Meet our writers

 







Money March 2014

Dollar Sense

Potpourri: Stuff You Should Know About Your Money

By Teresa Ambord

The previous weeks had been very cold and I’d turned the heat up a lot more than usual. I’d been hearing warnings on the news that heating bills would soar this winter. So when this bill hit my inbox, my heart stopped for a moment.

Power Company Scams   

I write articles every month about scams. I warn friends and family about the various scams out there all the time. Yet I admit, I almost fell for this one. It’s a utility bill scam. In spite of two obvious problems with the message, it caused me a few panicky moments when I thought I owed my utility provider a bundle. Here’s a replica of the “bill” I received by email. The name of my power provider was in the subject line, and was on this statement before I removed it.

 

Total Amount Due By 02/01/2014                $559.70

ENERGY STATEMENT

Account No: 484998449-6

Statement Date: 01/10/2014

Due Date: 02/01/2014

 

Your Account Summary

Amount Due on Previous Statement            $344.70

Payment(s) Received Since Last Statement       0.0

Previous Unpaid Balance                              $344.70
 

Current Electric Charges                              $165.80

Current Gas Charges                                     $49.20               

To view your most recent statement, click here please. You must log-in to your account or register for an online account to view your statement.

Total Amount Due By 02/01/2014                $559.70

The red flags:

  • Originally there was a misspelled word in this fake bill, which I corrected in order to pass the spell check. This is a common element in scams, because for many scammers, English is not their first language.
  • The message looked like no other message I’ve received from this provider. It did use similar colors in the fake logo.

I should have known immediately, but as I said, there was a moment of panic because a normal bill for me is $70/month. I was caught off guard because there was an element of believability to this bill. The previous weeks had been very cold and I’d turned the heat up a lot more than usual. I’d been hearing warnings on the news that heating bills would soar this winter. So when this bill hit my inbox, my heart stopped for a moment. I feared my bill would be higher, and this one was many times what I normally pay. Thankfully I did not fall for it… but I almost did.

 

Here’s what I did right.    

First and foremost, I did NOT click on the handy link they provided.

Second, instead of using their link I went right to the website of the utility company by typing its name into my browser. There, right on the first page of the website was a notice, “scam alert.” It seems the utility company had been flooded with complaints about the very same “bill” I got. They even provided a copy, which was identical down to the penny. After that I logged into my account, and was greatly relieved to see my bill had only risen by a few dollars.

As I said, I was relieved. But I was also troubled because I knew if I fell for this, others did too. And no doubt, many people clicked the scam links, and perhaps even paid the fake bill. Not only are their identities in danger, but they will still owe their genuine utility bills.

Here is the advice my power company posted on its scam alert:

  • Do not respond to request
  • Do not click on any links in the e-mail
  • Do not open any attachments
  • Do not provide any personal information
  • Report these contacts to (see your power company for the appropriate address).

About the same time, I got another bill from another power company which I had never heard of. Of course, it had a link, which I avoided. Instead I went to the company’s website and saw a “scam alert.”

If this has happened to you and you clicked on the link and/or paid the bill, contact your utility provider and talk it over with them. They will direct you what to do next. If you clicked the link, your identity may have been compromised. Check your bank and credit card accounts for suspicious activity, and report it to the bank or credit card issuer immediately. You can also log onto to FTC.gov and report the incidence to the Federal Trade Commission.


 

Think You Are Too Old to Get a Job? Look at this Gal

If working is something you still want to do, there are possibilities out there. Take a look at Sara Dappen. You might call her the Golden Girl of the Golden Arches. She’s a young 93 and enjoys her job at McDonald’s in Story City, Iowa.

She tidies up after guests, wipes down the tables, tosses trash that is left behind. Her favorite part of the job, she says, is chatting with customers.

In an interview with KCCI 8 TV news, she said “I thought it was more interesting to keep walking around here than to be walking up and down the street,” she told KCCI 8 TV news. “This keeps me from sitting.”   

What do her coworkers think? They told the TV reporters that because of her, they have learned better manners. The customers? They say she is inspiring.

Whether you want a little extra income or you just want something to keep your body busy and your mind active, take it from this Golden Arches Golden girl, and just do it. Get off your McMuffins and you could become the darling of your local Mickey D’s.

If McDonald’s isn’t your cup of tea, how about Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart hires seasoned citizens to be greeters. Some walk around the lobby area and some sit down, but all of the good ones say hi and good-bye to customers, making the experience a little more friendly.

One last suggestion. My insurance agent has an elderly woman who makes brief phone calls to customers whose bills will soon come due. I don’t know if she works from her home or comes into the office, but I would guess there is some flexibility there. It’s much nicer than an automated message. If you’re looking for a little something to do, ask around at your insurer, your doctor, and other offices that take payments or appointments.

Remember, you can earn money without losing a single dollar in Social Security. Even if you retire early, say at age 62, you can earn up to $15,480 this year without losing benefits.


 

How Does Divorce Affect Your Credit?

The effects of divorce are long lasting, of course. As heartbreaking as the emotional wounds can be, in the end the financial consequences can have a longer reach. It is often said that the quickest way to poverty, especially for women, is to get divorced. If a divorce is pending, here are some points to consider. Joint credit accounts require special attention, like mortgages, home equity loans and credit cards. As soon as possible:

  • Contact your creditors and ask them to close the joint accounts. They may be able to convert or reopen the accounts in your name only.
  • Remember the credit card companies are not a party to your divorce. You and your spouse share the responsibility to pay off the balance, even if a divorce decree says one party must pay it all. Like it or not, if you want your spouse to pay his or her share of the balance you’re going to have to see to it yourself.
  • It’s not unusual for one spouse or the other – during a pending divorce  –  to run up a joint account and leave the other to pay it. Yes, it hurts the credit reports of both spouses, but you can’t make a bitter person care about such things. To protect your own credit record, you’re better off paying the bill. That’s why, as soon as possible you need to get those joint accounts closed before the bag you are left holding grows even bigger.

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa