A new phone scam

One of the downsides about having a phone is getting phone scam calls. The latest scam is for the caller to leave a recorded message that does not include your name but says “You are a person of interest in a formal proceeding. We have tried to contact you several times, so please call this number to discuss this issue.”

This is a scam. I am certain someone at the number I am asked to call back would ask me to wire money to make it go away. If I was a person of interest, they would not be calling me.

This serves as a reminder of other scams. Top of mind, here are a few to watch out for:

– IRS Scam: Someone will call leaving a message that you owe back taxes and the IRS will seek legal action to collect. The IRS will send you a letter if there is an issue with your taxes.

– Grandparent scam: The caller will pretend to be a grandchild and wait for the person to give the caller a name of a grandchild. The caller then assumes that identity. Typically, the faux grandchild says they have been in an accident and need money wired.

– Microsoft scam: This scam uses a caller who says Microsoft has detected that you are having computer problems. They want access to your computer at which time they will glean important financial information and passwords.

This does not address aggressive marketing attempts where the caller appears to be your credit card company. They are not really, but just want to issue you another credit card. It also doesn’t address other unscrupulous schemes where callers pretend to be who they are not to sell another product. Nor does it address the email phishing attempts that will allow someone to commandeer your computer.

Be on the look out. People want your money. Too many will lie, cheat and steal. All it takes is one bite to get hooked on a bad deal for you. What are some of the other scams you have come across?

What do these organizations have in common?

Based on the question asked above, I want you to think about the following organizations for a minute: Adelphia, American Express, Bank of America, Citigroup, Duke Energy, Enron, GM, Goldman Sachs, Healthsouth, Lehman Brothers, Lumber Liquidators, Marsh and McLennan, Massey Energy, Merrill Lynch, Penn State University, Toyota, Tyco, Volkswagen, and Wells Fargo.

What thoughts pop into your head? What do these organizations have in common? Yes, they have all been successful and many still are. The answer I am looking for is they have all been fined, publicly shamed or found guilty of some level of malfeasance, criminal neglect or fraud. The disappointing truth is I have been a shareholder in four of these organizations, so it hurts me both morally and financially, to see leaders forsake their roles as stewards of the company.

Volkswagen is the latest to join the infamous group. I was speaking with a Volkswagen owner the other day. While I was talking about the fine and decline in stock value around their purposeful fraud to avoid poor EPA emissions test results, he was thinking of it as a further depreciated car value. As with the others, what Volkswagen did was wrong and it will hurt them for a long while. The poor emissions will be hurting all of us until the cars are fixed. The CEO resigned earlier this week, and well he should, as a fraud like this has to be understood or even sanctioned at the very top. As of this writing, some car owners and shareholder groups are considering class action lawsuits against Volkswagen’s leadership.

Why do I bring this up today? Quite simply, we have politicians running on a platform of eliminating regulations so business can flourish. We often confuse bureaucracy with regulations. We need to investigate and remedy inefficiency in the latter, as bureaucracy can be antagonistic to efficiency. But, we need to also challenge ourselves to be smart with our regulations. If regulations are not efficacious, we should make changes, which might include their elimination. But, as evidence of the above well-known examples, which do not include countless others, doing away with regulations carte blanche would be unwise and foolish.

So, when you hear a statement like “we must do away with regulations,” ask yourself why? Who does that serve? The answer may be illuminating. I will leave you with a quote from Senator Elizabeth Warren who led the effort to create the hugely successful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This agency has fined several of the financial companies above for hundreds of millions for aggressive marketing and outright fraudulent practices, over 90% of which goes back to the impacted customers. In response to a question about why she does not like Wall Street, she said “I like Wall Street, I just do not like cheating.” Neither do I, nor should any of us.

A Fighting Chance – Senator Elizabeth Warren’s mantra

If Hillary Clinton chooses to run for President, she would be the odds on favorite to carry the Democratic nomination and likely the White House. The irony is, at least on domestic issues, she may not be the best female candidate from her own party. That might fall to Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, who is the inspiration and instigation behind the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog created for the common citizen. Warren has said she won’t be running for President, but she would be a formidable candidate.

I have been a fan of hers for several years, especially after I heard her utter these apropos words when asked why she did not like Wall Street. She said, “I like Wall Street, I just don’t like cheating.” As an attorney and professor at Harvard, she has been a subject matter expert on bankruptcy in the US. This helped formulate much of her fighting spirit against cheating or rigging the system against those in need. When even bankruptcy judges incorrectly noted why people were becoming bankrupt, she did her own research and noted they tended to be people who worked hard, tried to start businesses or got overextended and had no recourse. She also noted banks made money preying off people who were on their way to trouble and did not want to stop that gravy train. The banks actually fueled the fire by offering more credit or consolidated credit when the person should have torn up their credit cards.

I just completed her latest book called “A Fighting Chance” which is an excellent read about her journey and fighting for people. She truly is the champion for the common person. And, yet if you mention her name in some circles, you may get a more negative reaction than to Hillary’s name. Banks do not like her as she called them out. The banking lobby spent $1 million a DAY to lobby against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau being included in the Dodd-Frank Act. Her name was dragged through the mud and she was a target of undue criticism and innuendo. To many, the banking lobby’s zeal to prevent this bureau from succeeding is prima facie evidence that it is needed.

Banking used to be one of the more honorable professions, but the leaders of the industry threw that out the window by taking advantage of its customers, especially those who could ill-afford it and did not ask enough questions trusting the people in suits. There is a study of a few years ago called “Class Matters” whose principal finding is economic class matters in people’s decision-making. The lesser the class, the fewer questions are asked of service providers. These folks do not have the education or confidence to ask questions to explain what something meant. So, they would not fully understand that a variable mortgage could increase their interest rate by 200 basis points and would sign on the dotted line.

I would encourage you to not only read her book, but check out what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is all about at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/.  The purpose of this agency to protect consumers when banks, pay-day lenders and mortgage lenders are aggressively and fraudulently marketing their products. They have fined lenders close to $4 Billion for selling products and services that consumers did not ask for, aggressive marketing or even malfeasance. Over 90% of the monies collected go back to the impacted consumers, with the remaining amount going to fund better education and tools for borrowers and consumers. As an example, Bank of America was fined earlier this year for over $750 million for selling additive services to credit card holders that they did not ask for.

It will be arguable that when the Obama administration is viewed retrospectively, the creation of this agency will be one of his shining moments. He owes it to Elizabeth Warren. She gave and continues to give people of all persuasions a fighting chance. And, if you hear someone denigrate her name, that should be a lightning rod that shows which side that person’s bread is buttered or that person is getting their information from a source which caters to people who do not need her help. Reading this book shows how an industry and their spokespeople on the Hill tried to mow her down along with the agency. The rest of us need an advocate like Warren in our corner, now more than ever. But, don’t take my word for it, check out the book and the website link above, and draw your own conclusions.