Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mystery Shopper Scams

Have you ever considered working as a "mystery shopper" to evaluate a product or service? There are valid secret shopper programs out there. Beware of scams related to mystery shopper programs that often are advertised as a work from home employment offer. Below is a summary of how the "mystery shopper" scam works;

A person responds to an email or sees a job offer online to be paid for working as a mystery shopper.

The mystery shopper then receives a large check in the mail or by overnight mail service.

Included with the check is a list of small items to be purchased and instructions to send the majority of the money via Western Union or wire transfer to a named individual in the letter or by telephone instructions. The "mystery shopper" completes an evaluation form included in the mailing and rates the service level of the small purchases and money transfers. For their work and effort the "mystery shopper" is allowed to keep a portion of the funds sent to them, usually several hundred dollars or so.

The scam reveals itself when everyone finally realizes that the large check sent by the mystery shopper program is a counterfeit check. The counterfeit notification process from the Federal Reserve can take days or weeks depending upon the bookkeeping oversight of the company whose checks were counterfeited. The person who deposited the counterfeit check is responsible for any loss of funds associated with the return of the deposited check. There is also a criminal aspect as well since it is a crime to possess and negotiate a counterfeit check.

The best way to spot a fake "mystery shopper" program is this fact - no legitimate company will ever mail a check to a prospective "mystery shopper" in advance of any work completed. The average payment for a real "mystery shopper" program is also only $15-$20 and that is received only after an extensive evaluation form is completed and returned to the company. A real company would never send a valid large check to a stranger and hope that the stranger would return the money.

The poor economy of the past few years has intensified these type of scams since victims are usually unemployed or needing to increase their household income. The lure and ease of earning money from home can sometimes cloud the judgment of financial caution. We don't want anyone to become a victim. Members are encouraged to bring any suspicious checks and associated correspondence to the credit union for a review by credit union management BEFORE attempting to deposit any such items.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall Newsletter

Our latest newsletter has quite a bit of information. The latest issue has information on School Supply Loans, VISA Gift Cards, Skip-a-Payment program, Decatur Branch info, Charity Cookbook, Credit Union Day, Free Shred-it-Day, Scam Alert, Holiday Closing Schedule, Investment options, and more. You can view the newsletter online. It will also be mailed to member households in the next week.

Check it out: http://www.naecu.org/images/Fall_2011_Newsletter.pdf

Monday, September 12, 2011

GAP - Guaranteed Auto Protection

Being in an accident and having a vehicle totaled is traumatic enough. Imagine the scenario where the insurance settlement amount on the totaled vehicle is not sufficient to cover the loan payoff. This can and does happen as more and more vehicle loans are “upside-down” over time, meaning that the value of the vehicle is less than what is owned on the vehicle loan. This “upside-down” situation is especially prevalent on purchases where a trade-in was financed into the new purchase. Certain vehicle makes/models also depreciate faster than others. The credit union has a VisualGAP tool that illustrates any current and projected differences between values and loan balances over the life of a loan.

Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP) is a valuable product that North Alabama Educators Credit Union offers our members to minimize a total vehicle loss situation. GAP helps to cover the difference between the actual cash value paid by the primary insurance claim settlement and the vehicle loan balance at the time of the loss. Another benefit of GAP is that any deficiency balance caused by the borrower’s deductible will be reimbursed up to $1,000, where permitted. Without GAP, borrowers may be subject to owing anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars on a vehicle that they no longer have. Many primary insurance companies are now using a “local market value” analysis to determine the claim settlement amount which is sometimes lower than an average NADA price.

The best part about the credit union’s GAP product is the price. Members can purchase GAP coverage (as of September 2011) through North Alabama Educators Credit Union at a price of $195 for each loan covered. Automobile dealers routinely sell their GAP products for $400-$700 at their finance offices. The credit union helped one of members earlier this year with a vehicle refinance and that member received a prorated refund of roughly $600 from the GAP product that had been purchased at the dealership.

Members can purchase GAP coverage for their vehicle loan at the time of loan inception or anytime afterwards as long as there has not been a total loss situation prior to the date of purchase. If GAP is purchased after the loan inception date, the coverage is not retroactive but the coverage would begin on the GAP purchase date and cover the remaining term and balance. Loan Officers are available at any office to present the VisualGAP illustration to help in any GAP purchase decision. The GAP product is yet another example of how the credit union can save money for the membership.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rising Fees at Banks - Not at NAECU

Fees are on the increase with many of the big, traditional banking institutions as they work to recoup lost revenues from recent regulatory changes to the industry. Some institutions are starting to charge a monthly fee for checking accounts. Others are raising the account requirements, such as a larger average balance, to avoid having a monthly service fee. It was reported that Wells Fargo Bank is experimenting in a few markets with a $3.00 monthly charge for Debit card users if the consumer uses their Debit card at least once during the month. Some institutions are beginning to charge a monthly fee if an account statement is mailed instead of being delivered to the consumer by e-statement online.

The trend is clearly moving towards more fees back to the account holder. The good news is that North Alabama Educators Credit Union is not looking at adding any of the fees cited above. Our business model has always been to reward our member-owners with lower fees, higher rates on deposits, and lower rates on loans. While there have been regulatory changes that have affected North Alabama Educators Credit Union, the overall financial impact so far has not been sufficient enough to require additional fees at this time.

Consumers who have account relationships at multiple financial institutions are advised to look closely for any "change in terms" notices or new fee schedules that may be delivered from the institution. North Alabama Educators Credit Union is experiencing a good increase in new members recently as more and more consumers move their business away from these higher fees being charged elsewhere.