The Great Grocery Debate of 2013

Recently, my friend Westleigh made a life-changing discovery – not only does Trader Joes’s have Two Buck Chuck ($2.99 wine) but they also have the MOST DELICIOUS POPCORN THE WORLD WILL EVER KNOW.  It’s called “Trader Joe’s Movie Theater Popcorn”; it’s so good that you will try a handful and all of the sudden the entire bag will be gone.  It has just the right amount of salt and butter flavoring.  Even better it doesn’t get your fingers all sticky with cheese like Smart Food.  It tastes so fresh you will feel like you’re in the movie theather munching your way through the previews. Case in point, it’s really darn good!

popcorn

I might start keeping a secret stash of the popcorn in my desk at work . . .

While stuffing our face’s with said popcorn, Westleigh and I had a lively discussion about which gorcery store was best to shop at and for what items. Picking at grocery store is not an easy feat, especially for novice shoppers like ourselves. As poor kids in our 20’s, our top priority in a grocery store is low prices.  We eat fairly healthy diets (the popcorn is organic afterall) but we will scarifice “organic, low-fat, gluten-free, and vegan” foods if we hear two other words: “on sale.”  But how do you even know which store has the lowest prices? Should you bother driving around to different places for different items or is that a waste of gas?

The myth is that stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer healthier but more expensive grocery items than their generic competitors.  The amazing popcorn, however, is also amazingly cheap.  One bag is $1.99.  A similar popcorn retails at Hannaford for a dollar more. This fact defies what I had previously thought was grocery store logic.  I also generally avoid health food stores because I am a very picky eater.  When I think of Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, I think of tempe, quinoa, and other gross vegetarian food that I refuse to eat.  But what if this whole time they had healthy, cheap food that I like at the health food store? And yet again, I know Trader Joe’s is way smaller than Hannaford or Shaw’s, so they might not have everything on my list?

I needed answers so I set out on a quest to comparison shop.  I would end the “Great Grocery Debate of 2013” by going to 4 different grocery stores, 2 health food specialty stores and 2 average local grocery stores, with a list of 10 things to buy.  Then I would walk around and write down the price of each item so I compare cost store-to-store. Once I knew which store had the lowest prices, I would know where to shop.  Here’s my list:

Item Amount Trader Joe’s Hannaford Whole Foods Shaw’s
Milk 1 gallon 3.59 3.55 3.65 3.65
Bread 1 loaf 2.49 1.99 2.99 1.99
Eggs 1/2 dozen 2.49 2.85 2.69 3.35
Cereal 1 box 1.99 2.89 3.99 2.99
Sliced Turkey 2 pounds 2.99 2.99 3.14 2.99
Pre-popped Popcorn 1 bag 1.99 2.99 3.99 3.54
Chicken Breast 1.5 lbs 7.68 7.49 9.22 8.27
Whole Wheat Pasta 1 box (13.25 oz.) 1.99 1.19 1.39 1.29
Canned Soup 1 can 1.49 0.89 1.49 0.99
Wine 750 mL 3.99 7.99 2.79 6.99
Bananas 6 pieces 1.14 1.11 2.00 1.29

** Very Official Disclaimer: this was by no means an official/academic study of grocery store prices.  These were prices I found on one visit to particular stores in my area.  The list is not meant to be representative of the business I visited or their prices.  It is just here to give reader’s an idea of my own personal shopping experience.

I tried to pick items I thought might be on everyone’s weekly grocery list. I also picked brands/items of similar nutritional value at each store. So for example, the eggs I priced at Trader Joe’s were organic, cage-free, and all-vegetarian fed; when I went to Whole Foods, Hannaford, and Shaw’s I looked for the same thing.  At Hannaford they had a cartoon of 1/2 dozen eggs for $1.09, which was way cheaper than the $2.49 at Trader Joe’s.  The cheap eggs were not all-natural or all-vegetarian fed, however, so they weren’t comparable health-wise.  To get similarly nutrious eggs at Hannaford, you had to pay a little more. So my rule was, if another store had a cheaper version of the item but it didn’t meet the same nutrition standards, I didn’t include that price on my list.

And the winner is . . . if I totaled up the cost of all 10 items on my list, Trader Joe’s is the cheapest place to shop coming in at $31.83. Hannaford is second at $35.93. Whole Foods and Shaw’s actually tie for 3rd at $37.34 each.  If you look across the chart, however, I think it’s important to notice that no store had a monopoly on the lowest prices.  Whole Foods surprisingly had a wine even cheaper than Two Buck Chuck, coming in at $2.79.  But they had by far the most expensive chicken breast.  Hannaford had the cheapest bananas and pasta, but things like cereal were on the pricier side.

In a way, my quest to find the best grocery store was unsuccesful. Every store offered great organic, all-natural, nutrious options.  You can eat healthy meals from stuff you bought at any of the 4 stores.  And, as I said, no single store consistently had the lowest price for every item; prices varied from place to place.  And finally, no one store seemed to offer everything that I needed.  I was surprised that Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both had yummy stuff that would fit even into my picky diet (both places have chicken nuggets 🙂 ).  But neither store had a wide selection of cheap, bulk items such as cleaning supplies, paper towels, soap, etc. like they offer at Shaw’s and Hannaford.  However, Trader Joe’s has the amazing popcorn which can’t be found at any other store and Whole Foods has an unbelieveable bakery.  In short, I did all of this comparison shopping and I still don’t know where to shop!

But here’s what I did learn from my adventures:

1. You can get healthy food at any grocery store.  It’s all about checking labels, looking at ingredients, and being a smart shopper.

2. Prices are fairly consistent across the board. So if the nearest Trader Joe’s is 25 miles from your house, it’s probably a waste of gas to drive all the way there just for your organic peanut butter.  They most likely sell a similar version at the Shaw’s 2 miles down the road.  But if you live close to a few stores, you could shop around and buy what you like/ what’s cheapest at each store.

3. EXCEPT, definitely buy bulk items at bigger chain store like Hannaford or Target. Toilet paper doesn’t need to be organic.  You can stock up on these items when you’re at the chain, bargain store and then you don’t have to make frequent trips there.

4. Health food stores are not scary. They are also not just for hipsters. This is a big deal for me to admit. Tofu cookies make me want to cry.

5. Contrary to urban legend, Whole Foods does accept Food Stamps.  When writing this blog, I heard over and over that Whole Foods is just for rich people.  I even heard the nickname “Whole Paycheck” because supposedly you could spend your whole salary shopping there.  Whole Foods, however, does welcome shoppers of all economic backgrounds and accepts EBT Cards.

I am quickly becoming a Grocery Guru. Now if I could just learn to cook . . .

Note: I don’t recommend wandering aimlessly around different grocery stores writing down prices. I got some very strange looks mostly because I would stare at items for a long time, write stuff down in a little notebook, and then walk away without taking anything off the shelf. I looked like Nancy Drew trying to solve the Great Grocery Caper! I’m surprised no employees told me to buy something or get out.

More Reading:

https://kelseyatcascofcu.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/grocery-shopping-for-dummies/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/reasons-trader-joes-is-the-best

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Be Money-Smart & Well-Read – Tips for Finding Cheap Books

book love

If you are a book nerd like me, this post is for you!  I’m an avid reader.  On average I finish about 2 or 3 books a month.  If I’m really on a roll or have a lot of free time, I have been known to read 2 or 3 books a week.  And I always have a book on me, either in my purse or in my car.  I’m sure all this reading makes my mom, a 30+ year veteran of English teaching, very proud; but every now and then I add up my book tab for the month and am blown away by the price.  Buying books is not cheap!!!  The average paperback is about $12.  Even if I was being a bad reader and only got 2 books a month for a year, that’s $288 (that’s more than one month’s car payment right there!).  2 books a week would cost me $1,192.

I know what you’re thinking . . . “Go to the library, dumby! The books there are free.”  And you would be right – getting a library card is the easiest way to save money on buying books.  Almost every town has a public library and getting a card is typically free for all residents.  BUT if you are a super-reader, the library might not always solve your book-buying problems.  For example, when new books come out, it often takes libraries a little while to get them.  So if you’ve been waiting months for the new “Immortal Instruments” or “Game of Thrones” book to come out, you might be too impatient to wait for your local library to get a copy.  In addition, the library can only get a certain number of copies, so if you need a book right away and someone else has it out, you are out of luck.  Or what if you are stuck at home/ work and need something to read right away or you will die of boredom!!!!!!!! Or maybe a book ended with a cliff hanger and you need the sequal ASAP so you can find out what happens next (can you tell this happens to me frequently?).  And finally, sometimes borrowing a book isn’t enough; if you love it enough, you might need to own it.  The point is, if the library can’t meet all of your book needs, there are still ways you can get books on the cheap.  You can feed your book addiction without breaking the bank.  Here’s what to do:

1. Get an E-Reader: The best things about e-readers is that you have access to thousands of titles 24/7.  So if you have a “reading emergency” and need a book right away, you don’t have to make a trip to the store or library.  You can get a traditional e-reader like the Kindle or Nook or just use the iBooks app on your iPad.  E-readers have 2 great benefits: 1. Classic novels are usually free.  Canonized titles like “Pride and Prejudice,” “Wuthering Heights,” or “the Scarlet Letter” don’t cost you a penny to download. So you can feel literary and money smart at the same time. 2. New books for sale in stores in hardcover only are available for less on e-readers.  For example, I am obsessed with the author David Sedaris.  He is the funniest man alive and it is my ultimate life goal to write a novel that is 1/100 as funny as his semi-autobiographies.  When his new book “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls” came out last April, I was able to get it for $9.99 on my iPad.  In stores it was available in hardcover only for $24.99. I was too impatient to wait for the book to come out in paperback, but I still saved myself $15.

2. Hook Up Your E-Reader to Your Library’s Digital Collection: Most libraries now offer a “virtual collection.”  This means that they have electronic versions of books availble to download on your computer, e-reader, iPad, etc.  The only downside is you only have access to the book temporarily, so after 7-14 days it will disappear from your library.  Additionally, they can only allow so many downloads of a certain title at a time, so the book you want might not be available.  But if you are looking for a book on your e-reader, I reccommend checking if your library has a digital copy first.  If it’s available for free through the library, save yourself money on the download Next time you stop by, ask your librarian if they have a electronic library and how it works.

3. Search for Book Swaps: One cheap way to get new reading material is to trade good books with friends and family.  Your friends most likely have similar interests and taste in novels so it’s a great way to find new titles and save a buck.  My mom always says “never throw a book away” so trading with friends lightens your book load and helps you share stories you love.  In addition, check out if your community has a book swap program.  The non-profit Little Free Library puts up little mailboxes where people can take/leave a book for free across the U.S. (and the world!).  Take a peak to see if there’s a Little Free Library in your area by visiting their website http://littlefreelibrary.org/ or think about making one if there’s not.

4. Buy Used: Like most things, books are cheaper if they were “previously-loved.”  A lot of book stores (Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble) often have a section of pre-owned books for sale.  They tend to only put out books that are gently used (so you don’t have to worry about missing pages or scribbles in the margins) and they are a great steal at $2 – $4.  Another hidden source of books – yard sales!  People looking to declutter their houses often put out stacks of books at yard sales (especially children’s books their kids have outgrown).  The prices are often negotiable and you might find some oldies but goodies in the pile.

I hope these tips help keep your library big but inexpensive!

bode snugs

P.S. Here’s a cute pic of my lazy Sunday reading partner.  Bode might not do any reading himself, but he loves to snuggle up  to you while you enjoy a good book.  Warning – he is sort of a blanket hog and he snores 🙂 .

The Best Celebration Photo Ever

Confession: this post has nothing to do with personal finance.  I just couldn’t resist posting about Sunday night’s ALCS Game.  Plus, I think EVERYONE needs to see this still from the game.

It was the bottom of the 8th inning, the Red Sox were down 5-1, there were 2 outs in the inning when David Ortiz comes to the plate.  I think we all know what happens now.  He’s David Ortiz, the greatest clutch hitter OF ALL TIME EVER.  He obviously hits a grand slam to tie to game. No big deal.  But even though we all expected it, that didn’t stop all of Red Sox Nation from jumping out of their seats and screaming with joy when we saw the ball fly into the bullpen.

I don’t know what’s more impressive: that Ortiz hit that grand slam, that Torii Hunter flipped backwards over the bullpen wall to almost catch the ball, or that this cop could care less about Hunter’s safety.  He, like the rest of Red Sox Nation, is just enjoying a moment of pure baseball bliss.  There is literally nothing better in October than classic Red Sox comeback baseball. Forget pumpkin-spice lattes, forget apple crisp, fall is about play-off baseball.

torii hunter

bostonglobe.com

YES You Do Really Need Renters Insurance!

Me: I’m moving out of my parent’s house into an apartment!

Katie (my boss): Hurray! You’re going to get renters insurance, right?

Me: Yessss . . . I guess so . . . if you think I have to  . . . (mumble, mumble, mumble . . . )

Even though I am a super professional financial guru, my initial reaction to the idea of getting renters insurance was just like every other 20-something’s –  I thought, “WHY? I don’t really have anything to insure.”  Frankly, renters insurance seems like something I could probably (definitely) get by without.  I won’t drown in medical bills like I would without health insurance or have my driver’s license taken away like I would without car insurance, so why bother? I thought I’d save a few bucks and skip it.

If you are like me, one main reason you might not care to pay for renters insurance is that you are not 100% sure what it is.  The name seems self-explanatory, but honestly I couldn’t tell you what it covered or how it might help me out.  Basically, renters insurance protects you and your possessions from unexpected situations like fire, theft, water damage, and other circumstances that your landlord’s policy doesn’t cover.  Most renters insurance provides coverage for personal property (clothes, furniture, appliances, etc.), personal liability if someone is hurt in your home, and damage to your apartment or home caused by a covered loss.

Maybe 1/3 of my clothes and shoes. I have a shopping problem . . .

Maybe 1/3 of my clothes and shoes. I have a shopping problem . . .

Even once I knew what renters insurance was, I can’t say that I felt the urge to get it.  It still seemed like an expense I could do without.  Luckily for me, I have my own personal financial advisor right down the hall from my office (Katie to the rescue 🙂 ). The example of how renters insurance might work that started to convince me it was worthwhile?  Katie asked me, “If you lost ALL of your clothes and shoes in a fire, how much money do you think it would take to replace them?”  Dun dun DUNNNNNN . . . I own approximately 30+ pairs of shoes and a bajillion clothes.  I might have gotten them all on the cheap at Forever 21, but it would still probably cost me almost $2,000 to start my wardrobe over from scratch.  That’s a lot of cash that I definitely don’t have just lying around!  If I had renters insurance, however, the policy would help me pay to replace my ruined possessions.  So for the price of $103 a year, I could get my $2,000 worth of clothes back.  Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Still not convinced?  What if someone broke into your apartment and stole all your appliances and gadgets – your iPad, laptop, big screen TV, everything.  Would you have enough money saved up to pay to replace them all?  Or if your apartment was flooded, could you afford to stay in a hotel while it got fixed or would you find yourself sleeping on your best friend’s couch?

After that very convincing argument about losing my precious shoe collection, I decided to give in and get myself renters insurance.  I went online to geico.com because that’s where I have my auto policy and they gave me a discount for addding additional coverage.  Most major insurance companies offer some form of renters insurance, however, so if you want to shop around a litttle more you might find an even better deal.  The best part part was the policy only costs $103 a year or $8.58 a month – so cheap! If I can jusitfy paying $14.98 a month for my Audible.com subscription, there’s no reason to say no to renters insurance (P.S. I love books on tape).

Here’s a quick overview of everything my renters policy covers for me:

Personal Property Coverage: This covers personal possession such as clothes, furniture, appliances, linen, toiletries, cleaning supplies, computers, jewelry, and more.  If this property were to be ruined, stolen, or damaged so it was no longer useable, my policy would give me funds to replace it. Typically, you have to specify the approximate total value of your possessions and the amount of coverage you have is based on that esitmation.  I, for example, only have about $5,000 worth of property so I have the lowest level of Property Coverage offered.  The more items you have, the more coverage you may want, and the higher the cost of your policy.  Most insurance websites have calculators that help you list and guess the approxiomate value of your items if you are unsure.  Check out www.knowyourstuff.org if you need more help.  Also, decide whether you want a policy that offers replacement coverage (pays you the full cost of replacing an item) or actual-cash-value coverage (gives you the amount your item is worth now, after depriciation).

– Loss of Use Coverage: This protects me against losses sustained if my home becomes unfit to live in due to damage cause by a covered loss.  So if I were unable to live in my apartment because of a fire or other emergency, it would help pay for expenses like hotel bills, restaurant charges, etc.

– Personal Liability Coverage: This protects me from expensive judgements if my actions were to casue injury or property damage to another.  So if someone were to hurt themselves while visiting my apartment and I was deemed responsible for the accident, the insurance company would pay that person instead of the funds coming out of my personal assets.  Additionally, it would help me pay any legal bills I incurred while dealing with the issue.

Medical Payments Limit: This coverage would pay for up to $500 of medical expenses for bodily injury to a non-resident that occured in my apartment.  So if some slipped and fell down my stairs, this part of the policy would allow me to help them pay for medical, surgical, x-ray, dental, ambulance, and other potential costs.

Me if I lost all of the stuff in my apartment and I didn't have renters insurance.

Me if I lost all of the stuff in my apartment and I didn’t have renters insurance.

I think my favorite reason for being a new owner of a renters insurance policy is that it seems like a very adult thing to have.  In reality, however, its probably people my age who need this sort of insurance the most.  The fancy, middle-aged professionls with mortgages and 401Ks that I imagine having renters insurance might actually have $100,00 to pay if they were sued by someone who hurt themselves on their property.  They definitely be able to spend $2,000 replacing my Forever 21 wardrobe.  People on a budget, however, most definitely cannot afford these types of unexpected expenses.  If someone sued me for $100,000, they better be prepared to wait 164 years to get in back in unbelievably small installments, because that is the only way they will ever see a penny.  It turns out, I’m not too poor to have renters insurance, I’m too poor NOT to have it.

Lesson learned: if you live in a rental, look into getting renters insurance ASAP. I promise you won’t regret it!

Muddy Buddies Recipe

Image

Some people call them Muddy Buddies, some call them Puppy Chow, but whatever the name, this dessert is one of my all time favorites! Sweet, crunchy, and chocolatey all at once – what more could you ask for?!  These are a fall favorite of mine because I like to give them out in little bags as Halloween treats but they are delicious at any time of year. Bonus: the ingredients are inexpensive and they’re super easy to make (even I can do it).  Here’s the recipe I usually follow:

Ingredients:

9 cups of Chex Cereal

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup of peanut butter

1/4 cup of butter

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Instructions:

1. Mix chocolate, peanut butter, butter, and vanilla extract together in bowl and heat until melted (I prefer to hold the bowl over boiling water so the chocolate melts smoother but you can also use the microwave).

2. Pour Chex into separate bowl.

3. Pour chocolate mix over the Chex while stirring so that the chocolate coats the cereal evenly.

4. Pour chex in large plastic bag.

5. Add powdered sugar to bag and shake so it coats the cereal evenly.

6. Pour chex back into bowl and put in fridge to cool.

7. ENJOY! Note: it is acceptable to eat so many Muddy Buddies that your fingers are coated in powdered sugar – at least it is in my book!

Occasionally I mix it up and use Nutella instead of peanut butter (especially good if you have friends who are allergic to PB); it works just as well and tastes delicious!  Or if you want to be “healthier” you can use whole wheat Chex.  For even more Muddy Buddy options, check out this great blog that has 25 different versions: http://www.sixsistersstuff.com/2013/05/25-muddy-buddy-recipes.html .

Hope you all have a fun, happy, fall weekend!

Hackers and Fraudsters and Scammers . . . Oh My!

When I think of financial scams, the first thing that comes to mind is that episode of “the Office” where Michael tries to sign everyone up for a pyramid scheme.

michael scott

Oscar: This sounds like a get rich quick scheme.
Michael: Yes! Thank you! You will get rich quick. We all will!
Toby: Didn’t you lose a lot of money on that other investment, the one from the email?
Michael: You know what, Toby? When the son of the deposed king of Nigeria emails you directly, asking for help, you help! His father ran the freaking country, okay?
– The Office, Season 2, Episode 19, “Michael’s Birthday”

While Michael probably should have spotted his “business opportunity” as a scam, financial fraudsters today aren’t always so easy to recognize. They use well-known websites, send checks that look authentic, and are really, really good at tricking you into giving them your money. You might be doing something a routine as answering a phone call from what you think is your credit union or selling an old laptop online and the next thing you know your bank account has been hacked.  Scammers rely on the fact that you feel safe giving out your info or doing your business online.  If you are totally oblivious to potential scams, you’re the perfect target! Although I don’t expect you all to turn into crime-fighting, fraud-preventing superheroes (get out your capes and tights!), knowing the warning signs of a potential scam can save you some major bucks and a lot of hassle.
Here’s a quick overview of a few of the more common check scams out there:
Phishing – Someone calls or e-mails you posing as a familiar bank, retailer, or government agency. They say that something is wrong with your account and ask you to give them personal or financial information in order to fix the problem. A legitimate business would never contact you unexpectedly to request this kind of information; these types of calls are likely scammers trying to get access to info like your bank account number, Social Security number, passwords, etc. If you get a call or e-mail like this that you suspect is a scam, end the interaction right away, don’t give them any info, and contact the business you thought you were dealing with directly.
**Example: “Rachel from the credit card company” calls my parent’s house all the time saying that she can help them lower their interest rate if they just confirm some of their information. The fact that she doesn’t specify which credit card company should tip you off right away that it’s a scam. If your credit card company did want to lower your interest rate (which is rare), they would identify themselves.
Overpayments – Let’s say you sell an item online and the buyer sends you a check or money order for more than the amount you agreed on. They claim that the overpayment is a mistake and that you can just send them the extra money back. Or they say the check came from someone else who owed them money. They want you to take what you need and forward the remaining amount to them along with the item they purchased. Whatever explanation they give, it’s a scam! Legitimate buyers would agree to send you a check for the correct amount. Accepting an overpayment can leave you without your item and without the cash!
Rental Schemes – This is a trick that I had never heard of until I checked out www.fakechecks.org. It’s super sneaky! In this scheme you put an ad for a rental apartment or house online. A potential tenant, typically from outside the area, contacts you about renting the place. They send you a check or money order for more than the agreed upon rent and ask you to use the extra money to pay for the cost of shipping their stuff, getting their rental car, or some other expense. They could just send the money directly to this third party, but they ask you do to it for them instead. DON’T DO IT! The check is probably fraudulent and I’m willing to bet that they are on the receiving end of that “shipping” company you sent money to. You probably won’t see them in your apartment any time soon.
Work-From-Home Offers – We’ve all seen the ads: “Work from home! Make $8,000 a day for 4 hours of work! Live the life you’ve always wanted!” Admit it – there’s a small part of you that’s tempted to click on those links and see if they’re legit. Because who wouldn’t want to make a lot of money and not be stuck at the office for 40 hours a week? You know what they say though, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Scammers will contact you via e-mail, social media, or phone offering to hire you without an in-person interview or background check. They may ask you to deposit checks made out to the business into your personal account and tell you to keep a portion of it as your pay. Or they might send you funds to “test” a money transfer service for them. Whatever the set-up is, remember that legitimate businesses would pay you the old-fashioned way, with a paycheck and tax deductions.
Sudden Riches – Surprisingly, there are not a lot of people out there just dying to give you buckets of cash for no good reason. In a perfect world we would all be millionaires without having to lift a finger; but in the real world, it is highly unlikely that a sudden windfall of riches will come your way. One common check scam is to notify people that they have won a sweepstakes. They send you an “advance” on your winnings to help you pay for legal expenses or taxes. Or they say that in order to claim your winnings you first need to send them a check for a small amount so that they have your account information. A legitimate sweepstakes would never ask you to send them money before they sent you your winnings. Taxes and any other expenses would be deducted from money you won in a legitimate contest before they sent it to you. Additionally, notice of these winnings always comes by certified mail, not by regular mail, phone, or e-mail.
**Warning Sign: If you didn’t buy a lottery ticket or enter yourself in a sweepstakes, you probably didn’t win one! If anyone contacts you about winning a contest you didn’t enter (especially one in a foreign country you’ve never been to), it’s probably a scam!
Love Losses – This scam is the last and, in my opinion, saddest one on my list. This is the financial version of Catfish (a great documentary about a guy who thought he was dating a hot, young girl online and it was really a middle-aged woman – you should watch it!). Here’s how it happens: you start chatting with someone online, maybe through a well-known social media or dating site. The person claims to live far away from you, out of state or even in another country, so it would be difficult for you to meet in person. Once you’ve spent a lot of time getting to know each other and have built a relationship, they ask you to send them money. It might be for a medical emergency, to help someone in their family, or to travel to visit you. Whatever the reason, they need you to send them money ASAP. You should never send money to someone you haven’t meet in person. No matter how much you may trust or feel connected to this person, you run the huge risk that they aren’t who they claim to be.
So now that you’ve read through all of them (hopefully 😉 ) what are you supposed to do to avoid all of these potentially dangerous situations? Hide in your room? Go off the grid? The answer is simple – just be on the look-out. You don’t have to become overly suspicious of everyone you do business with, but be aware that fraudsters are out there and that they are always looking for new victims. Here are a few key things to keep in mind:
1. If you deposit a bad check or money order into your personal account, YOU are responsible for the funds. If a bad check overdraws your account, you have to come up with the money to cover the negative balance. Once you sign a check and deposit it, the issuing party is no longer responsible for the funds, even if the check is bad. If you’re unsure about a check, don’t deposit it!
2. Just because a check cleared your account, does not mean that it was good! It can take a long time for checks to be declared fraudulent (sometimes up to a few months). Federal law requires your financial institution to make funds available to you quickly, usually within 10 days, meaning that you could withdraw the money from a check deposit before finding out if it is bad. So again, if you’re not sure about a check, don’t risk depositing it.
3. Never accept an overpayment. A legitimate buyer or employer will always agree to send you a check for the correct amount. There is never any genuine reason that someone would need you to accept a check for a higher amount and return excess funds to them.
4. Never give your personal information to a person or business over the phone or online that you did not contact directly.
5. Never send money to someone you have not met in person. Similarly, never agree to cash a check or money order for someone you do not know.

If you want more information about check scams and how to avoid them, visit www.fakechecks.org. They have lots of great videos that help you understand exactly how these types of schemes work as well as a link to site where you can report suspected fraudulent activity. If you ever have questions about a potentially fraudulent check or a financial situation that seem suspicious, contact your credit union or bank right away; they help you decide how best to proceed.

Hopefully, you if you are aware of potential scams and are cautious about who you give personal information to you won’t end up like Michael Scott.

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