Nine Top Elder Frauds to Avoid

One of the areas that regulators have begun to focus on in the investment industry is elder fraud. After hearing about the vicious scams endured by senior citizens, many by their own families, I’ve become more attuned to the clues that a client or relative of mine might be a victim of.

It happens too often: you’ve saved money all your life. Or, maybe you sold your business after investing years of hard work. You’ve chosen the smart path and have a comfortable nest egg as you set sail into retirement. Still, you always have to be on guard! Criminals seek to trick you into willingly handing over your hard-earned savings.

Elder financial exploitation quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Specifically, these activities originated from unknown scammers, family members, caregivers, or someone in a nursing home. They involved more than $6 billion, with an average loss of $34,200. But in 7% of these instances, losses exceeded $100,000.

In 2017, elder financial exploitation reports totaled 63,500. Sadly, these reports probably represent just a small fraction of actual incidents. According to the FBI, more than 2 million seniors were victimized in the past year. Even former FBI Director William Webster, 95, was targeted in 2014.

Webster was promised $72 million and a new car…if he paid several thousand dollars to cover shipping. Ultimately, the caller was arrested. But not before his relatives in Jamaica had successfully scammed other U.S. citizens out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It won’t happen to me

If you’re thinking, “This can’t happen to me,” think again. The best and brightest can fall victim to a seasoned swindler.

While scams are only limited by the criminal imagination, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Aging highlighted some of the more common scams in a report entitled “Protecting Older Americans Against Fraud“.

Listed below are the top nine scams. Please familiarize yourself with this list. If you have any questions, we would be happy to talk to you.

  1. IRS impersonation scams

Scammers impersonating IRS officials claim you owe money and pressure you to settle immediately. If victims make an initial payment, they will often be told that new discrepancies have been found in their tax records, which must be satisfied with another payment.

Don’t fall victim! The IRS will never call you to demand immediate payment. If there is a question about your return, you’ll receive a letter in the mail, not an e-mail, and there is a process to appeal any disputed amount. 

  1. Robocalls and unsolicited phone calls

Robo-dialers can be used to distribute prerecorded messages or connect the person who answers the call with a live person. IRS scammers may use this tactic.

Robocalls often originate overseas, and numbers are usually spoofed (fake) to hide their true identity. Have you recently received a call from someone whose phone number has your prefix? If you don’t recognize the number, it’s likely spoofed and not local.

The FTC has warned not to give out personal information in response to an incoming call. Identity thieves are clever. They often pose as bank representatives, credit card companies, creditors, or government agencies. They hope to convince victims to reveal their account numbers, Social Security numbers, mothers’ maiden names, passwords, and other identifying information. Sometimes all they’re looking for is to record and “steal” your voice imprint, so let them do the talking. Don’t answer any questions with “yes” or “no”, or even give out your name (see 4. below).

Unsure who you are talking to? Just hang up the phone.

  1. Sweepstakes scams / Jamaican lottery scam

Sweepstakes scams continue to claim senior victims who believe they have won a lottery and need only take a few actions, i.e., sending cash to the con artists in order to obtain their “winnings.”

Sometimes, it’s best not to answer a call if you don’t recognize the number. If it’s a friend, neighbor, relative or colleague, they’ll leave a voicemail message.

  1. “Can you hear me?” “Are you there?” scams

The goal: get your voice print saying, “Yes.” Then, the scammer charges your credit card using your “Yes.”

If asked, don’t respond. Just hang up. If you get a call, don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator to be removed from the list. If you respond in any way, it will likely lead to more robocalls–and more scams.

  1. Grandparent scams

“Hi Grandma/Grandpa, guess who?” When you respond, “This sounds like ‘Sally’,” the fraudster will say “she’s” in trouble and needs money to help with an emergency, such as getting out of jail or paying a hospital bill.

If you send cash, expect “her” to call you again, asking for more cash. Victims who were duped later said they had wished they had asked some simple questions that only their true grandchild would know how to answer. Have discussions with your loved ones about what safe word or phrase you might share if they’re really in trouble and need help.

  1. Computer tech support scam

Whether a computer pop-up screen or an alleged caller from Microsoft, scammers claim your PC is infected with a virus. Please note, Microsoft will never call you to inform you they have detected a virus.

Do not give control of your computer to a third party that calls you out of the blue. Don’t give them your credit card number.

  1. Romance scams

More and more Americans are taking to the Internet to find a partner. While some find love, others find financial heartache.

Be wary of individuals who claim the romance was destiny or fate. Be cautious if an individual declares his or her love but needs money from you to fund a visit. Or claims cash is unexpectedly needed to cover an emergency. These are huge red flags.

  1. Identity theft

This was the most common type of consumer complaint in 2016, with nearly 400,000 complaints.

Placing a freeze with the major credit bureaus helps prevent credit cards or loans from being taken out in your name. If you believe you are a victim, call the companies where the fraud occurred, place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus, and file a report with your local police department.

  1. Government grant scams

In the most common variation of this scam, consumers receive an unsolicited phone call from a con artist claiming he or she is from the “Federal Grants Administration,” or the “Federal Grants Department”–agencies that do not exist. Always remember, grants are made for specific purposes, not because you are a good taxpayer.

Do not wire funds to cover fees for the so-called grant.  Government grants never require fees of any kind. If you do, you’ll likely get more requests for additional unforeseen “fees.” If getting a sum of money to someone involves using pay services such as Western Union or going to say Walmart to transmit money, be immediately suspicious.

And, don’t give out bank information or personal information to these swindlers. Scammers pressure people to divulge their bank account information so that they can steal the money in their account. You wouldn’t give bank information to a stranger at the supermarket. You don’t know them. So, why give personal information to someone you don’t know who unexpectedly contacted you?

Always remember, you are in control. When in doubt, hang up. That is how you protect yourself.

If you suspect elder financial abuse, the American Bankers Association suggests the following steps:

  • Talk to elderly friends or loved ones. Try to determine what may be happening to their financial situation, such as a new person “helping” them with money management, or a relative using cards or credit without their permission.
  • Report the elder financial abuse to their bank. Enlist their banker’s help to stop it and prevent its recurrence.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services in your town or state for help. Report all instances of elder financial abuse to your local police—if fraud is involved, they should investigate.

Be on alert

At the end of this article, there is a list of useful tips that you can print. Place it near your phone. These cards can be a useful tool to help protect you against swindlers.

Final thoughts

Our mission is to help you reach your financial goals. We are proactive in our recommendations. But sometimes, a good defense is the best offense. It’s heartbreaking to hear stories of theft. We don’t want you to become a victim and another government statistic.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Tips to Avoid Scams 2019-10-31

 

Broken Records or Records Broken?

Rearrange the two words “broken” and “record” and combined they have two totally different meanings. A broken record is akin to your financial planner repeating over and over again about saving more and spending less. A record broken conjures up images of olympic athletes taking their craft to higher, never before achieved heights.  We also hear it often when referring to never-seen before stock market levels.

We’ve all heard it said: “Records are made to be broken.” We celebrate record-breaking winning streaks from our favorite teams and athletes. Conversely, we hope to avoid a long string of losses.

The bull (up-trending) market that began in 2009 is not the best performing since World War II (WWII). That title still resides with the long-running bull market of the 1990s. But it is the longest running since WWII (St. Louis Federal Reserve, Yahoo Finance, LPL Research–as measured by the S&P 500 Index).

In the same vein, the current economic expansion is poised to become the longest running expansion since WWII. For that matter, it’s about to become the longest on record. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which is considered the official arbiter of recessions and economic expansions, the current expansion began in July 2009. It has run exactly 10 years, or 120 months, matching the 1990s expansion (see below table).

Economic Scorecard

Expansions Length in Months
July 2009 -? 120
Mar 1991 – Mar 2001 120
Feb 1961 – Dec 1969 106
Nov 1982 – Jul 1990 92
Nov 2001 – Dec 2007 73
  Average 64
Mar 1975 – Jan 1980 58
Oct 1949  – Jul 1953 45
May 1954 – Aug 1957 39
Oct 1945 –  Nov 1948 37
Nov 1970 – Nov 1973 36
Apr 1958  – Apr 1960 24
Jul 1980  –  Jul 1981 12

Source: NBER thru June 2019

Barring an unforeseen event, the current period is headed for the record books.

While the economic recovery is about to enter a record-setting phase, it has been the slowest since at least WWII, according to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve. For example, starting in the second quarter of 1996, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of economic growth, exceeded an annualized pace of 3% for 14 of 15 quarters. It exceeded 4% in nine of those quarters (St. Louis Federal Reserve). Growth was much more robust in the 1960s, and we experienced a strong recovery from the deep 1981-82 recession.

Economic booms and long-running expansions can encourage risky behavior. People forget the lessons learned in prior recessions and overextend themselves. Consumers can take on too much debt. Businesses may over-invest and build out too much capacity. We saw euphoria take hold in the stock market in the late 1990s and speculation run wild in housing not too long ago.

That brings us to the silver lining of the lazy pace of today’s economic environment.

Slow and steady has prevented speculative excesses from building up in much of the economy. In other words, a mistaken realization that the good times will last forever has not taken hold in today’s economic environment.

Causes of recessions

In economics, a recession is a business cycle contraction when there is a general decline in economic activity. Recessions generally occur when there is a widespread drop in spending (an adverse demand shock). The long-running expansions of the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s led to a mistaken belief that various policy tools could prevent a recession.

Yet, expansions don’t die of old age. A downturn can be triggered by various events. So, let’s look at the most common causes and see where we stand today.

  1. Rising inflation leads to rising interest rates. In the early 1980s, the Federal Reserve pushed interest rates to historically high levels in order to snuff out inflation. The Fed’s policy prescription succeeded, but led to a deep and painful recession.
  2. The Federal Reserve (The Fed) screws up. A policy mistake can be the trigger, for instance if the Fed raises interest rates too quickly and restricts business and consumer spending. This is a derivative of point number one. There were fears the Fed was headed down this road late last year. Credit markets tightened, and investors revolted until the Fed reversed course after the markets swooned nearly 20% in the 4th quarter of 2018.
  3. A credit squeeze can snuff out growth. In 1980, the Fed temporarily implemented credit controls that briefly tipped the economy into a recession.
  4. Asset bubbles burst. The 2001 and 2008 recessions were preceded by speculative excesses in stocks and housing.
  5. Unexpected financial and economic shocks jar economic activity. The OPEC oil embargo in the 1970s exacerbated inflation and the 1974-75 recession. The tragedy of 9/11 jolted economic activity in 2001. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait pushed oil up sharply, contributing to the 1990-91 recession. Such events don’t occur often, but their possibility should be acknowledged.

Where are we today?

Inflation is low, the Fed is signaling its first possible rate cut this week, and credit conditions are easy as measured by various gauges of credit. For the most part, speculative excesses aren’t building to dangerous levels.

While stock prices are near records, valuations remain well below levels seen in the late 1990s (I’m using the forward price-to-earnings ratio for the S&P 500 index as a guide). Besides, interest rates are much lower today, which lends support to richer valuations. That doesn’t mean that swaths of stocks or sectors are not over-valued. That’s also not to say we can’t see market volatility. Stocks have a long-term upward (bullish) bias, but the upward march has never been and never will be a straight line higher.

As I’ve repeatedly stressed, your financial plan is designed, in part, to keep you grounded during the short periods when volatility may tempt you to make a decision based on emotions. Such reactions are rarely profitable.

A sneak peek at the rest of the year

The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index, which has a good record of predicting (if not timing) a recession, isn’t signaling a contraction through year end. But one potential worry: a protracted trade war and its impact on the global/U.S. economy, business confidence, and business spending.

Exports account for almost 14% of U.S. GDP per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). It’s risen over the last 20 years, but we’ve never experienced a U.S. recession caused by global weakness.

By itself, trade barriers with China are unlikely to tip the economy into a recession. Per U.S. BEA and U.S. Census data, total exports to China account for just under 1% of U.S. GDP. Even with higher tariffs, exports to China won’t grind to a halt and erase 1% of GDP.

What’s difficult to model is the impact on business confidence and business spending, which in turn could slow hiring, pressuring consumer confidence and consumer spending. Simply put, there isn’t a modern historical precedent to construct a credible model. Hence, the heightened uncertainty we’ve seen among investors.

Is a recession inevitable?

It has been in the U.S., but other countries have more enviable records.

Earlier in June, the Wall Street Journal highlighted, “Australia is enjoying its 28th straight year of growth. Canada, the U.K., Spain and Sweden had expansions that reached 15 years and beyond between the early 1990s and 2008. Without the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. might have, too.”

If trade tensions begin to subside (a big “if”) and if the fruits of deregulation and corporate tax reform kick in, we could see economic growth well into 2020 (and with some luck, into 2021 and beyond). But, I’ll caution, few have accurately and consistently called economic turning points.

The Fed to the rescue?

Rising major market indexes for much of the year can be traced to positive U.S.-China trade headlines (at least through early May), a pivot by the Fed from tightening monetary policy to loosening, and general economic growth at home.

We witnessed a modest pullback in May after trade negotiations with China hit a snag. The threat of tariffs against Mexico added to the uncertain mood until June 4th, when Federal Reserve Chief Jerome Powell signaled the Fed would consider cutting interest rates to counter any negative economic headwinds.

While Powell is not exactly promising to deliver any rate cuts, one key gauge from the CME Group that measures fed funds probabilities puts odds of a rate cut at the July 31st meeting at around 100% (as of July 28 – probabilities subject to change).

I’ll keep it simple and spare you the academic theory explaining why lower interest rates are a tailwind for equities. In a nutshell, stocks face less competition from interest-bearing assets.

But let’s add one more wrinkle–economic growth.

Falling rates in 2001 and 2008 failed to stem the outflow out of stocks as economic growth faltered. And, rising rates between late 2015 and September 2018 didn’t squash the bull market.

During the mid-1980s, mid-1990s, and late 1990s, rate cuts by the Fed, coupled with economic growth, fueled market gains.

It’s not a coincidence that bear markets coincide with recessions and the bulls are inspired by economic expansions. Ultimately, steady economic growth has historically been an important ingredient for stock market gains.

Final thoughts

Control what you can control. You can’t control the stock market, you can’t control headlines, and exactly timing the market turns isn’t a realistic tool. But, you can control your portfolio.

While I would expect the market to continue higher over the intermediate term, it would not surprise me to have a mid-summer pullback as August-September tend to be weaker months of the year. Don’t let volatility shake you out of your positions, but if you haven’t done anything to take some money off the table up to this point, it would be prudent to consider taking some profits on certain positions and add some defensiveness to your portfolio. This is not a recommendation to buy or sell any stocks or other securities.

Your plan should consider your time horizon, risk tolerance, and financial goals. There is always risk when investing, but we tailor our recommendations with your financial goals in mind. If you’re unsure or have questions, let’s have a conversation. That’s what we’re here for.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

 

 

 

 

Big Changes Coming to Retirement Plans

There are multiple bills before Congress now that are intended to help IRA owners and  participants invested  in workplace retirement plans such as 401(k)s. The proposals have some overlapping provisions, along with a number of important differences.

The House of Representatives passed a retirement bill (known as the SECURE Act) on Thursday which includes an assortment of changes for participants in 401(k) plans and owners of IRA’s. The Senate may be poised to pass the bill, or a similar one, quickly and send it to the president, who is expected to sign it. Here’s a look ahead:

Convert your IRA Into an Annuity

It’ll become easier to convert your retirement savings into a steady lifetime income—a feature common to old-fashioned pensions—by buying an annuity in a 401(k)-style retirement plan. Currently, only 9% of employers offer this option, according to Vanguard Group Inc.  Employers would be able to choose whether to offer an annuity and, if so, which type to offer.

Keep Contributing after Age 70½

The bill repeals the age cap for contributing to a traditional IRA, currently 70½, making it easier for people with taxable compensation to continue saving if they continue to work.

Defer Required Minimum Distributions Until Age 72

Under current rules, you must start taking minimum (taxable) withdrawals from your IRA or 401(k) when you turn age 70½. Under the new bill, the age to start taking required taxable withdrawals from 401(k)s and IRAs would increase to 72.

See How much Income Your 401(k) Supports

The legislation would also make it easier for employees to understand how much monthly income their 401(k) balance supports by requiring employers to disclose an estimate on 401(k) statements. So participants would see not only their account balance on their statements, but also a lifetime stream of monthly payments based on expected-mortality tables.

Part-time Employees Can now Participate in 401(k)s

The bill requires 401(k)-style retirement plans to allow long-tenured part-time employees working more than 500 hours a year (employed for at least three years) to participate.

Penalty-free Withdrawals for Expenses of Adoptions or Child-birth

The bill would allow you to take penalty-free distributions from 401(k)s and IRAs of up to $5,000 within a year of the birth or adoption of a child to cover associated expenses (normally, a 10% penalty tax applies for pre-age-59½ withdrawals). You will still owe taxes on the withdrawal.

Inherited IRA’s “Stretch” Limited to 10 Years

Currently, with a few exceptions, those who inherit an IRA can elect to take required minimum distributions over their lifetimes, which could stretch out for decades. Under the bill, heirs would no longer be able to liquidate the balance over their lifetime and stretch out tax payments. Instead, if you inherit a tax-advantaged retirement account after Dec. 31, 2019, you must withdraw the money within a decade of the IRA owner’s death and pay any taxes due.

Exceptions are provided for surviving spouses and minor children (under 18), folks who are less than 10 years younger than the account owner, and the chronically disabled. Planning distributions during this 10 year period will be crucial to heirs to avoid the highest tax rates from large distributions.

Utilize 529 Education Savings Plan Money To Pay off Student Loans

You’d be able to withdraw as much as $10,000 from a 529 education-savings plan for repayments of some student loans (including siblings), registered apprenticeships and homeschooling costs.

Group 401(k) Plans

An estimated 42% of private-sector workers don’t have access to a workplace retirement-savings plan. Under the bill, employers without retirement plans would have the option to band together to offer a 401(k)-type plan if they choose.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Source: Wall Street Journal

 

 

Is “Smart Money” Really that Smart?

Ask ten people if they think they’re a good driver, and I’m willing to bet that most, if not all of them, will claim to belong to that camp. The other guy or gal is the bad driver, not me. But someone is causing all of those car accidents and traffic snarl-ups, so we can’t all be considered good drivers.

The same can be said about investors. We often hear financial pundits on TV talking about what the “Smart Money” is doing. Who are these smart people? What makes them so smart? And if they are smart, what are we? I won’t keep you in suspense: yes, you might be considered “dumb money”.

Defining “Smart Money”

Terms that Wall Street throw around such as “smart money” and “expert” can sound very alluring to us. Before we jump and listen to what they have to say, we should first find out more about what makes them so smart or deemed an expert. The truth is there is no standard definition.

In all my years in the industry, I still don’t know what makes someone a media proclaimed “expert” or “smart”. Based on my experience, an expert is someone who makes confident predictions and is right only about half the time. “Smart money” generally refers to a person/institution with a lot of money, but it can also be used to describe people who run complex investment schemes (so complex that we common folk can’t understand it).

Forget Smart Money; Be a Smart Investor

Historically, “Smart Money” has not translated into outsized returns. Their returns are often in line with straightforward (not complex) investment strategies. In fact, the Barron’s Roundtable of Smart Money in 2018 handily underperformed the markets (and that was not an anomaly).

Wall Street Journal personal finance writer Jason Zweig recently opined, “the only smart money is the money that knows its own limitations.”

Legendary investor Warren Buffett said, “What counts for most people in investing is not how much they know, but rather how realistically they define what they don’t know.”

As Zweig writes, it’s surprisingly easy to find instances where smart money managers can sometimes behave just as irrationally as individual investors who chase prices up to parabolic levels, and join in the panic at the lows. They are, after all, humans just like us, subject to the laws of fear and greed innate in all of us.

Let’s not forget that professional hedge-fund analysts, fund-of-fund managers and other such purportedly expert advisers, put thousands of investors into Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. They ultimately lost millions of dollars of clients’ money.

Another example: among the eager clients of the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy, one of the most notorious fraudulent investment schemes of the 1990s, were such billionaires and philanthropist as Laurance Rockefeller, former Goldman Sachs co-chairman John C. Whitehead and ex-U.S. Treasury Secretary William E. Simon.

Smart investors recognize that it’s OK they don’t know everything. And neither do the “smart money” nor the so called “experts”. Once we define the limits of our knowledge and understanding, we can focus our time and energy on what matters most – those things we can control.

As investors, we can control our decisions and reactions to uncontrollable market events. Following a disciplined and deliberate decision-making process is one of the smartest things investors can do. Working with a fee-only advisor can not only help you sort through all of the investment options and risks, but can also keep you from panicking at the lows, and feeling overly euphoric at the top.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Source: (c) 2019 The Behavioral Finance Network, used with Permission

To Catch an Identity Thief

Who among us hasn’t bemoaned the series of security questions on the phone as we try to talk to representatives about our accounts or access them online? Date of birth, the last four digits of our social security number, secret words and answers to seemingly ridiculous questions that can all be recited in our sleep. Is all that necessary?

In a word, yes.

Identity theft continues to be a common type of fraud in the U.S. The rise of social engineering has allowed criminals to become more sophisticated with their methods. But you can help protect yourself by staying aware, and taking extra precautions when verifying your identity.

What is identity theft and how does it happen?

Identity theft occurs when one person uses another person’s identifying information to assume their identity for the purpose of committing fraud or other crimes.

This type of fraud can be executed in person, verbally, or electronically, and can be familial (attempted by a family member) or external (attempted by an unknown party). Electronic channels are the most common paths for identity theft, and fraudsters can use several different methods to steal a victim’s credentials, such as phishing or via malware.Identity theft falls into two categories:

1. Low-tech methods: These may include posing as a trusted person for the purpose of financial gain, or to access information. For example, the identity thief may contact a call center or call your advisor directly, posing as you, their client.

Other low-tech approaches include taking physical possession of devices, ATM cards, financial statements, and other materials that contain your financial information.

2. High-tech methods: Once identity thieves have the information they need, they may log into your account to gain additional data, intercept verification codes, redirect devices, initiate withdrawals, change account details, and more.

Identity theft is a broad topic, so these examples are not all-inclusive, and may overlap with other methods that also result in a loss or theft of personal information.

Identity theft may be one of the oldest techniques in the fraud book, but it remains prevalent, especially in a world where much more information is shared than in the past. In 2017, the number of identity theft victims in the U.S. reached 16.7 million—an 8% increase from the previous year.

Contrary to what some may believe, not all fraudsters are geniuses who can outsmart advanced technology. Some are more unassuming, but know how to take advantage of people’s natural inclination to trust others. Meanwhile, these criminals are getting more sophisticated in their attacks by using stealthier, more complex schemes.

Recently, brokerage firm Charles Schwab has seen an uptick in impersonation calls, with fraudsters becoming more sophisticated in their attempts to gain access to client accounts through social engineering. Social engineering is the use of deception to manipulate others into divulging personal information or transacting on a client account. Typically, an unauthorized individual assumes the identity of a client, or tricks another person into believing they are a trustworthy source.

Schwab is noticing that criminals are leveraging stolen client information gathered from other companies’ breaches, purchased from the dark web, or gleaned from social media to pose as clients. Impersonators use these details—in combination with other tactics—to appear more legitimate. For example, they may spoof the client’s phone number on caller ID, or use a voice changer to sound like the client. These imposters often are calling to update account information such as email address, password, or phone number, or to initiate or approve money movements.

Social engineering is swiftly becoming a universal threat—one that can have big impacts. It is a clever, often misunderstood, and overlooked form of identity theft because, while it still requires a certain amount of finesse and skill, it doesn’t require the technical expertise necessary to hack into a major bank’s computer network and reroute funds. Think of the con artist on the street whom you never really see.

Social engineering may occur via phone, email, or social media. Often, the scammer will use skills such as charm, friendliness, wit, or urgency to build a sense of trust with the victim. This is intended to convince the victim to either release unauthorized information, or perform actions that benefit the scammer, such as sending money. It is also very common for the scammer to visit social media sites to obtain identifying information to bolster their credibility.

Fraudsters will sometimes rely on human error to obtain additional information. For example, while answering a security question about previous employers, they may rely on a LinkedIn profile. If their first answer is incorrect, the fraudster will guess again and dismiss the incorrect answer by quickly saying something like, “Oh, I only worked there for three months, so I didn’t think that was the correct answer.” Despite receiving an incorrect answer initially, a customer service representative might not press further or ask additional security questions.

Fraudsters will also try empathy, such as pleading, “My daughter, Susan, was celebrating her birthday at the park today and is seriously injured. I’m calling from the doctor’s office, and they are requiring that I pay cash before she can be seen. It’s urgent that I access my account right now, but I locked myself out. Can you please help?”

Additionally, they may employ distraction techniques, such as a crying baby or other background noises, and ask the professional to repeat questions, claiming that they cannot hear or that there’s a poor connection. Usually, they’re hoping that the customer service representative gets frustrated or loses concentration.

9 Tips to Help Prevent Identity Theft

Knowledge and awareness can help you protect yourself against cyber-crimes such as identity theft or social engineering. Here are some best practices:

  1. Safeguard your financial information and your personal data with physical locking devices or strong electronic password protection.
  2. Limit whom you trust or share your personal information with.
  3. Use caution when sharing information and personal details on social media.
  4. Consider how you interact with others via email or phone, and be selective about disclosing details.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings when talking on the phone. Do not hold conversations regarding your finances in public places, and don’t use public WiFi to access financial accounts.
  6. Regularly review your account statements for transactions that are outside of your normal spending patterns or places.
  7. Employ strict authentication protocols that you follow with every account—no exceptions. For example, you may choose to require a verbal password or security questions for all accounts. Enable two-factor authentication on your e-mail accounts and all other accounts that allow it.
  8. Educate and train your family members to ensure that they understand social engineering, so they’re not the weak link in your security protocols. Kids should not advertise that their family is on vacation by posting photos or disclosing their location before they return home. That invites burglars to your home.
  9. Report your phone as lost or stolen to your cell phone company as soon as you realize it is missing, and ask them to suspend all services immediately to prevent interception of validation codes. Be sure to have an auto-lock password on your phone

Identity theft is often linked to hackers. Not all hackers use their skills for criminal activity though. A growing group of hackers help companies detect flaws in their cybersecurity systems or test employee training. The companies who hire these hackers are often shocked at how quickly their systems can be breached. Watch this video from CNN to see how it works.

As an investment advisory firm, our guard is constantly up for hucksters attempting to trick us into revealing information about our clients, or worse, initiating unauthorized transfers from their accounts. Insist that your own advisor verbally approve any non-conventional transfer request (especially wire transfers) that come via e-mail or other means that are not normal for him or her.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Believe it Or Not

A longtime favorite line that I like to use when people ask me what the market or economy are going to do in the near future, is to say “Sorry, my crystal ball is in the shop.”  Or I’ll repeat what famed baseball manager Yogi Berra once said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

That doesn’t stop others from trying to be a broken clock by predicting early and often. And so we’re into that exciting time of year when all sorts of market predictions are made by people who are mostly claiming that they knew the future and have accurately predicted it over a great track record.  But if you’re smart, you’ll turn off the TV/radio or move on to the next article.

The truth is that none of us can accurately predict the movements of the markets.  If we could, then we would always make trades ahead of market moves, and it wouldn’t take long before that amazing prognosticator with the working crystal ball would have amassed billions off of his or her stock market trades.  Have you read about anybody doing that lately?

Most of these people are employed at think tanks or sell their predictions to credulous investors.  Would they need that paycheck or your hard-earned subscription dollars if they had the ability to make billions just by checking the ‘ole crystal ball a couple of times a day?

A recent article by frequent blogger and wealth manager Barry Ritholtz offers some rather amazing data on people in the prediction business.  You may know that the cryptocurrency known as “bitcoin” is now worth about $3,500—way WAY down from the start of 2018.  So how well did the people in the prediction business foresee that downturn?

Not well.  In his article, Ritholtz noted that Pantera Capital predicted that Bitcoin would be selling for $20,000 by the end of 2018.  Tom Lee of Fundstrat was more bullish, forecasting that bitcoin would breach $25,000 by then.  Prognostications by Anthony Pompliano, of Morgan Creek Digital Partners, were still more bullish, predicting bitcoins would be worth $50,000 by the end of last year.  John Pfeffer, who describes himself online as “an entrepreneur and investor,” anticipated $75,000 bitcoins by now, and Kay Van-Petersen, Global Macro-Strategist at Saxo Bank, one-upped everybody with his prediction that bitcoins would be worth $100,000 by December 31st of last year.

Ritholtz offers other examples, like radio personality Peter Schiff telling listeners since 2010 that the price of gold has been heading toward $5,000 an ounce.  (It’s riding around $1,300 currently.). Jim Rickards, former general counsel at Long-Term Capital Management, is more ambitious, telling his followers that he has a $10,000 price target for an ounce of gold.

If you happen to follow former Reagan White House Budget Director David Stockman, you have been told that stocks are going to crash in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.  Someday he’s going to be right, and will no doubt be touting his amazing prediction abilities (that broken clock is right twice a day).

When you read about a prediction, instead of reaching for the phone to call your financial advisor, try writing the prediction down on a calendar or reminder program like the app followupthen.com, and come back to it a year later.  Chances are you’ll be less impressed then than you might be now.

The three things that work best for investors: time in the market, portfolio diversification, and risk management. Soothsayers need not apply.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Source:

https://ritholtz.com/2018/12/fun-with-forecasting-2018-edition/

TheMoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

What’s Going on in the Markets: November 25, 2018

Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving holiday and weekend spent with loved ones were reasons to be thankful for the past year of blessings. Certainly, the markets didn’t give us much to be thankful or joyful for as all major market indexes dropped between 2.5% and 4.4% last week. Normally, Thanksgiving week can be counted on for an upside bias, but instead we got the worst Thanksgiving week since 2011 as the correction that began in early October rolls on.

As bad as the week was, we could be setting up for a pretty good rally into year end, if we could just get a positive spark of some sort this week. Some possible good news could be forthcoming on the trade war front from the G20 Summit, scheduled for November 30 and December 1, where President Donald Trump and China President Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet and have a discussion. This may bring hope for some type of agreement on the tit-for-tat tariffs imposed.

To be clear, the price action in the markets to-date has shown no evidence of a robust bounce coming, but there are some signs that a market reversal (upward) is brewing.

Market corrections, defined as a decline from the top of 10% or more, are always gut-wrenching and difficult to “watch”.  In fact, this past week, the S&P 500 index finally closed 10.1% below the all-time high made in September.  Under the surface, some stocks, specifically the technology and infamous FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google), have been hit hard with declines of up to 40% from their highs seen earlier this year. I could list a ton of stocks and market sectors that are in their own bear markets (20% below their recent highs), but you already know them because you probably own them.

Why the Long Face Mr. Market?

So what has the market in such a tizzy, seemingly all of a sudden, especially after a great 3rd quarter performance and record quarterly corporate earnings reported? A few things actually:

  1. Trade Wars & Tariffs: Initially thought to be immune to the trade wars, the markets have succumbed to the thought that the current trade war may be drawn out, not just for months, but for years. While a minority of companies that reported earnings this past quarter pointed to tariffs as a concern, the ones that did, were very vocal about how a dragged out tariff war will significantly drag on future earnings. Needless to say, China features prominently in this picture, so a resolution next week would give Wall Street a reason to cheer.
  2. Interest rates: There’s nothing like cheap money to keep the money flowing and the stock market buoyant, as companies issue bonds (debt) to buy back their shares in the open market and finance capital expansion plans. Home buying obviously works better with lower rates. So higher interest rates curb the debt appetite by companies and potential homeowners. In addition, investors, with the availability of lower risk and higher interest rate government bonds, will cash in their stocks for the safety of Uncle Sam’s treasury notes and bills. Why take all the stock market risk for an extra potential 1%-2% returns?
  3. Economic Data Slowing: While gross domestic product, employment, consumer confidence and housing data have been near their highest levels, there are emerging signs of growth slowing in many areas of the economy. For example, home builder confidence dropped 8 points in November – now confirming the message that the housing market is slowing. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index barely eked out a gain of 0.1pts, which suggests that next month could see the first decline in over 29 months. Finally, durable goods (e.g., appliances, aircraft, machinery and equipment) orders for October came in worse than expected. While none of the data signifies an imminent recession, a slowdown in growth looks to continue, hardly surprising given the long slow economic recovery we’ve been in for almost ten years.
  4. Oil Prices Crashing: Oil prices have lost over 35% from their highs in the first week in October. While lower oil prices mean more money in consumers’ pockets and higher profits for oil consumers such as airlines, the swift decline in prices unnerves investors and traders. Questions arise as to the robustness of the economy and worldwide demand for oil if the price can lose 1/3rd of its value in a period of less than two months.

When you consider that stock markets trade on future company profit expectations, all of the above worries weigh on prices investors are willing to pay for those future earnings. Companies may start to alert Wall Street that their initially published profit expectations may not be met. So, as a forward looking mechanism, the market starts to price in those worries 6-12 months before companies actually start to report those earnings.

Will Santa Claus Visit Wall Street This Year?

As mentioned above, there are some “green shoots” of hope that a rally may be near:

  1. Investor Sentiment has been decimated in this correction. Any number of investor surveys, professional or retail (that’s you or me), has shown them to be despondent and sure this bull market is done and over with. In this business, excessive investor pessimism or optimism tends to act as a contrary indicator (when so many are sure the market will do one thing, the market tends to do another).
  2.  The markets are oversold in the short-term. When the selling has been as persistent as it has, without much in the way of a rally, the markets tend to reverse and rally up, if only for a day, a week, a month, or two.
  3. Seasonality favors a rally. The period from mid-November through the following May tend to be very positive from a market standpoint. I should be clear in mentioning that seasonality has not worked very well at all in 2018 (e.g., August and September are usually down months but were up big this year).
  4. We haven’t made a new market low in this correction since October 29. With the exception of some technology and NASDAQ stocks/indexes, the overall market has not made any new lows. While this could change when the markets open on Monday morning, the fact that the market didn’t push to new lows last week when it had the chance, means that we may be running out of sellers. In addition, some positive technical signs, one in the form of small capitalization stock strength on Friday, bode well for a potential near-term rally.
  5. Although an interest rate increase of 0.25% is a 78% certainty in December, it’s possible that the federal reserve, when it meets in mid-December will signal a willingness to pull back on it’s plan for three interest rate hikes in 2019, given the apparent slow-down in economic growth.
  6. Announced today (Sunday), the European Union and the United Kingdom have reached an agreement on Brexit. The removal of that uncertainty can help spark a rally.

So What Do We Do Now?

The weight of the evidence at the moment gives the benefit of doubt to the bears and the evident short-term downtrend. Therefore, caution is still warranted, even if a short-term rally emerges.  Although the odds of a recession over the next 6-9 months remain very low, things can change in a hurry if the global slowdown continues or accelerates downward.

If you haven’t sold or trimmed any positions to-date, and you’re losing sleep over the market action, then you should take advantage of any rally to reduce your exposure to the markets to the “sleeping point” or add some hedges.  It may be too late to sell right now, or into any further decline, but you should have your own plan for your investments that matches your risk tolerance, investment goals and time-frame. If you’re not a client, then I cannot possibly advise you, so this should not be construed as investment advice. Of course, if you would like to become a client, we’d love to talk to you.

For our clients, we lightened up on positions, raised cash and increased our hedges over the past several months as short-term signs pointed towards a bit of over-exuberance to the upside. We have tried dipping our toes lightly into a few positions during this correction, but mostly the market told us we were too early.  Of course, stocks become more attractive as their prices decline, so dipping your toes into this decline is not a bad idea; just be sure you know your time-frame for holding, and be sure to keep it light until the trend changes upward, and the overall market acts as a tailwind rather than a headwind.

While markets are acting bearishly at this time, we remain alert to a switch in trend and hopeful that Santa comes to Wall Street, bringing a robust rally. Remember that a rally always comes around, so if your portfolio is down, there will be better days ahead if you want to buy or sell. Until then, remember that investing in stocks is great…as long as you don’t get scared out of them.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

%d bloggers like this: