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Data Privacy and Your Financial Planner

              Data Privacy and Your Financial Planner Data privacy week is January 24 – 28, 2022.  Here are some tips to help investors safeguard  personal information when it comes to working with a financial advisor. 2021 was a record year for the number of data breaches publicly reported, according … Read more

Watch Out for Coronavirus Scams

Mad young female annoyed with scam or spam messages on smartphone, frustrated woman receive bad news on cell, confused girl get phone problems having no signal, bothered with not working device

The FTC has received over 20,000 COVID-19 related complaints since January 1, 2020. Source: Federal Trade Commission, April 2020

Fraudsters and scam artists are always looking for new ways to prey on consumers. Now they are using the same tactics to take advantage of consumers’ heightened financial and health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Federal, state, and local law enforcement have begun issuing warnings on the surge of coronavirus scams and how consumers can protect themselves. Here are some of the more prevalent coronavirus scams that consumers need to watch out for.

Schemes related to economic impact payments

The IRS recently issued a warning about various schemes related to economic impact payments that are being sent to taxpayers under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.1 The IRS warns taxpayers to be aware of scammers who:

  • Use words such as “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment” instead of the official term, “economic impact payment”
  • Ask you to “sign up” for your economic impact payment check
  • Contact you by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information to receive or speed up your economic impact payment

In most cases, the IRS will deposit the economic impact payment directly into an account that taxpayers previously provided on their tax returns. If taxpayers have previously filed their taxes but not provided direct-deposit information to the IRS, they will be able to provide their banking information online at irs.gov/coronavirus. If the IRS does not have a taxpayer’s direct-deposit information, a check will be mailed to the taxpayer’s address on file with the IRS. In addition, the IRS is reminding Social Security recipients who normally don’t file taxes that no additional action or information is needed on their part to receive the $1,200 economic payment — it will be sent to them automatically.

Fraudulent treatments, vaccinations, and home test kits

The Federal Trade Commission is tracking scam artists who are attempting to sell fraudulent products that claim to treat, prevent, or diagnose COVID-19. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any products designed specifically to treat or prevent COVID-19.

The FDA had warned consumers in March to be wary of companies selling unauthorized coronavirus home testing kits. On April 21, 2020, the FDA authorized the first coronavirus test kit for home use. According to the FDA, the test kits will be available to consumers in most states, with a doctor’s order, in the coming weeks. You can visit fda.gov for more information.

Phishing scams

Scammers have begun using phishing scams related to the coronavirus pandemic in order to obtain personal and financial information. Phishing scams usually involve unsolicited phone calls, emails, text messages, or fake websites that pose as legitimate organizations and try to convince you to provide personal or financial information. Once scam artists obtain this information, they use it to commit identity or financial theft. Be wary of anyone claiming to be from an official organization, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, or nongovernment websites with domain names that include the words “coronavirus” or “COVID-19,” as they are likely to be malicious.

Charity fraud

Many charitable organizations are dedicated to helping those affected by COVID-19. Scammers often pose as legitimate charitable organizations in order to solicit donations from unsuspecting donors. Be wary of charities with names that are similar to more familiar or nationally known organizations. Before donating to a charity, make sure that it is legitimate and never donate cash, gift cards, or funds by wire transfer. The IRS website has a tool to assist you in checking out the status of a charitable organization at irs.gov/charities-and-nonprofits. Protecting yourself from scams Fortunately, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from scams, including those related to the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Don’t click on suspicious or unfamiliar links in emails, text messages, and instant messaging services.
  • Don’t answer a phone call if you don’t recognize the phone number — instead, let it go to voicemail and check later to verify the caller.
  • Never download email attachments unless you can verify that the sender is legitimate.
  • Keep device and security software up-to-date, maintain strong passwords, and use multi-factor authentication.
  • Never share personal or financial information via email, text message, or over the phone.
  • If you see a scam related to the coronavirus, be sure to report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

1 Internal Revenue Service, IR-2020-64, April 2, 2020

 

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Ballast Advisors, LLC is a registered investment advisor under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about the firm, including its services, strategies, and fees can be found in our ADV Part 2, which is available without charge upon request. The opinions expressed herein are those of Ballast Advisors, LLC and are subject to change without notice.

 

TRACED Act Offers Protections Against Robocalls

man holding mobile phone

If you pick up an unwanted robocall, hang up right away. Avoid answering “yes” or “no” questions, providing personal information, or pressing a number to “opt out,” since scammers often use these tricks to identify and target “live” respondents, resulting in additional calls.

Whether at home, work or on a cell phone, it’s a scenario many Americans have found themselves in: answering a phone call only to find out it’s from an unwanted robocaller. In fact, the number of unwanted robocalls in this country has skyrocketed in recent years. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ranks unwanted robocalls highest on their list of consumer complaints.1

TRACED Act

Fortunately, consumers have won additional protections against unwanted robocalls under recent legislation signed by President Trump, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act. One of the main goals of the TRACED Act is to establish rules to protect consumers from receiving calls from unauthenticated numbers.

Provisions of the TRACED Act include:

• Requiring all carriers to implement new caller-ID technology at no additional charge to consumers

• Extending the statute of limitations for prosecuting illegal robocallers • Allowing the FCC to go after first-time robocall offenders

• Increasing penalties for robocall violations

• Creating an interagency task force to study and improve the government prosecution of robocall violations

• Establishing a neutral consortium of carriers that will lead efforts to trace back the origin of robocalls

Protecting yourself from unwanted robocalls

Unfortunately, even with these new protections, it will take some time for all of the TRACED Act provisions to fully take effect. In the meantime, here are some things you can do to protect yourself:

• Don’t answer calls when you don’t recognize the phone number. Instead, let them go to voicemail and check later to verify the caller.

• Consider signing up for a robocall blocking service. Many phone service providers now offer robocall blocking solutions at no additional charge. You can also download additional robocall protection for free or minimal cost through a third-party app.

• Register your phone number on the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry, which removes your number from the call lists used by legitimate telemarketing companies. Keep in mind that while registering with the DNC Registry will result in you getting fewer calls from legitimate telemarketers, the registry won’t stop illegal robocallers from contacting you.

1 Federal Communications Commission, Report on Robocalls, February 2019

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.
Ballast Advisors, LLC is a registered investment advisor under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about the firm, including its services, strategies, and fees can be found in our ADV Part 2, which is available without charge upon request. The opinions expressed herein are those of Ballast Advisors, LLC and are subject to change without notice

Why You Need Life Insurance

September is Life Insurance Awareness Month, a good time to evaluate your life insurance needs and review your life insurance coverage.

We’ve all heard about the importance of having life insurance, but is it really necessary? Often, the answer is “yes,” but it depends on your specific situation.

In general, you should consider life insurance protection if any of the following applies to you:

  • You are married and your spouse depends on your income
  • You have children
  • You have an aging parent or disabled relative who depends on you for support
  • Your retirement savings and income won’t be enough for your spouse to live on
  • Your estate may be subject to federal or state estate taxes
  • You own a business, especially if you have a partner
  • You have a substantial financial obligation such as a personal loan for which another person would be legally responsible after your death

 

Life insurance plan on computer laptop screen

In these cases, the proceeds from a life insurance policy can help the people you leave behind after your death.

If you’re still unsure about whether you should buy life insurance, ask yourself: If I died today with no life insurance, would my family need to make substantial financial sacrifices and give up the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed in order to meet their financial obligations (e.g., loans, mortgages, college tuition, etc.)

If you decide you need life insurance, don’t delay buying it. Although no one wants to think about and plan for death, you don’t want to make the mistake of waiting until it’s too late.

There are expenses associated with life insurance. Generally, life insurance policies have contract limitations, fees, and charges, which can include mortality and expense charges, account fees, underlying investment management fees, administrative fees, and charges for optional benefits. Most policies have surrender charges that are assessed during the early years of the contract if the contract owner surrenders the policy. Any guarantees are contingent on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing company. Life insurance is not guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency. The cost and availability of life insurance depend on factors such as age, health, and the type and amount of insurance purchased. If you are considering the purchase of life insurance, consult a professional to explore your options.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2019

 

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES
Ballast Advisors, LLC is an independent investment adviser registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances.To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Massive computer hacks and data breaches are now common occurrences — an unfortunate consequence of living in a digital world. Once identity thieves have your information, they can use it to gain access to your bank and credit card accounts, make unauthorized transactions in your name, and subsequently ruin your credit.

Now more than ever, it’s important to safeguard yourself against identity theft. Here are some steps you can take to protect your personal and financial information.

Check yourself out

It’s important to review your credit report at least once a year and make sure that all the information in it is correct. Every consumer is entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Besides the annual report, you may be entitled to an additional free report under certain circumstances. Visit annualcreditreport.com for more information.

If you find an error in your credit report, contact the appropriate credit reporting agency to let it know that you are disputing information on your report. The agency usually must investigate the dispute within 30 days of receiving it. Once the investigation is complete, the agency must provide you with a written result of its investigation and remove/correct any errors. You can generally file your dispute with the agency either online or by mail. However, it may be more helpful to dispute the error in writing with supportive documents, preferably by certified mail. That way you’ll have a paper trail to rely on if the investigation does not resolve the disputed error. If you believe that the error is the result of identity theft, you can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov.

In addition to checking out your credit report, you should regularly review your bank and debit/credit card accounts for suspicious charges or account activity. If you discover signs of unauthorized transactions, contact the appropriate financial institution as soon as possible — early notification not only can stop the identity thief but may limit your financial liability.

As you monitor your credit report and financial accounts, keep an eye out for the following possible signs of identity theft:

• Incorrect personal and account information on your credit report, including suspicious credit inquiries

• Money that is missing from your bank account, no matter how small the amount

• Missing bills or other mail from financial institutions and credit card companies

Consider a fraud alert and/or security freeze if necessary

If you discover that your personal and/or financial information has been exposed to identity theft, you should consider placing a fraud alert and/or security freeze on your credit report.

A fraud alert requires creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before extending any existing credit or issuing new credit in your name. To request a fraud alert, you only have to contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies, and the information will be passed along to the other two.

A security freeze prevents new credit and accounts from being opened in your name. Once you obtain a security freeze, creditors won’t be allowed to access your credit report and therefore cannot offer new credit. This helps prevent identity thieves from applying for credit or opening fraudulent accounts in your name. Keep in mind that if you want to apply for credit with a new financial institution in the future, open a new bank account, and even apply for a job or rent an apartment, you will need to “unlock” or “thaw” the security freeze. In addition, you must contact each credit reporting agency separately to place a security freeze on your credit report.

Maintain strong passwords

Most of us have a large amount of personal and financial information that’s readily accessible through the Internet, in most cases protected by nothing more than a username and password.

A strong password should be at least eight characters long, using a combination of lower-case letters, upper-case letters, numbers, and symbols or a random phrase. Avoid dictionary words and personal information such as your name and address. Also create a separate and unique password for each account or website you use, and try to change passwords frequently.

If you have trouble keeping track of all your password information or you want an extra level of password protection, consider using password management software. Password manager programs generate strong, unique passwords that you control through a single master password.

Stay one step ahead

The best way to avoid becoming the victim of identity theft is to stay one step ahead of the identity thieves. Here are some extra precautions you can take to help protect your sensitive data:

Consider using two-step authentication. Two-step authentication, which involves using a text or email code along with your password, provides another layer of protection for your information.

Think twice before clicking. Beware of emails containing links or asking for personal information. Never click on a link in an email or text unless you know the sender and have a clear idea where the link will take you.

Search with purpose. Typing one word into a search engine to reach a particular website is easy, but it sometimes isn’t enough to reach the site you are actually looking for. Scam websites may look nearly identical to the one you are searching for. Pay attention to the URL, which will be intentionally misspelled or shortened to trick you.

Be careful when you shop. When shopping online, look for the secure lock symbol in the address bar and the letters https: (as opposed to http: ) in the URL. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks for shopping, as they lack secure connections.

Beware of robocalls. Criminals often use robocalls to collect consumers’ personal information and/or conduct various scams. Newer “spoofing” technology displays fake numbers to make it look as though calls are local, rather than coming from overseas. Don’t answer calls when you don’t recognize the phone number. If you mistakenly pick up an unwanted robocall, just hang up.

Be on the lookout for tax-related identity theft. Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your Social Security number to claim a fraudulent tax refund. You may not even realize you’ve been the victim of identity theft until you file your tax return and discover that a return has already been filed using your Social Security number, or the IRS sends you a letter indicating it has identified a suspicious return using your Social Security number. If you believe that you are the victim of tax-related identity theft, contact the Internal Revenue Service at irs.gov.

Because of the amount of paperwork and steps involved, fixing a credit report error can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining process. If at any time you believe your credit reporting rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) at consumerfinance.gov.

Remember that the IRS will never contact you by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media. If you get an email claiming to be from the IRS, don’t respond or click any links; instead, forward it to [email protected]


Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2019
IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.