Don’t get reeled in by phishing scams
Have you ever received an email like this? This is just one example of many common phishing emails that tend to make the rounds. Most of us have received more than one—in fact, over 100 billion spam emails like this are sent every day.
Phishing is a scam in which a person uses fake emails, texts, and/or phone calls to try to get you to share valuable information such as your Social Security number, account numbers, or user names and passwords. Once they have this information, they may steal your money, your identity, or both. They may also try to access your computer or network by installing ransomware or other programs after you’ve clicked a link in one of their emails or texts. These programs can lock you out of your computer and allow thieves to steal your personal information.
Don’t take the bait
There are a few common tactics you can watch out for that scammers use to try and entice you to hand over your personal information.
Familiarity. Using familiar company names, or pretending to be someone you know, is known as email spoofing. The email appears to be from a trustworthy source, like a legitimate company, family, friend, or even coworker, and lends the recipient a false sense of security that makes them more likely to open files and click on links.
Website spoofing is often used in concert with the fake email by linking it to a website that looks legitimate, but isn’t. When the user goes to the site, they may be asked for sensitive financial or login information. These fraudulent websites may also contain malicious code that ends up on the user’s computer.
Timing. Attackers often take advantage of current events and certain times of the year, such as natural disasters, health scares (like COVID-19), major political elections, and holidays.
Attention. Attracting your attention with lucrative offers or eye-catching statements is another common tactic. For example, a message may claim you just won an iPhone, gift, or large amount of money. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Enticement. Scammers will try to encourage you to click on a link or open an attachment. They often tell a story to trick you by claiming they’ve noticed suspicious activity, such as stating there’s a problem with your account, directing you to make a payment, or announcing you’re eligible for a refund.
Limited time only. Phishers rely on urgency to increase the odds of pressuring you to ACT NOW and quickly hand over your sensitive information. A legitimate website for a bank, credit card company, or other organization isn’t going to have an air of desperation about it by posting urgent messages on their website. If you see this on a site you visit, double check the URL to make sure you’re actually in the right place.
Avoid getting hooked
- Stay vigilant and be wary of unsolicited requests for your personal information online, by email, or by phone.
- Do not share any user names, account numbers, or passwords with anyone, and don’t use the same password across accounts.
- Never trust alarming emails, and don’t open attachments from strange emails you may receive.
- Use security software on your computer and keep it up to date.
- Set your mobile phone software to update automatically so you don’t miss critical updates that protect against security threats.
- Use two-factor authentication on all accounts that offer it—besides using a password, you also add a second step like a fingerprint or special code. This makes it harder for scammers to log in to your accounts if they do get your user name and password.
- Back up your data someplace not connected to your home network, such as an external hard drive or cloud storage site.
- Unsure about a link to a website? Look the business up separately online and call them directly, telling them about the message you received. Your bank, for example, will never ask you to send your password or personal information by mail or email.
- While not a guarantee of a website’s legitimacy, look for secure websites with a valid Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate. They’ll begin with “https” and have a closed padlock icon in the status bar. (Eventually all sites will be required to have a valid SSL.)
- Carefully read any email messages you receive. Is it missing your name? Is there bad grammar or spelling? Is it asking you for personal information?
- Hover over links (don’t click on them!) to see the actual URL you will be directed to. Look at the web address carefully—it may just be one letter off or something similar.
Top frauds of 2019
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these were the top schemes reported by more than 3.2 million people in 2019.
- Number one fraud: Imposter scams. Imposters pretended to be calling from the government or familiar business, a romantic interest, or a “family member” with an emergency. People reported losing more than $667 million to these schemes, which they often paid with a gift card.
- Top government scam: Social Security imposters induced fear by threatening people with arrest by marshals or police officers until the imposters received money. The median individual loss was $1,500.
- Phone calls were the main way people reported being contacted by scammers. Those who didn’t hang up and followed through on scammers’ requests had a median loss of $1,000.
During 2019, FTC law enforcement actions led to more than $232 million in refunds to people who lost money. If you spot a scam, report it at the Federal Trade Commission Complaint Assistant.
20/20 Challenge: What’s your vision for the future?
Hindsight is 20/20
When you think about setting financial goals for yourself, is your first thought, “I’ve waited too long to start saving!” Put that thought aside! It’s never too late to start saving and putting a plan in place. Think of it as doing something today your future self will thank you for.
No matter what regrets you might have, consider taking a second look at your financial situation this year and learn from past missteps. After all, hindsight is 20/20. Whatever your reality might be, you have options to make improvements now, no matter how small.
Take up our 20/20 challenge to build a brighter financial year for yourself! We’ve got plenty of ideas to get you started.
What’s your vision for your financial future?
Seeing your savings goals clearly does take a bit of work. But it’s easy to get started when you break it down into steps to visualize the “big picture.”
- Evaluate your 2019 finances.
- Identify your financial goals.
- Set up a balanced budget.
- Track your spending.
- Keep going!
Want some help? Contact us at 1-800-279-4030.
Do you have $20? Start saving just $20 a paycheck. Or boost your current savings choice by $20.
How long will it take you to save $2,020? Figure out how quickly you can get there based on your budget.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? Many of your peers have thought about where they want to be—in fact, a full 45% of millennials are already saving for retirement. How about you?
We have tools and resources to help you brush up on your finances so you can start planning your next 20 years with confidence and reach your personal goals.
Get schooled. Use our budget worksheet and free financial calculators, and sign up for eBooks like 20/20 Challenge eWorkbook, 10 Money-Saving Tips New Teachers Want to Know, 20 WRS FAQs, and much more.
Get help. Contact our financial planning staff to find out which services might be the most beneficial to you at 1-800-279-4030.
“Teaching is a hard job. If you are going to make it your career, you should be able to enjoy your retirement…but you have to invest in you.”
—Lewis Gunderson, retired educator, School District of Cadott Community
20+ years of saving
Congrats! You’ve been doing great work at saving for the future. But it doesn’t mean your work is done.
Have you revisited your goals lately? Priorities and circumstances can change over time. Consider meeting with one of our financial planning staff to make sure your contribution rate is still in line with your future plans.
Review beneficiaries. Beneficiaries on your retirement account supersede your will, so be sure they are up to date.
What advice would you give your twentysomething self? Consider becoming a mentor to younger employees on the importance of saving for retirement. We hear all the time what a difference that has made in people’s lives.
Whether you’re in your 20s or have saved for over 20 years, you can take advantage of a free consultation with one of our Member Benefits Consultants. Watch your district news for upcoming dates of when they’ll be at your school.
Put your goals into action! Create a plan to make your vision of the future a reality.
Our free eBook will give you plenty of ideas and resources to help you achieve financial security. Take an active role in writing out SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely) goals for 2020. Learn what questions to ask about your 403(b), insurance, student loans, and more. Finally, use our budget sheet as a guide.
Money. It’s ubiquitous. At every turn we are either working to make it or spend it.
Like it or not, money plays a big role in everyone’s life story. How much of it we have or don’t have impacts where and how we live. But it’s not just the amount of money we garner that matters, it’s how we manage what we have—our financial decisions. And our decisions are tied to our financial knowledge.
Financial IQ=financial health
April is Financial Literacy Month and a good time to take an inventory of your financial knowledge and money management skills. Regardless of your age or circumstance or how fiscally savvy you think you are, there is always something new to learn about finances, especially in this ever changing world.
Plus, research shows a strong correlation between our financial IQ and our financial health. For instance, people with a high degree of financial literacy are more likely to plan for retirement—and those who plan for retirement have more than double the wealth of those who don’t. Conversely, people who have a lower degree of financial literacy tend to borrow more, accumulate less wealth, and pay more in fees related to financial products. They are less likely to invest, more likely to experience difficulty with debt, and less likely to know the terms of their mortgages and other loans.
Boosting your knowledge as an adult requires some time and effort, but Member Benefits is here to help. We provide financial seminars around the state, and we promote financial literacy every day in all that we do. We believe that having the information needed to make sound financial decisions can mean the difference between being in control of your money or being controlled by it. So whether members call us on the phone, meet with one of our consultants, or attend a seminar, our approach is always “educate first.” (See tips on how to Freshen Up Your Financial Knowledge.)
Improving financial literacy is why we developed our Don’t Be Jack™ learning game a few years back—it offers a fun and interactive way for Wisconsin educators to learn about financial concepts specific to them. Not only has it been popular, but it has also proved to be effective in changing financial behaviors. Because what good is knowledge if it isn’t applied?
A game with purpose
A 2014 study administered by the University of Wisconsin Center for Financial Security (CFS) found that Member Benefits’ Don’t Be Jack game positively impacted the financial behavior of those who played it. Don’t Be Jack participants were more likely to engage in a variety of positive financial behaviors than nonparticipants. For example, participants were more likely to have set a financial goal—which is one of the central precursors to behavior change—than nonparticipants. Players were also more likely to have estimated their retirement savings needs and to have met with a financial advisor in the past year. And lastly, they were much more likely to purchase an umbrella policy (additional liability insurance) to help protect their assets.
Don’t Be Jack was so well received that educators started requesting a student version. With the expert help of Erich Utrie (Jefferson Middle School) and Julie Woletz (UW-Whitewater), we now have the Don’t Be Jack™ High School Edition. The game content was written to meet the current Wisconsin Academic Standards for Personal Financial Literacy for Grades 9–12, and it’s available at no cost to Wisconsin public educators.
The high school game allows students to apply financial literacy concepts to real life situations and shows them how their decisions can affect their finances now and in the future. It’s also extremely flexible—teachers can modify game play to accommodate their classroom needs.
The student test run
Recently, the game was played with students at La Follette High School in Madison during an accounting class. The students worked as teams to build a budget that consisted of fixed expenses, like rent and student loans, and discretionary expenses, like entertainment, saving, insurance, and gym memberships. All teams had the same net monthly income to work with and the same fixed expenses with one exception—they needed to decide how much auto insurance coverage they should have and then apply the premium. The discussions around this budgeting process were interesting and collaborative.
After their budgets were set, game play began. Teams rolled the die to move around the electronic game board. Depending on where they landed, a card was drawn with a financial question or scenario. Correct answers advanced them along the board. Incorrect answers moved them back.
Special events were triggered throughout play. For instance, Round Three triggered a $60 per month pay raise which each team incorporated into their budget. Round Five is called Accidents Happen. Each team rolled a die, and the number they rolled represented something unexpected that had varying degrees of financial implications. The scenarios ranged from a hail storm to a catastrophic accident. Students seemed truly surprised at the impact these “accidents” could have on their finances now and into the future if they hadn’t made certain choices when first creating their budget.
Bringing the concepts home
While the typical board game is won by getting around the board before your opponents, the real winner of Don’t Be Jack is revealed when each team’s retirement savings contributions are reported and plugged into a compound interest calculator at econedlink.org. This dynamic calculator showed what players’ savings decisions during the game could mean when they reached age 65. There was quite a spread in the results. One team hadn’t allocated any money to savings, leaving them with no personal savings at age 65, while another team saved enough to have over $1.1 million dollars at age 65.
The students appeared awestruck at the result of the calculation, just like adult players have done when they see the power of compounding. It was an impressionable exercise—and one they are not likely to soon forget.
Accessing the game for your classroom
If you are a Wisconsin public school educator interested in using Don’t Be Jack in your classroom, visit the Don’t Be Jack™ High School Edition page. Register and, once confirmed, you will be able to access all game materials including the teachers guide, game cards, electronic game board, student packet materials, and more. Once you’ve registered for the game, you’ll receive notification of any updates to materials or teaching aids. There is also a limited quantity of preprinted game kits available on a first come basis, so sign up soon.8
Of note: Wisconsin schools are in the midst of the their first full school year implementing components of Wisconsin Act 94 that require school districts to adopt academic standards for financial literacy and incorporate instruction into the curriculum for grades kindergarten through 12.
Why teach kids about money?
It’s never too early for parents to start teaching kids about money. In fact, research from the University of Michigan (UM) of 5–10 year olds (and their parents) seems to show that what you learn and the choices you make, even at the earliest age, may be indicators of your financial future. The 2018 study found that children as young as 5 had distinct emotional reactions to spending and saving that translated into real-life spending behavior.
UM researchers used a spendthrift-tightwad scale designed for children. The children were aligned to the scale based on their responses to questions about saving and spending. Children identified as tightwads had a stronger negative emotional response to spending than those who fell into the spendthrift category. Spendthrift children were far more likely than tightwads to spend money on an item—even if they didn’t love it. This proved out in real life when each child was given a dollar to either spend or save.
Interestingly, their attitudes toward spending or saving didn’t match that of their parents—who completed an adult version of the tightwad-spendthrift scale.
The results may be related in part to the fact that parents said they felt that children should start learning about money at age 12, which implies that there is little or no intentional home-schooling about money prior to that age. Considering this study indicated that early spending behavior might foreshadow financial decisions later in life, parents may want to consider teaching kids about money much earlier than previously thought.
Teaching children earlier, getting them involved in managing their money, and understanding the family finances may also allay some of the contradictions between parent and teen expectations about money uncovered by a Junior Achievement survey from 2018. For instance, there seemed to be a disconnect when it comes to paying for college. Forty-eight percent of teens think their parents will help pay for college, while only 16% of parents report plans to pay for tuition or other expenses.
There also appeared to be a misconception about how much financial knowledge parents are sharing with their teens—90% of parents say their children are learning from them, yet 34% of teens say their parents do not discuss money with them. In addition, parents of teens may be surprised to learn that only half of them cite becoming financially independent from parents as one of their future goals.
One explanation for why parents don’t actively teach their children about money may be that they lack confidence. The 2018 National Confidence Poll showed the Financial Confidence Index (FCI) at 57.8 on a 100-point scale, indicating that American money habits reflect low-to-moderate financial confidence. Just another reason to take some time to raise your financial literacy. It’ll be good for you—and your children.
8 tips for teaching kids about money
Teaching young children about money doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are 8 smart (and easy) ways to help introduce younger children to money.
Playing board games such as Monopoly® and Life® is an enjoyable way for kids to learn about money.
Take your child shopping
Make your next trip to the grocery store a fun learning activity. Let your child help you find items and track costs, and include them in the decision process when making selections.
Give an allowance
By grade school, kids are able to do chores around the house. This helps them learn responsibility and how to manage their own money.
Encourage saving and giving
Give your child three different savings containers—one for saving, one for spending, and one for donating to a charity. Decide together how to divide up the allowance between the three jars. Glass jars or clear containers give your child an easy view of their progress.
Take it to the bank
Take your child to the bank with money from their savings jar. Open an account and explain why putting money in the bank is a good idea.
Show them the value
Let your child take some money out of their spending jar to go shopping and help them understand what they can get with the amount they chose to bring. This also gives them hands-on experience with transactions.
Younger children may think that money comes out of ATM machines or that you simply pay for things with a credit card. Help them understand how these actually work.
Set a good example
Children are like little sponges. They are watching and taking in everything—including how we adults handle money.
Free eBooks from Member Benefits
Special eBook for 2020!
This eWorkbook is filled with:
- Ideas on setting financial goals.
- Questions to ask along your financial journey.
- A fillable budget sheet.
- Common terms/definitions.
- And more.
Bonus! By signing up, you’ll also receive a series of emails throughout the year with different challenges to consider to keep your 20/20 financial vision in sight.
The Wisconsin Retirement System pension is an important source of retirement income for most state of Wisconsin employees, including Wisconsin public school employees. How much do you know about this benefit? Get your questions answered, such as:
- The difference between the Core and Variable funds.
- How to read your ETF statement.
- Formula vs. money purchase calculations.
- Links to helpful tools, videos, calculators, and more.
Are you in the process of buying your first home, or thinking about purchasing one down the road? Our interactive Financial Guide: Buying a Home eBook is full of tips and information on purchasing, evaluating, and protecting your new home. Learn more about:
- The “real” costs of homeownership.
- Considerations regarding risk.
- Some home-buying DOs and DON’Ts.
- A checklist for evaluating a home.
- Insuring your home: How much do you know about protecting your largest investment?
- Tips on becoming a better insurance consumer.
In the event of a fire or other disaster, would you be able to remember all your possessions? An accurate inventory and proof of ownership can make the claim settlement process easier (and faster), verify losses for your income tax return, and help you purchase the correct amount of insurance.
Get helpful tips on starting your home inventory as well as fill-in-the-blank listings room by room.
Just starting out
As a recent grad and young educator, you may be feeling overwhelmed by new responsibilities and financial obligations. You’re not alone—it can be difficult to juggle rent, utilities, transportation, student loan payments, food, and every once in a while…a night out with friends. Find some balance with our free eBook.
- Get smart with helpful financial tips and surprising facts.
- Find free resources you can use right away.
- Read about real-life financial challenges and solutions from other young teachers.
Almost everything an educator needs to know about student loans, student debt, the federal student loan forgiveness program, and more. This eBook addresses frequently asked questions about student loans including:
- The different types of education loans.
- Consolidation, repayment, and special circumstances.
- The basics of the Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.
- Tips and checklists for applying for loan forgiveness.
When you lose someone you love, there are many details to consider. Our financial guide walks you through important financial tasks to do during the days, weeks, and months that follow after a loved on passes away. The eBook includes:
- A checklist of important to-do items when a loved one passes away.
- Important things to consider before and after the death of a loved one.
- How to protect your deceased loved one from identity theft.
- The Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) and Social Security survivor and beneficiary information.
- How to move on financially after a loved one dies.