinent information and has handy search tools, too, just in case you have a question or two. These tools include a search box at the top of the home page; Interactive Tax Assistant, which is accessible by clicking on “Find Answers to Your Tax Questions” under the Tools section near the top of the home page; and a new topic lookup tool called the IRS Tax Map, which can be accessed from the Interactive Tax Assistant home page.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to complete the tax return; this will help you avoid making mistakes. And always be sure to double-check your return before filing it.