COVID-19 testing scams

Scammers are preying on people looking for COVID tests. Some fraudsters are offering unauthorized test kits. Others are setting up phony testing sites to steal your personal information. The sites may look real with tents and hazmat suits – but then you don’t get the test results, you’re charged for a “free” test, or they use your information for identity theft.

 To avoid COVID testing scams, remember:

  • Do not give your Social Security number or passport number in order to get a COVID test.
  • Find legitimate testing sites. Check with your state  or local  health department or your doctor.
  • Look for FDA-authorized test kits. Check the FDA’s list of authorized antigen tests  and PCR tests  before buying. Now, you can get four free COVID test kits per household at COVIDtests.gov .
  • When shopping online for test kits, pay by credit card. If you’re charged for an order you never received, or for a product that’s not as advertised, you can contact your credit card company and dispute the charge .

COVID-19 vaccine scams

As the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out throughout the country, it’s important to be on the lookout for scams. Beware of scams offering early access to vaccines for a fee. Don’t share your personal or financial information if someone calls, texts, or emails you promising to get you the vaccine for a fee. Also, keep in mind that Medicare covers the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are also free to others throughout the country, although providers may charge an administration fee.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends or family members have been victimized by COVID-19 Vaccine scams.  If so, what were their experiences?
  • Ask students to research legitimate COVID-19 testing sites in their area.

Discussion Questions

  1. When shopping online for test kits, why is it prudent to pay by credit card?
  2. What steps can you take to make sure that you are not being tested at a phony testing site?
Categories: Chapter 9, Frauds and Scams | Tags: | Leave a comment

Digital Investments in Retirement?

Your retirement savings represent years of hard work and sacrifice. The assets held in retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans, are essential to financial security in old age – covering living expenses, medical bills and so much more – and must be carefully protected.  That’s why plan fiduciaries, including plan sponsors and investment managers, have a strong legal obligation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to protect retirement savings.  These fiduciaries must act solely in the financial interests of plan participants and adhere to a high standard of care when managing plan participants’ retirement holdings.

In recent months, some financial services firms have started marketing investments in cryptocurrencies as potential investment options for participants in 401(k)s.  At this early stage in the history of cryptocurrencies, however, the U.S. Department of Labor has serious concerns about plans’ decisions to expose participants to direct investments in cryptocurrencies or related products, such as NFTs, coins, and crypto assets.

President Biden’s recent executive order on ensuring responsible development of digital assets highlights the significant financial risks digital assets can pose to consumers, investors and businesses in the absence of appropriate protections. 

Cryptocurrencies can present serious risks to retirement savings, including: 

  • Valuation concerns.
  • Obstacles to making informed decisions.  
  • Prices can change quickly and dramatically. 
  •  Evolving regulatory landscape.

Based on these concerns, the United States Department of Labor has issued a compliance assistance release for plan fiduciaries focused on 401(k) plan investments in cryptocurrencies.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends or relatives have 401(k) plans.  If so, has anyone invested in Cryptocurriencies in their retirement plans and what have been their experiences?
  • Ask students to prepare a list of potential dangers in investing in cryptocurrencies or other digital investments.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the U.S. Department of Labor concerned about people investing in digital assets for their retirement plans at this time?
  2. Should the federal government prohibit 401(k) plan providers from investing in cryptocurrencies in participant’s retirement plans?  Why or why not?
Categories: Chapter_14, Retirement Planning | Tags: | Leave a comment

Conned on Social Media? It’s not just you

In 2021, more than 95,000 Americans told the Federal Trade Commission that they’d been scammed with a con that started on social media. In fact, more than one in four people who reported to the FTC that they lost money to any scam said the transaction started with a post, an ad, or a message on a social media platform. And the losses amounted to about $770 million.

Americans reported losing the most money to investment scams (particularly those involving bogus cryptocurrency investments) and romance scams. More than a third of the Americans who lost money to romance scams said it started on Facebook or Instagram.

The largest number of reports came from people who lost money trying to buy something they saw marketed on social media. Most said they didn’t get what they paid for, while some reported ads that impersonated a real online retailer. Reports of social media fraud increased for all age groups in 2021, but people 18 to 39 were more than twice as likely to report losing money than older adults.

Scammers trying to get your money are always looking for new ways to reach people. And they’ll use whatever they know about you to target their pitch. Here are a few actions you can take to protect yourself, no matter which social media platform you use:

  • Try to limit who can see your posts and information on social media. Of course, all platforms collect information about you from your activities on social media, but visit your privacy settings to set some restrictions.
  • Check if you can opt out of targeted advertising. Some platforms let you do that.
  • If you see urgent messages from a “friend” asking for money, stop. It could be a hacker behind that post pretending to be your friend.
  • Don’t deal with a vendor that requires payment by cryptocurrency, gift card, or wire transfer. That’s sure to be a scam.

If you see or experience scam on social media, report it to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends or relatives have been scammed on social media.  If so, what have been their experiences?
  • Ask students to make a list of actions they might take to protect themselves from social media scams.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do many people fall victims to scammers?  What can they do to protect themselves?
  2. What can the federal, state, and local governments do to protect consumers from scams?
Categories: Chapter 6, Frauds and Scams | Tags: | Leave a comment

Your Baby’s Social Security number

If your child is born in a hospital, the most convenient way to apply for a Social Security number is at that hospital before you leave.

When you give information for your child’s birth certificate at the hospital, you’ll be asked whether you want to apply for a Social Security number for your child. If you answer “yes,” you will be asked to provide both parents’ Social Security numbers. Even if you don’t know both parents’ Social Security numbers, you can still apply for a number for your child.

There are many reasons why your child should have a Social Security number. You need a Social Security number to claim your child as a dependent on your income tax return. You may also need a number for your child if you plan to do the following for your child:

  • Open a bank account.
  • Buy savings bonds.
  • Get medical coverage.
  • Apply for government services.

You can find more information by reading the publication, Social Security Numbers for Children. Share this information with people who are having a baby. Applying for a Social Security number at the hospital will save them time and let them focus on their new bundle of joy.

For more information, go to:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of reasons why their child should have a Social Security number?
  • What might be the consequences of not getting a Social Security card for your new born?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why should you get a Social Security card for your child?  Is it mandatory?
  2. What is the best and easiest way to apply for a Social Security card for a newborn?
  3. Why must all the documents be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency?
Categories: Chapter_14 | Tags: | Leave a comment

Lost Your Social Security Card?

Consider whether you really need to get a replacement card. Knowing your number is what’s important, after all. You’ll rarely need the card itself — perhaps only when you get a new job and have to show it to your employer. If you really must replace your card, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber before visiting your local Social Security office.

The first step is to learn what documents you need. The Social Security Administration requires a U.S. driver’s license, a state issued non-driver identification card, or a U.S. passport to prove your identity. Sometimes you may also need to prove your current U.S. citizenship or lawful noncitizen status with a birth certificate or passport.

All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. The Social Security office won’t accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. They also can’t accept a receipt showing you applied for the document.

Once you’re clear on what documents you’ll need, the second step is to print and fill out the Application for a Social Security Card.  Finally, the third step is to bring or mail your application and original documents to a Social Security office. Then, the online process will take you to a screen where you can find the address of your local office.

In some areas, you can request a replacement Social Security card using your online my Social Security account if you meet certain requirements. Simply access your account and follow the instructions to replace your Social Security card. It’s safe, convenient and secure.

You can replace your Social Security card for free if it’s lost or stolen. Avoid service providers who charge you a fee to get your replacement card. You’re limited to three replacement cards in a year, and 10 during your lifetime. Legal name changes and other exceptions don’t count toward these limits. Changes in immigration status that require card updates may not count toward these limits. Also, you aren’t affected by these limits if you can prove you need the card to prevent a significant hardship.

The Social Security office will mail your card as soon as all of your information has been verified. Your replacement card will have the same name and number as your previous card.

For more information, go to:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has lost his/her Social Security card.  If so, did they replace it?  Why or why not?
  • Under what circumstances should you replace your lost Social Security card?  Explain.

Discussion Questions

  1. What steps must be taken to replace a Social Security card?
  2. Why must all documents be original to be submitted to Social Security?
Categories: Chapter_14, Retirement Planning, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

THE 33-33-33 PORTFOLIO

For decades, a 60/40 (60 percent stock, 40 percent bond) investment portfolio has been encouraged by financial advisors. However, we live in a new world, so in recent years a 33/33/33 allocation has been suggested, with investments divided equally among stocks, bonds, and alternatives. This shift in portfolio strategy is the result of unsustainable stock prices, looming inflation, and expected higher interest rates.  

The alternative investments include assets such as venture capital, real estate, private equity, private debt, commodities, and cryptocurrencies. These asset categories offer investors enhanced diversification, and have a low correlation with stocks to provide an inflation hedge. 

Real estate offers an opportunity for an improved yield for investors with a lower risk tolerance. Venture capital and private equity are suggested for investors comfortable with more risk.

Recent J.P. Morgan research revealed that an allocation of 30 percent of these alternatives can substantially increase annual returns, while strengthening portfolio stability and decreasing risk. However, these illiquid assets can’t be quickly sold, or liquidated, so careful cash-flow planning is also necessary.

Remember, every portfolio must be personalized to the needs of the individual based on liquidity need, risk tolerance, and the time horizon of financial goals.

For additional information on the 33/33/33 portfolio, go to the following articles.

Article #1

Article #2

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students research alternative investments (venture capital, real estate, private equity, private debt, commodities, cryptocurrencies) to determine recent returns, risk, and suitability for their personal portfolio.
  • Have students create a visual proposal or video with a suggested investment portfolio for their current or future situation.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors should a person consider when planning an investment portfolio?
  2. Describe actions a person might take to determine if alternative investments are appropriate for their financial situation. 
Categories: Chapter_11, Chapter_12, Chapter_13, Financial Planning, Investments | 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

Social Security Benefits Increase in 2022

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 5.9 percent in 2022. The 5.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2022. Increased payments to approximately 8 million SSI beneficiaries began on December 30, 2021. (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits). The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $147,000 from $142,800.

Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail starting in early December about their new benefit amount. Most people who receive Social Security payments are able to view their COLA notice online through their personal my Social Security account. People may create or access their my Social Security account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • What might be a secure and convenient way to receive COLA notices online and save the message for later?
  • Ask students to trace the history of automatic Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA).

Discussion Questions

  1. How can you avoid falling victim to fraudulent “Social Security” calls and internet “phishing” schemes?
  2. What is the purpose of the COLA adjustments?
  3. What is the official measure used by the Social Security Administration to calculate COLA?
Categories: Chapter_14, Retirement Planning | Tags: | Leave a comment

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Investing

An increasing number of investors are seeking a more ethical portfolio with an emphasis on socially responsible and sustainable investing. An emerging trend is environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, with these factors used to evaluate the financial return and overall impact. 

The ESG score measures how investments and companies perform in these categories:

  • Environmental – carbon emissions, air and water pollution, deforestation, green energy initiatives, waste management, water usage
  • Social – employee gender and diversity, data security, customer satisfaction, company sexual harassment policies, human rights at home and around the world, fair labor practices
  • Governance – diversity of board members, political contributions, executive pay, large-scale lawsuits, internal corruption, lobbying

Many view “sustainable” investing as very vague. The ESG criteria hopes to provide a grading of investments that clarifies what sustainable involves. ESG scores are calculated using different methods. Some ratings are created by using data collected from company disclosures and government, academic and NGO databases. Other scores are developed with self-reported data from participating companies.

Recent benefits of ESG investing include higher returns and a lower downside risk than traditional funds and conventional investments.  To start investing, you can search on your own to identify an ESG fund or an individual stock with a high ESG score that fits your investment beliefs and goals.  Investors can also use a robo-advisor to guide their ESG investment choices.

For additional information on ESG investing, click on the following links:

Article #1

Article #2

Article #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online to identify ESG funds or companies they might consider for their investment portfolio.
  • Have students talk with others to obtain the level of interest for ESG investing among potential investors of various ages.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What aspects of ESG investing do you find attractive?  What are your concerns?
  2. What concerns might be associated with methods used to create ESG scores?
Categories: Chapter_11, Chapter_12, Chapter_13, Investments, Mutual Funds, Stocks | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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