SCAM TRACKING MAP

Not everyone will be a victim of fraud, but everyone is a target. The AARP Fraud Watch Network offers a scam-tracking map to report fraud activity based on user-submitted information.

To help protect yourself and others, people are asked to report a scam they encounter.  The online form requests your zip code, method of contact (advertisement, door-to-door, Internet, e-mail, U.S. mail, or other), the type of scam, and the amount of money lost to the con artist. The list of scams includes more than 50 types, ranging from debt collection and charities to contests and online auctions.

Further assistance in reporting a scam is available at 1-877-908-3360.  AARP warns that it does not independently verify scam reports, nor guarantee the accuracy of reported scams.

Commonly suggested actions to avoid being taken by a scam include:

  • Only do business with reputable companies.
  • Understand contracts or other documents you sign.
  • Beware of impulse buying; con artists often tell you this is your last chance.
  • If it sounds too good to be true…it probably is!
  • STOP…WAIT…THINK…DON’T!

For additional information on the scam tracking map, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students locate examples of current scams that have surfaced in their area.
  • Have students create a video with suggested actions to take to avoid being taken by a scam.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are reasons that some people are easily deceived by frauds and scams?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid scams and fraud.

Income Illusion

With record unemployment and the ongoing financial impact of the pandemic, many Americans are struggling to make ends meet — and scammers are pitching income scams with false promises of success and financial security.

In a typical pitch, scammers state that you can make a lot of money, for example, working from home with little time and effort, or starting your own online business. But those promises of big money are all an income illusion. In fact, in the first nine months of 2020 alone, Americans reported to the FTC that they lost at least $150 million. The total amount of alleged losses is over $1 billion.

Sometimes these scammers focus their pitches on particular communities.  In one case, a work-from-home scam targeted Latinas through Spanish language TV ads. In another case, an alleged investment scam affected older adults, retirees, and immigrants. And even veterans, students, and college-age adults are targeted with a business coaching scam.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found in income scams the average loss was less than $500. Americans who lost money were 44% more likely to live in majority Black communities.

How to Spot an Income Scam

Everyone can be targeted by income scams.  A scammer’s offer may tell you that:

  • Make money selling in your community. Be your own boss.
  • Learn from the experts how to generate guarantee income.
  • You got the job! Deposit this check and send money or buy gift cards.
  • Work from home and make money with little time and effort!
  • Just recruit more people to make big money!

Before you accept a business offer:

  • Take your time

Avoid high pressure sales pitches that require you get involved now or risk losing out.

  • Be skeptical about success stories and testimonials.

Glowing stories could be fake and online reviews may have come from made-up profiles.

  • Don’t bank on a “cleared” check.

If you’re told to send some money or buy gift cards, you can bet it’s a fake even if you see the   money in your account.

  • Do your research.

Search online for the company’s name plus words like “review,” “scam,” or “complaints.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends, or families have received such offers from scammers. If so, how did they respond?
  • Ask students what they would personally do to fight income scams and help people recognize and avoid them.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do scammers focus their pitches on particular communities?
  2. Why is it important to search online for company’s name plus words like “review”, “scams”, and “complaints” before making a decision”?

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?

IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Schemes

Each year, the IRS warns taxpayers about the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams.  Some of these cons show up on the list each year, while others are new. Tax scams are most common during tax season or times of crisis. The COVID pandemic created opportunities to try steal money and information from taxpayers.

Taxpayers are reminded to beware of these ongoing swindles that include:

  • Phishing involves fake emails or websites to obtain personal information. The IRS never initiates contact by email. Do not click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Also be wary of keywords, such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “Stimulus.”
  • Fake charities are a reoccurring concern. Criminals often take advantage of natural disasters and other situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to set up a phony charity, and may even claim to be working with the IRS to help victims.
  • Threatening impersonator phone calls claim to be collecting money for the IRS. The scammer uses fear and urgency to demand immediate payment. Senior citizens and their caregivers should be especially alert for this type of fraud.
  • Unscrupulous return preparers, called “ghost” preparers, expose their clients to serious filing mistakes and tax fraud. Ghost preparers do not sign the tax returns they prepare, as required by law. While most tax professionals provide honest service, others should be avoided.
  • Fake payments with repayment demands involve scammers tricking taxpayers into sending them their refund. The criminal steals or obtains personal data to file a bogus tax return. Once the money is in the bank account, the criminal poses as an IRS employee to request that the money be returned immediately, perhaps in the form of gift cards.

Some recent tax scams that have surfaced include

  • Offer-in-compromise mills involves misleading tax debt resolution companies exaggerating their ability to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar.” The offer requires that taxpayers meet certain legal requirements. Dishonest businesses enroll unqualified candidates to collect hefty fees from taxpayers already deep in debt.
  • Economic impact payment or refund theft, in which criminals filed false tax returns or bogus information with the IRS to redirect refunds to a wrong address or bank account.
  • Social media scams may use COVID-19 to trick people. The scammer uses information on social media to send emails pretending to be a family member, friend, or co-worker, which can result in tax-related identity theft.
  • Ransomware takes advantage of human and technical weaknesses to infect a computer, network, or server. Invasive software (malware) can track keystrokes and other computer activity. An infected computer can allow access to personal and financial data. Or, a ransom request appears in a pop-up window.

To avoid these scams: (1) be aware of potential cons; (2) check with the IRS or your bank if something is suspicious; (3) keep your computer system and passwords secure, and (4) avoid deals that are “too good to be true.”

For additional information on tax scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students describe these situations to other people, and ask them what actions they might take to avoid these scams.
  • Have students create a video or visual presentation to warn others of these potential scams.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why do some people get taken by tax scams and other frauds?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid various tax scams.

ELECTRIC CARS

As technology improves, electric vehicles, also referred to as EVs, are increasing in popularity. The benefits of EV are the result of:

  • being environmentally friendly with no emissions
  • nearly silent engine sound
  • potential tax credits have been available in recent years
  • lower operating costs and maintenance expenses
  • smartphone apps to program charging times and to heat or cool the passenger cabin in advance of driving

Common concerns associated with EVs include:

  • the higher initial cost
  • short driving ranges for some models and in cold weather and on steep inclines
  • slow charging time, which are improved with new technology
  • charging stations may not always be available
  • loss of cargo space for the battery pack
  • lower towing capacities than with a conventional vehicle

The two main EV types are battery electric vehicles (BEVs) only running on electricity, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that use electricity for a limited distance before switching to a gas-electric hybrid mode. Some models have an onboard generator to create electricity for greater driving distances.

For additional information on electric cars, go to:

Link #1

Link #2

Link #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct online research to determine current models, prices, and operating costs of electric cars.
  • Have students conduct an interview with someone who owns an electric car or hybrid to obtain information about the person’s experiences.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors should a person consider when buying an electric car?
  2. Describe future developments that might make electric cars more attractive to car buyers.

 

Beware: Subscription Services

With growing numbers of video streaming services and product box programs, these subscriptions are becoming the newest budget buster. These seemingly small monthly charges add up, lowering a person’s ability to save along with a potential for increased debt. These ongoing financial commitments leave people with a lower percentage of free cash flow, or unencumbered income.

Subscription service spending is often overlooked especially when the payments are on auto pilot. A $4 or $8 monthly fee may not seem like much. However, research indicates that subscription services are an increasing financial burden as most people underestimate the amount. In one study, 84 percent of respondents estimated monthly spending on these services at about $80; the actual amount was over $110. In addition to video steaming services, people sign up for automatic monthly shipments of beer, wine, contact lenses, cosmetics, meal kits, pet food, razors, vitamins, and other products.

For additional information on subscription services, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students survey several people to determine the types and amounts of subscription services being used.
  • Have students create a financial analysis for amounts saved over several years by reducing or eliminating subscription services.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors influence a person’s decision to use a subscription service?
  2. Describe suggested actions that a person might take to reduce or eliminate subscription services.

Anchoring Your Personal Finance Decisions

To spend less and save more, consider an “anchoring” system.  One example of an anchor is the price of an item to determine if that is an appropriate amount of money to spend for the item.

Anchors prevent shoppers from being overwhelmed by the many choices, prices, and features.  You can create your own anchors by:

  • setting the maximum price you are willing to spend for an item.
  • considering the value of an item in relation to the number of hours you have to work to pay for it.
  • comparing the cost in relation to another item. If you buy coffee costing $2.50 a cup and want a sweater costing $50, view the sweater as costing 20 cups of coffee. Your “coffee” anchor will help you determine how valuable the sweater is to you.

When buying a home, you may be encouraged to look at properties outside your price range.  Anchoring yourself at a price limit will avoid overspending, make you feel more in control, and encourage wiser financial decisions.

For additional information on financial anchoring, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to several people to obtain information about how they determine the price they are willing to pay for an item.
  • Have students create a video presentation that demonstrates various anchoring methods.

Discussion Questions 

  1. How might anchoring help improve personal financial literacy and money management activities?
  2. Describe anchors people might used to determine the price they would be willing to pay for an item.

Avoid Tax Refund Advances

Each year, more than 1.5 million taxpayers obtain refund anticipation loans (RALs).  This year, the number may be higher as a result of the government shutdown.  While, RALs provide faster access to your money, they come with high fees and should only be used as a last resort.  These “cash advances” are a potential for scams; before using these loans, take these actions:

  • Assess the cost. While some national tax chains promote this service as a “free” cash advance, fees may apply for applying for the advance, checking your credit, and transferring the money to you. Costs for your refund advance check range from $29 to $65.  If your refund is on a prepaid debit card, there will likely be additional fees.
  • Beware of loan terms based on timing. Additional charges may occur if your refund is delayed.
  • Compare other options. Seek less expensive, small-dollar, short-term loans from a community bank or credit union, or a zero-percent credit card. A $35 charge to defer a $350 tax preparation fee for two weeks has an APR of 174 percent.
  • To avoid late fees for bills, contact your creditors. Utility companies and medical providers may offer no-cost extensions or no-cost payment plans.

Always be sure you are doing business with a reputable tax preparer. Check credentials and references. Avoid tax preparers who charge fees based your refund amount, or who deposit your refund in their bank account. Another fraudulent activity is filing false information to increase the amount of the refund.

For additional information on tax refund advances, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online for costs for refund anticipation loans.
  • Have students prepare a video presentation on avoiding refund anticipation loans.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What advice would you give a person planning to obtain a refund anticipation loan?
  2. How might community organizations and government agencies assist people who are considering a refund anticipation loan?

Why Buy When You Can Rent?

While car ownership has been a cultural milestone in our society, this tradition is diminishing with a trend toward renting or borrowing rather than owning. This situation is partially related to fewer teenagers opting to obtain a driver’s license. Also, fewer young people are buying homes, giving preference to the flexibility of renting.

The owning of “stuff” is shifting toward “decluttering” and choosing instead to rent items as needed. A strong belief that overconsumption is putting our planet at risk is driving the rise of the sharing economy. In addition, there is a growing trust to value exchanging items with “real people” rather than buying from major companies.

In addition to Zipcar, which rents vehicles by the hour, other rental business models include:

  • Ann Taylor’s Infinite Style service that allows a person, for a $95 monthly fee, to rent up to three garments at a time.
  • SnapGoods rents cameras, power tools and home appliances, such as blenders.
  • Frankfurt airport has a service that allows travelers to store winter coats when flying to warmer climates. Other businesses are considering a service to rent cold weather clothing to travelers arriving from tropical areas.
  • Since about one-third of new vehicles are leased, Cadillac created the “Book By Cadillac” program allowing a person to exchange up to 18 vehicles a year.

The many empty stores in malls create opportunities for “swap meets” and “rental fairs” for various products, using these spaces to also build connections in the local community.

For additional information on renting instead of buying, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students locate examples of sharing economy businesses and rental companies in your community and online.
  • Have students talk to others to obtain ideas for new types of rental businesses.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What do you believe are the benefits and drawbacks of renting instead of owning?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to determine needs and ideas for rental businesses in a community.

 

Holiday Spending Spreadsheet

The joy of the holiday season can be overpowered with shopping stress and financial difficulties. To avoid this situation, consider this approach:

  1. In mid-to-late November, create a spreadsheet to manage your holiday spending. Categories might include gifts for family and friends, donations to charity, holiday meals along with other items such as shipping, wrapping paper, decorations, parties, and travel.
  2. Enter realistic amounts that you are able to spend for the various people on your gift list and for the other categories.
  3. Monitor your actual spending, attempting to stay within your budget.
  4. Based on this year’s experiences, adjust categories and amounts for the 2019 holiday season.

The spreadsheet might include columns for name/item, budgeted amount, actual amount, difference, and notes for future reference.  Starting earlier in the year, consider   setting aside holiday money to avoid taking away funds from your normal budget. You might also consider using credit card and other reward points for gifts.

For additional information on a holiday spending spreadsheet, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students create a spreadsheet that might be used to monitor holiday spending.
  • Have students talk to others to obtain ideas for not overspending during the holiday season.

Discussion Questions 

  1. How would you make use of a spreadsheet for holiday spending?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to monitor and control holiday spending.