Author Archives: Melissa Hart

About Melissa Hart

A permanent lecturer at North Carolina State University. I teach Personal and Corporate Finance.

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.
Categories: Chapter 6, Frauds and Scams | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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”.
Categories: Chapter 5, Frauds and Scams | Tags: | Leave a comment

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Chapter 9, Health Insurance, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

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”?
Categories: Chapter 6, Consumer Complaints, Frauds and Scams | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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?
Categories: Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Frauds and Scams, Identity Theft | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

CREATIVE BUDGETING METHODS

While keeping a close eye on spending is vital for financial security, few people enjoy doing so.  Several creative approaches for effective budgeting and money management are available.

  1. The 70% Rule ­­­­is percentage-based with 70 percent of income for necessary expenses. Followed by 20 percent going into savings by using automated direct deposit. The other 10 percent is for retirement and investing for future financial security. The 70% Rule is useful for those with saving as a priority, and want a simple budgeting method.
  2. The 50/30/20 Rule is a variation of the 70% Rule, with three categories. First, 50 percent of your income goes toward necessities. Then, 20 percent is for financial goals, such retirement or paying off debt. The remaining 30 percent can be spent as desired. This approach may not work for many people, but can be a good starting point for successful money management.
  3. Budget by Paycheck uses a calendar to track income and expenses. Color code your paycheck, expenses, and extra money to assign a bill payment to a paycheck on a calendar. Any “extra” money should be given a “job,” such as savings, debt repayment, or fun. This approach is useful if you desire structure and like having a visual tool.
  4. Envelope Budgeting is a traditional method with labeled envelopes to identify expense categories. Cash for the budgeted amount is put into each envelope. You only spend the amount in an envelope, which provides strong control of your spending. Instead of cash, you may use a card or envelope to record the amount spent for each category to stay within your limit. Several budgeting apps are also available with visual envelopes to monitor spending.
  5. Gift-card Budgeting manages your money by dividing your spending into categories and loading the amount onto a phone gift card. This system is similar to traditional envelope budgeting. Determine the amounts for various spending and saving categories. Then, buy gift cards for each category, such as a food store card for groceries, which will limit your spending for each budget item. With gift cards on your phone, you will always have them with you and will know the balances. Buying gift cards at moola.com can result in special deals and bonuses.
  6. You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a software system and app featuring partner budgeting, goal tracking, personal support, and secure data. YNAB emphasizes these principles: every dollar is assigned a category; large expense items are broken into manageable amounts; budget flexibility when situations change; and planning for the future, without scrambling for today. The personalized support and online YNAB community discussions, included in the cost of the software, prepare you for successful budgeting on your own.
  7. Kakeibo, pronounced “kah-keh-boh” and translates as “household financial ledger,” is used in Japan to manage personal finances. This method emphasizes recording financial activities with physical writing (no apps or computer), and uses four categories: (1) needs, (2) wants, (3) culture, such as books and museum visits, and (4) unexpected, for medical expenses or car repairs. Then, you reflect on these questions: How much do I have available? How much would I like to save? How much am I spending? How can I improve? Kakeibo may not control your spending but it can make you more mindful of how you spend money.
  8. Zero-based Budgeting gives every dollar a specific task for spending, saving, or investing. This method encourages you to create a revised budget each month based on changes in income or expenses, which provides financial flexibility. This system may not be useful for people with irregular incomes.
  9. Value-based Budgeting involves allocating income based on importance (value) to you rather than budget categories. While some items need to be paid (housing, food), how much you spend on these items depends on how much you value them. If eating out is a priority, your food budget will be higher than for someone who eats mainly at home. This approach can help you stay within your budget since you created the spending plan based on personal preferences. Beware that saving for a goal might be a low priority but should probably receive stronger recognition.
  10. Pay Yourself First Budget is simple and emphasizes your financial future. Based on the amount earned, determine how much you want to save. The remaining amount is divided among necessary expenses and other spending.  The process can be awkward when a conflict exists between income available and a desire to save a large amount. Many people combine this method with other budget systems to ensure coverage of needed living costs.

Other actions that can make budgeting fun include:

  • Money Nicknames. By naming your bank accounts and budget categories with creative names can create a fun attitude and personalized connection for money management activities. Also, use a Sharpie to label your debit and credit cards with a name or a specific use, such as “Hey, bills only!” or “Treat yourself today.”
  • Bae Day involves setting aside a specific time, usually on payday, to review your budget and plan your spending. Bae, which stands for “before anything else,” involves a self-appointment to take action before anything else happens to your money. You can make Bae Day fun by dressing up for this self-care occasion, going to a special location, or playing favorite music.
  • Money Mate Date helps achieve accountability related to finances. Your Money Mate will keep you in line for financial activities. The relation can involve a quick call to make sure that monthly bills are paid, or an emergency text to avoid impulse buying.
  • Arts and Crafts. Create, or locate online, a poster to visually view progress on savings or debt reduction. Color in the poster little by little as you save or pay down student loans. Also consider using photos to represent budget categories or financial goals for more motivating money management activities.

For additional information on creative budgeting ideas, here are some links to click on:

Link #1

Link #2

Link #3

Link #4

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others for information about budgeting actions that have been successful.
  • Have students create a video, poster, or other visual with ideas for creative budgeting activities.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are reasons people are unable or unwilling to practice successful budgeting?
  2. Describe the actions a person might take for effective budgeting.
Categories: Budget, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Financial Planning | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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?
Categories: Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 8, Credit Scores, Frauds and Scams, Identity Theft | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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.
Categories: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Financial Planning | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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”.
Categories: Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 8, Frauds and Scams, Identity Theft | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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.
Categories: Budget, Chapter 2, Chapter 5, Debt | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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