Warning Signs of Identity Theft

What Do Thieves Do With Your Information?

 Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

Here are clues that someone has stolen your information:

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their family members or friends have been victims of an identity theft. What was their experience and how did they resolve the problem?
  • Ask students if they mail bills from their home mail box, especially if it is out by the street. What might be some dangers of this method of mailing bills?

Discussion Questions

  1. Should you put your Social Security and driver’s license numbers on your checks?   Why or why not?
  2. Why is it important to check your credit report each year? Should you consider credit monitoring, identity monitoring service, or identity theft insurance?  Why or why not?

SINGLE PARENT MONEY MANAGEMENT

A mother or father raising children without assistance from a partner can create financial difficulties.  To avoid fear, frustration, and anger, consider these actions:

  1. Assess your situation. Determine your monthly after-tax income, monthly bills, money in savings, and money saved for retirement. Knowing these amounts will provide a starting point and foundation of where you need to go.
  2. Cut unnecessary spending through wiser shopping, lower household expenses, and not buying certain items that you can do without.
  3. Plan for additional income. Consider your current work situation, a new job, a raise or promotion, overtime pay, a second, part-time job, freelance work, or items that you might sell.
  4. Seek extra income sources. Additional income can result from skills and interests you may overlook. Consider new job training, or starting your own business. More income will also mean additional savings for financial goals.
  5. Create an emergency fund. To be ready for financial struggles (job loss, home or car repairs, medical expenses), have a cash cushion to cover three to six months of expenses.
  6. Save for retirement. Additional amounts might be needed for long-term financial security if you had to split retirement funds with an ex-spouse or partner. Budget a monthly amount for your retirement fund.

You may feel overwhelmed at times, but don’t get discouraged. Start saving a small amount, such as one percent of your income for emergencies and one percent (or more) for retirement.  Then in a few months, increase the percent of income you are saving.

Continually track your spending, and review your budget and financial goals. This action is especially vital if you are self-employed with a fluctuating income. Save more in higher-income months to be ready for lower-income months.

Also, lower your expectations to match the reality of your income situation and household needs. Finally, make a commitment to work hard, not give up, and support your children, emotionally and physically.

 

For additional information on single parent money management, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to single parents for additional financial suggestions.
  • Have students create a plan for specific money management actions for single parents.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are reasons that single parents might encounter financial difficulties?
  2. Describe shopping and income actions a single parent might take to reduce spending and increase income.

Beware of scams related to the coronavirus

Scammers are taking advantage of the corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic to con people into giving up their money. Though the reason behind their fraud is new, their tactics are familiar. It can be even harder to prevent scams right now because people aren’t interacting with as many friends, neighbors, and senior service providers due to efforts to slow the spread of disease.

Those who are ill or don’t feel comfortable potentially exposing themselves may need someone to help with errands. Be cautious when accepting offers of help and use trusted delivery services for supplies and food. During this time of uncertainty, knowing about possible scams is a good first step toward preventing them.

  1. Scams offering COVID-19 vaccine, cure, air filters, testing

There is 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. At the time of this writing, there is neither a vaccine nor a cure for this virus. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items–it’s a scam.

  1. Fake corona virus-related charity scams

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

  1. “Person in need” scams

Scammers use the circumstances of the corona virus 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 asks you to send money. The scammer 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. Don’t panic!  Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you. 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 to check the caller’s story.

  1. Scams targeting your Social Security benefits

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. Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov .

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends, or relatives have been victims of coronavirus- related scams? If so, what was their experience?
  • Someone you don’t know contacts you asking for any personally identifiable information by phone, in person, by text message, or email. What will be your response?

Discussion Questions

  1. Someone you don’t know sends you a check, maybe prize-winnings or the sale of goods and asks you to send a portion of the money back. What will you do and why?
  2. Discuss the statement: “The federal. State, and local consumer protection agencies are doing everything possible to protect consumers from fraudsters”.

Coping With the Corona Virus-Related Financial Stressors

KEY POINTS

  • Nearly half of U.S. adults have reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
  • A new NFCC survey finds situations that immensely exacerbate financial worries include not having enough savings, losing a job and the inability to pay debts.
  • Many large health insurance companies as well as Medicare have increased their capacity and coverage for telehealth visits with mental health providers.

Here are some tips from the mental health and financial experts on how best to cope with these common money stressors.

1. Not enough savings

If you find yourself struggling financially and have a limited emergency fund — or none at all — focus instead on what you can control. “First, carefully examine your expenses and reprioritize your spending. Cut out everything but the essentials , such as,  mortgage or rent, food, utilities and insurance,” said author and certified financial planner Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, who is also president of the Charles Schwab Foundation. “If you’re unable to pay a bill, contact your creditors right away. They may be willing to negotiate a payment schedule or waive late fees.

2. Job loss

If you haven’t already, file for unemployment benefits immediately through your state’s programThere will likely be a lag time until you receive your first check.

  • Make sure you still have health insurance. You could switch to COBRA to receive the same coverage you had under your employer for the next 18 months, but you have to pay for it yourself at a considerably higher cost than you were paying as an employee. “Do some comparison-shopping.”
  • Consider other jobs that you may be able to pursue. Use your down time to learn a new skill or start that side-hustle. Education, health care, and technology companies are among some of the industries hiring remote workers right now.

3. Inability to pay your debts

Nearly half of U.S. adults currently have credit card debt and 13% of them are not paying anything at all or don’t have a plan on how to pay, according to a report by CreditCards.com. 

Consider temporarily paying only the minimum on mortgage/rent, car loans and student loans as well, said Schwab-Pomerantz, whose Schwab MoneyWise website has a list of resources to help during the Covid-19 crisis. More help could be available. You may be able to lower or suspend your mortgage payments for up to one year in some cases. Contact your lender.  If you’re having trouble paying your rent, talk to your landlord about your situation and your options. Some states and municipalities are providing eviction restrictions for impacted individuals. Many utilities and phone companies have stopped cutting off services for nonpayment. Call them.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students how the corona virus has affected them, their relatives, or friends. What steps have they taken to minimize the effects of the corona virus?
  • List the steps to take if you don’t have enough emergency funds to get through this financial difficult period.

Discussion Questions

  1. How are millions of Americans coping with stress and anxiety as they deal with the fear and reality of death and disease due to the corona virus pandemic?
  2. Discuss the economic and emotional worries that are keeping American awake at night.

Home Inventory Update

While insurance may be the last thing on your mind during the holidays, the start of a new year is the perfect time to review your insurance coverage and update your home inventory list. When you reflect on the last 12 months, especially with the pandemic, you might realize that some of those changes could greatly affect your home insurance needs.  So, try starting a new tradition: update your home inventory list. Here are four good reasons to add an annual insurance review and home inventory update to your list of holiday traditions.

  1. Your new gifts may not be covered.
    Your homeowners insurance will cover most of your big-ticket gifts like a big screen TV, new electronics and expensive jewelry, but only up to your policy limits. That’s why it’s important to maintain a current record of all your belongings. Update your home inventory this holiday season so your coverage limits meet your insurance needs.
  2. A lot can change in a year.
    Think about the new “normal” we’re living in with COVID-19. With many people spending more time in their homes, it is not surprising that home improvement projects have increased in popularity. According to a recent porch.com survey, 76% of homeowners have completed at least one home improvement project since the start of the pandemic. Take photos or a video of your remodeled kitchen or bathroom, gather receipts and add them to your inventory list. When you review coverage at the start of the year, you can ensure your new assets are safeguarded.
  3. It will make filing an insurance claim easier.
    The information you put into the home inventory list can make an insurance claim settlement faster and easier. This is especially crucial for high-value items. Don’t forget to document your attic, basement, closets and other storage areas. Can you imagine trying to compile all this information after a disaster? Without a record of your belongings, remembering everything you own or what you’ve lost can be challenging.
  4. It’s free and easy.
    With today’s technology, it’s never been easier to keep a detailed catalog of your possessions.  Keep your home inventory list in a safe place outside your home or cloud-based storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive. Also, your insurance agent will be happy to review your insurance coverage with you at no cost.

Creating a home inventory doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as standing in the middle of each room and taking a 360-degree video. Tackle this project with your children and show them family keepsakes and their history.

For more insurance information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they rent or own home. Do they have renters or homeowner’s insurance?  Have they prepared a list of their personal belongings?  If not, why?
  • If students don’t have a household inventory, encourage them to prepare a list of their belongings.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to annually review your home insurance needs?
  2. Where should you keep your home inventory list?

DON’T KEEP THESE THINGS IN YOUR WALLET

While no one plans to lose their wallet, you can reduce the trauma of that event. Consumer protection experts recommend not keeping these items in your wallet:

  • your Social Security card; also make sure nothing else in your wallet contains your Social Security number.
  • a list of passwords; keep the list secured at home, and consider use of a password manager.
  • spare keys; a lost wallet with keys and your home address on an ID card is an invitation to burglars.
  • blank checks; while few people write checks, blank checks are risky as a thief has your account number and the bank routing numbers and probably your home address. 
  • your passport or passport card; an identity thief could travel under your name, obtain a copy of your Social Security card, or open a bank account. Whenever traveling on a passport, keep a copy in a safe place.
  • extra credit cards; carry only one or two cards to avoid having to cancel many cards if your wallet is lost or stolen.
  • other items to keep out of your wallet: birth certificate; receipts that could be used to by skilled identity thieves; an old Medicare card with your Social Security number; and gift cards, which could be used by anyone with access to your wallet.

By following these guidelines, you can avoid identity theft, bogus loan applications in your name, and someone opening fraudulent accounts. Also recommended: photocopy the front and back of the items in your wallet to have a record of what is lost or stolen.

For additional information on what not to keep in your wallet, click here:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others to determine if they carry any of these items in their wallet.
  • Have students create a checklist of action to take if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are actions people can take to avoid identity theft?
  2. Describe how technology and apps are replacing traditional wallets. Discuss how these devices might improve security against identity theft.

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.

Managing your bills during COVID-19

COVID-19 has thrown the economy into a tailspin. Many people have been laid off, furloughed, or are working fewer hours. And as wages dry up, bills can pile up.

Debt can be tricky. Here are some ideas about how you can manage your debts and start regaining your financial well being.

  • Gather your bills: Make a list of your monthly bills: rent/mortgage, car payment, utilities, student loans, medical bills, and anything else. Consider how much you need for food, medicine, and other necessities.
  • Ask for help: Many companies have special programs to help people right now. Contact the companies you owe money to and try to work out a new payment plan with lower payments or delayed due dates. Make sure to get any changes in writing.
    • Find out if your state or local government offers programs that will allow you to hold off on paying some bills right now.
    • Trouble paying your mortgage? Here’s some advice on how to manage that problem. If you have a government-backed mortgage, you may be able to delay payment by contacting your servicer.
    • Need additional help? Check out ftc.gov/creditcounselor for tips on how to choose a counselor who really helps you out.
  • Prioritize if you need to: If you still can’t pay everything on time, look at what would happen if you couldn’t pay each bill and decide which bills to pay first. Would you lose your home? Would your car be repossessed? Would your debt go into collection and affect your credit report?
  • Study up: Check out the FTC’s advice on how to cope with debt in the short term, and how to get out of debt when you are able.
  • Watch out for scams: In stressful times, scammers are everywhere. Beware of any company that guarantees that creditors will forgive your debts, or makes you pay up front for help. If you are looking for debt relief, make sure to find help you can trust.

For more information, go to: click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to develop a plan to manage their debts, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Ask students if they should turn to a company that claims to offer assistance in solving debt problems? Why or why not?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why should you avoid waiting until your account is turned over to a debt collector?
  2. What is a constant worry for a debtor who is behind in payments of bills?

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.

 

Fill out the FAFSA

For many people, how to pay for a college education is one of the major financial decisions before deciding on a school. There are many different ways to pay for college. Understanding your choices can help you make the right decision for your situation.

Start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

A critical first step for many prospective students is to complete the FAFSA . FAFSA completion is an important part of the student aid process.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some states have extended their FAFSA deadlines. . Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out if their priority FAFSA deadline has been extended.

Why fill out the FAFSA?

Filling out the FAFSA is required if you want to apply for federal assistance, including grants, loans and work study. Your eligibility for need-based federal aid, such as Pell Grants and subsidized student loans is determined by your FAFSA submission.

Filling out the FAFSA does not commit you to taking out student loans or accepting the financial aid offered. However, if you do not submit a FAFSA you will not be able to access federal grants or other forms of federal financial aid.

In addition, states typically require students to complete the FAFSA to qualify for state grant programs, and most colleges and universities will not consider awarding any institutional aid, until the FAFSA has been submitted.

Even if you have not finalized your plans for this fall, consider filling out the 2020-2021 FAFSA sooner rather than later, many state and schools award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis and may have established earlier, “priority” deadlines. If you miss a key deadline to complete the FAFSA, you will limit your ability to qualify for state or institutional funding.

For more information:

finaid.org

http://studentaid.ed.gov

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students why it is important to complete the FAFSA form sooner than later?
  • What basic information is needed before beginning the FAFSA application process?

Discussion Questions

  1. Where can you get assistance if you need help in filling out the FAFSA form?
  2. Why is important to take advantage of any scholarships and grants before applying for a federal loan?