Chapter 5

Beware of Credit-Repair Scams

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Financial Education Services (FES) has bilked people out of more than $213 million with a scheme that combines charging people for worthless credit repair services and recruiting them to sell the same bogus services to others.  FES also does business as United Wealth Services.

FES claims it can boost people’s credit scores by hundreds of points quickly by permanently removing negative information from their credit reports and adding positive information. But the FTC says FES’s services accomplish little or nothing. For example, FES sends clients form letters to send to credit bureaus to dispute negative items, but the letters don’t include supporting documents so they rarely result in removal of the items.

The complaint says FES charges people $99 up front for its services, plus up to $89 each month. It’s illegal for a credit repair company to charge people before fully performing the services it promises. Also, the complaint alleges, FES doesn’t give people important information they’re entitled to by law, including written information about the total cost of its services and its refund and cancellation policies.

According to the complaint, FES also pressures people to become FES “agents,” telling them they can make tens of thousands of dollars a month selling FES services to other consumers and recruiting them to become FES agents themselves. But, the FTC says, FES’s purported business opportunity requires its agents to pay hundreds of dollars to join and advance in the business. And, the FTC alleges, in classic pyramid scheme style, FES incentivizes recruiting new agents over selling credit repair services. The complaint charges that few people, if any, make the income promised, and many lose money as FES agents.

If you want to repair your credit, Fixing Your Credit FAQs has information about building your credit and spotting scams. And, if you’re thinking about investing in a business that requires you to recruit other investors, read this information about spotting a pyramid scheme.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of the legal steps to take to improve their credit scores.
  • What are the legitimate resources for low-cost or no cost help to repair your credit?

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it possible for you to boost your credit score by hundreds of points quickly by permanently removing negative information from your credit reports and adding positive information?  Explain your answer.
  2. Discuss the statement: “Sometimes doing it yourself is the best way to repair your credit.”
  3. What is one of the most important step you can take to improve your credit score?
Categories: Chapter 5, Credit Scores, Frauds and Scams | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Is a credit freeze or fraud alert right for you?

Credit freezes and fraud alerts can help reduce your risk of identity theft. Both are free and make it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. One may be right for you.

Credit freezes

A credit freeze is the best way you can protect against an identity thief opening new accounts in your name. When in place, it prevents potential creditors from accessing your credit report. Because creditors usually won’t give you credit if they can’t check your credit report, placing a freeze helps you block identity thieves who might be trying to open accounts in your name.

A freeze also can be helpful if you’ve experienced identity theft or had your information exposed in a data breach. And don’t let the “freeze” part worry you. A credit freeze won’t affect your credit score or your ability to use your existing credit cards, apply for a job, rent an apartment, or buy insurance. If you need to apply for new credit, you can lift the freeze temporarily to let the creditor check your credit. Placing and lifting the freeze is free, but you must contact the national credit bureaus to lift it and put it back in place.

Place a credit freeze by contacting each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. A freeze lasts until you remove it.

Fraud alerts

A fraud alert doesn’t limit access to your credit report, but tells businesses to check with you before opening a new account in your name. Usually, that means calling you first to make sure the person trying to open a new account is really you.

Place a fraud alert by contacting any one of the three national credit bureaus. That one must notify the other two. A fraud alert lasts one year and you can renew it for free. If you’ve experienced identity theft, you can get an extended fraud alert that lasts for seven years.

Learn more about credit freezes, fraud alerts, and active duty alerts for service members. And, if identity theft happens to you, visit IdentityTheft.gov to report it and get a personal recovery plan.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends or relatives have placed a credit freeze or a fraud alert.  If so, what has been their experience?
  • Ask students to make a list of downsides to a credit freeze and to fraud alerts.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert?
  2. Under what circumstance a credit freeze can be helpful?
Categories: Chapter 5, Credit Scores | Tags: | Leave a comment

Gift Card Scams

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

What Gift Card Scams Look Like

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

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

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

 For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

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

Discussion Questions:

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

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

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

THE NEW “BUY NOW, PAY LATER”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For additional information on BNPL, click on these articles:

Article #1

Article #2

Teaching Suggestions

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

Discussion Questions 

  1. What aspects of BNPL might create financial difficulties?
  2. Describe actions a person might take to evaluate a BNPL plan.
Categories: Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Financial Services | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Money Habits of Women and Men

Based on recent research, findings comparing the financial habits of women and men include:

  • Overall, single men outspend women, which may be due to higher average earnings. Men spend more on food and transportation, while women have higher spending for clothing. Both groups have similar spending for entertainment.
  • Women are wiser shoppers, buying items on sale and using coupons more often than men.
  • For debt, including credit cards, student loans, auto loans, personal loans, home equity lines of credit, and mortgages, men have more debt than women.
  • For both groups, the main financial goals were saving for a vacation, paying off credit card debt, and improving their credit score.
  • As they near retirement, men had higher amounts in their retirement funds. However, women are more likely to participate in an employer retirement plan than men, and save a greater percentage from their paychecks.

For additional information on the money habits of women and men, go to:

Source #1

Source #2

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students create a short survey to compare the spending, saving, and investing activities of women and men.
  • Have students create a visual proposal (poster or slide presentation) to suggest improved money management activities.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors might affect differences between the money management activities of women and men?
  2. Describe actions a person might take to improve money management activities. 
Categories: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 5, Chapter_11, Credit Cards, Financial Planning, Investments, Savings | Leave a comment

Family lending and borrowing

It is natural to turn to people close to you for help when you need it and to want to help others. However, sometimes unclear communication or misunderstandings can cause strain on your relationships and unnecessary financial hardship

Informal money arrangements among friends and family are very common.  Research has shown that as many as one in five U.S. adults receive financial support from friends or family, and up to one in three U.S. adults provides support to others. During times of crisis, these support networks can provide timely help.

Discussing financial arrangements among friends and family can help reduce strain. It may feel awkward to have a frank conversation, but remember the goal is to come up with an arrangement that works for everyone involved. This will help prevent more difficult conversations later. Below are a series of questions that can help you work together to solve problems and maintain strong relationships.

Asking someone if you can borrow or share their resources

Before you approach your friend or family member with your need or request, take a short time to think through all of the information you need to share and what the results could be of your request. You should be ready to provide clear answers about your situation. This can help you have a better conversation – and potentially a better outcome for your finances and your relationship. Ask yourself:

  • What exactly am I asking for?
  • Do I have other ways to meet those needs?
  • How would my relationship to this person change if they agree – or if they turn me down?
  • Do I have the ability to pay this person back?

Be realistic, and be honest with yourself, and the other person.

Has someone asked you for money or support?

Before you respond to a friend or relative who asks you to share or lend resources, pause to think it through first. Ask yourself the questions below, and then see if you need to clarify your understanding with the other person:

  • Am I being asked to give a gift that will not be paid back, or provide a loan that will be paid back?
  • How could this affect my own money situation, in the short and long term?
  • How would my relationship to this person change if I agree – or if I turn them down?
  • If it is a loan, what happens if they don’t pay it back?
  • If it is a loan, do I need it to be paid back with money, or are there other ways to be repaid – for example, can I accept other services like childcare, transportation, or something else in exchange?

Again, be realistic, and honest with yourself and the other person.

 If you can, write out what everyone has agreed to and give everyone a copy to refer to later. Whether you write it down or not, your agreement should answer the following questions:

  • Who is providing what (money, time, services, or something else) to whom?
  • How much, how often, and for how long?
  • Is this a one-time exchange, or happening on a regular basis?
  • How and when will the lender be repaid?
  • When will the arrangement be considered done?
  • When or how often will you check in with each other?
  • What happens if circumstances change?

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Under what circumstances should you borrow from family members or friends?
  • Ask students if they have borrowed or have lent money to family members or friends.  If so, let them share their experiences.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do loans from family or friends complicate family relationships?  Explain.
  2. Why should all loans to or from a family members be in writing and state the interest rate, if any, repayment schedule, and the final payment date.
Categories: Budget, Chapter 5 | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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.
Categories: Uncategorized, Chapter 5, Credit Mistakes, Credit Scores, Identity Theft | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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?
Categories: Chapter 5, Debt, Identity Theft | 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

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

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