Watch Out for Online Dating Scams

All around the world, people of varying ages are going online with hopes of finding romance and companionship. Nearly 30% of adults in the United States have used an online dating service of some sort. While these sites and apps can work well for bringing people together, the downside is that there are scammers online looking to take advantage of people looking for love.

If you or someone you care about is using online dating sites or apps, make sure you’re aware of the potential signs of a scam:

Online Dating Scams Graphic

 

Cyber Criminals Targeting Food/Ag Sector With Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware Attacks image

The FBI recently released a notification that they are seeing an uptick in the number of ransomware attacks targeting the Food and Agriculture sector. These attacks have potential to disrupt operations, cause financial loss, and negatively impact the food supply chain. They also note that the victims of the attacks can range anywhere from small farms to large manufacturers, so it’s important that operations of all sizes follow their recommended mitigations.

From the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

Cyber Criminal Actors Targeting the Food and Agriculture Sector with Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks targeting the Food and Agriculture sector disrupt operations, cause financial loss, and negatively impact the food supply chain. Ransomware may impact businesses across the sector, from small farms to large producers, processors and manufacturers, and markets and restaurants. Cyber criminal threat actors exploit network vulnerabilities to exfiltrate data and encrypt systems in a sector that is increasingly reliant on smart technologies, industrial control systems, and internet-based automation systems.

Food and agriculture businesses victimized by ransomware suffer significant financial loss resulting from ransom payments, loss of productivity, and remediation costs. Companies may also experience the loss of proprietary information and personally identifiable information (PII) and may suffer reputational damage resulting from a ransomware attack.

Threat Overview

The Food and Agriculture sector is among the critical infrastructure sectors increasingly targeted by cyber attacks. As the sector moves to adopt more smart technologies and internet of things (IoT) processes the attack surface increases. Larger businesses are targeted based on their perceived ability to pay higher ransom demands, while smaller entities may be seen as soft targets, particularly those in the earlier stages of digitizing their processes, according to a private industry report.

In a ransomware attack, victims’ files are encrypted and made unavailable, and the attacker demands a payment for the decryption tool and key. As of 2019, sensitive data files are commonly exfiltrated prior to encryption, and the attacker demands a payment not to publish the sensitive data on a “name-and-shame” website. This double extortion potentially gives the attacker more leverage to ensure payment, based on the potential damage caused by a significant data breach of sensitive information. Threat actors may apply additional coercive tactics such as convincing media organizations to write stories on victim security incidents, harassing employees by phone, notifying business partners of data theft, and conducting distributed denial of service attacks to further disrupt operations. According to a private industry report, cyber actors may gradually broaden their attack from just information technology (IT) and business processes to also include the operational technology (OT) assets, which monitor and control physical processes, impacting industrial production regardless of whether the malware was deployed in IT or OT systems.

The impact of ransomware attacks continues to grow. From 2019 to 2020, the average ransom demand doubled and the average cyber insurance payout increased by 65 percent from 2019 to 2020. The highest observed ransom demand in 2020 was $23 million USD, according to a private industry report. According to the 2020 IC3 Report, IC3 received 2,474 complaints identified as ransomware with adjusted losses of over $29.1 million across all sectors. Separate studies have shown 50-80 percent of victims that paid the ransom experienced a repeat ransomware attack by either the same or different actors. Although cyber criminals use a variety of techniques to infect victims with ransomware, the most common means of infection are email phishing campaigns, Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) vulnerabilities, and software vulnerabilities.

Examples of ransomware attacks impacting food and agriculture sector businesses include the following:

  • In July 2021, a US bakery company lost access to their server, files, and applications, halting their production, shipping, and receiving as a result of Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware which was deployed through software used by an IT support managed service provider (MSP). The bakery company was shut down for approximately one week, delaying customer orders and damaging the company’s reputation.
  • In May 2021, cyber actors using a variant of the Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware compromised computer networks in the US and overseas locations of a global meat processing company, which resulted in the possible exfiltration of company data and the shutdown of some US-based plants for several days. The temporary shutdown reduced the number of cattle and hogs slaughtered, causing a shortage in the US meat supply and driving wholesale meat prices up as much as 25 percent, according to open source reports.
  • In March 2021, a US beverage company suffered a ransomware attack that caused significant disruption to its business operations, including its operations, production, and shipping. The company took its systems offline to prevent the further spread of malware, directly impacting employees who were unable to access specific systems, according to open source reports.
  • In January 2021, a ransomware attack against an identified US farm resulted in losses of approximately $9 million due to the temporary shutdown of their farming operations. The unidentified threat actor was able to target their internal servers by gaining administrator level access through compromised credentials.
  • In November 2020, a US-based international food and agriculture business reported it was unable to access multiple computer systems tied to their network due to a ransomware attack conducted by OnePercent Group threat actors using a phishing email with a malicious zip file attachment. The cybercriminals downloaded several terabytes of data through their identified cloud service provider prior to the encryption of hundreds of folders. The company’s administrative systems were impacted. The company did not pay the $40 million ransom and was able to successfully restore their systems from backups.

Recommended Mitigations

Cyber criminal threat actors will continue to exploit network system vulnerabilities within the food and agriculture sector. The following steps can be implemented to mitigate the threat and protect against ransomware attacks:

  • Regularly back up data, air gap, and password protect backup copies offline. Ensure copies of critical data are not accessible for modification or deletion from the system where the data resides.
  • Implement network segmentation.
  • Implement a recovery plan to maintain and retain multiple copies of sensitive or proprietary data and servers in a physically separate, segmented, secure location (i.e., hard drive, storage device, the cloud).
  • Install updates/patch operating systems, software, and firmware as soon as they are released.
  • Use multifactor authentication with strong pass phrases where possible.
  • Use strong passwords and regularly change passwords to network systems and accounts, implementing the shortest acceptable timeframe for password changes. Avoid reusing passwords for multiple accounts.
  • Disable unused remote access/RDP ports and monitor remote access/RDP logs.
  • Require administrator credentials to install software.
  • Audit user accounts with administrative privileges and configure access controls with least privilege in mind.
  • Install and regularly update anti-virus and anti-malware software on all hosts.
  • Only use secure networks and avoid using public Wi-Fi networks. Consider installing and using a VPN.
  • Consider adding an email banner to messages coming from outside your organizations.
  • Disable hyperlinks in received emails.
  • Focus on cyber security awareness and training. Regularly provide users with training on information security principles and techniques as well as overall emerging cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities (i.e. ransomware and phishing scams).

Don’t Trust Your Farm Operation’s Finances to Just Anyone

“Working with American Federal is the best business decision I’ve ever made for my farm.”

It’s a sentiment we’ve heard multiple times from multiple farmers.

Running an agricultural operation these days is complicated, especially when it comes to the business and financial aspects. Fortunately, our ag Bankers are experts in all aspects of ag finance, including expansion, land purchase, equipment leasing, risk management and more.

Trusted Advisors

Our ag Bankers are trusted advisors to their clients, helping them plan their financial future by identifying opportunities and finding the best solutions. Much like the relationship of personal trust developed over a period of time with a family attorney, doctor or CPA, our Bankers take a consultative approach with their clients, helping them determine and prioritize their goals and how to best achieve them. We build trust through our advice and action.

Our ag clients see American Federal as their primary bank because they value the trusted advice, long-standing relationship and business expertise and capability of their American Federal Banker.

Helping You Achieve Your Goals

The combination of our financial knowledge, experience and business expertise will help you chart a course to achieve your goals. We’ll develop and tailor solutions to help you balance risks and rewards. In a marketplace of constant change, our commitment to building long-term relationships with your operation remains constant. Just like you, we’re in this for the long term. We will help you identify your goals and provide the best solutions to reach your destination.

Discover the Difference

Take the guesswork out of your finances by working with the best in the business to help you reach your goals for your farm operation. Contact a Banker today to learn more about the American Federal difference.

The Importance of Building an Emergency Savings Account

No one wants to think about car breakdowns, appliance failures, or other ‘bad luck’ events. But as much as we’d like to avoid thinking about them, emergencies do happen. That’s why building an emergency savings account that is dedicated to handling the unexpected is important.

When things are going well, emergency savings can seem unimportant. But in addition to your regularly occurring expenses such as your home or rent payment and utility bills, you’ll often run into unexpected costs that pop up.

Issues like car or home appliance repair are common occurrences. However, since they do not happen regularly, people often overlook these costs as they create a budget. By anticipating these costs, you can be prepared for these potentially expensive items.

Having emergency savings gives you the option of dealing with the unexpected without having to take on debt. Without the cushion of emergency savings, you may be unable to pay regular bills if you face an emergency and are more likely to need a loan or some other form of credit. Likewise, missed bill payments can be harmful to your credit rating.

Having emergency savings will give you peace of mind. Even if you can’t save much, a little money set aside can make a big difference when you need it and reduce your stress level until you do need it. Likewise, it’s easy. In many cases you can have a portion of your paycheck automatically deposited into your savings account, which makes it effortless. You’ll also likely find that you don’t miss the money you’re saving.

Contact your American Federal Banker today to discuss the benefits of setting up a savings account.

The Many Benefits of Direct Deposit

Direct deposit is a method of payment where an employer electronically transfers funds into the employee’s checking or savings account. It’s a popular practice because it is convenient, secure, and efficient.

If you’re not already set up for it, there are a number of reasons why you should choose direct deposit for your personal use.

  • With Direct Deposit, you don’t have to go somewhere to physically cash or deposit your paycheck. This can be especially useful in situations where travel is limited, such as during inclement weather or public health emergencies.
  • You don’t have to be ‘at work’ to get your paycheck. If you work remote, are ill, or on vacation, your deposit will still be made and readily accessible.
  • We all lose things from time to time – that’s part of life. But have you ever misplaced a paycheck? It takes time and energy going through the process of getting a check re-issued. With direct deposit, there is no paper check to lose. It also removes the risk of a check getting damaged or lost in the mail.
  • You can control where your money goes. For example, you can direct most of your funds to your checking account for bills, and also automatically direct a portion of it to a savings or emergency fund. It’s a great way to build a balance without much effort.

Contact your local American Federal office to learn more about getting direct deposit set up for your accounts.

Is a Healthcare Savings Account Right for You?

With healthcare costs continually in the news, you may have heard about Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). HSAs are touted as a solution for controlling healthcare costs, but is an HSA right for you?

What is an HSA?

HSAs are tax-advantaged personal savings accounts where the money can only be used to pay for healthcare costs such as medical, dental and vision expenses. It is your money, but it must be spent on healthcare and is subject to IRS rules.

To qualify for an HSA, you must be insured by a High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). Although the deductible on an HDHP is high, the premiums are typically lower than most traditional plans. Likewise, the HDHP often covers many preventive services outside of the deductible. Once the deductible is hit, plan coverage begins.

HSAs and HDHPs were created to help control health care costs. The thought is that people will make better health care decisions if they’re using their own money. For example, a person with ‘skin in the game’ for their healthcare dollars who had a non-emergency medical need might be more likely to schedule a regular office visit rather than going to an emergency or walk-in clinic, which are traditionally more expensive.

HSA Advantages

  • You get to decide how much money to set aside for health care costs (within the allowed limits).
  • Leftover money at the end of the year rolls over into the next year, unlike traditional Flexible Spending Accounts.
  • Money going into your HSA is not taxed.
  • You control how to spend your HSA money and can shop around for care.

HSA Disadvantages

  • It can be difficult to accurately budget health care expenses.
  • HSA money used for nonmedical expenses will face a tax penalty.
  • The desire to build an HSA balance may lead some people to avoid medical care when they need it.

Is an HSA right for me?

Like any financial tool, you and your American Federal Banker need to determine if it’s a good fit for your situation. If you’re generally in good health and are interested in saving for future health care costs, an HSA may be of interest to you. Likewise, if you expect that you may have high healthcare costs in the coming year, but not enough to meet a high deductible, an HSA might not be the best choice for you.

Make an appointment with your American Federal Banker to determine if a Healthcare Savings Account is a good fit for your situation.

For tax-specific questions, always consult with your Tax advisor.

Remember – Federal Income Tax Deadline Moved to May 17

As the traditional federal income tax filing due date approaches, please know that the federal income tax filing due date for individuals for the 2020 tax year was automatically extended from April 15, 2021, to May 17.

Individual taxpayers can also postpone federal income tax payments for the 2020 tax year due on April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed. This applies to individual taxpayers, including individuals who pay self-employment tax. Penalties, interest and additions to tax will begin to accrue on any remaining unpaid balances as of May 17, 2021. Individual taxpayers will automatically avoid interest and penalties on the taxes paid by May 17.

Individual taxpayers do not need to file any forms or call the IRS to qualify for this automatic federal tax filing and payment relief. Individual taxpayers who need additional time to file beyond the May 17 deadline can request a filing extension until Oct. 15 by filing Form 4868 through their tax professional, tax software or using the Free File link on IRS.gov. Filing Form 4868 gives taxpayers until October 15 to file their 2020 tax return but does not grant an extension of time to pay taxes due. Taxpayers should pay their federal income tax due by May 17, 2021, to avoid interest and penalties.

The IRS urges taxpayers who are due a refund to file as soon as possible. Most tax refunds associated with e-filed returns are issued within 21 days.

Please note that this relief does not apply to estimated tax payments that are due on April 15, 2021. These payments are still due on April 15. Taxes must be paid as taxpayers earn or receive income during the year, either through withholding or estimated tax payments. In general, estimated tax payments are made quarterly to the IRS by people whose income isn’t subject to income tax withholding, including self-employment income, interest, dividends, alimony or rental income. Most taxpayers automatically have their taxes withheld from their paychecks and submitted to the IRS by their employer.

State tax returns

The federal tax filing deadline postponement to May 17, 2021, only applies to individual federal income returns and tax (including tax on self-employment income) payments otherwise due April 15, 2021, not state tax payments or deposits or payments of any other type of federal tax. Taxpayers also will need to file income tax returns in 42 states plus the District of Columbia. State filing and payment deadlines vary and are not always the same as the federal filing deadline. Both Minnesota and North Dakota have moved their respective deadlines to May 17 to match the federal date.

IRS.gov. (2021). Tax Day for individuals extended to May 17: Treasury, IRS extend filing and payment deadline. March 17, 2021.

 

Government Imposter Scams – Protect Yourself!

The ABA Foundation and the Federal Trade Commission recently released a new infographic highlighting the problem of government impostor scams in which scammers contact consumers often claiming that back taxes are owed, that jury duty was missed, or some other transgression, and threaten victims with jail time or fines. Some scammers claim that benefits such as Social Security or Medicare are being withheld for some reason or another in an attempt to trick victims into clicking on a link or handing over personal information.

The infographic below offers tips on how to spot the scam, as well as how to stop and report it. You can also download a printable copy by clicking here.

Government Imposter Scams infographic

Be on the Lookout for Utility-Related Scams

In response to the recent winter storms that have caused utility outages in the United States, the FTC is warning people to be aware of utility and weather-related scams.

If a scammer knows that electricity has been shut off in an area, they might call and offer you reimbursement for the time you were without power. However, they’ll claim to need your bank account number or other personal information in order to get you the money. Likewise, if your utility is still currently off, a scammer might claim to be able to restore service, but only if you send them money immediately.

If you are contacted by a suspected scammer, the FTC recommends:

  • Never call a number left in a voicemail, text or email. Instead, call the utility company directly using the number on the company’s website or your bill and verify if the message came from them.
  • Never give your banking information over the phone on an unknown number. Only pay your bills over the phone when you initiated the call to a number you know is legitimate.
  • If a caller insists that you pay with a gift card, cash reload card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency, it’s a scam.

Always be aware that scammers are continually looking to exploit any current situation in order to get your money, and bad weather is no exception. To report any scams you see, visit reportfraud.ftc.gov.

American Federal Employees Earn ‘Sales Star’ Recognition

Nineteen American Federal Bankers and employees have earned ‘Sales Star’ recognition from American Federal Bank for outstanding sales and sales referral performance in 2020.

A “Sales Star” is the highest honor of recognition an employee can earn at American Federal. American Federal’s 2020 Sales Stars are:

  • Cindy Ackley, Senior Associate, Moorhead
  • Betty Amundson, Associate, East Grand Forks
  • Adam Braunberger, Business Banker, Fargo Downtown
  • Ryan Bohnsack, Ag/Business Banker, Fargo South
  • Mark Eifert, Market President, Fergus Falls
  • Chris Grettum, Personal Banker, Fargo Downtown
  • Brooke Hassel, Associate Banker, Crookston
  • Nikki Hatzenbeller, Loan Origination Service Manager, Fargo Home Office
  • Jason Jaeger, Business Banker, Fargo Downtown
  • Justin Marquis, Ag/Business Banker, Fosston
  • Pat McShane, Market President, Fargo Downtown
  • Dustin Morris, Ag/Business Banker, Fergus Falls
  • Becky Myhra, Senior Associate, Wahpeton
  • Tiffany Ness, Loan Processor, Fargo Home Office
  • Brian Olson, Ag/Business Banker, Moorhead
  • Ryan Paulson, Ag/Business Banker, Fosston
  • Dan Paulson, Market President, Fosston
  • Alison Perez, Personal Banker, Grand Forks
  • Patrick Stadum, Associate Banker, Fargo Downtown

In recognition of their achievement, American Federal “Sales Star” employees and their families are traditionally invited to attend a weekend Sales Star Retreat, training seminar and awards banquet in their honor. However, due to the COVID-19 situation, this year a virtual event was held on Friday, January 29 to honor their accomplishments.