Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

Are you looking forward to getting your tax refund in the New Year? Tax identity thieves may be looking forward to getting your refund too. That’s why the Federal Trade Commission has designated January 29-February 2, 2018 as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.

Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. You might find out it’s happened when you e-file your tax return and discover that a return already has been filed using your SSN. Or, the IRS may send you a letter saying more than one return was filed in your name, or that IRS records show you have wages from an employer you don’t know.

Learn to protect yourself from tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams, and what to do if someone you know becomes a victim. The FTC and partners including the IRS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration will be co-hosting free webinars and Twitter chats during Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Visit ftc.gov/taxidtheft for details about the events and how to participate.

For more information, click here.

Teacher Suggestions

  • Ask students if filing early may avoid e-file tax identity theft fraud if someone files before they do.
  • Ask students what steps should they take if their identity is stolen?

Discussion Questions

  1. How can one protect from tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams?
  2. What can you do if you or someone else you know becomes a victim of identity theft?

Protect Your Social Media Accounts

The Internet has made our lives easier in so many ways. However, you need to know how you can protect your privacy and avoid fraud. Remember, not only can people be defrauded when using the Internet for investing; the fraudsters use information online to send bogus materials, solicit or phish.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself when using social media:

Privacy Settings: Always check the default privacy settings when opening an account on a social media website.

Biographical Information: Consider customizing your privacy settings to minimize the amount of biographical information others can view on the website.

Account Information: Never give account information, Social Security numbers, bank information or other sensitive financial information on a social media website.

Friends/Contacts:  Decide whether it is appropriate to accept a “friend” or other membership request from a financial service provider, such as a financial adviser or broker-dealer.

Site Features: Familiarize yourself with the functionality of the social media website before broadcasting messages on the site. Who will be able to see your messages — only specified recipients, or all users?

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of their social media accounts. How do they protect their accounts from fraudsters?
  • Why do many social media websites require biographical information to open an account?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to limit the information made available to other social media users?
  2. Is there an obligation to accept a “friend” request of a service provider or anyone you don’t know or do not know well?
  3. Why be extra careful before clicking on a link sent to you even if by a friend?

Instant Pay for Millennials

Can you imagine getting paid each day that you work? That’s the idea behind Instant Financial’s app, which puts cash in the hands of workers on the same day they work. This program attempts to reduce absenteeism and employee turnover for restaurant chains.

At the end of each workday, employees may take 50 per cent of their pay for that day and transfer it to an instant account; the other half is paid at the end of the regular pay period. Funds in the Instant account may be accessed with a debit card or transferred to a bank account.

The app can reduce the use of payday loans, with exorbitant borrowing rates, as workers have access to funds between pay periods. Instant Financial makes money from fees charged employers and merchants when debit cards are used; although employees may pay ATM fees.

A major concern of the app is that it might discourage long-term financial planning. Poor budgeting habits could result in increased use of debt due to a lack of funds at the end of the month. Employees who use the app are encouraged to practice wise money management, including creating and building an emergency fund and other savings.

For additional information on instant pay, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk with others about the benefits and drawbacks of an instant account.
  • Have students describe two situations: (1) a person who used the instant account wisely, and (2) someone who mismanaged their money as a result of using the instant account.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors might be considered when deciding whether or not to use an instant account?
  2. Describe how an instant account might result in improved money management and in weakened money management activities.

Overdraft Opt-in or Opt-out?

Most financial institutions offer overdraft programs for checking accounts, which for a fee covers a transaction where there is not enough in the account.  However, this service can result in several fees before the next deposit is made.  For debit cards, an overdraft fee cannot be charged unless you have agreed (“opted in”) to these fees.

To reduce or eliminate overdraft fees, these actions are suggested:

  1. carefully track your balance; sign up for low-balance alerts
  2. check your balance when making a debit card purchase; also consider other checks that may not yet cleared
  3. do not opt-in to an overdraft program for your debit card, or opt-out if you are currently opted in; while your debit/ATM may be declined, you will avoid high fees
  4. link your checking account to a savings account to cover overdrafts
  5. contact your financial institution to determine if you are eligible for a line of credit or a linked credit card to cover overdrafts
  6. compare account fees at other financial institutions

Complaints related to overdraft fees or other financial services may be submitted at   http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/ or by calling 855-411-2372.

For additional information on overdraft programs, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online or contact the costs associated with overdraft fees at various financial institutions.
  • Have students prepare a creative presentation describing actions to take to avoid overdraft fees.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Describe situations that might result in overdraft fees.
  2. What are methods to take to avoid overdraft fees?

Avoiding Payday Loans

Payday lenders see borrowers as prey, people floundering in financial difficulty.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is planning to release proposed rules related to loans and other short-term borrowing, such as auto title loans.  These efforts will include requirements that payday lenders make sure borrowers are able to repay the loans.

Payday loans are usually viewed as a temporary financial solution.  However, quite often borrowers need more time.  As a result, consumers get trapped in rolling over their debt and may be charged as high as 700 percent on an annual basis.  According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 12 million Americans use payday loans each year, resulting in $7 billion of interest and fees.

For additional information on payday loans, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students ask people to describe situations in which a person might use a payday loan.
  • Have students create a list of methods that might be used to inform others of alternatives to payday loans.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are benefits and drawbacks of payback loans?
  2. What alternatives might be considered instead of a payday loan?

Newcomer Money Guides

While beneficiary, collateral, and fair market value are familiar to many, these terms can be especially confusing to those with limited English-language skills. In an attempt to assist various people, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has created the Newcomer’s Guides to Managing Money to provide recent immigrants with information about basic money decisions.  These guides offer brief suggestions to those who are new to the U.S. banking system.  The guides also include guidance for submitting and resolving problems with a financial product or service.

The Newcomer Guides include these topics:

  • Ways to receive your money, comparing cash, check, direct deposit, and debit cards.
  • Checklist for opening an account, to assist with starting a bank or credit union account.
  • Ways to pay your bills, providing guidance on whether to pay by check, debit card, credit card, or online.
  • Selecting financial products and services, providing assistance on deciding which financial services are right for various household situations.

Print copies of the guides can be ordered or downloaded. These publications are available to English and Spanish with additional languages to be offered in the future.

For additional information on money guides for newcomers:

Article #1
Article #2
Article #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students ask people to create a list of financial planning terms that people find confusing.
  • Have students suggest methods to have people learn about confusing financial planning terms.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What financial problems might be encountered by people with limited English-language skills?
  2. What actions might be taken to assist various groups to better understand banking services and money management activities?

Chip Card Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of millions of consumers who haven’t yet received a chip card.  For example, scammers are e-mailing people, posing as their card issuer.  The scammers claim that in order to issue a new chip card, they need to update your account by confirming some personal information or clicking on a link to continue the process.  Information received can be used to commit identify theft.  If they click on the link, they may unknowingly install malware on your device.

How can you tell if the e-mail is from a scammer?

  • There is no reason your card issuer needs to contact you by e-mail or by phone to confirm personal information before sending you a new chip card number.
  • Still not sure if the e-mail is a scam? Contact your card issuers at phone numbers on your cards.
  • Don’t trust links in e-mails. Only provide personal information through a company’s website if you typed in the web address yourself and you see that the site is secure, like a URL that begins https (the “s” stands for secure).

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to visit other identify theft websites, such as, consumer.gov/idtheft, to learn what to do if your identity is stolen.
  • Ask students to compile a list of what actions can they take to ensure that their credit/debit cards and other financial information are secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you discover that someone has stolen your identity?
  2. What steps can you take to thwart identity thieves?

Avoiding Banking App Errors

While smartphone apps have made banking easier than ever, threats to financial security continue to grow.  However, some simple actions can be taken to avoid banking app mistakes.

1.    Don’t conduct banking transactions on public Wi-Fi networks since they are vulnerable to hackers. Use a virtual private network (VPN), which provides added security and encryption.
2.    Log out after your session to prevent a thief from getting access to your bank account.
3.    Select a not-so-obvious username. Create password recovery questions with responses that are difficult to obtain from public records.
4.    Update your app when a new version is available to take advantage new security features.
5.    Create a strong password with special characters, and it should be at least 12 characters long. Change your password every 90 days.

For additional information on banking app errors, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk with others about their experiences using banking apps.
  • Have students locate online information about the latest security features fof banking apps.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are benefits of costs of banking apps?
  2. How might banking apps be improved for increased financial security?

Bitcoins or a Credit Card?

Do you shop online?  Have you seen websites that allow you to pay with bitcoins?

Beware of the Bitcoin (virtual currency) risks!!

  • Values go up and down based on demand.
  • Payments made with virtual currencies aren’t reversible.
  • You do not have the same legal protections as more traditional payment methods.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have purchased products or services with bitcoins and what has been their experience.
  • Ask students if they check out the seller’s reputation before a purchase with bitcoins.

Discussion Questions

  1. Should the payment with bitcoins go directly to the seller or a payment processor?
  2. Does a payment through a payment processor offer any protections?
  3. If you receive damaged merchandise, will you get a refund in virtual currency, U.S. dollars, or store credit?
  4. If you have a problem with bitcoin-related product or service, where should you file a complaint?

Saver Survey

Each year, America Saves (www.americasaves.org) conducts a survey or its program participants to determine the attitudes and behaviors of savers.  The most recent study reports that:

  • People save mainly for their emergency fund, retirement, or repaying debt.
  • People in formal savings programs, such as America Saves, report saving larger amounts.
  • Married respondents saved much more than single respondents.
  • Females and males have different saving purposes; females favored saving for an emergency fund, males favored retirement saving.
  • Savers involved in America Saves are saving more, are more confident in their ability to manage their money, and are managing their debt better while feeling more optimistic about their financial situation.

The complete Savers Survey report is available here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others about their savings habits and goals.
  • Have students prepare a graph to monitor their savings activities.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What actions can help encourage a person to have more effective savings habits?
  2. Why does being involved in an organized savings program result in more savings and better money management activities?