Going Organic on a Budget

Going organic is a great way to improve your personal health and the health of the environment. Fortunately, it does not have to mean spending big. Here’s how to go organic on a budget.

Prioritize your purchases 

If you’re on a strict budget, you likely won’t be able to go completely organic all at once. Start with what’s most important to you. You can move on to another area as the budget allows until you’ve completely embraced the lifestyle.

Buy in bulk

Look for bulk bins at your local natural grocery store for steep savings. If you can’t finish all your bulk organic purchases before they’ll go bad, partner with a friend and split the costs.    

Shop the seasons

In-season produce generally tastes better than off-season fruits and vegetables, and it’s cheaper. Choosing organic produce grown locally while it’s in-season can really bring down your grocery bill. A quick Google search can tell you what’s in season now in your area of the country.

Grow your own

If you have the time and space, consider growing your own organic greens and herbs. This way, you’ll have access to inexpensive produce that’s fresh and ready to eat. 

Shop the farmers market

Your local farmers market is a great place to find fresh, locally grown produce at affordable prices. Plus, it supports local business. 

Stalk your favorite organic brands on social media

Brands will alert followers to fantastic deals and discounts that may otherwise be missed. As soon as you find an organic food brand you love, follow it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This way, you’ll never miss a sale.

Look for store brands

Lots of grocery stores now offer their own line of organic products. These tend to be cheaper than companies that are not affiliated with a specific store. 

Shop smart

Finally, follow the basic rules for smart shopping to save on your purchases. Plan your menu around the sales, shop with a list and take a smaller cart, or even a basket. If all else fails, shop with cash. 

Follow these tips to make the switch to an organic lifestyle without breaking the bank. 

Olean Area FCU Announces Promotions & New Hire

Olean Area Federal Credit Union (FCU) recently promoted four employees to Management positions and one to a Director roll. The Credit Union has also appointed a new Director of Human Resources (HR). “The promotion of these employees was an essential next step, as both their individual responsibilities and our company as a whole continue to grow,” said Rich Yeager, President & CEO.

Kelly Fernandez was promoted to Portville Branch Manager. Kelly joined Olean Area FCU in February of 2022 with over 20 years of banking and credit union experience. Her diverse knowledge in teller, phone/member service, lending, and supervisory responsibilities provide the skillset necessary to succeed in this position.

Melissa Pawlowski has been promoted to Retail Lending Manager. She began her career with Olean Area FCU in April of 2013, as a Member Service Representative. She quickly advanced to Retail Lender and in 2020, Melissa earned the promotion to Retail Lending Supervisor. Melissa is responsible for leading the retail lending team and assisting members with their lending needs. In addition, she manages the credit union’s secondary market mortgage program, is a voting member of the Credit Union’s Directors Loan Committee, and directs the Credit Unions Second Review of Declined Loans for Fair Lending practices.

Jacob Piatko was promoted to Facilities & Security Manager. Jake began his career with the CU in 2020 as our Security Administrator. Jake is a graduate of Kent State University with a Bachelor of Business Administration, majoring in Computer Information Systems. Jake came to us with over 14 years of experience including It Technician, Infrastructure Technician, Infrastructure Administrator, Network Administrator and most recently as our IT Security Administrator. He also leads our Physical Security Committee.

Stewart Fuller has been promoted to Facilities & Physical Security Manager. Stewart began his career with the CU in 2020 with over 20 years of experience in facilities, general contracting, security, and management responsibilities. Since joining the CU as Facilities & Security Supervisor, Stewart has proven his ability to secure our buildings and improve the safety of our employees through education and training. Stewart is lead on our Physical Security Committee and is also a key member of the CU Building and Planning Committee.

Michelle Freeman has been promoted to Director of Finance. She began her career with Olean Area FCU in 2011 as an Accounting Intern. After earning her Bachelor’s in Accounting, she began her role as Accounting Assistant. In 2013, she earned her Master’s Degree in Business Administration. She quickly earned promotions to Financial Analyst, Senior Financial Analyst, Finance Supervisor, and Finance Manager.

Tamara Warner was hired as our new HR Director. Tamara is a graduate of SUNY Fredonia with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Master’s in HR Management from Nazareth College. She is PHR Certified and has over 17 years of HR Management experience, most recently with PEKO Precision Products in Rochester.

Olean Area FCU is currently one of the largest and most respected full-service Credit Unions in Western New York with assets over 400 million. The credit union currently serves over 19,800 members with four locations, 1201 Wayne Street and 206 North Clark Street in Olean, 180 West Main Street in Allegany, and 160 South Main Street in Portville. 

Don’t Get Caught in a P2P Scam

Before discussing how to avoid a P2P scam, you may be wondering what “P2P” stands for. A peer-to-peer (P2P) service is a decentralized platform whereby two individuals interact directly with each other, without intermediation by a third party. Instead, the buyer and the seller transact directly with each other via the P2P service. Google Wallet, PayPal, Snapcash, Venmo and Bitcoin are examples of P2P services.

P2P platforms are super-convenient. But, P2P scams are rampant and varied. Plus, once money is transferred by P2P, it’s usually gone forever.

Here are five P2P scams to beware of:

1.      Mystery money

In this P2P scam, a stranger “accidentally” sends the target money and then reaches out, wanting their money back. The target sees these funds in their P2P account and returns them. Unfortunately, though, because this money was added to the target’s account using a stolen credit card or account, the platform flags the original transaction as fraud and removes the funds from the victim’s account. 

2.      Hidden credit card fraud

In this P2P scam, a fraudster purchases an item listed on a site, like Craigslist, using a P2P service. They’ll pick up the item, or have it shipped to their home, and they’ll never be heard from again. Meanwhile, the P2P platform will eventually recognize the funds for the purchase come from a bogus source, and will take the money back from the seller. 

3.      Utility scams

In this scam, a “rep” from a utility company reaches out to a target, claiming their service will be shut off unless a payment is made immediately. The scammer insists on payment by P2P. Unfortunately, once the transfer is made, it can be impossible to reclaim the money. 

4.      Password scam

In this scam, an alleged representative of a credit union or bank will reach out to a target by text, asking them to approve a recent large P2P transfer from their account. A “no” response will prompt the scammer to call the victim. Posing again as a rep of their financial institution, they’ll offer to assist in reclaiming the allegedly frauded money. To do so, the scammer claims the victim will need to share their Zelle login credentials. Unfortunately, if the victim shares the one-time passcode, the scammer can change the password and send themselves money through the victim’s account. 

5.      Bogus receipts

Here, a scammer will insert themselves into a legitimate P2P transaction by digitally manipulating a screenshot to make it appear as if they have completed a part of an ongoing deal and insisting you now owe them money. In truth, though, the transaction was never completed and, if you send the money, you’ll be sending it directly to a scammer’s P2P account.

Stay safe

  • Only send and accept funds from people you know and trust. 
  • Never give out your passwords/pins/challenge response tokens to anyone.
  • Use strong passwords and don’t reuse them across any accounts.
  • Use 2 Factor Authentication.
  • Don’t use guest or unsecured networks when doing transactions or logging into accounts.
  • Always confirm you’re interacting with the correct person by verifying their phone number at every stage of the P2P transaction process.
  • Call the P2P platform’s customer service number directly to resolve any errors. Similarly, reach out to Olean Area Federal Credit Union directly if you receive notification of an allegedly frauded account
  • Check your checking account after every P2P transaction to confirm that you’ve received the funds. 

Olean Area FCU Promotes Four to Executive Roles

Olean Area Federal Credit Union (FCU) has promoted four directors to Vice President positions. “Our Credit Union is committed to continuous improvement and expansion of our products and services to best meet the expectations our members deserve. Each of these key positions is being filled by professionals with extensive experience and I am confident they will be successful in their new roles,” said Rich Yeager, President & CEO.

Tonya Doxey has been promoted to Vice President of Compliance. She began her career with the Credit Union over 30 years ago as a Teller, quickly advancing to Assistant Head Teller. She was then promoted to Assistant Loan Officer, earning the promotion to Loan Officer in 2002. In 2005, Tonya was promoted to Member Service/Lending Coordinator, a position she held until 2009 when she became the Manager of Member Services. In 2012, Tonya changed focus and became the Manager of Compliance, with a promotion to Director in 2020. Tonya is responsible to ensure the credit union’s overall compliance with applicable rules, regulations, and statutory requirements, across all departments, Bank Secrecy Act, Due Diligence, Legal Notices, Audit and Security.

Joseph Leo has been promoted to Vice President of Information Technology. (IT) Joe joined the Olean Area FCU Team in 2019 as the first Director of IT. He is a graduate of Western Governor’s University with a bachelor’s degree in business and MBA in Information Technology Management. Joe joined our team with over 20 years of IT and Managerial experience, immediately elevating the strength and integrity of the IT Department. He will continue to oversee, plan and secure IT and infrastructure to meet present and future member needs using technology in improving our processes and expanding our services.

Michael Smith was promoted to Vice President of Lending. Mike is a graduate of SUNY Buffalo with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Prior to joining our team, Mike had over 8 years of banking experience which consisted of leadership development, credit analysis, and the title of Municipal Loan Officer.  Mike joined Olean Area FCU in 2014 as a Senior Commercial Lender, quickly earning the promotion to Manager of Commercial Operations/Senior Commercial Lender in 2016. His hard work and dedication to commercial members earned him the promotion to Director of Lending in 2021. Mike is responsible for the management and oversight of our Retail Lending, Commercial Lending, Loan Operations, Card Services, and Asset and Recovery Departments. His primary role is to direct and oversee all aspects of lending activity for the Credit Union and to ensure effective and efficient operations, quality of member service, and compliance with existing regulations and policies.

Audra Stevens has been promoted to Vice President of Operations. Audra is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration & Marketing. She joined the Credit Union team with over 20 years of Banking Management and Senior Management experience in areas of; Marketing and Sales, Branch Management, Operations, Regional Sales, and Banking Services. She joined Olean Area FCU in 2011 as the Manager of Sales and Marketing, earning a promotion to Director of Operations in 2019. Audra oversees the operation of our branch network and Marketing Department, to ensure efficient product and service delivery to our membership.

Olean Area FCU is currently one of the largest and most respected full-service Credit Unions in Western New York with assets over 400 million. The credit union currently serves over 19,800 members with four locations, 1201 Wayne Street and 206 North Clark Street in Olean, 180 West Main Street in Allegany, and 160 South Main Street in Portville. 

Device Advice: How to Keep Your Phone Safe from Fraud

Smartphones are the millennial’s answer to the disorganized life. You can buy anything with just a few swipes, schedule appointments and store your photos in this one, convenient spot. Unfortunately, all of that convenience comes at a price: Your mobile devices pose an inherent risk to your security if they fall into the wrong hands. Fortunately, there are ways to protect your device and information. 

Here are 6 tips to help keep your phone safe and secure. 

1.      Keep your phone locked

If your entire life is on your phone, you run the risk of giving a thief access to your identity if it’s stolen or misplaced. The best way to prevent this from happening is to have a lock on your screen. Opt for a physical lock if possible, such as fingerprint or face recognition. Finally, adjust your phone’s lock settings so the screen automatically locks when not in use by setting a lock based on idle time.  

2.      Choose strong, unique passwords across all your devices and apps

Use a different password for each device, app and other online accounts. The longer your password the stronger it is, but security can also be improved when you include a blend of letters with varied capitalization use, numbers, and symbols.

3.      Browse safely

  • Look for the padlock icon and the “s” after the “http” in the URL of each landing page you visit.
  • Never give your login information to anyone. Olean Area Federal Credit Union will never ask for this information. Please report if someone claiming to be from the Credit Union asks for your login.
  • Never share your personally identifiable information (PII) with an unknown contact.
  • Keep your security settings current.
  • Avoid clicking on pop-up ads or links in emails from unverified senders. 

4.      Use secure Wi-Fi

Using public Wi-Fi can make you vulnerable to hacking. It’s best not to use public Wi-Fi at all, especially when banking online. To help keep your device safe while using public Wi-Fi, consider  using  a virtual private network (VPN). In addition, be sure to keep your own Wi-Fi secured  to avoid having strangers access it. 

5.      Encrypt your data

Using encryption on your devices along with secure logins can assist with protecting its data and potentially any PII contained on those devices.

6.      Install antivirus software on your phone 

Consider the use of Antivirus software for all your devices including phones and tablets.

Use the tips outlined here to help keep your phone safe from fraud.

All You need to Know About Credit Card Fraud

With the advent of online commerce, credit and debit card fraud has exploded. Unfortunately, credit card fraud can go unnoticed until it causes serious damage. Here, we’ve outlined what you need to know, how to protect yourself, and what to do when you’re targeted. 

What is credit card fraud?

Credit and debit card fraud occurs when a scammer gains access to a victim’s card information and goes on to empty their accounts, commit identity theft and more. 

Credit card fraud can be pulled off in many ways:

  • Card skimming involves a scammer tampering with an ATM or payment terminal. The machine reads the victim’s card information and transmits it to the scammer.
  • Brute force attacks employ an auto-dialer to access the card numbers issued within the target’s BIN. The scammer can perform infinite guesses until they land on the card’s expiration date, security code and numbers.
  • Online phishing is done through insecure links embedded in emails or online ads, or through bogus surveys, solicitations, job offers, dating profiles and the like. The scammer uses these means to gain access to the victim’s credit or debit card information.

Protect yourself

Follow these tips to stay safe from credit and debit card fraud: 

  • Sign up for alerts. Many issuers will send you texts or emails when new charges post to your account or card-not-present transactions happen. 
  • Monitor your checking and credit card accounts frequently so you can spot the first signs of fraud
  • Use strong, unique passwords across all your accounts. 
  • Shop with caution. Only shop reputable sites and avoid clicking on pop-up ads or links in emails from unverified senders. To confirm a site’s security, look for the padlock icon and the “s” after the “http” in the URL. Avoid storing your credit card info in online shopping accounts. Finally, make sure the security settings on your devices are current.

If you’re targeted

If you believe your card has been frauded, take immediate steps to mitigate damage. First, let the credit card company know about the fraud. Similarly, if your debit card has been frauded, let Olean Area Federal Credit Union know as soon as possible. Your old card will be canceled, and you’ll be issued a replacement card immediately. You may also want to place a credit freeze on your accounts to prevent the scammer from taking out a loan or opening another account in your name. 

After you’ve reported the fraud to your financial institution and/or credit card company, be sure to report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, so others can avoid becoming victims.

Free Vacation Scams

Congrats – you’ve won an all-expense paid vacation to the Bahamas! It’s a dream come true! Or is it? If you’re notified that you’ve landed a free luxury vacation, you’ve likely been targeted by a scam. Here’s what you need to know.

How the scams play out

In a free vacation scam, a target gets a letter, email or text message telling them they’ve won a sweepstakes for a free vacation. They’re asked to pay a fee or tax to process the prize. Alternatively, they may be asked to share their credit card information before it can be claimed. After paying the fee, they’ll never hear from the sweepstakes company again.

In another variation of this scam, the target is asked to attend a “short” meeting before claiming their prize. This turns out to be a prolonged and overt sales pitch for a time-share purchase or travel-club membership. There may be vouchers for the promised vacation at the end of the class, but they can only be used for specific dates, and require all sorts of additional fees before the “free” vacation can be redeemed. 

Red flags

Look out for these red flags to help you spot a free vacation scam:

  • You’re told you’ve won a sweepstakes you never entered.
  • You’re asked to pay a fee or tax before a prize can be processed.
  • You’re pressured to sign up for a time-share purchase or travel club membership.
  • You’re asked to share your credit card information to claim a free vacation.

Protect yourself

  • Never share personal information with an unverified contact.
  • Never agree to pay a “processing fee” or “tax” to claim a prize.
  • If a caller insists on payment by gift card or wire transfer, hang up.
  • Always read fine print and do research before signing up for a time-share or club. 

If you’re targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a free vacation scam, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage. 

First, if you’ve paid the “processing fee” or “tax” with a credit card, dispute the charge as soon as possible. If you’ve shared your credit card information, cancel the card and consider placing a credit freeze on your name as well. Finally, let the FTC know about the circulating scam. 

Stay safe!

Travel Hacks 1 of 12: 5 Ways to Save on Airfare

Planning a trip overseas? Airfare will probably be your largest vacation expense. Fortunately, there are many ways to save on airfare to leave you with more to spend while at your destination. Here’s a list of five ways to save on airfare.

1.      Be flexible with dates and destinations

If you’re willing to be flexible about the dates and destination, you can potentially save hundreds on your airline ticket. Instead of choosing a date and destination for your vacation and then searching for the best prices, select a date and destination based on the best available deals. 

2.      Shop smart online

Harness the power of technology to score the best airfare price. Searching sites and apps, like ExpediaOrbitz and Priceline, is like using multiple travel agencies to find the best flights for your vacation. Kayak, another popular travel app, plugs your preferred dates into its search engine and searches airline sites and agency sites to provide you with all the prices and options available. 

3.      Act quickly to snag mistake fares

When an airline accidentally discounts a ticket, you can snag a flight for as much as 90% off its conventional price. Mistake fares get snatched up fast, so check your favorite airlines and flight apps often so you don’t miss a deal. 

4.      Consider booking with a foreign currency

If you’ll be flying a foreign carrier, it may be cheaper to pay for your ticket with the local currency of your destination. Before paying for your flight, check to see if it’ll cost less if you don’t pay in dollars. It can sometimes actually cost more this way, but you can often save a lot by simply changing your location from the U.S. to your destination.

5.      Book early

You’ll typically find the best deals on international flights 3-6 months before the departure date. If you’ll be traveling during peak times, like summer or during holiday seasons, start your ticket search even earlier. Flights are updated constantly, so check often to get the best deal.

Use the tips outlined here to get the best deal on your tickets and keep your vacation budget intact. Happy travels!

The Post-Holiday Budget Recovery Guide

The holidays are in the rearview, but if you’ve gone over budget with your spending, it’s time to deal with the aftermath, which is coming head-on. Here’s how you can get your budget back on track for the new year.

Review your holiday spending

How much debt did this season’s spending set you back? Spend some time crunching the numbers so you have a better idea of what kind of recovery steps you need to take.

Choose your recovery process

If you’ve got multiple credit card balances to pay off, you may want to consolidate your debt by taking out a personal/unsecured loan and then using the funds to pay off your credit card debt. You’ll have just a single, low interest payment to make each month.

Another option is to pay off one credit card bill at a time, maximizing payments on the bill that has the highest balance, or the one with the highest interest rate, until it’s completely paid off. Once you’ve crossed one debt off your list, move on to the next until you’re debt-free. 

Trim your budget

It’s time to cut that budget down to size! Consider underused subscriptions you can drop, inflated grocery bills you can trim and auto insurance policies that can be swapped for a cheaper plan. The more you trim, the more money you’ll free up for paying down debt.

Put your holiday resources to work

Along with a pile of debt, the holiday season may have left you with some extra cash through work bonuses, tax returns and gift money. Put these resources to work by using a portion of this money, or even all of it, toward paying down your holiday debt. 

Go on a shopping detox

Take a break from the mall this month and resolve to swipe the plastic only for essentials. At the very least, keep impulse purchases to a minimum until your budget recovers. 

Make a plan for next year’s holiday season

When you open a holiday club account at Olean Area Federal Credit Union, you can set up an automatic monthly transfer from your payroll or checking account to feed your holiday savings all year long.

If you blew your budget this holiday season, take steps to help your finances recover. Use the tips outlined here to get started.

Olean Area Federal Credit Union Donates $7,000 to Food Pantries Throughout their Field of Membership

Olean, NY – With the increasing cost and continuous need for food in our communities, Olean Area FCU announced $7,000 in donations to seven food pantries within their field of membership, which includes Allegany and Cattaraugus Counties in New York, and McKean and Potter Counties in Pennsylvania.  

The YWCA of Bradford, CAC Food Pantry, Cuba Cultural Center, INC., Olean Food Pantry, Creekside Chapel, Portville Community Food Pantry, and Harvest Field Outreach Center each received $1,000 donations.

“With it being our 50th year of serving our communities, we felt one of the best ways we could say ‘thank you’ is by helping our neighbors have enough food this holiday season. We also wanted to make sure we included food pantries from each of the four counties we serve,” said Rich Yeager, President & CEO.

Olean Area FCU is the 2nd largest credit union in Western New York, with assets of over $400 million. The credit union currently serves over 19,800 members with four branch locations, 1201 Wayne Street and 206 North Clark Street in Olean, 180 West Main Street in Allegany, and 160 South Main Street in Portville.

Step 12 of 12 Steps to Financial Wellness – Review and Tweak

Congratulations! You’ve reached the 12th and final step of the 12 steps to financial wellness. Here, we’ll review the previous steps and adjust this part of your financial health plan as necessary. 

Step 1: Track your spending

Are you regularly tracking your spending? Knowing where your money is going will help you make more responsible spending decisions in the future. 

Step 2: Create and stick to a budget

Budgets need to be reviewed and tweaked every few months or so to ensure they still work for present life circumstances. If your budget no longer works for you, tweak until it does.

Step 3: Pay down debt

Have you made as much progress in your debt-paying journey as you’d hoped to by this point? Can you beef up any payments to make debt disappear sooner?

Step 4: Talk money with your partner

Have you had the big money talk with your partner? Need to revisit any of the topics you’ve discussed, such as sharing accounts, dividing expenses and saving up for a shared dream?

Step 5: Spend mindfully

Review some of your recent purchases. Are you blowing money on stuff you don’t need instead of relieving stress in a healthier manner? If so, look for better ways to de-stress. Spending mindfully is one of the most important steps to financial wellness.

Step 6: Pay it forward

Are you remembering to pay it forward? The money, time and smiles we share are the only moments that are truly ours.

Step 7: Pay yourself first

Are you remembering to feed your savings? At this time, you may want to consider increasing the amount you’re regularly putting into savings by trimming some discretionary expenses.

Step 8: Know when and how to indulge

Are you remembering to work your just-for-fun expenses into your budget so you can indulge without guilt? Now is a good time to look back at your indulgences to figure out if they were really good uses for your money.

Step 9: Check your credit score

If you’ve been following the rules for boosting and maintaining a high credit score, like paying your bills on time, having several active cards, and keeping your credit utilization low, your score should have improved during these last few months.

Step 10: Think about retirement

Review your retirement accounts and assess whether your funds have reached the place you’d hoped they would by now. 

Step 11: Start investing

Make sure your investments are performing well and that your assets are optimally diversified.

Step 12: Review your overall financial health

In this final step, you’ll review your steps to financial wellness on a regular basis, just as you’ve done here. 

Reviewing your financial health on a regular basis is an important part of staying financially fit

Don’t Get Caught in a Non-Delivery Scam

With the holidays coming up, and online shopping reaching its annual peak, scammers are out to get at your money and your stuff. There are loads of scams to watch for this time of year, from online “retailers” phishing for information as you shop to thieves swiping delivered packages from doorsteps and so many more. The non-delivery scam can be particularly difficult to spot, and recovery is nearly impossible. Here’s what you need to know about this scam.

How the scam plays out

In a non-delivery scam, a shopper makes an online purchase, often at a deep discount. Unfortunately, though, the promised package never arrives. After weeks of waiting, the shopper may try reaching out to the seller, only to find that the seller’s gone AWOL,

along with the victim’s chances of recovering their money and/or their purchase.

Protect yourself

Here’s how to protect yourself against non-delivery scams:

  • Never click on links or open attachments of unsolicited emails or on social media.
  • Keep your device’s security at its strongest settings. 
  • Opt-out of websites that are full of typos and/or grammatical errors.
  • Check each website’s URL for authentic spelling and signs of security, like the “https” and padlock.
  • Research every new seller when shopping before sharing any information or making a purchase.
  • Avoid making payments by prepaid gift cards or wire transfer. When shopping online, it’s best to use a credit card.
  • Stay away from sellers who advertise as if they are residents of the U.S. and then respond to questions by claiming they are out of the country.
  • Be wary of items with prices that are too good to be true–they probably are!

If you’re targeted

If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a non-delivery scam, there are steps you can take to mitigate damage. 

First, if you’ve paid by credit card, call the company to dispute the charge as soon as you recognize the scam. Next, alert the FTC about the scam so they can do their part in catching the crooks. If the alleged retailer is on the BBB website, you can let them know, too. 

Shop smartly this season and follow the tips outlined here to avoid getting scammed. Stay safe!

Last Minute Holiday Hacks

The holidays are nipping at your heels and there’s still a lot to do! It probably seems like your stress levels keep rising while the money in your wallet keeps dwindling. It doesn’t have to be this way. With a bit of planning and by following these holiday hacks, you can enjoy a stress-free and affordable holiday season. Not buying what we’re selling? Well, continue reading to find out how:

Clear the clutter for cash

Before the holidays, browse your closets for clothing in good condition you no longer wear. Sell these on resale sites like eBay and Craigslist. You’ll make room for any incoming gifts and give your holiday budget a little wiggle room at the same time.

Shop small businesses

Avoid crowds and enjoy a wider selection of gift items by shopping small businesses this holiday season. Independently owned stores are more likely to be fully stocked, even late in the season. As a bonus, you’re more likely to land unique gifts, and you’ll be helping local businesses stay afloat during these trying economic times.

Suggest a Secret Santa exchange

If the gift-shopping is getting to be a bit much, consider cutting back by suggesting a Secret Santa gift exchange. You’ll only need to buy one gift instead of one for everyone in an entire group, and the surprise factor makes it super-fun. 

Round up your change

It’s never too late to start saving for the holidays! As you shop, use a money app like Acorn to round up your charge to the nearest dollar, and save the change in a specific account. Small change can add up quickly and help offset the amount you’ll need to come up with in your overall budget.

Delegate

If you’ll be hosting events this holiday season, delegate jobs to your guests. Everyone will appreciate the opportunity to pitch in, and it’ll be more helpful for you if you can assign specific jobs to each guest, instead of having three different people show up with apple pies. 

Shop during non-peak hours

Peak business hours, which start in the early afternoon and run until evening, will have the biggest crowds and emptiest shelves. If you can get to the store early in the day, you’ll enjoy a full selection that you can peacefully browse before crowds show up. Stress-free shopping also means you’re more likely to make responsible spending decisions. Win-win!

Use the tips outlined here for a stress-free and budget-friendly pre-holiday season.

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. 

Don’t Get Caught in an Election Scam

Democracy is a privilege that’s upheld by the election process. But scammers are out to hijack this process and cause havoc throughout election season. Here are three red flags to watch out for this time of year to avoid an election scam.

1.      Eleventh-hour campaign contributions

This scheme targets voters right before elections by asking them to make a donation toward their chosen candidate’s campaign. They’ll claim to represent the candidate and suggest that the candidate just needs one big push to move to the front of the line. 

Unfortunately, if the target believes the caller and makes a donation, they’ll be giving money helping to line a scammer’s pockets. 

Stay safe: If you’d like to contribute to a candidate’s campaign, reach out to campaign headquarters on your own through their website.

2.      Polling for information

During election season, informal poll-takers and petitioners are everywhere while canvassing voters. Once they have your attention, they’ll ask who you’re voting for, request that you fill out a survey or have you sign an election petition on a particular issue. But first, some will say they’ll need your personally identifiable information (PII), like your name, date of birth, home address and even your Social Security number. If you oblige, you’ll be sharing your information with a scammer.

Stay safe: Never share your PII with an unverified contact. If you do decide to fill out a voter survey, be super-selective about the information you share. Don’t share your Social Security number, driver’s license number or any other information that can be hijacked for crime. 

3.      Voter re-registration

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, you may get a bogus voter registration form, claiming your name has been mistakenly removed from voter rolls. They will say you can get back on by filling out this form and mailing it out. Alternatively, they’ll reach out over the phone, text, or email, and tell you to register by responding. Naturally, this is an election scam!

Stay safe: Remember that you can only register to vote by mail. In addition, there’s no reason to believe your registration is no longer valid. If in doubt, search your state’s Secretary of State website. 

Stay safe, and may the best candidates win! 

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