Almost You is NOT You – Online Login or Password

Had your online login or password exposed in a data breach?  Here is a checklist of what to do, provided by the Federal trade Commission: Online login or password Log in to that account and change your password.  If possible, also change your username.  If you can’t log in, contact the company.  Ask them how you can recover or shut down the account. If you use the same password anywhere else, change that too. Is it a financial site, or is your credit card number stored?  Check your account for any charges that you don’t recognize. Do not throw good money at stolen accounts. Your credit may be compromised if an ID thief gets your personal and/or financial information.  Protect your credit by addressing any form of identity theft.  For other checklists on various types of information exposure, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s website at https://www.identitytheft.gov/info-lost-or-stolen.html.     Read More

Cyber Monday Tips

In 2014, the Monday after Thanksgiving was the biggest online shopping day ever (the first to tip over the $2 billion mark sales).  For those who do not cherish large crowds, sore feet, or a marathon of waiting in line, may the peace of the season rest at your fingertips.  Here are some online shopping guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission to help you deal with legitimate retailers…and avoid those who are not. Shopping Online Follow these tips for hassle-free online shopping: get the details, pay by credit card, keep records, and protect your personal and financial information. Get the Details Pay by Credit Card Keep Records Protect Your Information How to Report Online Shopping Fraud Get the Details Know who you’re dealing with. Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. And if you get an email or pop-up message that asks for your financial information while you’re browsing, don’t reply or follow the link. Legitimate companies don’t ask for information that way. Know what you’re buying. Read the seller’s description of the product closely, especially the fine print. Words like […] Read More

Attention Veterans: Pension Poaching Scam

Yes, sadly even our Veterans get scammed.  Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater warns on his website (http://www.myfloridacfo.com/SAFE/stories.asp) against scammers who try to convince Veterans to purchase unnecessary products or transfer pension funds to an annuity or trust that supposedly “will enable” the veteran to qualify for additional pension assistance or enhancement, but which may do just the opposite. Consider carefully any changes to your pension.  You can research veteran’s benefits on your own for free or at no cost from any party accredited through the US Department of Veterans Affairs.  Also, you can check the valid license status of anyone assisting you in financial services through an online search with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation at https://www.myfloridalicense.com/wl11.asp.  Again, Florida’s CFO gives the reminder:  “No one accredited through the VA is allowed to charge you for their services.” Thanks to those who have served in the US military.     Read More

Infamous Black Tuesday

Today is Thursday, but in 1929 the 29th of October fell on a Tuesday…so did the Stock Market.  In more recent history, we have encountered the Great Recession.  While we continue the recovery, sometimes old credit card debt comes back to haunt, making consumers victims of Zombie Debt. Zombie Debt is debt that has been dead for a while, but does not know it is dead, and walks the streets looking for a victim.  The problem with Zombie Debt is that the debt is matured when the consumer fails to make payments.  Once the debt is matured, then the Statute of Limitations clock begins to tick, and runs for five to seven years (depending on which state the credit card is initiated). Another problem with Zombie Debt is that Zombie Debt collectors will say anything to get you to reanimate the debt; they whisper sweet nothings like, “Send us five dollars.” Beware, even a penny can resurrect the dead debt. Even if you already have a Judgment against you for this debt, you could be faced with a second Judgment for the same debt. The business model for collecting on Zombie Debt is based on numbers—debt-buyers purchase debt in bulk […] Read More

Workshop for Savvy Seniors

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is putting on a free workshop for older residents and their families and/or caregivers to help raise awareness and avoidance of financial exploitation that is targeted towards Florida’s seniors.  As part of CFO Atwater’s On Guard for Seniors initiative, this workshop is on tour throughout the State, making its stop in St. Augustine on October 8 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. at River House (179 Marine Street, St. Augustine).  Topics covered will include the following: The Psychology of a Scam How to Spot Fraudulent Behavior Common Scams that Target Seniors How to Fight Identity Theft Resources to Keep You Safe To learn more and to register for this workshop, go to http://www.myfloridacfo.com/SAFE/   Read More

Hide & Seek with a Free Offer

As a consumer, you are “it.”  Close your eyes, count to ten, and then go shopping for goods and services.  But as a consumer, you are also the one being sought by companies offering goods and services.  You may find a free trial offer—delightful!  You can sample a product or service on a limited basis without obligation, allowing you to decide on the merit of the product or service firsthand instead of relying on the basis of advertising.  Is the game really in your favor? Some free trial offers come with the caveat that the offer is only free for a specified time, after which, if you fail to cancel the promotion, you could be obligated to pay.  That is not necessarily bad because it makes it convenient for you to continue receiving the product or service, but that might not be what you want.  Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission to help you avoid costs hiding in free trial offers: Research the Company – Google the company name and see if your screen fills with complaints from other customers who have already discovered “catches” in this offer, or if there are other complaints about the company. […] Read More

Welcome to the Jungle – New Home Loan Closing Disclosure

The new home loan closing disclosure scheduled to go into effect in August has been delayed until October 3, and could delay the home lending process a lot longer than that. Dodd-Frank has come up with a new four-letter word:  “CFPB” which stands for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The idea is to help the average consumer understand their financial product when purchasing a home loan.  “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.”  The CFPB will generate more paper that nobody is going to read. With the new home disclosure, the consumer is going to have three days to review it.  The problems with this may include the following: How is the lender going to comply with this?  Time will be of the lender’s essence.  I do not see lenders getting loan approval too far in advance. It only protects the buyer.  What about the seller? Slows down closings. It will force people to pay certain closing items up front or outside of closing. What is a consumer loan?  There are other definitions that matter.  The private investor who does more than five loans could be affected, but then they could become an LLC and get around it. Too […] Read More

Building Bad Credit Habits?

You’re never too old to learn something stupid. Sure, do not pay your bills on time…or at all.  Take on new debt as often as you can.  Bad habits can pile up like bills…and lead to bad credit. Your credit determines your purchasing power to buy items like a car, a student loan, and maybe even a house.  Credit also may affect your ability to get or keep a job.  Your credit history gives lenders and employers something to look at when they are deciding whether or not to give you a loan (and at what interest rate) and whether or not to hire you or give you a promotion. On the other if you can talk, text, and chew gum, you can improve your credit score with these basics: 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 Trade Commission at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-1020-make-budget-worksheet.pdf Be a credit to yourself!   Read More

Free Annual Credit Report

Have you been to the doctor lately?  Had your car serviced?  Did you clean the gutters?  There are certain things you should do on a regular annual basis.  Checking your credit report is one of them.  Furthermore, it does not cost you. Consumers can check their credit report for FREE once a year at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. This website gives you access to all three credit reporting companies.  Note that while your credit report is free, there is a cost involved to get your credit score. It is a good idea to make sure the information in your credit report is accurate and up to date.  This helps monitor for blended files, where someone may have a similar name or social security number, and helps monitor for 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

“Free” Means Free

Gifts do not come with a price tag for the recipient, and a free offer means that you can sample the product or service without economic impact on your part. A free trial offer is a legitimate marketing technique whereby a consumer may be allowed to sample a product or service on a limited basis without obligation.  A free trial lets you decide on the merit of the product or service instead of relying on the basis of advertising. However, some free trial offers come with a caveat that the offer is only free for a specified time, after which, if you fail to cancel the promotion, you could be obligated to pay.  That is not necessarily bad because it makes it convenient for the consumer to continue receiving the product or service.  But that might not be what you want. Be careful what you sign up for…and watch your calendar. A free trial offer may lead you to discover something you really want…or something you really do not want, like a duty to pay.  To learn more about being a savvy shopper, the Federal Trade Commission has a free online video at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0101-free-trial-offers.   Read More