A Tale of Two POAs

This is a tale of two agents by power of attorney.

Our legal and financial advisors tell us we need a durable power of attorney for finances. With this legal document we name an “agent” who will manage our finances should we not be able to ourselves.

Some people name one agent. Others name an agent and a successor agent. I recently witnessed how the difference played out for two separate families.

Caroline named her daughter as her agent by power of attorney. Her daughter, Lilly, assisted her until Lilly had a personal crisis and had to resign. Since Caroline had not named a successor to her daughter, a social worker helped Caroline find a professional willing to serve in this role. Although Caroline had dementia, her advisors determined she had the capacity at that time to understand and sign a new POA document. As most new POA documents do, this one revoked all previous powers of attorney.

Now, a few years later, Lilly is able and willing to resume serving as her mother’s agent.  Caroline’s dementia, however, has advanced to the point where it is clear she would have no understanding of what she was signing, even if she could sign her name. Caroline thus cannot reappoint her daughter as her agent. While Caroline is now oblivious about the situation, her daughter is distraught. Lilly wants very much to serve as her mother’s agent as she believes this was Caroline’s wish. But, due to the advanced stage of her dementia, Caroline cannot sign another POA document.

Bess’ family had a different experience. In her power of attorney document, Bess named her daughter, Jean, to serve as her agent. She also named a successor, her grandson Jack, should her daughter decline to serve. Jean was serving as her mother’s agent when a tragedy struck her immediate family. Jean needed to step down. Jack then assumed this role and attended to Bess’ financial affairs. The transition was smooth.

A few years later, Jean was able to serve as her mother’s agent once again. Since both she and Jack had been named in Bess’ POA original document, when Jack stepped in to serve, a new POA document, revoking all previous ones, did not need to be written. Thus Jean’s appointment was still in place when she was ready to serve again.  She and Jack shared the responsibility until Bess’ recent death.

Since I am not an attorney, I cannot provide legal advice. I can, however, tell you the experiences of two different families and let you draw your own conclusions.

None of us can look into a crystal ball and predict what will happen in the future. But we can learn from others’ experiences and do our best to make our plans and wishes as solid as possible.

Some people named co-agents. Seek the advice of legal counsel to determine what is best for you or your loved ones. The names of individuals in this blog have been changed to protect their privacy. This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

 

Too Good to Be True: The Bill Paying Scam

Just as I completed my last blog about protecting yourself against scams, I came across this warning from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):  The FTC warns con artists are targeting church communities with a bill paying scam.

Since assisting clients with bill paying is one of my services, I was greatly concerned.

The FTC says swindlers claim a government program will pay your monthly bills for an up-front fee. Unsuspecting church-goers fall for this scheme. They learn about it at church, and, since they trust their church, believe it is a legitimate program. Their church leaders don’t understand it’s a scam.

The scammers charge an up-front processing fee and ask for personal and bank information so they can pay your bills electronically. Instead of paying your bills, however, the thieves now have enough information to clean out your bank account and steal your identity. In addition, you still owe money for your bills, may incur late fees, and have lost the fee you paid to the scammer.

If you are pitched a bill paying service that requires an upfront fee, be extremely suspicious. There is no government program that will pay your bills for a fee. There are legitimate government programs available for eligible people who need financial assistance to pay medical, energy and other necessary bills.  Recipients of these funds need to apply for these programs. And, the aid programs won’t charge a fee.

If you desire a service to help you send your bill payments, seek one out. Ask your trusted advisers such as attorneys, investment advisors and accountants, for recommendations. Daily money managers (DMMs) assist clients with bill paying. You can find a DMM by visiting the American Association of Daily Money Managers (AADMM), whose members are required to follow a code of ethics. (Disclosure: I am on the board of AADMM.) A good DMM will work to help you identify scams. If you can’t locate a DMM, a business bookkeeper may be willing to assist you.

Before your hire a daily money manager or any bill paying service, ask:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What professional insurance do you carry?
  • To what professional organizations do you belong?
  • What is your professional background?
  • What are the standards of practice and code of ethics to which you adhere?
  • Do you have any professional certification or designation? (AADMM offers a voluntary Professional Daily Money Manager {PDMM} certification to its members.)
  • Do you take continuing education courses?
  • What are your fees and how will I be charged?
  • Can you provide a professional reference list?

Scam artists are extremely creative, trying to steal our money and identities when we are least suspecting it. Targeting members of a faith community is abysmal. The whole scam business – targeting any and all individuals – is appalling. But, as long as they make money, the con artists will continue. It is up to us to be vigilant and suspicious when approached with an offer or service for which we did not seek, which sounds too good to be true, or requires an up-front payment.

By Robyn Young

Money Care, LLC

 

Resources

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. A wealth of information is available on its website.

FTC article, A Government Program That Pays Your Bills?

Legitimate government sites that connect you with assistance programs

American Association of Daily Money Managers (AADMM)

Protect Yourself from Scams: Stop and Think by Robyn Young

Beware of E-mail Scams by Stephanie Raccine

 

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

 

 

Protect Yourself from Scams: Stop and Think

If scamming people wasn’t so profitable, there wouldn’t be so many con artists tricking people out of their money. There are many types of scams. Here are three which recently happened in my world:

1. My mother answered the phone to this greeting: “Hi Grandma, I’m in Florida to attend a funeral.” Evidently my child was in Florida, ran into trouble, and was looking for money to be bailed out of jail.

2. The IRS left two messages within three weeks on my answering machine telling me the agency is suing me. The recorded message included a phone number to call back. My friends received the same message which terrified their teenager when she retrieved messages.

3. The treasurer of an organization received an e-mail from one of its service providers telling it to wire a $3,000 down payment for a new project. The project had been discussed at a recent board of directors meeting. The request seemed legitimate as the author of the message knew about the board’s discussion. The service provider is also one of my providers, and sent an e-mail to all

How can you avoid falling for these and other scams?

Before you respond, stop. Breathe. Think. Keep emotions from taking over. Ignoring pressure to act immediately allows you to evaluate any request, even those from people you know. It gives you time to determine whether this is a legitimate request for your money or personal information. Ask yourself:

• Did this request for my information or money come out of the blue?
• Do I know and trust this person, company or government office?
• Is it a reasonable follow-up to a transaction I initiated?
• Is it unusual or out of character for this organization or person (especially when I know them) to be asking me for money or information?
• Is this the normal way this company, person or government agency communicates with me?

Before responding to any request, contact the individual, agency or company to verify the request. However, do not reply to questionable e-mails, click on any links in e-mail messages, or return calls to phone numbers left on your answering machine.  Instead, call the person directly. Contact the company using your own information sources. Note that statements and invoices will usually include correct website addresses and telephone numbers.

Understand that anyone can easily change the “from address” in their email program to make it look like the message is from a company or a person you know. E-mail addresses are available everywhere. If the message is strange, be suspicious.

Be aware that logos on fake websites often look legitimate. Logos can be copied directly from the real websites.

Recognize these dead giveaways of scams:

  • Demands or pressure to send money immediately
  • Instructions to wire money
  • Requests for your personal information over phone or via e-mail (even when the requests seem legitimate or you feel threatened)
  • Blocked caller ids preventing you from identifying the caller
  • Instructions to send money to claim a prize
  • Family members calling out of the blue from odd locations

If it is immediately clear someone is trying to con you, hang up the phone or delete the e-mail message. Don’t engage the caller no matter how nice he seems or no matter how much she knows about you. Don’t apologize or give the caller time to respond. Be rude and disengage.

What happened in the cases I mentioned above?

Fortunately my mother thought it strange my child was in Florida attending a funeral, and not in school. She also knows it is out of character for my child to be in jail. She told the caller to contact his parents and hung up.

I ignored the fake IRS call. So did my friends. I know the IRS contacts people only by mail, not phone. Nothing from the IRS arrived in either my or my friends’ mailboxes.

Unfortunately, the organization went ahead and wired $3,000 before researching whether the request was legitimate. The e-mail seemed legit, it even had the correct details, names and e-mail addresses. All this information, however, including the recent meeting minutes, was available on the organization’s website. There were two clues this was a scam:

1. The request to wire the money
2. This particular service provider always sends invoices via US Mail.

If you are ever in doubt:

  • Talk requests over with financially-smart people you trust such as your accountant, other professional advisors, or a money-savvy family member or friend
  • Search the Federal Trade Commission website FTC.gov 
  • Visit the online Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker/us
  • Contact the fraud division of your local police department

For more information on e-mail scams, click here.

By Robyn Young

Money Care, LLC

Special thanks to Stephanie Raccine for her contribution to this blog. This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

Managing a Loved One’s Social Security Benefits

When you are managing the finances for a parent who receives Social Security benefits, you may need to become her “Representative Payee.”

Social Security does not recognize guardianships, conservatorships or powers of attorneys. If you handle your family member’s money with one of these documents and you need to manage her Social Security benefits, you will also need to become her Social Security designated Representative Payee (“Rep Payee”).

A Representative Payee can manage Social Security funds only. When you are appointed an individual’s Rep Payee and you are not that person’s agent by power of attorney or financial guardian, you have no legal authority to manage the person’s other income or assets.

The person entitled to Social Security payments, i.e. your loved one, is the beneficiary.  As a beneficiary’s Representative Payee, you are his fiscal agent and receive his Social Security payments to use exclusively for his benefit. The SSA requires you to first pay for his daily food and shelter, and then for out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses, clothing and other personal needs. Remaining funds can be used to improve the beneficiary’s daily living conditions.

To become an individual’s Rep Payee, you complete an application and submit it to the Social Security Administration. The SSA investigates all people applying to become Representative Payees to protect its beneficiaries.

Social Security recommends you have the monthly benefit direct deposited to an insured bank account. Although the beneficiary can never have direct access to this account, Social Security requires the account to be titled in the beneficiary’s name with you as financial agent. The bank account may not be a joint account. You may not have any ownership of the account. You also may not comingle your own or other funds with your loved one’s money.

The Social Security Administration has several other rules, including:

  • The money must be spent only on the beneficiary.
  • You may not collect a fee from the beneficiary for serving as her Representative Payee unless the SSA has given you permission to do so. Most individual Rep Payees volunteer their services.
  • Every year you need to file a Representative Payee Report on how you have spent the Social Security benefit. To be able to complete the report, you need to keep records on how you used the money.
  • You need to save any funds left over after meeting your loved one’s day-to-day and personal needs. Social Security prefers you to save the funds in U.S. Savings Bonds or in an interest bearing bank account.
  • You must notify the Social Security Administration if certain events (such as marriage, a move, or a change in employment status) happen in your loved one’s life that may affect benefit payments.
  • You must notify the SSA when you will no longer be the payee.

This article provides an overview. There are many details to the Representative Payee program. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/payee.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

 

Avoid Decay and Stay in Control of Your Money

Would you like to feel younger next year? The book, Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D., explains, while we can’t stop aging, we can turn back our biological clocks. Co-authors Crowley and Lodge describe the three components to becoming functionally younger as we age. Crowley writes, “50 percent of all the illness and injuries in the last third of your life can be eliminated by changing your life style the way we suggest.”

The authors suggest:

1. Exercise six times a week. This includes both aerobic exercise and strength training.
2. Quit eating crap. There is no diet in this book, but an explanation of “crap.”
3. Connect and commit to other people.

Younger Next Year is a guide to avoid decay. I was engaged by Lodge’s discussion of what happens in your body after age fifty. Lodge refers to many medical studies to support his ideas. He describes the changes in your cells and in your brain when you choose a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet. And, he explains what happens when you choose the opposite.  Lodge says much of the illness people experience as they age can be avoided if they avoided a harmful lifestyle – the choice of many older adults which leads to their decay.

My blogs focus primarily on money. What does this have to do with money? A lot.

Staying healthy keeps costs down. Illness means medical care. Doctors, hospital stays and drugs are expensive. Caregivers need to be paid, and individuals lose income and retirement savings while caring for sick loved ones. The cost of dementia care is extremely high, both in dollars and the toll it takes on family. If you can keep diabetes, heart disease, broken bones, dementia, and other common “old age” diseases from entering your life, you will save yourself and your loved ones money. And, you will get greater enjoyment out of life.

Staying healthy keeps you independent. When you are free of disease it is much easier to focus on your finances. When you can drive and walk, it is less cumbersome to get to the bank. When you can retain your memory, you can pay bills, keep track of checks, and file your taxes. When you stay in control of your money, you stay in control of your life – including where and how you live.

The authors recognize changing your life style may not be easy. Younger Next Year provides many ideas on how to incorporate exercise, eating well and connection to others into your life.

What if you are sandwiched between caring for elderly parents and caring for your own children? The authors say it is imperative you make adjustments to your life to care for yourself. They use the airplane oxygen analogy: Put on your own mask first before helping others. If you pass out from lack of oxygen, you can’t help others. Likewise, if you become sick or die from lack of caring for yourself, you can’t care for others.

To me, Crowley and Lodge’s advice make sense. In my work with seniors over the past several years, I have witnessed the many choices people have made about their self-care as they aged. Those who chose to be active and engage with others were much happier, healthier and independent at an older age than those who didn’t.

I decided to try the advice outlined in Younger Next Year. Somedays I have to convince myself to get out of bed earlier or set aside work to exercise. I need to make time to prepare non-crap food. Since it has only been a few weeks, I can’t report on whether this has saved any money or improved my health. But, I can say the exercise feels good and I have lost weight.

The book’s full title is Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond. There is an edition for women and another one for men. Check them out. You may find yourself younger next year.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

 

Five Easy Ways to Cut Expenses

Are you looking to save money this year? Now is a good time to review expenses and see what you can cut. Here are five ideas to help you on your way.

1. Drop Overdraft Protection

This service is offered by banks and credit unions. Should you overdraw your account with an ATM or debit card, the bank will loan you the money to cover the transaction. While overdraft protection fees vary by bank, the average is $27 a transaction.  If you don’t cover the overdraft fast and keep overdrawing, the fees will add up quickly. This is very profitable for the banks, but not for you.

  • Overdraft Protection is a service for which you must “opt-in.” If you have it and you frequently overdraw your account, cancel it. Your transactions will be refused, but you will save significant money.
  • You may be able to link your account to a savings account or a credit card. If you overdraw your account, the bank will, often for a smaller fee, transfer money to cover the overdraft.

2. Shop Your Insurance

If you haven’t shopped around for insurance within the past three years, now is a good time to search for a better price. Obtain quotes from at least three to four insurers.

  • Savings can often be found when you bundle your policies. This is combining your insurance policies, such as homeowners, auto and umbrella, into a package with one insurance company. How much you save on premiums depends on the state in which you reside, the type of home in which you live, and whether you rent or own your home.
  • Once your car is 10 years old or worth less than 10 times your premium, consider reducing your insurance. You can save money by dropping collision coverage and just keeping injury and property damage coverage.

3. Plug Leaks from Your Bank Accounts and Credit Cards

Review your statements for regular payments for services you no longer use.

  • Are you still paying for a gym membership yet never visit the gym? Have you signed up for a credit monitoring service or an app that you no longer use? Are you sending a monthly contribution to a charity you no longer choose to support?
  • To cancel payments, call the company charging your account.

4. Ditch Cable

With an HD antenna, you can receive signals from the major TV networks.

  • Depending on the cost of your cable service, you can recoup the price of the antenna in a few months.
  • To expand and customize your viewing options, you can stream live TV over a broadband internet connection from services of your choice.
  • Before cutting the cord, read up on how to make the switch, verify you have the correct equipment, and test your internet connection. You can find information and advice by searching the internet for “how to quit cable.”

5. Use Cash

It is much more painful to part with cash than to use a credit card.

  • Studies have shown people spend less, sometimes half as much, when they pay with cash.
  • Some vendors, such as gas stations, will give you a discount when you pay with cash.

Good luck slashing expenses. If you have another money saving idea, please share a comment.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

Seven Sure Fire Tips for Financial Peace of Mind

A new year and a fresh start is upon us. Now is a good time to get your financial organization in shape.

Here are seven tips to bring you peace of mind

1.Fashion a filing system.

It doesn’t matter whether you use a filing cabinet, an electronic system or both. The point is to organize your documents for quick, consistent access to information.

  • For detailed information on what documents to keep and what to pitch, click HERE [LINK: http://www.moneycarevt.com/pages/HowLongNWhereFinancialPapers.pdf] to access my guide, How Long and Where to Keep Financial Papers.
  • If you keep electronic files, you can set up a separate e-mail account for receiving statements, bills and receipts. Within that account, create folders to file your documents. You want a strong password for this e-mail account and, when possible, two-step verification

2. Create a Checklist of Bills

You can use a calendar or a list. Your goal is to record every known bill and their due dates so you never miss a payment.

  • Automate recurring payments, such as utilities, to save time, worry and late fees.
  • Change the due dates on your credit cards so they better align with your cash flow and other regular bills. To request a due date change, call customer service at your credit card company.

3. Assemble a List of Subscriptions

With the number of renewal notices magazines send out months in advance, it is easy to lose track of when you actually do need to renew.

  • Include on your list the date each subscription expires. This will ensure you don’t renew too soon and don’t oversubscribe. Look for the renewal date on the address label.

4. Update & Organize Your Passwords

Experts advise a unique, 8-12 character password for each account. How do you keep track of them all?

  • Use a password manager. Search “password manager” on the internet to find reviews. Skip the paid listings and scroll down to the reviews.
  • If you write passwords down, keep them secure (i.e. not under your mouse pad).
  • Write passwords in pencil. Some companies require passwords be changed periodically. Recording passwords in pencil, which can be erased, avoids the confusion of a mishmash of crossed-out, retired passwords.
  • Group your passwords by type: financial, shopping, social media.

5. Compile a List of Accounts.

List bank accounts, brokerage and retirement accounts, and credit cards. For each entry, include account number, contact information, and the names on the account. Note who has possession of the credit and debit cards.

  • This list will help you see all your accounts in one place. Can any be closed or consolidated?

6. Craft a Budget

Budgets are a road map telling you your financial situation, adjustments you need to make, and how much money you have to make those adjustments. Budgets should be fluid and adjust with your income. Creating and then regularly monitoring a budget is the most important thing you can do to stay on top of your spending.

  • Review your budget often (i.e. compare your spending to your budget) to help you reach your financial goals. Adjust as needed, but don’t spend more than you bring in.
  • Need help? Use an app. Search “best budget apps” on the internet to find reviews.
  • There are many budgeting books from which to choose. Peruse your local bookstore to find a book you like.

7. Invest in a Shredder

You want a micro-cut shredder which chops paper into the size of rice, rendering it impossible to reassemble.

  • Shred every paper with any personal information: dates of birth, Social Security numbers, account numbers, insurance ID numbers. Shred credit card offers, old credit cards, monthly bills, receipts from credit card purchases, and anything related to taxes. Shred the back covers of catalogues with customer codes.

Many of these ideas are from the American Association of Daily Money Managers. Visit aadmm.com [LINK: http://www.aadmm.com/] to learn how a daily money manager may be able to help with your financial organization.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

 

 

 

What You Need To Know Before Opening a Store Credit Card

Man Paying For Some Jewelry For His Wife
It’s holiday season once again! When you are shopping, retail clerks may tempt you with their store’s credit card. “Open the card right now and you can save 15% off your total purchase,” is a common statement. If you have a large purchase, you could save a lot of money. And, you will most likely receive future coupons, sales notices, and special deals. The clerk will also be rewarded for selling you the card. What’s not to like about all this?

Plenty. Here is why I say “No!” to one-store-only credit cards.

 

The temptation to overspend is too great.

Retailers offer their own credit cards to get you to spend money. Having another card in your wallet is a temptation to spend, especially if the retailer sends you notices about special sales and discounts. Discounts may save money on a single purchase, but would you have bought those items if you were not offered the special price in the first place? If the answer is “no,” you did not save any money. You spent more.

The interest rates are ridiculously high.

An October 2016 survey by CreditCards.com found that “nearly half of retail-branded cards carry an APR of at least 25 percent. That’s much higher than 15.18 percent, the current national average rate for all credit cards.”

This is bad news for consumers who carry a balance. Store card interest rates are typically not risked-based, meaning everyone pays the same rate regardless of their credit scores. Bank credit cards, on the other hand, tie your interest rate to your credit score. The higher your score, the lower your rate.

If you pay for your purchase with a store credit card over several months, you will erode any savings from discounts. This example is from CreditCards.com: if you made a $1000 purchase on a retailer’s card with 23.84% percent interest and made only the minimum payments, it would take you 74 months to pay off the loan and you would pay $872.73 in total interest. If you made the same purchase on a bank credit card with 15 percent interest, it would take you 54 months to pay-off the purchase with minimum monthly payments and the total interest would be $370.46.

It makes no sense to use store credit cards as a way to finance a purchase.

The impact on the cost of credit is too great a risk.

Applying for a retailer credit card can impact your credit, especially when you plan to apply for other loans. While you are standing at the checkout counter waiting for approval for the card, your credit report is getting a hard inquiry. With each hard inquiry, your score is lowered a few points. If you have a high credit score and open one card, this might not impact you very much. But, if you have opened several store credit cards in a short period of time or you have a low credit score, the hard inquiries lower your score.

Retailer credit cards tend to have low credit limits. This can result in a high credit utilization rate, the ratio of how much of your available credit you are using versus how much credit has been extended to you. If you have a $700 limit on your store card and you charge $500, you have a high credit utilization rate of 71%. Your available credit – on each card you have open and across all your cards – comprises 30% of your credit score, making it a good idea to keep your utilization ratio as low as possible.

Hard inquires and credit utilization rates from one-store-only cards have the potential to lower your credit score.  When this happens, your interest rates on other loans such as mortgages and auto loans will be higher. Depending on the size and length of the loan, this could cost you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

If you want to open a retailer credit card, consider it when:

  • You do not plan to apply for a mortgage, auto loan or other long-term loan in the near future, and
  • You have a low credit utilization ratio across all your credit cards, and
  • You shop regularly at retailer whose card you plan to open, and
  • There is no annual fee, and
  • You will pay off the balance in full every time you receive the bill.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

10 Ways to Protect Yourself When Banking Online

These days we can conduct most of our financial business online and on our phones. Doing so, however, means we need to protect ourselves from potential fraud. Whether you are reviewing transactions, paying bills, sending money to a friend, or giving travel dates to your credit card company, here are 10 things you can do to help protect your identity and fight fraud.

1) Use strong passwords. Forget using family and pet names, your address, even book and movie titles. These are too easy to hack. Avoid patterns and strings of consecutive numbers and letters. Again, these won’t thwart hackers. Instead, use at least 12 characters. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. Use random combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols, or string together random words into a nonsense sentence.

2) Create a unique password for each online account, including shopping sites. With so many long, difficult passwords, it is okay to write them down. Just keep written passwords well hidden. Under your mouse pad won’t do.

3) Use a password manager. These computer programs keep track of all your complex passwords and will even generate them for you. You use one strong password to access the password manager. Consumer Reports mentions LastPass and 1Password as good options.

4) Sign up for account alerts. Available with many banks and credit card companies, you can sign up to receive notification emails or texts about activity in your accounts. To set this up, log on to the website and type into the search function “account alerts.”

5) Use a VPN. We all know we shouldn’t conduct any financial transactions over Wi-Fi in public places.  If you need to, however, you can use a virtual public network (VPN). IVPN offers a paid service. The Opera web browser offers a free VPN.

6) Set up two-step verification. Also called two-factor authentication, more and more companies offer this additional layer of protection. Once two-step verification is enabled, when you log on to a site, you will need to enter a set of numbers that you receive via email or text. Should someone steal your password, the thief would need to have both your password and your computer or phone to access your account online. To set this up, log on to a website and type into the search function “two step verification,” “two-factor authentication” or “2FA.” You can also go to www.twofactorauth.org to see a partial list of businesses that offer this.

7) Dedicate one web browser for online financial transactions. Use another browser for everything else.

8) Click on “Log out” or “Sign Out” and close the browser when you leave a financial website or close your mobile banking app. Remaining logged on to the bank website leaves an opening for someone else to access your data.

9) Keep your account information up to date. If a company needs to contact you about suspicious activity, you want it to be able to reach you.  That said, if you are contacted by a financial company asking you to give out your personal or account information, don’t respond. Instead, look up the company’s phone number and call to verify.

10) Review your statements regularly for accuracy and suspicious transactions.

While these actions can’t guarantee your passwords and personal information won’t be hacked, they will help thwart online thieves.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.