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Welcome to MoneyWise Matters

MoneyWise Matters is a weekly blog published each Wednesday by the Office of the Indiana Secretary of State. Here we discuss money related topics including; debt reduction, budgeting, saving strategies, scam alerts, investment fraud prevention and investor insights. You don’t want to miss out on this helpful information, hit subscribe for email updates (above) so you’ll be notified when we publish a new post.

Please note that the statements made in the posts are solely the opinions of the writer and do not represent the opinion and/or position of the Indiana Securities Division. The Division assumes no responsibility for the content presented by the authors.  

Scams Are On The Rise This Holiday Season

Scams Are On The Rise This Holiday Season

 

By Kylee Hale

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

This Thanksgiving most of us are finding a happy balance between spending time with loved ones and safely distancing. Some traditions will be put on hold, and creative improvising will likely replace the things we can’t do together this year. However, regardless of these unique situations, there are some folks who are not interrupted: scammers. Fraudsters heighten their hunt for easy victims around this time of year. As more people, specifically 71% of consumers revealed by a CreditCards.com survey, plan to do their holiday shopping online, fraudsters lay out their traps for easy swindling.  Watch out for these entanglements and take caution to avoid being duped this holiday season.

Online Card Skimming

What originally started as a device placed over ATM and gas pump card readers has morphed to online skimming created by hackers. Malicious code is injected into legitimate websites to grab payment data. While companies are distracted and adapting to remote functionality, these sly embedded code attacks go undetected. A site infected with a skimmer doesn’t look or act any different than one that isn’t infected, however, sticking to larger retailers that have a good track record for maintaining security is your best bet for safety. When possible use PayPal or a similar third-party processor for transactions. Also check for the copyright tag typically posted at the bottom of the page to see that the site is up to date and maintained.

Seasonal Scams

In a previous post, Holiday Scams, we discuss fake charities and social media gift exchanges. Modifications of these scams reappear every year and sometimes new ones pop up. What may be old to you, may catch another person off guard. A scam I have just heard about this year pertains to a letter from Santa or an elf written to children requesting personal data. Some legitimate businesses offer this sweet idea as a holiday treat for little ones. However, there are scammers who use this ploy to get personal information about adults and children to steal identities and compromise credit. This is normally more successful when the child is the victim because parents are less likely to check a child’s credit report assuming they don’t have credit at a young age.

Phishing WebsitesSecure Websites

Phishing attempts come in many forms. From websites that are not secure, to copycat emails and even phone calls from impersonators. Scammers have many tricks up their sleeve to try to convince consumers to give out their personal information, credit card numbers, passwords and more. When surfing the web, be sure the site is secure by looking for https: versus http: and a lock icon at the end of the web address. If you receive an email from a provider wanting to confirm your credentials, hover over the links in the email to check for bad grammar and strange addresses. If something seems out of place, try googling it. The other day I received an email about my Netflix password. I thought the email looked a little strange, so I googled “Netflix password reset scam email,” and sure enough other consumers had already reported the scam with screenshots that matched the email I had received. If in doubt, you can reach out to the provider directly and ask about the email to confirm if there is an issue with your account and report the scam email to the company.

Financial Wellness

In addition to the pandemic, it’s also cold and flu season. Just as we hear about being healthy and taking care of ourselves, being financially well takes more effort this time of year too. The holidays increase sales, and charity donations peak during the fourth quarter of the year. Being smart about your holiday expenses and budgeting affects how you start the new year. Layaway seems to be making an appearance again this year, and if you’re unsure of how it works you can check out this post Shop Smart, Shop Safe.  If you purchase with a credit card, don’t forget to make payments on time and in full. As long as you stick to a budget and save extras for last, your holiday spending should be merry and bright.

Protect Yourself

Protecting yourself from scammers and financial worry may seem like a battle, but it can be easier than you think.  Use your intuition, if a product deal seems too good to be true or an email seems suspicious, be sure to investigate and report it to help others. Check your accounts regularly for unauthorized charges and work with your bank if something doesn’t look right. Look for return and refund policies if you are shopping an unfamiliar or new site before you make a purchase. Most people aren’t hanging out in coffee shops or lounging in community spaces during the pandemic, but if you do find yourself on public Wi-Fi, don’t make a purchase or input your private information while connected to public internet. For more precautions and ways to increase your safety against fraud check out 13 Ways to Protect Yourself From Scams and Identity Theft This Holiday Season.

There are many ways fraudsters try to target both online shoppers and consumers. As long as shopping exists, they will try to rip you off. The best thing you can do to get ahead of their deception is to stay informed. Be careful when disclosing your personal information online and use safer methods of payment. Check your account and report fraud when you see it. Being grateful for what we have this holiday season can shift the perspective and remember there will be a time when we can safely get together again.


Blog topics: 
Budegting 

Recent Posts

Recent Posts

Scams Are On The Rise This Holiday Season

Scams Are On The Rise This Holiday Season

 

By Kylee Hale

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

This Thanksgiving most of us are finding a happy balance between spending time with loved ones and safely distancing. Some traditions will be put on hold, and creative improvising will likely replace the things we can’t do together this year. However, regardless of these unique situations, there are some folks who are not interrupted: scammers. Fraudsters heighten their hunt for easy victims around this time of year. As more people, specifically 71% of consumers revealed by a CreditCards.com survey, plan to do their holiday shopping online, fraudsters lay out their traps for easy swindling.  Watch out for these entanglements and take caution to avoid being duped this holiday season.

Online Card Skimming

What originally started as a device placed over ATM and gas pump card readers has morphed to online skimming created by hackers. Malicious code is injected into legitimate websites to grab payment data. While companies are distracted and adapting to remote functionality, these sly embedded code attacks go undetected. A site infected with a skimmer doesn’t look or act any different than one that isn’t infected, however, sticking to larger retailers that have a good track record for maintaining security is your best bet for safety. When possible use PayPal or a similar third-party processor for transactions. Also check for the copyright tag typically posted at the bottom of the page to see that the site is up to date and maintained.

Seasonal Scams

In a previous post, Holiday Scams, we discuss fake charities and social media gift exchanges. Modifications of these scams reappear every year and sometimes new ones pop up. What may be old to you, may catch another person off guard. A scam I have just heard about this year pertains to a letter from Santa or an elf written to children requesting personal data. Some legitimate businesses offer this sweet idea as a holiday treat for little ones. However, there are scammers who use this ploy to get personal information about adults and children to steal identities and compromise credit. This is normally more successful when the child is the victim because parents are less likely to check a child’s credit report assuming they don’t have credit at a young age.

Phishing WebsitesSecure Websites

Phishing attempts come in many forms. From websites that are not secure, to copycat emails and even phone calls from impersonators. Scammers have many tricks up their sleeve to try to convince consumers to give out their personal information, credit card numbers, passwords and more. When surfing the web, be sure the site is secure by looking for https: versus http: and a lock icon at the end of the web address. If you receive an email from a provider wanting to confirm your credentials, hover over the links in the email to check for bad grammar and strange addresses. If something seems out of place, try googling it. The other day I received an email about my Netflix password. I thought the email looked a little strange, so I googled “Netflix password reset scam email,” and sure enough other consumers had already reported the scam with screenshots that matched the email I had received. If in doubt, you can reach out to the provider directly and ask about the email to confirm if there is an issue with your account and report the scam email to the company.

Financial Wellness

In addition to the pandemic, it’s also cold and flu season. Just as we hear about being healthy and taking care of ourselves, being financially well takes more effort this time of year too. The holidays increase sales, and charity donations peak during the fourth quarter of the year. Being smart about your holiday expenses and budgeting affects how you start the new year. Layaway seems to be making an appearance again this year, and if you’re unsure of how it works you can check out this post Shop Smart, Shop Safe.  If you purchase with a credit card, don’t forget to make payments on time and in full. As long as you stick to a budget and save extras for last, your holiday spending should be merry and bright.

Protect Yourself

Protecting yourself from scammers and financial worry may seem like a battle, but it can be easier than you think.  Use your intuition, if a product deal seems too good to be true or an email seems suspicious, be sure to investigate and report it to help others. Check your accounts regularly for unauthorized charges and work with your bank if something doesn’t look right. Look for return and refund policies if you are shopping an unfamiliar or new site before you make a purchase. Most people aren’t hanging out in coffee shops or lounging in community spaces during the pandemic, but if you do find yourself on public Wi-Fi, don’t make a purchase or input your private information while connected to public internet. For more precautions and ways to increase your safety against fraud check out 13 Ways to Protect Yourself From Scams and Identity Theft This Holiday Season.

There are many ways fraudsters try to target both online shoppers and consumers. As long as shopping exists, they will try to rip you off. The best thing you can do to get ahead of their deception is to stay informed. Be careful when disclosing your personal information online and use safer methods of payment. Check your account and report fraud when you see it. Being grateful for what we have this holiday season can shift the perspective and remember there will be a time when we can safely get together again.


Blog topics: 
Budegting 

Open Enrollment Season

Open Enrollment Season

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

It’s open enrollment season. For my fellow State of Indiana workers, that means lots of email reminders from the State Personal Department (SPD) and your office HR director. Today (November 18) at noon is the open enrollment deadline for state employees. Here are some suggested action items from SPD, as they appeared in The Torch newsletter. 

  • Confirm or update personal information.
  • If you wish to drop your insurance coverage you need to select “waive.”
  • If you are eligible for the 2021 Wellness Premium Discount, your premium will automatically be reduced on which ever medical plan you select.
  • Review your eligible dependents and beneficiaries. 
  • Check your current elections or make new elections. 
  • If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA), you need to enter your annual contribution amount.
  • If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you need to re-elect or re-state your annual contribution amount.
  • If you have a Commuter Reimbursement Account, your contribution will continue for 2021, unless you waive the coverage.
  • Review the Non-Tobacco Use Agreement and accept or decline the agreement for 2021.
  • Print an Election Summary after you have submitted your elections.

If you need help making last minute updates to your benefits, call the Benefits Hotline at 317-232-1167 or toll-free at 877-248-0007. 


Medicare Open Enrollment Period

It’s also open enrollment season for Medicare. During this enrollment period, which ends December 7, Medicare beneficiaries can choose the plans that are best for them. To review your Medicare plan options with a trained, unbiased counselor, contact Indiana’s State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at 800-452-4800. 

SHIP recommends comparing coverage options every year, because Medicare plans can change over time, and your needs can change too! One thing remains constant… and that’s manipulative salespersons and con artists. 

It’s important for you to understand what sellers are and are NOT allowed to do, so you’ll be prepared if an insurance agent or representative tries to enroll you in a Medicare plan that isn’t right for you. Here are some tips from Senior Medicare Patrol that will help you protect yourself. 

There are limits on how Medicare plans can contact beneficiaries. Medicare plans: 

  • Can’t call you if you don’t have a relationship with their company.
  • Can’t send you email if you haven’t agreed to this form of contact.
  • Can’t come to your home to sell Medicare products without an invitation.
  • Can’t leave flyers, door hangers, or leaflets on your car or at your home. However, agents and brokers who have a scheduled appointment with you may leave plan information at your residence if you don’t show up for the appointment.

When you meet or talk with an agent, they:

  • Can’t start a discussion about other insurance products, like life insurance annuities, if your meeting is about Medicare Part C or Part D.
  • Can’t set their own time limits for you to sign up for a plan. You have until December 7 to enroll, and you can’t get any extra benefits for signing up early.
  • Can’t threaten to take away your benefits if you don’t sign up for a plan or offer gifts if you do.
  • Can’t suggest that Medicare endorses or prefers their plan.
  • Can’t discuss Medicare products you didn’t ask to talk about when you filled out a scope of appointment form.

Once you’ve picked the plan that’s right for you, be sure you get all the details in writing before signing up. Take your time to read all information and verify details. For example, reach out to your doctors to ensure they are in that plan’s network.

If a Scammer Calls

Scammers might call and pretend to be Medicare representatives or agents in an attempt to steal your Medicare number. They can use fake caller identification to impersonate Medicare or another organization you know, so don’t trust the name displayed on your phone’s screen. If anyone calls and asks for your Medicare, Social Security, or bank or credit card information, hang up. A scammer can use your personal information to file false claims, sign you up for a plan to which you didn’t agree, or even steal your identity. A legitimate Medicare employee will always have your Medicare number on file. If you think you’ve experienced Medicare fraud or abuse, call Indiana Senior Medicare Patrol at 800-986-3505. 

Making decisions about your benefits can seem overwhelming, especially if you are new to the process, but there are a lot of helpful, non-biased sources of information for you to consult. The links I provided can help guide you through the process. 



Blog topics:
Fraud Prevention

Save Money and Energy as Temperatures Drop

Save Money and Energy as Temperatures Drop

 

By Kylee Hale

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Over the summer a survey revealed that one in five Americans have saved $1000 or more throughout the pandemic. Spending habits have shifted from nightlife and traveling to DIY home projects and streaming services. Even with this change, almost half of Americans spent less this summer than they did last year.  The dire situation has changed financial habits for the better and many Americans are still looking for ways to save. As we continue to spend more time at home, using energy wisely and optimizing efficiency can make a big difference when it comes to utility bills. Here are some tips to make your money go further and hopefully have some extra to stash away.girl in onesie

1. According to Citizens Energy Group (Citizens), you can save as much as 10% on your heating bill just by turning back the thermostat by 7-10 degrees for 8 hours a day. Not to say you need to be uncomfortable if you aren’t leaving the house or are working from home. Keep warm by adding a layer of clothing or cozy up with a blanket. A pair of inexpensive house shoes can keep your toes warm on uncarpeted floors in the colder months.

Window sunlight

2. For South facing windows, the sunshine can be a free source of warmth. Open curtains or blinds to let the sun warm up your home. As the sun goes down, be sure to close drapes and lower blinds to help create a barrier to the cold overnight.

3. Being mindful of where the vents in your house are pushing air out can optimize your energy use and comfort. Warm air rises so use a register to direct the air flow across the floor. Close vents and doors to unused spaces. If you have a spare bedroom you don’t need to temperature control it while no one is staying in the room. Be sure to close the damper on a fireplace that is not in use.

4. When decorating your home for the holidays, use LED lights instead of old incandescent light strands. LED lights are 70% more energy efficient, also brighter, and safer as they don’t produce as much heat. Limiting the hourly usage of lights by setting timers to automatically turn on when the sun goes down and turn off in the middle of the night can really cut down on energy costs.

water heater

5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Citizens estimates that a family of four, each showering for five minutes a day, uses 700 gallons of water each week. By lowering the thermostat on the water heater to 120 degrees, you’ll not only save money but avoid scalding your hands.

There are so many easy ways to save energy and multiple energy providers offer rebates and promotions to help consumers be smarter with energy consumption. Last year we created a post, Save Energy, Save Money that highlights energy providers across the state offering energy efficiency programs. The post also includes a video of one of our very own staff member’s home energy assessment with IPL. Reducing your energy consumption not only helps the environment, it keeps money in your pocket (unless you spend it on other things). As the seasons change, we’re less likely to go outdoors. Saving energy while optimizing the efficiency and comfort of our homes is a no brainer when it comes to conserving our financial resources during this pandemic. The above tips are low effort and yield a savings of money and resources for consumers and providers alike. For more energy saving tips, check out Save Energy, Save Money and for ideas to entertain yourself and your family while at home check out,  Saving Money & Staying Sane While Staying at Home.


Blog topics: 
Budegting 

It's the Economy, Stupid!

It's the Economy, Stupid!

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

It’s been a wild year, to say the least. In addition to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the election has been a top headline for as long as many of us can remember. These two issues are inextricably connected, and both have economic implications. Our daily lives (and the news cycle) are filled with chaos, confusion, and endless uncertainty. 

I started writing this post last week and had it in shape to publish by the end of the day on Monday, November 2. By the time you read it, Election Day will be over, but it’s entirely possible we won’t yet know the outcome of many races. That said, you can be certain the markets will have reacted to early results. 

The Economy

The word “economy” is big. It’s often used as a term that’s synonymous with the stock market, even though the economy is more than the buying and selling of securities. The New York Times published an article called “Repeat After Me: The Markets Are Not the Economy,” and I think it’s worth reading.  It was published back in May, and so much has happened since then, but the main talking points of the article remain noteworthy. “The stock market looks increasingly divorced from economic reality.” Despite a few wild swings (which we might be able to chalk up to corrections), the stock market is strong, and perhaps investor confidence is too. But unemployment remains high, and small businesses are struggling to stay in business. 

Financial Education

As an Investor Education Coordinator, I’m careful and intentional in how I discuss this. Vaguely or incorrectly using a term like “the economy” could make me appear to be oblivious to the struggles of the people I’m trying to reach. As the NYT article explains, while more than half of American households own shares or investment funds, the majority of stock portfolios are modest. “Stock ownership among the middle class is pretty minimal,” said Ed Wolff, an economist at New York University. “The fluctuations of the stock market don’t have much effect on the net worth of middle-class Americans.” And here’s why: the wealthiest top 10 percent of American households own about 84 percent of the value of all household stock ownership, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve. 

The stock market is part of the economy, but it isn’t the whole economy. And this year, perhaps more than ever, the whole economy matters a whole lot. It was James Carville who famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid!” Carville was an elections strategist for then-Governor Bill Clinton, and he helped Clinton beat President George H.W. Bush in 1992 in the midst of a recession that left many Americans out of work and in debt. Today, many Americans are once again out of work and in debt. The economy (heavily influenced by the pandemic) is influencing the election, and concerns over the results of the election are further influencing the economy. It’s one of those vicious cycle things. 

Here to Help

Regardless of who wins the election, many of us will continue to struggle with job security and debt, and COVID-19 will still be an issue of concern. For folks like me who aim to educate and improve financial lives, it’s important that we remain acutely aware of the concerns of those we serve, and that we deliver accurate information as well as compassion. Here at Indiana MoneyWise, we create a lot of our own content, but we also link you to outside resources that we have found to be incredibly useful. So whether you’re struggling with debt or unemployment, we can connect you to helpful information. And if you’re in good financial shape and looking to invest, we can help you avoid falling victim to fraud

We provide free, statewide presentations on a wide variety of financial subjects. Currently, these presentations are all done via the web conferencing platform of your choice (we have experience with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and WebEx). If you’d like to schedule a presentation, visit the Contact Us section of our website. 


Blog topics:
Budgeting, Credit, InvestingFraud Prevention

Beware of Internet and Social Media Scams

Beware of Internet and Social Media Scams

 

By Kylee Hale

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Beware of Internet Scams

4 weeks until Thanksgiving, and turkey is not the only thing that comes to mind. As we approach the holiday season, gift giving and shopping is likely to look a little different this year. Rumors have spread that Black Friday shopping will be mostly online. While this may help consumers scout out the best deals, scammers prey on internet sales.

A recent post by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that scammers are hiding out on social media, using ads and offers to market their scams. The FTC also states that in the first six months of 2020, consumers reported losing a record high of almost $117 million to scams that started on social media. The largest amount of reports were about online sellers that didn’t deliver the goods. More than a quarter of all scams reported in the first half of 2020 started on social media. About half of all romance scams reported since 2019, started on social media, usually on Facebook or Instagram. The FTC also received reports about spammy social media messages that pretended to offer grants and other financial relief because of the pandemic — but were just scammers trying to get money, personal information or both.

Scammers can hide behind phony profiles on social media. They can try to earn your trust or target you with ads tailored to your interests. But you can out smart them. Here are a few tactics to look out for and strategies to help you avoid falling victim to a fraudster’s ploy.

Phishy websites – With increased marketing emails during the holiday season, scammers are responsible for some of our inbox overload. 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. 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.

Free gifts & Ridiculously low-price products - Like emails, fraudsters also target consumers through social media ads. Scammers get your attention by listing products at an unrealistically low price. A product valued at $100 being sold for $10 and free shipping is likely a scam. These products often are delayed or never ship, and there’s no customer service communication to be found. Be cautious of social media promotions, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Fake messages about financial relief – If you get a direct message from a friend about financial aid or relief, call or communicate with the friend outside of social media. Confirm the message was sent by your friend. Scammers can take over an account to try to earn your trust and separate you from your hard-earned money.

Romance scams – There is a post on our blog from earlier this year which provides great insight to romance scams. Social media has made meeting new people so much easier. Don’t be quick to get wrapped up in emotions or too trusting of an online relationship. Especially during the pandemic while a lot of human interaction is based online, beware of a new friend wanting to know personal information or even asking for money.

Purchase protection – While a credit card cannot protect you from all scams, most credit cards provide some type of purchase protection. If you buy online and do not receive the good you purchased, you may ask your credit card issuer for assistance in getting your money back. Purchase protection isn’t normally as reliable when purchasing with a debit card. So, it can be beneficial to make online purchases with a credit card and select a credit card with the best purchase protection. If you do use a credit card, be sure to track your purchases and monitor your credit.

The internet and social media can help us all stay connected during the pandemic. But it’s also where scammers lurk for easy victims. While communicating with friends or shopping online be sure to stay alert for spam. Shop smart, verify websites, and remember if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.


Blog topics:
Fraud Prevention

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