Before we return to the subject of some of the increasing scams and frauds we are so often reading and hearing about, or even experiencing, as promised in the last column, I want to return for a moment to a recent and continuing subject. Costs and expenses just continue to increase. Most recently, a basic NETFLIX subscription increased from $10.99 per month to $12.99 per month. Sure, it is only $2 per month, or $24 per year, but I was surprised and reassured, when I brought the subject up to a number of millennials, that the first thing most of them said was that it was an 18% increase — a lot.
The point continues to be, that many costs, prices and expenses will no doubt continue to increase in the future, and, unless your income is also increasing in order to compensate for the increases, the question becomes, are you prepared to make adjustments to your budget? Now that we have learned from the publicity surrounding the furloughed government workers in the recent shutdown that 78 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, including 10 percent of those earning over $100,000 or more, the need to make those kinds of budget adjustments when costs increase, for whatever reason, and to save more, should be self-evident.
Let’s return to the subject of frauds and scams. According to the Federal Trade Commission, another common phone scam is the “utility scam.” A caller advises that your power or water will be shut off unless you pay a past-due bill. Even if you believe you paid all of your bills, unless you are absolutely sure, you may be concerned. Since I am a financial dinosaur, who pays his bills by check and by mail, and then checks his checking account statement every month, I feel confident that I always know what bills I have paid. In any case, the thing to do, once again, is politely indicate that you will call the company back to confirm this, hang up, and call the company at the phone number on your printed bills or its official website. Never give out any financial information or make any payment to the initial caller.
Here are a few other scams and frauds reported by cnbc.com. First, the FBI has reported an increase in death threat scams, where people have received emails demanding that they pay a sum in virtual currency or prepaid cards. Obviously, it’s time to call the authorities.
Second, alleged government officials email victims advising them that they are eligible to receive a large sum of money, often because of a settlement that resulted from an FBI or other government investigation, provided that they send in some money to cover some expenses, along with some necessary personal financial information. A similar scam advises victims that they are eligible to participate in a civil class action suit, asking for the same expenses and personal information in advance. As always, do some thorough independent research, don’t send anyone money in advance, and don’t send personal information, unless and until everything checks out.
Third, some of the scams and frauds are really shocking, like the initial virtual coin offerings scams. In 2017, a fake crypto currency scam raised more than $32 million from investors investing in an alleged start-up.
Fourth, by now we have all heard of those travel and vacation scams, where con artists post photos of properties that are not in fact for rent, in hopes that you will supply them with your credit card information.
Finally, the list goes on and on, including that your credit or debit card, Amazon, or similar account is being questionably used, and we need to verify all of your financial information to stop this. Then there are all of those false charities solicitations, often with names similar to the names of valid charities. I especially find this one incredible — The U.S. Marshalls Service calls you to advise you that you are being fined because you failed to report for Federal Jury Duty. Also, all of those con artists scamming you in connection with you Apple, Google, Microsoft or some other account, that has been compromised, or because you have been hit by a virus. Then there are those false employment sites, asking for payment in advance, and those bogus weight loss products solicitations.
I have to stop!
Let’s review some things to end our discussion. Please do what I have done. Spend some serious time reading some of the many articles online detailing and warning about the many scams and frauds out there. Then, keep up with the media reports about new or increasing scams or frauds. If you do that it will open your eyes and sensitize you for the future. Never give your personal information to anyone that you did not initiate contact with. Protect your passwords and shred sensitive paperwork. Don’t inadvertently post information on social networking sites that may make the job of identity thieves easier, like details of where you bank or work. Minimize the phone solicitations you do receive to begin with by registering with the National Do Not Call Registry — donotcall.gov. Always be diligent and on the alert, and know that there are more and more individuals out there trying to take your money, and that there are an increasing number of creative ways for them to do just that. It is no guarantee, but it is one of the reasons that I try to keep my life as simple as possible — the fewer accounts for me, the better!
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.