Financial Education

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.