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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Gift card scams: Run for the hills red flags

Unverifiable lies are the hallmark of a scammer. In today's world of online anonymity, social media and internet interaction, it's no wonder gift card scams have become such an epidemic problem. You may have noticed when you go to purchase a gift card, a warning sometimes appears on the payment card machine stating your intent may have been manipulated by a fraudulent third party.

Scam 1: Pre-Scratched cards

If you receive a card that is be pre-scratched, be weary. It may be used to track your spending or worse steal the money before you have a chance to use it. According to Consumer Reports, this is a pre-meditated scam where the scammers tear the card's packaging to reveal the scratch off code, then re-seal card packets before sales to the purchaser. After buying the card, the scammer is notified of the card activation and redeems the card before anything can be bought by the intended recipient.

Scam 2: Fraudulent Psychic

If a seemingly all-knowing alleged psychic needs you to send them gift cards for energy clearing, Chakra healing, demon removal, past life closing, crystal work or anything that didn't work the first time you gave them money, run for the hills fast. Don't fall for emotional blackmail, psychological manipulation or any other trick they use to coerce you. According to Bob Nygaard, per the Miami Times, fake psychics will say anything to get your money. Don't believe them no matter how desperate and emotionally vulnerable you are. Especially, if they tell you telling other people will ruin their work!

Scam 3: Dating site friend in need

You know that new best friend you just made on an Internet dating site? They might actually be your worst nightmare. What started out really well, like a great connection and an amazing rapport with a complete stranger could be another gift card scam. If all of a sudden, they need help for some family tragedy, or to get money to be with you or even to pay for their bills, this too could be a scam. Warning signs include a rapid escalation of friendship, quick confession of love, inability to confirm identity by any means, and illusive, non-traceable gift card request, you might be dealing with a fake love. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2016, $220 million was lost due this type of scam. 

Scam 4: Gift card phone scams

Another way thieves steal gift cards from unsuspecting consumers is via false identity phone schemes. For example, according to the Internal Revenue Service, a surge in phone scams seeking iTunes gift cards as recompense for late tax payments is on the rise. What's more, iTunes and Amazon gift cards are more difficult to trace and can be converted or traded for Bitcoins to avoid arrest or being tracked. Anything that can't be proven, confirmed or verified via another method should be a significant warning sign. 

Unfortunately, scammers are a dime a dozen and pray on vulnerable, unsuspecting and unprotected individuals who oftentimes, want nothing but the best for others. What motivates these people varies, it could be financial need, criminal intent, lack of empathy, and even genuine need. It is quite common for scammers to weave the truth in to their lies to rope their victims in. Whatever the reasons, misrepresentation of themselves and their motives to others for money is a scam. They will try to get you to convince yourself otherwise and hide the real truth with false claims and sweet smelling lies. 

All images from Pixabay, Licensed via Creative Commons

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Helping senior loved ones handle finances after the death of a spouse

Losing a loved one ranks among the top of life’s most stressful events. In the aftermath of a spouse’s death, some financial issues must be addressed quickly. While the discussion is a difficult one, encourage your loved ones to discuss finances with each other and you so that initial decisions will be easier to navigate amidst the grief.

When planning ahead, everyone will need to know how assets are titled and where they’re held. Know how the loans are handled and credit card account terms. Make sure everyone can access investments and other records — create a list of all accounts, usernames, and passwords, and remember to keep this information organized.

First Steps

When your loved one loses their spouse, help them deal with the most pressing financial needs first. Encourage them not to make decisions that can have far-reaching ramifications. Collect all the papers needed to file for benefits and finalize the estate: death certificates (ask for at least 15), insurance policies, Social Security numbers, military discharge papers, birth certificates, a complete list of assets, and their spouse’s will.

Liquidating Assets

If cash is tight and medical costs and other expenses are mounting, it might make sense for your loved one to sell their home. To determine whether it’s feasible, assess its current worth with a home sale proceeds calculator and find a realtor they trust.

Life Insurance

Contact the sources of benefits, including the employer with whom your spouse had policies. Hire and talk to a financial advisor before you decide what type of payment plan (lump-sum, fixed payments/ annuity) is best for you.

Social Security

If your loved one’s spouse was collecting Social Security, call them. You’ll need birth and death certificates, marriage certificate, birth certificates of dependent children, Social Security numbers, and copies of the most recent tax return.

Veterans’ Benefits

Contact the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) office or ask the funeral director for help applying to receive a lump-sum payment of $300 for burial expenses and $150 toward a plot in a private ceremony. If your loved one’s spouse also received disability benefits, the survivor may be entitled to monthly payments.

Employee Benefits

If your loved one’s spouse was employed at the time of their death, ask the employer about survivor’s benefits. If they were retired and receiving a pension, check to see whether your loved one will still receive payments and, if so, whether the death affects the amount. 

Enlist the help of trusted friends or family, or encourage your loved one to hire a team that includes a financial advisor, an accountant, and an estate planning lawyer to help wade through the paperwork, make sound financial decisions, and avoid costly mistakes. 

Mistakes to Avoid

In the aftermath of a loved one’s death, everyone’s recovering from a huge loss and struggling to think clearly, reasonably, and logically. Encourage your loved one to wait before making big financial decisions, such as paying off a mortgage, until their head is more clear — they shouldn’t feel pressured by anyone to make a decision with which they’re not comfortable. 

Many financial planners say the biggest mistake their clients make is trusting too much. Be wary of predatory insurance salespeople and stockbrokers that work on commission or other professional scam artists. If your loved one receives a decent lump-sum of money from an insurance policy, they should do nothing for at least three or four months except put it in the bank. Encourage them to wait until they’re thinking clearly and rationally again — and have a financial planner whose judgment they trust.

Don’t assume that benefits automatically transfer after a spouse’s death. Even if they’re listed as the primary beneficiary on retirement or other accounts, they should work with a financial planner or accountant to update everything properly. 

Remind your loved one to update the beneficiary on their own retirement accounts and other financial accounts to include someone other than their spouse. An estate attorney or financial planner can provide guidance if necessary.

Whether you’re helping your loved one plan ahead or in the midst of helping strategize your loved one’s finances, this surviving spouse financial checklist may help.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com