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CU System briefs (12/20/2010)

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* SACRAMENTO, Calif. (12/21/10)--The leader in a credit-repair fraud ring that bilked banks, credit unions, credit card companies and car dealerships of $1.5 million to $2 million was sentenced to five and a half years in prison, plus five years of supervised release by a U.S. District judge Friday. Jerry Van Le, 31, of Stockton, Calif., had pleaded guilty to multiple counts of mail, wire and credit application fraud on Feb. 5 (Targeted News Service Dec. 17). Prosecutors said Le worked with individuals throughout the Sacramento area to create fake identities for himself and his customers so they could establish fraudulent lines of credit. He used his finance industry contacts to help build fraudulent credit histories. He furnished fraudulent paperwork including bogus pay slips, W-2 forms, letters from nonexistent employers and fake driver's licenses. Five other persons in the ring have pleaded guilty to making false statements on loan and credit applications. Four have received prison terms while the fifth is set for sentencing on Feb. 18 … * ANCHORAGE, Alaska (12/21/10)--Vicki Lynn Weidenhof, 46, former chief operating officer of Alps FCU, Sitka, Alaska, was sentenced to two years in prison plus five years of supervised released for a thrift and credit union embezzlement totaling $187,349. The sentence was rendered by a U.S. District judge in Anchorage. Weidenhof allegedly stole the funds from the credit union's general ledger accounts and deposited them in her personal account and into others' accounts during a two-year period, according to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska (Targeted News Service Dec. 17) … * PORTLAND, Ore.(12/21/10)--It was a joke that turned serious, said one of two college students charged with robbing a credit union twice. Brittany Sykes, 23, a nursing student, and Emma Westhusing, 19, a college student, were arraigned Friday on charges they took $1,370 in cash Dec. 6 from Rivermark Community CU's Clackamas office. They also were indicted with taking a similar amount from the credit union's Gresham office on Oct. 18 (Associated Press Newswires Dec. 18). Sykes allegedly told a local newspaper the idea was a running joke that turned serious after they began researching robberies … * PORTLAND and STAYTON, Ore. (12/21/10)--Two Oregon credit unions have donated funds for tornado relief to victims of a Dec. 14 tornado that destroyed or extensively damaged a number of businesses and homes in the small community of Aumsville, Ore. Unitus Community CU, Portland, has 131 members in the community of 3,500 and Unitus representatives contacted each of them to find out if they needed aid. As a result, the credit union presented a $10,000 check for disaster relief to the community. "We wanted to do something quickly to show our members and citizens of the town that we care about them and wanted to offer financial help," said Patricia Smith, United president/CEO. Also, North Santiam Community CU, Stayton, a branch of NW Preferred FCU, Tigard, said it is donating $2,500 for the relief fund. "We have a number of friends and members who live and work in Aumsville," said Tracy Jones, vice president of branch operations. "It was the least we could do." … * OLD TOWN, Maine (12/21/10)--George Lozier Jr., a longtime board member of Penobscot County FCU, Old Town, Maine, died Dec. 12, according to the Maine Credit Union League (Weekly Update Dec. 17). Lozier held a variety of positions with the credit union, the league said. He was remembered as a "tireless and dedicated" volunteer who often was in the credit union lobby with a smile and greetings for other members …

Member pistol-whipped in takeover robbery

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WEST COVINA, Calif. (12/21/10)--A member of First Financial CU, West Covina, Calif., was treated at a hospital for injuries he received after he was pistol-whipped during a robbery Friday morning. Police also said an employee struck by the robbers suffered no visible injuries and declined to be taken to a hospital (WhittierDailyNews.com Dec. 17). Two men in hoodies and ski masks entered the credit union and told five employees plus members to lie down. One brandished a gun and one jumped on the counter. They ordered a manager to open cash drawers and a vault and fled with an undetermined amount of cash in a black compact car. The member was injured as he tried to enter the credit union. He confronted one of the robbers and there was a struggle. He suffered abrasions to his head.

National media cover Cheneys interchange comments

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WASHINGTON (12/21/10)--Credit Union National Association (CUNA) President Bill Cheney's comments on the impact of the debit card fee cap in the Federal Reserve's interchange proposal were picked up in dozens of national, regional and local media, including CBS News.com, ABC News.com, CNBC.com, Bloomberg, Businessweek and Huffington Post. In the Associated Press story, Cheney noted that members of credit unions and customers of small banks may feel a negative impact from the regulation even though smaller institutions are left out of the law and won't face a cap on their fees. "The legislation says we are carved out, but there's no real enforcement provisions," Cheney said. While a two-tier system with higher interchange rates for smaller institutions may result from the regulation, that creates a new set of concerns, he said. One fear is that if small credit unions and banks charge higher fees, merchants may shun their cards. If small institutions find they have to shift to the lower fees, the revenue loss would be significant, and would have to be made up from member/customers. "The last thing that credit unions want to do is raise their fees," he said in the article. The Fed's proposal caps the interchange fees at 12 cents per transition, which it says would enable retailers to pass an annual savings of $10 billion to $13 billion to consumers. But card networks and financial institutions say that retailers will pocket the savings. In addition to major markets, Cheney's comments appeared on Minnesota Public Radio, New York-based Pantagraph.com, Telegram.com, The Star Press, Mohave Daily News, Lubbock Online, The Sun News, The Springfield News-Leader, the Sun-Sentinel, Hartford Courant, the Anniston Star, Morningstar and more. The stories were also picked up in Canada on Yahoo! and in India.

Holiday giving in full swing at CUs

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MADISON (12/21/10)--At many credit unions, the holidays are in full swing with their employees, volunteers, members outdoing themselves to provide a little happiness and often the basic necessities for those who need them.
Click to view larger imageMore than 50 Warminster, Pa.-based Freedom CU employees, families and friends, along with the credit union's youth mascot, Dollar Dog, helped kick off the holiday season at the 50th Annual Hatboro Holiday Parade, which benefited Toys for Tots. Freedom participants handed out candy canes. (Photo provided by Freedom CU)
Credit unions participate in the holiday giving in a variety of ways--with parades, giving trees, holiday greetings to troops, and their annual food, clothing and toy drives. Many people benefit from their generosity: children, struggling families, the homeless, the elderly, those with special needs, and troops stationed far from home. News Now will share some of their efforts in stories this week and next. For starters here are a few efforts, some with unusual twists.
* Naperville, Ill.-based Hawthorne CU staff meeting with Families Helping Families (FHF) discovered another need that many take for granted: gasoline. "Without money for gas, it makes it difficult to shop and get to work," said Vicky Joseph, founder of the charity. "And many of our clients are trying to hold down two jobs and attend school to better their situation." As a result, the credit union and its staff donated $550 for gas cards for 22 people. One recipient is using the card so she and her four-year-old can make a holiday trip home to Tennessee--a trip she hasn't been able to afford for years. "We came to realize how hard the head of the households are working to become independent, so we wanted to give this practical gift to provide some relief and support toward their achieving success," said Carl Sorgatz, president of the $126 million asset credit union. * In Vancouver, Wash., Columbia CU teamed up with Boy Scouts troops earlier this month to give away 80 Christmas trees. It also is conducting drives for Share, a nonprofit organization for the homeless and the hungry, and for Children's Center, a local mental health agency. *
Click to view larger imageWoodstock, Ga.-based Credit Union of Georgia employees donated $1,500 to Clark Howard's "Clark's Christmas Kids" program. From left are, Laurel Howard, Clark, and Amanda Arnold, who visited the Duluth Wal-Mart to shop for more than 20 children in foster care and fulfill each child's top three wishes. Clark and AM 8750 and 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB marked their 20th year of working with the Georgia Department of Family and Children's Services. (Photo provided by Credit Union of Georgia)
In Suitland, Md., Andrews FCU joined with the Armed Forces Financial Network (AFFN) to present $3,000 in holiday gift cards to the Joint Base Andrews Fisher House, which provides comfortable and caring atmosphere where families can gain support while their loved ones are treated at the Malcolm Grow Medical Center. The $808 million asset credit union also presented an additional $3,000 in gift cards, making a total contribution of $6,000. "Families that come to be with a loved one sometimes arrive suddenly and without all their necessities," said Suzanne Curren, Andrews' director of public relations and community development. The cards help defray some of the personal expenses, she said. * In Pennsylvania, the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Chapter of Credit Unions raised nearly $500 in an auction for a local animal shelter, according to the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association (Life is a Highway Dec. 15). *
Click to view larger imageBelco Community CU employees Michelle Besic and Colleen Mateer work at the Hershey Bears hockey team's annual Teddy Bear Toss. After the Bears scored their first goal, fans "tossed" teddy bears on the ice. Belco employees and families collected 7,199 teddy bears and other stuffed animals, to be donated to local hospitals and charities at more than 25 locations. Today Belco is delivering bears and holiday cheer to the pediatric ward at a Harrisburg, Pa., hospital. Employees also donated more than $260 and 368 toys to the U.S. Marines 2010 Toys for Tots, and provided $500 in Visa gift cards to the Salvation Army Coats for Kids Telethon with WGAL. (Photo provided by Belco Community CU).
The University of Iowa Community CU is sponsoring its 15th annual "Santa's Holiday Helpers" program to assist clients of Four Oaks, a nonprofit child welfare, juvenile justice and behavioral health agency in Eastern Iowa. Participants purchase a gift for the child listed on the card and return it, wrapped or unwrapped. The gifts were delivered to the children on Dec. 14 (Iowa City Press-Citizen Dec. 6). * A variation on the giving tree is the Holiday Giving Wreath. Vantage CU, St. Louis, collected gifts, food and clothing donations and spare change for the annual Cardinals Care Party at Busch Stadium. Hundreds of disadvantaged children attend and each gets a gift. * New England FCU, Williston, Vt., announced last week it had donated $20,000 to a homeless shelter, Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), which focuses on families with children younger than 18. * Toys for Tots, the U.S. Marine Corps' collection drive, receives a lot of attention from credit unions all over the country. One example: Three Connecticut credit union chapters combined their efforts, for the eighth consecutive year. This year 180 individuals from 29 credit unions jointly donated more than 500 toys and $1,591 in cash from chapter coffers and raffle tickets to the toy collection program sponsored locally by the lst Battalion, 25th Marines in Plainville, Conn.

TCUF set to launch its FOCUS initiative in January

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FARMERS BRANCH, Texas (12/21/10)--The Texas Credit Union Foundation (TCUF) is set to launch its new financial literacy campaign. The initiative, Foundation Focus (formerly project NEFC), will kick off with a meeting in Dallas on Jan. 28. The core of Foundation FOCUS Network is Texans working together to improve the financial well being of others within in their communities. The inaugural meeting will focus on curriculum and strategies for implementing financial education in the community (LoneStar Leaguer. Foundation FOCUS will allow TCUF and the network to diversely impact communities of all shapes and sizes, said Staci Zale, associate director of the TCUF and Foundation FOCUS Network liaison. Among the subjects on the agenda:
* Education opportunities for children, including “Money Mammals” and “Thrive By Five,” and how encouraging smart money management at an early age is crucial; * Tips from the award-winning “Biz Kid$” television show; * The curriculum and online teaching available through the National Endowment for Financial Education; * “Debt in Focus” from the Filene Research Institute and how the online tool breaks down the barriers that prevent consumers from seeking financial guidance; * The products and services available from the Credit Union National Association (CUNA); and * The Consumer Credit Counseling Service.
A keynote speaker will be announced later. For more information, contact Zale at 469-385-6443 or at szale@tcul.coop.

International fundraising emphasizes causes

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MADISON, Wis (12/21/10--Credit unions are a worldwide movement, and U.S. credit unions have extended their cause marketing efforts wherever a helping hand is needed. Sometimes that translates to helping credit unions in other countries during times of crisis. When another world region is need of aid, the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) typically appeals to the international credit union community for funds to assist with relief efforts in those areas. WOCCU’s foundation, the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, often works with the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) to raise funds and organize relief efforts among U.S. credit unions. WOCCU worked closely with SANASA, Sri Lanka’s credit union federation and central liquidity facility, to rebuild damaged credit unions when South Asia was hit with a devastating earthquake and tsunami Dec. 26, 2004. The NCUF appealed to U.S. credit unions in support of WOCCU’s efforts. All told, U.S. credit unions, through their credit union leagues, contributed more than $726,090 to tsunami relief efforts (News Now June 13, 2005). As an example of how the leagues supported the efforts, the New York Credit Union Foundation (NYCUF) collected $63,906 in donations for relief of the tsunami victims in Indonesia. Fifty three New York credit unions, 58 individuals and the Metropolitan District of the New York State Credit Union League banded together to collect the funds, which were donated WOCCU(News Now Feb. 24, 2005) . Among the credit unions participating in the tsunami relief efforts was Mid-Hudson Valley FCU, Kingston, N.Y. Collection boxes were placed in each of their five offices while the credit union’s community relations committee announced they would match donations up to $2,500. With contributions from employees, members, two community organizations and the matching funds, Mid-Hudson Valley FCU raised $7,215.61. In January, when Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake, credit unions from around the world--again—responded with funds and other assistance. For example, staff and volunteers from MAFCU FCU, Brookline, Mass., packed 66 boxes of sheets, pillows, and pillow cases on a Saturday in May at its Cover Haiti with Love event to benefit Haiti. The members and employees of State Employees CU, Atlanta, collected over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and multi-vitamins, to benefit Haiti. The supplies were delivered to a hospital in Haiti on March 20 to provide medical care to approximately 800 people, including children, in a local community. In an April press release, WOCCU reported that donations from credit unions, individuals and credit union groups worldwide to its Haiti relief fund had surpassed the $1 million mark. The fund, which provides immediate relief to victims of the earthquake, also is used to finance the rebuilding of Haiti's credit unions so they can assist members and support local relief efforts. Most times the causes are ongoing. Serving the financial needs of the United Nations staff, UN specialized agencies, former international civil servants and their families globally, UN FCU, New York, has a global focus as part of its mission. UN FCU recently joined the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNITE to End Violence Against Women, according to a press release from the credit union. The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women supports women’s organizations and projects around the world to reduce and end such violence. UN FCU will match donations made by Dec. 31 up to $3,000. Sometimes relief comes by providing resources such as technology to help rural credit union members. WOCCU is developing a technology to provide affordable financial services to Latin American and African families who can’t get a loan or join a credit union--by providing them with cell phones through a donation program. The rural families live hours away from the nearest financial institution. Through WOCCU’s mobile wallet campaign, a $30 cell phone provides families the opportunity to start a savings account or apply for a small business loan from the palm of their hand--a day’s time and wages spared. The cell phone will serve as the members’ passbook, checkbook and online access to the credit union. Whether it’s a natural disaster or the day-to-day challenges that credit unions and the people they serve are faced with credit unions make a difference globally. (Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final part of a series of articles News Now has been featuring on credit unions and cause marketing.)

Southland Member referrals--not ads--prompt growth

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LUFKIN, Texas (12/21/10)--Member referrals have led to an increase in membership, making 2010 a good year for Southland FCU in Lufkin, Texas, according to CEO Jonathan P. Matthews. As of Sept. 30, the $20.2 million-asset Southland FCU saw membership growth of 6.45% and a 14.05% loan growth (LoneStar Leaguer Dec. 17). “Our membership growth and strong loan growth have helped our credit union survive during these most difficult financial times we are all facing,” Matthews told the Texas Credit Union League. “We have tracked this growth and it is proven over and over again that this increase is due to member referrals. “People will tell others if you offer good service, and will tell others if you don’t,” Matthews added. “We attribute our member referrals to the service our employees provide and to the staff believing in ‘where people helping people really matters.’” He noted the growth did not stem from ads, yard signs or banners.

More than half of Vermont CUs do background checks

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (12/21/10)--The Association of Vermont Credit Unions recently conducted a survey asking member credit unions about their practices regarding the use of background checks on potential new employees. Results showed more than half perform checks. The survey’s main question asked if the credit union conducted background checks on applicants and/or new employees. More than half indicated they did, with three clarifying that they pulled a credit report after obtaining written consent from the applicant (NewsLines Express Dec. 17). More than 80% of those who conduct background or bondability checks use an outside agency, with the rest performing their checks internally. Also, all respondents said they do not conduct background checks on current employees. The breakdown of what kinds of information accessed in the background checks was varied, with credit unions asked to check all that apply from a list that included credit reports, criminal records, past employers, education and references. Other options included professional licenses, medical history and driving record. However, these three options were not selected by any survey responder. Less than half the respondents said that they felt sufficiently informed about which circumstances require permission to conduct a background check and/or give notices to prospective employees. Survey responders represented a cross section of all sized credit unions, ranging from those with less than five employees to those with more than 100.