Trends in Fraud

If you are not spending your own money, someone else may be spending it for you in a scam.  For those who made it through the IRS imposters (or did not), consumers have these trends in fraud to watch out for:   Nepal Earthquake Disaster Relief:  Turn a natural disaster in to a financial disaster by giving financial information to a fraudster instead of a legitimate charity.  This type of fraud is popular when there is a big event negatively affecting many people. Avoid: Unsolicited contact.  If you want to give, YOU contact the aid organization of your choice.  Do not give personal or financial information to an unsolicited caller or email sender. Phishing names.  Watch out for organizations with similar names to legitimate charities. Bogus charities.  Research the charity through Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at FreshFromFlorida.com and also contact the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at (703) 276-0100 to check for complaints.  Additionally you can learn about a charity’s status at IRS.gov (look under Charities and Non-Profits topics).   Weight Loss Promises:  Waist reduction could become wealth-reduction if you believe in bogus celebrity endorsements on this email spam.  This spam scam usually appears to come from […] Read More

Building Credit as a New Adult

Congratulations high school seniors…many of you may now be tried as an adult.  If you have reached the age of 18 (or older), you also have the opportunity to start building your credit. Why is credit important? Because I say so…and because creditors and lenders say so too.  Your credit determines your purchasing power to buy items like a car, a student loan, and maybe a house one day.  Credit also may affect your ability to get or keep a job. What do lenders look at? Your credit rating should how well you repay your debts—whether you are a good credit risk or a deadbeat.  When lenders are deciding whether to extend credit, they look at how well you pay your bills, your credit limit versus your high balance (as on a credit card), and your income. Build your credit from your budget up.   Make a budget. Stick to it. Pay your bills on time every time – from rent to credit card bills and all other bills, make sure you have paid by the due date.  By having a budget, you should know what bills are coming and when.  By sticking to your budget, you should be able to […] Read More

Annual Check-Up on Your Credit Report

Keep an eye on your financial statements, and check your credit report annually for free at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action.  If you want your credit score there is a fee, but it is free to look at your credit report from all three reporting companies so you can check to make sure the information is accurate. It is a good idea to monitor your credit report annually because as my colleague, Zach, points out, sometimes there are ‘blended’ files where a person’s name is similar to your name, or has a similar Social Security number.  And of course there is the possibility of identity theft. If you do find an inaccuracy, you can dispute errors with the credit reporting agencies.  There is more information provided by the Federal Trade Commission with sample letters at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0291-disputing-errors-credit-reporting-companies.   Read More

Are You Receiving Unwanted Calls?

If you owe money you may be getting calls from creditors or debt collectors.  To learn more about your rights as a debtor, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0149-debt-collection. If you do not owe money and are tired of sales calls, try these free registration websites for DO NOT CALL lists at the State and National levels: National DO NOT CALL LIST registration: https://www.donotcall.gov/ Florida DO NOT CALL LIST registration: https://www.fldnc.com/   Read More

Debt Collector Decorum

The Debt Collector Cotillion does not include calling consumers late at night, or causing their phones to ring continuously or repeatedly.  A good debt collector knows how to inspire you to pay within the law.  A bad collector strays into unfair debt collection practices. Just because you owe money does not mean you lack rights. The Federal Trade Commission has put together a two-minute video to walk you through the basics of debtors’ rights (you can view it online at http://bcove.me/t6s6l7lf); seek competent legal counsel if you need further assistance asserting your rights.   Read More

Recovery from ID Theft

Recovery from Identity Theft is not easy, but the Federal Trade Commission has tried to aid consumers by writing letters for them…all you have to do is fill in the details. Letters Ask a Business to Remove Fraudulent Charges From Your Existing Accounts Ask a Business to Close a New Account Opened in Your Name Ask Credit Reporting Companies to Remove Fraudulent Errors on Your Credit Report Ask a Business to Block Information on Your Existing Account Ask a Business to Block Information on a New Account Ask a Credit Reporting Company to Block Information Get Copies of the Documents the Identity Thief Used Stop Calls and Letters From a Debt Collector Memo from FTC to Law Enforcement [PDF]   Read More

New Year’s Resolution for Better Credit

It is 2015, how is your credit?  Building better credit takes time and effort, but if you can talk, text, and chew gum, you can fix your credit score on your own. Credit is important.  Your credit determines your purchasing power to buy items like a house, a car, a student loan. Creditors look at your bill-paying history, whether you pay your bills on time, collections actions against you, your outstanding debt, how many accounts you have and what kind they are, and if you have applied for new credit lately.  They use this information to determine if you would be a good risk for repayment, or if you are a deadbeat, and also how much they should charge you for the loan.  Creditors want their money back, and they want to make interest on the loan. Bad credit is a problem, but it is one that you can fix with these New Year’s resolutions: Pay your bills on time every time No new credit – do not open new credit accounts or take out new loans Pay down large balances Make a budget and stick to it – you can use the free online budget provided by the Federal […] Read More

Where Is Your Contractor?

So you decided you wanted a new driveway and you paid a guy with a pickup truck to put in some pavers.  Did you sign a written document stating what was going to be done and when and for how much?  What do you call a contractor without a contract?  Gone. As the name implies, a ‘contractor’ is someone closely associated with a ‘contract.’  ‘Contractor’ is not just a trendy name for a glorified handyman. Contracts take the mystery out of a situation.  They specify an action for every event.  In other words, they are made to be broken.  And they are made to be kept. A contract is going to end in one of three ways: Completed. Breached by one party. Breached by both parties. (If you answered ‘All of the Above,’ you are incorrect.)  Regardless of how the contract terminates, there are provisions for each of the scenarios. If you paid a contractor to build a sandcastle and he does not show up, what did you actually agree to?  Are you buying the goods or the service?  What was the time frame?  It all comes back to the contract…if you have no written contract, then you proceed at […] Read More

Who’s Wearing Your Credit?

Fashion Week starts this week in New York, and with identity theft trending, someone else could be masquerading in your good credit, compromising your purchasing power. Credit determines your ability to buy items like a house, a car, a student loan.  Bad credit can limit your ability to get more credit, and it can raise the cost of a loan (the interest rate) and lower your chances to get the loan in the first place.  Bad credit is not a place you want to be, especially if you did not get to enjoy any of the things charged to your account along the way! The Department of Justice has a pneumonic to help you avoid becoming the victim of identity theft: SCAM. S is for “Stingy.”  Be stingy about giving out your personal and financial information. C is for “Check.”  Check your accounts regularly. A is for “Ask.”  Ask for your free credit report once a year (see below). M is for “Maintain.”  Maintain good records of your banking and financial information.  You should know what should be in there…and what should not. If you want to monitor Tommy Hilfiger, you can watch Fashion Week live online at http://mbfashionweek.com/live If […] Read More

Consumer Inertia & Payday Loans

Consumer Inertia is when you buy the same thing all the time, never trying anything different or even considering other choices, similar to the cycle of payday loans. Sure, payday loans present an aroma of kindness and sensibility—instant cash for immediate use.  The TV ads look so sympathetic, plus cold, convenient cash freshens the situation with greenback gratification.  However, payday loans provide a false sense of wealth. The problem with payday loans is that they are habit-forming and tend to lead to greater poverty.   A payday loan is a cash advance secured by personal check or paid by electronic transfer.  You write a check for the amount you want to borrow plus the fee for borrowing the money.  The lender gives you the amount borrowed and agrees to hold your check until your next payday.  However, if you come up short on payday, you have to pay new fees to roll over the loan, thus making the borrowed money more expensive each time the loan is extended. The Federal Trade Commission gives the following example: Say you need to borrow $100 for two weeks. You write a personal check for $115, with $15 the fee to borrow the money. The […] Read More