All home warranties are not created equal

(BPT) –

Having a home warranty is a smart way to help deal with the inevitable home repair problems that all property owners face at one point or another.

After all, a good home warranty can mean getting expert help when your HVAC system needs to be fixed, your water heater needs to be replaced, or your refrigerator requires a new part.

But unfortunately, all home warranties are not created equal. And shopping for a home warranty can be tough, especially if you aren’t familiar with home warranty coverage and providers.

So to find a home warranty that will protect your home and budget, here are three important questions to ask, along with a few tips on what to look for in a top-notch home warranty.

1. What’s covered?

Some home warranties are only good for appliances. Others focus on systems within your house, such as your air conditioning, heating or plumbing systems. The best warranties offer broad protection at a fair price, and even allow you to select from various coverage approaches based on your needs.

When shopping around, inquire about exclusions, limitations and non-covered expenses. Most, if not all, plans DO have these. For example, there may be a cap on the amount of coverage for a particular item; an environmental disposal fee, required in some counties, may be excluded from coverage; or modifications, not covered under the home warranty, may be needed to bring a covered system up to code or in compliance with new standards.

2. Is the price affordable?

Obviously, you’ll want to initially know the specifics of how much a warranty will cost you — not just for the annual price of coverage, but also for future service calls.

When purchasing an American Home Shield warranty, you choose a $75, $100 or $125 fee for your service requests, which gives you the flexibility to pay more or less for your annual contract. As with all home warranty companies, the price of an American Home Shield warranty plan varies based on multiple factors, including the specific type of plan you choose and your state of residency. But basic coverage starts at about $300 and goes up to around $600 annually for more comprehensive plans — a bargain considering the cost of replacing things in your house that will likely break down at some point.

When considering cost factors, also ask if all the items you want covered are included in the base cost of the plan, or whether you will need to add additional items to create the perfect plan for your home.

3. Does the home warranty cover just mechanical components?

Before you buy any home warranty, inquire about the extent of coverage different companies may provide based on normal wear and tear of an item — as well as any limitations.

Many components of home systems and appliances contain both mechanical and non-mechanical features. While the primary goal of a home warranty is to repair or replace covered items so that they function mechanically, American Home Shield covers both mechanical repairs and certain non-mechanical items, such as handles, doors, knobs and shelves.

That doesn’t mean everything is covered, of course. So let’s say your child stands on your dishwasher door and breaks the seal. Sorry, but that is NOT a covered repair, because it is not “normal” wear and tear.

Also, what happens if a repair person comes to your home and, despite his or her best efforts, simply can’t fix something covered under your home warranty?

With an AHS home warranty, if a repair person can’t fix a covered item, AHS will replace it.

That doesn’t mean you will necessarily get the precise brand and color of, say, a washing machine or dryer. After all, you may have bought your laundry set four years ago, and the manufacturer might not even make those exact same models or colors today.

However, if your washer and dryer do fizzle out completely, AHS will install a replacement that has similar operational features.

What’s more, at American Home Shield, 98 percent of service requests are dispatched to local repair technicians within 24 hours.

Using your home warranty wisely

Regardless of the type of home warranty you buy or whom you buy it from, always follow the maintenance guidelines specified for your home’s appliances and systems. Likewise, it’s a smart idea to have those systems and appliances regularly serviced.

Taking both of those steps can prevent many service repair calls and help reduce your overall cost of homeownership.

Ultimately, an excellent home warranty provides you with a solid asset that helps safeguard one of your biggest investments.

Read more

Be safe while getting social to avoid social media scams

(BPT) – For many people, social media has become a part of our daily lives. We follow friends on Facebook, share our opinions on Twitter and highlight our latest creative projects on Instagram or Pinterest. According to Statista, 78 percent of all Americans have a social media profile, and that adoption rate continues to grow. Yet while this number has created a vibrant social media world, it’s also made the medium an attractive target for scammers, making it important for all of us to think safety when we get social.

Understanding the characteristics of a social media scam

In most cases a social media scam starts in a similar fashion to a conventional phone or mail scam, with the scammer reaching out to the would-be victim. In a social media scam, this overture may appear as a message claiming the recipient’s profile was chosen at random to win a raffle or lottery through the social media website.

Sophisticated fraudsters are incredibly adept at making such communications appear legitimate by replicating official logos and graphics. They use these messages to build trust before requesting a handling fee or asking the victim for their personal information or passwords. Once the victim has handed this information over, the scammer may use it to steal the victim’s identity and amass additional debt.

Protecting yourself from social media fraud

As social media usage continues to increase across the globe, scams associated with it figure to increase as well. To protect yourself from such scams while enjoying your social media channels, follow these tips from Western Union.

* Follow the rules of scam awareness. While social media scams may be a relatively new threat, some of the telltale signs of a hoax appear here just as they do in other scams. Look for poor grammar, as it is a surefire sign that the messaging you have received might be a scam. You should never provide your personal information no matter how appealing the “award” may be.

* Think logically. No matter what you’ve seen or what the message says, remember scammers use social media sites as the avenue to facilitate their fraud. As tempting as it may be to believe otherwise, remember even the luckiest person cannot win a contest they didn’t enter.

* Send money smartly. Western Union is a great way to send money to your family and friends, but you should never use it to pay taxes or fees in claiming a lottery or prize winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes companies do not tell winners to pay money in advance to receive a prize or award.

And while Western Union makes it easy to send money from one person to another, you should never transfer money to someone you have not met in person.

* Report it immediately. If you suspect you have been a target of fraud, you should report it quickly to the social media site where the outreach took place, as well as local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission. If you sent money through a Western Union money transfer and believe you may have been a victim of fraud, call the fraud hotline at 1-800-448-1492.

As social media becomes more and more a part of the daily fabric of your life, the need to be safe in your social media usage increases as well. Apply the tips above and your social media use will be as safe as it is enjoyable. To learn more about how to protect yourself from scams, visit wu.com/fraudawareness.

Read more

House hunting and credit: What you need to know

(BPT) – By now it is something of a cliche to call homeownership the American dream. But even if sitting on your own deck, looking over your picket fence and sipping lemonade doesn’t move you, homeownership is still one of the best ways to build wealth.

For many, owning a home is cheaper than renting and, in the long run, the biggest investment they will ever make. It is also a practical financial move thanks to the fact that you’re likely building equity while getting a mortgage interest tax break.

So although it is perfectly fine to dream about backyard barbecues and the smell of fresh-cut grass, the path to owning your own home should also involve taking the time to do some financial sightseeing.

As a leader in creating credit scoring models, VantageScore Solutions has made it a priority to educate consumers on the important role a good credit history plays in buying a home.

Whether you’re about to set out to buy your first home or if you are getting ready to sell and buy another home, here are the basics of how credit impacts the home-buying process.

Basics

If you are like most people, you will probably need to take out a loan. If you are able to pay cash for your home instead, count yourself among the lucky few!

A huge part of taking out a loan involves your credit history and credit score. Basically, you must prove to lenders that you can be a responsible borrower and can be trusted with a mortgage of many thousands of dollars. A strong credit score may provide proof of this trustworthiness.

Different types of loans have different credit requirements. Some loans require you to have a credit score of at least 620, although it is possible (with some difficulty) to be approved for a loan with a credit score as low as 580. But getting loan approval is only part of the story.

Better credit, better rate

Home loans come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fixed interest mortgages, some have adjustable rates or longer terms and the list of variables goes on. Just like anything else, some loans are better for you than others. To get the loan that has the lowest interest rate, which right now is around 4 percent, usually requires a higher credit score. Rates can be considerably higher when you have a lower credit score, and the result is paying significantly more monthly over the life of the loan.

The reason is that a higher credit score demonstrates that you are skilled at managing debt and have a history of responsibly paying back many types of loans. Therefore, the lender is taking on less risk when lending you money. The less risk for them, the better the interest rate for you.

While there are, of course, more nuances to the process, your credit score plays an instrumental role in determining the type of loan you may qualify for. Therefore, before you go to your first open house, check your credit score to better understand the factors that typically impact your scores. Many websites provide free access to your VantageScore, which is a perfectly fine barometer to use to directionally gauge your creditworthiness. Mortgage lenders use FICO scores in their underwriting.

You can stay on top of things by subscribing to the monthly credit scoring newsletter, The Score. In The Score, you can find information on VantageScore 4.0, the fourth-generation scoring model that will be available to consumers in early 2018.

Knowing your credit history and understanding the factors that could impact your credit score will help you plan, budget and come up with a realistic wish list for your house.

Read more

Be safe while getting social to avoid social media scams

(BPT) – For many people, social media has become a part of our daily lives. We follow friends on Facebook, share our opinions on Twitter and highlight our latest creative projects on Instagram or Pinterest. According to Statista, 78 percent of all Americans have a social media profile, and that adoption rate continues to grow. Yet while this number has created a vibrant social media world, it’s also made the medium an attractive target for scammers, making it important for all of us to think safety when we get social.

Understanding the characteristics of a social media scam

In most cases a social media scam starts in a similar fashion to a conventional phone or mail scam, with the scammer reaching out to the would-be victim. In a social media scam, this overture may appear as a message claiming the recipient’s profile was chosen at random to win a raffle or lottery through the social media website.

Sophisticated fraudsters are incredibly adept at making such communications appear legitimate by replicating official logos and graphics. They use these messages to build trust before requesting a handling fee or asking the victim for their personal information or passwords. Once the victim has handed this information over, the scammer may use it to steal the victim’s identity and amass additional debt.

Protecting yourself from social media fraud

As social media usage continues to increase across the globe, scams associated with it figure to increase as well. To protect yourself from such scams while enjoying your social media channels, follow these tips from Western Union.

* Follow the rules of scam awareness. While social media scams may be a relatively new threat, some of the telltale signs of a hoax appear here just as they do in other scams. Look for poor grammar, as it is a surefire sign that the messaging you have received might be a scam. You should never provide your personal information no matter how appealing the “award” may be.

* Think logically. No matter what you’ve seen or what the message says, remember scammers use social media sites as the avenue to facilitate their fraud. As tempting as it may be to believe otherwise, remember even the luckiest person cannot win a contest they didn’t enter.

* Send money smartly. Western Union is a great way to send money to your family and friends, but you should never use it to pay taxes or fees in claiming a lottery or prize winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes companies do not tell winners to pay money in advance to receive a prize or award.

And while Western Union makes it easy to send money from one person to another, you should never transfer money to someone you have not met in person.

* Report it immediately. If you suspect you have been a target of fraud, you should report it quickly to the social media site where the outreach took place, as well as local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission. If you sent money through a Western Union money transfer and believe you may have been a victim of fraud, call the fraud hotline at 1-800-448-1492.

As social media becomes more and more a part of the daily fabric of your life, the need to be safe in your social media usage increases as well. Apply the tips above and your social media use will be as safe as it is enjoyable. To learn more about how to protect yourself from scams, visit wu.com/fraudawareness.

Read more

How to save on healthcare costs in 2018

(BPT) – (BPT) – Your cable bill, entertainment expenses, grocery extras — these often top the list when people sit down to discuss where they can save money.

One expense you should consider in 2018 is your healthcare costs. Since autumn marks the beginning of the annual open enrollment period for employees, now is the ideal time to sign up for a new health benefit plan or make adjustments to your current plan.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) are two options for people looking to save money pre-tax in the New Year. An FSA, which is provided by your employer, allows you to save funds for eligible healthcare expenses. An HSA — which you can obtain on your own or through your employer — is a tax-advantaged savings account that allows you to set aside money to cover medical expenses throughout your lifetime.

Both accounts have the major advantage that the full amount of your pre-tax dollars may be used toward care that you or your family may need. Employees who enroll in an FSA can contribute a portion of their salary pre-tax to pay for qualified medical care expenses within the plan year, while an HSA provides people with qualifying high-deductible health plans the ability to rollover balances and pay for current and future medical expenses.

Awareness and interest in HSAs has increased this year, with the highest levels of interest stemming from Millennials and Gen Xers, according to the 2017 Flexible Spending Account and Health Savings Account Consumer Research study commissioned by Visa and conducted by C+R Research. This nationwide online research was conducted in March 2017, with the FSA survey conducted among 1,306 consumers and the HSA survey conducted among 1,090 consumers.

Key features of HSAs that are most appealing to consumers include the ability to roll over unused dollars from year to year, pre-tax contributions, and having money available to pay for healthcare services.

The study indicates that 91 percent of FSA users agree that saving money, since contributions are pre-tax, tops their list of reasons for having an FSA. Sixty-four percent of FSA users believe that FSAs help them be more prepared and plan for healthcare expenses. In fact, 22 percent of their healthcare purchases (most notably routine doctor visits and vision expenses) on average would not be made if they didn’t have an FSA.

One of the most convenient ways to access funds in an HSA or FSA is with a Visa Healthcare Card, which allows people to use funds in their HSA or FSA to pay for qualified medical expenses wherever Visa debit cards are accepted, making it easy to pay for expenses such as:

*Co-pays and deductibles

*Prescriptions

*Dental services: Cleanings, orthodontia, dentures

*Physical exams

*Vision care, including exams, new glasses, laser eye surgery

*Hearing exams and aids

*Medical equipment such as blood pressure monitors, thermometers

*Smoking cessation programs

For added convenience, many pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers that sell healthcare products have the capability to distinguish between covered items and non-covered items when you pay for them, so you don’t have to wonder whether something is covered.

By using a Visa Healthcare Card at these locations, you no longer have to pay out-of-pocket and then submit receipts to be reimbursed for your medical expenses, saving you time and money!

These are all great reasons why 80 percent of FSA users surveyed prefer to access their funds with their FSA card over other methods, and why 76 percent of HSA users surveyed say a debit card linked to an HSA makes paying for medical expenses convenient. As you review your options this open enrollment season, ask your employer if it offers an HSA or FSA with a Visa Healthcare Card to provide easy access to your funds. To learn more, visit www.visahealthcare.com.

Read more

5 unexpected ways life insurance protects your loved ones

(BPT) – More than half of Americans who own life insurance say they purchased it primarily to cover final expenses if something happens to them, according to the 2016 Life Insurance Barometer study. Yet one in four also say they don’t think they have enough life insurance — and the mistaken assumption that life insurance is just for paying final expenses could explain why so many are underinsured.

While survivors certainly can use life insurance benefits to pay final costs, or to help replace lost income, life insurance proceeds can also fund other important financial objectives. Many of those goals cost far more than covering end-of-life expenses.

Here are five financial goals that life insurance can help fund for your loved ones after you’re gone:

Raising children

Raising a child born in 2015 to age 17 will cost a family more than $284,570 for basics like food, shelter and other necessities, according to the USDA and data from its Consumer Expenditures Survey. That figure does not include college tuition. Costs for special needs children can be even higher.

“Life is hard enough when you lose someone you care about, and financial stuff doesn’t make it any easier,” says Ryan McNany, whose mother, Mickey, passed away from colon cancer. McNany’s daughter, Mary, has Down syndrome, and had a special relationship with her grandmother. Their story is featured in Prudential Life Insurance’s Masterpiece of Love video series.

“Mom didn’t have a lot of life insurance, but what a gift to be able to have some insurance to help ease the burden,” McNany says. “I’m grateful that Mom had a little bit.”

College education

A four-year college degree can cost more than $100,000 for tuition only, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Factor in food, books, housing, transportation and other expenses and it’s easy to understand why the Institute for College Access and Success says that seven in 10 college seniors graduate with more than $30,000 in student loan debt.

Life insurance proceeds can help fund college educations, even if college is many years in the future for the child. Beneficiaries can invest life insurance payouts in tax-advantaged college savings accounts to ensure funds will be available when the child is ready for college.

Retirement income

The average cost of retirement is more than $780,000, the Motley Fool reports. Retirees with health issues, disabilities or high standards of living may need even more. According to the National Council on Aging, money challenges are common among retirees; 2.9 million senior households suffer from food insecurity, more than a third still owe money on a mortgage, and more than 61 percent have some form of debt.

Life insurance proceeds can pay off mortgages and other commitments to allow senior survivors to live debt-free, and can be invested in tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles to help ensure retirement income.

Business continuity

After receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Dawn Fitch knew she needed to protect the future of her bath products company. Fitch had lost her own father, a lifelong entrepreneur, after a lengthy illness. She knew firsthand the impact such a loss can have on a business’s ability to continue operating and supporting surviving family members.

“People have invested time, money, energy into this business and into me, so I feel a responsibility to make it work,” says Fitch, whose story is featured in Masterpiece of Love. “I need to really make sure that this business, if I’m not here or if I can’t do anything, can run independent of me. Life insurance is peace of mind, and life insurance will help me take care of my family if I’m not here.”

Leaving a legacy

When he was just 10 years old, Hal Williams lost his father to a heart attack. “My mother was still working and my father’s little bit of life insurance helped keep food on the table, a roof over our heads and us going,” recalls the host of the Masterpieces of Love series. “When I had my own family, having plenty of life insurance for all of us was of singular importance.”

Williams’ loss of his father at such an early age, and the security life insurance helped bring his family, inspired his role in the video series.

Life insurance benefits can leave a legacy for survivors, whether it’s helping provide basic financial security, pay for college, start a business or fulfill a dream. To learn more about life insurance and to view more inspiring stories, visit https://www.prudential.com/thedrisin.

0309347-00001-00

Read more

How to lower your monthly mortgage payment

(BPT) – Owning your own home comes with many advantages, including escaping rising rents and the personal and financial stability associated with homeownership. Fortunately, millions of Americans, with less than 20 percent down, have been able to buy a home sooner thanks to mortgage insurance (MI). If you don’t put down 20 percent of the mortgage cost, you will likely be required to purchase MI, which enables low-down-payment borrowers to qualify for home financing from lenders.

While homeownership has many benefits and continues to be part of the American Dream, it is not without costs. Several surveys have found that the majority of first-time homebuyers — over 80 percent according to one study — put less than 20 percent down. For these borrowers, there is usually the added expense of MI, which may give some of these borrowers pause.

But there is good news: the monthly private mortgage insurance premiums do not last forever on most conventional loans. And when private MI (PMI) cancels, homeowners will have more cash in their pockets each month — money that is available for home improvements or other goals. It is important to understand, however, that not all MI is the same, and not all MI can be canceled.

There are numerous low-down-payment mortgage options available that include MI. The two most common are: (1) home loans backed 100 percent by the government through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that include both an upfront and annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP); and (2) conventional loans, which are typically backed at least in part by private sources of capital, such as private MI. The key difference is that one form can be canceled (PMI) while the other (FHA) typically cannot be canceled.

An FHA loan can be obtained with a down payment as low as 3.5 percent. However, be aware that you will typically have to pay a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) of 1.75 percent of the total loan amount at closing or have it financed into the mortgage. In addition to your regular monthly mortgage payments on your FHA loan, you will also pay a fixed monthly MIP fee for the life of the loan. This means you could pay hundreds of dollars extra every month — thousands over the life of the loan — until you pay off the entirety of the loan.

If you obtain a conventional loan with PMI, you can put as little as 3 percent down. Like an FHA loan, PMI fees are generally factored into your monthly mortgage payment. However, PMI can often be canceled once you have established 20 percent equity in the home and/or the principal balance of the mortgage is scheduled to reach 78 percent of the home’s original value. This means that the rest of your mortgage payments will not include any extra fees, so that your payments go down in time, saving you money each month. What you save in the long run can then be put toward expenses like home renovations, which can further increase your home’s value.

MI is a good thing because it bridges the divide between a low down payment and mortgage approval. But not all MI is created equal. If you want to buy a home but still save in the long run, PMI might be the right option for you. Check out lowdownpaymentfacts.org to learn more.

Read more

Keeping up with the digital natives [Video]

(BPT) – The Bank of America Trends in Consumer Mobility Report explores timely mobile trends and forward-looking consumer behaviors that increasingly impact our everyday lives. The report includes the youngest generation — Generation Z — to better understand the future of mobile and the next era of banking. Head of Digital Banking Michelle Moore highlights key findings in this video.

Read more

3 steps to help freelancers and gig economy workers avoid a tax blunder

(BPT) – More and more people are earning extra cash by freelancing in the sharing economy. That may mean writing on the side, playing music on the weekends, driving for ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft or selling handmade jewelry on Etsy. No matter how the money flows in, gig economy earners must be aware of the related tax obligations and potential pitfalls.

“While it’s easier now than ever to earn extra cash, it’s important for freelancers and independent contractors to get smart about their tax responsibilities,” said Mark Jaeger, director of Tax Development for TaxAct, a leading provider of affordable do-it-yourself tax software. “Gig economy earners must remember they are responsible for paying federal and state income tax on any income earned. And, they’re also subject to self-employment tax, to cover Social Security and Medicare taxes.”

If you’re one of the 55 million Americans who chooses to freelance, it can be difficult to correctly calculate and report to the IRS how much tax you owe. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Enrolled Agents found that, “independent contractors participating in the gig economy were cited as among those most at risk of failing to accurately report all of their income.”

Taxpayers who miscalculate taxes owed are likely to get a form called a CP2000 from the IRS. According to the agency, that form means, “the income and/or payment information the IRS has on file doesn’t match the information on your tax return.” That could result in issues with your tax bill.

Jaeger said the best way for gig economy workers to avoid a tax misstep is to be diligent and plan ahead now. He provided the following tips to help freelancers get on track so they’re ready to tackle taxes head-on this tax season.

1. Get organized

Whether you work full time and earn a little extra cash from a side hustle or you’re a full-time contractor, meticulous record-keeping is a must. One option is to keep track of all business expenses and related receipts in one large folder. Jaeger recommends taking that one step further by categorizing receipts into specific folders — for example, one folder for mileage and maintenance records, a second for rent or dues if you lease a workspace, and a third for office equipment and business-related equipment. Once a quarter, as you determine what you’ll owe for quarterly tax payments, make note of which of those receipts are deductible.

2. Keep track of your income

When you’re freelancing, you’re your own accounting department. Not only are you responsible for generating invoices and collecting payment, you must also keep track of all income earned and accurately report it to the IRS. That can get complicated when multiple income streams are at play.

For example, gig economy workers who make money freelancing for multiple clients while also moonlighting as an Uber or Lyft driver should track all income and expenses separately. That means keeping accurate records of any money paid directly by clients and keeping track of income reported on documents such as Forms 1099-MISC and 1099-K. These forms are issued when self-employment income exceeds $600 (1099-MISC) and when a contractor is paid through credit- and debit-card payment processors (1099-K). Come tax time, fill out a Schedule C for every company or client who has paid you to report all of the income you earned.

3. Make estimated tax payments

The IRS requires independent contractors to file and pay taxes on a quarterly basis, even if you anticipate getting a refund at the end of the tax year. Use a tax calculator to help determine whether you should make estimated tax payments. You can also use Worksheet 2.1 in IRS Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure out whether you must pay estimated tax. Whatever method you choose, make sure you calculate adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions and credits.

As a rule of thumb, if you will owe at least $1,000 in taxes, you should plan to pay estimated taxes during the current tax year. Jaeger added, “If you owe estimated quarterly payments but don’t pay them in full, you could face an underpayment penalty by the IRS.”

Earning extra money from your freelance work or side gig may not make you feel like you’re self-employed, but in the eyes of the IRS, you are. By planning ahead, getting organized and doing your own taxes with an affordable online option such as TaxAct, you can avoid tax missteps and stay focused on what matters most: earning income on your own terms!

Read more

Traveling soon? Tips to stay sharp and avoid fraud

(BPT) – If your suitcase is full, don’t worry — protecting yourself from fraud doesn’t mean more packing.

But it does mean you should prepare for the challenge of keeping your personal info safe. According to an Experian(R) survey, 20 percent of respondents had sensitive information like credit or debit cards, personal identification or smartphones stolen while on vacation. “As you travel, your exposure to risk can expand,” says Chip Kohlweiler, vice president of security at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Before you head out, ensure your financial institution is up to date with your contact information. This will minimize disruptions in service, and you can leverage travel notifications and card freeze/unfreeze features,” he adds.

Fraudsters are waiting for you to slip into cruise control, so being alert can save you stress — and money. But when do you need to be on your toes and when can you kick back and relax? Let’s walk through a few travel checkpoints so you know where threats are lurking.

Travel planning

Window shopping for your perfect trip can ignite wanderlust. But keep your wits as you browse through destinations and travel offers online. You’ll want to be extra careful, especially if you plan to make a payment or provide personal information for bookings.

You’re probably using a phone, computer, tablet or combination of these to do your planning. Regardless of what device you’re on, you can use your travel savvy to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

Watch out for:

* Offers for “free” trips, or travel prices that are too good to be true

* Fake travel websites

* Hidden costs in package deals — read the fine print!

* Requests for personal information

As with any online purchase, check the URL of the site you’re on. If you’re looking at a web page but the URL doesn’t match the site you had in mind, you could be looking at a fake site being run by a fraudster.

If your site checks out, read the fine print and know exactly what you’re signing up for before you enter any payment or personal info. Don’t hesitate to call and confirm any of the information you see. If the company or individual doesn’t offer a phone number, it’s probably not legit.

When it comes to calling, you should be doing the dialing. It’s illegal for companies to call you with an automated message if you haven’t given them written permission to do so. The voice recording that offers you a prize in exchange for your credit card could be trying to scam you.

While you’re traveling

You dodged the traps and booked your travel with ease. But the fraudsters haven’t called it quits, and neither should you. There are a few hot spots where you should stay alert, including:

* Airports

* Hotel lobbies

* Public hangouts (like coffee shops or popular tourist hubs)

Pickpocketing — one of the oldest scams in the book — is popular in these busy atmospheres. Avoid distractions that take your focus away from your belongings. Remember, your personal space is exactly that — personal!

Protecting your digital information is just as important as your physical space. High-traffic areas may offer public Wi-Fi. These networks are an easy access point for cybercriminals. Some fraudsters even create their own hot spots and name them based on the location.

“The last thing you should do is access your bank account or any sensitive account on a public network,” says Kohlweiler. Data on your phone becomes available to a criminal when you connect to these public networks. Your best course of action is to keep your phone or tablet stowed away until you can jump on a password-protected network, like in your hotel room.

Partner with a sidekick

The good news is you’re not in this alone. There are services and resources out there to make fraud protection easier. For instance, as a Navy Federal member, you can call or go online to set up a travel notification. You can also request account info via text. Tools like these can put you one step ahead of the criminals. If you are a victim of fraud, we have a team dedicated to resolving these issues, too.

When you return home, be sure to get in touch with a representative to check in. It never hurts to have two sets of eyes reviewing your account after a big trip.

If you’re planning to travel, do your research and remember to pack your fraud protections. And make security tools, like the ones available through Navy Federal, your travel buddy.

Read more