ATM Skimming - Yes, It Could Happen To You

It's all so convenient. You go to the gas station, insert your debit card into the reader at the pump, fill up your car, and you're on your way. Or when you need some pocket money, you simply go to the nearest Automated Teller Machine (ATM), swipe your card, take your cash and go. Thanks to modern technology, there's no longer any need to waste time waiting in long lines at gas stations or banks.

Thieves also love the convenience of gas station card readers and ATMs. They've come up with some ingenious ways to use them to gain access to your bank account information, and therefore, your hard-earned money. It's called ATM skimming, and the crime requires just two easily obtained components. The first is the skimmer itself. This is a counterfeit card reader, which is placed over the ATM's actual card slot. When you swipe your card through the counterfeit reader, it scans and stores all the information contained on your card's magnetic strip.

Okay, so what, the thieves don't have your PIN, right? Well, they do, because the second aspect of skimming typically involves a tiny hidden camera, placed on the ATM itself or close by, that photographs the PIN numbers entered into the ATM. 

ATM skimming is far more prevalent than you might think. According to the financial analytics company FICO, skimming increased by 546% from 2014 to 2015. The security company ADT estimates that more than $1 billion was stolen from ATMs in 2008 alone, although not all of that was the result of skimming. Some thieves still seem to prefer the old-fashioned approach. They just crack open ATMs and grab the cash.

Other than never using ATMs again, there's not much you can do to prevent becoming a victim of skimming. Fortunately, there are some ways to improve your odds of avoiding the scam. FICO reports that 60% of skimming incidents take place at non-bank ATMs, so you might want to stay away from those. Also, some banks and ATMs are testing technologies that permit account holders to withdraw money without using their cards. You can ask your bank if that may be an option for you. In addition, upgrading your card to one that is EMV chip-enabled is a good idea. Unlike an ordinary card's magnetic strip, EMV chips incorporate a dynamic code designed to thwart counterfeiting. Given how prevalent skimming has become, it is likely that all cards will use an EMV chip in the future.
Finally, it is important to monitor your bank accounts regularly. This is true for all of your accounts. Your financial well being and credit rating depend on it.

You can learn more about ATM skimming by visiting

Aggressive Moves You Can Make In Your Forties To Reach Long-Term Financial Goals

A recent article in Kiplinger discussed an aggressive approach to financial planning in your forties. Let's take a look at some of the highlights.

Make saving for retirement a priority and beef up your investments.

You'll want to start by making the largest possible contributions to your employer's retirement plan. This year, people in their forties are allowed to contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) or similar type of employee savings plan (when you turn 50, you can contribute up to $24,000). At the very least, you should put enough into your company's retirement plan to take full advantage of its contribution matching program.

A word of caution--if you put all your retirement savings into tax-deferred accounts, you might get hit hard by taxes when you retire. That's because withdrawals from 401(k) plans and traditional IRAs are taxed at the retiree's ordinary income tax rate. This makes contributing to a Roth IRA a good idea. Your contributions are after-tax, but your withdrawals are tax-free as long as you are over 59½ and have owned the Roth IRA for five years or more. In 2016, you and your spouse can contribute up to $5,500 in a Roth IRA if you have an adjusted gross income of $184,000 or less. If your adjusted gross income is between $184,000 and $194,000, you are allowed to contribute a lesser amount.

It is important to note that employees in lower tax brackets are typically better off diverting some of their savings to Roth IRAs and other taxable accounts because the benefit of tax deferral is not as valuable as it is to those in high tax brackets. Conversely, if you are in a high tax bracket, such as the 35% bracket, you should contribute as much as possible to tax-deferred accounts. This is because when you take withdrawals in retirement you will likely be in a lower tax bracket.

Don't skimp on your retirement savings to pay for your children's college education.

Why? Simple. You or your children can borrow money to pay for college, but you cannot borrow money to pay for retirement. In addition, when investing for retirement, time is indeed money. The more you can invest early on, the greater the likelihood that you'll have more money when you retire. Also, working longer, say well into your sixties, may not be an option. Corporate downsizing and/or health problems could limit how long you can work. The fact is, saving more than you need for retirement will allow you to help pay off your children's student loans when you do retire.

Make the most of what your employer is offering.

Your employer may well be offering more than a paycheck. For example, some companies match employee contributions to health savings accounts. Others offer retiree health benefits, pensions and more. Taking advantage of employee benefits like these can help you build additional wealth and provide for a greater sense of security in retirement.

Pay off your debt logically.

Sure, it would be great to retire without a mortgage. You would eliminate one of your greatest expenses, which in turn could allow you to withdraw less money from your retirement savings during market downturns to pay for unforeseen expenses. However, in your forties there may well be better ways to use your money, particularly if you have a low interest mortgage. For example, it's better to pay off debts with higher interest rates, such as credit cards or vehicles. Then, if you have money left over, you could make extra mortgage payments. Consider this: on a 30-year mortgage, if you make one extra monthly payment a year, you will knock four years off the term of your loan.

To learn more about planning strategies in your forties, you can read the entire Kiplinger article at

Planning For High-Risk Professionals

Every individual and family can benefit from estate planning. For some people, however, effective planning requires a higher level of asset protection. Certain professionals, such as physicians, attorneys, business owners and financial advisors, are far more likely to be sued than people working in other occupations. For example, just because a physician has medical malpractice insurance does not mean his or her personal assets are safe from a lawsuit. Many personal injury lawyers consider the entire value of the physician's malpractice insurance to be the starting point in negotiations over damages, not the ultimate prize.

If you work in a high-risk profession, contact us today to discuss your options. We can use a wide range of proven tools and strategies to protect your assets from lawsuits and other threats.