Gift Cards Scams

new data analysis by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows that gift cards continue to be the most common form of payment when Americans report losing money to most scammers.

Since 2018, the data analysis shows American consumers have reported spending nearly $245 million on gift cards that they used to pay scammers for a wide variety of scams.   Scammers most likely to rely on gift cards as a payment method  were government imposters, family imposters, business imposters, and tech support scams.

In these scams, the scammers convince consumers that they must pay using gift cards. The reasons scammers present vary, but they always tell you that you must go to a retail outlet, purchase physical gift cards, and then provide the PIN numbers on the cards to the scammer. Reports suggest scammers favor certain brands of gift cards, such as, eBay or Amazon, however, their brand preferences change over time.

Because of the rapid increase in scams, the FTC has started a new campaign to partner with retailers around the country to help prevent consumers avoid a gift card payment scam.

The FTC has created warning signs that retailers can place directly at the point of sale for gift cards—both on the racks where they are displayed and at cash registers. The signs are designed to stop consumers who may be ready to buy gift cards to pay a scammer, raising key questions and reminding them that “gift cards are for gifts, not payments.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • How many students have purchased gift cards and how did they use these cards? For personal use?  For gifts? For scammers?
  • What can you do to protect yourself and your family against gift card scams?
  • What will you do if someone calls you from tech support and asks you to pay them with a gift card to fix your computer?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why gift cards continue to be the most common form of payment for most scammers?
  2. Why do so many Americans get scammed by imposters?
  3. What can consumers do to avoid such scams?
  4. Discuss the statement, “Gift cards are for gifts, not payments”.

What to Do When Information Is Lost or Exposed

What to Do When Information Is Lost or Exposed

Did you recently get a notice informing you that your personal information was exposed in a data breach? Did you lose your wallet? Or learn that an online account was hacked? Depending on what information was lost, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft

What information was lost or exposed?

  1. Social Security number
  • If a company responsible for exposing your information offers you free credit monitoring, take advantage of it.
  • Get your free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Check for any accounts or charges you don’t recognize.
  • Consider placing a free credit freeze. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name.
  • Try to file your taxes early — before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
  • Respond right away to letters from the IRS.  Don’t believe anyone who calls and says you’ll be arrested unless you pay for taxes or debt.
  • Continue to check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com.  You can order a free report from each of the three credit reporting companies once a year.
  1. Online login or password
  • Log in to that account and change your password. If possible, also change your user name. If you can’t log in, contact the company. Ask them how you can recover or shut down the account.

3. Debit or credit card number

  • Contact your bank or credit card company to cancel your card and request a new one.
  • Review your transactions regularly. Make sure no one misused your card. If you find fraudulent charges, call the fraud department and get them removed.
  • If you have automatic payments set up, update them with your new card number.
  • Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

4. Bank account information

  • Contact your bank to close the account and open a new one.
  • Review your transactions regularly to make sure no one misused your account. If you find fraudulent charges or withdrawals, call the fraud department and get them removed.
  • If you have automatic payments set up, update them with your new bank account information.
  1. Driver’s license information
  • Contact your nearest motor vehicles branch to report a lost or stolen driver’s license. The state might flag your license number in case someone else tries to use it, or they might suggest that you apply for a duplicate.
  • Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

 

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask how many students check their credit report at least once a year. What is the importance of checking your credit report regularly?
  • Ask if any student has placed a credit freeze. If so, what was their experience?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert?
  2. What must you do if someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund?

Warning Signs of Identity Theft

What Do Thieves Do With Your Information?

 Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

Here are clues that someone has stolen your information:

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their family members or friends have been victims of an identity theft. What was their experience and how did they resolve the problem?
  • Ask students if they mail bills from their home mail box, especially if it is out by the street. What might be some dangers of this method of mailing bills?

Discussion Questions

  1. Should you put your Social Security and driver’s license numbers on your checks?   Why or why not?
  2. Why is it important to check your credit report each year? Should you consider credit monitoring, identity monitoring service, or identity theft insurance?  Why or why not?

Beware of scams related to the coronavirus

Scammers are taking advantage of the corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic to con people into giving up their money. Though the reason behind their fraud is new, their tactics are familiar. It can be even harder to prevent scams right now because people aren’t interacting with as many friends, neighbors, and senior service providers due to efforts to slow the spread of disease.

Those who are ill or don’t feel comfortable potentially exposing themselves may need someone to help with errands. Be cautious when accepting offers of help and use trusted delivery services for supplies and food. During this time of uncertainty, knowing about possible scams is a good first step toward preventing them.

  1. Scams offering COVID-19 vaccine, cure, air filters, testing

There is an increasing number of scams related to vaccines, test kits, cures or treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home. At the time of this writing, there is neither a vaccine nor a cure for this virus. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items–it’s a scam.

  1. Fake corona virus-related charity scams

A thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you. Be careful about any charity calling you asking for donations. If you are able to help financially, visit the website of the organization of your choice to make sure your money is going to the right place. And be wary if you get a call following up on a donation pledge that you don’t remember making–it could be a scam.

  1. “Person in need” scams

Scammers use the circumstances of the corona virus to pose as a grandchild, relative or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and asks you to send money. The scammer may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. These scammers often beg you to keep it a secret and act fast before you ask questions. Don’t panic!  Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you. Hang up and call your grandchild or friend’s phone number to see if the story checks out. You could also call a different friend or relative to check the caller’s story.

  1. Scams targeting your Social Security benefits

Local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, SSA will not suspend or decrease  Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period. Any communication that says SSA will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call. Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov .

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends, or relatives have been victims of coronavirus- related scams? If so, what was their experience?
  • Someone you don’t know contacts you asking for any personally identifiable information by phone, in person, by text message, or email. What will be your response?

Discussion Questions

  1. Someone you don’t know sends you a check, maybe prize-winnings or the sale of goods and asks you to send a portion of the money back. What will you do and why?
  2. Discuss the statement: “The federal. State, and local consumer protection agencies are doing everything possible to protect consumers from fraudsters”.

Protecting your credit during the coronavirus pandemic

Your credit reports and scores play an important role in your future financial opportunities. You can use the steps below to manage and protect your credit during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Get a copy of your credit report

If you haven’t requested your free annual credit reports, you can get copies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (also known as credit reporting companies) – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – allow you to get your report for free once every twelve months. You can request additional reports for a small fee if you’ve already received your free report. Be sure to check your reports for errors and dispute any inaccurate information.

If you can’t make payments, contact your lenders

Many lenders have announced proactive measures to help borrowers impacted by COVID-19. As with other natural disasters and emergencies, they may be willing to provide forbearance, loan extensions, a reduction in interest rates, and/or other flexibilities for repayment. Some lenders are also saying they will not report late payments to credit reporting agencies or waiving late fees for borrowers in forbearance due to this pandemic. If you feel you cannot make payments, contact your lenders to explain your situation and be sure to get confirmation of any agreements in writing.

Credit reporting under the CARES Act

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act places special requirements on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting companies. These requirements apply if you are affected by the coronavirus disease pandemic and if your creditor makes an agreement (called an “accommodation” in the Act) with you to defer a payment, make partial payments, forbear a delinquency, modify a loan, or other relief.

How your creditors report your account to credit reporting companies under the CARES Act depends on whether you are current or already delinquent when this agreement is made.

  • If your account is currentand you make an agreement to make a partial payment, skip a payment, or other accommodation, then the creditor is to report to credit reporting companies that you are current on your loan or account.
  • If your account is already delinquentand you make an agreement, then your account will maintain that status during the agreement until you bring the account current.
  • If your account is already delinquent and you make an agreement, and you bring your account current, the creditor must report that you are current on your loan or account.

For more information, go to: click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have requested their free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. If so, did they find any errors?  What did they learn from the credit reports?
  • Encourage students to request their credit reports if they have never obtained one from the credit reporting agencies.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to contact your creditors as soon as possible if you can’t make payments on time? What are the consequences if you don’t?
  2. What are the special requirements that the CARE Act places on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting agencies? Under what circumstances these special requirements apply?

Want a retail store credit card?

Retail store cards are credit cards that can be used only in a single store or at an affiliated group of stores. Like other credit cards, a store card will show as a line of credit on your credit report.

The advantage of these cards is that they tend to be easier to get, even if you have a poor or limited credit history. If you’re able to make consistent and on-time payments, a retail store card can be one way to help you build or improve your credit .

The disadvantage is that retail store cards may carry higher interest rates than traditional credit cards.  Also, if the card has a deferred-interest promotion, you could end up paying even more in interest if your balance isn’t fully paid off by the end of the promotional period.

Six rules for using your store credit card wisely 

  1. Watch your overall spending during the holidays
  2. Pay your bill on time
  3. Understand the differences between zero-interest and deferred-interest promotions
  4. Limit the number of cards you apply for
  5. Don’t get close to your credit limit
  6. Act fast if you can’t pay your bills

For more information, go to

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/six-tips-when-offered-retail-store-credit-card/

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask students if they have any retail store credit cards. If so, what has been their experience?  Share the information with classmates.
  • Ask students to make a list of possible advantages or disadvantages of retail store credit cards. Share the list with the class.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If there is a deferred-interest promotion, why is it important to pay off deferred balance in full before the end of the promotion period?
  2. If you already have several other credit cards, will you be able to manage one more card?
  3. What is the difference between zero-interest and deferred-interest promotions?

Financial Literacy for Children

A lifetime of skillful financial decisions starts with experiential learning at a young age. To increase financial literacy for the next generation, consider these actions:

  • Give children a payday. Instead of a weekly allowance with simply giving money, create a system of earning these funds. Connect their household chores to earned amounts with a weekly payday. This practice can teach a child that people are paid for work to earn money for their living expenses.
  • Create awareness of opportunity cost. Every financial decision has trade-offs. Once money is spent, that money is not available for other uses. Keeping money in a clear jar allows the young person to visually see what funds are available, and when the money is gone.
  • Allow children to experience borrowing. If a child wants to buy something but does not have the money, set up a signed loan agreement with repayment terms. Also create a plan for the amount owed to be taken from future household earnings. Have the young person physically pay the money to better understand how credit works.
  • Connect them in the budgeting process. Include children in the discussion of family finances and the household budget to help them understand where money is spent. Consider creating a chart with spending amounts, or use slips of paper representing money that are used to pay the bills each month.
  • Teach wants vs. needs. Shoes or a clothing item may be a need but not a high-fashion version. To cover the cost of the higher-priced item, young people should be required to earn the amount for the additional expense.
  • Use money games. These activities can help children understand earning, saving, wise spending and other basics of money management for a financially sound future.

For additional information on financial literacy for children, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct online research to locate other actions used by parents to teach their children smart spending and wise money management.
  • Have students talk to parents to obtain suggestions that might be used to teach wise money management to children.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What are the financial, social, and relational benefits of children learning smart spending and wise money management early in life?
  2. Describe possible money management learning activities for children that involve creative use of technology.

Better Credit by “Piggybacking”?

Is it possible for a person with bad credit to inflate his/her own credit score and get the money-saving benefits of better credit by “piggybacking” on the credit of a stranger? That’s how a Denver-based business pitched its services to cash-strapped consumers. But the Federal Trade Commission says the defendants couldn’t back up their score improvement claims and engaged in several illegal practices that violated the FTC Act, the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

BoostMyScore and CEO William O. Airy claimed to offer consumers “the amazing benefit” of having another person’s credit “‘copied and pasted’ on to your credit report,” giving the buyer “the biggest possible FICO® score boost in less than 60 days; and it’s guaranteed!” Here’s how the defendants described their services, for which they charged consumers between $325 to $4,000 – or even more:

Online and in radio ads, the defendants promised consumers concrete benefits – for example, qualifying for a mortgage. According to one promotional piece, “ . . . many of our customers realize a jump of about 120 points in as little as two weeks. What would a credit score increase of that size mean for you? If you are like most people, that could be the difference between having your mortgage application approved or not.”

The settlement prohibits the defendants from marketing credit repair services that attempt to add an authorized user to anyone’s credit unless that person has actual access. In addition to other provisions to protect consumers in the future, the proposed order prohibits misrepresentations about the legality of credit piggybacking. Most of the proposed $6.6 million judgment would be suspended due to the defendants’ financial condition.

For More Information click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if it is possible to boost their own credit scores by someone else’s good credit.
  • Ask students if they know what information creditors use in determining whether a loan will be approved or denied.

Discussion Questions

  1. What can be done to prevent companies such as Boost My Score, to stop deceiving already financially-strapped consumers?
  2. How effective are the cease-and-desist orders and fines by the Federal Trade Commission, if the defendants don’t have to pay due to their financial condition?
  3. What are the true and tried methods of improving your credit scores?

Disputing Errors on Credit Reports

Your credit report contains information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. Credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting companies.

Some financial advisors and consumer advocates suggest that you review your credit report periodically. Why?

  • Because the information it contains affects whether you can get a loan — and how much you will have to pay to borrow money.
  • To make sure the information is accurate, complete, and up-to-date before you apply for a loan for a major purchase like a house or car, buy insurance, or apply for a job.
  • To help guard against identity theft. That’s when someone uses your personal information — like your name, your Social Security number, or your credit card number — to commit fraud. Identity thieves may use your information to open a new credit card account in your name. Then, when they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. Inaccurate information like that could affect your ability to get credit, insurance, or even a job.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to summarize major provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. How does the law protect consumers?
  • What is the importance of reviewing your credit report periodically?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why only authorized persons are allowed to obtain credit reports?
  2. What must a credit bureau do when you notify the credit bureau that you dispute the accuracy of its information?
  3. What should you do if you are denied credit, insurance, employment, or rental housing based on the information in the report?

COVID-19 Robocall Scams

Scammers are using illegal robocalls to profit from Coronavirus-related fears.  Illegal robocalls are universally hated, so why do scammers still use them? Because scammers need only a few people to take the bait for them to make money. Scammers might do that by getting your bank account number, tricking you into handing over gift card PIN codes, or stealing valuable personal information such as your Social Security number.

Crises such as COVID-19, bring out the best in people, and the worst in scammers who pretend to be from the Social Security Administration, offering fake Coronavirus tests to Medicare recipients, and scaring small businesses into buying bogus online listing services.

To hear examples of illegal robocalls exploiting concerns about the Coronavirus, and to stay up to date on the latest Federal Trade Commission (FTC) information, visit ftc.gov/coronavirus.

Now that you know what Coronavirus robocall scams are like, make sure you share this information with your friends and family members. And, if you get such scam calls,don’t believe them. Instead:

  • Hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Consider using a call blocking app or device. You also can ask your phone provider if it has call-blocking tools. To learn more, go to ftc.gov/calls.
  • Report the call. Report robocalls at ftc.gov/complaint. The more the FTC  hear from you, the more they can help fight scams.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their family members have received such calls. If so, how did they respond?
  • How many students or family members have considered using a call blocking app or have contacted their phone provider to block such calls? Summarize their findings.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it not advisable to ask the caller to remove your name from their call list?
  2. How does reporting your robocalls help the FTC combat scammers?