Archive for the 'General' Category

Requesting a DD214 – Don’t Get Scammed

Oct 27 2011

Don’t be scammed into paying a fee for copies of records available for free!

The Army Human Resources Command alerted MOAA about a scam targeting veterans needing a copy of their separation document, the DD214.

If you need a copy of your DD214 or a family member’s DD214, go to http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/

There are two ways to request your DD214: online and by mail/fax

  1. To request your DD214 online: click on ‘Launch the eVetRecs System to start your online request’. Follow the instructions in the pop-up window. The DD214 will be mailed to you after completing the form.
  2. You can also download a form to mail or fax your request for your DD214 by clicking on the ‘Download form SF-180 to Mail or Fax your request’. Click the link ‘Download form SF-180 to mail or fax your request’ to download a PDF of SF-180 to your computer. The return addresses for the completed form are located on page three (3) of the form.

Remember, a DD214 Record of Military Service is always free to obtain for the member and family members.

Information via U.S. Army.

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4 Red Flags to Spot Online Car Scams

Aug 11 2011

Published by under General

This content is provided courtesy of USAA.

Just as your good name may get stolen by identity thieves, reputable auto dealers may have their names and websites hijacked by hucksters. Other scammers put up fake websites and post the same car ad again and again, selling it over and over to unsuspecting buyers who’ll never see that set of wheels.

As director of the Better Business Bureau’s BBB Military Line®educating military families, Holly Petraeus sees many scams that target young military men and women. But, she says, these fraudsters use sophisticated techniques that put anyone buying a car online at risk.

“More and more of the scammers have become good at pretending to be an already legitimate website,” says Petraeus, who warns crooks are becoming especially skilled at targeting people buying used cars.

“There are some very good deals to be found using online car-buying services that take the hassle out of it for you, which can be reassuring,” Petraeus says. Yet she’s seen enough evidence of scam artists at work to develop a list of red flags to watch for when surfing for a good auto deal online.

  1. The vehicle is located out of state.
    “That can mean they don’t want you to come and physically inspect the car because it doesn’t exist,” Petraeus says.
  2. The price is too good to be true.
    Research what the price should be for that car, at that age and in that condition. If the price you’re being offered is thousands less, think twice. “Sometimes scammers will use the military, saying a car’s being sold by someone who’s deploying or pretending to be a parent selling for a deployed son,” Petraeus warns.
  3. The dealer makes you wire the money.
    “They’ll have you wire it to an individual, not to the business itself,” Petraeus says. “If you do that, your chances of seeing the money again are pretty much gone.”
  4. The website offers free shipping or can ship immediately.
    Anyone might jump at the chance to get his or her dream car for a great price in record time. But always investigate the shipping service and background of the seller if the shipping time frame or price seems too good to be true.

If you see these warning signs, call the dealer directly to learn how long it’s been in business and other details about its legitimacy. You also can call the BBB office in that area and ask for help researching the dealer and the offer, she says.

Complaints on the Rise

Though the Federal Trade Commission doesn’t keep statistics on online auto fraud in particular, it does report that auto-related complaints, classified under “auto/used” and “auto/others,” rose from 2007 to 2009. And the National Consumer League Fraud Center and the BBB continue to receive complaints about bogus online car sales.

In summer 2010, the BBB reported that one Memphis, Tenn., car dealer got more than 1,000 calls from buyers who thought they had been dealing online with the legitimate business. A fraudulent site had impersonated the Memphis dealer, using its name, address and contact information. The bogus site claimed to sell repossessed cars below market value and instructed buyers to wire a deposit to an individual instead of the business. Some buyers actually came to the Memphis lot to pick up cars they thought they had purchased.

In another example, Petraeus tells of one service member who thought he’d found a dream car for his son online. The online dealer promised to ship it to him right away. Suspicious, the father called the shipping company that the online business stated it had a standing relationship with. The company had never heard of that online dealer and had a several-month backlog on shipping. The seller likely would have taken the money and never shipped a car. In fact, that car probably never even existed.

Be Smart Online …

So, why do people fall for those too-amazing-to-be-true deals, even when the red flags are waving big and bright? “Sometimes people just want to believe in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Petraeus says. A military spouse for 36 years, she knows the worry and distraction that finances can cause the troops and offers these proactive ways to avoid online auto scams:

  • Google the description of the advertised car. If you see it’s been sold 20 times, you know you’re dealing with crooks, says Petraeus, who explains scammers often lift the picture and description from a legitimate car ad and use it again and again.
  • Insist on an inspection. “Tell them that you can pay someone to come and inspect the car,” Petraeus says. See if the online dealer balks.
  • Get help from the local BBB. Sometimes the BBB will investigate the address of a business for you and make sure it exists. Or it already may have reports about a fraudulent company to share.
  • Learn more about the company you’re dealing with by looking up the company on other websites. See if the contact information matches. Call the company directly.
  • If you’re completely satisfied the deal is legitimate, choose a payment method that leaves a paper trail. “Absolutely never send a wire transfer,” Petraeus says. “You could offer to pay by a cashier’s check, but you have the best protection if you pay by credit card. If you’re getting a loan, arrange for your bank to pay the company directly.”

… and on the Car Lot

Even when you’re not dealing with scammers online, here’s how to make a wise purchase and negotiate a smart deal.

  • Don’t divulge how much you want your monthly payments to be. “Some dealers will write you a loan to get you there, but you may be paying for five or six years and tacking on a huge amount of interest,” Petraeus says.
  • Never say upfront you have a trade-in. Wait until you’ve settled on a price. “They’ll give you a big value on the trade-in and get the money back with the extra fees,” says Petraeus, who also advises that you research the value of your trade-in ahead of time.
  • Go line by line over the contract. “Question everything,” says Petraeus. “If you’re not confident, get help. A legitimate dealer will let you take a contract for legal review.”
  • Calculate the true cost of ownership. “Don’t forget about how much it’s going to cost for insurance, to keep gas in it and make repairs,” Petraeus warns. Before you sign on the dotted line, contact your insurer to find out how much insurance will cost.

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No More Social Security Earnings Statements?

Jun 14 2011

Want some evidence that the federal budget crunch is hitting home? Wait by your mailbox for your annual Social Security Annual Earnings Statement. You’ll be waiting quite awhile.

In an unpublicized move, the Social Security Administration (SSA)  has suspended delivery of the paper statement most wage earners in this country received about three months before their birthday each year. The Statement contained valuable information regarding covered earnings over your lifetime, your anticipated benefits amount at full retirement age and the data needed to explore other scenarios such as the expected reduced benefits available at the early retirement age of 62, the enhanced benefits amount available to those interested in waiting until age 70 to maximize their benefits, and the ability to extrapolate other scenarios in between. This information is no longer readily available.

A search of the Social Security Administration web site reveals only the following statement: In light of the current budget situation, we have suspended issuing Social Security Statements. You may be able to estimate your retirement benefit using our online Retirement Estimator.

I used the SSA’s Retirement Estimator. It does not provide the level of detail that the paper statement did. For one thing, there is no table of covered earnings over a lifetime. For another, you must enter your covered wages for the previous year. If you don’t know, the estimator returns nothing of value.

It’s not known why the SSA has kept a low profile about this issue, or whether it  will resume mailing statements to at least those approaching retirement age if the budget picture brightens. However, it’s safe to say that for now, a valuable piece of retirement information is largely unavailable to those interested in planning ahead. With more Americans facing a dimmer retirement picture than they may have hoped and potentially relying even more heavily on their Social Security benefits, this lack of credible information will hurt.

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One Month to Live

Jun 02 2011

Contemplating your own mortality is an extremely unpleasant exercise.  This explains why otherwise responsible people die without adequate life insurance, without a proper will, and without adequate preparations for one of the few certainties in life.

I addressed this last year in What is Your Legacy?  Cindy, a recently widowed reader, left a comment that was more articulate and moving than anything I wrote.   Reading how she faced so many difficult decisions in the two days following her husband’s death touched me deeply.  A little advance planning would have spared the family from many unnecessary burdens.

Time slips away almost imperceptibly yet many of us act as if we had an endless supply consistently postponing important jobs “until tomorrow.”  But suppose you discovered that you only had one month left to live?  What would you do now to prepare your family?  What decisions and arrangements could help them cope with your passing?  What would you want to say to them before it was too late?

Cindy concluded by charging us to “be responsible!”  One way to meet that responsibility is by acting as if we truly had only one month left to live and taking care of these important matters now – while we still can. 

[note:  See MOAA’s Books and Guides for information and ideas about estate planning and other important subjects  http://www.moaa.org/pubs/pubs_infoex/default.htm ].  Access to this may require Log-in to the MOAA web site.  Call our Member Service Center at (800) 234-6622 for web access issues.

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New Laws Applying to Credit Cards

Feb 21 2010

Published by under General

Lately I’ve been reading quite a bit about the new laws that apply to credit cards. Some articles are about how the credit cards companies still have loopholes to get us in other ways. Do these “reforms” really matter to most folks and is anyone really surprised by the fact that the credit card companies will find other ways to make money?

None of the legal reforms matter if you control your debt affairs properly. That’s the bottom line. You’re not at the mercy of the credit card companies and Uncle Sam is not your salvation. You have the control over your finances, always have and hopefully always will. Take back your power to control your destiny! These reforms mean more to those who use credit unwisely and the unwise will still get burned in the long run; reforms or no reforms. Laws can never compensate for questionable financial behavior.

Are you in debt in a bad way? I’m talking about where your debt never goes away and where debt is how you get by month to month because there is not enough money coming in to cover your life. There is a solution but it’s not easy and it takes supreme discipline. You’ve got to collect the financial data of your life and apply a structure to break debt’s hold on you. It’s hard because you want a higher life style than you can afford. You have to get a grip on the fact you can’t keep up with the Jones and won’t get everything you want. But you’ll get what you need—and you’ll be happy with that. The game plan…

First. Collect the data that indicates all the dollar outflows for your month. Group the outflows into categories like, rent, mortgage, car payments, credit card payments, food, clothes, cable TV, entertainment, on and on. Now put them in order of most important to least important. Now the hard part; discontinue those expenses that are the least important until you have more money coming in than goes out. Say good bye to all those luxuries. If it’s more than you can afford, it’s a luxury. In a worst case scenario, you may have to come to grips with the fact that your abode is more than you can afford requiring you to downsize.

Next. Rank order all the debts from the one with the highest interest rate to the one with the lowest interest rate. Pay the minimum payment on all the debts except the one with the highest interest rate. Pay the minimum plus add an amount to it that you can pay every month until the debt is eliminated. For example, if the minimum payment is $30, add another $50 to it and make the $80 payment religiously every month until the top debt is eliminated. When it’s gone, add the $80 to the minimum payment of the next debt’s minimum payment. For example, the second debt’s minimum payment is $25 and you add the $80 from the eliminated first debt for a $105 monthly payment. Continue this “snowball” process until your debts are eliminated. The key here is paying more than the minimum payment. Only paying the minimum each month ensures you will never get out of debt.

Finally. With the money you were using to pay down debt, keep the money out of your pocket by setting up a direct deposit plan from your pay check to a savings account. By this time, you are used to not having the money as it was paying the debt. Stay accustomed to the money staying out of pocket by having it deducted from your pay check.

Your financial health is dependent on you living below your means. If you don’t like your standard of living, fix it by doing things necessary to raise your standard of living. Change jobs, go to school, get training, seek out special expertise or new responsibilities on the job, get certified, do anything but use credit. Using credit does not raise your standard of living; it puts you in a hole and gives you a false sense of accomplishment. Credit is faking it and only hurts you. Take back the power.

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