Visit our Security Center for tips on protecting your identity, mobile phone safety and resources for those who have become victims of online fraud.
Last week's article "War and the Economy" stated "By 1864, our national debt reached $2.7 billion. Our government has spent more than it receives in revenue ever since." In fact, we did see a budget surplus from 1998 through 2001. Our thanks to an astute reader who brought this to our attention.
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National Protect Your Identity Week
One might think every week is a good time to protect your identity. Yet designating a special week gives folks like me something to write about. And readers like you continued awareness to the problem of identity theft.
A coalition of both public and private groups have joined forces to promote this year's National Protect Your Identity Week theme of ID Theft Protection on the GO, focusing on smartphone safety.
Sponsors include the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA) and the National Association of Triads (NATI). Events are planned nationwide for the week of October 20-27, 2012.
Regular GCFlash readers know the emphasis we put on this important topic. Your online safety, be it mobile or stationary, is our prime concern. Any breach puts your accounts at risk. And we just can't have that.
Yet despite the number of articles we've offered on this topic, fraud still occurs. And as long as it does, you'll continue to find resources here to help you avoid becoming victim.
The simple truth is that people don't believe identity theft can happen to them. If they took this seriously, the most common passwords would not be the word password or 123456.
People aren't anymore creative with their ATM PIN either. A recent study by Data Genetics revealed that 10.713 percent of respondents used 1234 as their PIN, more than the 4,200 lowest used codes combined.
A four-digit code can be fairly easy to crack. There are only 10,000 possible combinations, and people want to use something easy to remember. Like birthdates or addresses. Information someone who stole your wallet has readily in hand.
Anybody can become a victim of identity theft. Consider the story of Joe Tremba described on Experian's website, ProtectMyID.com. Tremba got a collection letter about a past due credit card 18 months after he moved. He only had one credit card that he paid faithfully every month.
He spent hours trying to track down the source to learn an identity thief forged a credit card application sent to his old address. Too much time had passed for Tremba to prove where he was when the fraudulent charges were made. The bank had no way of knowing for certain that he wasn't the one pulling the scam.
His perfect credit history was destroyed. His dreams of buying a home along with it.
Or John Harrison who told his story to CBS News. Harrison had his identity stolen by a 20-year-old who racked up about $265,000 in his name over a period of only four months. He bought two Fords, a Harley-Davidson and a Kawasaki, and opened accounts at Lowes, Home Depot, Sears and J.C. Penny.
The thief was promptly arrested and prosecuted, going to prison for three years. But Harrison is still being harassed for nearly $140,000 of the fraud committed against him over four years ago. Despite hiring a lawyer and following every piece of advice offered by law enforcement officials, the creditors persist.
Mobile phone fraud is on the rise. People still haven't adjusted to the idea that they're carrying a computer around in their hand, and that it needs the same protection as their desktop PC.
We're not going to offer mobile safety tips in this article. We've already covered this topic quite often. To refer back to articles previously published, visit our website. Every page has a search box near the top right where you can easily find anything throughout our entire site. Enter the keywords smartphone safety or identity theft to find relevant articles from past issues of GCFlash.
|On The World Wide Web
Take the quiz to learn if you're a target for identity theft. Learn what your first steps should be if you become a victim. Find consumer tips and much more here.
Identity theft can take years to resolve. Hear first hand the stories shared by victims.
There's an art to crafting an effective Social Security strategy. These folks can help.
Social Security 2013
There are always telltale signs that another year is about to end. The summer heat gives way to autumn frost. Baseball crowns a new World Series champion. Basketball and hockey get ready to launch a new season. Well, most years at least.
And GCFlash starts printing articles about what changes next year in taxes, IRAs or Social Security so you can start your year-end planning.
We'll kick this season off with things you should know about Social Security.
First, the good news. Retirees will see a 1.7 percent increase in their monthly benefit. In dollars and sense, this means an extra $21 each month for those receiving the average check of $1,240. The maximum benefit of $2,513 per month will be raised to $2,533.
Those still in the workforce will see their contribution rise. A temporary payroll tax cut that reduced deduction to 4.2 percent will expire at the end of December. For 2013, payroll deduction returns to the previous level of 6.2 percent for earnings up to $113,700. The tax cap was $110,100 in 2012.
Working retirees collecting Social Security benefits who are younger than their full retirement age will be able to earn $480 more in 2013 before any portion of their payment is withheld. For those born between 1943 and 1954, that age is 66. These workers will be able to earn up to $15,120, after which point $1 of every $3 earned will be withheld. For retirees turning 66 in 2013, the limit will be $40,080 before earnings are withheld.
Upon reaching full retirement age, you can earn any amount without penalty while collecting Social Security benefits at the same time. Your monthly payments will be adjusted to include benefits that were withheld.
As announced in the October 9th issue of GCFlash, paper Social Security will not send paper checks after March 1, 2013. If you haven't already arranged for direct deposit, it's time to do so.
Nearly 10,000 people will turn 65 every day over the next 20 years. This generation faces challenges unheard of when they started retirement planning. For many, it was already too late to shift gears to properly prepare.
So they're digging a little deeper into Social Security law and finding strategies to maximize their payout.
If it's at all possible, delay filing for Social Security benefits until you reach your full retirement age. Your benefits are decreased by 5/9 percent of your primary insurance amount for the first 36 months and 5/12 percent for each additional month you collect early.
You may delay collecting benefits until age 70. Those who do will receive a 2/3 percent credit for each month payment was delayed.
Unmarried children under the age of 18 are eligible for benefits if their parent is retired, disabled or deceased. If they're still in elementary or high school, they can collect until age 19. There is a maximum family benefit, so amounts they receive would reduce that of another family member.
A surviving spouse can receive benefits at age 60. They don't have to wait until their own eligibility kicks in before filing a claim on their spouse's account.
Divorced? As long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years, you qualify for benefits on your deceased ex-spouse's record. The current surviving spouse's benefits are not affected.
But if the divorced spouse remarries before reaching the age of 60, they can't collect unless the subsequent marriage ends. If they remarry after age 60, the money is theirs.
Social Security rules are complex. They have to be in order to protect those in a wide range of situations. Contact your accountant or financial advisor to learn how to use this entitlement to your best advantage.
Tip of the Week
The Medicare open enrollment season has begun. Seniors can change their plan options now through December 7th. Health situations change, as do policy particulars. It's important to use this annual period to review your plan to determine if it's still the best one to fill your needs. If you have an elderly family member or neighbor, discuss this with them to assure they take advantage of this opportunity.
Economic Growth Should Not Be Elusive
My previous prediction that the U.S. markets would trade sideways until after the election may have been overly optimistic. Today, all U.S. indices were off more than one percent as a string of weak earnings reports spooked the markets. Bellwether companies such as 3M, UPS and DuPont all announced revenue and earnings reports that were disappointing - in one way or another. So I change my prediction: The U.S. Markets will at best trade sideways, with at least some chance they will face further downside until after the election.
But I thought the economy was recovering, you ask. Well that depends on how you measure a recovery. It is true that the "Great Recession" officially ended in the summer of 2009, more than three years ago. But unlike most modern recessions, this one was not followed by robust growth. Instead the economy lumbered along, eking out positive growth, albeit barely.
So, while there has not been "two consecutive quarters of negative growth" recently, which is the technical definition of a recession, the rates of growth have not been strong enough for a rebound in corporate earnings or a reduction in the unemployment rate. At just under 8 percent, the unemployment rate is double that number if those who have given up the job search are accounted for. So with 15 percent of the workforce unemployed in some fashion or another, it is no wonder that U.S. companies are reporting weak results. Unemployed people don't spend much and consumer demand is responsible for as much as two thirds of total demand.
Last week I promised you a recipe for higher GDP growth. The answer is simple and the empirical evidence is overwhelming. Improve the business climate. There are many potential steps of which I will name a few:
- Lower taxes, particularly corporate taxes. The U.S. has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the industrialized world. It hurts growth and exasperates unemployment.
- Reduce regulations. Many, perhaps most, regulations are well-intentioned. But they are often at the expense of growth and thus jobs.
- Invest in public infrastructure. The military, roads, bridges, airports, the power grid, and even electronic payment clearing systems are all indisputably public goods. We should build and maintain the best in the world. Period. And while we undeniably have the greatest military in the world, the state of some of the others I mentioned is nothing short of a disgrace. The economic activity created by a highway, bridge or airport dwarfs its construction cost over time - almost without exception. And the military protects such assets from our enemies, too numerous to mention.
- Strengthen institutions. There are two absolutely essential components of all prosperous societies: Free markets and strong institutions. For example, it should not take 1,000 days for a home lender to foreclose on collateral when a borrower defaults (the NJ timeline at present). It may sound "compassionate" to delay the process for the beleaguered borrower, but it is at the expense of thousands of qualified borrowers who cannot get new mortgage loans because lenders have their capital tied up unduly for a ridiculous amount of time.
The list goes on, but you get the point. All these impediments to business add up over time until the point is reached whereupon growth ceases. We are almost there, and Europe is likely already there.
Bottom line: Until the U.S. restores a business friendly environment, low growth and high unemployment will likely persist. Our current economy is Exhibit A.
"You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves." - William J. H. Boetcker
Today in History
2001 - Apple announced the first iPod, which cost $399 and offered five gigabytes of storage.
Identity theft has been the top complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the past twelve years in a row. Identity fraud increased by 13 percent in 2011.
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