Smoke Detectors, Credit Reports, and Money Stuff

Alright, smoke detectors have little to do with scams, but changing your batteries now will prevent that random screeching that always seems to occur in the middle of a nap. First things first…

Protecting Your Money and Data

I am no computer expert, although a few things jump out if you want to avoid hassles that come with protecting your money and data. Consider having a computer used only for money stuff, only on a safe network. Use a reputable security suite and anti malware program. This computer is never for cute kitty photos from your Facebook friends, unless it is an emergency.

PaZZwurd$!!!! Make them long and difficult to guess, I use a unique one for each account. How do I remember them? I write them down and keep them near my computer like any other dummy. There are some password generation programs that store numbers for you, I can not in good faith venture which are the best. Two-Step authentication has become popular with many firms, if someone (or you) tries to log into your account from a new browser the company will text a code required to enter the site.

Protecting Your Credit and Your Tax Returns

Around the first of every year I get copies of my three credit reports to make sure no one is pretending to be me. They are free at  I request them all at once, shred last years and move on as long as things look normal. Some writers suggest getting one every four months throughout the year just in case something pops up. Seems like a hassle to me, considering a few other things now available. If there are any significant errors, best to send proof correcting the errors certified mail to each of the three reporting agencies. If necessary, involve state and federal attorney generals if errors are not being fixed by the agencies.

The credit freeze makes the most sense of everything out there. If you freeze your credit then at least in theory people can’t open new credit in your name. As a plus your level of junk mail should decrease. On top of the credit freeze a permanent opt out never hurts.

Protecting your tax return from fraudulent filing should be a consideration if you have been a victim of identity theft. Applying for a filing code will offer a layer of protection. This is a unique code the IRS will mail every year that must be included on your tax return. This should prevent a thief from claiming in a refund using your name and Social Security Number.


Some credit card companies and credit unions are now offering a FREE FICO score as part of their service. I would not be paying any shysters for FICO, don’t fall for those scams. Your FICO score should not fluctuate too much from month to month making it a good way to eyeball your credit. A sudden plunge would likely come from lots of new debt and/or unpaid bills being reported on your credit file. If that happens, time to investigate, otherwise one less worry for the month.

Credit Monitoring services seem an expensive overkill if you have taken the steps previously mentioned. I am just some hack banging away on a keyboard, do what you want. What I added for about $30 was a rider on my homeowners policy that provides some coverage for legal fees in the event of ID theft. Still overkill IMO, but it seems every retailer in the world lost a zillion credit files last year so…

One other thought on this front is credit card versus debit card for everyday purchases. Liability is limited either way, but having your bank account drained from fraudulent debit card purchases could suck a lot until the money part of the theft gets sorted out. If you want to use a debit card consider a separate account that is not linked to your bill paying money. Fraudulent purchases are a when, not if, plan accordingly.

Moving on….

Money, it gets stuff done.

Many times elsewhere I mentioned, I do not like people near family money. Being ripped off on a part, for a thing that may be broken, while a bummer will in most cases not wreck your life. Not so when it comes to a life savings. Many people who don’t track scams for sport might be shocked to learn a $100,000,000 ponzi scheme is commonplace these days. A few this year were multiples of that, and don’t kid yourself judgements are meaningless money lost is gone forever.

Check your professionals at both the state and federal level each year. There have been a number of articles recently where broker infractions were not properly communicated between agencies. A broker could be clean at one agency, and dirty as an ashtray at another. This needs to be done every year, people change. When schemes implode there are any number that were run by folks with many years in the money business. Lump attorneys, trust companies and accountants in this process if they have access to your funds. Any whiff of the adviser having money problems or complaints should be all the prompting one needs to move their money rapidly to safety.

Duties must be segregated to keep your nest egg safe. If you are in a situation where the person managing your money controls the reporting, the deposits, and the withdrawals a problem could be brewing. If someone is managing money for you that money needs to be held in a segregated account, preferably with a major firm where you can verify without going through the adviser. When you need to take money out, an entity other than the adviser should be writing the checks.

Its not a bad time to look for unclaimed property because you never know.

Try and avoid confusion about money by having a list everything you own on one sheet of paper. This includes bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement plans, and insurance policies. Listed beside each is the beneficiary and contact information necessary if something should happen. Most banks and brokerage accounts allow for TOD beneficiaries. Don’t in my opinion add someone as a joint account holder unless that is really what you want. Like a husband/wife situation where the funds are truly shared. The obvious problems of fraud, lawsuits, and the possible loss of step up in basis are why I would avoid this.

While probate is not a scam, it certainly is not cheap or fast. Nor is a situation where someone becomes incapacitated and needs their affairs handled. Why I feel it important to spell out your wants in detail before something happens. The less people have to do when you can’t, the less likely they are to muck it up. Or the less likely your beneficiaries are to be taken for a ride.

That’s it for now, put the sheet someplace safe and enjoy your year.

Holidays tis the Season for the Pigeon Drop and other Short Cons

fraudThe stores are full, spirits are high, and everyone is in a generous mood.  Well almost everyone, some are perpetually grumpy and for others it is time to ply their trade.  Full lots are fertile ground for marks ripe for the smash and grab, or nothing for something short cons.  While many variations exist these are a few of my holiday favorites.

Lost Ring at the Christmas Tree Lot

A well dressed woman driving a nice car shows up and walks the lot looking for just the right tree.  Suddenly she becomes panicked and begins to frantically pace in a manner that will grab the attendant’s attention.  “Oh my god I lost my engagement ring” she frantically blurts out.  My fiance just gave me that at Thanksgiving dinner, he will kill me as she holds back tears.  Please, I must retrace my steps, here is my number if you find it, I will pay a huge reward.  She paces back and forth a little more and zooms away.

Spoiler alert, the only place this sad lass is heading is for the next lot on her list to recreate the same sad tale.  Behind her comes the “good citizen” who happens to stumble upon the lost ring as if by luck.  Things can really go two ways at this point,  both involve leaving the ring with the attendant to “claim” the reward.  The first plays on greed by getting the attendant to think he can pay half the reward himself and collect the full amount from a gleeful damsel in distress.  The second on good will, where the attendant pays the full amount of the reward on the thought that it would be easier for our distraught maiden to come back to the lot than locate our good citizen who is probably on his way out of town.

The woman and the good citizen are confederates in the scam.  The ring a worthless knockoff, and the number a prepaid cell. Could be “rare coins”, a “lost purse”, or an “important” USB file.  A beautiful woman or someone who seems a little slow as the situation merits. Either way, suggest involving the police in any “REWARD” situation and keep your greed and goodwill in check if approached by a stranger with a story.

Unlike the ring scam, this plays on greed and dishonesty.  The “victim” has to be willing to deal with employees that are going to cheat their boss.

The set-up could involve any electronic product, speakers appear to be fairly ubiquitous.  Two seemingly hard workers will approach with an odd, but plausible yarn of some “extra” speakers from a job they just completed.  They have glossy brochures and will sing the praises of the high tech install they just completed at some local establishment.  Rather than return the unused components to the warehouse these enterprising lads will offload them to you for pennies on the dollar.

There are different outcomes of this transaction, from overpaying for a pair of functioning speakers to taking home boxes of junk.  There is an old adage that “you can’t cheat an honest man”.  Certainly this applies with this con, no matter what a jerk the boys claim to be working for.

Fix a Dent, or Cause one

The local news will report it is best this time a year to keep gifts hidden in your car, your purse zipped and close, or your wallet in an obstructed pocket away from sticky fingers.  What of that ding on your car that a stranger will offer to fix for a few bucks?  Sure you want to help a working man this time a year, but know that when you wash away the “waterproof putty” he applies last your dent will remain, your cash ling since vanished.

Finally, parking in a well lit area is always advised to prevent theft, but the “pull through” is best to avoid fake accidents.  While not as common as other short cons in the lot, be careful when backing up, or better yet always pull forward.  Avoid the sudden seemingly ill timed bump, and ANY random situation that involves your cash might be a good tell you are dealing with one more XMAS scammer working a crowded lot.

Make it a scam free Christmas.

The Lure Of Cash Gifting

PublicDomain-Damaged Dollar BillIn the world of Ponzi’s, Scams and Illegal Pyramid Schemes, they never die, they just reinvent themselves.  Cash Gifting is no different. Cash Gifting seems to recycle itself about every two years.

Chain Letters – Cash Gifting Once Upon a Time

Before the advent of the Internet, cash gifting was called the chain letter.  The way this program worked was you were to send a set amount of money to four or five people on your list you were provided, and then you made a new list with the top name removed, and the other names moved up one spot with your name at the bottom.  You instructed those you sent your mailing to do the same.  They in turn did the same and it goes on and on and on.

In each of the letters you received, there was always a statement that this had been checked out by an attorney and the U.S. Postal Office and both said it was perfectly legal.  In the chain mail letter, you were told you were sending your money to each person for a report they had and you were paying to receive this information.  Of course it was a ruse and usually consisted of only one sheet of paper with a few words on it, but that was supposedly making it all legal.  It was all hype as chain letters are illegal.

To participate in these chain letters was expensive as you were told you needed to mail to at least 100 people to get the right number of people who would participate and you would receive your untold thousands of dollars in your mailbox.  So you had the cost of postage, printing your new letter and copying them to send out to all 100.  To be really successful you were encouraged to send out 200-500 letters which would increase the amount of money you would receive into the tens of thousands of dollars.

From Chain Letters To Cash Gifting

Then came the Internet and the Chain Letter program entered into the 21st century.  It changed from chain letter to cash gifting.  By asking people to join your cash gifting program via Email, you were only dealing with people who were truly interested in joining your program.  They had to contact you for the plan details and be signed up under you.  No more huge up front expenses like in the chain letter, and your audience was the world.  While you still had the expense of sending the people on your list their money, at least you were not mailing blind as with the chain letter.

Many of the Cash Gifting programs today are designed to look like anything but a cash gifting program. Others claim you are joining a private club, and only club members can participate in their program. Others just say they are a cash gifting program.  No matter what the title, they all have one thing in common:  They all claim they are legal and the IRS has said so.    They reference Title 26 of the IRS Code that deals with estate cash gifting. Notice I said “estate” cash “gifts.”  So what does this mean?  The IRS says that a couple may “gift” up to $26,000 per year to anyone of their choosing to reduce their estate tax liability.  A single person can “gift” up to $13,000.

The Truth About Title 26 of the IRS Code

But wait a minute you just proved that cash gifting is legal since the IRS allows “gifts” under Title 26 of the Code up to $13,000 for a single person and up to $26,000 to a couple. Right? Actually I did not prove that cash gifting is legal, but I did prove that “gifts” were legal according to the IRS Title 26 of the Code.  You see cash gifting has nothing to do with estate “gifts.”  NOTHING.

What the Cash Gifters do not tell you is that under Title 26 of the Estate “Gifts” section, there is a sentence they omit from their spiel, and it is this:  “You must have ABSOLUTELY NO EXPECTATION OR RECEIVING ANYTHING IN RETURN FOR YOUR GIFT.” (emphasis mine).  That means you cannot receive something back for giving your “gift” or it is null and void and not a tax deduction. In a cash gifting program the only reason why you are giving is to receive a cash gift in return for your cash gift.  Let’s be real, otherwise you would not participate.  There are many more things the cash gifters will tell you trying to convince you their program is legal, but there is no way I can cover them all in this piece.  In my book: Robbing You With A Keyboard Instead Of A Gun – Cyber Crime How They Do It, I devote an entire chapter to Cash Gifting where I go into all the technical, statements, and the issues of Cash Gifting; and why it is illegal.

Are You Prepared To Go To Jail?

You need to know that people have gone to prison for running and participating in these illegal cash gifting pyramid schemes.   But all you really have to know is this:  Cash Gifting is illegal in all 50 states and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), as well as in almost every country in the world.  So don’t take my word for it.  You can go to the FTC website ( and type in cash gifting and you can read what the FTC says about it, or for that matter do the same for your state Attorney General. If you have any questions you would like to ask me, just contact me at Eagle Research Associates here.

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