Do You Really Need Dietary Supplements?

Ads abound for products that claim to treat or prevent serious health conditions. Unfortunately, these products often are unproven and useless. Sometimes the ads even make false promises for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – diseases for which science has no cure.

In March 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warning letters to certain companies making unproven claims that their products can treat or cure Alzheimer’s or other diseases .Many of these products are sold on websites and social media platforms – and called “dietary supplements” or natural remedies. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe.  Products that claim to do it all often do nothing.

The reality is that phony miracle products can be dangerous, and not just because of interactions with medicines you’re already taking. They also might cause you to delay or stop proven medical treatment ordered by – or available from – your physician. They might also delay you from making important dietary and lifestyle changes to help your condition. And some may contain unlabeled and unapproved drugs, which can cause serious injury or death.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to make a list of credible sources of health information.
  2. Ask students if they, their relatives or friends ever bought a dietary supplement or health-related product that did not work as promised. What action(s) did they take?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to talk to your healthcare professional before you take any dietary supplements?
  2. What are some of the most effective ways to stay healthy, instead of wasting your money on unproven dietary supplements?

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?

Deceptive Stem Cell Therapy

People spend billions of dollars each year on health-related products and treatments that don’t deliver. People who buy them are cheated out of their money, their time, and even their health.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports  that California-based Regenerative Medical Group, Telehealth Medical Group, and Dr. Bryn Jarald Henderson, the founder of both companies, sold false hope at high prices.

These companies and Dr. Henderson used social media and websites to promote stem cell therapy for all kinds of health issues affecting older adults and children. Supposedly, it could treat and cure diseases and health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, autism, dementia, depression, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, heart disease, macular degeneration, chronic kidney disease, osteoarthritis, and stroke. Dr. Gunderson  charged up to $15,000 for their initial stem cell therapy and up to $8,000 for follow-up treatments.

But, according to the FTC, these claims were not backed up by any scientific studies and, in fact, no studies have established that stem cells cure, treat, or reduce the severity of diseases or health conditions in humans. With the exception of a few FDA-approved treatments, stem cell therapy is still largely experimental.

Are you — or someone you know — thinking about stem cell therapy?  If so,

  • Be skeptical about amazing health claims.
  • Don’t trust a website just because it looks professional, uses medical terms, or has success stories from “real people.”
  • Talk to your health care professional before you consider any medical treatment.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  •  Help students understand that health information, whether online or in print, should come from a trusted source.
  • Let students make a list of the richest and most reliable sources of health information and share it with the class.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to seek a second or even third opinion from a qualified health care provider before trying experimental medical procedures?
  2. What can the FTC and other federal/state governmental agencies do to prevent such businesses to make deceptive treatments.

Fake healthcare plans

If you’re looking online for health insurance, there are lots of results that seem to offer good choices. But dishonest companies are literally counting on you being confused by all those choices. So, before you sign up and pay, take steps to know you’re getting exactly what the plan advertised. Otherwise, fake “coverage” can leave you exposed to substandard benefits and costly payments.

For example, according to the Federal Trade Commission, a Florida-based company, Simple Health Plans, LLC, allegedly tricked consumers into believing its plans offer comprehensive coverage and are compliant with Affordable Care Act (ACA) standards. The company allegedly lured people in through lead-generation sites, using logos of well-known health insurance providers to make itself look credible. Simple Health asked for personal information on the site, followed up with phone calls, and pitched what it said were affordable, comprehensive, ACA-qualified plans with low or no co-pays or deductibles.

But once consumers signed up — often at premiums as high as hundreds of dollars per month — the FTC says they did not get anywhere near the full coverage Simple Health promised, and the benefits were not ACA-qualified.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or any of their friends and relatives have received sham health insurance plans calls. If so, how did they handle such calls?
  • Help students understand that two best-known and legitimate sources of the government health insurance are Medicare and Medicaid.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some ways to protect yourself against false health care plans?
  2. Why is it important to learn the difference between health insurance and medical insurance discount plans?

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?

Weighed down by debt? How to ease the load

If you’re overwhelmed by debt, it’s crucial to find a solution.

FDIC Consumer News offers a few tips.

  • Contact your lender immediately if you think you won’t be able to make a loan payment.
  • Reputable credit counseling organizations can help you develop a personalized plan to solve a variety of money problems. 
  • Be very careful of “debt settlement” companies that claim they can reduce what you owe for a fee.
  • Avoid scams.
  • Remember that you have rights when it comes to debt collection.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know anyone who has had financial difficulties and how they resolved their problem.
  • Ask students to review the main provisions of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and how the law protects consumers from unfair debt collectors.

 Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it critical to contact your mortgage lender immediately if you think you can’t make a loan payment on time?
  2. In what ways reputable credit counseling organizations can help you develop a personalized plan to solve financial problems?
  3. What are the warning signs of possible fraud by a debt settlement company or credit counselor?

Protect Your Identity

According to its last Consumer Sentinel report, the Federal Trade Commission received 371,061 identity theft complaints in 2017, down from 399,222 the previous year.  That’s good news, but the 2018 Identity Fraud Study issued by Javelin Strategy & Research tells a darker tale.  Based on random survey of Americans, it revealed that there was an 8 percent increase in identity fraud (the fraudulent use of someone’s personal information) from 2016 to 2017, and losses rose from $16.2 to $16.8 billion.  Javelin also notes that while the chip cards have cut down on fraud terminals or by cloning devices, the drop has been more than offset in online theft and fraud.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has his/her identity stolen. If so, what has been their experience?
  • Ask students to prepare and then share a list of steps that they can take to reduce chances of becoming identity theft victims?

Discussion Questions

  1. How can you detect if you are a possible victim of an identity theft?
  2. If you become a victim of identity theft, what steps must you take immediately?

Is Your Debit or Credit Card Compromised?

What should you do if you believe your debit or credit card has been compromised?  Yes, there are consumer protection regulations that can help.  For example, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) “Regulation E” limit your liability for losses from unauthorized transactions.

If your debit or credit card number is used to make an unauthorized withdrawal from a checking or savings account, minimize your losses by contacting your bank as soon as possible.  Your maximum liability under EFTA is $50 if you notify your bank within two business days after learning of the loss.  If you wait longer, you could lose more, according to the law.

If your credit card number is used without your authorization, your liability is normally capped by the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the CFPB’s “Regulation Z” at $50 for all unauthorized transactions, and remaining credit card losses are typically absorbed by the card issuer.  Some other worthwhile precautions you can take include:

  • Do not use ATMs in remote places, especially if the area is not well lit.
  • Go elsewhere if you see a sign directing you to only one of multiple ATMs in a location.
  • Shield the keypad with your hand when typing your PIN at the ATM or a retailer’s checkout area.
  • Regularly check your bank and credit card accounts for unauthorized transactions, even small transactions that you might think might not be worth reporting to your bank.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to summarize the major provisions of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA).
  • Why is it important to notify your bank as soon as possible when your account has been compromised?
  • Let students debate the issue, “Use cash, why use a debit card?

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the Truth and Lending Act and how does it protect you if your debit/credit card is compromised?
  2. How can you determine if an ATM has a false cover or it has been tampered?

Romance Scams

What are some signs that a romance scam could be taking place?

  • a new love living far away requests money or use of your credit card number
  • being asked to sign a document giving a new romantic interest control of your finances
  • a new sweetheart wants you to open a joint bank account with them

While romance scammers usually focus on single, older people, anyone seeking a new relationship is a possible target. These scams can happen in person, but more often through social media, dating websites, smartphone apps. These scams happen when a new love pretends to be interested in you as a way to get your money. In fact, they may not even be who they say they are.

Beware of Cupid’s arrow striking your wallet instead of your heart!  To protect you, friends, and family from romance and other scams, consider these actions:

  • Avoid giving a new friend access to credit cards, bank accounts, or other financial assets.
  • Report crimes or financial exploitation to local law enforcement agencies or to Adult Protective Services (APS); information available at gov.
  • Contact your state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission to report cases of financial abuse.

For additional information on romance scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students create and present possible scam situations to create awareness among various potential victims.
  • Have students create a visual presentation (using computer software or a poster) to communicate actions to avoid scams.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are common warning signs that may indicate that a possible scam is taking place?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid various scams and frauds.

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?