Imagine your surprise when you get a call from an IRS representative saying that you owe money, and you’ll go to jail if you don’t pay up. Or someone from a sweepstakes company calls to tell you that you’ve won several thousand dollars, and all you have to do to collect your winnings is pay taxes and fees upfront.
Unfortunately, people get calls like these every day from fraudsters who specifically target seniors to rob them of their hard-earned money. These con artists often sound legitimate and they can be so convincing that older Americans lose around $2.9 billion every year to senior citizen scams, according to a report by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
There are many different types of financial scams out there. Below are five of the most common ones targeting seniors today.
There are unscrupulous con artists who seek out and prey upon single seniors by striking up fake romantic relationships online. They gain the affection and trust of their targets and steal their money. These scammers then claim to need money for medical emergencies, legal fees, or a variety of other issues. Some may ask their new online loves for their banking information to make a deposit, and instead, use it to withdraw money. They use fake identities and make excuses to avoid meeting in person. Romance scams cause the largest financial losses for seniors. According to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report, Protecting Older Consumers 2018 – 2019, seniors lost $56 million in 2018 due to romance scams.
Money Transfer Scams
Scammers often target seniors through money transfer scams. They contact seniors and claim they’ve won lotteries, sweepstakes, or other prizes, and all they have to do to collect their winnings is pay processing fees and taxes. Con artists will send checks to be deposited, knowing it’ll take a few days for these fake checks to be rejected by banks. In the meantime, they’ll collect fake fees and taxes. Then, when the checks bounce, the money no longer shows up in their victims’ accounts. According to an FTC report, Protecting Older Consumers 2018 – 2019, seniors lost $52 million in prize, sweepstakes, and lottery scams in 2018.
Government Impostor Scams
One of the most common financial impostor scams entails calling seniors and impersonating government officials, such as representatives from the IRS or the Social Security Administration. These fraudsters convince seniors to divulge personal information, such as social security numbers, birthdates, and addresses. They then use that information to steal their victims’ identities, and create credit card accounts in their names. Sometimes these scammers threaten foreclosure or jail time if their victims don’t pay back taxes or other fees they supposedly owe. Seniors lost $50 million in government impostor scams in 2018, according to an FTC report, Protecting Older Consumers 2018 – 2019.
Business Opportunity Scams
Business opportunity scams entice seniors with promises that they can own their own lucrative businesses, make large amounts of money working from home, or get rich from following some hyped-up program. Seniors can end up spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on misrepresented or fake programs or services that don’t produce the promised results. Some seniors have even taken out lines of credit to cover the fees of these programs and services.
Common examples of business opportunity scams are when sellers claim their victims can make a lot of money doing things such as assembling crafts, stuffing envelopes, or processing rebates at home. They want them to hand over their money to cover the cost of materials, deposits, or registration fees. While some money may be made doing this, it’s usually nowhere near the high amounts many of these sellers promise.
Other common scams involve online business opportunities that make questionable claims. For example, sellers may claim that if their victims purchase their online programs, they’ll teach them how to start an online business that will bring a six-figure income (or some other hefty amount). After paying for their programs, they may claim more coaching, mentoring, or additional services are needed to be successful.
The FTC created its Business Opportunity Rule to protect consumers from these types of scams. This rule does three things:
- It states specific practices, such as making misleading claims, are against the law.
- It requires sellers to provide a disclosure statement outlining information about the business opportunity.
- It requires sellers to provide an earnings claim statement as proof of earnings.
Tech Support Scams
Tech support scammers use scare tactics to convince seniors there are problems with their computers, including harmful viruses that need to be removed. They claim they can remove these viruses and fix their computers for a fee. And for an additional fee, they can provide a service plan to prevent further problems. Unsuspecting seniors may provide credit card information as payment for these fake services, which scammers then use to make unauthorized charges on their credit cards.
What if You’re the Victim of a Financial Scam?
If you or a loved one have been the victim of a financial scam, it’s important to file a complaint with the FTC. Information you provide to them could help prevent the scammer who targeted you from doing the same thing to others. You can reach the FTC online or at (877) FTC-HELP.
To reduce your chances of becoming the victim of a scam, don’t share your personal or financial information over the phone, be wary of new online relationships, and monitor your credit card and bank accounts for signs of unauthorized activity. Doing these things will go a long way toward protecting you from scammers.
This time of year, trees put on quite a spectacular show. Their leaves colored in yellow, orange, and red create impressive scenery. Unfortunately, as the season progresses, the once beautiful leaves turn your lawn into a mess. Whether you’re a veteran homeowner or you’ve just bought your first home, cleaning up leaves is a cumbersome task. Having the proper plan and tools can make it easier.
Here are some tips to help with your leaf cleanup project.
1. Understand your disposal options. Before you start working, think about how you’re going to dispose of your leaves. Some cities allow you to rake leaves into the street for pickup. If this is the case in your city, make sure you don’t cover storm drains or block fire hydrants.
Otherwise, you may have a local collection center that’ll allow you to drop off yard waste. If this is the case for you, your city may require proof of residency before you can drive in and begin dumping. In West Bend, you must have a sticker to gain access. For us, it’s the best $25 ever spent.
If you’re an avid gardener, using leaves as compost is a great solution. This can provide your garden with rich nutrients for next year’s growing season.
Lastly, never just leave them on your lawn. Piles of leaves can kill or damage your grass. Leaves can block sunlight and reduce water evaporation. This results in fungus, mold, and disease.
2. Select the best tools for the job. Having the proper tools can make cleanup easier and safe. Here some different tools you can use depending on the size of your property and the amount of leaves.
- Common leaf rake. Usually made of plastic with a wood handle, this rake can be used for raking leaves into a pile or onto a plastic tarp. If you’d like to spend a bit more money, you can buy an ergonomic rake which may be easier on your body. Don’t forget to wear gloves to prevent blisters.
- Pickup rake. This is a small rake that can be used to pick up leaves or other debris.
- Leaf claws or scoops. They attach to your hands and help you pick up leaves with ease. They remind me of the Incredible Hulk’s hands. If you buy some of these, your kids may enjoy helping.
- Leaf tarp. Using a tarp is a great way to collect large amounts of leaves. Once they’re on the tarp, you’ll be able to move them easily around your yard.
- Blower. As a homeowner, I use my blower all the time. Whether its removing debris from my garage, blowing leaves, or clearing a light dusting of snow, it works well. While you still may need to use a rake to create a pile, a blower can move them easily and quickly. Please note, if it’s a very windy day, a blower won’t work well and may lead to frustration. Wait for the wind to calm down.
- Mulching lawn mower. If you have a light collection of leaves each year, a mulching lawn mower will work great. You can even bag the leaves if you’d like.
- Leaf vacuum. If you live in a heavily wooded area, and have a riding lawn mower, you can try this. A leaf vacuum hooks up to your rider. As you drive over the leaves, the vacuum sucks them up, grinds them, and sends them into a pull-behind container.
- Lawn sweeper. This is like a leaf vacuum as it hooks up to your riding lawn mower. However, the difference is it uses a sweeping motion to pull the leaves into the cart. It doesn’t grind them up.
- Walk-behind power vacuum. Instead of vacuuming your carpet, you’ll be able to vacuum your yard. This tool sucks up leaves and shreds them before sending them into the collection bag. This is a great investment if your yard is too big to rake, but not large enough for a riding lawn mower.
3. Ask for assistance. If you have family members or neighbors, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not only will you get the job done faster, but it can also help prevent injury.
4. Watch the weather. If it’s going to be a warm day, make sure you drink plenty of water. If it’s a windy day, the wind may do the work for you. Always watch the weather to make sure you wear the appropriate gear.
While there may not be as many kids in Halloween costumes roaming your neighborhood this year, it still may be possible for a scary visitor to show up on your front doorstep looking for a treat. While trick-or-treating has been a long-standing tradition for many, it does bring about some risk for homeowners.
Here are some things you should keep in mind this Halloween.
1. Be vigilant against an increase in property crime. Ghouls and goblins may not only be scouring your neighborhood for candy, they may also be looking for other things they can get their hands on, including wallets, purses, and other valuables. Theft and vandalism increase significantly during this time. If you’re handing out candy from your front door, make sure your garage is closed and locked. If you’re sitting in your driveway handing out candy, keep an eye on your property as well as your neighbors’ homes. If you notice anything suspicious, consider calling your local police.
2. Don’t forget to blow out the candles. As we approach the holiday season, lighting candles may be a part of your everyday routine. If you have children carving pumpkins, placing a candle inside may be a family tradition. However, when it’s time to call it a day, don’t forget to blow
them out. Or instead of using real candles, consider using battery-operated ones. Lastly, never leave candles unattended. A pet’s wagging tail or a small child could easily knock them over. For additional candle safety tips, click here.
A homeowners policy does provide coverage for fire damage. If you live in an apartment, it’s important to have a renters policy. Usually, the building is covered by the landlord’s policy. However, to get reimbursed for the loss of your personal belongings, you’ll need a renters policy.
3. Always keep your cars locked. Never keep valuables, especially your keys, in an unlocked car. Recently, our neighborhood experienced a series of thefts involving unlocked cars. Also, never keep your social security card in your wallet or purse. Keep it stored in your home, preferably in a safe with other important documents.
4. Take precautions with decorations. Halloween decorations have become more popular in many neighborhoods. Unfortunately, improper use and installation could lead to personal injury as well as property damage. Here are a couple of claims scenarios.
Claim Scenario 1
Darth Vader comes to your door with his good buddy Yoda and trips over an extension cord for your giant inflatable pumpkin in the front yard. Darth Vader and his light saber go flying. While Yoda tries to use the force to break his fall, he’s unsuccessful. Unfortunately, Darth Vader falls to the ground and breaks his arm. Because this is an accident on your property, you’d be responsible for his injuries. Fortunately, his injury would be covered by the personal liability coverage in your homeowners insurance policy.
Claim Scenario 2
This Halloween, your goal is to have the most decorations in your entire neighborhood. Extension cords are running everywhere, and your outlets are beyond their load capacity. As neighbors are enjoying your decorations, sparks begin to fly and your home catches on fire. Luckily, the fire is contained quickly, and you only experience $5,000 in property damage. Again, a homeowners policy will provide coverage for your damaged property.
5. Watch out for pedestrians. Excited kids looking to find their favorite candy may not necessarily think about safety and how to cross the street. As a driver, it’s up to you to stay alert and slow down if you’re going through a neighborhood during trick-or-treat hours. In addition, it would be wise to stay off your mobile device and focus strictly on driving.
6. Be on the lookout for vandals. Being dressed in a costume may give some the confidence to damage your property. When I was a kid, someone dumped oil on our porch as a prank. That was a huge mess for my parents to clean up. Watch for stolen decorations, eggs on your home or car, and toilet paper.
If something does happen, remember, before a claim payment can be made, you’re responsible for paying the deductible. If the items damaged or destroyed are less than your deductible, don’t file an insurance claim.
Lastly, on a regular basis review your insurance policy with your agent to make sure you have enough coverage to protect you all year round.
For additional safety tips, check out the blogs below.
Six tips to keep trick-or-treaters safe on Halloween
10 tips for your next trip to the pumpkin patch
Ten tips to enjoy Halloween and keep your pets safe
Have you ever used a new appliance and had the whole house experience a blackout? If you’ve been living in the same home for years, blackouts might be a regular occurrence.
For those who are in a rental contract, blackouts might also be common if you’re staying in an old house. So, what’s the deal with the annoying blackouts?
Well, there might be a problem with the electric panel, and you might need to upgrade it. In this article, we’ll discuss why you might need an electric panel upgrade and when you should do it.
Flickering lights are the first sign and reason you should upgrade your electric panel. If this isn’t scary enough for you, we’ll tell you why.
Flickering lights are a byproduct of faulty wiring. Other than problems with the lights, faulty wiring will cause a burnt smell and can even cause shocks when touching certain appliances, such as microwaves or laptops. You’ll also find scorch marks and sparks on power outlets or sockets in your home. Another thing to watch for is if your electric panel feels warm.
Tripping Circuit Breakers
You’ve installed a new air conditioner, and your circuit breakers trip each time you turn on the air conditioner. So, what’s the problem? Circuit breakers trip and shut off electrical flow because a circuit is overloaded.
The reality is electric panels need to be upgraded every 25-40 years. If your home is still using an old electric panel, it won’t be able to handle new appliances.
This is because an old electric panel doesn’t have the capacity to handle too much electricity.
These days, modern homes run on new and advanced appliances. With an ancient electric panel, your home may experience blackouts daily. When this happens, you know it’s time to upgrade your electric panel.
Power Strip Usage
Are you using more and more power strips to charge devices all over your home? Houses have limited wall sockets, however using a lot of power strips means you’re using more electricity than your electric panel can handle.
Twenty years ago, two or three wall sockets were enough for a home. These days, we need more sockets due to the overflowing demand of electricity.
If you have a bunch of extension cords and power strips all over the home, it’s definitely time to upgrade your electric panel. To learn more about the danger of power strips and some tips to protect your family and your home, click here.
Your Home Safety
Other than upgrading your home’s electricity capability, you’ll be doing your home a favor by ensuring that it’s safe to live in. By being prepared and making sure your electric panel is upgraded, your home will be safer from fires and other electrical disasters.
Also, investing in an electric panel upgrade can increase your home’s value. For those who are planning to move, upgrading your electric panel will be a selling point for potential buyers, because they won’t need to upgrade it.
If you’re unsure whether your home needs an electric panel upgrade, you can hire a professional to inspect it. They can also help you figure out what steps you need to take to make sure your electric panel is in good shape. They might suggest you change the wires or upgrade the entire panel. Either way, it’ll be a good investment for your home.
A beautiful in-ground pool can create hours of fun with family and friends. It’s critically important, however, to properly winterize the pool to avoid damage and costly repairs, and even to prevent a claim against your homeowner’s insurance.
Protective automatic covers have become increasingly popular. They offer great benefits because they’re easy to open and close on an automated track, they keep the water heated, and they prevent debris, animals, or children from getting into the pool. But if the pool isn’t properly winterized, the weight of water, ice, or snow on the cover can cause costly damage.
Once the temperature consistently drops to 65 degrees and below, it’s time to winterize the pool for protection. Here are some steps you should follow.
1. The pool should be thoroughly cleaned, including skimming all debris, vacuuming, brushing the bottom and all sides, and balancing all chemicals.
2. Clean, back wash, and drain the filter and pump of all debris and water and blow out all water lines. This will help you avoid any damage to these costly pieces of equipment that can be caused by freezing.
3. Drain the water three to six inches below the skimmer and jets so no water can enter and cause freezing damage. Finally, add winterizing chemicals to the water as this will deter freezing and stop algae growth during those months the pool is covered and not in use. You may wish to consider hiring a local pool maintenance company to do the full winterizing process to best protect your investment.
The water level of your pool is the most important fact to consider when protecting it during the cold-weather months. Keeping water in a pool over the winter helps keep the liner clean, thus avoiding damage from debris. It also evens the weight pressure on the walls and prevents them from bowing or collapsing during expansion/contraction. When an automatic cover is in place for extended periods of time, it’s critical to make sure the water level remains adequate. A slow leak or too much evaporation that decreases the water level can cause collapse as the season continues.
Water and ice that accumulates on top of the cover can be thawed and pumped off with special equipment to avoid that weight on the cover, as well as the drowning hazard it can create. Because it’s more frequent, however, snow can be more difficult to remove. Long-handled brooms made of the proper material or a hand-held blower can be used to sweep or blow lighter snow off the cover. It’s important to do this after every snowfall because it can build up and become difficult to remove. There are special waterproof heating cables and pool salt (NOT rock salt used on driveways or sidewalks) that can help melt the snow so it can then be pumped off. Most automatic covers have an approximate 400-pound weight limit but just one cubic foot of snow weighs 20 pounds so the weight on an entire pool cover can add up quickly. If large amounts of water, snow, or ice aren’t removed, it can cause the cover to sag inward. Depending on the water level, the cover can collapse with such pressure that it pulls the entire side of pool and tracking system away. This can cause $50,000 or more in repairs, and in many areas, pool contractors who can service this type of damage are limited.
In the Midwest, where Mother Nature sends heavier amounts of rain, ice, and snow, it’s highly recommended to retract an automatic cover and purchase a winter safety cover with built-in spring tension and drainage features to better handle the fluctuating weight in the off-season.
Properly winterizing your pool will help you avoid costly damage and lengthy repairs that can delay your fun next swimming season. Take the time to work with a local pool company to ensure it’s winterized properly, keeping your pool beautiful and functional for many years to come.
If you’re growing mold and mildew on your home’s siding, now’s a good time to clean it. If you’ve never done this before, you may not know where to start. Depending on the size of your home and the amount of debris on it, a simple garden house may not provide you with much help. A pressure washer and a scrub brush will do the trick.
Before you start pressuring washing your home, there are some things to know.
Types of Pressure Washers
There are different types of pressure washers available. What you’ll use it for will help determine which one is right for you.
My first pressure washer was one I ordered from a TV shopping network. It was an electric one and seemed like a good deal at the time. Electric power washers are wallet friendly and portable making them easy to move around your home. The downside to them is they’re not as powerful.
Gas pressure washers are more powerful but are more expensive. With proper maintenance, they tend to last longer. Gas pressure washers can be used for tougher, larger jobs.
What are PSI and GPM?
Not all power washers are created equal. You’ll need to understand pounds per square inch (PSI) and gallons per minute (GPM) to select the right pressure washer for the job. PSI is the amount of cleaning power or force produced by the machine. GPM is how much water will go through the machine. To compare different power washers and to find the right one for you, multiply PSI by GPM or refer to the table below.
||Washing patio furniture, grills, and vehicles
||Cleaning exterior siding, fences, sidewalks, and driveways
||Completing large-scale cleaning projects
||Stripping paint, removing graffiti, and washing two-story homes
Pressure Washing Tips
- Be smart and safe. Wear proper eye and ear protection when working on your project. Always make sure you’re on stable to ground to prevent slip and falls. Never stand on a ladder.
- Use tarps. Cover your plants, flowers, and other personal belongings to prevent damage.
- Never point the spray gun at pets or people. I know it may be tempting and seem like fun to spray your spouse or sibling, but the spray gun isn’t a squirt gun. The high-pressure spray can cause significant bodily injury.
- Turn it off. If you need to leave the job for any reason, turn off the pressure washer. You don’t want a small child or inexperienced person wielding the spray gun.
- Select the correct nozzle for the job. Depending on your job, a different nozzle or tip may be needed. Nozzles/tips are made to draw the detergent out or to provide a high-pressure rinse. Some manufactures will color code the tips which signify varying angles. If yours has this, refer to your owner’s manual for more information.
- Use appropriate chemicals. Only use approved chemicals or cleaning agents. Using the wrong one could damage your pressure washer and be harmful to the environment.
- Develop a cleaning plan. Determine what you want to clean and if it’s safe to be cleaned with a pressure washer before starting. Otherwise, you may get ambitious and clean things that shouldn’t be, resulting in damage.
- Maintain an appropriate distance. Spraying too close to an object can cause damage. Maintain a distance of at least four to six feet.