Financial Education

4 Scams to Watch Out for This Black Friday

Black Friday has traditionally been the day that ignites the holiday shopping season, sending masses of crowds through retailers across the nation. Unfortunately, it's also a day that spawns a season of shopping scams.

Here are four scams to watch out for on Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season:

  • 1. The Amazon Prime service fraud scam
    In this ruse, a scammer posing as an Amazon representative, will call to notify a target about an alleged problem with their Prime account. The victim is prompted to download a tool onto their computer or mobile device so the caller can gain remote access for "helping them resolve the problem" at hand. They'll then be instructed to log onto their banking account so the caller can be compensated for their time. Unfortunately, this will give the scammer free reign over the victim's accounts.
  • 2. Phishing emails
    Phishing emails are nothing new, but they can be difficult to spot among the barrage of promotional emails flooding inboxes during this time of year.
    Here are two common variations of phishing scams:

    Account verification.The victim receives an email appearing to be from a retailer they frequently shop. It informs them that someone has tried to hack into their account. They're asked to verify their account, or update their account details, through an embedded link. Doing so, however, will give a scammer access to their account. The scammer can now rack up a huge bill and leave the victim to pick up the tab.

    Order confirmation.
    The victim receives an email asking them to confirm an order made through Amazon or another large e-tailer. They'll be asked to verify the order details through an embedded link. Unfortunately, doing so will give their personal information directly to the scammers.

  • 3. Delivery issues
    Delivery scams generally take the form of a message appearing to be from UPS, FedEx or another delivery service, informing the victim of a "delivery issue" with an order. They'll be asked to confirm or update their information with the provided link. Doing so will give the scammer access to their financial information and open the door to identity theft and more.
    In another variation of the delivery scam, a victim will be asked to pay a fee for covering a customs charge or tax. Of course, these fees are invented by the scammer, who will gladly pocket the money.
  • 4. Non-delivery scam
    Another scam whose prevalence has spiked with the increase in online shopping is the non-delivery scam, which involves a purchased gift that never arrives. The victim, likely lured in by an ad promising a super-low price on a desired item, rushed to complete the purchase without researching the seller. Unfortunately, the seller then disappears and the victim has no way of notifying them about the no-show or requesting a refund.

Avoid Black Friday scams

  • Don't open links in emails sent from unverified contacts.
  • Never allow a stranger access to your device and/or accounts.
  • Don't share sensitive information on the phone or online with an unknown contact.
  • If contacted by an alleged representative of Amazon or another large company about an issue with your account, hang up and check your account to see if an issue is actually present.
  • Always keep the privacy and spam settings on your computer and mobile devices at their strongest settings.
  • If you have an issue with an ordered item, contact the retailer directly through their site and not through a pop-up ad appearing to represent them. Likewise, it's a good idea to not click through to "support links" that are posted on troubleshooting forums, as they may not be to legitimate service sites.
  • Only purchase items from reputable sellers. When shopping on a new site, look for a physical address, a customer service number and copy that's free of spelling errors and typos.

Stay safe this holiday season!

How to Help Children Become Financially Independent Grown-Ups

Teaching your children how to be financially independent will help smooth the transition into adulthood. It will also give them what they need to stay financially stable throughout life.

Here are some tips for raising kids to be financially independent adults.

  • Start with basic budgeting
    Introduce your children to the concept of earning money and spending mindfully when they're young, and build upon that as they grow up. Preteens can watch you work on an actual budget, and teens can even assist you in creating a budget for a large expense, like a family vacation. You can also help kids create a budget for how they plan to spend their own money.
  • Split the costs of "must-have" items
    If your children are like most kids, they're asking you for trending items they claim they must have; from a pair of designer jeans to the latest fad toy they insist everyone else already has.
    A great compromise is to have your child pay half the cost of expensive trending items. They'll likely quickly see that a "must-have" really isn't when you're footing half the bill.
  • Teach them about credit cards
    If your child sees you using a credit or debit card often, teach them what's behind that card. Show them your credit card bill when it arrives and talk about how you need to pay for all those expenses during the month, plus the possible interest. Teach them about debit cards, too, explaining how money is withdrawn from your checking account each time you swipe the card. You can also give older kids a quick rundown on credit scores, how they work and why they're so important.
  • Talk openly about what they can expect in terms of support for the future
    When your child is mature enough to talk about the future, discuss how much financial support you plan to offer while they attend college, immediately after graduation and into their adult years. Ask about their plans as well, paying attention to when they anticipate being financially independent.
    You can bring up the topic of career paths, too. Help your child determine a basic budget for the lifestyle they plan to lead and assist them in narrowing down their career choices until they have just a few that will support their future life. Talk about student loans, too, and explain how crippling debt can be.

What to Buy and What to Skip in August

The tail end of summer brings with it some fantastic finds, but some marked-up products, too. Here's what to buy and what to skip in August.

  • Buy: Patio furniture
    Pick up a sweet deal on patio furniture at the end of the season. While giving your patio a facelift, you'll also find grills, outdoor decor and similar items on sale in August.
    Skip: Major household appliances and mattresses
    If you're in the market for a major household purchase, you're best off waiting until September. Retailers tend to slash prices on these items by 30% or more during Labor Day weekend sales.
  • Buy: Swimwear
    Stores and online retailers need to clear their summer stock to make room for the autumn and winter line, which gives you the perfect chance to snag a super swimsuit deal! Stash your treasures for next year's beach season or keep them for a winter getaway to warmer climates.
    Skip: iPhones
    If you're looking to update your iPhone, you're best off waiting a month or two. The new iPhone 13 is expected to be released in mid-September, and older models typically see a price cut when new models hit the market.
  • Buy: School supplies and kids' clothing
    August is already deep into the back-to-school shopping season, when school supplies and kids' clothing tend to see generous markdowns. Stock up on supplies to last all year and get your kids outfitted for the coming season at rock-bottom prices.
    Skip: TVs
    Don't run out and buy a new TV just yet. If you need a new flatscreen, you're best off waiting for Black Friday to get the best deal.
  • Buy: Office supplies and furniture
    Back-to-school sales means you can also cash in on office supplies and furniture. Restock your home office with basic supplies, upgrade your office chair or spring for a new desk at bargain prices.
    Skip: Fall clothing
    Fall apparel will just be hitting the stores in August, so you likely won't be seeing any steep discounts on fall wear until October at the earliest. It's best to buy just a few autumn basics during the Labor Day sales and fill out the rest of your wardrobe later on in the season.

The final dog days of summer bring a flurry of marked-down products and end-of-season sales, but there are some items that are best purchased during another time of year. Stay ahead of the retail game by using this guide to learn what to buy and what to skip in August.

Beware of Stimulus Check Scams

Another round of stimulus checks are already on their way. That's great news for many. Unfortunately, the bad news is that another round of stimulus check scams are underway, too. Protect yourself by learning all about these scams.

How the scam plays out

Stimulus check scams can be ordinary phishing scams, which is when a criminal asks a victim to provide personal information. They then go on to empty the victim's account.

In another variety of the scam, a victim receives an email instructing them to download an embedded link to get their check.

In yet another stimulus check scam, a criminal will impersonate an IRS official demanding a processing fee for the check.

Red flags

Technology has made it way too easy for scammers. But, if you know what to look for, you can beat them at their game and stop a scam before it gets past step one.

  • Here are four red flags of stimulus check scams:
  • 1. Unsolicited calls or emails
    Don't you hate it when you get a phone call from a random number? If you're the lucky recipient of one of these calls, ignore it. Emails from an unknown sender should also be ignored.
  • 2. Messages that ask you to verify or provide sensitive information
    Here's something scammers don't want you to know: The IRS will not call, text or email any taxpayer to verify their information. If you get a phone call, message or email that asks you to provide or confirm your personal information so you can get your check, you're being targeted by a scammer. Do not engage!
  • 3. High-pressure tactics
    Another tidbit of information scammers hope you don't know: There is no action you need to take to receive your check. So, if a caller or an email demands immediate action with the threat of losing your stimulus payment, you're looking at a scam.
  • 4. Fee solicitations
    There is no processing fee for the stimulus payments. Don't pay a penny to anyone claiming to hold the keys to your stimulus payment.

Don't Get Caught in an Auto Warranty Scam

Another phone call, another scam.

It can sometimes feel like scammers have some kind of competition going to see who can hit you with the most robocalls in a day. In fact, according to Truecaller, scams and robocalls account for 67% of all phone calls in the U.S. Each American will receive an average of 28 of these calls a month. More than just an annoyance, scam calls cost 56 million Americans a financial loss in 2020.

One of the most common scams pulled off over the phone is the auto warranty scam. Here's all you need to know about this scam and how to protect yourself from falling victim:

How the scam plays out

In this ruse, scammers posing as representatives of a car dealer or manufacturer will call to tell you that your auto warranty is about to expire. The scammer will then segue into a pitch for renewing your warranty. During the call, you may be prompted to press a number to stay on the line, and then are asked to provide personal information to continue the process of renewing your warranty. If you follow instructions, you will be playing right into a scam.

How to spot a scam

It is possible for legitimate auto warranty companies to call you about purchasing or renewing a warranty. Look out for these red flags to help you pick out the authentic calls from the scams:

  • Hello, it's Mr. Robot calling. When it's a robocall on the line, you're almost certainly talking to a scammer. A legitimate company will hire a live salesperson to promote their services.
  • Feel the pressure? Scammers notoriously lead victims to act without thinking by claiming their offer is available for a limited time. If a caller pressures you to act now, you're likely talking to a scammer.
  • Just a small fee ... Is the caller demanding a small processing fee, or a down payment on the plan before supplying you with real details and information on it? If yes, you're being scammed.
  • You've got mail! Scammers aren't content with playing games over the phone; they'll often send bogus documents in the mail, too. These can be disguised to look like genuine alerts from the DMV or auto manufacturer, prompting you to act now because your auto warranty is expiring. Of course, when you call the number on the letter, you won't be connected to the DMV or auto manufacturer, but to a full-blown scamming operation.

Protect yourself

Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from auto warranty scams and similar ruses:

  • Never share your personal information, such as your Social Security number, credit card information or checking account details, with an unverified caller.
  • It's also a good idea to screen all incoming calls by checking the Caller ID before answering the phone. Legitimate telemarketers are required to display their phone number and the name/or phone number of the company they represent. If this information is missing, it's likely a scam.
  • It's important to note that scammers often spoof authentic phone numbers to make it appear as if they are calling from a legitimate company. If you suspect spoofing, you can always ignore a call, and then call the number of the company that allegedly reached out to you, to ask about the contents of the call. If the call was indeed spoofed, the company will not be aware that the call was made.
  • If those robocalls are not letting up, consider blocking the number on your phone. You may have to do this several times, as scammers often use more than one phone number to carry out a scam.

Alert the authorities

If you are targeted by a suspected scammer, you can alert the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the FCC Complaint Center. These calls likely violate telemarketing and robocall regulations, and by alerting the FCC, you can help them identify the scammers.

If the call you received involved fraud, you can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.

Robocalls are incredibly annoying, but getting scammed is more than just an irritating experience. Follow our tips to protect yourself from auto warranty scams and similar ruses.

Why Good Credit Matters

You probably already know how important your credit score is to lenders. When you apply for credit, your credit score helps lenders determine whether or not you are able to repay the loan based on your past financial performance. With a higher score, you qualify for better interest rates, lower payments, higher credit limits, and more types of credit than you would with a lower score.

Did you also know that your credit score can make it easier to rent an apartment, qualify for a good cell phone plan, and pay less for insurance? A higher score can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year, which can add up to significant savings.

Not only can it hurt you financially, but many employers now check a potential employee's credit as part of the hiring decision. A low credit score could cost you a chance at your dream job.

How to Manage Credit to Improve Your Score

There are no tricks or quick fixes to getting a good score. However, you can raise your score over time by demonstrating that you consistently manage your credit responsibly. Here are 10 things you can do to improve your credit score:

  1. Pay your bills on time. Building a history of paying your bills on time will improve your score. Even if you've had serious delinquencies in the past, a recent history (24 months) of on-time payments carries weight in credit decisions.
  2. Keep credit card balances low. High outstanding debt can pull your score down.
  3. Check your credit report for accuracy. Inaccurate information on your credit report can be cleared up easily. Always contact the original creditor and the credit bureaus whenever you clear up an error so that the inaccurate information won't reappear later
  4. Pay down debt. Consolidating your credit card debt or spreading it over multiple cards will not improve your score in the long run. The most effective way to improve your credit is by slowly paying down the amount you owe.
  5. Use credit cards - but manage them responsibly. In general, having credit cards and installment loans that you pay on time will raise your score. Someone who has no credit card tends to have a lower score than someone who has already proven that he/she can manage credit cards responsibly.
  6. Don't open multiple accounts too quickly, especially if you have a short credit history. This can look risky because you are taking on a lot of possible debt. New accounts will also lower the average age of your existing accounts which is something that also impacts your credit score.
  7. Don't close an account to remove it from your record. A closed account will still show up on your credit report. In fact, closing accounts can sometimes hurt your score unless you also pay down your debt at the same time.
  8. Shop for a loan within a focused period of time. Credit bureaus distinguish between a search for a single loan and a search for many new credit lines, based in part on the length of time over which the credit inquiries were made.
  9. Don't open new credit card accounts you don't need. This approach could backfire and actually lower your score.
  10. Contact your creditors or see a legitimate credit counselor if you're having financial difficulties. This won't raise your score immediately, but the sooner you begin managing your credit well and making timely payments, the sooner your score will improve.