Category Archives: Educational

Letter from the CEO: Check Scams

Great news! You just received a letter stating that you won a cash prize- and the check to cover the taxes for the prize is included. Now all you need to do is deposit the check and wire the extra funds back to the sender. When they get the payment, you get the full cash prize.

Sounds too good to be true, right?
That’s because it is.

This is an example of a fake check scam. And, unfortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that these types of scams are on the rise. If you were to deposit the check and wire the money, you could potentially be out hundreds of dollars–or more. Typically, the money you wired can’t be retrieved, leaving you responsible for reimbursing the funds.

Counterfeit or fake checks are being used in a growing number of schemes. My son was recently targeted in a rather creative way when he answered an online employment ad. He Skyped with someone who said they were an artist and needed an assistant. My son said he researched the person online and he appeared to be legitimate. The “artist” (con artist, maybe?) sent him a cashier’s check for $2,490 to purchase a computer/scanner/etc. and said he’d be in contact. When my son told the “artist” he was going to wait until the check cleared, he was never contacted by him again… and the check bounced two weeks later. If he’d followed through with the scammer’s instructions, he could have been liable for almost $2,500!

Although our staff are always on the lookout for fraudulent checks or unusual activity, they can’t always determine when a check isn’t legitimate. When you deposit a check, we are required by federal law to make the money available long before we can be certain the check is valid. Best advice: if you get a check from an unknown or questionable source, don’t use the funds for at least two weeks.

Here are some other steps the FTC suggests you take to avoid counterfeit check scams:

  • Throw away any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or a gift. If it’s free or a gift, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Free is free.
  • Resist the urge to enter foreign lotteries. It’s illegal to play a foreign lottery through the mail or the telephone, and most foreign lottery solicitations are phony.
  • Know who you’re dealing with, and never wire money to strangers.
  • If you’re selling something, don’t accept a check for more than the selling price, no matter how tempting the offer or how convincing the story. Ask the buyer to write the check for the correct amount. If the buyer refuses to send the correct amount, return the check. Don’t send the merchandise.
  • As a seller, you can suggest an alternative way for the buyer to pay, like an escrow service or online payment service. There may be a charge for an escrow service. If the buyer insists on using a particular escrow or online payment service you’ve never heard of, check it out. Visit its website, and read its terms of agreement and privacy policy. Call the customer service line. If there isn’t one — or if you call and can’t get answers about the service’s reliability — don’t use the service.
  • If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a local bank, or a bank with a local branch. That way, you can make a personal visit to make sure the check is valid. If that’s not possible, call the bank where the check was purchased, and ask if it is valid. Get the bank’s phone number from directory assistance or an Internet site that you know and trust, not from the check or from the person who gave you the check.
  • If the buyer insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately. Legitimate buyers don’t pressure you to send money by wire transfer services. In addition, you have little recourse if there’s a problem with a wire transaction.
  • Resist any pressure to “act now.” If the buyer’s offer is good now, it should be good after the check clears.

If you think you or someone you know was the victim of a fake check scam, please consider taking the following steps:

  • Contact your financial institution.
  • Contact your local law enforcement.
  • Contact your state’s attorney general.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint.
  • If you or the victim is an older adult or a person with a disability, contact your local adult protective services agency – you may find local resources via the Eldercare Locator or by calling 1-800-677-1116.

Jim Lumpkin, President/CEO, USACU
Jim Lumpkin
President/CEO
USAgencies Credit Union

Planning the Ultimate NW Summer RV Roadtrip? Start Here First.

Looking to “get out there” this summer, and experience Pacific Northwest RV camping at its finest? Not sure how to pack it all in and narrow your list down to the best-of-the best?

Here’s a list of top NW campgrounds to get you started:

If you’re looking for the perfect Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary, these adventurers have some suggestions for things to see and do along your route:

Or maybe you want to hit the open road and keep going? Here are some ideas of where to head beyond the Northwest:

Whether you’re planning a quick weekend RV getaway in the Gorge, or you’re itching to head out on a multi-week journey from Pacific to Atlantic, planning ahead can help you maximize your summer fun.

 


Planning ahead applies to your RV purchase too. It’s a good idea to get pre-approved for a loan for your RV (or ATV, boat, jet ski or other summer toys) before you shop. Getting pre-approved ensures you know what you can afford ahead of time, allows you to stick to a pre-set budget, and ensures you’re getting a rate and payment that works best for you.

Getting pre-approved is quick, easy & smart: apply online, give us a call (503.275.0300), or stop by.

Questions? Contact us.

USACU at the 2017 GAC

At the GAC‘Powerful Cause and Positive Effect’ was the theme for this year’s Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC). USAgencies very own Kathy Scholes, Vice President/CFO; Kasey Rockwell, Director of CU Relations; and Jeff Griese, Board of Directors 1st Vice-Chair, all attended the conference late February in our nation’s capital, along with over 5,000 credit union professionals and advocates from around the U.S.

Every year credit union proponents descend upon Washington D.C. to connect with peers, glean best practices, trade stories, and gain insights of the political landscape for credit unions and the financial industry. Attendees had the opportunity to hear from great speakers such as the Honorable Colin L. Powell; Kat Cole, Group President of Focus Brands; CUNA President, Jim Nussle; and a lineup of Congressional lawmakers and regulators from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).

Scholes, Rockwell and Griese met with Oregon credit union peers to ensure the message was consistent for lawmakers before they climbed the steps of Capitol Hill. They met with Congressman Blumenauer’s (D-OR-3) Deputy Chief of Staff and Counsel, David Skillman. There were about 30 constituents in the meeting, representing nine credit unions from the Portland area. Later in the afternoon Oregon credit unions also met with Senator Ron Wyden and staff from Senator Merkley’s office to share the same message. Some of the information shared with legislators included:

  • Credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives and are inherently accountable to their members, not to Wall Street stockholders.
  • Members own their cooperative credit unions. This means financial dividends, lower interest rates on loans and higher interest rates on savings are delivered to member-owners as direct benefits.
  • The Northwest Credit Union Association recently commissioned economists at ECONorthwest to perform their second independent analysis on credit unions’ impact in our Northwest economy. They found that Oregon credit unions delivered $159 million in direct financial benefit to their 2 million member-owners. That’s $81 per credit union member and $156 financial benefit per member household, delivered through lower fees and better rates as a result of that cooperative structure.
  • The importance of Common-Sense Regulatory Reform and how one-size-fits-all regulations don’t work for small credit unions.
  • The costs of merchant data breaches and how costs should ultimately be borne by the entity that occurs the breach.

They ended the day with a reception on the Hill with credit unions from Oregon, Washington and Idaho. It was a long, but productive day!

Rockwell summed up her experience at this year’s GAC, “Sharing our credit union stories with elected officials is a great honor. Being in D.C. allows you to feel like you are a part of something bigger than your credit union. You can feel the energy of all of us working together to make a difference. Twenty years ago, was my first GAC and I still have the same excitement and feeling of honor to be a part of the Credit Union Movement. We are doing great things to help improve our member’s financial lives and are staying true to the foundational credit union philosophy of ‘People Helping People’.”

Griese left feeling inspired, saying “My testimony of the credit union movement has grown tremendously and seeing so many hard-working folks gathered together in an effort to improve people’s lives was inspiring and something I will not soon forget!”

Scholes shared her thoughts, saying “Attending the 2017 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference was an amazing experience! Being one of 5,000 credit union professionals converging on the Capital to meet with elected officials to tell our story and fight for credit union interests was moving. I returned to Portland with a renewed interest to advocate for the credit union movement. Credit unions are good for consumers, our member-owners. We need to work to protect our unique structure and improve awareness to our members and potential members of who and what we are that makes us different from other financial service providers. ‘People Helping People’ by looking out for the financial well-being of our members and communities – what’s not to love!”

Letter from the CEO: It’s Different Here

If you haven’t already noticed, things are a little bit different here at USAgencies Credit Union… in a good way.

What do I mean, exactly? Well, first-off, we’re a credit union, which means we are a financial cooperative, created by, and for, our members. At a credit union, you’re part owner… Can you say that about your bank?

Secondly, we have several things that we just flat-out won’t do because they’re not in our members’ best interests. We won’t offer products and services that don’t uphold our standards, just to make a buck or two. We won’t put you in a product or service that’s not good for you and your financial future. And we won’t charge excessive fees, just to help our bottom line. Our members are our bottom line.

There are so many other ways we’re different – these are just a few examples. We hope that you appreciate this difference. If you do, why not pay it forward and share us with friends and family by telling them about USAgencies Credit Union?

Jim Lumpkin, President/CEO, USACU
Jim Lumpkin
President/CEO
USAgencies Credit Union

FYI: Credit & Debit Card ‘Holds’

Imagine this: You’re on a long road trip, with a tight budget. You’ve carefully calculated out all of your expenses, accounting for gas, hotels, food, plus a few extras. On day two of your trip, after filling up at the pump multiple times throughout the day, you check in to your hotel… or at least, you attempt to. Your card is declined. You know you have enough money to cover everything… so what happened?

Swipe a card at the gas pump, or check into a hotel—or any place where your final total isn’t known—and a merchant might place a pre-authorization ‘hold’ on your account to make sure you have the funds to cover their transaction, or any other costs that might be added to your hotel charge.

Pre-authorization holds are put in place by merchants, and are most commonly seen at gas pumps, hotels, and restaurants. The hold amounts are usually a set standard; be aware that for gas stations this hold amount can vary anywhere between $1-$150. So even if you buy only $20 worth of gas, you could have a hold on your debit or credit card for $150 for up to five days.

When a hold happens, the money is removed from your available balance, but doesn’t actually go anywhere. Although the merchant determines the hold amount, the financial institution determines the length of the hold. Hold times range from 3-5 days (USACU holds for 3). Once the hold time has passed or the charge has cleared, the hold is removed and the remaining funds are made available again in your account.

Here are a couple ways you can typically avoid this type of authorization holds:

Pay inside. When you pay inside at a gas station you are paying for exactly what you got, so there is no need for the merchant to send a temporary authorization hold.

Fill your tank for a preset amount. Instead of filling the tank, just get $30 worth of gas. Since the merchant knows what the final debit will be, they are able to send through that authorization amount.

Ask. Inquire about hotel holds in advance. See if there’s any leeway in the hold amount.

Pay cash. Often gas stations reward you with a discount when you’re paying in cash. Hotels may be a bit more leery, and may require a larger cash deposit, but some are happy if you pre-pay.

 


 

If you find yourself in a sticky situation because of a card hold, contact USAgencies’ card services department (800.452.0915, opt. 4) to discuss your options. We’re here as your advocate, and will always do whatever we can to help. 

Protect Yourself: Tax Scams

It’s tax season. Unfortunately, that also means it’s tax scam season too.

It’s important that you’re aware of the various ways scammers may attempt to steal info and money, so that you can better avoid becoming a victim. The more informed you are about tax scams, the better you’ll be at spotting, and stopping, fraudsters.

What do tax scams look like?

  • The scammer usually presents themselves as an employee of the IRS or State in a call/email to the targeted individual, falsely stating they want to “help” with tax filing.
  • Typically, this type of tax scam involves an unsolicited, bogus email regarding a tax refund or bill, or threatening an audit if the bill is not paid right away.
  • Tax scam emails often look very official, and can link to a phony website – in order to appear to be more legit.

How can you protect yourself against tax scams?

If you get an email regarding federal or state taxes:

  • Don’t reply to the message.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information.
  • Forward the email to phishing@irs.gov and then delete it.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links, as they may contain malicious code or viruses.
  • For tax scams involving a state’s filing office, check the office’s website to see how they recommend reporting an attempted attack.

If you get a call regarding federal or state taxes:

  • Ask for a contact number and an employee badge number and then call back to verify its legitimacy.
  • Call the IRS or state tax authority to inquire further and verify the accuracy of the call.
  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page to report the incident.
  • Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission through the FTC Complaint Assistant on their website (add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments section).

In general, it’s a best practice to be extremely critical of ANY emails or phone calls you get from someone claiming to be an employee of the IRS or state tax authority, especially those that demand immediate payment. These governing bodies will NEVER:

  • Initiate contact with you by phone, email, text, or through social media outlets to ask for your personal or financial information.
  • Require that you pay your taxes with a certain payment type, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Call you and demand immediate payment. The IRS or State will not call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill.


For more in depth information on how to detect or report tax scams, visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts.

For more online security resources from USACU, check out the Security tab on our site.