When a tax-refund fraudster left a wallet with 13 debit cards issued in 13 different names — none of them his own — at a United Airlines ticket counter, it raised a few red flags. It also resulted in the bust of a huge tax-refund fraud ring, centered in Florida.
Here is how the fraud works:
From Lisa Hanawalt’s sketchbook: honest slogans for familiar brands.
More on her blog.
How much of the pie do the rich have? The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson explains with real pies.
On the McDonald’s “Practical Money Skills” website, which was surely created with the best of intentions, the fast-food company offers a sample budget to show its employees how to make ends meet on a McDonald’s paycheck — as long as they are also getting another paycheck. That’s not even a joke. According to Robyn Pennacchia at Death and Taxes, here’s how much you would have to work to fit into the budget:
Yeah– now, when I first saw that, I assumed that the top line was for a part-time McDonald’s employee. Then I got out my calculator– that is actually what you would make if you were working full-time at McDonald’s.
Now let’s say that the “second” job that they budget in here (feels like cheating, but OK) is also minimum wage. … That translates to 74 hours a week. That’s almost a whole other full time job.
Introducing his brief post on the settlement, BoingBoing’s Rob Beschizza says “Intimidation, abuse, deception: everyone knows what debt collectors will do to get paid.” That’s sad, but true.
Perhaps EGS, at least, will clean up its act now that it has been assessed the largest-ever civil penalty against a debt collector by the FTC.
At Gamasutra, app developer Ramin Shokrizade outlines some of the ways free-to-play game developers persuade, coerce, and trick users out of their money. There is a reason why 9 of the 10 top-grossing apps are “free” to download and play, after all.
The same goes for Facebook, where nearly all games are free-to-play.
According to Shokrizade, people aren’t paying more for these games because they are amazing; the game-makers are using some devious tricks to trick them out of their cash. Especially those who are biologically more vulnerable to their tricks, as it turns out. Children, in other words, and young adults whose ability to make smart financial decisions remains undeveloped.
Note that while monetizing those under 18 runs the risk of charge backs, those between the age of 18 and 25 are still in the process of brain development and are considered legal adults. It seems unlikely that anyone in this age range, having been anointed with adulthood, is going to appeal to a credit card company for relief by saying they are still developmentally immature. Thus this group is a vulnerable population with no legal protection, making them the ideal target audience for these methods. Not coincidentally, this age range of consumer is also highly desired by credit card companies.
The tricks aren’t illegal, just … tricky. They all use a “premium currency” instead of dollars and cents, so you don’t realize how much money you are spending. They extort you by giving you powerful items, then threatening to take them away if you don’t pay up. They start out as skill games, then convert to money games, where your ability to advance is primarily determined by your willingness to spend money:
King.com’s Candy Crush Saga is designed masterfully in this regard. Early game play maps can be completed by almost anyone without spending money, and they slowly increase in difficulty. This presents a challenge to the skills of the player, making them feel good when they advance due to their abilities. Once the consumer has been marked as a spender (more on this later) the game difficulty ramps up massively, shifting the game from a skill game to a money game as progression becomes more dependent on the use of premium boosts than on player skills.
If the shift from skill game to money game is done in a subtle enough manner, the brain of the consumer has a hard time realizing that the rules of the game have changed. If done artfully, the consumer will increasingly spend under the assumption that they are still playing a skill game and “just need a bit of help”. This ends up also being a form of discriminatory pricing as the costs just keep going up until the consumer realizes they are playing a money game.
There is a lot more in the article, which you should definitely read so you know what to look out for.
From insideARM, the recommendations include:
I watched Frontline’s “The Retirement Gamble” with my wife tonight. It starts with the shift from company-managed pensions to 401K funds managed by all of us — or our financial planners. It is not a feel-good documentary. Many Americans are losing huge chunks of their retirement savings to fees, possibly for little or no benefit (well, not to the savers, anyway; the fund managers are getting plenty of benefit).
This was not a problem in the roaring 90s, when a monkey could make money in the stock market, but it’s a big problem now, when many Americans have seen their retirement accounts fall off a cliff, or at best, go flat.
What’s the root of the problem? According to Frontline, it’s not so much the fees, but the fact that financial advice is mostly doled out by salespeople whose only ethical requirement is to sell you something “suitable.” In other words, the financial products they sell you just have to sort of resemble the kind of product you want. They can’t sell you an insurance policy if you’re looking for a mutual fund, in other words.
Few financial advisors are fiduciaries, a word that means they would be required to put your interests ahead of their own. (Not salespeople, in other words.) It doesn’t seem to matter that most Americans have no idea what that word means or how to identify a fiduciary (hint: ask).
Are there good, well-meaning financial advisors out there who are not fiduciaries? I’m sure there are. I think my financial advisor is one of them. But whether you go with a salesperson or a fiduciary, you need to ask yourself (and your financial advisor, fiduciary or not) some important questions:
Above all, be involved in your retirement planning. If your investments aren’t growing, find out why — or find someone else to help you manage your investments more effectively.