Resources to help you avoid scams during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to con people into giving up their money. During this time of uncertainty, knowing about possible scams is a good first step toward preventing them.

Beware of these corona-related scams:

Vaccine, cure, air filters, and testing scams

The FTC warned  about 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. There is no vaccine for this virus, and there is no cure. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items–it’s a scam.

What to do instead: Testing is available  through your local and state governments, but these tests are not delivered to your house.

Fake coronavirus-related charity scams

charity scam is when 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 and asking for donations. Also be wary if you get a call following up on a donation pledge that you don’t remember making–it could be a scam.

What to do instead: 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.

“Person in need” scams

Scammers could use the circumstances of the coronavirus 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 ask you to send money. They 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.

What to do instead: Don’t panic! Take a deep breath and get the facts. 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. Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you.

Scams targeting Social Security benefits

While 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.

What to do instead: Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov .

For more information, go to: click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their families have received calls from scammers. If so, what was their response?
  • Ask students to prepare a list of actions to take if they receive calls from scammers. Share the list with others.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to do your homework when you donate to a charity? should you donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money?  Why or why not?
  2. What should you do if you receive a call, an email, text message, or a letter claiming that an air filter system will remove COVID-19 from the air in your home?
  3. How would you handle any communication which claims that Social Security will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 pandemic?

What You Should Know About Applying For Retirement

Approaching and preparing for retirement can be a daunting task, but Social Security makes it as easy as possible. Social Security has eliminated the forms, signatures, wait time, and appointments. The agency has now made it easy, convenient and secure to apply. You can complete online retirement application in as little as 15 minutes from your preferred location, at a time most convenient for you.  However, before you apply, consider how you’ll like to receive benefits, your health, and whether anyone else in your family can get benefits on your record.

The age you choose to retire affects the amount of benefits you receive and when you can start receiving them. If you start them any time before your full retirement age, Social Security reduces your monthly benefit. Depending on your year of birth, your full retirement age is likely between age 66 and 67. You may start receiving benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70.

If you elect to receive benefits before you reach full retirement age, and continue to work, it can affect your benefits. The Retirement Estimator  calculates a personal estimate of how much your benefit will be at different ages and “stop work” dates. You can use it to find the best combination for your situation.  You can read about other things to consider before you make your decision about when to begin your benefits. If you’re ready to apply, you can do it online.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to debate the statement, “It is never too early to begin planning for retirement”.
  • What information will you need when you apply for retirement?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to start retirement planning when you are still young?
  2. Would it be better for you to start getting benefits early with a smaller monthly payments for more years, or wait for a larger monthly payment over a shorter time period?

Time to Start Preparing for Retirement

Even if you just started working, now is the time to start preparing for retirement. Achieving the dream of a secure, comfortable retirement is much easier with a strong financial plan.

Tip 1: Start Early

Social security Administration’s retirement planning resources are helpful to you at any stage of your career. Their calculators, Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool, and disability resources are all available on our benefit planners website.

Tip 2: Be Informed

What’s the best age to start receiving retirement benefits? The answer is that there’s no single “best age” for everyone and, ultimately, it’s your choice. The most important thing is to make an informed decision, based on your individual and family circumstances.

Tip 3: Estimate the Benefits You Might Get

Knowing the amount of money you could get is pivotal in planning your finances.  With the Retirement Estimator, you can plug in some basic information to get an instant, personalized estimate of your future benefits. Try out different scenarios, such as higher or lower future earnings amounts and various retirement dates to see the various potential effects on your future benefit amounts.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to prepare a list of several retirement planning sources available from various governmental and private organizations.
  • What actions you can take to prepare for retirement right now? Share your list with colleagues, friends, and relatives.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to start planning for retirement as early as possible?
  2. Why should you save now for retirement? Isn’t Social Security enough during retirement years?
  3. What are some ways to invest to reach your retirement goals and never outlive your savings?

The Future of Social Security

The Social Security Board of Trustees released its 2019 annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security trust funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASI and DI) trust funds are projected to become depleted in 2035, one year later than projected last year, with 80% of benefits payable at that time.

The OASI trust fund is projected to become depleted in 2034, the same as last year’s estimate, with 77% of benefits payable at that time. The DI trust fund is estimated to become depleted in 2052, extended 20 years from last year’s estimate of 2032, with 91% of benefits still payable.

The Board of Trustees usually comprises six members.  Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Commissioner of Social Security, Secretary of Health and Human Services and Secretary of Labor.  The two public trustee positions are currently vacant.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they are concerned about the future of Social Security. Do they believe that Social Security will be there when they retire?
  • Ask students to debate the issue, “Social Security is not sustainable over the long term at current benefit and tax rates.”

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the outlook for future Social Security and Medicare costs in relation to GDP?
  2. What might be the implications of rising Social Security and Medicare costs?
  3. How are Social Security and Medicare financed?
  4. How do longer life expectancies and early retirements affect the future of Social Security?

National Social Security Month

In April, the Social Security Administration celebrated National Social Security Month, and highlighted the agency’s mission and purpose.

The agency is constantly expanding its online services to give you freedom and control in how you wish to explore it.

For example, you can go online to:

  1. Find out if you qualify for benefits;
  2. Use benefit planners to help you better understand your Social Security protection;
  3. Estimate your future retirement benefits to help you plan for your financial future;
  4. Retire online, or apply for Medicare quickly and easily; and
  5. Open your personal my Social Security to help you stay in control of your Social Security record.

If you currently receive benefits, you can:

  1. Change your address and phone number;
  2. Get a benefit verification letter to prove you receive Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Medicare;
  3. Start deposits or change your direct deposit information at any time;
  4. Get a replacement Medicare card; and
  5. Get a replacement Benefit Statement (SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S) for tax purposes

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have a Social Security account. If not, encourage them to establish their account, regardless of their age.
  • Make students understand that Social Security is not just for people over 65. The program provides benefits to retirees, survivors, and disabled persons.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to open a mySocial Security account, even if you are in your teens?
  2. What are the pros and cons of collecting Social Security at age 62? Under what circumstances would you choose to collect benefits before full retirement age?

Monitor Your Earnings

You work hard for your money. You’re saving and planning for a secure retirement. Now you need to make sure you’re going to get all the money you deserve. Regularly reviewing your Social Security earnings record can really pay off, especially when every dollar counts in retirement.  If an employer did not properly report just one year of your work earnings to Social Security, your future benefit payments from Social Security could be nearly $100 per month less than they should be. Over the course of a lifetime, that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in retirement or other benefits to which you are entitled.

It’s ultimately the responsibility of your employers — past and present — to provide accurate earnings information to Social Security so you get credit for the contributions you’ve made through payroll taxes. But you can inform Social Security of any errors or omissions. You’re the only person who can look at your lifetime earnings record and verify that it’s complete and correct.

So, what’s the easiest and most efficient way to validate your earnings record?

  • Visit Social Security websiteto set up or sign in to your own my Social Security account;
  • Under the “My Home” tab, select “Earnings Record” to view your online Social Security Statement and taxed Social Security earnings;
  • Carefully review each year of listed earnings and use your own records, such as W-2s and tax returns, to confirm them;
  • Keep in mind that earnings from this current year and last year may not be listed yet; and
  • Notify Social Security Administration right away if you spot errors by calling 1-800-772-1213.

For More information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask your students if they regularly monitor their earnings with Social Security Administration. If they don’t, encourage them to review their earnings every year.
  • Help students understand that because of longer expectancies, the full retirement age is being increased in gradual steps until it reaches 67.

Discussion Questions

  1. What can you do if an employer did not properly report your earnings to Social Security?
  2. Why is it important to create a mySocial Security account if you are 18 or older and have a Social Security number, valid e-mail, and U.S. mail address?

Spoofed calls-It’s time to hang up!

If you get a call that looks like it’s from the Social Security Administration (SSA), think twice. Scammers are spoofing SSA’s 1-800 customer service number to try to get your personal information. Spoofing means that scammers can call from anywhere, but they make your caller ID show a different number – often one that looks legitimate. Here are few things you should know about these fake SSA calls.

These scam calls are happening across the nation, according to SSA: Your phone rings. Your caller ID shows that it’s the SSA calling from 1-800-772-1213. The caller says he works for the Social Security Administration and needs your personal information – like your Social Security number – to increase your benefits payments. (Or he threatens to cut off your benefits if you don’t give the information.) But it’s not really the Social Security Administration calling. Yes, it is the SSA’s real phone number, but the scammers on the phone are spoofing the number to make the call look real.

What can you do if you get one of these calls? Hang up. Remember:

  • SSA will not threaten you. Real SSA employees will never threaten you to get personal information. They also won’t promise to increase your benefits in exchange for information. If they do, it’s a scam.
  • If you have any doubt, hang up and call SSA directly. Call 1-800-772-1213 – that really is the phone number for the Social Security Administration. If you dial that number, you know who you’re getting. But remember that you can’t trust caller ID. If a call comes in from that number, you can’t be sure it’s really SSA calling.
  • If you get a spoofed call, report it. If someone calls, claiming to be from SSA and asking for information like your Social Security number, report it to SSA’s Office of Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or https://oig.ssa.gov/report. You can also report these calls to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

For more information,click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use this blog post and the original article to

  • Help students understand that real SSA employees will never threaten you and get personal information.
  • Ask students if they or any of their friends or relatives have received a spoofed SSA call (calls)?

Discussion Questions

  1. If you are worried about a call from someone who claims to be from the SSA, what would you do?
  2. What can federal, state and local consumer protection agencies and telecommunication industry do to stop spoofed calls?

GIG Economy Retirement Planning

As more and more people work as freelancers, independent contractors, and sharing economy workers, concerns grow regarding retirement for this group. A recent study revealed that very few full-time gig economy workers have an adequate retirement plan. Relying on Social Security is probably not enough since those funds will not likely cover retirement living expenses.

Most gig economy workers are one-person businesses, many with limited financial literacy.  As a result, they do not properly plan for retirement savings.  Self-employed individuals also face the challenge of volatile income streams. And, they lack employer-provided benefits, such as health and disability insurance, unemployment benefits, and paid time off. In addition, these gig economy workers are responsible for paying 100 percent of their Social Security and Medicare taxes through self-employment tax.

Some advantages of gig economy workers are:

  • deducting most business-related expenses, reducing their taxable income.
  • access to Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) that allow self-employed people to contribute to a tax-deferred retirement fund.
  • the ability to supplement their retirement income as they may continue to work part-time with customers and clients in their later years.

While gig workers face several financial challenges, programs are surfacing to help the self-employed save for retirement and achieve better long-term financial security. These include:

  • Open Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs) or Pooled Employer Plans (PEPs) that let employers combine resources for independent workers to purchase group health and disability insurance.
  • A proposed Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act to establish a fund through the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Several states are creating automatic-enrollment IRAs involving government-facilitated programs administered by private financial firms.

For additional information on retirement planning in the gig economy, go to:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to a freelancer or independent contractor to obtain information about their financial planning activities.
  • Have students create a financial plan with recommendations for a freelancer or independent contractor.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What do you believe are the benefits and drawbacks for gig economy workers?
  2. Describe actions you would recommend to self-employed individuals for improved personal financial security.

 

Retirement Planning and Saving: Mistakes to Avoid

Millions of working Americans find it’s a challenge just to pay for their house, car, insurance, child care and other expenses each month. So how can people even think about setting aside money for their retirement 20, 30 or even 40 years away? We can’t predict the future, but we can help you learn from the past. Here’s a list of common mistakes and miscalculations on the road to financial security — wrong turns we want you to avoid.

Saving too little.  How much of your money should go to retirement savings?

When in doubt, perhaps the simplest approach is to try to put 10 to 20 percent of your income each year into money toward your retirement. Regular, automatic savings programs also help make it “painless” to set money aside.

Starting too late. The sooner you begin saving, even with relatively small amounts contributed year after year, the faster you can develop a solid retirement fund. Through the magic of compound interest, a little bit of money saved over a long period can grow to be a lot of money.

Not diversifying enough. Putting all your (nest) eggs in one basket can be a problem if the approach you take doesn’t perform well or actually loses money. Consider a mix of savings and investments that might perform reasonably well under any economic or market conditions.

Not doing your homework. A wrong move can cost you thousands of dollars in taxes, fees, penalties or bad investments. Learn as much as you can about planning and saving for retirement.

Falling for retirement rip-offs. If you get a call, letter or visit from someone peddling financial products with features that seem too good to be true, trust your instincts.  If you think you’ve been approached by a con artist or you’ve been victimized by someone offering a financial product or service, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (visit ftc.gov/complaint or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP). If the scam is internet-related, send an email to the federal government’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has started to save for retirement. What was their motivation to start early?
  • Ask students to prepare and share a list of resources that can be used to learn more about retirement planning and investing for retirement.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to start early and save for retirement even when you are in your 20’s?
  2. What should you do if a financial product and its features seem too good to be true?
  3. How even a little bit of money saved over a long period of time can grow to be a lot of money at retirement?

Questions to Ask Yourself as You Plan for Retirement

Deciding when to start receiving your retirement benefits from Social Security is a decision that only you can make, and you should make that decision with as much information as possible.  There are a lot of important questions to answer.  Should you claim benefits earlier and get a smaller monthly payment for more years?  Or should you wait and get bigger monthly amount over a shorter period?

There are no right or wrong answers, but consider these four important questions as you plan for your financial secure retirement:

  1. How much money will I need to live comfortably in retirement?
  2. What will my monthly Social Security retirement benefit be?
  3. Will I have other income to supplement my Social Security benefits?
  4. How long do I expect my retirement to last?

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to survey retired individuals or people close to retirement to obtain information on the main sources of retirement income.
  2. Ask students to survey local businesses to determine the types of retirement plans available to employees.

Discussion Questions

  1. What types of retirement income should be the main emphasis of a retirement program?
  2. What actions might be appropriate by government and individuals to guarantee the continuing financial stability of the Social Security program?