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Working Hoosiers Beware of Identity Theft

Working Hoosiers Beware of Identity Theft

 

By Kylee Hale

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

ID Theft

When the pandemic hit, we pretty much entered a new recession, cancelling out most of the employment gains from the last 10 years. An improvement from April, the United States unemployment rate in June was 11%. That is higher than it’s been any time in the last 70 years. Whether returning to work or finding a new way to make an income, there is one thing we all still need to worry about: identity theft.

Thousands of Hoosiers have been impacted by thieves using stolen information to cash in on funds from the federal CARES act passed by Congress. The CARES act money is supposed to help those who are unemployed during the pandemic. An investigation by 13News  reveals three Indiana residents who were caught off guard and alarmed to find their information had been used to make an unemployment claim.

 "I was shocked," said Lola Best, as she found out her personal information had been registered under someone else’s account with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). 

Rosemary McQueary of Noblesville also stated that she no idea how her information ended up in the system as she is very careful. 

Another Indiana man found out he was a victim of identity theft when he received a letter from the DWD requesting he pay back a ten thousand dollar overpayment. He tried to make an account on the Department’s website and was notified his social security number was already in use.

To the average Hoosier, it may be concerning to find that the DWD may not have cross-referenced data to confirm matching birthdates and legitimate information for claims filed. However, there is no system for the Department to verify employment information for claims made under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance fund. In times of emergency when there is pressure to help those in need as quickly as possible, it’s likely for some errors to occur.

Be Alert Identity Theft

The Department has taken a number of steps to combat the issues and is now cross-checking the applicant’s contact information that is provided when a claim is filed. In August, the Department sent an email to claimants to update their password and check their account status in the system. Additionally, the DWD does not hold victims of identity theft liable for any overpayment.

A recent FBI article expressed the increased amount of fraud reports regarding stolen personally identifiable information used for unemployment insurance claims during the COVID-19 pandemic. Buying stolen information online, data breaches, cold-calling impersonations, email phishing, and obtaining data from public websites are all ways for fraudsters to get their hands on personal information.

There are a few things that can tip you off to a scam. Any type of communication regarding unemployment insurance or payout, if you have not filed a claim, should be a red flag. Be sure to monitor your bank and credit card statements for suspicious transactions related to unemployment benefits. Unsolicited inquiries in any form should be ignored or reported.  Lastly, beware of links and fake look-a-like sites made to mirror government agency websites. You can check the resource by hovering over a link to see where it redirects to and/or directly looking up the agency to confirm you have the legitimate government website.

If you think you are a victim, report unauthorized transactions and contact the three major credit card bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. It’s best to regularly check your credit. Placing a freeze on your credit will protect you from identity theft. Activating a credit freeze is free and secures your information so no scammer can open a line of credit in your name.  The Indiana Attorney General has a website for helping Hoosiers set up security freezes, here is the link.  Fraud cases can be reported to Indiana State Police, DWD, the IRS, credit bureaus, and your human resources department. The FBI also encourages victims to report fraudulent or any suspicious activities to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov . Also, you can use the Federal Trade Commission’s resource, identitytheft.gov, for help reporting and recovering from identity theft.

It’s unfortunate that bad actors are taking advantage of a pandemic. Know that scammers will always try to play on a victim’s emotions. Taking protective measures, like putting a credit freeze in place will stop scammers in their tracks. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, and if you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, report it to the authorities.


Blog Topics:
Fraud Prevention

Government Impostor Scams

Government Impostor Scams

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” President Reagan called those the nine most terrifying words in the English language. And when it comes to government impostor scams, I agree.

According to our friends at the Better Business Bureau (BBB), one of the most common scams in the U.S. and Canada involves callers pretending to be government officials. They claim to be tax officials, representatives from the Social Security Administration, police officers, and even Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials. The criminals demand money and personal information. They often threaten legal action and imprisonment. We’ve talked before about con artists using fear and intimidation to manipulate their victims. Such tactics often cause us to stop thinking logically and react quickly on instinct. 

The Federal Trade Commission produced a video about how government impostor scams work and offers examples. 

Reports of government impostor scams fluctuate, but BBB says they’re growing more diverse and more sophisticated. BBB just released a new investigative study on government impostor scams that you can read by visiting BBB.org/FakeGov. According to a recent AARP survey, 44% of Americans say they’ve been contacted by fraudsters posing as government officials. And the FTC says victims of government impostor scams report losing $450 million since 2015. 


Remember, if the call is really from a government official, they will NEVER: 

  • Threaten you
  • Demand immediate payment over the phone or via email
  • Require payment by cash, gift card, pre-paid card, or wire transfer

There are several ways to report government impostor scams, depending on who the con artist claims to be:

  • IRS - Fill out the “IRS Impersonation Scam” form on the Treasury Inspector General or Tax Impersonation’s website, tigta.gov, or call TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484.
  • Social Security - The Office of the Inspector General, Social Security Administration (SSA IG) has its own online form to take complaints about frauds impersonating the SSA.
  • Federal Trade Commission - 877-FTC-Help or ftc.gov.
  • Internet Crime Complaint Center - https://www.ic3.gov/complaint/splash.aspx.

Blog Topics: Fraud Prevention

Celebrities, Cryptocurrency, and Crime

Celebrities, Cryptocurrency, and Crime

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

What do celebrities, cryptocurrency, and crime all have in common? Twitter. Earlier this month, July 15 to be exact, several famous Twitter users had their accounts hacked by scammers who sent out fake tweets asking followers to send money using Bitcoin – a type of cryptocurrency.


We’ve discussed cryptocurrency and related scams before in this blog, but for the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version, cryptocurrencies are digital assets created by companies or individuals that take the form of a virtual coin or token. They are largely unregulated, uninsured, and untraceable. This makes cryptocurrency incredibly popular with criminals.

You can learn more about how cryptocurrency works by watching this video from the New York Times.


Cryptocurrency scams are a popular way for scammers to trick people into sending money. While the Twitter hack targeted high profile users, including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, there’s a good chance you will encounter such scams as well. They often appear as emails trying to blackmail someone, as online chain referral schemes, or as bogus investment and business opportunities.

In the case of the Twitter hack that targeted verified accounts of celebrities, scammers received 400 payments in Bitcoin, totaling $121,000. Considering the number of followers that the targeted Twitter members have, it’s a relatively small amount of money that was lost. Twitter addressed the hack quickly, shutting down all verified accounts for several hours. 

Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey called it a “tough day for all of us at Twitter,” and believes it was a social engineering attack that started by targeting Twitter staff with administrative access. High level admins at Twitter have the ability to take control of verified accounts and tweet on their behalf. Dorsey said, “We’re looking into what other malicious activity they may have conducted or information they may have accessed.” 


Cryptocurrency scams have been on the rise for years now, setting a record in 2019 with scammers making more than $4.3 billion worth of cryptocurrency. That’s triple what scammers earned in 2018, and 2020 appears to show continued growth. You can read more about 2019 cryptocurrency scams by reading the 2020 State of Crypto Crime report. One of its more interesting findings is that the vast majority of criminals’ earnings came from Ponzi schemes, which accounted for 92%. 

Here’s what all cryptocurrency scams have in common:

  • A scammer wants you to send money or make a payment using Bitcoin or other type of cryptocurrency.
  • Once you send the money, it’s gone, and there’s generally no way to get it back. 

If you see a tweet, text, email, or social media message telling you to pay with Bitcoin or other form of cryptocurrency… IT IS A SCAM! If you spot a cryptocurrency scam, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission


Blog topics:
Fraud Prevention

Work From Home Scams and Opportunities

Work From Home Scams and Opportunities

 

By Kylee Hale

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

As coronavirus cases continue to rise again, you may be looking for options to make an income without leaving the safety of your home. There are plenty of legit work from home opportunities, but there are just as many sketchy job offerings that will cost you money rather than make you money. Below we discuss in detail fraudulent job offerings and provide tips on how to check out the real work from home job options.

Beware of job offerings that come to you as an unsolicited phone call or pop up ad on your web browser. It’s tempting and sounds doable to make money from the comfort of your home, but most job offerings that just fall into your lap are too good to be true. Fraudsters target and play on victim’s emotions. Scammers come up with convincing sales pitches knowing that many folks are worried about contracting the virus and it’s likely that everyone could use more money. From stuffing envelopes, medical billing, secret shopping, re-ship and telemarketing re-sale gigs almost all of these kinds of opportunities are set up to fail and never pay off. Check out the FTC’s Working From Home webpage to read more about each of these individually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources for finding a work from home opportunity:

Aside from the pandemic influencing many folks to want to work from home, there are many other reasons to seek a remote job opportunity. Maybe commuting to the office is not so desirable, planning work attire is a headache, buying lunch at the cafeteria is not appealing, or you just want to spend more time around your family or dog. Regardless of your motivation to consider looking for a remote job opportunity, here are some resources that might help you land an alternative career option. Please note, I cannot guarantee that every job posting is legit and not a scam.

We Work Remotely, Jobspresso and Working Nomads job forums. These sites are strictly for remote job postings. This means less wading through the job description details to determine if the opportunity is really a work from home oppportunity. The listings include options for employment in customer service, sales, marketing and downright quirky job options too. Be sure to note the location as some remote jobs do require the employee to live in a specific country, region or time zone. Most companies also have a job page on the company website, so you can cross reference the listing on a third party site with the listing on the company’s website to make sure it’s a real opportunity.

Remote Jobs

Another resource that I have always found useful is Glassdoor. This site has a wealth of information about companies and reviews from actual past and present employees. Background checks go both ways. You should research the company you are applying to work for as this is a good way to determine if you will be happy in the position. Glassdoor reveals information that you might not find otherwise. You can see what people think of the CEO, review reported salaries for specific positions and learn about the hiring process including interview questions. Real people give their feedback and these insights could help you decide if a company is a good fit for you before you endure the application process.

You can always look for remote and work from home jobs on the more common forums like LinkedIn, Monster, ZipRecruiter and Indeed. However on these sites it can be difficult to find an opportunity that is completely remote. Be sure to read the details of the job listing and it doesn’t hurt to ask the Human Resources Hiring Manager for confirmation.

The chance of encountering a work from home scam is scary, but there are ways to sniff out a scheme before you fall victim. Unsolicited calls offering you a way to make money or strangers promising you’ll make money after an initial investment should send up red flags. It’s important to do research on available opportunities and properly vet a company before you begin employment. With the above information job seekers can find and consider real opportunities without fear of falling into a fraudsters trap.  


Blog Topics:
Fraud Prevention

IN-CASE: Protecting Senior Citizens

IN-CASE: Protecting Senior Citizens

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

We’re celebrating the first anniversary of the Indiana Council Against Senior Exploitation this week. Indiana MoneyWise, which is part of the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, is a founding member of IN-CASE, and I serve as the council’s chairwoman. 

We created IN-CASE out of a desire to protect senior citizens against abuse and exploitation. This week, June 15-21, is also the second annual Indiana Elder Abuse Awareness Week, filled with virtual events aimed at educating and empowering seniors. 

Social distancing is still necessary right now in order to protect the people we love, but that distance takes its toll. One of the sad ironies of the current pandemic is that keeping at-risk persons safe at home can exacerbate the negative physical and mental health effects of social isolation, including financial exploitation. That’s why all of our IN-CASE events this week are virtual. You can join panel discussions and view demonstrations on your internet connected device. These events serve as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. 


EVENTS

Indiana Elder Abuse Awareness Week is already halfway over, but if you missed out on Monday and Tuesday’s events, don’t worry! You can watch Monday’s panel discussion titled “How to Avoid Getting Scammed” on the Facebook page of our partners at Better Business Bureau Serving Central Indiana. Tuesday’s tele-town hall with AARP Indiana is also available online, just visit AARP’s Facebook page. Today, we have a conversation between one of our members, Diane Dove, and her mother, Daisy Dove, as they address some of the concerns many seniors have regarding ordering groceries online. We even provide you with some “Cooking for One” recipes in the IN-CASE blog! On Thursday, we’ll have a fitness demonstration with a personal trainer who will show you some exercises that are perfect for senior citizens and don’t require any specialized equipment. And we’ve saved the best (or at least most popular) event for last: BINGO! There’s still time to register to participate in this online game of BINGO. It is free to play and uses the Zoom web conferencing program. Here are the links you need for all of the fun events I just mentioned: 


ABOUT IN-CASE

The foundation for IN-CASE was laid over 4 years ago with the Indiana Association of Area Agencies on Aging's (IAAAA) Senior Medicare Patrol director began hosting a networking group consisting of government agencies and organizations that serve older adults and/or have a mission to educate them and their caregivers on how to prevent all types of fraud. This networking group eventually led to the organization as it exists today. The mission of IN-CASE is to empower Indiana communities to prevent and end senior exploitation and abuse through education, encouragement, and empowerment. 

IN-CASE is comprised of government agencies, law enforcement agencies, consumer protection groups, attorneys, healthcare providers, educators, and more. You can find a complete list of our resource providers by clicking here. You can even schedule many of our members to serve as FREE public speakers, and their contact information can be found by clicking here

You can also connect with IN-CASE on social media.


PREVENTION

Prevention is key when it comes to elder abuse. There are steps seniors can take to reduce the chance of becoming a victim. It’s important you know your rights and stand up for yourself. Also, stay involved in your financial affairs – don’t rely on others to review your bank statements. Be confident that you can make decisions yourself. Here are some prevention tips from the National Center on Elder Abuse

  • Stay busy and engaged in life. Try not to become isolated. Cultivate a strong support network of family and friends.
  • Take good care of yourself – for life. Older adults in declining health can become more vulnerable to abuse because of the increasing dependence.
  • Be aware of the link to addiction problems. People who drink too much or who use other drugs are at a high risk of being abusive. Reach out to support groups.
  • Refuse to allow anyone, even a close relative, to add his or her name to your bank account without your clear consent. Never make financial decisions under pressure. Avoid signing over money or property to anyone without first getting legal advice.
  • Assert your right to be treated with dignity and respect. Be clear about what you will and will not tolerate, and set boundaries. You have the right to make your own decisions.
  • Trust your instincts. Listen to the voice inside you when it calls out something is not right. Ask for help if you need it.
  • It is also a great idea to plan. Talk with family members, friends, and professionals whom you trust and plan for your future. You can find helpful information about planning for your future on the Legal Services for the Elderly's Elder Rights Handbook website.

Remember, if you are concerned for someone’s immediate safety, call 911. 


Blog topics: 
Fraud Prevention 

Keeping Senior Loved Ones Safe While Separated

Keeping Senior Loved Ones Safe While Separated

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Americans understandably have a lot of anxiety right now. And, as always, we worry about our most vulnerable citizens. 

In a few weeks, our office joins countless others in recognizing World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15. It also marks the start of the second annual Indiana Elder Abuse Awareness Week and the first anniversary of the creation of the Indiana Council Against Senior Exploitation, or IN-CASE, where I serve as chairwoman. 

The widespread prevalence of senior exploitation and abuse destroys the security of millions of older Americans annually. At IN-CASE, it is our mission to empower Indiana communities to prevent and end senior exploitation and abuse. We believe we can achieve this through education, encouragement, and empowerment. 


IN-CASE is comprised of dozens of organizations and individuals across the state of Indiana, and we’re working together right now to finalize a series of virtual events during Indiana Elder Abuse Awareness Week. We had hoped to meet with all of you in person to celebrate our anniversary, but social distancing remains necessary right now, so we’re doing our best to support seniors and their caregivers from afar. In the meantime, we want to provide you with some quick facts about elder abuse. 

  • Elder Abuse can happen to anyone, affecting both men and women, all cultures, races, and socio-economic groups.
  • Elder abuse can happen anywhere; in a person’s own home, in hospitals and nursing homes, in assisted living facilities, and other institutional settings.
  • Women and “older” elders (80 years old and older) are the most common victims of elder abuse. Learn more.
  • Elder abuse is most often perpetrated by the victim’s own family members. 90% of abusers are family members; most often adult children, spouses/partners, and others. Learn more
  • Elder abuse is largely unreported. The National Center on Elder Abuse suggests that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse is actually reported to the authorities. Learn more

Clearly, elder abuse is a big problem, but there are ways you can help. 

Start by getting to know IN-CASE. I encourage you to explore www.IN-CASE.org and follow our social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In the next week, we’ll post event announcements and RSVP information for Indiana Elder Abuse Awareness Week. Some of the events we're finalizing include a tele-town hall with AARP, scam prevention BINGO via Zoom, and fitness and cooking demonstrations tailored to senior citizens. 

You can also help by simply paying attention to the seniors in your life. Here are some of the red flags of elder abuse.

  • Sudden changes in appearance: poor hygiene, dressed improperly for the weather, sunken eyes, bedsores, loss of weight.
  • Sudden changes in personality; increased or unreasonable levels of anxiety, fearfulness and/or depression.
  • The elder becomes uncommunicative and unresponsive.
  • Sudden or swift decline in the health; malnourishment or sudden loss of weight.
  • Visible injury that has not been cared for, or cannot be explained with a realistic explanation.
  • A change in routine, no longer attending events or participating in events enjoyed in the past.
  • Social isolation/ not allowed to visit alone. 
  • Sudden loss of ability to meet financial obligations.
  • Going without things the elder needs or has always had in the past.
  • The elder states that they have had conflicts or problems with their caregiver and/or they use coded disclosures.

Many of these red flags can be harder to observe right now, but social distancing is not the same as social isolation. There are plenty of ways to stay connected even while physically apart. Take full advangage of digital tools like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and more. These video conferencing options allow you to see your loved ones and their homes. 

If you’re wondering how to get everyone online for a video chat, here are some helpful tips: 

  • Work with what they already know. Is your loved one already on Facebook Messenger? Do they use an iPhone? These are programs that already have video chat features. You’re looking for the most user-friendly program that works with the device your loved one already has.
  • Give the seniors clear instructions on how to connect to the program you pick. You may need to describe what app icons look like, how to download software, or steps for creating a new account. 
  • Be patient and encouraging.

For more information about video chatting with seniors, I found this blog post from Crossroads Hospice to be helpful. 


Blog topics: 
Fraud Prevention 

Credit Reports: What You Need to Know

Credit Reports: What You Need to Know

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

It’s one of my top fraud prevention tips: check your credit reports! I include it in every presentation I give. Checking your credit report regularly not only helps you monitor for identity theft and reporting errors, but it can be a sobering reminder of how you’re managing your finances. Some people confuse the terms credit score and credit report, so let’s start by understanding the difference. 


You can think of your credit SCORE as a measure of your financial trustworthiness, because that’s how it’s used. Banks, landlords, insurance companies, and an increasing number of employers all use credit scores to decide if you can be trusted with money. (For more information about credit scores, we have a PDF you can print linked here.)

A credit REPORT is a detailed listing of your debt, both past and present. It shows all the credit cards and loans in your name. It also shows how much you owe to each creditor and how good you are at paying back what you owe. 


Credit reports have a LOT of information on them, and if you’ve never read one before, you may feel intimidated.  Fortunately, they’re not as scary as you might think.  There are several good websites that breakdown credit reports line-by-line to teach you how to read one. I like the sample credit report on CreditCards.com

Federal law entitles you to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Requesting your credit report is easy and free. You can do so online, by phone, or by mail. 

Website:  www.AnnualCreditReport.com
Phone: 1-877-322-8228
Address: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA  30348-5281

And now… you can request it WEEKLY! This is a huge change prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion now offer Americans weekly access to monitor their credit report – for free. You use the same website listed above, www.AnnualCreditReport.com. The credit reporting agencies are making these weekly reports free for the next year. (For a printable worksheet about checking your credit report, click here.)


If you’re one of the many Americans struggling to pay your bills right now because of the Coronavirus crisis, the Federal Trade Commission offers this advice: 

  • Contact the companies you owe money to. Ask if they can postpone your payment, put you on a payment plan, or give you a temporary forbearance.
  • Check your credit report regularly to make sure it’s correct — especially any new payment arrangements or temporary forbearance. The recently passed CARES Act generally requires your creditors to report these accounts as current.
  • Fix any errors or mistakes that you spot on your credit report. Notify the credit reporting agencies directly. You can find out more by reading Disputing Errors on Credit Reports.

Blog topics: 
Budgeting, Fraud Prevention 

Con Artists in the Age of COVID-19

Con Artists in the Age of COVID-19

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is all anyone can talk about. Terms like social distancing, pandemic, and hand sanitizer have been added to our daily vocabulary. We’re discussing toilet paper and hand washing more than ever before. And many of us are finally getting caught-up on binge-worthy series we’ve been meaning to watch for ages. It’s weird. It’s stressful. I understand. But while our guard is up regarding germs, we’re probably a little less guarded when it comes to scams. 

Emergency situations often cause us to react without much thought. Our brains don’t always work the way we want them to when we’re scared, and con artists know it. They exploit our fear for their gain. Sometimes they build scams around natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and even volcanoes. Sometimes the scams are tied to health emergencies, such as COVID-19, Ebola, and swine flu. Whatever the source of our fear, con artists are exceptionally good at creating a scam to go with it. 

Right now, many of us are split between worrying about our health and worrying about our finances. I’m going to focus on scams related to our finances. 


Investment Fraud 

With the current volatility in the market (Kylee wrote about it last week), I want to urge you to be especially cautious when contacted by anyone regarding your investments. If you are contacted, do not give out personal information. Instead, call your investment professional on a number you know to be trustworthy and ask if the contact is legitimate. Some calls could be real, but others could be from people trying to take advantage of this economic turmoil. If you believe you’ve been contacted by someone engaging in investment fraud or fraudulent activities, you can report it to the Indiana Securities Division


Checks from the Government 

By now, you’ve probably heard that the federal government is working on an economic stimulus package that would provide many Americans with money. We don’t yet know how much money or how it will be distributed. But what we do know is that scammers will no doubt try to take advantage of the situation. The Federal Trade Commission shares these tips for protecting yourself: 

  • The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. 
  • The government will not call you to ask for your bank account, credit card, or Social Security numbers. Anyone who does this is a scammer.
  • These reports of checks are not yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer. 

Just remember, no matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. If you spot one of these scams, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. It’s also a great idea to sign up for the FTC’s consumer alerts


Charity Scams 

In times of crisis, some of us become more charitable. We see others suffering, and we want to help. It’s a wonderful instinct to have, but you need to take caution. Scammers are eager to exploit your generosity. They will use names that sound a lot like the names of real charities and create convincing websites to lure you in. Money lost to bogus charities means less money for those who need it most, so it’s important that you do your research before donating. Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission: 

  • When you consider giving to a specific charity, search its name plus “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.”
  • Use these organizations to help you research charities. 
  • If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, DON’T DO IT! That’s how scammers ask you to pay. 
  • Keep a record of your donations and review your financial statements carefully to make sure you’re only charged for the amount you agreed to donate – and that you’re not signed up to make a recurring donation if that was not your intent. 

In Indiana, charity scams should be reported to the Indiana Attorney General. If you need to make a report in another state, the National Association of State Charity Officials has a great list of all the state charity regulators. 


How Scammers Think

One of the best ways to protect yourself against scammers is to learn how they think. There are far too many scams out there for me to discuss them all, but once you learn the basics, you’ll be able to spot new scams. So here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • Scammers are in a hurry. Time is money, and in order to maximize their returns, scammers need to communicate with as many people as possible as quickly as possible. They will try to rush you into giving them money and/or personal information. Not only does this keep you from taking the time to discover they’re lying, but it helps them move on to their next victim. 
  • Your caller ID could be lying to you. Scammers utilize something called “spoofing” to make it appear as if you’re receiving a call from your normal area code (like 317, 812, and 765). Or they may even put names on the caller ID (like Social Security and IRS). There’s really no way of knowing where the call originates, so never do business over the phone if you can’t verify the caller’s identity. 
  • Scams are often lacking important details. The scammers may make vague, sentimental, or sensational claims but give no specifics. Crucial paperwork is typically missing. 
  • They make unrealistic promises. If anything sounds too good to be true, it is. With investing in particular, beware of anyone who offers guaranteed returns or claims to know about a no-risk investment. Remember that risk and reward go up and down together. There’s no such thing as a high return/low risk investment. 
  • Beware of gifts and incentives. Scammers could say you’re going to win a lot of money or some big prize, such as a vacation or a car. Or they might simply offer some swag or a free trial to open the doors to communication. Legitimate businesses and organizations use these tactics too, so it can be challenging to figure out who to trust. 
  • Scammers make threats. This goes back to using fear as a manipulation tactic. Scammers may talk about arresting you or mention a warrant. They could claim someone you care about is in danger or in need. 

If you notice any of these red flags, contact the proper authorities immediately. If you’re not sure who that is, contact me at kgriese@sos.in.gov. I’ll connect you with the correct agency. 


Blog topics: 
Fraud Prevention

Social Security Impostor Scams

Social Security Impostor Scams

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

I had planned to write about something else this week. Then I received SIX calls in one day, from six different phone numbers, and they all left the exact same voicemail. I knew I had to share this information with all of you. Here’s the transcription of the voicemail.  

We are trying to reach you to let you know that your Social Security number is been used for some kind of fraudulent activities in the south border of Texas. So please in order go ahead get more information. To speak with officer, press one. I repeat, press one. Thank you and have a great day.

The voice was computerized. The message was vague. The purpose was clear. This is an impostor scam designed to scare people into providing personally identifiable information to fraudsters. Ironically, I received these SIX voicemails just three days before a massive public awareness campaign launched by the REAL Social Security Administration called “Slam the Scam Day.” 

The Federal Trade Commission says Americans reported losing nearly $153 million to government impostor schemes in 2019. Of that, more than $37 million was lost to Social Security scams. It’s no wonder the Social Security Administration (SSA) is working hard to educate Americans about this scam. The agency regularly posts about it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. They have created public service announcement videos for YouTube. They write about the scam in the Social Security Matters blog. And they’ve even asked our office to help get the word out. They’d love for all of you to help spread the news as well. I’m hoping this blog post will provide you with the key points you need to know. I’m also hoping you’ll share the information with your friends, family, and coworkers. 

SSA may call you in some situations, but stress that they will NEVER:

  • Threaten you
  • Suspend your Social Security number
  • Demand an immediate payment from you
  • Require payment by cash, gift card, pre-paid debit card, or wire transfer
  • Ask for gift card numbers over the phone or to wire or mail cash

SSA advises that if you receive a suspicious call, HANG UP! Do not give the caller money or personal information. Finally, report the scam to the Office of the Inspector General. You can do so via their website or by calling their hotline: 1-800-269-0271. 

Here are some red flags that you’re talking with a scammer: 

  • The caller says there’s a problem with your Social Security number or account. (That’s what the robocaller claimed in the voicemail I received). 
  • Any call asking you to pay a fine or debt with retail gift cards, wire transfers, pre-paid debit cards, internet currency, or by mailing cash. 
  • Scammers pretend they are from Social Security or another government agency. Caller ID or documents sent by email may look official, but they are not. (Learn more about caller ID “spoofing” by checking out the Federal Communications Commission’s webpage on the subject.) 
  • Callers threaten you with arrest or other legal action. 

Again, the Social Security Administration wants to spread the word. Tell the people in your life about this scam. Share this blog post. Share links to SSA’s content on the subject. And get used to listening to and DELETING a lot of annoying voicemails. 

Blog topics:
Fraud Prevention

The Devil You Know

The Devil You Know

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Affinity Fraud

You know the phrase, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” but it isn’t true when talking about investment fraud. Specifically, I’m talking about affinity fraud. It’s a financial scheme that involves a scammer who appears to be part of a community or interest group. The scammer builds trust within the group and exploits that trust to push fraudulent, non-existent, and too-good-to-be-true investments on other members of the group. 

Simply put, affinity fraud is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

Affinity fraud is most likely to occur in groups or communities of like-minded people. You’ll find it almost anywhere that people gather around a shared belief, interest, or goal. Examples include:

  • Places of worship
  • Tight-knit ethnic or immigrant communities
  • Country clubs
  • Professional organizations
  • Places of business
  • Online forums

Why It Works

Affinity fraud is successful for a few reasons. For starters, it’s human nature to trust people who are similar to us. I played a game once with some fourth graders who were visiting the Indiana Statehouse for Statehood Day. In the game, I played the role of an affinity fraudster, and a coworker played the role of a victim. The common interest that my character exploited was a love of the Colts. I started by hyping up the team and sharing stories about watching football. Once it seemed clear the victim saw me as someone trustworthy because of our shared interest, I mentioned a “great investment opportunity.” The victim was excited to hear more. That’s when she turned to the kids, asking if they thought she should invest. They quickly informed her that I could not be trusted, and my greatest joy was having one of those children call me - the fraudster in the skit - a “dirty liar.” 

Another reason why affinity fraud works is that victims are often reluctant to report someone who they feel is part of their group. The victim could be afraid that they won’t be believed or that other members of the group will be angry with them. The fear of reporting allows the fraudster to remain within the group, conning more and more members. 

Here’s an example of affinity fraud shared by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA): 

Desiree has been attending the same church for many years. One day, the pastor introduces a new member of the congregation, Jim. Jim spends the next several months getting to know parishioners, and even reads scriptures and gives sermons for the pastor on occasion. Everyone loves Jim!

Jim gathers a group of parishioners one Sunday after service, including Desiree, and tells them about an exclusive investment opportunity that he has just for them. Jim’s investment pays more than their savings accounts and has zero risk, but he needs a check or cash before he leaves church that day. Desiree knows Jim and trusts him, so she gives him a check for $2,000. Like clockwork, the interest checks come in and the statements Jim gives her show huge gains in her account!

Desiree is so impressed that she gives Jim the rest of her savings and tells her sister Nicole, who also invests with Jim.

Two months later, Desiree stops getting the promised returns. Jim assures Desiree that everything is okay, it’s just an issue with a supplier of the company that is funding the returns. Desiree believes him and agrees to wait it out. Jim stops coming to church, and stops responding to Desiree, Nicole, and the rest of the church members that invested with him. When they report the matter to their local securities regulator, they find out that Jim and the product were unregistered, and that their savings are likely gone forever.


Protect Yourself

So how can you protect yourself? First, know that affinity fraud is common. It happens every day all over the U.S. You should be cautious if you’re ever approached about an investment opportunity at church or in a community group. 

  • Don’t act on personal feelings. People who commit affinity fraud are usually very likable and seem trustworthy. Investors should never let their comfort with a person’s character and status in the community replace adequate due diligence. Ask questions.
  • Don’t act too quickly. If someone offers you a can’t miss investment opportunity and puts you on the spot, don’t be afraid to walk away. Never make an investment decision without understanding where your money is going, how it will be used, and how you can get it back.
  • Everything has risk. There is no such thing as a risk-free investment, and anyone who promises otherwise is lying. Investors should always ask about the risks of the investment, and understand issues such as liquidity, investment time frame, rate of return, risk of loss, and how the proceeds of the investor’s investment will be used to turn the promised profits.
  • Trust but verify. Affinity fraud frequently involves someone that the victim has known for many years. The simple fact that you’ve known a person for 20 years does not replace the need to ask questions about any investment opportunity, and to take pause if you don’t understand it.
  • Always ask if the person and the security are registered. Contact the Indiana Securities Division or search FINRA’s BrokerCheck database to confirm if the salesperson is registered. Regardless of how long you have known a person or been conducting business with an individual, it’s worthwhile to do a quick search in the database to confirm up-to-date licensing and compliance. If the person isn’t registered, ask why, and carefully consider if the investment is worth the risk.

If you think you are a victim of affinity fraud, contact the Indiana Securities Division


Blog topics:
Fraud Prevention, Investing 

Love Hurts: How to Spot a Romance Scam

Love Hurts: How to Spot a Romance Scam

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Love Hurts

A quick Google search of the words “Love Hurts song” yields numerous results. The Everly Brothers, Patrick Swayze, Roy Orbison, Rod Stewart, Heart, Joan Jett, and more. They all sang about heartache. It’s relatable. Most of you reading this blog have experienced such emotions and can think of someone in your life who “gave love a bad name.” But the pain of a broken heart can be even greater when THE ONE doesn’t even exist. It can also be costly.

Online dating and social media have made it easier than ever to meet new people. You chat with a lot of them, meet a few for dates in the real world, and hopefully find someone special worthy of additional dates. Or maybe not. One of those online profiles seems too good to be true. The perfect catch! And while they have a lot of reasons why they can't meet in person yet, they want to know everything about you. 

In December 2019, the internet couldn’t get enough of one guy’s online romance. Twitter user @nickturani had met THE ONE! He tweeted, “Ladies take notes! Met this girl online YESTERDAY, and she’s already trying to learn more about me, not just hook up. It’s called conversation. Learn it.” Then he proceeded to share a screen grab of all the things his new girlfriend wanted to know about him. 

  • The name of his first pet
  • His mother’s maiden name
  • The name of the town where he was born

No doubt she would also be interested to learn his Social Security number… you know, typical first date information. 

Obviously, Nick was being “catfished.” If that term is new to you, let me explain. Merriam-Webster defines this type of catfish as "a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fradulent or deceptive purposes." Catfishing is sometimes done as a cruel joke, possibly by a person who knows you in real life, but it’s also quite popular as a means of stealing information and money. In the example above, it seems that Nick is aware his new “girlfriend” isn’t real, and he’s making a joke about the blatant attempt to gather answers to password recovery/reset questions. Not only is Nick’s girlfriend not actually interested in him, she’s probably not a person at all. In all likelihood, she’s a bot, which is the common name for autonomous computer programs that can interact with real people online.  

Dating websites and apps are filled with bot accounts, so you need to be careful. Some are obvious, like Nick’s girlfriend, but others are more advanced. And, yes, sometimes a real person is on the other end of the conversation. If you’re dealing with a con artist, brace yourself. They can create compelling backstories with full-fledged identities. They might also use attractive photos of models to lure you in. That’s what happened in a romance scam reported by Bob Segall with WTHR. He talked with a 70-year-old widow who spent two months talking with a con artist named “Richard.” The scammer was after cash, as many of them are. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans reported losing $143 million to romance scams in 2018. The median reported loss was $2,600, and for people over 70, it was $10,000. Online dating isn’t just for young people. More and more seniors are looking for love via dating websites and apps, creating an even bigger pool of potential victims. 


Spotting Scams

So how can you spot a scam? Here are some great tips provided by the Better Business Bureau

  • Too hot to be true. Scammers offer up good-looking photos and tales of financial success. Be honest with yourself about who would be genuinely interested. If they seem “too perfect,” your alarm bells should ring.
  • In a hurry to get off the site. Catfishers will try very quickly to get you to move to communicating through email, messenger, or phone.
  • Moving fast. A catfisher will begin speaking of a future together and tell you they love you quickly. They often say they’ve never felt this way before.
  • Talk about trust. Catfishers will start manipulating you with talk about trust and how important it is. This will often be a first step to asking you for money.
  • Don’t want to meet. Be wary of someone who always has an excuse to postpone meeting because they say they are traveling or live overseas or are in the military.
  • Suspect language. If the person you are communicating with claims to be from your home town but has poor spelling or grammar, uses overly flowery language, or uses phrases that don’t make sense, that’s a red flag. 
  • Hard luck stories. Before moving on to asking you for money, the scammer may hint at financial troubles like heat being cut off or a stolen car or a sick relative, or they may share a sad story from their past (death of parents or spouse, etc.).

Many of these examples are included in a video created by the Federal Trade Commission.

The Federal Trade Commission provides some additional information about the types of requests that romance scammers often make

  • Pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses
  • Pay for surgery or other medical expenses
  • Pay customs fees to retrieve something
  • Pay off gambling debts
  • Pay for a visa or other official travel documents

The scammers often ask you to wire the money or purchase prepaid cards from MoneyPak, Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, or Steam. 


Protect Yourself

There are ways to protect yourself from romance scams. The Better Business Bureau provides more tips: 

  • Never send money or personal information that can be used for identity theft to someone you’ve never met in person. Never give someone your credit card information to book a ticket to visit you. Cut off contact if someone starts asking you for information like credit card, bank, or government ID numbers.
  • Ask specific questions about details provided in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit. 
  • Do your research. Many scammers steal photos from the web to use in their profiles. You can do a reverse image lookup using a website like tineye.com or images.google.com to see if the photos on the profile are stolen from somewhere else. You can also search online for a profile name, email, or phone number to see what add up and what doesn’t. 

So, yeah, “Love Hurts,” and scammers certainly “give love a bad name.” I’d use more lyrics and song titles as puns, but I think you get the idea. Stay safe in this season of love and romance. Protect your heart. Protect your identity. Protect your bank account. 


Blog topics:
Fraud Prevention

Shop Smart, Shop Safe

Shop Smart, Shop Safe

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Before your Thanksgiving feast even has a chance to fully digest, many of you will start shopping. And while plenty of folks choose to burn a few calories by bargain shopping at traditional brick and mortar stores, others prefer to lean back in the La-Z-Boy to shop online while watching football. No matter your style, these tips will lead to a safer, smarter shopping experience.  


Security
When shopping online, make sure the site is secure before sharing your personal information. Look for a tiny padlock icon, which you can usually find near the browser’s URL bar. Also check the website’s address. Non-secure sites and pages begin with http://. Secure sites and pages begin with https://. You’ll also want to research the online retailer to make sure they’re legit. Creating a website is easy, so you’ll want to verify the online seller’s physical address and phone number. 


Hidden Costs and Fees
Check the total price of an item before purchasing. Look for shipping and handling costs, then compare that price to what you would pay if you visited the store in person. You should also beware of restocking fees. If you return an item you bought online, you may have to pay for that item to be repackaged and replaced. Some retailers charge 25% or more, so it’s important to check the retailer’s return policy before making an online purchase. CBS News recently published its list of the best and worst return policies. If you’re someone who suffers from chronic buyer’s remorse, you may want to read the article before making your next purchase.  


Shipping
Save on shipping. Ship packages directly to the recipients rather than spending the extra money to ship to yourself first. Slower shipping methods are always cheaper, so don’t wait until the last minute to make online purchases. While an increasing number of online retailers offer free shipping (check The Penny Hoarder’s list of 35 stores that offer free shipping), others throw in the free shipping based on how much you purchase. In those cases, it’s best to order from as few stores as possible. One more tip: some of the most popular retailers, including Walmart, now offer free in-store pick-up for your online purchases. 


Credit vs Debit
When shopping online, credit cards are safer than debit cards. Credit cards come with more protections against identity theft and fraud. It’s also helpful if you only use one credit card for all your online shopping. If a thief does access your information, only one card is compromised, making it easier for you to put a stop to the theft. Prepaid cards are growing in popularity for online purchases. Before picking a prepaid card, check out this editorial article from CreditCards.com about some of the pros and cons of these cards. It includes tips for selecting the right card for your needs. 


Layaway
Layaway is back in a big way! Unlike a credit card, which bills you after you have your purchase in hand, layaway allows you to make payments in advance. You won’t receive your purchase until after you have fully paid for it. It’s a helpful tool for staying out of debt around the holidays. To use layaway properly, follow these tips: 

  • Determine what the layaway policies and fees are prior to using it. Ask about the payment period, when payments are due, and what happens if you miss a payment or the item goes on sale while still on layaway. 
  • Make all scheduled payments. Policies vary by store. In some cases, the item could be pulled from layaway and you could be asked to pay a fine if you miss a payment.
  • Get everything in writing. When you put something on layaway, you are entering into a contract with the store and agreeing to pay for the item they’re holding for you. Make sure your responsibilities as well as the store’s responsibilities are clearly outlined and don’t lose your copy! 
  • Know who is in charge of the layaway program. Some retailers use third-party vendors for their online layaway services. Also, you should know whether your merchandise might be held off-site.
  • Understand the store’s refund policy. Some stores may include a cancellation fee if you try to cancel the purchase. Stores may also refund all, little, or none of the money you have paid for the purchase, or they may give you in-store credit. 

For more online shopping tips, check the Federal Trade Commission’s blog. They recently published a great article on the topic, and it includes information about how to report online shopping fraud. 


Blog topics:
Fraud Prevention, Credit, Budgeting

Holiday Scams to Avoid

Holiday Scams to Avoid

 

By Kylee Hale

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

We are only 41 days away from Christmas. Some of us have started our shopping and others will procrastinate until the eve before. No matter how you do your gift giving, you might be surprised to learn that older peoplMillennials fraud holidaye are not the most susceptible to falling for scams. While elders tend to lose more money, younger people are more frequently victims. 

In a recent Consumer Protection Data Spotlight by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), research shows that 20 and 30 year olds (aka millennials), are 25% more likely to report a loss of money via fraud than people in their 40s and older. The #1 type of fraud loss reported by millennials is online shopping, followed by fraud of business imposters, government imposters, fake check scams and romance scams. 

Scammers prey on consumers’ emotions and desires. They will take advantage of any opportunity, especially the season of giving. The holidays are a prime time for con artists to try to get ahold of your personal information and rob you of your holiday spirit. Don’t let a scammer steal your jingle, be on the lookout for these popular scams. 


Imitation sites – The amount of retailer marketing emails we receive during the holiday season seems to be triple compared to the rest of the year. Scammers are responsible for some of our inbox overload as they send out illegitimate emails made to look like the real ones that retailers produce. These replicated emails could contain malicious links built by scammers to gather your credit card information or ruin your machine by installing a virus. For example, consumers visiting wa1mart.com may mistakenly think that they're on the real Walmart website. In reality, the L in the URL was replaced by the number one -- and the site is fraudulent.

Similar to emails, fraudsters also target the younger generations through social media ads. Be cautious of social media promotions, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many of the shopping-related fraud experiences reported to the FTC were about items that were never delivered or weren’t as advertised.

To check links for legitimacy, hover over the link in an email or on social media to see where the link directs you. Check that the URL includes https: identifying that it is a secure page and be sure to avoid purchasing items on a site you have never heard of. Review emails and ads for typos and other mistakes that could indicate it’s inauthentic. When in doubt, your safest route is to directly search a website by typing in the web address yourself via a new browser window. 


Phony attempted delivery notifications – After you place an online order, your eager recipient excitement sets in, and con artists know this too. Similar to the imitation marketing emails and social media posts, scammers also send fake shipping notifications to try to get you to click their copycat links. The email might say your shipment is on the way but you need to update your delivery preferences. By following the link you risk downloading a keystroke virus that could track your keypad activity and compromise your credit card and personal information.  

Would you believe there is a low-tech version of this scam? Scammers try to pull a fast one by putting a note on your door or mailbox similar to the redelivery notifications that come from UPS and Fedex. However, the phone number provided goes to a fraudster who will try to get your bank account information. 

This seems like a fitting time to also mention keeping your packages out of the hands of “porch pirates”. Your online orders are just as susceptible to standard theft. Nearly 26 million Americans reported their holiday packages stolen last year, including this guy in the USA Today article, whose package contents were removed from the box within 5 minutes of Amazon’s delivery. 


Fake Charities - Holiday time is a common time of year for people to feel generous and to give to charities. If you donate you are likely aware of the tax benefits which may be your motive. Charities know this and typically reach out during this time, but so do scammers. 

With the increased request for donations, be sure to double check the authenticity of the charity. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (Give.org) is a great resource offering reports and ratings on how organizations spend donations and conduct business, you don’t want to give to a fake cause or end up funding someone’s personal gain. 


Virtual Gift Exchange – A scam that is recycled year after year, but continues to get new victims. Watch out for this seasonal pyramid scheme on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The scam begins when a friend posts about inviting you to a gift exchange, often it’s titled Secret Sister Gift Exchange. It’s advertised that if you buy a gift valued at $10 and send it to one person, you will in return receive 36 gifts in the mail. Not only does this seem too good to be true, it’s actually illegal. According to the Better Business Bureau, any chain letter of this kind is considered illegal gambling by the United States Postal Service, and that includes postal mail, email and social media. 

 

The holiday season brings out a lot of cheer and goodwill, but it’s also a time when scammers see more opportunity to prowl for easy victims. Stay alert and don’t risk being separated from your hard earned money. Recognizing when deals are unrealistic and paying close attention to links and phony websites will help protect you.  


Blog topics:
Fraud Prevention

Bitcoin and Beyond: What Do You Know About Crypto?

Bitcoin and Beyond: What Do You Know About Crypto?

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Bitcoin This week marks the 11th anniversary of Bitcoin. It’s one of the most talked about brand names in the fintech world, and for many people, it’s as synonymous with cryptocurrency. Think using Coke in place of soda, Kleenex in place of facial tissue, Chapstick in place of lip balm. There are even terms to define this phenomenon: genericized trademark or proprietary eponym. Essentially, the brand name becomes the common name we use to describe all similar products. In the case of Bitcoin, we often use it in place cryptocurrency, even though there are more than 2,900 different cryptocurrencies in existence. 

 

So what is cryptocurrency anBitcoind how does it apply to investing? 

First, let’s define cryptocurrencies with some help from the North American Securities Administrators Association, or NASAA

“Cryptocurrencies are digital assets created by companies or individuals that take the form of a virtual coin or token. Anyone can create a cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies are intangible and exist only on the internet. Central banks and other governmental authorities do not insure or control cryptocurrencies. You cannot always exchange them for other fiat currencies (i.e., currencies declared “legal tender” by governments), such as the U.S. or Canadian dollar or Mexican peso. Cryptocurrencies trade on unregulated, opaque exchanges on which there may be little or no opportunity to independently verify their true market value. And given the newness and uniqueness of cryptocurrencies and related instruments, they do not yet have a clear place in the existing framework of financial regulation.”

BitcoinFor some investors, the decentralized, unregulated nature of cryptocurrencies makes them MORE appealing, and fraudsters agree.

Fraudsters all too eager to exploit investors’ interest in the crypto craze. Here are some common schemes associated with cryptocurrencies: 

Fake digital wallets – A digital wallet is used to store, send, and receive cryptocurrencies. Scammers design a fake digital wallet to lure users into providing their private key or code that enables the wallet to open. Once a scammer receives the private key, he or she can steal all the cryptocurrency from the owner’s digital wallet.

Pump-and-dumps – Groups of individuals coordinate to buy a thinly-traded cryptocurrency, promote the cryptocurrency on social media to push up demand and price, and then sell it in a coordinated sale. The price plummets and those unaware of the scheme are left with the devalued cryptocurrency. 

Multi-level marketing platforms – Companies lure investors through the promise of high interest with low risk. These investors are then incentivized to recruit more members. 

In an effort to combat cryptocurrency scams, the Indiana Securities Division joined forces with NASAA to investigate Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and cryptocurrency-related investment products. “Operation Cryptosweep” involves more than 40 NASAA members, including the Indiana Securities Division.  To date, the operation has resulted in more than 330 inquiries and investigations and at least 85 enforcement actions. As part of the the sweep, the Indiana Securities Division filed a cease and desist order against Bionic for registration violations.

Bitcoin

Before investing in crypto-related products, here are some common concerns you should consider: 

Volatility - Cryptocurrency markets are highly volatile, making them unsuitable for most investors looking to meet long-term savings or retirement goals. To understand this volatility, just look to the Bitcoin crash of 2018. It was valued at $6,447 on October 31, 2017 before spiking to an all-time high of $19,068 on December 17, 2017 and returning to $6,283 as of October 30, 2018. Other cryptocurrencies experienced similar volatility.

No recourse - Cryptocurrency and many crypto-related investments are subject to minimal regulatory oversight, and there may be no recourse should the cryptocurrency disappear due to a cybersecurity breach or hack.

Untraceable - Cryptocurrency or crypto-related investments only exist on the internet. Issuers can be located anywhere in the world, so it may be impossible to trace and recover lost funds through the courts.

Uninsured - Cryptocurrency accounts are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC. 

Unregulated - Cryptocurrency investors rely upon unregulated exchanges that may lack appropriate internal controls, making them susceptible to fraud, theft and hacking.

Hackable - Creating a digital wallet to store cryptocurrency involves installing software on an investor’s computer. As with any software download, hackers may include malicious code.

Vulnerable - Purchasers of cryptocurrencies rely on the strength of their own computer systems as well as systems provided by third parties to protect purchased cryptocurrencies from theft.

Last year, ahead of the 10th anniversary of Bitcoin, the Securities Division of the Indiana Secretary of State’s office released an investor advisory on the subject of cryptocurrencies. You can read it here.  Additionally, NASAA created a short, animated video to help investors better understand cryptocurrency-related investing and the risks involved. You can view the video here


Blog topics: 
Fraud Prevention

Investing via Smartphone Apps

Investing via Smartphone Apps

 

By Kylee Hale

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Smartphones offer easy and instant access to apps that can help you navigate the complex world of investing. However, the variety of financial apps offered to investors can be daunting, especially if you are new to investing. This information will help you understand some options when investing via smartphone apps and highlight things to consider before committing to app-based investing.

investing app

 

Thinking of using a smartphone app for investing?

You may already use smartphone apps to do your banking, make purchases, transfer money to your friends, or find deals on products and services. With so much of your financial life tied to your phone, it makes sense that you might also consider an app (or two) to help you invest. Since investing can help you reach short- and long-term financial goals, there are many things to consider when choosing an investment-focused app.

 


What kinds of apps are available?

Financial services companies that offer smartphone apps take various approaches to help people invest their money and monitor their portfolios. These apps range in focus and cost. Here are some examples: 
 
  • Buying and selling investments: Trade stocks, bonds, and other investment products.
 
  • Turning daily spending into investing: “Round-up” your daily purchases and take the “spare change” to automatically buy investments for a predetermined portfolio.
 
  • Investing through automatic allocation: Direct a certain percentage of your income to an investment or retirement account.
 
  • Assigning a portion of spending to invest: Monitor your spending and saving habits and assign a percentage of your overall spending to an investment account.
 

How can using investing apps be helpful?

Investing is a life-long pursuit that can help you meet your financial goals. If you’re just getting started, an app may help you take more control of your finances or better understand the investing world. For example, if you have trouble making yourself save money to invest, you may favor an app that does it for you. However, once you build a small investment portfolio, you should reevaluate if you still need the app and if there are better options for you. This should become a habit as your needs and expectations change.

How can investing apps be problematic?

Smartphone apps give instant access to trading and portfolio management services, with market access at your fingertips. If you are fairly new to investing, jumping right into trading stocks, bonds, and other complex financial products may not be in your best interest. For example, if you are an emotional person who is swayed by market gyrations, you may end up buying investments at high prices and selling at low prices. Even if you are paying low, or no, trading fees, frequent buying and selling can cost you in the long run. You may also end up with a portfolio that isn’t balanced or diversified. 

Things to think about when using investing apps:

  • Investing on autopilot: Putting an investment portfolio on cruise control may be attractive to people who think investing is difficult and complex. However, if you don’t pay attention to your investments or the services you are using, you may not be happy in the long run. Also, if you use several different apps, you risk over-complicating your finances. 

 

  • Cyber and data security: Read the terms of service and understand how the company will protect your financial data. With any online application, there’s a risk of being hacked. Check consumer reviews and internet searches for information about any data breach the app may have experienced.  

 

  • Customer service and access: If you have an issue with your account or the app, you’ll want to be sure that you have access to someone (a live human!) who can help you fix the problem. Be sure you are comfortable with the level of service the app provides, and read customer reviews. 

 

  • Fees: People are attracted to these types of services because they offer low-fee alternatives to traditional financial service firms. Being fee conscious is good, but a lower fee structure could mean less service and information. Read the fine print to determine what the total fees are for an account. Over time, these add up and impact your overall returns. 

 

  • Investment offerings: If the app is allocating money to investments for you, understand the investment products and track record of the investment management firm overseeing the products. You want to be comfortable with the types of investments an app is putting you into, the risk you are taking, and the fees being charged. 

 


What can I do to avoid possible pitfalls of using financial services apps?

Be cautious, do your research and stay engaged.

Don’t use a smartphone app just because a friend suggests it to you. If you are new to investing, you may find yourself using an app that isn’t suitable for your needs or is fraudulent. Technology can make your investing life easier, but you should monitor and check in on your portfolio regularly. Being an informed investor will help you build the skills and knowledge you need to meet your long-term financial goals.


Your takeaway

Technology is rapidly changing the way we invest and manage our finances. When using online services or apps, be sure to use smartphone apps that you understand and fit your financial needs. 

Through my membership with the North American Securities Administration Association (NASAA), Alerts and Advisories project group, we created NASAA's Millennial Money Mission. For more investor insights and advisories visit NASAA.org


Blog topics:
Investing, Fraud Prevnetion

Free Classroom Programming

Free Classroom Programming

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

School is back in session, and the holidays aren’t far away. It’s safe to say teachers are BUSY! And so are our Indiana MoneyWise education coordinators. This time of year, we receive dozens of invitations from Indiana teachers interested in inviting us to their classrooms to speak to students about personal finance and fraud prevention. So in celebration of World Teachers' Day on October 5, we offer you an overview of some of the FREE programming options available to all Indiana teachers. 

Pet $ense Magical Creatures – This is a game that teaches children some of the basics of budgeting using magical creatures from the world of Harry Potter. Children adopt imaginary pets and use an assigned allowance to make purchasing decisions for pet supplies. We throw in an emergency expense, and children will be face with the dilemma of whether they have enough money remaining to afford a class trip to Hogsmeade. 

  • Suggested Time: 15-45 minutes (depending on group size, math skills, and the amount of discussion that takes place)
  • Content: budgeting, credit, debt, emergency expenses
  • Recommended Ages: grade school
  • Ideal Audience Size: any size

Avengers Saving the Day – Connecting with kids using comic books! We use a special edition “Avengers” comic book, created by Marvel Comics in partnership with Visa’s Practical Money Skills to teach children basic financial concepts. Children receive a free piggy bank and comic book (while supplies last). 

  • Suggested Time: 45-60 minutes (more time is needed for larger groups)
  • Content: currency, budgeting, saving, banking, and more!
  • Recommend Ages: grades 2-7
  • Ideal Audience Size: any size

Fraud Fighting Force – Children love escape rooms, and we have created a simulation that uses many of the best parts, such as locks and secret codes. Children are told they have a chance to join a superhero team known as the Fraud Fighting Force, but they must first prove their worth by passing a series of tests. In the process of playing, children learn how to spot the red flags of fraud so they can avoid becoming victims of a financial scam. 

  • Suggested Time: 15-30 minutes (depending on ages and group size)
  • Content: financial fraud prevention
  • Recommended Ages: 5th grade and older
  • Ideal Audience Size: participants should be divided into teams if there is a large audience (4-5 per team)

Financial Football – This is a game that’s available online, but can be fun to play in teams. The fast-paced, interactive game is competitive and helps students learn money management skills. Teams compete to answer finance questions to gain yardage and score touchdowns. 

  • Suggested Time: 45 minutes
  • Content: general financial fitness
  • Recommended Ages: there are three versions, 11-14, 14-18, 18+
  • Ideal Audience Size: 20 or fewer (teams are recommended)

How to Avoid Getting $CAMMED – This $CAMMED presentation is our most popular program. It provides students with the perfect introduction to various types of financial fraud and exploitation. Teens learn about the IRS scam, the grandparent scam, the tech support scam, Ponzi schemes, and identity theft. The presentation includes videos featuring interviews with real criminals and victims. Teenagers learn about methods of persuasion used by fraudsters and are taught how to protect themselves. 

  • Suggested Time: 45-60 minutes (60 is ideal to allow for more questions)
  • Content: fraud and scams
  • Recommended Ages: high school
  • Ideal Audience Size: any size

Adulting 101 – Reality bites! In this presentation, we examine typical “adulting” activities such as budgeting, paying off debt, investing, improving your credit, buying a car, and paying for school. This is a more intensive workshop that is best presented over a course of multiple sessions, or you can pick a few topics for us to cover with your students. 

  • Suggested Time: 3-4 hours total (can be spread over the course of several days)
  • Content: values, goals, budgeting, saving money, investing, credit reports, credit scores, buying a car, paying for school
  • Recommended Ages: high school students (juniors and seniors especially) 
  • Ideal Audience Size: 20-40 students

If you’d like to invite one of our education coordinators to visit your school, please send an email with the following information:

  • Teacher name, email address, and phone number
  • School name and address
  • Proposed dates and times 
  • Student grade level
  • Topics you’d like us to cover
  • Number of class periods you’d like to join

You can email me, Kelly Griese, at kgriese@sos.in.gov. Or you can email my coworker, Kylee Hale, at kyhale@sos.in.gov. All of our programs are customizable to fit your needs, and we are able to bring our own presenting equipment if necessary. And, yes, we really do travel the ENTIRE state of Indiana. All of our programming is available for free for use in classrooms and out-of-school programs. 


Blog topics:
Fraud Prevention, Budgeting

How to Spot a Con Artist

How to Spot a Con Artist

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Con artists are pretty clever. They prey upon our emotions, hopes, dreams and fears. It is important to understand that they are very good at what they do. Duping people is what they do for a living. Here are some red flags that can help you spot a con artist and avoid falling victim.

  • The seller is not licensed or registered. You can easily check with the Office of the Indiana Secretary of State through our searchable databases on the Indiana Securities Division's website. Individuals and firms in the financial services industry must meet certain requirements. Taking time to research a seller and their investment offer could save you in the long run.
  • No written information is provided. Ask for a prospectus. It is a legal document that provides details about an investment offering. The prospectus or "offer document" will contain the facts you need to make an informed investment decision.
  • The seller refuses to take no for an answer. You should be suspicious of any seller who pressures you to "act now" or says this is a "limited time offer." If they’re pushing you to make a decision immediately, it is probably because they don’t want you to find out they are selling a scam.
  • The seller is hesitant to answer your questions. Con artists seem to have an answer for everything, but if your questions make them uncomfortable, it is best to walk away. Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff once said he only turned people away when they asked too many questions. 
  • They promise high returns with low risk. Returns and risks go up and down together. There is no such thing as a "no risk" investment. All investing comes with some risk attached. 
  • You are asked to keep this "exclusive" offer a secret. Con artists do not want to be caught. Therefore, they pick their victims carefully. They do not want you telling someone who might uncover the scam.

Finally, trust your gut. Many victims report feeling uneasy about the decisions they were making. Just know that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it is!


Blog topic:
Fraud Prevention

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