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Money March 2015

Dollar Sense

Potpourri: Stuff You Should Know to Help Keep Your Money and Your Identity Safe… Plus a Few Freebies

By Teresa Ambord

I had never heard of the firm, yet I supposedly have filed a judicial complaint through them. Obviously the con artists hoped I would be curious enough or frightened enough to open the handy link they provided, and download their malicious software into my computer.

The Scams Never Cease

Here are two new ones that have been appearing in my inbox at home and at work:

  • Hogan Lovells: Your complaint received!

    One scam comes with the logo from “Hogan Lovells” and the subject line, “your complaint received.” The notice is signed “Clerk of the Court.” Hogan Lovells is a global legal practice. Before receiving this scam message I had never heard of the firm, yet I supposedly have filed a judicial complaint through them. Obviously the con artists hoped I would be curious enough or frightened enough to open the handy link they provided, and download their malicious software into my computer.

  • Macy’s.com Your account has been locked! (This one was from Macy’s but it could be any online business).

    This scam message was simple. The scammers made no effort to appear genuine by copying the logo, as many thieves do. The simple message informed me that I needed to click the handy link to reset my password because my account had been compromised. Only…I do not have a Macy’s online account. If you get a notice like this and worry that it could be real, don’t click on the link. Instead, call the store. Or visit the website. When businesses like Macy’s become aware they are being used to perpetrate scams, they will often put notice of that scam on the home page of the website.

    This type of message could involve any retailer, or any business with an online presence. Naturally a thief wants to hit as many targets as possible, so they generally stick to giant companies (but that doesn’t make small companies immune).

Here are some points that are common in this type of scam.

  1. The wording of the message is very casual, or conversely, overly formal.
  2. The wording may include incorrect grammar. Example, one recent scam I received asked “Don’t you mind?” That’s a good indication that English is not the sender’s first language.
  3. There’s always a link… a handy link. It’s handy for you to click, and makes the job of stealing your assets so much easier for the thieves.
  4. The message cannot be forwarded, though this is not always true. But when consumers started forwarding scam messages to the authorities, thieves caught on and put coding in the message that prevents it from being forwarded or copied. Again, this is not always true.

Stuff You May Not Know About Your Checking Account

If you postdate a check and the bank cashes it:

Laws vary by state, but technically, as soon as you sign a check, it becomes legal tender, so it is cashable regardless of the date you write on it. That’s why post-dating is not recommended. However, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), if you give your bank written notice that a check is to be held, your notice should be good for six months. “During that time, the bank or credit union should not cash the check before the date you wrote on the check,” said the CFPB.

If you give oral notice, like asking your favorite teller to hold a check, that hold is good for two weeks. Assuming you gave the bank proper notice and they cash the check before the date specified, the bank may have to pony up for any charges you might incur.

What if you give a creditor a post-dated check and they agree to hold it, but they don’t? This happened to me years ago. The creditor and I had an oral agreement to hold a check, so I delivered it to their office, and took the precaution of putting a sticky-note reminder of the cash date. Even so, the creditor peeled off the note and took it straight to the bank, causing me to incur $300 in overdraft charges (which was more than the check amount). Although we only had an oral agreement, the creditor paid all the charges. If you have to postdate a check, be smarter than I was, and get the creditor to agree in writing that the check will be held…just in case. Even better, take a copy of the check to your bank and ask them to hold it until the date you specify.

If you have a complaint to make concerning your bank, log onto the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau for help (https://help.consumerfinance.gov/app/bankaccountorservice/ask).

My dad never cashed his last paycheck. It’s two years old now, and stamped on the check are the words “void after 90 days.” Is there any way to get the money he earned?

If you watch the sitcom “The Middle,” they recently did an episode where one of the characters found a two-year-old uncashed paycheck. On it were the words “Void after 90 days.” She went to her former employer and asked to have the check reissued. He refused, and made her work another day before he’d pay her. It made for good comedy, but what the employer did was totally wrong.

Laws do vary by state, but an employer who gives you a paycheck is paying a legal obligation. If for some reason you don’t cash it, the employer is not free to keep the money. If the check remains uncashed, most employers will eventually start trying to contact you so they can get it off their books. Eventually, they may have to move the funds into a separate account because it is still a liability. When all else fails the employer may have to send the money to the state’s unclaimed property fund.

So your first step should be to contact the employer and ask to have the check reissued. If the employer has sent the money to the unclaimed property fund – or if the company has folded and disappeared — contact the state. You can call the state controller’s office, or go online and type in your state name and “unclaimed property.” While you are there, look around. You might find you are owed money from other sources, like an old insurance policy or a retail refund. I found my dad was owed money from an insurance policy more than 50 years old, and my uncle had several refunds coming to him.

 

What about those words “Void After 90 Days”?

For checks in general, printing words like “void after 90 days” on the check is not binding on the bank, since it really has nothing to do with the bank itself, only the account holder. Again, state laws vary, but depending on the bank, they may choose to ignore those words.

Generally, after 6 months a check is considered “stale dated” and the bank might cash it, but doesn’t have to. If the bank teller refuses the check ask to speak to the manager. If that fails, don’t give up…contact the check issuer and ask for a new check.

Certified checks do not go stale and can be presented at any time.

 

More Birthday Freebies, and Some Freebies for Signing Up!

Every month I post a few birthday freebies. But you can view the whole list here:
http://www.heyitsfree.net/birthday-freebies/

Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to keep these freebies updated. But just to be sure you don’t waste a trip, you might want to check with the restaurant before you go to make sure the deal is still offered. Many of these require that you print a coupon. Just think… if you have a ton of friends or a slew of grandkids, you can treat each one to a freebie on his or her birthday.

 

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