The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind! We are all trying to catch a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. We have been diligently watching out for our family, friends, and neighbors. I’ve seen so many people work hard to protect their community’s health and prosperity during this time – I have been so proud and impressed by the many efforts!
Unfortunately, at the same time, there are people trying to take advantage of the vulnerable during this crisis! Financial predators, fraud, and scams are always lurking, but the perpetrators seem to step up their game when they know people are feeling financial strain or confusion.
Here are a few types of financial predators and scams to be watching out for:
1. IRS Scams
As you likely know, the government issued either electronic deposits or checks to millions of Americans in response to this crisis. This is legitimate. What is not legitimate is the “IRS” calling and asking you to confirm your bank account number or any other personal information. Remember, the IRS always communicates with you by mail. If you receive a call that has you concerned, hang up and contact www.IRS.gov to confirm. The real IRS will be able to give you peace of mind if no information was truly needed from you. Please also consider reporting the call to authorities.
2. Computer Viruses
Some of us have been working from home for a few weeks now. It can be tedious and much less efficient than working from the office, where all of our tools and technology are at our fingertips. However, we must stay diligent!
The FBI is reporting an influx of emails claiming to be from the CDC with links and attachments leading to malware or phishing for personal data.
Watch out for emails seeking charitable contributions, offering financial relief, from “airline carriers” offering refunds, or from fake testing kit companies. If the sender’s address or email itself looks at all suspicious, please don’t click any links!
3. Fake Cures
There are companies and individuals who claim to have a treatment or cure for COVID-19. These companies are counting on you to be afraid. They want your fear to motivate you to line their pockets with your money.
Remember that www.FDA.gov, www.CDC.gov, and your doctor are the only resources you should be checking for accurate treatment advice.
4. Credit Card & Loan Offers
Credit card companies are not generally perpetrators of fraud. I am actually a big fan of responsible credit card use. (Read a story about my credit mistake HERE.) However, some of these companies and offers could be viewed as being a little predatory. What do I mean by that?
Well, for me personally, at least half of the mail I receive is from credit card companies.
“Here is a special loan offer just for you!”
Does this statement sound familiar??
If you are in an unsteady financial situation, it can be easy to look at credit as your savior. However, credit cards only kick the cash flow problem down the road. Credit cards usually carry around a 20% interest rate… it is NOT free money.
For example, if you put $1,000 on a new credit card and didn’t pay it for the month, your new balance is $1,200. What if you don’t pay it for a 2nd month? Well, your new balance might now be $1,440. It can add up fast.
5. Payday Loans
Payday loan companies seem to be taking over Main Streets across America. I see them everywhere!
Generally, these companies offer you a fast cash advance of your paycheck. Others are just cash loans with high interest rates. Many brag that you can complete the application in minutes and even get money deposited into your bank overnight.
These loans generally have an interest rate of 36-40%. Thankfully, they are regulated so that they are not able to charge more than that. However, I wouldn’t want anyone to owe a dime at that interest rate!
I understand that an emergency is an emergency. These institutions may seem like a good way to get fast cash – and they can be, if there is truly no other option. However, please be aware that getting in the habit of using these fast loans can be a dangerous, slippery slope. You may become more and more reliant on them and end up paying thousands of dollars in interest.
6. Tribal Loans
Ever heard of a tribal loan? They are like payday loans… but much worse. The government regulates and has put controls on the payday loan industry, but tribal loan companies operate with less regulation.
There is precedent of tribal loan companies charging interest rates from 300 – 900%!!! That was not a typo. That means if you borrowed $500, you could owe back $4,500 or more. And good luck finding the interest rates on companies’ websites… they are NOT clearly identified.
I don’t even consider this as a last resort option. It simply cannot be an option for you.
Ben Carlson, the author of Don’t Fall For It: A Short History of Financial Scams spoke on The Invested Dad’s podcast on ways you can help yourself avoid scams. I highly suggest listening HERE!
I realize that these are desperate times for many people. However, being in desperate times does not mean you have to take desperate measures. If you have had interruptions in employment and you are an Ohio resident, visit Ohio’s unemployment website HERE. Also check out the Department of Labor’s website HERE for other helpful information and benefits.