COVID-19 testing scams

Scammers are preying on people looking for COVID tests. Some fraudsters are offering unauthorized test kits. Others are setting up phony testing sites to steal your personal information. The sites may look real with tents and hazmat suits – but then you don’t get the test results, you’re charged for a “free” test, or they use your information for identity theft.

 To avoid COVID testing scams, remember:

  • Do not give your Social Security number or passport number in order to get a COVID test.
  • Find legitimate testing sites. Check with your state  or local  health department or your doctor.
  • Look for FDA-authorized test kits. Check the FDA’s list of authorized antigen tests  and PCR tests  before buying. Now, you can get four free COVID test kits per household at COVIDtests.gov .
  • When shopping online for test kits, pay by credit card. If you’re charged for an order you never received, or for a product that’s not as advertised, you can contact your credit card company and dispute the charge .

COVID-19 vaccine scams

As the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out throughout the country, it’s important to be on the lookout for scams. Beware of scams offering early access to vaccines for a fee. Don’t share your personal or financial information if someone calls, texts, or emails you promising to get you the vaccine for a fee. Also, keep in mind that Medicare covers the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are also free to others throughout the country, although providers may charge an administration fee.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends or family members have been victimized by COVID-19 Vaccine scams.  If so, what were their experiences?
  • Ask students to research legitimate COVID-19 testing sites in their area.

Discussion Questions

  1. When shopping online for test kits, why is it prudent to pay by credit card?
  2. What steps can you take to make sure that you are not being tested at a phony testing site?

Your Baby’s Social Security number

If your child is born in a hospital, the most convenient way to apply for a Social Security number is at that hospital before you leave.

When you give information for your child’s birth certificate at the hospital, you’ll be asked whether you want to apply for a Social Security number for your child. If you answer “yes,” you will be asked to provide both parents’ Social Security numbers. Even if you don’t know both parents’ Social Security numbers, you can still apply for a number for your child.

There are many reasons why your child should have a Social Security number. You need a Social Security number to claim your child as a dependent on your income tax return. You may also need a number for your child if you plan to do the following for your child:

  • Open a bank account.
  • Buy savings bonds.
  • Get medical coverage.
  • Apply for government services.

You can find more information by reading the publication, Social Security Numbers for Children. Share this information with people who are having a baby. Applying for a Social Security number at the hospital will save them time and let them focus on their new bundle of joy.

For more information, go to:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of reasons why their child should have a Social Security number?
  • What might be the consequences of not getting a Social Security card for your new born?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why should you get a Social Security card for your child?  Is it mandatory?
  2. What is the best and easiest way to apply for a Social Security card for a newborn?
  3. Why must all the documents be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency?

Lost Your Social Security Card?

Consider whether you really need to get a replacement card. Knowing your number is what’s important, after all. You’ll rarely need the card itself — perhaps only when you get a new job and have to show it to your employer. If you really must replace your card, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber before visiting your local Social Security office.

The first step is to learn what documents you need. The Social Security Administration requires a U.S. driver’s license, a state issued non-driver identification card, or a U.S. passport to prove your identity. Sometimes you may also need to prove your current U.S. citizenship or lawful noncitizen status with a birth certificate or passport.

All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. The Social Security office won’t accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. They also can’t accept a receipt showing you applied for the document.

Once you’re clear on what documents you’ll need, the second step is to print and fill out the Application for a Social Security Card.  Finally, the third step is to bring or mail your application and original documents to a Social Security office. Then, the online process will take you to a screen where you can find the address of your local office.

In some areas, you can request a replacement Social Security card using your online my Social Security account if you meet certain requirements. Simply access your account and follow the instructions to replace your Social Security card. It’s safe, convenient and secure.

You can replace your Social Security card for free if it’s lost or stolen. Avoid service providers who charge you a fee to get your replacement card. You’re limited to three replacement cards in a year, and 10 during your lifetime. Legal name changes and other exceptions don’t count toward these limits. Changes in immigration status that require card updates may not count toward these limits. Also, you aren’t affected by these limits if you can prove you need the card to prevent a significant hardship.

The Social Security office will mail your card as soon as all of your information has been verified. Your replacement card will have the same name and number as your previous card.

For more information, go to:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has lost his/her Social Security card.  If so, did they replace it?  Why or why not?
  • Under what circumstances should you replace your lost Social Security card?  Explain.

Discussion Questions

  1. What steps must be taken to replace a Social Security card?
  2. Why must all documents be original to be submitted to Social Security?

THE 33-33-33 PORTFOLIO

For decades, a 60/40 (60 percent stock, 40 percent bond) investment portfolio has been encouraged by financial advisors. However, we live in a new world, so in recent years a 33/33/33 allocation has been suggested, with investments divided equally among stocks, bonds, and alternatives. This shift in portfolio strategy is the result of unsustainable stock prices, looming inflation, and expected higher interest rates.  

The alternative investments include assets such as venture capital, real estate, private equity, private debt, commodities, and cryptocurrencies. These asset categories offer investors enhanced diversification, and have a low correlation with stocks to provide an inflation hedge. 

Real estate offers an opportunity for an improved yield for investors with a lower risk tolerance. Venture capital and private equity are suggested for investors comfortable with more risk.

Recent J.P. Morgan research revealed that an allocation of 30 percent of these alternatives can substantially increase annual returns, while strengthening portfolio stability and decreasing risk. However, these illiquid assets can’t be quickly sold, or liquidated, so careful cash-flow planning is also necessary.

Remember, every portfolio must be personalized to the needs of the individual based on liquidity need, risk tolerance, and the time horizon of financial goals.

For additional information on the 33/33/33 portfolio, go to the following articles.

Article #1

Article #2

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students research alternative investments (venture capital, real estate, private equity, private debt, commodities, cryptocurrencies) to determine recent returns, risk, and suitability for their personal portfolio.
  • Have students create a visual proposal or video with a suggested investment portfolio for their current or future situation.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors should a person consider when planning an investment portfolio?
  2. Describe actions a person might take to determine if alternative investments are appropriate for their financial situation. 

Gift Card Scams

Someone might ask you to pay for something by putting money on a gift card, like a Google Play or iTunes card, and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card. If anyone asks you to do this, they’re trying to scam you. No legitimate business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card. Anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a scammer.

What Gift Card Scams Look Like

Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. But these cards are popular with scammers because gift cards are easy for people to find and buy, and cards have fewer protections for buyers compared to some other payment options. Gift cards are more like cash: once you use the card, the money on it is gone. Scammers like this.

If someone calls you and demands that you pay them with gift cards, you can bet that a scammer is behind that call. Once they have the gift card number and the PIN, they have your money. Scammers may tell you many stories to get you to pay them with gift cards, but this is what usually happens:

  1. The caller says it’s urgent. The scammer says you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen.
  2. The caller usually tells you which gift card to buy. They might say to put money on an eBay, Google Play, Target, or iTunes gift card. They might send you to a specific store — often Walmart, Target, CVS, or Walgreens. Sometimes they tell you to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won’t get suspicious. And, the caller might stay on the phone with you while you go to the store and load money onto the card. These are all signs of a scam.
  3. The caller asks you for the gift card number and PIN. The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card. And the scammer gets it right away.

 For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • How do scammers convince you to pay with gift cards?  Make a list of common gift card scams and schemes, and share it with others.
  • Ask if anyone has paid someone with a gift card.  If so, what was their experience?

Discussion Questions:

1.  What are signs of a gift card scam and how can one spot a gift card scammer?

2.  What steps should you take if you paid a scammer with gift cards?

THE NEW “BUY NOW, PAY LATER”

For a long time, “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) has referred to the use of credit. However, recently a new BNPL approach has surfaced, and is growing. Today, financial technology (FinTech) companies are using a different method to finance consumer purchases.

BNPL providers include Affirm, Afterpay, Klarna, Zip, and PayPal. The BNPL plan allows consumers to obtain a purchase immediately and then make a series of equal payments, often four payments each due two weeks apart. The first payment is due at the time of purchase.

Most BNPL plans charge interest and late fees. These plans often offer financing to customers with bad credit or no credit. BNPL is used mainly for online shopping although the plan is also available in some stores. Purchases of technology, furniture, clothing, beauty care products, groceries, health care services, and to eat at restaurants are the most common uses of BNPL.

The main benefits of BNPL mentioned by consumers, include to:

  • spread cost of expensive items over time.
  • buy items that they might not otherwise be able to afford.
  • avoid credit card debt.
  • try out the BNPL method.
  • not have to wait until payday to buy an item.

When selecting a BNPL plan, search for those with low or no interest and low or no late fees. Remember when using BNPL, you are still taking on debt. This easy access to credit often results in overspending. Some people will make purchases through multiple plans resulting in greater financial difficulties.

Be sure you can pay on time to avoid late fees and interest charges. Unlike traditional loans, BNPL providers may not report to credit bureaus, so you are not building a credit record.

For additional information on BNPL, click on these articles:

Article #1

Article #2

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students ask if any friends or relatives have used a BNPL plan. Obtain information about their experiences.
  • Have students create a visual poster, slide presentation, or video with the benefits and drawbacks of BNPL plans.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What aspects of BNPL might create financial difficulties?
  2. Describe actions a person might take to evaluate a BNPL plan.

Social Security Benefits Increase in 2022

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 5.9 percent in 2022. The 5.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2022. Increased payments to approximately 8 million SSI beneficiaries began on December 30, 2021. (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits). The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $147,000 from $142,800.

Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail starting in early December about their new benefit amount. Most people who receive Social Security payments are able to view their COLA notice online through their personal my Social Security account. People may create or access their my Social Security account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • What might be a secure and convenient way to receive COLA notices online and save the message for later?
  • Ask students to trace the history of automatic Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA).

Discussion Questions

  1. How can you avoid falling victim to fraudulent “Social Security” calls and internet “phishing” schemes?
  2. What is the purpose of the COLA adjustments?
  3. What is the official measure used by the Social Security Administration to calculate COLA?

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Investing

An increasing number of investors are seeking a more ethical portfolio with an emphasis on socially responsible and sustainable investing. An emerging trend is environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, with these factors used to evaluate the financial return and overall impact. 

The ESG score measures how investments and companies perform in these categories:

  • Environmental – carbon emissions, air and water pollution, deforestation, green energy initiatives, waste management, water usage
  • Social – employee gender and diversity, data security, customer satisfaction, company sexual harassment policies, human rights at home and around the world, fair labor practices
  • Governance – diversity of board members, political contributions, executive pay, large-scale lawsuits, internal corruption, lobbying

Many view “sustainable” investing as very vague. The ESG criteria hopes to provide a grading of investments that clarifies what sustainable involves. ESG scores are calculated using different methods. Some ratings are created by using data collected from company disclosures and government, academic and NGO databases. Other scores are developed with self-reported data from participating companies.

Recent benefits of ESG investing include higher returns and a lower downside risk than traditional funds and conventional investments.  To start investing, you can search on your own to identify an ESG fund or an individual stock with a high ESG score that fits your investment beliefs and goals.  Investors can also use a robo-advisor to guide their ESG investment choices.

For additional information on ESG investing, click on the following links:

Article #1

Article #2

Article #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online to identify ESG funds or companies they might consider for their investment portfolio.
  • Have students talk with others to obtain the level of interest for ESG investing among potential investors of various ages.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What aspects of ESG investing do you find attractive?  What are your concerns?
  2. What concerns might be associated with methods used to create ESG scores?

Tips To Avoid Internet Scams

Each day, more and more scams surface through computers, tablets, cellphones, and other smart devices. To protect your personal information and to avoid being a victim of fraud, the following actions are recommended:

  • Keep operating systems, browsers, programs, apps, and security components up to date.
  • Be aware of the latest scam techniques being used by fraudsters. Search online to learn about current scams.
  • Enable firewalls for your computer and router.
  • Install an antivirus program for your computer, tablet, and smartphone that updates automatically.
  • Create a guest network for visitors to your home to use, to avoid them having to access your home network.
  • Don’t click or respond to emails, phone calls, or text messages from strange addresses and those with unusual subject lines.
  • Update passwords often with a random, complex series of letters, numbers, and symbols; don’t use the same password on different sites. Consider use of a password manager. 
  • Use only reputable sites when shopping online. Use a credit card instead of a debit card for greater financial protection. Don’t click on links or pop-ups, which can be a fake, look-alike website; instead, go directly to the shopping website.
  • Adjust privacy settings on your devices, and for websites you visit for your best protection.  
  • Regularly back up your data in case of a malicious attack, so you don’t lose access to your information and files. If you encounter a ransomware attack, file a report with the FBI.
  • Avoid use of public Wi-Fi to prevent potential fraud and identity theft.
  • Be cautious with your social media posts, especially information about children and teens. Don’t post personal information, vacation plans, work and home schedules, address or other contact information. Don’t “check in” at the locations you visit. 
  • Be cautious about online gaming, which can result in identity theft, bullying, harassment and online predators. Children should use an avatar or nickname.

For additional information on avoiding online scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online for examples of recently-created online scams.
  • Have students create a video, poster, or slide presentation with common email scams and actions to avoid those situations.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are some reasons that a person might become a victim of an online scam?
  2. Describe actions to learn about new online scams. 

SELECTING AN ONLINE BANK

More and more bank customers are using online financial-service providers. Online-only (digital) banks provide traditional financial services in an online format.  FinTech companies (neobanks) offer innovative banking services with an emphasis on emerging technology, often through apps.

When deciding which online bank to use, consider these factors:

  • FDIC Insurance, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) covers deposit accounts against bank failure up to $250,000 per depositor and type of ownership category. To determine if a bank is protected by the FDIC, go to https://banks.data.fdic.gov/bankfind-suite/bankfind
  • Fee-free ATMs, to avoid costly charges. Many online banks have an extensive network of ATMs, while others do not have ATM access.
  • High-yield savings accounts, with lower operating costs many online banks offer savings accounts with higher yields. Be sure to compare the rates, rules, and regulations at various online banks, such as the required minimum deposit and minimum balance. 
  • Multiple banking products, depending on your goals and needs, you might choose a bank that offers an array of financial services–checking, saving, CDs, debit card, ATMs, credit card, and loans.
  • Financial management tools, FinTech apps and online banks offer innovative financial planning tools to help you save money, such as with a round-up savings component, automatic savings deposits, and low-cost investment funds. Other apps include features for achieving goals to pay off debts or save for a vacation, or savings based on your spending patterns.
  • Investment guidance, robo-advisors provide portfolio suggestions based on financial goals and risk tolerance with the use of artificial intelligence. 

For additional information on selecting an online bank, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others to learn about factors that were considered when selecting a bank or other financial-service provider.
  • Have students create a visual proposal (poster, slide presentation, or other format) to highlight the main factors to consider when selecting an online bank.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What online banking features could help a person improve their financial position?
  2. Describe actions a person might take to select an online bank.