Tag Archives: United States

Indictment in alleged grandparent ripoff

My grandmother aka “Nana”

I gave a talk last week, and one man asked me why I thought seniors get taken advantage of so often. Two words: money and trust. That’s why so many have fallen for the “grandparents” scam. Hopefully, an indictment in California will help put a dent in the number of seniors who lose their money because they’re so trusting. There are steps you can take, too, to help prevent your grandparent from for a ripoff.

Six defendants were charged with defrauding elderly Americans in a scheme where victims were convinced their grandchildren were in danger. Often the caller told the elderly person their loved one was in jail and needed bail money. Sometimes the caller pretended to be the grandchild. The schemers made it personal using real names of loved ones to earn the trust and eventually money of the elderly victim. The indictment alleged victims wired between $2,000-3,000 thinking it would get their loved one out of harm’s way, not realizing they never were in danger.

The scheme allegedly originated from a boiler room in Montreal. The case is based in California, but will hopefully put a dent in what’s become known as the grandparents scam nationwide.

Investigators said the victims were chosen by mass-produced lead lists that targeted a specific victim demographic.

Seniors are a very trusting bunch of people. They grew up in a day in age where you trusted your neighbor. So, some trust the person on the other end of the phone who promises big sweepstakes rewards or tells them they need to wire money to get their loved one out of jail. The “grandparent scam” has made the rounds for years. I’m sure it will still continue even though five defendants have been charged. Hopefully, this law enforcement action will put a dent in the scheme. The reality is that it will morph into something else as thieves continue to see a financial payday from this rather trusting group of people.

Once an elderly person falls for one scheme, it’s likely they’ll be targeted again. The crooks create “sucker” lists which basically alerts others that the individual is easily persuaded to fall for a ripoff. Which brings me back to my first point. Get involved with your grandparents, and offer to glance over their financial documents to make sure nothing seems amiss.

I encouraged the seniors I spoke to, to ask their friends and family to glance over their finances. It’s essential someone else make sure their life savings that they worked so hard for aren’t disappearing into thin space because of an unscrupulous company and their fees.

Even if it’s not an unscrupulous company, your grandparents can benefit from a second set of eyes. I looked at my grandmother’s phone bill and couldn’t believe all the extra fees and services she signed up for that she never used. I cut her phone bill in half by looking at her bill for five minutes.

It’s easier to persuade your grandparents to let you help, than it is to help them correct financial mistakes. It’s very difficult to stop the schemers once they start attacking your loved ones. So, prevent it in the first place.

Related links you may like:
Getting off a sucker list
Getting rid of junk mail

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Money saving move — replace the dollar bill with the dollar coin?

How much loose change do you have lying around your house? It’s a question I asked in January when I issued a challenge to count up all that spare change. Surprisingly, the coins add up. A bill in Congress could make that loose change even more valuable.

A bipartisan group of Senators want to promote the dollar coin over the dollar bill. Yes, you read that right — promote the dollar coin. That coin that the White House just told the U.S. Mint to stop producing because nobody wants the coins. The bill says the Federal Reserve would continue to put paper currency into circulation for four years as the transition to coins occurs.

“With our Nation’s debt now over $15 trillion, Congress must look at every area of the federal government, big or small, to save money,” said Senator John McCain. “By moving from the costly dollar bill to the dollar coin, we can save real money and show the American taxpayer that we are serious about cutting spending in Washington.”

GAO says coins could save billions
The Government Accountability Office weighed in on the issue as recently as 2011. The agency called its analysis, “Replacing the $1 Note with a $1 Coin Would Provide a Financial Benefit to the Government.” The GAO estimates this move could save the government $5.5 billion over 30 years.

There would be a net loss in the first few years as the U.S. Mint amps up production, but the GAO says that should reverse to a net gain in about four years. Counterfeiting was not considered when looking at costs, but the GAO admits it could be a potential problem and cost if anti-counterfeiting measures are needed.

White House stops production of $1 coins
In the past, Americans have not adopted the $1 coin. According to ABC News, there are a billion unwanted and unused dollars coins. I remember the story from July, where the reporter was showing all the excess coins. In December, the White House announced it would stop production of the coins.

The White House said more than 40% of the Presidential coins made by the US Mint were sitting in storage at the Federal Reserve. There are enough sitting around that they could meet demand for more than a decade. So, the White House stopped production for all but a small number of coins that will be sold to collectors. The savings – $50 million a year.

The GAO says the coins have not been adopted by citizens because the dollar bill is still an option. In countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, they stopped making the bill version and that helped propel acceptance of the coin.

The question I think that needs to be asked now — if we are already saving $50 million a year by slowing production then do we really need to get rid of the dollar bill?

More than just money
Of course, it’s more than just a financial decision. The Senators introducing the legislation said the coin could save businesses money too, and pointed to a study by the Philadelphia transit agency that showed it was three and one half times cheaper to process coins than bills.

There’s also the environmental factor. Coins last thirty years, whereas most dollar bills in circulation were made in the last three years.

This bill is a companion bill to another one already in the House.

What do you think?
The lawmakers say they want to “promote” the dollar coin, but really they want to get rid of the dollar bill. I think they would need to do a lot of “promoting” to get Americans to switch to the coin currency. How much would all that promotion cost?

We also need a culture change. Americans would need to begin valuing their loose change. I’m not sure that could be accomplished in just four years. It may be a money-saving move in the long-term, but I think the gain would take longer to achieve than is currently being estimated.

What do you think? Click comment below and weigh in on this issue.

Fannie Mae study shows pessimism growing about economy, home prices, and household fiances

This economic rollercoaster may not be over, as a Fannie Mae National Housing Survey found Americans are getting more pessimistic about the economy, home prices, and household finances.

Seventy-eight percent of American said the economy was on the wrong track in the August survey compared with 70-percent in July. Maybe not surprising, but now that pessimism is transferring into other factors of the economy like housing. Twenty-seven percent said they think home prices will go down and 22-percent thought their financial situation will get worse in the next year. These are the highest levels since August of 2010, so in a year we really haven’t picked up any steam like so many people hoped.

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Where were you on 9/11?

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...

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It was a hot, late summer day. I was at work early that morning, focused on an investigation into a family that had to leave their home because of dangerous mold. I was headed to Michigan to interview the insurance company. As I gathered my papers, and waited for my photographer I heard a gasp from behind my back as the morning crew hovered around the televisions against the back wall. Suddenly, what I was doing no longer mattered.

The images silenced the newsroom. We all stood horrified watching the World Trade Center go up in smoke. None of us knew what to expect. Before we could comprehend what was happening, a second plane hit the towers. That’s when we knew we were under attack.

Our news instinct kicked in. We realized we needed to find people and document where they were and what they were doing. I remember walking into an electronics store and watching people standing in front of the rows of televisions watching in horror as the events were replayed over and over on television.

For many hours that morning, we had no idea who was behind the attack or if it was over. Americans tried frantically to reach members of their family whether they lived in Washington, D.C. or Washington state.

My brother worked in an adjacent building to the World Trade Center, and had a meeting inside the WTC every morning at the time the planes hit the building.  We tried for hours to get a hold of him. Most of the phone lines on the East Coast were jammed, and you couldn’t get through. It wasn’t until 3 or 4 that afternoon that we finally heard he was safe. He was on his way back into the city from a meeting in Philadelphia. In the next few days we heard a million stories like this one of people who were supposed to be in the WTC at the time of the attack but were delayed or changed their plans that day.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. Then, you see the children of 9/11. The ones who were not born and will never know their father, and the ones who were just infants and wish they had a memory of their mother or father. Now, they are all grown up.

Then, I think of how long it has been for me. I remember talking with my sister that night about the horror of that day. Then she called me when we invaded Iraq. Then, she was killed. The pain is still raw, and the grief still tears a hole deep in my soul. Events like 9/11 rehash that sadness.

The stories of heroism and loss still choke me up. I’m fixated by the coverage. Perhaps it’s because I tragically lost a loved one far too soon in a horrible accident, and knowing my pain I can only imagine the pain of these children who never knew their dad because they were in their mom’s womb at the time. Or the parents who have to somehow go on for their children despite losing their partner. At least I knew my sister, and we had 21 great years together.

Usually my focus is on money. What a doozy of a decade it’s been for any one of our financial futures. Instead of focusing on what’s changed and the financial mess we’ve been experiencing, today I’ll focus on what matters most. Instead of the numbers as they relate to dollars and cents, I’ll focus on the number of lives touched by this horrible day in American history. At the end of the day, it’s family that matters most — not money!

Where were you that day, and what does the day 9/11 mean to you?

Department of Justice tries to stop AT&T / T-Mobile merger

Seal of the United States Department of Justice

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First, consumers sounded off telling the Federal Communications Commission how they felt about the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile. Now the Department of Justice is speaking saying this merger could hurt consumers. The DOJ filed a lawsuit to block the merger.

For NewsChannel 5, I reviewed the FCC filings made by Ohio residents. I found 94% of Ohio comments were against the merger.  Those against the merger gained a lot of momentum today with the Department of Justice trying to legally block the merger. The anti-trust lawsuit would stop the number two and number four wireless companies in the US from becoming one.

The $39 billion deal would create the largest wireless company in the US.

The Justice Department says it believes the merger would mean tens of millions of consumers would face higher prices, fewer choices, and lower quality products.

“Consumers across the country, including those in rural areas and those with lower incomes, benefit from competition among the nation’s wireless carriers, particularly the four remaining national carriers.  This lawsuit seeks to ensure that everyone can continue to receive the benefits of that competition,” said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole.

Courtesy AT&T

AT&T says this merger will help consumers and mean better service for users.

AT&T Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Wayne Watts, said, “We are surprised and disappointed by today’s action, particularly since we have met repeatedly with the Department of Justice and there was no indication from the DOJ that this action was being contemplated.”

AT&T says it will fight the lawsuit and has asked for an expedited hearing so what it calls the enormous benefits of the merger can be reviewed.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the deal won’t get done, but it is a major roadblock. The FCC will also weigh in on the proposed merger.

 

Menu changes may impact what you eat

I went to a popular sandwich shop the other day, and was ready to order my usual sandwich when I noticed the calories listed beside the product on the menu board. I was stunned at how many calories were in my favorite sandwich. I usually skip the cheese and the mayo, but even with those missing items the calorie count was still going to be high. Did I really want to consume 1000 calories at lunch?

It’s a question many of us will be asking ourselves more and more as restaurants begin to post nutritional contents on the menu board. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA estimates Americans consume an estimated one-third of all their calories on foods made outside the home. The FDA thinks consumers are unaware of or inaccurately estimate the calories in food, so a rule will require restaurants or food businesses that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations display certain nutritional information to consumers. Even drive-through boards will be required to post this information. Other nutritional facts like fat, carbs, and sodium will need to be made available upon request.

The FDA plans to issue final rules by the end of 2011, but many states are preempting the federal legislation and passing their own. With so many states already passing rules, sometimes tougher than the federal one, restaurants are making the changes to all their locations now.

Before the disclosure can become law, restaurants are announcing changes to their menu adding healthier options. Just this week, 19 restaurant chains said they’re adding healthier options to the children’s menu as part of an initiative by the National Restaurant Association.

The restaurants include: Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Burgerville, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Chevys Fresh Mex, Chili’s Grill & Bar, Corner Bakery Cafe, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, El Pollo Loco, Friendly’s, IHOP, Joe’s Crab Shack, Outback Steakhouse, Silver Diner, Sizzler, T-Bones Great American Eatery and zpizza.

“Kids LiveWell” is a first-of-its-kind voluntary initiative that shows the restaurant industry’s commitment to offering healthful menu items for children, with a focus on increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium,” said Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, and founder of Healthy Dining.

The restaurant will offer an entrée, side, and beverage with 600 calories or less, offer an individual item with 200 calories or less, and display or make available upon request the nutrition information for one of the healthy food choices.

Calories will be another thing to consider beside the price of an item. What will be the price you pay for eating that item? You will no longer be able to have blinders on. The cold hard facts will be staring you in the face.

Unemployed get mortgage assistance

If you are unemployed and having trouble making your mortgage payments, the Obama Administration is offering some relief. The forbearance period will be extended from 3 months to 12 months. Upfront hurdles will also be removed making it easier for unemployed borrowers to qualify. Even if you are seriously delinquent, this program may work for you if you don’t have a job.

“The current unemployment forbearance programs have mandatory periods that are inadequate for the majority of unemployed borrowers,” U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said. “Today, 60 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than three months and 45 percent have been out of work for more than six. Providing the option for a year of forbearance will give struggling homeowners a substantially greater chance of finding employment before they lose their home.”

Contact a certified housing counselor for more information. Don’t pay for foreclosure help. There are free services that can help. In most communities it’s as simple as dialing “211” to find free help. Click here to read more about your options to save your home.

Related links you may like:
Do you have a Fannie or Freddie loan?
Foreclosure rescue scams – you don’t have to pay for help
Ways to save your home

Make free international calls

Globe

Image via Wikipedia

Whether you have family members in Japan that you want to check on after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, or you are traveling out of the country for spring break, there are ways to call out of the country for free.

Freephone2phone allows you to call internationally for ten minutes for free. You dial a local access number, and then the number for the business or person you are trying to reach outside the United States. Freephone2phone also works for calls within the U.S. if you don’t have a cell phone and pay for long distance.

You have to listen to one or two ads. They are short, and definitely worth it to make the free call.  Plus, you have to call a landline for most countries. You can only call a cell phone in the U.S., Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, and Thailand.

I used the service recently to call Mexico, and it worked great. I was transferred within the resort and the call continued. I listed to ads for DirecTV, and Sylvan Learning Center.  They were quick, and well worth the free call.

Also, Time Warner Cable is offering free calls to Japan through April 15th if you have residential or business class digital phone service.  Any calls placed on March 11th will be retroactively credited.  To take advantage of the program, you don’t have to make any changes to your account. Any direct call to Japan will be free.  If you place your call through an operator or directory assistance you will be charged the normal fees.

AT&T is also offering free international calls from landline and postpaid wireless numbers in the United States and Puerto Rico if the call is to Japan. U.S. wireless customers can also send free text messages.  The free service will last through March 31st.

Residential customers will have to call AT&T when they get their bill to get the earthquake credit.  The credit will only be for up to 60  minutes of direct dialing to Japan.

Related articles you may like:
Free 411 calls
Stop phone book delivery

Does your home make the grade?

A pilot program is being tested in several locations throughout the country, that scores homes based on energy usage. It launched in November 2010 and will last through mid 2011. The goal is to save you money by improving your home’s energy efficiency.

A home energy auditor will assess your home and give you a rating of 1 to 10. You’ll be given ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Some of the pilot programs are even paying some of the costs for energy improvements. One offers to pay up to 75% for improving insulation in your home.

The rating will also compare your home to others in the region.

Act now to save on your taxes
If you are going to make energy efficient improvements, you might want to act now instead of waiting for this program to roll into your neighborhood. The energy tax credits are only good through the end of the year. You can save up to 30% off certain energy efficient improvements.  The work must be done by the end of the year, so you need to act in the next month to get on the company’s schedule if you are using a contractor.