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Stimulu$: Beware Of Scams

Criminals have no conscience in a global health pandemic. Even before governments in various countries announced aid packages for their citizens, scammers have been busy trying to defraud millions of consumers. How to protect your money explained below.

How To Protect Your Stimulu$

Ever since the prospect of stimulus checks was raised by the White House and in the U.S. Congress, scammers sprang into action even before the 42.2 trillion dollar package passed the House and Senate.

And even though funds have started arriving by direct deposit, that still doesn’t make people safe from these crooks. From the U.S. Treasury department, the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Attorney-General’s Department, the FBI, all the way down to local law enforcement and AARP, warnings have gone out about increasing “stimulus scams”.

Here is a collection of signs you’ve got a scammer in hot pursuit of your money:

  • The caller or emailer uses the words “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment.” The term that government officials are using is “economic-impact payment”, but it can also be used by scammers.
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  • You’re asked to sign your check over to the caller.
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  • You receive an email, text or social media message saying that you need to verify your personal and/or banking information to speed up your stimulus payment.
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  • The individual offers to get you your payment faster.
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  • You receive a fake check, and then the sender tells you to call a number to verify your personal information in order to cash it.
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  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. There are no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 at this time.
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  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
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  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. And don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
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  • Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.

If you receive unsolicited information-gathering emails, texts or social media messages that appear to be from the IRS or an organization closely linked to the agency, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, forward them to [email protected].

 

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HEADLINES

Rx Costs: Get Help

Abled.Money: Stock photo of a pharmacist taking a package of medication from a shelf.

The “hoarding” mentality during the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many people who rely on a steady supply of medication. We detail below where and how to get help.

Rx Assistance Programs

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the health of millions of people beyond those who become infected with the novel coronavirus .

When U.S. President Donald Trump touted chloroquine as a promising treatment, mass hoarding turned from toilet paper to this and other drugs put forward as potential treatments for C19 by doctors who were writing prescriptions for themselves, family members and friends.

This immediately put supplies in jeopardy for people living with conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Job loss because of the nationwide lockdowns opened up another fiscal fissure for low-income wage earners reliant on a steady supply of medications to treat various conditions.

That, in turn, has led to many people dangerously self-diagnosing by self-rationing and stretching the dosing protocols for those medications, potentially putting themselves in life-threatening situations, because they can’t afford refills.

If you’re facing similar difficulties, here are a number of things you can do to try and maintain your medication lifeline:

  1. Your Doctor and Pharmacist:  Tell them about your situation. Your doctor may have some drug samples in the office, and both may know of Rx assistance programs they could refer you to. Talk with your doctor about whether its safe to stretch out your dosing schedule.
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  3. Check with the maker of the drug(s) you take. Most offer assistance programs for those who can’t afford to purchase their medications.
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  5. If you are on Medicare and have an income below $19,380 (single)/$26,100 (married) [higher in Alaska and Hawaii], you may be able to get Extra Help, a program that lowers your prescription costs. You can apply for Extra Help through Social Security or online at NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp.
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  7. The National Council on Aging reports that Social Security has closed its field offices during COVID-19, and there may be a lag time between when you apply and receive a letter indicating you are receiving Extra Help. However, you may be able to get your medicines at a lower price during this time through the LI NET program. At the pharmacy, you will need to show you’re on Medicare, attest to being low-income, and have less than a three-week supply* of drugs on hand. Learn more about LI NET.
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  9. You can also search for assistance via online resources such as NeedyMeds.orgMedicine Assistance Tool, and GoodRx.
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  11. Last, and sometimes least, if you have health insurance, check with your provider about any possible help with covering the costs of your prescriptions during the pandemic. Your might be able to switch to a 3 month supply that lowers your overall cost. America’s Heath Insurance Plans has compiled a list of what the major insurance companies are doing to help their enrollees through this crisis. 

It’s a crisis like none we’ve seen before in this generation, but we hope this small overview is helpful in steering you toward the assistance you require.

 

 

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Credit Cards: How To Buy Time

Abled.Money: Photo of a man's hands holding a Buch of credit cards like spread out playing cards.

Credit card payments are falling behind as millions of people lose their jobs. Some companies are offering relief, but some make you “fight for it”. How to negotiate below.

How To Ask For Help

If you’ve missed a payment or two on your credit card(s), you may be able to buy some time from the issuer(s), but you’ll have to know what to say, and be well – informed about what assistance other card issuers are providing in the way of COVID-19 relief.

Some won’t even volunteer it, so you’ll have to be prepared to do some digging. And don’t be shy about asking. Many of their relief options are a tiny drop in the bucket compared to their billions of dollars in profit.

Step 1: Check out Kailey Hagen‘s compilation of what the major credit card issuers are offering in coronavirus-related assistance at the ascent.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with credit card interest rates and how they affect the savings or benefit you can anticipate, as chronicled by Amy Fontinelle at the same site.

Step3: You can use the following negotiation tips inspired by Ramit Sethi, bestselling author of the personal finance book I Will Teach You to Be Rich:

Customer: Hi, I’ve lost my job/been furloughed/had high medical bills due to the coronavirus pandemic, and I’m calling/writing to request that my minimum payment and interest be waived this month. I’ve been a customer for X years, and I’d appreciate your help to keep my account in good standing. I’m applying for unemployment/expecting a stimulus check, and I expect to be able to make my payment next month.

Credit card customer service: I’m sorry, we can’t waive your interest, and you will still be required to make your minimum payment.

Customer: I’m sorry, but that won’t work for me. I need you to waive my minimum payment and my interest this month. Otherwise, I’ll be looking to do a balance transfer to another credit card with a lower APR.

(Or: Well, I see that other credit card companies are offering this benefit to their cardholders who have difficult circumstances, as I do. Are you sure you can’t extend this offer to me? I’ve been a customer for X years, and I’d like to stay with [name of credit card company].)

Credit card customer service: Well, I just checked my computer again, and I see that we do have a coronavirus assistance program that we can offer you. We’ll be waiving your minimum monthly payment this month, and your account won’t accrue any interest this month. You’ll see this change reflected on your next monthly statement and in your online account within the next hour.

Customer: Thank you very much. I really appreciate your help.

As Amy points out: “Sometimes it’s this easy. However, if their first attempt fails, consumers can start the process over with a different customer service agent. They might call instead of email, email instead of call, or try online chat.

If the bank isn’t offering to waive interest, customers could try asking for a lower interest rate, a waived late fee, a better card from the same company, or whatever would save them the most money.

Also, if consumers get help this month and still need help next month, they should call again. Credit card companies can offer assistance more than once — and many people are facing challenging times over more than a month.

Americans can also apply for a 0% APR balance transfer credit card if they’re having trouble making payments. Most require good to excellent credit, but the ABOC Platinum Rewards Mastercard® offers a 0% introductory rate on balance transfers and purchases — and requires a credit score of around only 580 to qualify.”

 

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COVID-19: Bitcoin VS Gold

Abled.Money: Photo of bitcoins set against 10 troy ounce gold bars.

Gold, the traditional “safe haven” in a crisis has been outpaced of late by the virtual asset cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Has the COVID-19 pandemic also mutated “safe havens”?

A New Safe Haven?

There is an upstart challenger to the asset that has been the traditional “port in a financial storm”.

As of May 3, bitcoin is up 23% so far this year, while gold futures are up 12.3% at $1,709 an ounce.

Track them over the past 12 months and you’ll find the cryptocurrency up 67% versus gold’s 33% increase.

Why? Especially for a much-hyped cryptocurrency that hit a peak close to $20,000 in December 2017 before seriously crashing and burning.

Analysts can’t seem to put one finger on it. There may be a number of reasons.

One of them, Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research says “As with stocks, which have seen a lot of retail interest lately, bitcoin trading may just be a temporary substitute for gaming and sports betting.”

But, he and other analysts also point to a May 12 event ominously called “The Halving”. Like the Olympic Games and Presidential elections, it happens every four years.

It means that those who support bitcoin’s blockchain mining technology with their computing power are rewarded with coins every 10 minutes, and that reward will be “halved” from 12.5 to 6.25 coins on May 12, marking the third cut since the crypto’s debut 11 years ago.

What will happen beyond the halving is anyone’s guess. MarketWatch reports Fundstrat is pushing a 12 month outlook for bitcoin at $14,350, while Bank of America analysts peg gold at $3,000, up from $2,000.

And that’s painted against a backdrop of a viral pandemic that is ravaging global economies as much as it is ravaging global populations. Which raises the question: Is there such a thing as a safe haven anymore?

At least a year before the SARS CoV-2 coronavirus was identified, the notion of a safe haven was progressively being obliterated by “Team Trump” as faith in the U.S. dollar was being undermined by the President’s aggressive fiscal showdowns with long-time American allies.

Benjamin J. Cohen is professor of international political economy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is the author of “Currency Statecraft: Monetary Rivalry and Geopolitical Ambition.” He penned an op-ed at Project Syndicate at that time, which was later published with permission at Marketwatch, that’s worth a read, titled “Where Have All The Safe Havens Gone?” It is full of unforeseen ironies that reverberate over a year later.

 

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