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You may think that people who get scammed online are the ones who respond to those crazy emails from a foreign prince, but online scams happen to millions of innocent people each year.

The Bureau of Justice reported that identity theft cost almost 17 million Americans roughly $25 million in 2012—and that’s just one of many types of online scams.

That my friends equates to 7% of people in the U.S. over 16 years old! And college students specifically are a population at risk because they may not necessarily take the steps to protect their personal information from being stolen from their laptops and mobile devices or even their dorm. So what exactly do these online scams looks like and what are some ways to avoid those online scams?

Beware of These Types of Online Scams

  1. Phishing:No – we’re not talking about catching that big fish – but phishing is quite similar in the realm of online scams. The phish scammers are trying to catch you – and they do it by sending you spam or getting you to click on pop-up messages online (the bait) so they can get your personal info if you bite (giving them their big catch).
  2. Identity Theft:Online scammers use stolen captured personal information, like your Social Security Number, to open credit cards or create new bank accounts in your name. They also use it to withdraw money from an established account, go on shopping sprees, apply for loans in your name or even rent apartments or storage units!
  3. Smishing:A close cousin to phishing, smishing is a newer scam via text/messaging. Often times the text/message is something alarming and contains threats of awful consequences if you don’t reply ASAP. And what do they want? Your confidential information.
  4. Keylogging:Another online scamming term is keylogging, which is a way thieves use malware that records your keystrokes to capture your personal information right as you type it in. This could be your online banking password. Yikes.
  5. Flipping money:This is an older scam that’s been repurposed via social media. Messages are being posted via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to entice you into making BIG MONEY quickly. Some of these tweets and posts have a photo of someone holding up a huge check or tons of cash. If you contact them about this amazing opportunity, they will ask you to buy a pre-paid card and give them the PIN so they can take the money and run – without any paper trail.

How to Avoid Scams Online

While no one is impervious to online scams, there are ways you can lessen your chances of becoming an online scammer’s next victim. Here are some helpful ways to avoid scams online:

  1. Don’t post too much personal information online or via social media. Love getting those birthday wishes via Facebook each year? We do too. But don’t post your actual birthday, including year, as this is one of those pieces of personal information that online scam artists are after. Also be cautious about posting your travel plans or sharing pics while you’re not home. You don’t want to tip off any crooks that your house is fair game for a week. Other things to avoid posting – your pet’s name, your address, your mother’s maiden name – basically anything you use to create a security question for your online banking can be sourced via your Facebook page.
  1. Make your passwords strong and keep changing them. Did you know that a 4 digit number password can be hacked in just 0004 seconds and a password with 10 characters containing letters, some of which are capitalized, digits, and a symbol (like a comma, period, or exclamation point), can take 17,000 years to hack? The lesson here is to make strong passwords and change them often. Read our post to learn how to make a strong password that’s easy to remember. Don’t use information like your birth date or phone number either – it’s too easy to guess. And don’t ever share your password. You also should avoid allowing your computer to remember your username and/or password.
  1. Safeguard your computer and mobile devices.Make sure to keep your computer updated with the most current anti-virus and anti-spam software. You’ll also want to install a firewall and anti-spyware software to be safe. To keep your mobile phone safer, make sure to update your apps, especially your financial and mobile banking apps, and only install apps that are from trusted marketplaces.
  1. Be careful with Wi-Fi.Don’t do your online/mobile banking or send personal information over public Wi-Fi. Others on the network can intercept it and use your info in an online scam.
  1. Never give your personal information to random people.Please never give out your sensitive, personal information through email, over the phone or via text. Make sure the company you are communicating with is legitimate, and if you’re ever unsure, call them instead. Only share personal information with those you trust.
  2. Be prepared. Keep a record of your account numbers and their expiration dates. Also make sure you have your bank’s phone number in case you need to report any weird or fraudulent activity.
  1. Don’t hand over your debit or credit card. Never give out your debit card to anyone—not your children, friends or roommates. Also don’t get in the habit of leaving your receipts or bank statements lying around where anyone can see them. When it’s time to throw these out, always shred. (Yes, people have been known to dumpster dive to get this type of info!)
  2. Keep tabs on your credit. Check your credit report annually – it’s free at annualcreditreport.com. Check over these reports and look out for any errors – that could be a sign of identity theft.

FTC’s Tips for Protecting Yourself Online

The Federal Trade Commission recommends these tips below for protecting yourself online:

  • Only bring the card you need with you, and don’t put your debit and credit cards in your wallet. If someone steals your purse or wallet, it will help minimize your loss.
  • When making a purchase, keep tabs on your card and get it back before you leave.
  • Don’t sign a blank receipt. If there are any blanks, cross them out.
  • Save your receipts and compare them with your bank statements.
  • Open your bills quickly, or look at them online regularly, then reconcile them with the purchases you’ve made.
  • Report any questionable charges or transactions to the card issuer ASAP.
  • If you’re going on vacation or moving – call your bank, whether it’s a branch bank or an online/mobile bank  and card issuers so they don’t keep sending your statements for someone else to view.
  • Don’t write down your account number on the outside of any envelope.

How to Report Online Scams If You’re a Victim

If you think you are, or may be, a victim of an online scam, contact your bank, credit card and other financial institutions ASAP. Additionally, if you believe you’ve been scammed online, reporting online scams by filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is recommended. A good resource to visit is IdentityTheft.gov – they have information on where to file a report, and how to begin the recovery process.

Online Banking Scams Happen

As a branchless bank, we want you to understand that online banking scams are a reality in our world today and you should take the necessary steps to protect yourself.

Ash Exantus aka Ash Cash is one of the nation’s top personal finance experts. Dubbed as the Financial Motivator, he uses a culturally responsive approach in teaching financial literacy. He is the Head of Financial Education at BankMobile and Editor-in-Chief at Paradigm Money. The views and opinions expressed are those of Ash Cash and not the views of BankMobile and/or its affiliates.

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Cutting Off the Joneses: The Art of Managing Lifestyle Inflation

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The road to reaching your financial goals can sometimes be very difficult and tedious. We tend to hold back from buying certain things, and sometimes, we live on a tight budget in order to make ends meet. But all this seemingly comes to an end when all your hard work pays off and you get a raise, and finally, you can treat yourself to something nice. However, getting a raise can lead you to one of the biggest challenges to reaching your financial goals — and half the time, you don’t even notice it.

Have you ever heard of lifestyle inflation?

Simply put, lifestyle inflation is when your spending increases as your income increases. This can include moving to a more expensive apartment, getting a new lease on a car, or making small, repeat purchases that add up over time. All these can make it hard to break out of living from paycheck-to-paycheck even when your paycheck gets a little bigger.

It’s easy to fall into this trap. After all, what’s the point of working so hard to get a raise if you don’t treat yourself?

While there’s nothing wrong with splurging a little, the cause of lifestyle inflation goes much deeper than simply wanting to treat yourself. An article by Marcus on why ‘Rising Income Levels May Lead to Lifestyle Inflation’, found that young professionals use material markers to express who they are, in order to demonstrate that their career or chosen path is rewarding. In other words, lifestyle inflation is generally caused by the desire to prove your position in life — manifesting itself through material items, the house you live in, or the places you go to. And although doing this can feel good in the short-term, lifestyle inflation poses a problem in the long run, as Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar explains that lifestyle inflation hinders you from reaching your financial goals. Allocating most, if not all, of your new raise to your spending budget means that you’re not saving or investing any of it for later on — marking a roadblock to your journey towards debt freedom and financial wellness.

If you recognize yourself in these examples, fret not. Here are a few ways you can break the cycle:

Set goals for yourself. Our resident writer Ash Cash stresses in ‘Saving 101’ the importance of setting financial goals in order to save better. Having goals allows you to constantly remind yourself what you need to save for, and why, especially if it’s something you want badly. That way, you won’t be as tempted to stray away from your plan!

Cut out what you don’t need. You’d be surprised at the number of things or activities that you spend on, but can easily cut out of your expenditures. Of course, we don’t recommend doing this all at once. Start small and cancel subscriptions you don’t use anymore, or start eating out just once a week. Make small, manageable moves, and soon you’ll find yourself celebrating the joys of meeting your goals and saving more.

Track your expenses. After receiving a raise, the Balance cite that the best way to identify lifestyle inflation behaviors is to track your spending — even for just a short time. Once you recognize these behaviors, you can start cutting out purchases you don’t need.

Keep a “splurge” budget. Not buying or doing things you want will make you miserable, but overspending won’t be good for you in the long run, either. That’s why it’s a good idea to create a splurge budget for a week or month, and to stick to it. Purchases you don’t “need” come out of that budget, such as buying a new video game, ordering something online, or getting a coffee at a café even if you have a coffee maker at home. If you want something pricier than your budget for the week or the month, try to “save” that budget and let it roll over the next month so you can purchase the item. This way, a splurge budget lets you treat yourself, but also keeps you in check.

Article written by Anna Levy

Exclusively for paradigmmoney.com

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11 Ways to Save During the Holiday Season

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The holiday season is upon us, which means significantly more spending—and more potential to encounter financial trouble. Because of the emotional play many retailers use to get you to buy from their stores, it’s important to be overly vigilant with your spending during this time. Below are 11 ways you can save (instead of spend) during the holiday season.

1. Decide how much you can spend and make a plan.

Many people don’t like to use the word “budget” because it seems restrictive. However, creating a holiday budget or “making a plan,” as we’ll call it here for all intents and purposes, is imperative during the holiday season. By making a plan, you’re avoiding overspending and essentially telling your money what to do—rather than allowing it to be in control.

2. Open a holiday spending account.

Using your main checking account to do your holiday shopping is one of the biggest mistakes you can make during the holidays. Doing so allows you to tap into money allocated for other important things like bills and groceries. By opening a separate checking account for holiday spending, you’ll help yourself stay on budget. And once the money is gone, you have a clear stop on holiday shopping. Make sure it’s a free checking account, opening an account that charges fees would defeat the purpose of doing so.

3. Account for splurges.

Let’s be honest: you’re going to splurge this month. A dress for your office Christmas party? A sale at your favorite retail store? The jeans you’ve been eyeing for months are suddenly 40 percent off? We could go on and on, but you get the drift. Set aside a dollar amount that you’re willing to spend on yourself this month. Knowing how much you can afford will keep you from being swept up by “can’t-miss” deals.

4. Cut back on expenses.

Cutting back on expenses during the holiday season—or even before—will give you more money to allocate towards the holidays. Small changes like cutting your cable (you’ll be visiting family and friends most of the month anyway!) or avoiding takeout meals will save extra cash and make a big difference in your budget.

5. Track your spending.

Using a spending log is essential this time of year. Gifts aren’t the only thing affecting your budget—more social occasions means more spending. From extra Ubers to hostess gifts, your expenses can add up quick. This usually forces people to make decisions that they may not want to make, like tapping into credit or using money that is not allocated for holiday shopping. Using a spending log will keep your spending in check.

6. Narrow down your list.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fun of the season and want to gift something to everyone you’re close to. Let us remind you (as corny as it sounds) that presents are not what the holiday season is about. Take a look at your holiday list and be honest about what you can afford. It’s not fun, but your loved ones don’t want you hindering your financial future for them.

7. Set gift-giving expectations.

Setting gift-giving expectations is really important: If your love ones assume you’re going to spend a lot of money on them, they may feel obligated to do the same in return. Having a conversation early on about gift limits will allow both parties to avoid overspending, not to mention it will sidestep any ensuing embarrassment or guilt that comes with one party not giving an equally as lavish gift.

8. Take advantage of store offers and coupons.

Taking advantage of store offers and coupons should be a given, but you’d be surprised at how many people pay full price for things during the holiday season. Many people feel like they are competing against other shoppers to get the best gifts, so they don’t spend the necessary time finding the best deals. Don’t believe the hype! Make a shopping plan for each individual on your list. Research where you can find the best deals on the product and then sign up for company email lists. Follow sales and make purchases at the right time. Ordering presents in advance (or price shopping with ample time) not only assures that you get the best deals, but also that you don’t spend excess cash on things like rush shipping.

9. Be creative.

Being creative is about understanding that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg in order to show your love ones you care. There are many people who are more appreciative of the thought that goes into a handcrafted gift than a purchased item from a big box store. Being thoughtful can have a lasting and more memorable effect than breaking the bank. Spending quality time with an elderly relative, helping a friend clean her home the day after a big party, or offering to babysit for a couple are just a few ideas.

10. Reduce decoration costs.

You may feel inclined to go all out when it comes to decorations, but if you’re crafty enough, you can save a lot of money by creating your own. If you really love holiday decor, wait until the season is over and purchase for next year. Prices for decorations are inflated during the holidays, so buying them during the off-season can save you a lot of money.

11. Remember the reason for the season.

We cannot repeat this enough: remember the reason for the season. The holiday season is not all about gift giving. Sometimes your presence is better than your present! The holiday season is about family and friends, and should be cherished in that way.

Do you have a holiday season savings hack that you swear by? ‘Tis the season to share!

11 Ways to Save During the Holiday Season was originally published on TheEverygirl.com.

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5 Tips for Holiday Break

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Photo credit iStock by Getty Images

Like most students, you’re probably looking forward to spending time with family and friends over the holiday break. But before you relax, take a little time first to size up your finances for next semester. Here are a few tips to get you started: 

Review Your Spending from Last Semester

Not sure where all your money went? Now is a good time to examine your spending from last semester by reviewing your bank account statements, check register, credit card statements and receipts (if you saved them). One way to do this is to make two lists: one with all your unavoidable expenses, such as tuition, rent, basic food costs and insurance payments, and another with everything else—in other words, purchases you wanted at the time but did not necessarily need. Now take a look at that second list. Bet you’re surprised at how many things you spent money on that you could have done without, or don’t remember why you purchased in the first place! Make a pledge to cut back on some of those items and watch your savings grow.

Save Your Cash Gifts

Did you get some cash in your stocking? You might be tempted to blow it on those irresistible post-holiday sales, but take a moment to think about your needs for next semester. Will you have enough money for books, school supplies, gas and other school-related needs? At the very least, plan to save 10-20 percent of your extra cash for unexpected expenses like car repairs or medical emergencies. Knowing that you have a little nest egg set aside will give you some peace of mind and allow you to focus on your studies.

Budget Your Anticipated Financial Aid Refunds

If you will be receiving a refund from your financial aid award next term, keep in mind that a good portion, if not all, of these funds may be from student loans that you signed up for. These funds will have to be repaid when you graduate or leave school, so it is important to budget and spend them wisely, and make sure you have enough money to last the entire semester.

Re-apply for Financial Aid

Remember, you must re-apply for financial aid every year. You can submit the federal FAFSA form beginning January 1, 2015 for the 2015-16 academic year. Your state and school may also require you to re-apply or update your information, so be sure to visit with your school’s website or contact the financial aid office for information on deadlines and other requirements. Also, check out Mary’s article in the Huffington Post for more information and tips on applying.

Look for Part-time Job Opportunities

If you think you’ll be running low on money next semester, start looking for some part-time job opportunities or increasing your hours at your current job. The best place to start your job search is right on campus. There are lots of jobs available, from library clerk to food service worker—check with the employment office or website. You might also want to consider capitalizing on your own talents to make some extra cash by offering services such as tutoring, babysitting, dog walking, or repairing cars or electronics.

Following these tips will allow you to enjoy your much-needed break and put you on a path to financial peace of mind for next semester—so start today!

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