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Government settles V.A. data breach suit

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WASHINGTON (2/12/09)--A U.S. District Judge Tuesday approved plans by the government to pay $20 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by veterans whose personal information was compromised when a laptop computer was stolen from the home of a Veterans Affairs employee. Payments will range from $75 to $1,500 for up to 26.5 million veterans who incurred expenses related to obtaining credit monitoring or physical symptons of emotional distress (E-Commerce Times Feb. 11). The lawsuit had alleged invasion of privacy in what was the government's largest data security breach. The breach, coupled with breaches disclosed at TJX Cos. and a state government agency in Vermont, prompted credit unions to look closer at their own security. The V.A. breach occurred in Alabama and helped prompt the Alabama Credit Union League to offer credit unions a security breach response service (News Now Feb. 20, 2007). The stolen laptop contained Social Security numbers and birthdates of veterans and troops on active duty, but no financial account information. The laptop was recovered later intact.

No hats hoods policy considered in Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa, and ST. LOUIS (2/12/09)--An Iowa town is considering adopting a "No Hats, No Hoods, No Sunglasses" policy to thwart robberies, and Missouri's policy received attention on Iowa TV, reports the Missouri Credit Union Association. Credit unions and banks with the policy ask members/customers to remove hats, hoods and sunglasses--a typical disguise for robbers--before entering the financial institution (The Missouri difference Feb. 11). KCRG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, featured a news story about the policy in a Feb. 3 broadcast. A reporter traveled to Columbia, Mo., to talk with credit unions and banks that participate in the Missouri program. United CU, Mexico, Mo., was featured in the story. "It's not going to be a cure-all, and it's not something that's going to keep somebody from coming in," said the Betty Clark, president of the credit union. "It's just a deterrent like any other security measure is." At least nine states participate in a "no hats, no hoods" program.

Mich. foundation proposes foreclosure policy reforms

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LANSING, Mich. (2/12/09)--Policy recommendations from Michigan Credit Union Foundation-commissioned study on foreclosures were presented Wednesday before the State Senate Banking Committee. The foundation had commissioned the Madison, Wis.-based Filene Research Institute to examine the state's foreclosure problem and find areas where public policy can make a difference. Filene identified 10 policy proposals. "The Michigan Credit Union League (MCUL) will work with state and federal lawmakers and regulators to review the recommendations and look for ways to implement those policy recommendations that we believe will help move Michigan forward during this difficult economic situation," said David Adams, president/CEO of the Michigan Credit Union League. He added the league "recognizes the need to find a proper balance between helping homeowners stay in their homes and reducing the significant exposure that lenders have in this difficult housing market." The policy recommendations include legislative actions and public and private initiatives. The legislative proposals cover streamlining the foreclosure process, creating shared-equity loan modification programs, requiring lender accountability, strategic and judicious use of consumer bankruptcy filings, and establishing a mortgage modification database. The public and private initiative recommendations include the formation of local and state working groups, responsible debt relief programs, local debt summits and a consumer hotline for assisting homeowners in locating the mortgage holding company. Filene found that many of the national foreclosure initiatives adopted last year have limited effect and that some programs will require future loan adjustments. Michigan is experiencing economic distress faster than any other state, Filene found. Its mortgage delinquency rates are the seventh highest in the nation and its foreclosure rate is sixth highest. A copy of the recommendations is available on MCUL's website.

Missouri CUs raise 281432 for kids hospital

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (2/12/09)--Missouri credit unions raised $281,432 for the Children’s Miracle Network, the Missouri Credit Union Association (MCUA) announced (The Missouri difference Feb. 11). Credit union donations by region include:
* Joplin--$5,954; * Columbia, Jefferson City--$12,269; * Springfield--$45,789; * St. Louis--$98,662; and * Kansas City--$118,759.
“The recession has many people struggling to make ends meet,” said Mike Augustine, Kansas City CU Chapter chairman. “Some have lost jobs, and with it, health insurance coverage for themselves and their family. That makes our commitment to raise money for seriously ill children more important.”

WOCCU steps up to aid Australian CUs hit by fires

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MADISON, Wis. (2/12/09)--The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) has established a fund to help victims of Australia's brushfires, many of whom are members of the country's credit unions.
Click to view larger image Brushfires have devastated the Australian state of Victoria, already claiming nearly 200 lives. The World Council of Credit Unions has established a fund to help victims. (Photo provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)
WOCCU is working with Credit Union Foundation Australia to collect tax-deductible contributions that will be administered through the Red Cross Victorian Brushfire Appeal. “The brushfires in Australia already have claimed close to 200 lives,” said Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officer. “In the true cooperative spirit, we're asking the global credit union movement to support Australian credit unions as they strive to serve their members during this crisis.” The brushfires have ravaged Victoria state, threatening several credit unions, their branches and many of their more than 250,000 members, according to reports. Police in Victoria believe the fires may have been the work of arsonists. “We have a number of member organizations that have been directly impacted by the fires,” said Karen Smith, spokesperson for Abacus Australian Mutuals, the Australian credit union trade organization and a WOCCU member. “At this stage we have no reports of staff lost, but many members have lost their homes and there is potential that some of them may have perished in the fires.” Much-needed cash contributions from credit unions and individuals worldwide assist those whose lives have been devastated by the brushfires, said WOCCU. U.S. tax-deductible donations may be made with a credit card online. Use the link. Donations may also be sent by check to Valerie Breunig's attention at: Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, Inc., 5710 Mineral Point Road, Madison, WI 53705. In all cases, please indicate that the donation is designated for the Australian Brushfire Relief Fund. To wire funds or for more information, contact Breunig at 608-395-2055 or e-mail mail Valerie.

Canadas Desjardins Group to cut dividend 44

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MONTREAL, Canada (2/12/09)--Desjardin Group is attempting to conserve its capital amid the recession by cutting its cash dividend roughly 44%. Canada’s largest credit union will pay about 30% of it 2008 margins to members--down from 53% of its earnings in 2007, Andre Chapleau, Desjardin spokesman, said last week (Bloomberg.com Feb. 4). During the past six years, Desjardins has paid about $1.8 billion to members. Desjardins is attempting to bolster its capital base, and the most economical way to accomplish that is by placing more money in reserves, Chapleau told Bloomberg. The 5.8 million-member Desjardins reported a profit of about $448 million for the first nine months of 2008--a 33% decline from a year earlier. Desjardins Group is based in Montreal, Quebec, but also serves other Canadian provinces.

PCUA cuts annual meeting registration fees 50

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (2/12/09)--The Pennsylvania Credit Union Association announced Tuesday that it cut its 75th Annual Meeting and Convention registration fees by 50% in recognition of the challenging economy and impact of the National Credit Union Administration’s corporate stabilization actions on credit unions. The registration fee for credit unions over $20 million in assets will be $175, down from $350; for those with assets under $20 million it is now $100, down from $200. Credit unions receive an early-bird discount if they register by March 27. Ticketed events will remain at original prices. “As credit union CEOs, the association board members recognize that credit union budgets are tight,” said Association Chair Diana Roberts, president/CEO of Hershey (Pa.) FCU. “However, now more than ever, credit unions need to make the most of our cooperative spirit and collaborative strength through our trade association on behalf of the movement. “It is my hope that by reducing the registration fees, credit union leaders will attend the association’s annual convention to gain knowledge and exchange ideas toward enhancing their credit unions,” she added. The association’s Annual Meeting and Convention will be May 14-16 in Hershey, Pa. Keynoting the convention will be personal finance expert and author Jane Bryant Quinn. During the business session, the association will unveil the results of the board of directors’ strategic plan. Education breakout sessions include an economic update, state credit union forum, and sessions on fraud prevention, risk management, and student lending. Association president/CEO Jim McCormack applauded the fee-reduction decision. “Our country and credit unions are facing unprecedented times not seen since the Great Depression,” he said. “As we join to celebrate 75 years of serving members in Pennsylvania, I’m confident that credit unions will grow stronger and more relevant during these trying times.” McCormack added: “As the new Obama administration, Congress, and [Pennsylvania] Gov. Edward G. Rendell all look for solutions to budget deficits and regulatory changes, credit unions need a strong trade association to protect and preserve the rights of credit unions. Collectively, credit unions have strength in numbers and must continue to tell the credit union story.”