In this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick is joined by Motley Fool contributor, Dan Kline, and Personal Finance Expert, Robert Brokamp, to talk about privacy and scams. They discuss privacy concerns around apps and social media, a recent hacking, and how it could have been much worse. They also discuss some popular scams going around amid coronavirus and much more.
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This video was recorded on July 21, 2020.
Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers. I’m Alison Southwick, and I’m joined, as always, by Robert Brokamp, Personal Finance Expert here at The Motley Fool. Hey, Bro, how are you doing?
Robert Brokamp: [laughs] I’m so good. How are you, Alison?
Southwick: I’m doing OK. In this week’s episode, we’re going to talk about privacy, recent privacy concerns and stories in the headlines, as well as talk about some of the most popular scams that are flying around the internet amid the coronavirus.
Brokamp: If you’re interested in doing some scams, here are some ideas.
Southwick: [laughs] All that and more on this week’s episode of Motley Fool Answers.
Southwick: So, Bro, what’s up?
Brokamp: Oh, you know, about three things; three that I’ll bring up. So, No. 1, the doggishness of dividends. So, as we all know, the return from the stock market comes from two components: capital gains and dividends. Now, we have no idea what kind of gains, or losses, we’ll see from our investments from one year to the next, but dividends, man, they are remarkably reliable. Since the S&P 500 became an official index in 1958, there have only been eight years in which the dividends paid by the companies declined from one year to the next, in only two of those years were the declines above 3.3%. So, in 1959, they declined 13%; and in 2009, they declined 21%. 2009, by the way, was like the worst year for dividends.
So, how have dividends fared this year, at least so far, and where might they end up at the end of 2020? Well, Standard & Poor’s very conveniently released a recent article on that very topic written by Howard Silverblatt, who’s kind of like one of their head honchos in their indices department, and they do choose indices not indexes.
So, first of all, he included this interesting little bit of history, “If one thinks of dividends as a paycheck, a 25-year wage growth compounded using actual cash payments amounts to 6.4% annualized.” So, to me, that is a remarkable amount of growth in income, especially given that inflation over the same period was only 2.1%. So, you have dividends basically growing 4% above inflation. Which is why, in my Total Income service, that I run with Ron Gross, all our stock recommendations are stocks that pay dividends, because they really are a great source of inflation-beating income for someone who’s, like, retired.
Okay, so that was the past 25 years, what about this year? Well, keep in mind that dividends are sort of a lagging event; all the payouts are based on what happened in the previous quarter. Thus, the first quarter of this year, actually dividend payouts were at an all-time high, it wasn’t until the second quarter that businesses began to, sort of, adjust their dividend policies due to the coronavirus. So, as of July 13th, 62 companies in the S&P 500 have announced decreases in their dividends, 41 of which are suspending their dividends; in other words, they are not going to pay out anything in the foreseeable future.
Overall, dividend payouts have decreased 6.8% in the second quarter, which is not really that big of a deal, in my opinion. Looking at the whole year, S&P expects dividends to decline just 2%, which is actually an improvement from what they expected in May. In May, they were expecting about a 3% to 4% decline.
So, the bottom-line for me is that it’s just [laughs] remarkable that we can go through one of the most sudden economic downturns in our lifetimes and dividends are just going to be down 2%, amazing.
Of course, not everyone benefits from holding such investments, which brings us to item No. 2, older folks stocking up on stocks. The Wall Street Journal‘s Gunjan Banerji tweeted out a chart from Goldman Sachs, and it basically broke down the ownership of U.S. equities by age group. People aged 55-and-older own 75% of U.S. equities, compared to just 4% for people under age 40. And this disparity has gotten wider over the decades. So, if you were to look back at 1990, the 55-and-older crowd owned just a little over half of equities, and the below-40 crowd owned 13%; now it’s down to about 4%. So, what’s going on?
Obviously, as we’ve talked about in shows before, millennials are facing some challenges that previous generations didn’t have, they came of age during the Great Recession, wage growth has been stagnant for a lot of people and more people are graduating with student loans. But the other issue is, older folks are holding on to their stocks longer. Back in, say, like, 1990, people were more likely to sell their stocks and buy bonds as they got close to retirement, as they entered retirement, and why not, the 10 Year Treasury was yielding 9% back then. So, why would you shoot for 10% from stocks, with all that volatility and unpredictability, when you can get 9% guaranteed from a 10 Year Treasury? Of course, nowadays, you only get 0.7% from a 10 Year Treasury, which is why older investors are more likely to stick with stocks.
And finally, item No. 3, flexible spending accounts have become more flexible. So, thanks to the CARES Act, over-the-counter medicines are now eligible for reimbursement from health savings accounts and flexible spending arrangements. We mentioned this on the show back in March, because it was due to the CARES Act, but I think a lot of that, it’s, kind of, got lost in the shuffle, a lot of people have forgotten about this, and a recent article in Kiplinger’s magazine brought it up again, but also highlighted the fact that if your employer allows it, you might be able to make a change to your election for flexible spending accounts. Whereas normally, you can only do that once a year, the government is allowing companies to allow people to make changes to their flexible spending accounts.
And it’s particular important to parents, with dependent care flexible spending arrangements, because you might have taken out a certain amount of money to pay for day care or for Summer camps, but a lot of those were canceled, so you had more money taken out then you really needed, some employers are allowing you to change that, but it’s not everyone, so you have to check with your HR department.
As for the flexible medical spending accounts, visit your provider’s website to see the expanded list of items that are now eligible. While this is thanks to the CARES Act, which was passed in March, anything that you bought on January 1st or later is eligible, so it’s not just for expenses that were made after the CARES Act was passed. And you could also buy items online using your flexible spending debit card at such places as FSAstore.com. And nowadays, more sites, like, CVS and Amazon, have specific pages or filters for flexible spending eligible expenses.
And that, Alison, is what’s up.
Southwick: Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) hack, hackers targeting Twitter employees to then gain access to the inner workings of Twitter and then be able to hack into the accounts of people, like, Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. If people who work at Twitter are able to get hacked, guess what, so are you. So, today we’re joined by Dan Kline to talk about some recent stories and headlines in privacy, as well as, some current coronavirus-related scams to look out for. Dan, thanks for joining us.
Dan Kline: Thanks for having me. We’re in the golden age of scammers.
Southwick: We really are.
Kline: There’s a lot of people with time on their hands, and what bothers me about this is, it wasn’t all that hard to hack Twitter. Basically, they got into an employee’s account that gives you access to a tool that lets you change the email that resets go to. Once you have that, you can skip two-factor authentication, you can change passwords, and then you can have access to an account.
If you have that tool, and I understand why Twitter would have that tool, that has to be in, like, a glass vault that, like, everyone could see when you access it, it should be …
Southwick: Three keys have to be turned at the same time by three different people to access the button.
Kline: Yeah. Because this is one of those hacks — this was just a bitcoin scam. They were asking for money and they were using that money to buy valuable Twitter accounts, ones usually with single digits, you know, @J and things like that. And it was about $120,000 they scammed. They could have done some really terrible things. When you have access to Barack Obama’s account, you could cause any manner of war if you wanted to. You know, he could have gone in [laughs] — you know, if all of a sudden Barack Obama is calling for fighting in the streets to overthrow the current regime, that, some people are going to go like, alright, that’s what Barack said. You know. Jeff Bezos’ was hacked; who knows what he could say.
So, these were actually pretty benign uses. The other thing that’s really scary is these were all uses that were always going to get caught. At some point you’re going to go, wait a minute, why is Barack Obama tweeting about a bitcoin thing? Also, Kanye West, like that doesn’t make a lot of sense. What if they were subtle? You know, what if they had done just some very clever ways to manipulate the public, and we didn’t see it quickly? So, for a hack, this is kind of a best-case scenario. It was public, it was messy, it didn’t cause all that much damage; and hopefully, it causes Twitter to get a lot more careful.
Southwick: Yeah. And so, for those who aren’t familiar with it, what happened is that people would start seeing tweets from Jeff Bezos saying, I’m going to give away $50 bazillion, just send me some money and I’ll send it to you in bitcoin or something like that, right? It was basically trying to make …
Kline: Send me $1,000 and I’ll send you $2,000.
Southwick: Yeah. So, it’s like this largesse of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates and Obama is like, what?
Kline: Yeah, that’s not how very rich people give away money. So, let’s say Jeff Bezos decides I’m going to give away $1 billion. He would create some sort of scholarship fund or method of properly vetting people, he wouldn’t be just like, yeah, send me an iTunes gift card and I’ll send you back twice the value in ALDI gift cards. Like, that’s just not how [laughs] your average billionaire rolls.
Southwick: [laughs] No, no, but it does sound pretty cool though. So also, in addition to the Twitter hack, some of the recent headlines lately have been around TikTok and security concerns there. And these security concerns are a bit different, because it’s about China having access to our information?
Kline: So, every social media site, all the major ones, they’re using your data. So, if you’re on Facebook and you follow, I don’t know, a band you like, a car you’re a fan of, and I don’t know, the Pillsbury Doughboy, it’s going to know you like baked goods, you like a certain car, and this is the terrible type of music you like. And it could use that to sell you stuff and to give you ads, and that’s pretty much the accepted contract on social media. Now, the reality is, they’re doing that on a very aggregate basis, saying you know, Alison is a fan of The Rolling Stones isn’t really giving away some niche piece of information, that’s a really broad group, you know …
Southwick: Except for all my passwords are Rocks Off, so there you go.
Kline: [laughs] We have now just hacked Alison’s account, so when we end the show people will be [laughs] — well, we’re taping, so you’ll have time to change your passwords. But TikTok, the separation between TikTok the business, and TikTok the Chinese government, maybe isn’t as subtle. So, maybe on TikTok, you’re just following things — let’s pretend you’re the CEO of a company and you’ve been following some, you know, maybe you’re way too into kittens on TikTok and that would be embarrassing to you; that’s not the worst thing in the world to be blackmailed about. You don’t know what information the Chinese government has.
So, honestly, when you’re on social media, recognize that everything you do is known to the company. And that can be innocuous; hey, Dan likes crescent rolls, let’s send him an ad to buy Pillsbury crescent rolls. It could also be a little sinister. You know, maybe you’re in some political groups that you thought your presence there was subtle and they come to you and say, hey, you’re the CEO of a company, you’re in all these ultra left-wing groups. We’re going to let your Board know that maybe you’re not as big a fan of making money as they think you are.
Obviously, most of us aren’t that blackmailable, but you have to consider that anything you do on TikTok might be shared with the Chinese government, a government that is not always benign in its actions.
Southwick: I think what bothers me mostly about privacy is when, let’s say, I text message my friend, “I really like crescent rolls,” and then somehow, I magically see an ad later on Facebook for crescent rolls. Where I’m like, wait a second, the only place I talked about crescent rolls was in a text message to my friend. And when things like that happen then I get worried, when different companies talking to different companies, I don’t know, then I get just a little nervous. Normally I don’t get too upset over ads being directed at me.
Kline: And by the way, I picked Pillsbury because it amazes me that there’s like a couple of million people that follow the Pillsbury account. Like, of all the brands you’d identify with, it seems like that isn’t one you’d have a great passion for. But that said, I’ve had conversations and then seen ads on Facebook. There is a level of, we don’t know how our data is being used. You know, is my Amazon Alexa spying on me, is my smart TV spying on me? You know, I’m looking at an Amazon show right now and it’s not turned on, but is that doing stuff? You have to be really, really careful, but there’s also a comic ineptness to how they’re using this data right now.
The example I’ll give is, my wife and I bought new couches. So, for like two weeks all my internet searching that wasn’t work related was couch related, and then I bought a couch and for, like, the next eight months, all I got was coach related. That is not a sophisticated level of serving me ads, because you have to assume, I either decided not to buy a couch or I bought a couch, that would be like 99% of the time. But you don’t know how they’re using this data. You used to be able to buy a lot of data from Twitter and they’ve shut those spigots off. But you could create pretty sophisticated algorithms that would literally target people for advertising or for sales based on information they would send you. And if those people responded, you knew an awful lot about them.
Brokamp: Is there a difference between you pulling up a browser on your phone and visiting Facebook or one of these sites versus installing the app? I remember some guy, I was just talking to a guy in the airport and he said, I would never install an app on my phone because you don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not just gathering data on you; it’s doing other things.
Kline: So, I’ve heard that as well. They’re not particularly public about that. I have all the apps, it’s certainly convenient, but I’m hyperconscious of the fact that what I’m doing on the internet isn’t necessarily between me and my computer. And look, there are things you could do, you can do private browsing, you could use a VPN, but that’s not necessarily going to protect you from what — you know, I don’t know about you, I’m sure Alison has, but I’ve never read the terms of service for Facebook. I’ve written terms of service at different companies. And usually what you do is find the biggest company in your field and copy their terms of service and go in and make a couple of changes so they don’t sue you for doing it. I would argue nobody, except maybe a couple of attorneys has ever read a terms of service and Facebooks might say, we have the right to do everything.
Look, there’s a lot of misinformation, every now and then someone in your Facebook thing will say, posting a photo on Facebook gives them ownership of that photo. And like, that’s not actually true, but it might give them the right to use it at other places. And, again, I can’t say that anyone knows the answer to that, so be very careful, be mindful that even when you set something as private, that doesn’t mean on an aggregate level Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or whoever else you’re using for social media uses that info.
Southwick: Let’s move on and talk about some recent scams that we’re seeing that are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m actually surprised that I haven’t talked about scams yet on this show, like have I at all, Bro?
Brokamp: Not that I remember.
Southwick: This is like literally my job before The Motley Fool, all I did was go on television and tell people about scams, like that was my whole job. You’re making a face like you didn’t know that.
Brokamp: I didn’t know that.
Southwick: Yeah, no, my whole thing was talking about scams, because I worked at the national office for the Better Business Bureau system, and we talked a lot about scams. And so, what I think is interesting is that a lot of the scams I’m going to talk about today are basically just little twists on age-old scams, and it’s just tied into what’s going on with coronavirus and taking advantage of our fears or our greed during these interesting times. So, let’s see what the FTC has to say, shall we?
Back in June, they estimated that more than $68 million had been lost to COVID-related scams in the nation. They’ve received over 100,000 complaints regarding fraud and schemes, with about 48% saying they lost money to the scam. And victims lose about a median amount of $288.
So, what are some of the more common ones we’re seeing? Well, not surprisingly, we’re seeing a lot of scams around unemployment identity theft. So, apparently this is also really a hot spot is Maine, so there you go. Maine’s Department of Labor in June said that it had received over 17,000 reports of unemployment identity fraud this year. Basically, when someone applies for unemployment under your name with your information, the state’s Labor Department said it has canceled about $13 million in benefits after 2,200 users were flagged, then they were about to review another almost 15,000 claims worth about $49 million.
Brokamp: Wow! Man!
Southwick: I know, Maine! Well, someone in Maine is very busy committing unemployment fraud. And another common scam we’re seeing are emails, ads, social media, robocalls around COVID-19 cures. So, I’ll bet you guys didn’t know this, but CBD oil, herbs, vaccines and more are all available for you if you want to cure your coronavirus. If you go to the FTC’s website, you can see they’ve sent out over 100 letters to companies peddling cures.
One example we learned about from the Missouri and the Arkansas attorney generals. They recently filed suits against a televangelist named Jim Bakker.
Brokamp: And Tammy Faye, although I think Tammy Faye has passed away.
Kline: Yeah, she’s no longer with us.
Southwick: So, I don’t know if this is a different Jim Bakker.
Brokamp: No, it’s the same guy.
Kline: It’s the same guy.
Southwick: Is it B-A-K-K-E-R?
Brokamp: Yeah, same guy.
Southwick: Really? Oh, he looked different, maybe because he’s just older.
Brokamp: He’s much older.
Southwick: So, the Arkansas Attorney General says that almost 400 Arkansans made purchases from Bakker’s company totaling over $60,000 for colloidal silver. Have we talked about this before, where you use it as a dietary supplement?
Brokamp: It sounds uncomfortable.
Kline: This is a common dietary supplement scam. Colloidal silver is one of those things, like CBD oil that there’s all sorts of things it allegedly fixes.
Southwick: Yeah, it’ll turn your skin colors if you take too much of it, you’ll turn purple. Like, a purply grey-blue. Crazy.
Kline: That’s kind of awesome, like. [laughs]
Southwick: I mean, I think that also means you’re about to die, but you know, you look cool, I guess you leave an interesting looking corpse, a poise-looking corpse.
So, another scam that you’re going to see is very popular right now is, providing masks, PPE, other things that are kind of scarce. And also testing sites. You might receive some emails that are telling you about testing sites you can go to or how to get some home test kits for coronavirus. There’s also apparently people posing as contact tracers. So, a contact tracer is someone who goes around and, who works with the health department, is trying to figure out, like, who gave it to who and where did they get it? And so, apparently, some people were going door-to-door and posing as contact tracers and trying to get personal information. So, I don’t know. It was just everything out there.
Alright. Oh, I’m not done. Do you have more you want to talk about, because I have more scams I want to talk about?
Kline: I had one more I wanted to talk about, it’s not exactly a scam, but there is the idea that you could use, you know, filtration or blue lights or other things to kill the virus. And there are legitimate companies that can do that, but when you’re on Facebook and something pops up for like a, you know, robot that can walk around your house and kill the virus, be a little skeptical, because I’ve seen that ad multiple times. That might be true, but you want to buy that from a credible company. My air conditioning company actually sent out a note saying, we offer a filtration system, here’s what it does, here’s what we’ve been told about coronavirus, basically we think it probably does, but we don’t know, so don’t buy this to kill the coronavirus, because the science just isn’t there.
Now, there are absolutely office-grade misters and blue lights and things being used in airports around the world that will kill the virus, but the $49 device you put your phone in, that you saw on Facebook or the little robot that walks around your counters, that may not work. And that’s not exactly a scam, maybe, but you can spend your money better places. Vet the products you’re buying, look for credible reviews on sites like, say, CNET or other places where you can know that what you’re buying does what it says it does.
Brokamp: Are you saying then that the corona-killing robot might work? Because if it might work, I’m intrigued. I have yet to see this ad, but I am interested. [laughs]
Kline: There’s no shortage of corona-killing robots. [laughs] You just have to find the one that actually hits the right grade. And the reality is, so you’ve seen how Roomba works in your house. My Roomba is less than perfect. If I have a robot that’s walking around on my counters and my floors, and it’s killing the coronavirus, it’s not that relevant if it only hits 96% of my counter and then I touch the other part and put my hand in my mouth. I don’t know why I would do that, but [laughs] let’s pretend I would do that. There are absolutely things you could do, commercial cleaning companies. I assume this will be a regular at The Motley Fool office when we reopen, have overnight cleanings with UV lights and with misters and all sorts of other — that technology exists and I’m sure there’s home-based versions of it that do work, but understand the limitations and make sure [laughs] you’re getting the real deal. Because, Bro, I could sell you a blue light and it would just be a blue light.
Southwick: But duct tape it to a Roomba and then you’ve got something.
Brokamp: There you go.
Southwick: I think we got to get to the trademark office on this one. So, another scam that is pretty popular right now is also around your stimulus checks that you’re receiving. So, they might try to get you to pay a fee to get your stimulus check or they might try to convince you to give you your social security number or bank account or some other benefits account number, which is not surprising at all that this is a scam. Scammers are also spoofing other companies and sites. Apparently, Johns Hopkins site was spoofed. So, they’re obviously a great resource, Johns Hopkins, but if you went to the wrong Johns Hopkins website for your coronavirus research, you probably got into a little bit of trouble there.
There’s also some spam and phishing emails around getting free Netflix or working from home with Amazon. So, like, if you name it, any scam that has existed in the world has a spin on it to be related to coronavirus. And I’m actually surprised that one of my favorite scams is not actually seeing a big resurgence right now and that’s the puppy scam. Like, do you guys know the puppy scam?
Kline: I don’t.
Southwick: Well, you know everyone is getting puppies right now, right, coronavirus puppies. And so a really great, it’s great scam — and by great, I mean it’s not great, it’s ripping people off for thousands of dollars is, you’ll try to buy a purebred puppy from some place distant from your house where you can’t actually go visit the puppy, but it’s a great deal for a Burmese labradoodle or whatever; everyone’s getting doodles. And so, you’ll reach out to them and you’ll say, yes, I want to purchase one of these dogs. Thank you so much. They’ll say great, we’re going to ship you the dog via an airplane, all you have to do is go pick the dog up at your airport and it’ll be there. And so, people show up after sending them the money. Obviously, you got to pay for the dog first. You go to the airport, no dog. So, you go back to the people who supposedly sold you the dog and you say, where’s the dog? And the scammer says, oh, I’m sorry, you know what, the dog got held up in quarantine and it’s actually really sick. The dog is really sick and the dog is going to die. So, you need to pay thousands of dollars for this dog’s life to be saved, for medical care for the dog. And people will do that. They’ll be like, oh, my gosh! My dog is sick, of course, I’m going to pay money to have my dog healed and fixed. And then it just keeps going like that over and over again until the people realize that they have sent thousands of dollars to these scammers for a dog that never existed.
Kline: That also brings up, Alison, look, I want to pita-doodle as much as the next guy, but go get a dog at the pound. Like, this idea of paying thousands of dollars for something that’s $80 and comes with a free t-shirt, you know, when there’s tons and tons of animals that need homes. Obviously, the pandemic has actually been really good for pounds; a lot of people have been adopting. But don’t send money.
And all the old scams. If your electric company sends you something about COVID-19, go check your website, don’t assume the email is correct. You mentioned spoofs before. Trust but verify. Go directly into your account or get on the phone and call them, because it is really easy. The other thing to really check is, if an email comes to you from Netflix, the Netflix address will be @Netflix.com, it won’t be some other version of that. Some companies might have some take on — you know, it might be Netflix corporate if it’s coming from a PR person or something; it might have some little twist on it. But communications to consumers are from the email [laughs] address that’s the name of the company or some variant of that. So, if it’s something really strange, just be really, really careful.
Brokamp: Yeah, I get that one all the time, the Netflix one.
Kline: Yeah, I get all sorts of — you know, you haven’t paid your bill here or did you forget to claim your this/that? And it’s really simple, you just log into their app on your phone and go, OK, I paid my bill, not a problem. T-Mobile is not going to come hunt me down if I don’t send them $500 in Chipotle gift cards. That’s another warning, real companies want to be paid in money, [laughs] they don’t want to be paid in alternative means, that’s always a scam. The other one is, the U.S. government, specifically the IRS, doesn’t call you, they communicate via letters. Now, that said, verify the letter. I’m sure there’s people who’ve gotten fake IRS letters. But if it’s an IRS phone call saying you owe back taxes and if you don’t pay now, you’re in trouble. That’s a scam. They do not communicate that way.
Southwick: Yeah. Another scam I’m kind of surprised at — and this is not me giving advice to scammers, but there’s also the scam around […] and I used to talk about scams all day long. There’s this grandparent scam. Have you heard of this one? Where your grandmother gets a call saying, grandma, it’s me, I’m in trouble, and your grandmother is like, Alison, is that you? And they say, yes, it’s me. Oh, my gosh! I’m in trouble. I went to Canada with some friends and I got drunk and I’m in prison and I need — prison, [laughs] you’re in jail; straight to prison — and so I need you to send thousands of dollars to bail me out. Don’t tell mom and dad. And grandma who’s worried about you and doesn’t want to get you in trouble will then wire — often wire or money orders — is a great way that scammers used to like to work, but bitcoin probably sounds like a fun way now too. And, of course, I never went to Canada and got drunk and arrested; nor would I call my grandmother if I did, or would I admit it [laughs] to you listeners, but that would be —
Kline: Basically, Alison is saying, this has happened. I think it’s fair to say that she — [laughs]
Southwick: No, it’s all a scam. But you can imagine someone being like a call — you know, your granddaughter is in the hospital, she’s got COVID, she’s on life support, her insurance has lapsed, you know, you could imagine all of these scams that are taking advantage of our fear or our greed. And so, I think it’s really important for people just, wherever you are, to think about, is this trying to take advantage of my fear or my greed and then to rethink it, to spend a few more minutes pondering it or researching it.
And there’s no scenario where that’s the case where you wouldn’t be able to communicate with them. And there should be — look, if your …
Southwick: Well, if they’re on life support in a coma. You know, I’m in the wrong line of business, I should be a scammer.
Kline: So, our new late-night podcast, advice for scammers is coming … No, here’s the thing, be really careful, because look, that does happen. I got a phone call once my wife was in a car accident, and she was fine. But you know, they had to take her to the hospital. And this was in the pre-easy smartphone days. But I asked questions, like, what’s your badge number, like, what’s the license plate of our car? You know, find that. You might want to have with your family a safe word, something that, you know, if you’re actually in trouble, you’re going to say some ridiculous word that would make no sense in context to prove it’s actually you. There’s all sorts of people trying to separate you from your money and some of it is just be careful and use common sense. Like, I don’t know your grandmother, but she might go, wait a minute, now, why would Alison go to Canada during a pandemic? And she’s not much of a drinker, like, none of this computes. You know what I’m going to do, I’m going to hang up and call Alison and find out that, no, she’s home.
And on the occasion — let’s pretend you really are in trouble in Canada, they’ll call back. The Canadians are very polite. They will call back, [laughs] they will let you eventually get out of Canada. And this is true of so many scams and we go back to the Twitter hack we talked about first. Common sense suggests that this large group of celebrities was not trying to get you to send the money in order to give you money, that is just — I know you want it to be true, we all want that, you know, you see it on Facebook, oh, Costco is giving out $500 gift cards, just fill out this form. That sounds great, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, you almost never get something for nothing. So, be very, very wary when something seems too good to be true; it almost certainly is.
Brokamp: And you talk about common sense. And most of us listening to this are probably thinking, I’m not going to fall for this, but talking about grandma, older people are targeted for scams, because at a certain point there is a certain amount of cognitive decline and we become more vulnerable to these types of scams. So, even though you think you’re doing pretty well, you might want to check on older relatives. It’s one of the ways that some level of dementia is discovered, because you found out grandma or grandpa or mom or dad were falling for something, paying for some Australian lottery. My wife’s parents fell for the phone call from the daughter saying, I need you to send money. And we’re talking in the thousands of dollars that they sent. So, check on your older relatives to make sure they’re not falling for these things too.
Kline: I’ll also point out that I was identity theft-ed, and sometimes you just don’t know it. I went to file my taxes four or five years ago. And it said, yeah, you’ve already filed your taxes, you can’t do that. [laughs] And what happened is — and eventually the person who did it wasn’t that smart, because they kept my address on it. And I don’t know if they thought they were going to steal my mail, but I got a check for a pretty significant refund that they obviously meant to have directly deposited to their account, but they screwed something up with that, so it got sent to my house. But I had to file a police report, I had to file my taxes on paper with an affidavit. It took nine months for my actual refund to process, which was much more. And now, when I go get a mortgage, the IRS will not release my taxes to the mortgage company, they’ll release a summary of it, which in a lot of cases isn’t good enough. So, it’s a giant hassle, but I didn’t do anything wrong. I mean, perhaps at some point I was careless with something that had my social security number on it. We’re not sure how they did it. But to this day, I still have to paper file my taxes, which is a problem right now when the IRS isn’t processing paper taxes. And who knows when I’ll see; it’s not a big refund anyways, so it’s not a big problem. I didn’t do anything wrong there, but by waiting to file my taxes that year until, I think it was like, the October extension date, I gave the scammers a lot of leeway to get away with it. And only through their own stupidity in inputting their bank routing number incorrectly, did it end up eventually being a paper check that was sent to me that I had to call the police, like, do I bring this to you? What do I do? They’re like, just don’t deposit. [laughs] Like, just do not deposit the check.
Anybody can be scammed. We talked about this earlier, Alison, check your accounts regularly. It’s something I’m really in the habit of. Like, just look at your bank account, and go, hey, I got paid on Friday, did the number go up, are there any charges here that don’t make any sense? And it’s not always a giant thing, sometimes it’s just like, wait a minute, like, there’s a $2.99 charge every third day and I don’t know what that’s for. And then you look in, and you might realize, oh, my God! I’ve been paying for this for the last 10 years.
I paid for five years for a membership to Planet Fitness that was a direct bank account debit that I didn’t remember. And when I moved, I discovered, oh my, God! I’ve paid them [laughs] $120/year for five years for a gym I don’t go to, when I was a member of another gym. That’s something you can avoid if you look every few days.
Same with your credit cards. Be very wary of your credit cards and pay attention when they send you alerts. I got an alert from Capital One saying, hey, you tipped a really high percentage on this bill, and I had to remember back, and I went, oh, wait a minute, that was the bill where my entrée was so slow they just gave it to me. So, I tipped the waitress for taking care of me, you know, basically what that entrée would have cost. So, I still came out ahead of the game. You have to be really wary. That goes with your credit report too. Pretty much every credit card company gives you access to check your credit score, if it jumps or falls by a whole bunch, look and try to figure out why. It’s always better to catch these problems quickly.
And in some cases, with bank accounts, your bank has a certain period where if you don’t report it, where they don’t actually have to make you whole, it’s generally 30 days with unauthorized charges, that varies for businesses, it can be less and that’s not a hard and fast rule, but you want to look in the second you think something is wrong, you want to alert that company, credit card, bank, whatever it is.
Southwick: Alright, Dan, well, thank you so much for joining us on the show to talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart.
Kline: It is always a pleasure. And I have to be honest, I had no idea that you worked for the Better Business Bureau until we started doing this. So, Fools, you learn something every time you do one of these podcasts.
Southwick: Yeah, in another life; it was almost 10 years ago now. So, it’s amazing how time flies once you’re working at The Fool, so.
Alright, Dan, well you have a good one and try to stay cool down there in Florida.
Kline: Will do. Thanks for having me.
Well, that’s the show. It’s edited scam-ily by Rick Engdahl. Our email is [email protected] Thanks to everyone who sent us some messages so far about how you’re talking to your kids about money. And also, one Christmas tradition. Bro, you got one.
Brokamp: I did! I haven’t seen it yet, now I have something to look forward to.
Southwick: There you go. Alright. Well, for Robert Brokamp, I’m Alison Southwick, stay Foolish everybody.
Alison Southwick owns shares of Amazon. Daniel B. Kline owns shares of Facebook. Robert Brokamp, CFP has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Facebook, Netflix, Planet Fitness, and Twitter. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale, CVS Health, and T-Mobile US and recommends the following options: short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon and long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.”>