How Can I Save on Holiday Shopping?

Q: The holidays always have me worried about money. With inflation soaring, I’m more stressed than ever. How can I save on my holiday shopping this year?

A: If you’re worried about making it through the holiday shopping season in the midst of record inflation, you’re not alone. A recent survey shows that 59% of American shoppers are stressed about buying holiday gifts due to higher prices this year. With some careful planning, though, you can enjoy stress-free holiday shopping. Here are seven easy ways you can save.

1.      Shop early

Experts are urging shoppers to hit the stores earlier than normal this year to take advantage of early-season sales. Lots of big-box stores are struggling with a supply surplus thanks to an inflation-triggered decline in demand. This will likely lead to sales events to make room for more current inventory. Shop these sales for big savings.

2.      Set a budget

Before you start shopping, build a reasonable budget for your holiday shopping. Make your budget easier to keep by allocating a specific amount for every gift, shopping with cash and/or reviewing your budget often. 

3.      Shop with a list

Instead of blindly hitting the stores, make a list of every gift to buy for friends and family. You’ll be far more likely to stay within budget when your purchases are pre-planned. 

4.      Leave some last-minute shopping for Green Monday

While it’s best to do the bulk of your shopping early in the season, you can leave some last-minute gift-shopping for Green Monday on Dec. 14. This is when retailers make their final pre-holiday markdowns. 

5.      Think outside the box 

If ever there was a holiday season to get creative with gifting, this is it. Retail inventories are full of products that were backed up during the post-pandemic supply-chain disaster. Think furniture, home decor and more. While these items may not be typical holiday gifts, there’s no real reason you can’t delight a loved one with a new office chair, exercise bike or coffee organizing station.

6.      Give gift cards

Protect your gift list against inflation by giving some gift cards. You can find discounted cards on sites like GiftCardGranny and CardCash, or use cash-back apps to earn them at no cost. Gift cards are easy to shop for, easy to budget for and appreciated by the receiver.

7.      Use apps to save

In 2022, there are so many apps that can help you spend less on your shopping, and even put money back into your pocket. Try coupon-scanning apps like Honey, cash-back apps like Ibotta and points apps like Drop to save this season.

Use the money-saving tips offered here to shop for the holidays without breaking your budget. 

‘You Better Watch Out’ for Holiday Shopping Scams!

The Holiday Season is quickly approaching, and scammers ‘see you when you’re shopping’ online and know how to trick you out of your money! Here are some quick tips that will help you avoid fraudulent retailers and ensure that you get what you pay for.

1. Maintain Your Account Awareness

Set up appropriate E-Alerts for your accounts and monitor your activity regularly. It’s especially important to monitor your accounts if while using your account information you notice anything abnormal while performing online payments.  If you haven’t already, set up E-Alerts by logging in to your E-Teller Online Banking account at OleanAreaFCU.org.

2. Don’t Purchase Anything Via Social Media Links

While you can find legitimate advertising on social media, it’s best to research the sale yourself via your browser, on the retailer’s official website. This way you avoid potential fraud, as scammers can easily copycat legitimate websites and advertisements.

3. Don’t Click on Links in Email or Text Messages

Even if you’ve subscribed to a particular retailer to stay up to date on sales, that doesn’t mean the ad you just received is legitimate. Scammers can duplicate or closely imitate advertisements from trusted companies. Your safest bet is to visit the official website of the retailer and look for the sale there.

4. Only Use Gift Cards on Trusted Websites

If you have a gift card you’d like to use for holiday shopping, be sure to use it with the retailer it’s associated with. If it’s a gift card that can be used anywhere, only use it on trusted websites. Do not use it in places like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. If the seller is a fraud, you won’t be able to get your money back.

5. Don’t Pay with Cryptocurrency or Wire Transfer

These forms of payment are nearly impossible to trace, so if you pay a scammer, you’ll likely never see that money again.

6. When in Doubt, Use Your Credit Card

Any legitimate online retailer will accept credit cards. If you’re interested in purchasing from a company you’re unfamiliar with, first do your research to see if anyone has complained about the company. If there are no red flags, make the purchase with your credit card and save the order confirmation. This way if there are any issues with your order, you can dispute the charges.

7. Be Extra Suspicious of Deals that are Too Good to be True

If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Don’t fall prey to scammers looking to steal your information and ruin your credit. Validate the deal by navigating to the sale directly through the retailer, not through the link or ad you received.

8. Report Scams Immediately!

If you make a payment to a fraudulent retailer, call your financial institution right away. You can contact Olean Area FCU by calling 800-854-6052. Then, report the scam at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and at IC3.gov. And lastly, inform your friends and family! If you were tricked into a holiday shopping scam, then someone you care about could be next.

Don’t Get Caught in a Social Security Scam

Social Security scams are on the rise. Unfortunately, many of the older adults who receive Social Security benefits can be overly trusting and vulnerable to these scams. However, with some knowledge of how these scams play out, you can protect yourself and Social Security beneficiaries you know from these schemes. 

How the scams play out

In a Social Security scam, a target gets a phone call from someone pretending to be a Social Security employee, who informs them that their suspended benefits need to be reactivated. The target is told they must share personal information with the caller. Alternatively, they are told they must pay a fee to reactivate their account.

In another variation of the scam, an automated voice message claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) instructs them to call a number to reactivate their “suspended” benefits. If the target follows through by calling the number, they’ll be asked to share personal information or pay a fee to continue their benefits.

The scam is sometimes pulled off through an email message containing an embedded link. The scam then follows the same script depicted earlier, concluding in the victim being asked to share personal information or pay a fee.

Of course, the end of the story is the same in each scenario: The victim shares their money and/or their information with scammers. In doing so, they pad the scammers’ pockets or grant access to their financial accounts. 

Protect yourself

The SSA cautions Social Security beneficiaries to be wary of phone calls claiming to represent their organization. Also, the SSA will never:

  • Ask you to share a full Social Security number over the phone.
  • Demand immediate payment by gift card, prepaid card, wire transfer, cryptocurrency or cash sent through the U.S. postal system. The SSA only accepts payments electronically through Pay.gov, Online Bill Pay or physically by check or money order at its offices. 
  • Threaten a beneficiary with arrest or legal action for not paying immediately.
  • Suspend a Social Security number.

In addition, if there is an issue with someone’s account, the SSA will notify them through the mail. They will only send emails or text messages to someone if they’ve signed up for them.

If you’re targeted

If you believe you’re being targeted by a Social Security scam, hang up on the caller and report the scam to oig.ssa.gov. You can also call 1-800-772-1213 and ask if there is actually a problem with your benefits. If you’re being scammed, the SSA will be better equipped to stop the scammers. 

If you receive a suspicious email about your Social Security benefits, mark it as spam and do not respond. It’s also a good idea to block numbers that continuously send scammy text messages.

As a rule, never agree to wire money to an unverified contact over the phone or online. In fact, it’s best not to share any personal info over the phone or internet. 

Finally, tell your friends and family about the scam so they can be aware and protect themselves.

Stay safe!

All You Need to Know About SIM Swaps  

SIM swaps, also known as SIM swap scams or SIM hijacking, can be a nightmare for an unwary victim. According to a recent announcement by the FBI, this ruse is on the rise. Here’s what you need to know about this prevalent scam and how to protect yourself. 

How the scam plays out

Before the scam is pulled off, the scammer will generally employ a phishing scam to obtain the target’s personal information, mobile number, and phone service provider information. They’ll then use this info to convince the service provider that they are actually the target and ask them to transfer the number to their own SIM card. Finally, they’ll insert the newly activated SIM card into their own device and use it to access the victim’s accounts by bypassing the SIM-based two-step authentication. If the target doesn’t catch on soon enough, the scammer can change all passwords for online accounts linked to the phone. This leaves the victim with an inactive SIM card and locked out of their own accounts.

Warning signs of a SIM swap

  1. You can no longer make calls or send text messages. This is the very first sign. You will likely still be able to use your apps at first, so be sure to take action right away by changing your email password and other account passwords. 
  2. You receive an email stating that your SIM card was activated on another device.
  3. You suddenly can’t log in to your accounts.
  4. You discover unfamiliar financial transactions.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a SIM swapping scam, take these steps to mitigate the damage:

  • First, change your email password, then change the passwords and logins on all your other accounts.
  • Contact your cellphone provider to regain control of your phone number.
  • Let your financial institution and credit card companies know about the scam so they can look out for suspicious activity on your accounts. Consider locking your financial accounts until the issue is resolved.
  • Consider placing a credit alert and/or credit freeze on your accounts. 
  • Report the scam to your local FBI field office, your local law enforcement agency and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Protect yourself

Despite its prevalence, there are ways to protect yourself from SIM swaps:

  • Never share personally identifiable information online. 
  • Use long and strong, unique passwords across all your online accounts.
  • If possible, create a password code with your cellphone carrier that needs to be provided before any changes can be made.
  • Never share information about your financial assets while online.
  • Never share information about your mobile phone number or cellphone provider with an unverified contact over the phone or online.
  • If you receive an unexpected call, message or email from your mobile phone’s provider asking you to share or confirm information, do not engage. Contact the provider directly to determine if the communication was authentic. 
  • Keep your social-media platform settings private.
  • Sign up for E-Alerts for SMS and Email.
  • Use strong, updated security for all your devices. 

Stay alert and stay safe!

How to Budget in Times of Inflation

Sticking to a budget during times of inflation is challenging – but not impossible. Here are five ways to help make it happen:

1.      Plan your grocery purchases

First, shop your pantry and fridge before hitting the store. You may not remember what you have at home, so a quick scan can help you stick to purchasing only what you need. 

Next, plan your week’s dinner menu before shopping so you can pick up what you need for the week in one go. The fewer trips to the grocery, the less you’ll spend on impulse buys. 

Finally, don’t forget to shop the sales!. Use apps like Checkout 51, Flipp and Grocery IQ to stay in the know of what’s on sale in each store.

2.      Consider an energy audit

With winter approaching and the cost of energy sources still climbing, this can be a good time to have an energy audit performed on your home. An audit will help identify energy drains, such as air leaks near your windows and doors, so you can fix them and make your home more energy efficient

3.      Choose your indulgence

Everyone needs to treat themselves to something special every now and then, but with costs rising on restaurant meals, movie tickets and clothing, something’s gotta give. Take a closer look at your just-for-me purchases, and try to narrow them down to just one or two treats. 

You can also find ways to trim the cost of your indulgences. For example, if you love dining out but restaurant meals are destroying your budget, you can eat out but skip desserts and wines, or split an entrée with your dining partner. 

4.      Switch your auto insurance plan

If you’ve had your auto insurance policy for a while and you’ve maintained a good driving record, you might save a bundle by switching to a new policy and/or provider. Reach out to your current insurer to discuss your options. Ask about raising your deductible in exchange for a lower premium, reducing overall coverage or negotiating for a safe driving discount. After obtaining a quote, call several other providers to get competing quotes. Go with your lowest offer, or call back your present provider and ask them to match it for your continued business.  

5.      Pad your income

If your paycheck is suddenly not enough to support your lifestyle, consider asking for a cost-of-living raise. You can also look for other ways to pad your income, such as driving for a ride-share company or consulting for hire on weekends. Every extra dollar earned counts!

Yes, you can get through times of inflation and keep your budget intact! Use the tips shared here to get started. 

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