Monday, December 26, 2016

Your Cyber Life

Unless you live in a cabin in the wilderness and trade pelts for food you have no real privacy.

Data mining companies, websites, sales organizations and financial institutions exist in a web of information exchanges that creates comprehensive databases on everything you do.

Some of this is harmless, if you search the Internet for fishing tackle you will soon enough be targeted with pop-up ads for fishing tackle.

Some of this is less benign, the old fashioned credit bureau is not the new fangled data mining shop and there is a massive dossier on everything you do.

But you do not do anything suspicious or criminal, so why care?

Correcting errors is a nightmare, as is identity theft. And as we well know, none of these data bases are hack proof.

Like it or not, you have a cyber life. In the future, how do we protect ourselves?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Phony Check Scams

You sell something via the Internet to someone in another state  for $150.
You are surprised to receive a cashier's check for $1500.
You email the buyer and ask what to do.
“Sorry, my mistake. Put the check in your bank account and send me a money order for $1350.”
A week later your bank calls and tells you the cashier's check was phony, and you owe the bank $1500 right now.
Never cash a check that is seriously different than the amount due.
Never spend the money from an out-of-state check until it has sat in your bank account for a while.
Never assume a cashier's check from out-of-state or overseas is legitimate, unless you present it to that same bank in your local area. Take your time.
Seller beware.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Elderly Woman Held Hostage - In a Foreign Hospital

An elderly Indiana woman was held hostage in a Mexican hospital which did not recognize her Medicare and Medicare supplement insurance. She was attending her granddaughter's wedding in Cancun.

The woman needed emergency cardiac surgery, and the family had to come up with $55,000 before she could have surgery. Then the hospital demanded another $50,000 or so before discharge. Eventually the family, with help from a Congressman, bought her freedom with another $20,000 and is still being billed for the large balance.

The for-profit hospital group is known to the Mexican government for predatory business and billing practices.

Lessons learned?

First, U.S. insurance may be useless in foreign countries. Considering buying travel health insurance, but remember that travel insurance might not solve the problem either.

Second, be careful where you travel. Tell your granddaughter to have her wedding in good old U.S.A.!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Congratulations on Winning a Cruise!

Congratulations – you have been selected to win a cruise! We are Acme Pollsters!


This could be a hoax to enlist you in a survey.

Or this could be a hoax to get your credit card information.

Or there could be a real cruise but the add-ons (air fare, taxes, etc.) are massive.

Best solution – hang up the phone. Hang up the phone. Immediately.

Friday, September 23, 2016

More Phone Scams

We can put you in jail if you don't pay your _______________.

So what could fill in the blank?

Parking tickets
Library fines
Special assessment fees
Special bank charges

All of these are fictional, but telephone scam artists will try to convince you that without prompt payment you could be subject to aggressive collection action or even put in jail.

Hang up the phone.

Better yet, if you do not know who is calling let the call go to voice mail. Never answer the phone if you do not know who is calling. Protect your castle!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Persistent Phone Scams

Pay us now or else!

There are a variety of collections scams always in play, almost all driven via telephone.

The script goes something like this:

I am calling from [agency] and you have failed to pay your [debt of some kind]. If you do not pay this by 5:00pm today there will be serious consequences. The courts have given us the power [to have you arrested] or [seize your bank account] or [put a lien on your house].

Since you already know you do not owe this debt, the next step is to hang up the phone.

These callers target the elderly and unsophisticated and want to spook victims into wiring funds or giving them a prepaid card number the same day.

Hang up the phone!

Remember our advice – never answer the phone if you do not recognize the number. That is why you have voice mail.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Contractor Scams Part II

Cheap driveway sealing, a special deal on a new roof, a tree trimmer from 1000 miles away......

Common scams perpetrated often on senior citizens, and summer is prime time.

Some rules:

Never have anything done by a contractor from 1000 miles away who “just happens to be in the area and finished a job early.”

Never have anything done by a contractor who will not give a written estimate on some sort of real business form (tablet paper may be a tip off).

Always insist on a written estimate for anything more than a minor repair (being done by someone you know well).

Never give in to the “this sale only goes until 5:00 pm today.”

For a major project, insist on freshly dated proof of liability insurance and bonding (on big projects) and ask for proof of workers comp insurance. No proof, no work.

Do not give a large pre-payment because “we need materials.” If the need is legitimate, set up an account at the local lumber yard and pre-pay there. This depends how well you know the contractor.

Always get written information on warranties, both work and materials (shingles).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Contractor Scams - Part I

It is the time of the year for driveway coating scams.

In southeast Michigan a scam crew offered to seal coat a driveway for less than $100, and then extorted $4000 from an elderly woman for doing a “deluxe” job.

Most of these jobs involve smearing the driveway with used motor oil which will run off with the first hard rain.

Never authorize unknown contractors to do a job for you because they have a “really great price.”

If the scammers are persistent call 911 and ask for police assistance.

More advice in Part II.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hang Up the Darn Phone

Phone calls from phony "IRS agents" are still getting money from senior citizens.

Hang up the phone.

The IRS will always make first contact via mail, and usually waits for you to call them.

Hang up the phone.

Do not be too polite to hit the "end call"  button. 

Hang up the phone.

Do not try to joust with the callers, they are professional thieves and liars. You are not.

Hang up the phone.

And remember the rule in our book, never answer a phone call if you do not recognize the number. That is why you have voicemail.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Don't Be Like Prince Part I

Prince (Rogers Nelson) was a major popular musician for the past 30 years, selling maybe 100 million albums.

He died without a will, or at least without a will that can be found.

This happens frequently and not just to celebrities.

You should have an up-to-date will and some family member/s or some responsible person should know where it is. Family members should also know who your attorney is and the attorney should have a copy.

Do not put your original will in your safety deposit box, it may require a court order to get to it.

Be certain your funeral arrangements are easy to retrieve, someone needs that information right away. If you have a pre-need plan be certain family members know which funeral home.

Our book addresses this and many related issues.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hackers Gone Wild

Hackers and identity thieves are going wild.

To be accurate your odds of being a victim are still quite small........but the odds are increasing every day.

So what to do?

Watch your bank statements carefully.

Watch your mail carefully, including what may appear to be junk mail (is mail for "Jane Smith" suddenly arriving at your house?).

Give special attention to unexpected mail arriving from tax agencies or collection agencies.

Be very wary of giving personal information over the phone, unless you initiated the call to a known secure number.

You cannot be too careful.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

More Information


                     Protecting Senior Citizens Website

Hacking the IRS

Here We Go Again

The IRS has been using a special PIN system to protect victims of income tax identity theft.

According to media reports, the IRS is shutting down part of the PIN system because hackers were using the reset feature to reset and steal PIN numbers..

Oh dear.

Telephone procedures are in place for a PIN reset, but holding on the phone for the IRS may cause mental health problems (after you have heard the same music loop eight times)!

This is really confusing and changes frequently. Check with your tax professional.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Scavenger Bill Collectors

Legitimate bill collectors are irritating enough.

There is a less legitimate breed, firms that buy old records from credit card companies and other creditors and try to scare you into some kind of settlement.

That the records are often not accurate does not bother the scavengers. That there is no real liability does not bother them either.

One trick - if they cannot find the real creditor they may start trying to collect from people with similar names, just to see what they can scare up.

A few of this breed will get on the phone and try to scare you with threats of arrest and prosecution, which of course is not legal. Hang up the phone.

Some of these operations are run through law firms, which is supposed to make them extra scary.

Don't ignore letters, especially if the letter asks for a very large sum of money. A return letter via certified mail disputing the balance is very important.

And as a general rule of life, keep copies of everything!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Beware of Junk Email

We check the junk mail once in a while. Usually most of it is silly. Sometimes it is toxic.

So what was in the junk mail?

          "Social Security Card Replacement Service"

Would you send your name and Social Security number to total strangers who are going to "help you?"

The only safe place to get a replacement Social Security card is the Social Security Administration.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

It Just Gets Worse - IRS Scams

The federal government and the media are reporting a continuing flurry of fake IRS collection calls.

The IRS will not contact you via the telephone. The IRS always makes first contact by the U.S. mail, and only calls you when you request a call.

And the IRS does not receive funds by Western Union or Moneygram.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Criminals Go High Trech

There have been news reports that scammers are setting up false identities for your telephone caller ID.

So when the scammer calls your phone will say “IRS” or “Credit Bureau” or “First National Bank” or some other legitimate organization.

Best bet – let all such calls go to voice mail, listen to the message and then decide if this is someone you should talk to.

If you get on the phone with any suspicious, ask for a call back number of make up an excuse to hang up.

Again, the IRS will not contact you via phone. And no, you did not win the Australian Lottery.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I'll Take Them to Court!!

Probably not.

Somewhere buried in the “terms and conditions” or application or some other paperwork (or computer file) you agreed to mandatory binding arbitration and waived your rights to a lawsuit and/or class action filing.

This applies whether you signed something or clicked a box in agreement with terms and conditions.

The Supreme Court has ratified this as valid contract law. Didn’t read the thousands of words and didn’t find the language buried in the agreement? Too bad.

Most of the time this doesn’t matter all that much. Even when we are angry with the cable company or the cell phone company we are not going to hire a lawyer and sue them. 

Sometimes though, with nursing homes or stock brokers or others this could be important.

Ask questions, insist on answers. Be careful what you sign. Or click.

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