Disputing a Fraudulent Transaction on a Credit Card

It is not uncommon to hear that a family member, friend, or a colleague was a victim of credit card fraud. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received more than one million fraud reports.[1]The report separates individuals by age groups.  Individuals between the age of 20-29 account for 40% of fraud reports while individuals between 60-69 account for 20 % of fraud reports. While these percentages account for reported frauds, there are many that go unreported. One possible explanation for higher report rates in the 20-29 age group is the digitalization of banking resources. These resources include notifications of suspicious bank activity and so on. These positive aspects of the digitalization of banking are a step towards consumer empowerment. However, digital trends resonate more heavily with newer generations than that of previous generations.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), a fraudulent transaction that appears on the account can be disputed. What qualifies as a fraudulent transaction?  A transaction is fraudulent if the card holder had no knowledge of the transaction and did not approve the charge. For instance, a transaction that appears on the account that was not authorized by the card holder is fraudulent. The FCBA grants consumers various protections: (1) If the card was lost or stolen and reported before any unauthorized charges were made, the liability is $0; (2) Within 2 business days after you learn about the loss or theft, the liability might be $50; (3) More than 2 business days after you learn about the loss or theft, but less than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you, the liability might be $500; or, (4) More than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you all the money taken from your ATM/debit card account, and possibly more; for example, money in accounts linked to your debit account.[2]

It is important to know that if you are victim of fraud you have rights. It is also important to note that time is critical to limit your liability. Once you discover the fraudulent transaction, contact your bank immediately. While banks and credit card companies might expand a customer’s rights, you are provided basic protection under the FCBA.

For further information about disputing fraudulent credit card transactions, please visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0219-disputing-credit-card-charges



Common Scams that Target Veterans

Unfortunately, Veterans are often targets for a wide variety of scams. Being able to identify a potential scam is vital in protecting oneself from a wide variety of risks including identity theft, loss of assets or income, or even the loss of a home. Below are three of the common scams that often target Veterans as well as the possible risks and damages involved.

Pension Advance Scam

With this scam, the Veteran is asked to exchange his or her monthly pension for a one-time lump sum of money. Interest rates on this lump sum can be extremely high, even over one hundred percent. Furthermore, the exchange may end up being less than the amount the veteran’s pension would have added up to over the years. This advance also requires strict budgeting so that the Veteran doesn’t run out of money. In an emergency situation this advancement may seem like the only option, but it is beneficial to discuss other alternatives with a financial advisor or research other potential options before making a decision.

VA pension is a benefit that many Veterans depend on for monthly income. However, when a Veteran gets in a bind, the car breaks down or the air conditioner breaks, for example, this scam can seem extremely attractive. Considering how a pension advance will affect future income is a must before committing to the advance.

Phishing Scam

Like many phone call scams, the main goal of this scam is to retrieve personal information. Here, the scammer calls the Veteran and states that he or she works for the VA and needs to update the Veteran’s information within the VA’s system. Then, the scammer asks the Veteran for sensitive personal information such as social security numbers or banking information. From there, the scammer can use that information to commit identity theft or drain the Veteran’s bank accounts. The VA will never ask for a Veteran’s personal information over the phone. If someone calls acting as the VA and asks for this kind of information please report the incident to the VA.

Phishing scams have been going on for quite some time. For Veterans of a younger generation, like Millennials, this scam may be easy to catch as the younger generation is accustomed to technology and the frequency of these types of calls. However, for older Veterans, such as Vietnam Veterans, this may not seem like a scam at all. Widespread education on the subject enables those that understand to realize the importance of teaching others while also hopefully reaching those that may not understand.

Mortgage Scam

Most likely the most notorious scams aimed at veterans are those involving mortgages. These scams can promise special deals such as extremely low interest rates or “no-payment” reverse mortgages to veterans. These advertisements can be very misleading as the fine print may dramatically increase interest rates after a short period of time. Likewise, a no-payment reverse mortgage still requires the homeowner to pay taxes and insurance on the property, and if these amounts are not paid, the homeowner is considered to be in default, risking a loss of the home. Many of these scammers often use logos that look very similar to those used by the VA in their logos. However, the VA does not advertise the loans they offer. It is vital to seek outside advice before entering into one of these mortgages.

As technology advances more and more scams are going to present themselves. It is unfortunate that many of these scams target those that have sacrificed for and served our country. Seeking further education on new scams and seeking advice on investment opportunities or loan options and always refraining from giving out personal advice over the phone is the best way to combat scams and the risks that they impose.

Below are links to website’s discussing common scams that Veterans run into:

Scam Alert: Top Five Veteran Swindles

Scams that Target Veterans


What to do when your Bank is data-breached

It’s an all too common story on the news these days, data-breaches at banks or other institutions that have our personal information, it happens more frequently as technology becomes more integrated into our daily lives. What does it really mean for us, the consumers? Here are a few tips on how to handle the situation.

1. Once you’ve become aware that your bank compromised, don’t be afraid to go down to your local branch (or call whatever hotline phone number that might be available on their website) and ask what accounts or information has been affected and whether they recommend closing and re-opening a new account.

2. Pay attention to any new or unusual notices about new accounts, credit cards, or financial products that you don’t remember applying for. Unusual activity after a data breech could indicate that your information is being used fraudulently.

3. If you’ve been a victim of identity fraud, immediately report to the authorities. The address below can be used to find the specific authorities that need to be contacted, but also to get more information on what to do in case of a data breach.


Remember, when you hear about events in the news, it’s your right as a consumer to get the full extent of the incident and how you may be affected. Also, if something does go wrong, don’t panic and go to the website above and follow the links to the information that can help you can everything back on track.

Your Facebook Account Doesn’t Have to Die with You

In a 2014 estimate, there were almost 1.4 billion Facebook users in the world, with 890 million of these users spending an average of 21 minutes per day on Facebook. Even senior citizens, traditionally a demographic slow to adopting online technology, are seeing the value of creating a virtual life on social media. In fact, a recent reportfound that the fastest growing social media demographic is persons 50 years and older. Among all of these users, an estimated 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared daily.

Have you ever wondered what happens to your Facebook account–and all that uploaded content–after you die? Fortunately, recent changes to Facebook’s policy has made death a little less scary.

It has been said that “old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” Similarly, to fully appreciate Facebook’s new policy, it is worth discussing the alternatives. Consider the widely publicized saga of the Ellsworths family following the death of their son, Lance Corporal Justin Ellsworth. Justin, a Marine, died in combat in 2004 while serving in Iraq. After his death, the Ellsworth family wanted to make a memorial of his life by using the e-mails Justin had sent and received while deployed overseas. Yahoo!, the e-mail service provider, denied all requests by the Ellsworth family, citing that it was against their terms-of-service. It was only after a lengthy and costly court battle that Yahoo! gave the family access to Justin’s emails.

Even Facebook’s policy used to be onerous for heirs. In 2012, a family sued Facebook to compel Facebook to give them access to their son’s account. Their son had unexpectedly committed suicide, leaving no note or rationale for the coping family, and the family sought access to help solve the mystery. Even though the family won the lawsuit, Facebook refused to provide the access for some time afterwards.

All of that changed in February of this year (at least for Facebook users). Facebook’s new “Legacy Feature” allows account holders to designate a friend to have certain access after the user passes away. For instance, the legacy contact will be able to pin a post on the decedent’s timeline after death (such as a funeral announcement), respond to new friend requests, or update cover and profile photos. Additionally, users can elect whether they want their legacy contact to be able to download pictures, posts, and videos from their account. And lest you worry about those embarrassing messages with your ex—the legacy contact won’t be able to log in as you or read any private messages.

Alternatively, through this feature, you can tell Facebook to permanently delete your account after death.

Here’s how to designate your legacy contact:

  • From your Facebook profile, click on “Security”
  • Choose “Legacy Contact” at the bottom
  • Enter the name of a Facebook friend as your legacy contact. (Note: an email will be sent to the friend alerting them of their new status)

The Telemarketing Terminator

Telemarketers seem to target anyone with an active phone number, and their annoying and untimely solicitation calls are usually as appreciated as a fellow movie-goer chewing popcorn with his mouth open. “I’m not interested” might buy you a month or two of respite, but telemarketers seem to use Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous catchphrase, “I’ll be bawck…” as their unstated selling motto. Their business model, after all, is simply a numbers game: if they call (bug?) enough people, a few might take the bait.

This problem disproportionately affects senior citizens because publicly available phone numbers are usually home phone numbers. According to a recent government study, more than 4 in 10 households have cut the cord—the landline telephone cord, that is. Still, and not surprisingly, seniors over the age of 65 are far more likely to own and use a landline telephone as compared to younger folk, with over 85% of seniors’ homes still attached to their corded phones (pun very much intended).

The Colorado Telemarketing No-Call Law, in concert with federal laws, gives some relief to Colorado seniors—and indeed, everyone who owns a phone and dislikes telemarketing calls. Under Colorado law, home phone and wireless phone customers can place their numbers on a “No Call List” free of charge. Telemarketers are prohibited from calling your number if it is on this list, unless they have an “established business relationship” with you. (Charities and other non-commercial organizations, however, are not subject to the Colorado No-Call Law.) Additionally, federal Telemarketing Sales Rules give you the right to tell companies that have an established business relationship with you to still put you on their internal “Do Not Call” lists.

You can sign up for the Colorado no-call list by calling (800) 309-7041, or registering online at www.coloradonocall.com. For further protection, add your home or cell phone numbers to the national Do Not Call list at www.donotcall.gov, or by calling (888) 382-1222. If telemarketers continue to call you, report them to the Attorney General or your district attorney’s office. You can even sue offending telemarketers in Small Claims Court under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act if you are on the No Call List.

These laws protect consumers from intrusive telemarketing solicitations, and by availing yourself of the Do Not Call Lists, say good-bye…er, “hasta la vista, baby” (a la Schwarzenegger) to the telemarketers contacting you!

The White House View on Information Privacy and Big Data

The White House has begun to look into what companies do with consumer information and recently completed a report on big data. The report looks at the use of information both by companies and the government. It analyzes areas including education, healthcare, advertising, law enforcement privacy law, and discrimination. The full 85 page report can be found at: The White House’s View on Information Privacy and Big Data.

The report includes a number of policy suggestions which contain a combination of technological and legal solutions to the issues raised by big data. The six recommendations from the report are:

  1. Advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The Department of Commerce should take appropriate consultative steps to seek stakeholder and public comment on big data developments and how they impact the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and then devise draft legislative text for consideration by stakeholders and submission by the President to Congress.
  2. Pass National Data Breach Legislation. Congress should pass legislation that provides for a single national data breach standard along the lines of the Administration’s May 2011 Cybersecurity legislative proposal.
  3. Extend Privacy Protections to non-U.S. Persons. The Office of Management and Budget should work with departments and agencies to apply the Privacy Act of 1974 to non-U.S. persons where practicable, or to establish alternative privacy policies that apply appropriate and meaningful protections to personal information regardless of a person’s nationality.
  4. Ensure Data Collected on Students in School is Used for Educational Purposes. The federal government must ensure that privacy regulations protect students against having their data being shared or used inappropriately, especially when the data is gathered in an educational context.
  5. Expand Technical Expertise to Stop Discrimination. The federal government’s lead civil rights and consumer protection agencies should expand their technical expertise to be able to identify practices and outcomes facilitated by big data analytics that have a discriminatory impact on protected classes, and develop a plan for investigating and resolving violations of law.
  6. Amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Congress should amend ECPA to ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is consistent with that afforded in the physical world—including by removing archaic distinctions between email left unread or over a certain age.


If you are interested in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights mentioned in the first suggestion, it can be found at the following link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/privacy-final.pdf.

As the report points out, consumers deserve more transparency about how their data is shared. Here are two links to learn about what companies know and have been doing with consumer information:


This webpage contains a report compiled by the World Privacy Forum describing different ways companies are creating scores about consumers. For example, one company is able to use information it knows to predict how likely it is a person will take their medications as ordered by a doctor. Another is the consumer profitability score, used to predict how much money a company can make off of you.


This webpage contains a number of articles by the Wall Street Journal about what companies and the government know about you.

Watch Out for These Common Internet Scams!

As you may remember from last year’s post on online shopping, the Internet is a fantastic resource but one that must be used carefully. This is particularly true when one is using email and social media sites such as Facebook. Although Facebook and email have transformed the way that we communicate with each other, they also leave us vulnerable to phishing and other acts designed to steal private information from unwitting consumers. Below is a list of common Internet scams that you should watch out for when using email or social media.

Phishing: Emails appear to come from trusted sources and request account information for personal bank accounts or other forms of personally identifying information. Examples include emails with messages like:

“We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.”

“During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”

“Our records indicate that your account was overcharged. You must call us within 7 days to receive your refund.”

Funeral Notification Scam: Scammers are sending bogus emails with the subject line “funeral notification.” The message from the “funeral home” offers condolences and offers a link for more information about the upcoming funeral. The link downloads malware onto the your computer.

The Fake Friend Scam: When a Facebook friend request is sent from someone you already think was your friend, and you accept without realizing, your Facebook information becomes available to a scammer who may either (1) recommend sketchy websites that download malware to your computer; (2) use your account to gather information about your other friends; or (3) suck you into a romance scam, which occurs when you develop an online relationship with someone who is not who they portray themselves to be. This is also called catfishing. These scammers may try to obtain credit card or other financial information that may lead to identity theft or otherwise attempt to expose you to viruses.

There are steps you can take to prevent your information from being stolen! 

(1) Delete emails and text messages that ask you to provide personal information that are not from trusted sources.

(2) Do NOT click on links from emails unless you trust the sender AND have verified with the sender that they actually sent the message.

(3) Call the bank or business that appears to have sent you the message by using the phone number on the back of your credit card or the financial statements that you’ve received from that organization.

(4) Keep your security software updated.

(5) Use a pop-up blocker and don’t click on any links that pop-up.

Think before you click to protect your personal information, your financial information, and your friends and email contacts from potential scammers!

Protecting Your Children From Identity Theft

Millions of adults fall victim to identity theft each year, and while individuals are becoming more knowledgeable about how to protect themselves, few rarely think about protecting their children from identity theft.  Identity thieves are increasingly targeting children, using their personal information for credit, employment, and medical and criminal purposes.  In the mind of an identity thief, the earlier in a child’s life that they can obtain this information the better, because it gives them a longer time to use the information for their own personal needs before being noticed.


Credit card companies do not usually have a birthdate verification system, and therefore it is easy for identity thieves to use a child’s social security number to get credit.  Because first time applicants are considered to have “good credit” children who have no credit in their names are prime targets.


Identity thieves can also commit “synthetic identity theft” where they use part of a child’s information with other fictitious information such as birthdates and names.


In order to protect your child you want to do many of the same things you would do to protect yourself.  First, you want to order credit reports for everyone in your family, regardless of age.  To do this visit annualcreditreport.com and contact one of the three major reporting agencies.  It is also recommended that you do a “manual search” of your child’s social security number by the agency that you submit to.


Additionally, as I noted in a previous post “Tips to Help Protect Yourself from Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft,” make sure that you shred documents that contain sensitive personal information about your child, be careful not to carry your child’s social security card on you (keep it in a safe and secure place in your home) and, if someone asks for your child’s personal information make sure to ask Why they need the information What they are going to use the information for, and How they are going to protect the information.


Most import is just being aware that children are just as susceptible to becoming victim’s of identity theft as adults.  Parents and guardians need to make sure that they are taking the same precautions to protect their children’s identities that they take to protect their own identities.  If your child’s identity is stolen you should go through the same process as you would if your own identity was stolen—for more information on what to do if your or your child’s identity is stolen please see my previous post “What to do if Your Identity is Stolen” or visit: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft

What to do if Your Identity is Stolen:

Recently, a news story was released revealing that sensitive information about numerous celebrities, including Michelle Obama, Beyonce, and Hillary Clinton, was posted on a public website.  The website posted addresses, financial data, social security numbers, and even credit card numbers of the celebrities.  While the accuracy of the information is still under investigation, this story is a good example of how anyone can become a victim of identity theft.


In my previous post “Tips to Help Protect Yourself from Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft,” I discussed steps that individuals can take to reduce their risks of having their identities stolen.  However, even with these precautions in place, it is still possible to become a victim of identity theft.  Realizing that your identity has been stolen can be a scary time, it can be hard to think straight, let alone know what you need to do to prevent further damage.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that if you think your identity has been stolen you should take three main steps:


1)   Place an Initial Fraud Alert

2)   Order Your Credit Reports

3)   Create an Identity Theft Report


1. Place an Initial Fraud Alert:

What: An initial fraud alert is a warning that you can place on your credit report that lets potential creditors know that you may be a victim of identity theft and requires that the creditors take extra steps in verifying your identity before issuing credit.  It is FREE and lasts for 90 days.


Why: Placing an initial fraud alert makes it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name, increase the credit limit on an existing account, or obtain a new card on an existing account.


How: Contact one of the credit reporting companies (see contact information below), tell them that you are a victim of identity theft, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit file. Make sure to confirm that they are going to contact the other two credit reporting companies!


  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian:1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289


Additional Note: There are two other types of “special” fraud alerts:


  • Extended Fraud Alert: If you are a victim of identity theft and have a valid police report/identity theft report (discussed later in this post) you can get an extended fraud alert that lasts for 7 years (as opposed to the traditional 90 day period)
  • Active Duty Alert: This is available to persons on active military duty and is similar to the initial 90 day alert, except that it lasts 12 months and your name is removed from prescreened offers of credit or insurance for 2 years.


2. Order Your Credit Reports

  • Go to annualcreditreport.com (ONLY this websiteà not others such as freecreditreport.com which is not actually free)
  • Get your free credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting agencies.


3. Create an Identity Theft Report


What: Identity Theft Affidavit+ Police Report= Identity Theft Report

An identity theft report is an official, valid law enforcement report that alleges the consumer’s identity theft.  This report helps you invoke your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Without it you may be able to assert some, but not all, of your rights.



  • Get fraudulent information removed from your credit report.
  • Stop companies from collecting debts that were caused by identity theft.
  • Help you get more information about accounts opened or misused by identity theft.




Identity theft is currently one of the fastest growing crimes, and while there are many things we can do to reduce our risks of becoming victims of identity theft, sometimes it still happens (even to the President’s wife!).  While having your identity stolen can be overwhelming and stressful, it is important that you take these 3 initial steps as soon as possible to minimize further damage and start getting your life back together!


** Note: my colleague Brittany McNamara wrote a post on what to do if you wallet is stolen (Have You Ever Lost Your Wallet? What To Do When It Happens To You).  While there may be some overlap with identity theft, there are different steps you want to take for each.  If your wallet has been stolen AND you believe you may be a victim of identity theft, you would want to go through both processes.

Tips to Help Protect Yourself from Becoming A Victim Of Identity Theft:

Imagine you are drinking your morning coffee, you open the newspaper to catch up on the current events and much to your surprise you see your name in an article describing a man who was arrested the night before on drug charges.  You brush it off as a coincidence that someone shares your same name, have a quick laugh about it, and go about your day; however, the next week you are fired from your job for not informing them of your criminal record.  This is when you realize your identity has been stolen.


This is just one example of how an identity thief can steal and  use your personal information.  An identity thief can use your personal information to drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts in your name, get medical treatment on your health insurance, file a tax return in your name and get your refund, or, as in our example above, give your name to the police during an arrest.  Regardless of how your identity is stolen, it can be a very scary time and it can take years to repair the damage that was done.  While no one can completely protect himself or herself from becoming a victim of identity theft, there are a few simple things you can be doing now that help reduce your risk.

  • Review your monthly statements: Check your bank accounts and statements and look for any inconsistencies.  Make sure that your records match up with what your statements are saying.  Look for any charges you do not remember making.
  • Order and review credit reports: Go to annualcreditreport.com and order your free credit report from each credit reporting agency.  Review your credit reports to make sure that they match up with your records.
  • Keep personal information secure: Keep your personal information in a safe and secure place both at home and at work.  Keep the location of this information to yourself.  Many times our identities are stolen by people we know and often trust.
  • Minimize information you carry: Clean out your wallet/purse.  Only carry what you need (identification, credit or debit card).  Most of the time you do not need to have your social security card with you, leave it at home in a safe and secure place.  Minimize the information an identity thief would have about you if they stole your wallet or purse.
  • Pick up mail promptly: Identity thieves can obtain sensitive personal information about you by stealing your mail.  If you do not have a locked mailbox, make sure to pick up your mail promptly.  Along with this, if you have to mail an item that contains personal information drop it off directly at the post office instead of leaving it in your mailbox. 
  • Shred documents containing personal information:  Another way that identity thieves get sensitive information is by going through the trash outside of personal residences and businesses (“dumpster diving”).  Shred documents that contain personal information before throwing them in the trash. 
  • Before sharing personal information ask: WHY, WHAT, HOW:  If someone asks for your personal information, particularly your social security number, ask why they need the information, what they are going to use it for, and howthey are going to protect it. If you do not feel comfortable with their answers, do not give them your personal information. 
  • Keep passwords private:  Try and avoid making passwords that are easy to guess based on general information about yourself (pet names, children names, street addresses etc).  Add numbers, symbols, and capitalized letters when possible. If you must write down your passwords keep them in a safe and secure place (ie: not taped under mousepad).
  • Be careful about information you put on social media sites: An identity thief can find out a lot about a person based on the information they put on social media sites such as Facebook and Linkedin.  Be careful about what information you put on these sites, and make sure to check your privacy settings to see who can see information about you.


While no one is completely safe from becoming a victim of identity theft, taking a few simple steps can greatly reduce your risk.  For more information on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft check out this video by the Federal Trade Commission: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/media/video-0023-what-identity-theft


For more information on identity theft in general visit: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft