Beware Charity Fraud

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently sent me some information about some popular charity frauds going around lately.

I personally never respond to a solicitation. It could’ve come in the mail, through a phone call, or an email; I ignore them all. It’s not because I’m a heartless person and it’s not because I don’t trust the solicitation, it’s that I prefer to go directly to the charity. I don’t want to write a personal check and put it in the mail. I don’t want to give any sensitive information across the phone and I certainly don’t trust email, with all the scams and phishing attempts surrounding those. I know the charities we like to support and we generally go directly to their websites to donate.

However, given the tumble the stock market had over the last year, a lot of charities are turning to solicitations to get more donations because their trusts and endowments are hurting. This has opened up an opportunity for scammers and thieves, so the FTC has offered up some good information to help you combat that.

If you recently received a phone call from a “charity” and are considering donating money, I recommend you read the FTC’s Charity Fraud website for tips on how you can protect yourself and the people you’re helping. When you give money to a scammer, it only empowers them to keep on ripping people off. As more people get burned, they start avoiding charities and charities that support the people the scammer said he or she was collecting for. In the end, it’s the people you intended to help that get hurt the most.

I also wanted to spotlight two particularly poignant scams going on right now and how to protect them. The first involves scammers pretending to collect donations to support the troops, as in vets, active duty, or their families. The second is the result of an enforcement sweep of scammers that pretended to collect donations for police, firefighters, and veterans.

It’s great to help those who are in need, but not if the money is going into the pocket of a scammer.


10 Smart Student Credit Rules

I applied for my first credit card as a freshman in college, it was an AT&T branded Citi card that gave me free long distance phone minutes and a few rewards points. I was fortunate to have started building up my credit at the age of eighteen, which would prove to be crucial later on. I was even more fortunate never to have fallen down the credit card debt hole so many college students slip into, in part because I know my mom would’ve been furious. 🙂

To help all the rising freshmen, or perhaps the parents of rising freshmen, I offer up these ten rules for smart credit. Some of these are credit card rules and some are simply credit rules, hopefully all of them are helpful. Here are ten tips for students looking to build credit but not credit card debt:
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 Personal Finance 

How Much House Can $10,000 Buy?

Bankrate recently looked at what $400,000 can buy today in the real estate market. I poked around, checking out a 3 bedroom, 2/5 bath 1,730 sq. ft. home in San Diego, CA, that seemed to be directly on top of the home next door, and a monster of a brand-spanking new home in Houston, TX that had nearly 2,500 square feet.

But I didn’t think that was realistic. Doesn’t Bankrate know we’re in a recession!? I wanted to know what $10,000 can get you.

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What is an IRS CP2000 Clarification Letter?

Angry IRS letterOne of my friends recently got a letter in the mail from the IRS and it freaked them out. The first time I got my official coupons for quarterly estimated payments I freaked out a little because all I saw was an official IRS letter that was thick and ominous looking.

Fortunately, it was “just” a CP2000 letter.

A CP2000 is the letter than the IRS sends out when they want more information from you. The scary part about the letter is that sometimes is says that you may owe more taxes (never a good thing). Fortunately, owing more taxes is generally the worst case scenario. In many instances, they just need to ask you some questions because there were some discrepancies.

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 Frugal Living 

Print Postage Online

Post Office in Mooresville, ALI hate going to the post office. It doesn’t matter what day I go or what time of day I go, there is always a line and there’s always only one or two tellers working. I’ve gone to post offices that serve a large residential zip code and post offices that serve a smaller residential zip code, there is always a line and never enough tellers. If we’re near a holiday, forget it, I’ll be waiting in line for at least half an hour. If you visit the PO with any regularity, I bet you understand my pain.

The worst part is watching people struggle through a process that is otherwise fairly straightforward. People show up with packages they haven’t even finished packing! I understand not knowing how much postage is needed but to not have your package taped up and ready to go is inexcusable.

So, that’s why I try to do as much as I can at home so I can shorten the time I’m stuck in the post office. Recently, with all the shipping I’ve been doing related to contests and auction winners in the Bargaineering Bucks store, I’ve been considering printing my postage online. Here’s what I’ve found.

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 Personal Finance 

Welcome Back Marketplace Money Listeners!

American Public Media MarketplaceWelcome back Marketplace Money listeners! I once again had the great pleasure of joining fellow personal finance bloggers Lynnae of and Steve of Brip Blap for a chat with host Tess Vigeland of Marketplace Money, one of my favorite personal finance radio shows (yes, waaaaay before I was ever blogging).

Download The Podcast

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can download the June 12th, 2009 Marketplace Money program right now and take a listen (our segment starts at 20:57 if you’re short on time). Here’s a transcript of our chat.

Welcome Marketplace Money Listeners!

Please allow me to be the first to welcome you to our corner of the personal finance blogosphere.

I’ve been a personal finance blogger for about four years, the last year and a half of which have been full-time, and I write about anything and everything dealing with my money. You can read more about me on the About page.

Some of the more popular sections of the site include a Devil’s Advocate series where I argue against conventional wisdom, just to get the other side’s perspective, as well as the numerous financial product reviews I do, which includes financial products, books, and other widgets.

RSS Subscribe If you enjoy what you see, please consider subscribing to receive free updates of the site. You can do so with your favorite RSS reader or get posts piped directly to your email each day by filling out the form below. I update at least twice daily (you’ll only get one email a day) and I don’t use the email for anything other than to send out these updates.

Also, if you’re interested in getting a once weekly newsletter that includes the latest news and anything interesting I find during the week (here’s the full list of benefits), you can sign up here:


Finally, if you ever want to reach me, you can email me at the address in the upper right or use this handy contact form.

Thanks for reading!


Mobile Banking Safety & Security Tips

Palm TreoI’ve had a Palm Treo for almost two years and one of the nice things about having a smartphone is that it gives me the ability to go online whenever I have cell service. It’s saved my butt on more than one occasion.

With the internet at my fingertips, one thing I’ve done more often is check my banking information through the phone’s web browser. It’s a quick way to see if checks have cleared without calling the bank and navigating the painful IVR systems. However, I’ve always done this without much concern for security.

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 Your Take 

Your Take: FDIC Sets Bank Interest Rate Caps

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation SealNear the end of May, the FDIC Board of Directors approved a rule that capped the interest rate “less than well capitalized institutions” could offer. For quite some time they listed weekly national rates. It was only until last month did they institute rate caps, which are defined as 75 basis points above the national rate. The national rate is just the simple average of rates paid by all insured depository institutions and branches for which data are available.” If a region has a much higher prevailing rate, then banks in that region will be allowed to use local averages plus 75 basis points as the rate cap. This rule wouldn’t go into effect until January 1, 2010.

The idea is that a bank that isn’t well capitalized will be in dire need of some liquidity and boosting your rates is a great way to increase deposits but put you in a difficult spot down the road. When Washington Mutual offered 5% APY certificates of deposit, everyone knew that it was a play for deposits. This rule would make that impossible.

What do you think? Is this a good idea or a bad idea? Do you think that the government is overstepping?

Incidentally, the current rate cap, effective 6/8/2009, on a savings account is 0.96% and a 12 month CD is 1.98% APY. Those are some pretty sad rates.

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