Fraudulent Debt Relief Operation

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged a debt relief company with falsely representing to financially distressed homeowners and student loan borrowers that it would help get their mortgages and student loans modified.  At the FTC’s request, a federal court has temporarily halted the operation.  The FTC seeks to permanently stop the alleged illegal practices and obtain refunds for affected consumers.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Good EBusiness LLC deceptively marketed home loan modification services and illegally charged an advance fee of 1,000 to $5,000.  The agency alleges that the company falsely claims that it can lower monthly mortgage payments, reduce mortgage interest rates usually within a few months, and falsely promise full refunds if they fail.  The FTC’s complaint also alleges that Good EBusiness, using the names Student Loan Help Direct and Select Student Loan; Select Student Loan Help LLC; Select Document Preparation Inc.; illegally charged a fee of $500 to $800 for student loan relief services.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of sources they may rely on for help when they are overburdened with debt problems.
  • What questions should you ask in finding the best credit or debt counselor?

Discussion Questions

  1. Which federal consumer credit law regulates debt collection practices and what are its major provisions?
  2. What options of solving credit and debt problems are available to individuals?

Beware of IRS Imposters

You get a call from a scammer pretending to be with the IRS, threatening you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay taxes you owe right now.  You’re told to wire the money or put it on a prepaid debit card.  The scammer might threaten to deport you or say you’ll lose your driver’s license.  Some scammers even know your Social Security number, and they fake caller ID so you think it really is the IRS calling.  But it’s all a lie.  If you send the money, it’s gone.

The Federal Trade Commission advises that if you get illegal sales calls, robocalls, or fake IRS calls, it’s best to ignore them.  Don’t interact in any way.  Don’t press buttons to be taken off the call list or talk to a live person or call back.  When you have a tax problem, the IRS will first contact you by mail.  The IRS won’t ask you to wire money, pay with a prepaid debit card, or share your credit card information over the phone.  If you get fake calls, file a complaint with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov. You also can file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.  If you’re concerned there’s a real tax problem, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to make a list of steps that taxpayers can take to protect themselves from tax scammers.
  2. Why do scammers prey on the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English?

Discussion Questions

  1. What can the IRS and other governmental agencies do to catch and punish criminals impersonating IRS agents?
  2. How can taxpayers protect themselves from scam artists?
  3. What should you do if you believe you owe federal income taxes?

Chip Card Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of millions of consumers who haven’t yet received a chip card.  For example, scammers are e-mailing people, posing as their card issuer.  The scammers claim that in order to issue a new chip card, they need to update your account by confirming some personal information or clicking on a link to continue the process.  Information received can be used to commit identify theft.  If they click on the link, they may unknowingly install malware on your device.

How can you tell if the e-mail is from a scammer?

  • There is no reason your card issuer needs to contact you by e-mail or by phone to confirm personal information before sending you a new chip card number.
  • Still not sure if the e-mail is a scam? Contact your card issuers at phone numbers on your cards.
  • Don’t trust links in e-mails. Only provide personal information through a company’s website if you typed in the web address yourself and you see that the site is secure, like a URL that begins https (the “s” stands for secure).

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to visit other identify theft websites, such as, consumer.gov/idtheft, to learn what to do if your identity is stolen.
  • Ask students to compile a list of what actions can they take to ensure that their credit/debit cards and other financial information are secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you discover that someone has stolen your identity?
  2. What steps can you take to thwart identity thieves?

A Look at Reverse Mortgages

Every day, approximately 10,000 people in the United States turn age 62, according to the Census Bureau.  And if they are homeowners, they may be eligible to borrow against a portion of the equity in their house by using a loan called a “reverse mortgage.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is warning consumers about potentially misleading reverse mortgage advertising.  In June 2015, the CFPB issued a consumer advisory stating that many television, radio, print and Internet advertisements for reverse mortgages had “incomplete and inaccurate statements used to describe the loans”.  In addition, most of the important loan requirements were often buried in fine print if they were even mentioned at all.  These advertisements may leave older homeowners with the false impression that reverse mortgage loans are a risk-free solution to financial gaps in retirement.” For example, the CFPB said, “After looking at a variety of ads, many homeowners we spoke to didn’t realize reverse mortgage loans need to be repaid.”

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Visit the website of the American Association of Retired Person (AARP) at aarp.org. Locate the AARP Home Equity Information Center, which presents facts about reverse mortgages.  Then prepare a report on how reverse mortgages work.
  • Ask students to visit Fannie Mae’s website at fanniemae.com/homebuyer to find out who is eligible for reverse mortgages, and what other choices are available to borrowers.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why should you consult a qualified professional before you decide to get a reverse mortgage?
  2. Where can you find Housing and Urban Development-approved Home Equity Conversion Mortgage counseling agencies near you?

Internet Fraud

How many people are scammed into sending money or giving personal information each year?
Answer: Millions!!

Types of Internet Fraud

  • Internet auction fraud—involves the misrepresentation of a product advertised for sale on an Internet auction site, or non-delivery of merchandise.
  • Credit card fraud—the unauthorized use of credit/debit card, or card number, scammers fraudulently obtain money or property.
  • Investment fraud—an offer using false claims to solicit investments or loans, or providing purchase, use, or trade of forged or counterfeit securities.
  • Nigerian letter or “419” fraud—named for the violation of Section 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code, it combines the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter, e-mail, or fax is received by a victim.

Tips for Avoiding Internet Fraud

  • Know your seller – If you don’t know who you are buying from online, do some research.
  • Protect your personal information – Don’t provide it in response to an e-mail, a pop-up, or website you’ve linked to from an e-mail or web page.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Bring to class Internet-related problems and examples of individuals or families. Suggest ways in which these problems might be solved.
  • Compile a list of places and organizations where a person can call to report Internet fraud.

Discussion Questions

  1. While the Internet makes everyday tasks faster and more convenient, like stopping, banking, and communicating, why it’s important to be safe, secure, and responsible online.
  2. What are some basic precautions we can take to protect our computer and personal data from theft, misuse, and destruction?

Fake Payday Loan Debts

In September 2015, the Federal Trade Commission banned Kirit Patel and his company, Broadway Global Masters, from the debt collection business. Patel and his company illegally collected more than $5.2 million in fake payday loan debts.  He also pleaded guilty to the Department of Justice on charges of criminal mail and wire fraud.  Specifically, Patel’s company:

  • Called people and pushed them to pay debts they didn’t really owed,
  • Posed as law enforcement and fake government agencies like the “Federal Crime Unit of the Department of Justice”,
  • Threatened to sue or arrest people—or tell their family and employers about a debt, and
  • Recited people’s Social Security and bank account numbers to seem legit.

So how can you tell if you’re being targeted by a fake debt collector?  A caller may be a fake debt collector if:

  • You don’t recognize the debt,
  • You can’t get a mailing address or phone number for the collector,
  • You’re asked for personal financial or sensitive information, and
  • You’re threatened with arrest or told you’ll be reported to a law enforcement agency.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to prepare a list of steps they should take if they receive a call from a debt collection agency.
  • Encourage students to visit a local office of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service. What assistance is available if the debt is legitimate, but the debt collector is not?

Discussion Questions

  1. What can governmental agencies do to stop scammers from bilking honest and innocent people?
  2. Why is it important to obtain and review your free credit reports at least once a year?

Tax Scams

Phone calls from criminals impersonating an Internal Revenue Service agent are the most common and serious tax scams reported by the IRS. Taxpayers should be aware the IRS never calls demanding payment or to ask for a credit card; the agency will first make contact by mail.

Phishing involves a taxpayer receiving an unsolicited email trying to obtain financial or personal information.  These phony emails often look very official with an IRS logo.  Tax-related identity theft occurs when a stolen a Social Security number is used to file a tax return for a refund.  Fraudulent tax preparation services prey on innocent taxpayers with promises of large refunds.  Be sure to investigate the credentials of the tax preparer and make sure the preparer will be available after April 15.  Avoid tax preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund or promise a large refund.

Other common tax scams include inflated refund claims, fake charities, filing false documents to hide income, abusive tax shelters, falsifying income to claim tax credits, and excessive claims for fuel tax credits.

For additional information on tax scams, click here:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk with others to obtain information about actions taken to file their taxes.
  • Have students prepare a list of warning signs of tax scams.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What attitudes and behaviors can result in a person being a victim of a tax scam?
  2. What actions can taxpayers take to avoid being a victim of a tax scam?

The Perils of Penny Stocks

“The best way to avoid penny stock scams is to do independent research.” 

This article underscores the importance of researching penny stocks before investing.  Too often, the lure of “big” profits encourages people to invest without researching penny stocks.  Simply put, they don’t do their homework.

According to this article, a good place to obtain research information about penny stocks is the Security and Exchange Commission website (www.sec.gov).  By examining a company’s 10-K annual report, 10-Q quarterly report, and Form 8-K filings, in which companies report material events.

The article also warns investors about email promotions about penny stocks that are more hype than reality.  For example, Paul Allen, a 65-year old retiree from Boston,  received a flood of emails about a company called Vapor Hub International suggesting that shares of the e-cigarette company were about to take off.  He invested and quickly lost 80 percent of his investment.  And there are many more examples where investors–especially investors with limited funds and little experience buying and selling stock–often lose all or a large portion of their investment.

For more information go to http://www.kiplinger.com/article/investing/T052-C008-S002-the-perils-of-penny-stocks.html

Teaching Suggestions

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

  • Remind students that there is no substitute for research when picking any stock–especially penny stocks issued by small companies without a proven track record.
  • Tell students to remember the old adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Most investors know the risks involved when they invest in penny stocks. Still, they invest their money.  Why do you think they choose penny stocks?
  2. Assume that you are considering an investment in Vapor Hub International. What information could be used to evaluate this penny stock?  Where would you get this information?

Health Scams: Don’t Take Risks With Your Health and Your Money

Lots of people are fooled with buying health products that sound great, but are really fakes.  These products may cause serious health problems, such as pain, suffering, or even death.

Watch out for the following fraudulent claims:

  • It’s Natural. Just because a product is “natural” does not mean it is safe.
  • It’s So Easy. Don’t believe the promises of “lose weight while you sleep.”  If it sounds too easy, it might be a scam.
  • Miracle Cure. Generally, one pill will not treat or cure many different illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, AIDS, or arthritis.
  • It Worked for Me. Personal success stories by “real people” or doctors are easy to make up.
  • They Don’t Want You to Know. Always ask your health care providers what is best for your health.

 

For additional information on health fraud and scams go to http://www.fda.gov/healthfraud, http://www.fda.gov/medwatch, and http://www.ftc.gov

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have fallen prey to health care scammers.
  • Have students make a short presentation with a summary of actions that might be taken to avoid health scams.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do health scammers continue to prey on unsuspecting consumers?
  2. What can consumers do to avoid being victimized by health scammers?

Managing someone else’s money

Millions of people serve as fiduciaries, someone who manages money or property for another person who is unable to do so. This responsibility provides caring assistance while also protecting the person from potential scams and fraud.  Many older Americans experience declining capacity to handle finances, which can make them vulnerable.   The main responsibilities of a fiduciary are to: (1) act in the person’s best interest, (2) manage money and property carefully, (3) keep money and property separate from own, and (4) maintain good records.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently published four guides to help financial caregivers, particularly those who handle the finances of older Americans.  These guides are designed for those who serve as agents with power of attorney, a court-appointed guardian, a trustee or as a government fiduciary, such as a Social Security payee.

The guides will assist financial caregivers as they: (1) plan and implement their duties, (2) attempt to avoid scams and financial exploitation, and what to do if the person is a victim, and (3) require additional information; the guides tell where to go for help.

For additional information on a managing someone else’s money, go to:

http://www.consumerfinance.gov/managing-someone-elses-money

Click to access 201306_cfpb_msoa-participant-guide.pdf

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to someone who manages money on behalf of someone else.  Obtain information about the activities and concerns they have encountered.
  • Prepare a list of actions that might be taken to avoid scams targeted at older consumers and other vulnerable audiences.

Discussion Questions   

  1. What are situations that might require a person to manage the money of another person?
  2. What are examples of frauds and scams aimed at older consumers?
  3. How might a person avoid frauds and scams?