Friday, September 28, 2007

FTC Shuts Down Another WAH Scam

The Federal Trade Commission has settled a case with yet another company offering a work-at-home scheme. Group C Marketing, Inc., advertised to consumers that they would “make $7 for each and every envelope which you secure, stuff, and mail….” Consumers were charged a registration fee of $40 and told that they would get everything they needed and that the registration fee would be refunded after the first 100 envelopes.

However, the company never supplied any envelopes. Rather they sent consumers instructions on how to set up their own business selling the same envelope-stuffing scam by putting an ad in local newspapers and getting others to sign up.

The settlement includes the return by the company of $287,500 to consumers who signed up for the scam work-at-home opportunity.

There are work-at-home jobs that are legitimate, but scams like these are pervasive. Before sending any money, fully investigate the company and the claims made. You can check with the FTC and the Better Business Bureau. Searching the company's name on the internet may also lead you to information from others who may have been ripped off by companies like this one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

You Might be Missing Money

Could you be missing money that is lying unclaimed in state coffers? Money from forgotten bank accounts, tax refunds or utility deposits all get turned over to the state after a certain period of time. The state holds the money until the rightful owner claims it.

You can find out if any of the estimated $24 billion in unclaimed money belongs to you. Start with They have an online searchable database. Enter your name and any states you have lived in. Also search under former names, such as a surname from a former marriage or a maiden name.

Also search your state's website as not every state has provided information to If your state doesn't have a searchable database, find out how to request a search by letter.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Anti-Phishing Phil Teaches Users to Avoid Scams

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed an online game that educates players on how to spot online phishing scams. Featuring a character called Anti-Phishing Phil, the game teaches users how to identify phishing URLs from legitimate ones, how to decipher the URL and gain information from web browsers and how to use search engines to find legitimate sites.

The developers of the game believe that providing education on phishing techniques and how to spot them will keep more people from falling for the bait of online phishing scams.

Through the Phil, the anti-phishing fish, the Carnegie Mellon game uses fun and player interaction to get this information to users. Go Here to try out the game.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Credit File Freezes Offered by Two CRAs

If you're a victim of identity theft and live in one of the 11 states that don't have laws allowing credit freezes, there is good news. Both Trans Union and Equifax, two of the big three credit reporting agencies have announced they will offer credit freezes for customers in all 50 states.

Trans Union's plan includes a $10 fee for the basic service and a more detailed package that includes credit monitoring and online services for $14.95 monthly. Equifax expects to roll out its plan in October.

A credit freeze allows a consumer to lock up their credit file and not allow any further credit lines to be opened without a pin or other authorization to unlock the account. This can save consumers from having credit cards and other loans taken out under their names without their knowledge.

Experian, the third major CRA has not made a decision on whether or not to offer a credit freeze to all customers. Currently, 39 states have laws permitting credit file freezes by consumers.

Two Credit Bureaus Offer Consumer Credit Freeze in 50 States

Friday, September 21, 2007

New $5 Bill Design

The money in your wallet has already begun to undergo changes as the Treasury endeavors to keep one step ahead of counterfeiters. Next week, they will start printing the new $5 bill, which has just had a major redesign.

Lincoln is still the prominent feature of this new $5 bill but the bill has added splashes of gray and purple. Yes, purple. In the lower right hand corner of the back of the bill is a large purple number 5.

In addition to the color scheme, other changes have been made, including replacing the oval border around Lincoln's portrait with a series of little stars. Other changes are added security features, like watermarks and a re-positioning of the security thread.

No release date for the new $5 bill has been announced.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tell Telemarketers - Do Not Call

It's a scene repeated over and over across America. You are sitting at the dinner table after a long day at work, starting to unwind and suddenly the phone rings. When you discover it is just another telemarketer, what do you do?

I knew a woman who dealt with telemarketers in her own, polite way. When they asked "How are you this evening, Mrs. Smith?" she would politely answer "I am just fine, thank you so much for calling to inquire" and hang up the phone.

While that may prevent one telemarketer from disturbing your evening, it won't stop the barrage of calls that are made regularly by thousands of companies using consumer name databases that are bought and sold over and over.

The only effective way to stop those unwanted phone calls is to sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. Once you sign up, it is illegal for telemarketers to call your house, at any time. You can sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry by going to Registration is effective for five years. If any telemarketer calls your home after you have been registered for 31 days, you can file a complaint at the National Do Not Call Registry website.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

You're Pre-Approved to be Scammed

You've had some credit troubles in the past and you would like to establish some credit. Every day you receive offers in the mail for "pre-approved" credit cards and you are tempted to apply for one, even if the interest rate is a little higher than you'd like. Should you do it?

The first thing to realize is that the words "pre-approved" are fairly meaningless. In most cases you still have to apply for the credit card and could be turned down. Often, "Pre-approved" only means that you were selected to receive an offer to apply for a card.

Reading the terms is key to whether this offer is for a card that can help you build credit or merely sink you further into your credit hole. Is there an activation fee? Is there a high annual fee? These fees are usually charged to your card before you even receive it. Often, the initial limit on these mail offers is so low and the fees so high, that the balance is already 50% or more of the limit.

That's bad enough, but check out the other fees. Is there a grace period? What is the cash advance fee and interest rate? Do they sneak in other fees like a fee for raising your credit limit? I have seen cards that will periodically review for a credit limit and if it is granted will then charge your card up to half the amount of the increase.

If you know that you will pay the balances in full each month and you simply want to establish credit, some offers may be suitable even if the interest rate is a bit high. When you have established credit-worthiness, you may qualify for another card with better terms and rates. But be careful in choosing which offers to respond to, opening an account that already has a hefty balance owed in fees is probably only going to lead to more financial problems and is a ripoff.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Credit Card Tricks - Cash Advances

You just got a new credit card and you're pretty pleased with the low interest rate you got. But the interest rate on cash advances may be much, much higher.

Interest is charged on your cash advance from the moment it is taken, there are no grace periods. Along with the very high interest rate you will probably pay a fee equal to as much as 4% of the cash withdrawn. Worse, even if you make larger payments on your credit card, the payments are generally applied to the balances for purchases first. This pays off the lower interest balance but leaves the higher interest rate cash advance balance to accumulate interest.

Before taking a cash advance on any credit card, get out the magnifying glass and read the fine print. Don't get caught in one of the most common credit card traps.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bank of America Raises ATM Fees to $3

We are all used to paying ATM fees, especially when using an ATM at a different bank from the one in which we have an account. These fees usually range from $1.00 to $2.00 per transaction.

But be warned. If your usual ATM stop is at a Bank of America and you are not one of that bank's customers, that quick cash withdrawal will now cost you $3.00.

Bank of America will not be raising its usual $2.00 fee for ATMs that are located in malls, movie theaters and other public locations.

Cell Phone Empowerment Act

Getting out of a contract early can be an expensive proposition for a consumer who is dissatisfied with his wireless carrier.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Jay Rockefeller have introduced a bill before Congress that would limit the termination fees that wireless carriers charge customers. Called The Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007, the bill would mandate prorated fees for termination of a contract, reducing it after the first year of a two-year contract.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has also vowed to look into such termination of contract fees for cell phone customers as well as termination fees in cable and Internet services contracts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

FTC Cracks Down on Deceptive Mortgage Ads

You may have seen those low rate mortgage ads on Web sites, read about them in newspapers and magazines, or received them via unsolicited emails, but the Federal Trade Commission is warning mortgage brokers and lenders that some claims being made in home mortgage ads may violate Federal Law.

“Many mortgage advertisers are making potentially deceptive claims about incredibly low rates and payments, without telling consumers the whole story – for example, that these low rates and payments apply for a short period only and can go up substantially after the loan’s introductory period,” said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Home ownership is the American dream, but it can become a nightmare for consumers who don’t have the information they need to understand the terms of their mortgage.”

In warning letters, the agency is advising more than 200 advertisers and media outlets that some mortgage ads are potentially deceptive or in violation of the Truth in Lending Act.

For example, some ads touted rates as low as “1%” but failed to disclose adequately:

* that the stated rate was a “payment rate” – not the interest rate – that applied only during the loan’s initial period;
* that low advertised payments applied for only a short period; and
* the loan’s Annual Percentage Rate, the uniform measure of the cost of credit that enables consumers to shop for and compare mortgage offerings.

Some ads promoted only incredibly low monthly payments but failed to disclose adequately the terms of repayment, including payment increases and a final balloon payment.

For more information and instructions for getting a copy of the warning letter or a consumer complaint form, go to the FTC website.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

X-Box Live Email Scam

X-Box Live users have already experienced stolen accounts and being locked out of their accounts, a problem Microsoft has been investigating.

Now users report receiving a phishing email telling them that changes have been made to X-Box Live and they should log in and check them out. The email contains a link to a duplicate site where login information can be gathered about the user.

Xbox Live is a Web site where members play Xbox video games online against other members.

Consumer Affairs


Monday, September 10, 2007

The Wisdom of Micawber

One of Charles Dickens' most beloved characters was Wilkins Micawber, a likeable but not very thrifty character who is usually in some type of financial mess.

The Micawber Principle

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

It's a good rule to live by - except for one thing: savings. There's very little left over after Mr. Micawber's expenditures to properly save.

As discussed in the previous post, everyone needs to have savings in at least the amount of three months' expenses. Although sixpence isn't a lot to save over a year's time, every penny counts when you are trying to build a little hedge of comfort in your savings account.

So don't be afraid to start small. Set an amount that is slightly above the maximum amount you think you won't miss, set it in a savings account that is separate from your checking account (what you can't withdraw easily is more likely to stay put) and keep saving. You'll be surprised how quickly it adds up!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Emergency Funds

Life can bring unexpected twists and turns in our financial paths, sometimes coming like a bolt from the blue. An unexpected interruption in your work status can wreak havoc in your financial picture. That's when the importance of having an emergency fund really becomes clear. If you lost your job tomorrow,could you continue to pay for rent, utilities, food and other necessary expenses until you secured another position?

Ideally, an emergency fund should contain no less than three months of your average expenses. "But I can't save that much", you argue. That's true, if you haven't found a way to leave a surplus over and above your monthly expenses. That's why budgeting is so essential. If you tally up your income and expenses over the last year, you will probably see three months worth of income that was spent on unnecessary items. Making a budget is key to achieving your financial goals.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Schools to Teach Personal Finance in UK

Tell me this isn't a great idea. In the UK, the government is preparing to use trust funds to teach children in primary and secondary schools about personal finances and how to handle them well. Concern over rising debt levels and the ability of young people to properly handle their money once they leave school has prompted this new program which was announced by the Secretary for Children Ed Balls and Treasury Minister Kitty Ussher.

Speaking at Woodberry Down community primary school in London today, Mr Balls said it was never too early to encourage children to think about money and saving for the future.

"We want to ensure that every child, no matter what their background, has the financial skills to achieve whatever they want in life," he said.

"By the time the first children with a child trust fund leave school they will have the skills and confidence to manage their money well. It is vital children understand how maths is relevant to everyday issues like opening a bank account, shopping and saving."

I remember when we had a savings plan in school, with a passbook and a folder we filled with quarters. When banking day came, we deposited our quarters in a savings account. I don't know how much that contributed to our understanding of personal finances but it did introduce us to the concept of saving and how banks worked. A similar concept should be re-introduced in US schools.

Source - Guardian UK

Thursday, September 6, 2007

iPhone Owners Angry Over Price Cut

Consumers who lined up to be the first to purchase Apple's iPhone are lining up to complain about the sudden price cut. Early purchasers paid $599 for the privilege of being the first to own an iPhone but to push up sales, the price was slashed by $200.

Initially, Steve Jobs said there was no rebate for anyone who made their purchase more than 14 days before the price cut, but after the backlash began, he apologized for the sudden reduction in price and has offered $100 credits good for Apple's retail and online stores, to anyone who falls outside the 14-day return time.

When Apple first introduced the iPhone with its impressive price tag, market pundits were already predicting a major price cut. News of the price cut affected Apple stock as investor's feared it meant sales were slowing for the new technology. Shares of Apple were down Wednesday and Thursday following the announcement.


Consumer Affairs predicts price cut- June 2007

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

American Workers Most Productive

If you think you've been working long hours, you're right. These ladies worked 9 to 5 but the average American is at work for much longer than that.

According to a UN report, Americans are the most productive workers in the world. They work longer hours and produce more than workers in any nation. Only Norway boasts more productivity per hour, but over a year's time, American workers have the highest productivity per worker.

The U.S. employee put in an average 1,804 hours of work in 2006, the report said. That compared with 1,407.1 hours for the Norwegian worker and 1,564.4 for the French.

Although workers Bangladesh,China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand put in a staggering average of 2200 hours, the productivity was lower.


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Erasing Cell Phone Data

Are you ready to sell, donate or trash an old cell phone but you don't want to leave your personal data intact? Do you know how to clear the data from your phone, to safeguard your personal information, numbers and messages?

Here's a nifty website that has instructions for clearing the data like contact names and phone numbers from your cell phone. Wireless has a Cell Phone Data Eraser to safely prepare your old cell phone for recycling or sale.

The data eraser has instructions for nearly every make and model of cell phone. Find your make and the model and view the instructions in .pdf format. There is even a recycling center locator function where you can donate your used cell phone.

In the wireless world of cell phones, text messaging and the internet, sensitive personal information is always at risk. Take the necessary precautions to protect your personal information and you won't become a victim of identity theft or other scams.