Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Will you be shopping this Black Friday? Don't forget to pick up an extra gift for an underprivileged child while you're out. We'll be collecting Toys for Tots through December 5th at each branch.
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Scams and Scammers
More often than not it's unfounded. Yet whenever the telephone rings at an unusually early hour, you can't avoid that gnawing sensation in the pit of your stomach. You brace yourself to hear whatever bad news occurred overnight.
It happened just this morning. When the phone rang at 7:30, my instincts proved correct. Fortunately, nobody had died. But I was very lucky that the good folks at Global Support LLC were notified that my computer had downloaded a bad virus that could cause a lot of trouble. And they were the very folks who could rid my system of this nasty bug.
No doubt I would have learned how much they were charging for this service and asked for a credit card number had they not hung up on me immediately when I asked for a phone number to call them back.
'Tis the season, folks. But I don't mean the holidays are approaching.
While it's always scam season of one sort or another, there's a perfect storm brewing right now. Scammers are opportunistic. And we're seeing a rare set of events that are giving them plenty to fill their coffers.
There's the usual online shopping ploys. Fake websites to capture account information from the unsuspecting. Phone calls from someone pretending to be from a store you might frequent, confirming a purchase you did not make. Or from your credit card company warning of suspicious activity. They'll promise to resolve the error if you supply personal information they need to pursue on your behalf.
People feel more philanthropic over the holidays, wanting to include those in need during this season of good will. Be wary of anyone asking you to donate over the phone, even if they claim to represent a charity you would normally support. Promise to donate through your preferred method and follow through with that promise. A legitimate fundraiser will be pleased with your response. Be suspicious of a caller that becomes persistent in asking for a credit card number on the spot. We'll look at identifying reputable, productive charities in next week's issue of GCFlash.
There's confusion over the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Scammers are calling citizens to help answer any questions they have and help them apply for healthcare coverage. No legitimate navigator will initiate contact with you. Those who do are out for one thing only. We talked about it here.
The elderly are getting a double-whammy. It's open enrollment season for Medicare recipients. Scammers are calling them to offer assistance with choosing a new plan. Others are warning about changes to Medicare through the ACA. They all use scare tactics to make the elderly believe they're losing important benefits if they don't enlist their help immediately.
What is it about these crooks that allows them to take advantage of the elderly without remorse? How can they swindle the most vulnerable out of their life savings and still sleep at night?
The November 2013 issue of Reader's Digest revealed insight into this in an article titled Confessions of a Con Artist. Writer Doug Shadel interviewed a veteran scammer, known only as Jim, who admittedly made millions over a ten-year period swindling people out of money. Until his arrest in 2004. Now he helps us better understand the thought process of a con man and how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from people like him.
Jim worked for 30 fraudulent business operations over that time. Those commercials for gold coins, timeshares, computer kiosks, prepaid calling card machines and gas or oil leases were all bogus. And even many who thought they were working for legitimate call centers were unaware.
Anyone can fall for a get-rich-quick scheme. Targeted victims were not stupid people. Jim didn't even want to talk to stupid people - they didn't have $50,000 laying around to give him.
Jim was a heroin addict, describing himself as having the two characteristics common to all scam operators: selfishness and greed. He would do anything to feed his habit. In fact, many scam operators recruit staff at local Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Addicts are manipulative, desperate for money and smooth talkers. The exact traits necessary to hustle money from the vulnerable.
When asked how he could rip off senior citizens, Jim answered that a lot of them are sitting on fat nest eggs. They're easier to scam because their emotional needs are closer to the surface. They aren't afraid to talk about their kids and grandkids. They share fears about living on a fixed income.
Bingo. I have the perfect investment opportunity for you. Especially for the men. Jim describes men as the perfect victim. They are basically more emotional, full of ego. They get worked up over something that sounds good. Without digging deeper into the details.
Victims don't wonder if the offer could be a scam if they think they can make a lot of money. They don't read paperwork, they wait to be told what it says. They don't ask a lot of questions, they answer questions posed by the scammer.
Scammers won't waste their time with people who ask questions, want to think an offer over or talk to their lawyer first. In other words, people who think before they act.
Protect yourself from people like Jim. Approach opportunities with caution. Have this same discussion with elderly loved ones. Ask questions, read the paperwork, don't agree to anything suggested in an unsolicited phone call.
You've worked too hard for your money. Don't let anybody take it from you.
Paid-off Your Car Loan? Go Get A Clear Title!
I have a friend who recently decided to buy a new car and was going to trade-in her old car as part of her down payment. Sounds good, right? It was, except for one little problem.
She couldn't find the title to her car. She had paid it off a couple of years ago, and had no idea where it was. Still, should be easy, right? Just go to your state's vehicle services agency (the Motor Vehicle Commission/MVC, the Division of Motor Vehicles/DMV, a tag/title agency, or the local tax office, depending on where you live) and obtain a duplicate title.
Easy. At least, it would have been if she had obtained a "clear" title once she paid off her loan.
Although some states require lenders to provide the borrower with a clear title on payoff of a vehicle loan, not all states do. If you live in a state where it is not required, like New Jersey, you'll have to do a little legwork. Once you obtain the "satisfied" title to your vehicle after you have paid off your loan, take the title to your vehicle services office to obtain a clear title.
Every state has its own motor vehicle laws and requirements. This information applies to New Jersey residents, readers living in other states can check with their local bureau to learn how to obtain a clear title.
What exactly do I mean by "clear" title? A clear title is a title that has no liens recorded on it at all. If you have a title that has a lien listed on it, even if the lien is stamped "Paid" or "Satisfied" and/or the release section of the title is completed (if applicable), you do not have a clear title. Even though you have paid off your loan, your state's vehicle services agency does not know that unless you provide them with the satisfied title. Take the satisfied title to your state's vehicle services agency, pay the appropriate fee, and obtain a clear title.
Why is this so important? Let me continue my friend's story. Since she did not have a clear title, the vehicle services agency would not provide her with a duplicate title without a lien release.
Still, no big deal, right? You go to the bank where you had your loan and ask for a lien release. Simple. Most banks can provide a lien release for a paid off loan within a couple of days, depending on how long ago the loan was paid off. Usually, the longer ago it paid off, the longer it takes to obtain a lien release. In addition, some banks may charge a fee for this service. Still, does not sound too hard, right?
Well, let's say the bank you used was bought out by or merged with another bank, maybe more than once. As long as you know what the surviving bank is, you can contact them to obtain a lien release, but what if you have no idea?
You have a couple of options. You can contact the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC) Customer Assistance Group at 800-613-6743 for help. Another option is to submit an information request with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on their website at or call them at 888-206-4662. Either of these two agencies should be able to assist you with obtaining the name of the surviving bank or point you in the direction of another agency that can assist you with your request.
Once you know what the surviving bank is, you can contact them directly for a lien release.
In my friend's case, her bank was not around anymore. Not because it was bought out or merged, but rather because it had failed a couple of years ago. This was about the time she called me and cried, "Help, what do I do now?"
If you find yourself in this situation, the FDIC may be able to help. If the lien holder was a bank that failed and was placed in FDIC receivership (or if the lien holder was a subsidiary of a failed bank), and the loan was paid off before the bank failed or paid off to the FDIC after failure, the FDIC can provide you with a lien release. Instructions for obtaining a lien release from the FDIC can be found here. Please note that all requests must be in writing and may take 20-30 days for processing.
In case you are wondering, my friend did finally buy a new car, even though her original plan of "going out this weekend and buying a new car" did not happen. Today she's tooling around in a brand new convertible. And this time, you can bet that when she finally pays it off, she'll be sure to go to the motor vehicle agency and obtain a clear title!
So, if you have any titles laying around the house with liens still recorded on them, I encourage you to get a clear title now. It is well worth paying the fee the vehicle services agency will charge you for obtaining a clear title in order to avoid the hassle my friend went through later on down the road.
Tip of the Week
American Express promotes small business with advertising and special promotions on Small Business Saturday on November 30th. Cardholders receive a $10 statement credit by shopping at a participating small businesses. Registration is limited. Find all the details on their Shop Small website.
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