Protect your mobile devices, recognize and avoid risks, and guard against ID theft while holiday shopping.
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Keeping the lights on isn’t cheap — never mind the air conditioning, furnace and hot water heater. In fact, the typical family spends more than $1,400 per year on utilities, according to the Energy Department.
Tweaking your usage can lower your bill by as much as 25%. Try these effective ways to save money:
Heating and cooling
Home heating and cooling are the biggest culprits behind hefty utility bills — and the best places to look for cost-cutting opportunities.
1. Check seals on windows, doors and appliances: Make sure your fridge and freezer are well sealed to keep the cold air where it belongs. The same goes for doors and windows. A bad seal allows energy to seep out, draining your wallet in the process.
2. Fix leaky ductwork: Improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems by repairing leaky heating, ventilation and air conditioning ducts.
3. Give your thermostat a nudge: Set your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees when you’re asleep or away from home. Doing so for eight hours can lower your annual heating and cooling costs by around 10%. A programmable thermostat does the work for you.
4. Adjust your fridge and freezer temperature: Set your fridge to 38 degrees and your freezer between 0 and 5 degrees. This will keep your food fresh, but your fridge and freezer won’t need to work as hard to maintain the temperature.
Hot water is the second-largest expense in powering most homes, according to the Energy Department. Cutting back on your hot water usage — in the shower, laundry and dishwasher — can make a sizable dent in your overall energy bill.
5. Take shorter showers: Trimming two minutes off your shower time can cut your water usage by five gallons.
6. Replace your showerhead: An efficient showerhead can reduce your water usage by 2,700 gallons per year. Look for one with the WaterSense label, which is certified to meet efficiency criteria set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
7. Don’t wash clothes in hot water: Stick to warm or cold water when you do laundry and cut your per-load energy usage by at least half.
8. Fix leaky faucets: That drip, drip, drip isn’t just annoying, it wastes gallons of water.
9. Adjust the temperature on your water heater: The default temperature setting on water heaters is typically 140 degrees. Lowering it to 120 degrees can reduce your water heating costs by up to 10%. Leaving town for a few days? Turn your water heater to the lowest setting to conserve energy usage.
10. Purchase energy-efficient appliances: If you’re in the market for a new washer, dishwasher or water heater, buy an energy-efficient model to yield long-term savings. A dishwasher with the Energy Star label is required to use 3.5 gallons of water or less per cycle, compared with the more than 10 gallons used by some older models. Prioritize appliances that run most often, like the fridge, HVAC system, water heater, dehumidifier, TV, washer and dryer.
11. Ask about discounted rates: Some utility providers offer cheaper rates during certain times of the day, making laundry and other energy-intensive chores 5% to 25% less expensive during off-peak times.
Power and lighting
Keeping the lights and electronics on accounts for roughly 11% or more of a home’s energy usage.
12. Swap out your lightbulbs: Save $75 per year by swapping out the bulbs in your five most-used light fixtures with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs that bear the Energy Star label.
13. Install dimmer switches: Dimmers let you set the brightness in a room to suit your needs, setting the mood and saving electricity.
14. Use smart power strips: Some electronic gadgets never truly power off; instead, they sit in standby mode using a trickle of power that can add up over devices and time. These are usually — but not exclusively — items with a remote control, because the remote sensor needs power while waiting for your input. Plug these electronics into a smart power strip, which cuts off the current when the devices aren’t in use.
15. Do an energy audit: Utility providers will often conduct a home energy audit, sometimes for free, and can identify additional ways to reduce your energy usage.
For many, shopping on the day after Thanksgiving is a tradition. Historically, it’s also one of the best days of the year to save money on big-ticket items like electronics and appliances.
But with social distancing the norm, it’s hard to imagine shoppers camping out on the sidewalk next to one another this year ahead of Nov. 27. It’s even more difficult to picture stores overflowing with excited shoppers.
Retail experts believe Black Friday will still happen in 2020, despite the pandemic. But there’s no disputing the fact that it won’t be a traditional experience.
“Being there at the crack of dawn, waiting in lines, the hustle and bustle in the store — that’s probably not going to exist,” says Jane Boyd Thomas, a professor of marketing at Winthrop University in South Carolina who has done research about Black Friday.
Sales will shift further online
For years, Black Friday has shifted to online channels, merging with Cyber Monday into a weekend-long event. The pandemic is set to further cement that transition.
After months of shelter-in-place orders, consumers have become more comfortable shopping from home. That will likely lead to an increase in online Black Friday purchases this year, says Dora Bock, associate professor of marketing at the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University in Alabama.
But the changes could go a step beyond that. COVID-19 has illuminated failings in the supply chain, and Thomas believes many consumers will opt for contactless curbside pickup options (as opposed to shipping to their home) to guarantee that the items they’re buying online are actually available — and not out of stock.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean stores will be ghost towns.
“They want something normal,” Thomas says of some shoppers. “I do think that will drive people to go in to see the lights, to see the trees — all the stuff that goes with that experience.”
Doorbusters could be deep
Even though the experience will look different, Black Friday discounts might be particularly relevant this year, especially as millions of Americans have faced unemployment and other financial hardships in 2020.
While consumers have largely focused on purchasing essential items during the pandemic, Bock anticipates competitive prices on discretionary products like apparel and jewelry.
Consumers might also have an appetite for traditional Black Friday categories, such as computers. Thomas expects these discounts will be appealing, considering how critical laptops have become as Americans work, learn and interact virtually from home.
“There’s a large number of consumers that look forward to Black Friday because it provides them a sense of excitement,” Bock says. “People feel good when they get a good deal.”
Retailers still have some planning to do
There are a number of unanswered questions about how Black Friday will look. After all, retailers are still figuring out how to market the holiday shopping season.
One possibility? Black Friday may become an extended period, rather than a single day of sales, says Michael Brown, a partner in the consumer practice of Kearney, a global strategy and management consultant.
“I’m expecting that Black Friday as we have grown to know it cannot exist in a COVID world,” Brown says.
“I think we have to really not think about Black Friday and think more about when the launch of the holiday season will begin. I think that has to be pulled up by retailers as early as November 1,” he says.
Throughout the holiday season, stores will have to perform a delicate dance. Shopping may become just as much about public health as it is about discounts.
Retailers have merchandise to sell, but promoting in-store only specials could be seen as insensitive by shoppers with preexisting medical conditions, Bock points out.
“I think it’s really going to be a balancing act for retailers to encourage sales, encourage people to buy, encourage trust and promote spending — but promote it in a way that shows they care for their customers’ well-being,” Bock says.
There’s one more wild card, Brown says. What type of Black Friday shopping environment will state and local governments allow? Time will tell.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.
Scammers are trying to take advantage of confusion over COVID-19 contact tracing. Here's how to keep yourself safer.
If you’re contacted about possible exposure to the coronavirus, make sure it’s legit. Scammers are masquerading as contact tracers, and it’s smart to verify calls or texts before giving out any information.
A tracer’s job is to help contain the pandemic by reaching out to people who may be spreading the coronavirus. You could be called because your test was positive. Or perhaps someone who tested positive named you as someone they’d been in contact with, and now you need to be tested.
Fraudsters follow the news
Scammers read the news, too, and are trying to capitalize on tracing campaigns. They’ve even made calls appear to come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And yet actual tracers can’t do their work if we won’t pick up the phone.
There’s no centralized testing for the United States, and procedures and names of agencies doing tracing vary by state. You might be contacted by a state or county health department, by phone or text — there’s no single way that a genuine contact tracer will try to reach you. As a result, it can be difficult to know if a contact is legit.
First, simply pause
A call or text informing you that someone has “important health information to share” can be upsetting. And we don’t do our best thinking when we’re afraid, says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.
Velasquez advises pausing rather than responding automatically. You don’t have to talk to the caller at that moment.
Take time for due diligence, Velasquez suggests. If a caller says they’re a contact tracer from a county or state health department, take their name then hang up and call the department yourself to verify the information. Velasquez recommends looking up the number online; don’t rely on information provided in the initial contact. If the call seems to come from a legitimate source, you can talk to them when they call back.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Nenette Day of the HHS Office of Inspector General says extra care is needed any time you receive an unsolicited communication. A healthy skepticism can help you recognize if something is amiss. If you were tested, feel free to ask the contact tracer when and where. They should be able to tell you, Day says.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, a legitimate tracing text would simply inform you to expect a call. Don’t click on links in texts: Some scammers send bogus texts with a link that installs malware if you click it.
Know what to expect
A legitimate tracer may ask:
But a legitimate contact tracer will not:
Ask you to fill out an online application to be a contact tracer, too.
Shameka Walker, an attorney with the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, advises hanging up and reporting the call if you have reason to believe it’s not legitimate.
Help loved ones be less susceptible
Day advises being protective of any elderly people in your life, particularly if they may not be discerning about who they give information to. She says she’s especially proud that her 90-year-old mother hasn’t fallen victim to scams. But her mother knows what to watch for — Day says the key is talking about it with those who might be targets.
If someone has dementia or is unlikely to remember what you’ve told them about identifying scammers, you may be able to limit their incoming cell phone calls to known contacts. That helps protect them, without cutting off communication with friends and family.
Other COVID-19 scams to watch for
Sadly, contact tracing scams aren’t the only coronavirus scams around. Day says some of the others have involved offers of:
How to report a scam
If you believe that a contact tracing call is bogus, you should report it to your state attorney general’s office or health department, Day says.
If you realize you mistakenly gave out personal data, here’s who to contact:
Health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid numbers: Call the insurer. Medical identity theft can result in life-threatening mistakes from mixed records if someone else uses your credentials to get medical care.
Social Security number: Report it on identitytheft.gov. You can also freeze your credit, which will help keep your Social Security number from being used to establish new credit.
Credit card number: Alert your card issuer.
If you bought something, like a test or a treatment, you can also report that to the FTC, Walker says.
What are Trojans and Spyware?
Trojan: A man-made computer program that can infect your computer but does not spread itself automatically. A Trojan usually masquerades as a legitimate program, such as a game or utility. When executed, the Trojan not only performs the expected function, but also infects your computer. Trojans often gather information about you and/or your computer (files, passwords, etc.) without your knowledge, sending this information back to the person who sent you the Trojan.
In extreme cases, they can also give the sender complete access to your computer without your knowledge. Once this type of Trojan is installed on your computer, the attacker can access and use your computer as if they were you!
Spyware: A computer program that gathers personal data from your computer and information about your activity on the Internet, and reports that information to someone else without your knowledge. Spyware is widely used as a "marketing" tool to gather information about your interests and then target you for advertisements (typically the SPAM e-mail variety) that should appeal to those interests. Spyware can also be a nuisance by slowing your computer down or even making it difficult for you to view certain web pages you would like to visit. Primarily, though, spyware is collecting information about you and your computer usage without your knowledge and supplying that information to others.
Both Trojans and spyware slow down your computer. Spyware may make it difficult for you to enjoy the Internet because you are bombarded with advertisements.
"Did you know? Many people who think their computer must be broken because it's running so slowly are simply the victims of spyware or Trojans!"
Trojans can be used to gain control of your computer and view your financial transactions, your private files, or anything else you've used your computer to store. The good news is that you can avoid them.
How does a Trojan or spyware program get on my computer?
Simply put, you install it! Trojans and spyware must be installed to work. If you don't install a Trojan, you will not have one on your computer. The problem is that Trojans and spyware are often hidden inside other computer programs. Trojans and spyware are commonly hidden inside software such as the following:
"Did you know? When you are about to install downloaded software onto your computer, you will receive a warning message."
It is very important to know what you are installing on your computer BEFORE you install it! If you are not familiar with the program you are installing, do a search on the web for it. There is a wealth of valuable information available on legitimate programs. If you cannot find information from legitimate sites, or you find information suggesting the program may contain spyware or Trojans, do not install it!
Once spyware or a Trojan is installed on your computer, it can be very difficult to get rid of. Special tools are often required, and it is possible your computer software and system configuration can be corrupted in the process.
What can I do to protect myself?
There are a lot of great programs available to help you protect your computer. A good combination of an anti-virus program (see our training on Avoiding Viruses and Worms) and a spyware detection program is your best bet. Both are readily available through electronic retailers or for download from the Internet. Remember to be careful downloading files, and to make sure they are virus checked before executing them. Many of the spyware tools downloadable from the Internet are free for personal use. Some key points to keep in mind:
Har-co has taken strong measures to ensure the security and safety of your account and our online banking system. By staying alert to potential security threats and keeping in mind the suggestions listed above, you can help us keep online banking extremely safe and secure. Follow the good practices and use the knowledge we've provided here, and you will be much more prepared to enjoy the conveniences of online services with peace of mind!
These helpful tips are provided by Digital Defense, Inc., a computer security company working with credit unions as a responsible member of the community to help insure the privacy and security of our nation's financial information.