STIMULUS CHECKS USE

As a result of the economic difficulties during the COVID pandemic, many Americans received government stimulus checks. These payments were designed to minimize or avoid financial difficulties.  

Recipients of the first two stimulus checks used the majority of funds for daily living expenses with food and utilities as the top items. Those who received the third check had some significant changes in their use of the money.  An increased portion was used to pay off debt and for savings, including money set aside for an emergency fund. This trend indicated that many households experienced improved financial stability. However, among lower-income groups the third stimulus check was still needed for monthly bills and day-to-day essentials.  

People continue to be in need of a cash cushion. Financial advisors recommend using money from stimulus checks or tax refunds to pay off high-interest debt and for an increased savings account.  While many households have are better off than they’ve ever been and improving further, millions of others face ongoing financial hardship.  

For additional information on stimulus check use, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to those who received stimulus checks to obtain information how the money was used.
  • Have students describe a research system that might be used to determine the spending, saving, investing, and credit use habits of various groups of consumers.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are reasons people are unable or unwilling to practice wise money management?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to prepare for unexpected financial difficulties.

Managing your credit report

The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies–Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian–will provide one free credit report every 12 months if you request it. As a result of a 2019 settlement, all U.S. consumers may also request up to six free copies of their Equifax credit report during any twelve-month period through December 31, 2026. These free copies will be provided to you in addition to any free reports to which you are entitled under federal law.

If you run into difficulty getting your free Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian annual credit report(s) from AnnualCreditReport.com or its toll-free phone number, try contacting the respective institution(s) directly for help:

  • Equifax, (866) 349-5191 (Option 3)
  • TransUnion, (800) 680-7289 (Option 1)
  • Experian, (888) 397-3742 (Option 2 followed by Option1)

Freeze your report

Each of these companies offers you the option to freeze your report with them if you request it. By law each must freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free if you request it. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. If you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

Free Credit Monitoring for Military

Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian provide free credit monitoring services to active duty service members and to National Guard members, by visiting the active military web pages of each company.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their families have requested their credit report(s) recently.  If so, what was their experience?
  • Ask the students to make a list of circumstances that will lead them to freeze their credit reports.  When should they consider unfreezing reports?

Discussion Questions

  1. When might it be necessary to freeze or unfreeze credit reports for children who are under 16 years of age?
  2. Should federal government require nation’s credit reporting agencies to provide free credit reports to consumers?   Explain your answer.

High Medical Costs: How to save money on the doctor

Asking a few questions about your health insurance and knowing your options can protect your wallet after a doctor’s visit.

1.    Know your options

How much you’ll spend at the doctor depends on what type of doctor you visit. Most plans will cover a phone call with a nurse, an online doctor visit, or visits to a doctor’s office, an urgent care clinic, or a hospital emergency room. Nurse lines and online visits are usually cheapest (and often free). Emergency rooms are the most expensive.

2.    Ask if the doctor is in your plan’s network

Most health plans have a network of doctors, specialists, and other providers. You’ll pay more if you get care outside the network. Ask your health plan if the doctor, facility, or hospital you want to visit is in your network. If you go to a doctor outside your network, ask the doctor about the cost. Some might be willing to negotiate lower prices with you.

3.    Ask how to save money on prescriptions

Most plans have a list of drugs that they will pay for. The list also shows how much you’ll have to pay. If the drug is too expensive, ask your doctor if there’s a generic version. If you choose the brand-name drug, there may be coupons or discounts that can save you money. Ask your pharmacist where you can find coupons.

4.    Ask questions if you get a bill

If the visit was covered by insurance, don’t pay more than the explanation of benefits from your health plan states you may owe. If the bill was for more than you were expecting, ask the doctor or facility for an itemized bill. Look for errors or duplicate charges. Call your health plan if you have questions. You can also ask the doctor for a discount or an interest-free payment plan.

Resources

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students whether they or their family members have requested from their physician and pharmacist if a less expensive drug is available?
  • Are you aware that many states offer state pharmacy assistance programs that help pay prescription drugs based on financial need, age, or medical condition?

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you considered using a mail-order or legitimate online pharmacy for your prescriptions, especially if you will take a drug for a long time?
  2. What are your options to get the medical care you need and avoid a big bill?

Insurance tips following storms

If your home was damaged by the severe weather, contact your insurance company or agent to file a claim as soon as possible. These tips will help you make the process go smoother:

  1. Keep a list of everyone you talk to at your insurance company.
    Be ready to answer questions about the damage.
  2. Make a list of damaged property.
    Take pictures or videos. Don’t throw anything away until your insurance company tells you to do so.
  3. Take steps to protect your home from further damage.
    Cover broken windows and holes to keep rain out and prevent vandalism or theft.
  4. Try to be there when the insurance company comes to inspect the damage.
    If you can’t stay in your home, leave a note with information on where you can be reached.
  5. Ask your agent about additional living expenses.
    If you’re forced out of your home to make repairs, your insurance policy may pay for some of those expenses.
  6. Avoid fraud (with the following recommendations):
    • Get written estimates.
    • Get more than one bid
    • Beware of contractors who solicit door to door.
    • Check references and phone numbers.
    • Don’t pay up front.
    • Avoid contractors who offer to waive your deductible or promise a rebate for it.
    • Never sign a contract with blank spaces.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • What actions should you take to protect your property before a severe storm and floods?
  • Make a checklist of actions that you should take after the storm?  Share the list with other students.

Discussion Questions

  1. Under what circumstances is it better not to file a claim?
  2. If you file a claim and your insurer rejects it, what are your options?  Who should you turn to for assistance?

What is a Robocall?

If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall.  Americans have seen a significant increase in the number of illegal robocalls because internet-powered phone systems have made it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and to hide from law enforcement by displaying fake caller ID information.

To date, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC ) has brought more than a hundred lawsuits against more than 600 companies and individuals responsible for billions of illegal robocalls and other Do Not Call violations.

The FTC also is leading several initiatives to develop technology-based solutions. Those initiatives include a series of robocall contests that challenge tech gurus to design tools that block robocalls and help investigators track down and stop robocallers. The FTC also is encouraging industry efforts to combat caller ID spoofing. Here’s the FTC’s game plan to combat robocalls:

  • continue aggressive law enforcement
  • build better tools for investigating robocalls 
  • coordinate with law enforcement, industry, and other stakeholders
  • stimulate and pursue technological solutions.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students how they or their families respond to robocalls.  Has the number of robocalls increased in recent months?  If so, what might be the reasons?
  • Ask students to make a list of actions to take in combating robocalls.  Share the list with other students.

Discussion Questions

  1. Should you consider reducing unwanted sales calls by submitting your phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry?
  2. Why doesn’t the National Do Not Call Registry stop robocalls?
  3. Are robocalls legal?  What kinds of robocalls are allowed without your permission?
  4. How can you manage to get fewer robocalls?

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.

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”.

COVID-19 Tests: A financial warning for consumers

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Acts required health coverage for the COVID-19 test – including the test itself, the related visit, and other services related to the testing with no cost-sharing for individuals covered by private health plans, Medicare and Medicaid. The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March 2020, includes a provision that states insurers must pay for an out-of-network COVID-19 test at the price the testing facility lists on its website. But it sets no maximum for the cost of the tests.

Although providers are required to post the price for a COVID-19 test on a public website, there is no regulated price for the test. However, Medicare covers the testing without cost-sharing for patients and reimburses providers $51 – $100 per diagnostic test depending on the type of test administered. This price contrasts sharply with the outrageous charges made by certain providers that can run from $2,000 – $5,000 per test.

There is a better way to control the cost of testing. Here are a few reminders to help protect consumers from balance billing, and insurance companies or your employer from a costly claim.

  1. Call your doctor’s office if you are experiencing symptoms like a fever, cough, fatigue or if you think you may have been exposed to the virus. Your primary care physician will schedule and direct you to an in-network testing site.
  2. DO NOT go directly to an emergency room. There are collateral charges for a COVID-19 test at an ER that you will be responsible to pay. Before going to an ER for the test, ask yourself: Would I call an ambulance right now if I suspect exposure to the virus?
  3. For a free COVID-19 test, call your local county health department to schedule a test. If the appointment results in an extended waiting period, call or go to an urgent care facility and request a test.
  4. If you are insured, stay in-network with your health carrier. If you are uninsured, you should utilize the testing resources of your local county health department.
  5. If your symptoms warrant a test, follow the posted CDC guidelines.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone in their family received a COVID-19 vaccine.  If so, enquire if there was cost-sharing.
  • If the cost of each COVID-19 test, by law, is free to the public with health coverage, how can some providers charge from $2,000 to $5,000 per test?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to first call your primary care physician if you experience symptoms like fever, cough, fatigue or if you believe you have been exposed to the virus?
  2. If you are uninsured, what are your options to receive free COVID-19 test?

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?