May Tips

Get Creative With Your Home Renovations During Lumber Shortage

According to a recent report by the National Association of Home Builders, the price of lumber has gone up to more than 180% since April 2020. Several factors led to the increase, all stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

The shutdowns that started last spring caused a delay in the production of building materials, leaving less lumber available. Closures also meant more people stayed at home with free time, leading to a sharp increase in home improvement projects. Travel restrictions also played a role with many families canceling vacations and redirecting that money toward fixing up the house.

With more people spending time at home, the demand for larger homes and existing home expansions has risen dramatically. Construction has started up again, but the lag in construction last spring, combined with increased demand, has had contractors trying to play catch-up. With growing construction comes more demand for materials.

Put all this together, and you have the perfect storm of short supply and strong demand. Even with lumber production now hitting a 13-year-high, supply is still too low to meet demand.
The result is that prices are going through the roof.

Now that it’s renovation season, if you’re considering a home repair project, you might want to think about focusing on renovations that do not involve a lot of lumber. For example, bathrooms and kitchens typically use little lumber, so higher prices should have a minimal effect on your project.

Remember, at First Nebraska Bank, we are here to help you during this difficult time. Reach out to us whenever you have questions or are looking for advice about your long-term financial goals.

Security Update

Cybercriminals have wasted no time in hopping on the American Rescue Plan – the COVID-19 relief legislation just signed into law – as a lure for email-based scams.

According to researchers at Cofense, a campaign began circulating in March that capitalized on Americans’ interest in the forthcoming $1,400 relief payments and other aid. The emails impersonate the IRS, using the agency’s official logo and a spoofed sender domain of IRS[.]gov – and claim to offer an application for financial assistance. In reality, the emails offer the Dridex banking trojan.

The email says, “It is possible to get aid from the federal government of your choice” and then offers “quotes” for a pie-in-the-sky litany of great (and nonexistent) things – such as a $4,000 check, the ability to “skip the queue for vaccination” and free food.

There’s a button that says, “Get apply form” – if clicked, users are taken to a Dropbox account where they see an Excel document that says, “Fill this form below to accept Federal State Aid.” However, to see this supposed IRS form in its entirety, victims are prompted to enable content. If they do, they trigger macros that set off the infection chain indirectly, according to Cofense.

How to Prevent the Phish

This latest campaign is convincing, researchers said – to a certain extent. One sneaky trick the attackers use is that the email domain is lRS[.]gov – but with a lower-case ‘L’ rather than an upper-case ‘I.’

However, phrasing like “Federal State Aid” (federal and state aid are two different things) and off grammar such as “the federal government of your choice” should set off warning bells.

“A close examination of the email shows a few suspicious characteristics,” according to Cofense. “The phrasing within the document, while not clearly as bad as something auto-translated from another language, still has some mistakes that are unexpected from what purports to be a government communication.”

They added, “Despite those issues, this campaign is likely to entice the average user who’s in a hurry to learn more about the rescue plan.”

To avoid becoming a victim, users should hone their phishing-recognition skills, such as scanning for slight differences between legitimate and spoofed domains. And for businesses, “as a general rule, WMI and PowerShell should be carefully monitored on most workstations,” Cofense recommended.