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We are pleased to provide you with tips and suggestions to help keep you safe.  

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Cybersecurity Awareness Month (October)

This information was originally distributed by the IRS. 

Got an unexpected email about a tax refund? It’s not from us: IRS does NOT email taxpayers out of the blue. Watch out for scams: www.irs.gov/alerts 

Got a DM? IRS does NOT contact taxpayers through social media requesting personal or financial information. See: www.irs.gov/alerts 

IRS will never initiate contact with you through email about a bill or tax refund. Watch out for scams: www.irs.gov/alerts 

Got an unexpected IRS email? It’s a SCAM: Don’t reply, click on links or open attachments. For your Tax Security, forward it as-is to [email protected]www.IRS.gov/phishing

If you get an email from IRS requesting personal information, don’t click on any links -- it’s a SCAM. Forward it as-is to [email protected]www.IRS.gov/phishing

 

Federal Trade Commission Refunds: The real deal or not?

 

By Nicole Christ, Redress Program Manager, FTC

Sometimes the Federal Trade Commission is able to return money to people who were ripped off in a con artist’s scheme. But scammers try to cause confusion and take advantage at every step.

If you lost money in a scam, you might get a call or email from someone claiming that they can help you recover your funds – if you pay them, hand over personal information, or allow them remote access to your computer. Don’t do it! Recent complaints to the FTC show that scammers are:

  • targeting people who lost money to tech support scams
  • claiming to be from the FTC’s Refund Department or Refund Division
  • using the name of real FTC employees.

So how can you tell whether an FTC refund is real?

  • If the FTC contacts you about a refund, you’ll find information about the case at ftc.gov/refunds. You can be sure the phone numbers and links on this page are legit.
  • The FTC never requires you to pay fees or asks you for sensitive information, like your Social Security number or bank account information. The FTC also never asks for remote access to your computer. If someone claims to be from the FTC and does, it’s a scam.

 

If you get a call from someone who says they’re from the FTC but asks you for money or sensitive information, please notify the real FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

 

Should You Refinance Your Mortgage?

The general rule of thumb is if you can reduce your current interest rate by 1% or more, it is worth doing a mortgage refinance. Many people are happy to follow this rule as long as it lowers their monthly payment or allows them to take out some cash, without digging deeper into the numbers. 

What is Home Mortgage Refinancing?

A home mortgage refinancing, or home loan refinancing, is basically the process of taking out a new mortgage with new terms and interest rate to pay off the existing home loan. 

Why Should You Consider Refinancing Your Home Loan?

There are several reasons why refinancing might be right for you. Typically, people refinance their home for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Lower your monthly mortgage payment: The main reason to refinance is to lower your monthly payment. This helps improve your cashflow, so that you will have more money available to do other things. You can lower your monthly mortgage payment by taking out a new loan at a lower interest rate, or by taking out a longer-term loan.
  • Lower your overall costs: Another reason is to lower your borrowing costs by taking advantage of the lower interest rate. This is why more people are refinancing their home loans when interest rates are low.
  • Reduce your risk: Refinancing can also be used as a risk management tool. For example, if your original home loan is an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM), you could refinance to a Fixed Rate Mortgage to protect yourself against a sudden rise in interest rates when the initial discount period expires.
  • Raise cash: Refinancing can also be used to unlock your home equity and gain access to cash. This is referred to as cash-out refinancing. Specifically, you are taking out a larger loan than you currently owe and keeping the difference in cash…essentially borrowing more money against your home. Money raised from refinancing could be used for different purposes; for instance, for home renovation, to pay off high-interest debts such as credit card debts, to pay for major expenses, or investment purposes.
  • Shorten your mortgage term: Refinancing isn’t always about lowering your monthly payment. If you earn more than you used to, it may be worthwhile to convert your longer-term mortgage to a shorter-term loan. This is generally better than prepaying your loan because shorter-term loans have lower interest rates than a longer-term loan. This will help you pay off your home loan much faster and potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments.
  • Eliminate Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): If your equity increased above 20% due to the rise in your home value, refinancing could be an option to eliminate your PMI. Getting rid of your PMI could save you hundreds every month.

When Is The Best Time To Refinance Your Home Loan?

Typically, the best time to refinance your home mortgage is when interest rates are low. Due to the costs associated with refinancing, the current interest rate should be at least 1% lower than the interest rate on your existing loan for refinancing to make sense.

Moreover, you may also consider refinancing your home if:

  • Your credit score improved enough to qualify for a better interest rate.
  • Your financial situation changed significantly. For example, you want to lower your monthly payment because it is straining your budget.
  • Your Adjustable Rate Mortgage teaser rate is expiring, and you expect your interest rate to rise.

Are There Costs To Refinance?  

There are closing costs associated with refinancing, similar to the closing costs you paid when you first purchased your home. Closing costs usually include fees related to survey, appraisal, title search, title insurance, realty transfer taxes, legal services, messenger or delivery services, document copying, etc.

In essence, you are selling the house back to yourself all over again. As such, you have to stay in your home for a few years after refinancing to make it worthwhile. The rule of thumb is to refinance when you can recover the cost of refinancing within 24 months.

Contact an Old Fort Mortgage Banker today to explore your refinancing options.

Avoid Hurricane Relief Charity Fraud

With the news of Hurricane Dorian impacting Florida and the Carolinas, we wanted to share some information from the Federal Trade Commission about charity scams.

After a natural disaster strikes, many people want to reach out and help the hurricane victims. However, here are a few tips to help avoid hurricane relief charity fraud.

  • Research the charity to make sure your monetary donation goes to a reputable organization.
  • Watch newscasts from the affected area for charities accepting donations.
  • When considering giving to a specific charity, search its name plus “complaint,” “review,” “ratings” or “scam.”
  • The form of payment being requested can help identify scammers – they typically request donations by cash, gift card, or wiring money.
  • When you feel you are giving to a reputable charity, it is safer to pay by credit card or check.
  • Don’t let someone rush you into making a donation.
  • Scammers try to trick you into paying them by thanking you for a donation you never made.
  • Scammers can change caller ID to make a call look like its from a local area code.
  • Scammers use names that sound a lot like names of real charities. This is one reason to do your research before paying.
  • Bogus organizations may claim your donation is tax-deductible when it is not.

 If you see any red flags, or if you’re not sure about how your donation will be used, consider giving to a different charity.

Report any scams to FTC.gov/complaint.  You can also find the state charity regulator at nasconet.org to report them. Please share any information you may have, like the name of the organization or fundraiser, phone numbers, and website and if you received a call.

Clean Up Your Cyber Footprint

Each of us is a valuable part of the cybersecurity chain, including our children, workers, older individuals, and students.  From connecting with friends on social networks to managing finances online, we enjoy the convenience and efficiency of digital lives, but with the benefits also come risks. The personal information we share online while banking, shopping, and posting on social media presents an opportunity for cyber criminals to steal our sensitive data to commit crimes.

We learn about new scams, frauds, and databreaches almost daily. You don't have to be "tech savvy" to be safe online. To help protect yourself, the Department of Homeland Security and Old Fort Bank encourage you to follow these simple tips:

Lock Down Your Login: Usernames and passwords are often not enough to protect important accounts like email, banking, and social media. Fortify your accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as multi-factor authentication for online accounts, and fingerprint identification and security keys to lock your mobile device.

Keep a Clean Machine: Regularly update the software on your Internet-connected devices, including PCs, smartphones, and tablets, to reduce the risk of infection from malware.

Treat Personal Information Just Like Money: Information about you, such as your purchase history and location, has value - just like money. Protect your data by being cautious about how your information is collected by apps and websites.

Own Your Online Presence: Control and limit who can see your information online by checking the privacy and security settings on your accounts and apps. Anything you post publicly could potentially be seen by a cyber criminal, so keep your information private.

Share With Care: Think before posting about yourself and others online. Consider what a post reveals, who might see it, and how it could be perceived now and in the future.

  

Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Someone gets your personal information and runs up bills in your name. They might use your Social Security or Medicare number, your credit card, or your medical insurance – along with your good name. How would you know? You could get bills for things you didn’t buy or services you didn’t receive. Your bank account might have withdrawals you didn’t make. You might not get bills you expect. Or, you could check your credit report and find accounts you never knew about.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Protect your information. Put yourself in another person’s shoes. Where would they find your credit card or Social Security number? Protect your personal information by shredding documents before you throw them out, giving out your Social Security number only when you must, and using strong passwords online.
  1. Read your monthly statements and check your credit. When you get your account statements and explanations of benefits, read them for accuracy. You should recognize what’s there. Once a year, get your credit report for free from AnnualCreditReport.com or 1-877-322-8228. The law entitles you to one free report each year from each credit reporting company. If you see something you don’t recognize, you will be able to deal with it.

Want to learn more? Sign up for Consumer Alerts at ftc.gov/stay-connected

Please report Identity Theft

If you suspect identity theft, act quickly. Please report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

  • Call the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP  (1-877-382-4357) or TTY 1-866-653-4261
  • Go online: ftc.gov/complaint

The FTC operator will tell you the proper steps to take. Visit ftc.gov/idtheft to learn more.

  

Best Practices for Mobile Device Security

  • Configure your device to require a passcode to gain access and/or Touch ID security.

  • Avoid storing sensitive information. Mobile devices have a high likelihood of being lost or stolen, so you should avoid using them to store sensitive information. If sensitive data is stored, enable encryption to secure it.

  • Keep your mobile device’s software up to date.

  • Review the privacy policy and data access of any apps before installing them.

  • Disable features not actively in use, such as bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and infrared. Set bluetooth-enabled devices to “non-discoverable” when bluetooth is enabled. Delete all information on a device before the device changes ownership. Use a “hard factory reset” to permanently erase all content and settings stored on the device.

  • “Sign Out” or “Log Off” when finished with an app, rather than just closing it.

  • Do not jailbreak or otherwise circumvent security controls. (Jailbreaking removes the manufacturers security restrictions on your phone.)

 

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