Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Together Magazine Summer Issue

Our summer issue of the "Together" magazine  is being mailed out within the week. As usual there are some useful lifestyle topics such as preventing vacation mishaps, shopping smart for school supplies, when to repair or replace major appliances, member referral program, and other information within the magazine.

Take a few minutes to look over the publication. The "Together" magazine won a national APEX 2015 award in its class earlier this year. The magazine offers good content for everyday living. Check it out!

CLICK HERE for the online digital version of our "Together" magazine.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Independence Day Recognition

On this and every Independence Day, it is important to recognize the birth of our country and appreciate the liberties that we do enjoy in these United States. While our history as a nation may not have always been perfect, our country has evolved over time and remains the beacon destination for many throughout the world seeking freedom and economic prosperity. 

Our independence from Great Britain was a bold and courageous decision. The lives that were lost at that time in our history paved the way for the country that we now enjoy today.  

Independence Day is a celebration of our country's origin. Like any good birthday, the best part is being around for yet another birthday. 

On behalf of the staff and officials of North Alabama Educators Credit Union, we wish everyone a safe and enjoyable Independence Day celebration. If you do sing Happy Birthday for our nation, be sure to add "and many more..." for good measure! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Several years ago we had a credit union member disputing a large ATM transaction that had been done at one of our own ATM locations. Since all ATM transactions are recorded on video we asked the member to come down to the office and review the video with us. The member was very concerned about the transaction and was prompt in wanting to view the video and assist with the investigation of the disputed transaction.

The time/date of the disputed late evening transaction was retrieved on the video recorder and the member eagerly watched the video with credit union management. We could see a person walk up to the drive-up ATM. The video at the ATM itself was good but only showed a male person with their hat pulled down and hand being used to block out their face. It was impossible to identify the person involved from the video. The person using the stolen ATM card of course did not want to be identified so their efforts were successful in keeping their face hidden. 

What the card thief did not realize however is that the credit union utilizes multiple outdoor video cameras to record vehicles and activity going on throughout the parking lot. Pulling up these other video sources both before and after the actual ATM transaction were very revealing in ending the mystery of the transaction. One other camera recorded a dump truck pulling into the parking lot while another camera recorded the person stepping down from the truck as they moved towards the ATM. These images were very clear and unobstructed. 

Upon viewing the dump truck and the person exiting the truck, the shocked member quickly realized who it was and said "Oh my God, that's my son!" 

The son had gone into the member's purse at home, taken out the Debit Card, driven down to the credit union's ATM, taken out the maximum daily cash allowed at an ATM, and then returned the Debit Card to the member's purse upon returning back home. The son knew the PIN from being around the mother on previous card transactions. To make matters worse, the member said she had been already helping out the son financially by making the payments on the son's dump truck loan. 

It was an unfortunate sad situation for the member. The member did not elect to file police charges on their son. Unfortunately, financial theft among family members is a fairly common occurrence. In this case, having good video surveillance was the difference in identifying who the criminal was and preventing a financial loss to the credit union. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Ads for Gold utilize Fear Factor

For some time now, radio and television ads have been promoting purchases of gold as a safe investment in uncertain financial times. While gold can be part of a good strategy in an overall investment portfolio, the decision to purchase gold should not be driven by fear tactics. Recent radio ads have been hinting that somehow your savings, CD, and IRA accounts could be seized by the government as a "bail-in" rather than a "bail-out" to troubled banking institutions. These fear based ads cite Cyprus as a real life example where bank depositors in Cyprus initially saw a tax on their deposits to cover the financial collapse in 2013 that was taking place there. These ads imply that the same tactic could take place here in the United States, thus placing depositors at risk of losing their savings. 

To begin with, any sales pitch that focuses on fear is a red flag from the start. Why not focus on gold as a good investment? Or is it? Today gold was selling for $1,170.90 per ounce. The high price in 2014 was in March when prices peaked at $1,370.50 per ounce. That is a 14.56% decrease in value. Gold prices reached a high of $1,889.70 per ounce in August 2011. Had an investor purchased $50,000 worth of gold in August 2011, that gold would today be worth $30,981, a 38.00% DECREASE in value in less than four years. Gold is best used as a long-term investment where holders can ride the significant highs and lows of gold pricing over time. Gold at best should be just part of an overall investment portfolio that utilizes multiple investment options.

The notion that deposits could and would be seized by the United States government as part of a bail-out plan for failing banks or the government itself is just plain ridiculous. Cyprus as a country could not print its own money. The United States does and has been doing so since the country's inception. Depositors in the United States have federally insured deposits up to $250,000. What type of civil unrest would occur if insured deposits were suddenly seized by the very government providing the deposit insurance in the first place?  This doomsday scenario simply would not take place. If it did, the value of gold certainly would not be tied to the dollar. 

Advertising is designed to motivate action. Fear in advertising is one tool utilized to obtain that consumer sale. These fear based gold buying ads frankly border on being illegal as they attempt to incite panic with depositors of financial institutions within the United States. Deposits in federally insured financial institutions in the United States remain safe which is also why the savings rates are usually low. Safety and yield usually go hand in hand. Better to keep your principal balance and earn a small amount than to lose 38% of your investment, in my humble opinion. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Elder Financial Abuse - Warning Signs

The growing elderly population has given rise to a growing problem - elder financial abuse. The True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse 2015 noted that senior citizens lose roughly $36.48 billion each year to financial abuse. It is also estimated that just under 40% of seniors are affected by financial abuse in any five-year period.

Denise Hutchings, a Financial Crimes Research Specialist with Verafin, recently provided a list of red flag indicators for financial institutions to consider in connection with possible fraud on elderly accounts. Below is a summary of those red flags indicators.

Three red flag areas of concern deal with (1) Changes in spending and transaction patterns, (2) Changes to accounts and/or documentation, and (3) Changes in Appearance or Demeanor.

1. Changes in Spending and Transaction Patterns

A set of "out-of-sync" check numbers.

A sudden flurry of "bounced" checks and overdraft fees.

Transactions showing multiple small dollar checks posting to the elderly account in the same month. Possible indication of telemarketing or charity scams.

Large withdrawals from a previously inactive account, credit account, or a new joint account.

Increased account use after the addition of a new authorized signer on the account.

Abrupt increases in credit or debit card activity.

Sudden appearance of ATM/Debit Card transactions with no prior history of these before on the account.

Withdrawals or purchases using ATM/Debit Cards that are repetitive over a short period of time. Different patterns of time and location usage of cards as well.

Vulnerable adult appears confused about the account balance or transactions on the account.

A caregiver appears to be getting paid too much or too often.

Significant increases in monthly expenses paid which may indicate that expenses for persons other than the senior are being paid.

Increased cash withdrawal activity, especially when being escorted by another (caregiver, family member, "friend") who appears to be directing the changing account activity.

2. Changes to Accounts and/or Documentation

Recent changes or additions of authorized signers on an elderly account.

Statements are being sent to an address other than the vulnerable adult's home.

Vulnerable adult has no knowledge of newly issued ATM. debit or credit cards.

Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to a vulnerable adult's affairs and possessions.

Sudden unexplained transfers of assets, particularly real property.

Refinance of vulnerable adult's property, especially when significant cash out from the new loan is taking place.

3. Changes in Appearance or Demeanor

Vulnerable adult has a companion who seems to be "calling the shots".

Change in the vulnerable adult's physical or mental appearance. Signs that could indicate self neglect or early dementia leave the the vulnerable adult open for financial abuse.

Vulnerable adult acknowledges providing personal and private account information to a solicitor via the phone or email.

Excitement about being the "winner" in a sweepstakes, lottery, or email contest.

Comments to the financial institution that indicate confusion on time frames and people in their lives.


Elder financial abuse is becoming an epidemic and represents such a tragedy to the elderly population who have saved their entire lives for their retirement years. Financial institutions, caregivers, and family members need to be alert to these warning signs that may indicate financial abuse. Sadly, family members are often the source of the financial abuse as they use a vulnerable adult's confusion as cover to steal their assets. The best advice is to closely monitor transactions and follow the paper trail on where funds go.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Secret Shopper Scam Example

Today was my lucky day! Out of all the eligible email accounts in the world, I was selected as the recipient for this amazing Secret Shopper job offer. Below is the exact email that was sent;

I am Michael Reyes, Recruitment Specialist with Platanium Corporation.“We have a mystery shopping assignment in your area and we would like you to participate". Secret Shopper® has been in business since 1990. We are a charter member of the Mystery Shopping Provider's Association (MSPA), the professional trade association for the Mystery Shopping industry. There is no charge to apply to be a Secret Shopper® and information is protected. Secret Shopper® is accepting applications for qualified individuals to become mystery shoppers. Its fun and rewarding, and you choose when and where you want to shop. You are never obligated to accept an assignment. There is no charge to become a shopper and you do not need previous experience. After you sign up, you will have access to training materials via e-mail, fax or postal mail.

Secret Shopper® is the premier mystery shopping company serving clients across America and Canada with over 500,000 shoppers available and ready to help businesses better serve their customers. Continual investment in the latest internet and communication technologies coupled with over 16 years of know-how means working with Secret Shopper® is a satisfying and rewarding experience. Secret shopping as seen on ABC NEWS, NBC NEWS, L.A.TIMES.Since 1990, Secret Shopper® has delivered actionable intelligence to our clients, helping to drive exceptional bottom-line performance. Nearly 1,000 shoppers have registered this week, performing millions of mystery shops throughout North America and the Caribbean. When coupled with our continual investment in the latest internet and communication technologies, you can rest assured that working with Secret Shopper® is a satisfying and rewarding experience.Secret Shopper® is also a charter member of the industry trade association, the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). Benefit from partnering with America’s premier mystery shopping company. We have been building our tradition of excellence for two decades.

Stores and organizations such as The Gap, Walmart, Pizza Hut and Banks. One amongst many others pay for Secret Shoppers to shop in their establishments and report their experiences. On top of being paid for shopping you are also allowed to keep purchases for free. Secret Shopper® NEVER charge fees to the shopper. Training, tips for improvement, and shopping opportunities are provided free to registered shoppers.Mystery shoppers are either paid a pre-arranged fee for a particular shop, a reimbursement for a purchase or a combination of both. Secret Shopper® has available for immediate assignment an inspection of the customer service of any walmart in your area. You are to shop secretly. This fee will be paid upfront. During this shopping, you will visit a location and make several observations as regards the customer service. You will be required to interact with the shopper clerk. You may conduct the shop alone or as a couple. The assignment will pay $200.00 per duty and you can be able to get up to 2- 3 duties in a week depending on how fast you are able to execute the first assignment. Kindly Fill Out the application form below and we will get back to you shortly with the assignment:
(The application form asked for name, address, phone numbers, age, and email address).

Let's break down how and why this "job" offer is a scam. (Our email filter by the way identified the email as probable spam). The email address of the sender was coming from an AOL email address that did not match the name of Michael Reyes noted in the first line. Also, why would a Recruitment Specialist for a real corporation use an AOL email address? Notice how the email was not addressed to anyone in particular. If a company was truly contacting someone for a job opportunity they would be addressing that person in their email. A quick Google check also does not reveal that a "Platanium Corporation" exists. If misspelled as "Platinum", not good to have your company name misspelled plus that company does exist with no connection to secret shopper programs.

Real secret shopper programs NEVER send money to strangers to purchase items and report back on their shopping experience. To say that "this fee will be paid upfront" is an obvious red flag of the scam. Real secret shopper programs focus on shoppers who visit their stores and transact business with their own personal money. They would then complete a very detailed secret shopper survey and be paid a nominal fee after the fact. It would NEVER be $200 for evaluating a shopping experience. The $200 carrot is out there by the scammer to attract people in difficult financial situations who see the offer as easy money. Also note that additional secret shopper duties might be available based upon the speed of your first assignment. Secrecy and speed are two components of any good scam.

The part that says "You will be required to interact with the shopper clerk" is the meat of the real scam since this is where they will have the victim to wire funds to a recipient provided by the scammer. The wire is almost always going outside of the country. The scammer will provide a counterfeit check after the applicant information is provided to cover the costs of the shopping items, wire amount (largest transaction of course), and the $200 fee for the mystery shopper. These counterfeit checks usually fall below $3,000 because of various banking hold policies and stiffer criminal penalties for larger fake checks.

These Secret Shopper scams have been around for some time and show no signs of slowing down. NEVER respond to the emails because they then have a valid email address and will continue to send additional fake offers in the hopes of having just one scam that finally works.

Be careful out there and remember that fraudsters are always inventing new ways to separate victims from their money. Feel free to contact me or our office staff if you ever receive a questionable offer that you would like to have reviewed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Together Magazine - Spring Edition

The Spring edition of the Together magazine is now published and being circulated to members and our sponsor schools in the area. This is the second year of publication for this Together magazine for the credit union which is a big change from prior year newsletters. Many credit unions have stopped newsletters altogether because of mailing costs and limited interest by the members. Newsletters were more about giving event dates and sales promotion information. By contrast, the Together magazine reads like a normal magazine would. Real life events and financial education resources are featured in each edition to help our membership and the community with their financial decisions.

For example, this Spring edition of the Together magazine discusses how to regret-proof your next vehicle purchase. Buying a vehicle is a major purchase item. Unfortunately the credit union often hears from members after the fact of their vehicle buying horror stories. There is nothing worse than having buyer's remorse on a vehicle that has just been financed for five or six years.

The credit union's primary purpose is to help improve the financial condition of its credit union member-owners. Our Together magazine has been created by professional editors and writers to assist with this objective. I encourage our current and potential members to take a few minutes and read the publication. It is our strong belief that financial education value will be earned by doing so.

Here is a direct link to the e-version where you can flip pages like a regular magazine publication;