Protect Yourself From Fraud!

Throughout history, those looking to do harm to others tend to prey on the weak and naïve, or those who lack a strong support system. Sadly, in our day, this often ends up being our Senior Citizens. Because of this, we live in a world where Seniors are often the target of financial fraud.

As a mature American, or the child of one, what can be done to make sure you or your relative does not become the subject of such abuse?

An article on MSN Money * focuses on steps that individuals and their families can take and emphasizes the importance the individual participating in the policing of his or her own finances if possible.

One important step is to consider WHY many Senior Citizens are targeted. “According to the FBI,” the article states, “seniors are targeted because they often have nest eggs, they come from a generation that was more trusting, and they’re often too proud to report the fraud. Another reason the elderly sometimes hesitate to report they’ve been ripped off? They’re concerned their relatives might see this as a sign of declining mental capacity and they don’t want to lose their independence. Smart and unscrupulous thieves know all this and try to exploit it.”

When fraud is detected, it can be frightening and confusing for the parties involved. For this reason, the FBI has come out with a comprehensive, yet easy-to-read, list detailing the different types of fraud and how to prevent them. Click here to view the information on the FBI’s Website. http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors.

With all this in mind, it can be daunting to bring someone new into your financial life. At Cornerstone, we understand those fears and do our best to make your experience in dealing with us as reassuring as possible.

Feel free to take a look at this article to see more steps YOU can take to protect yourself from fraud and scams when working with a retirement planner. Protect Yourself from Fraud During Financial Review.

Information for Those Concerned With Protecting Elderly Relatives

As brought out in the article, Credit Card Fraud is one of the most common types that seniors face today. Here are a few steps that can be taken to help elderly relatives avoid becoming a victim!

Talk to your relative about email scams. You can’t be around your relative constantly, so take the time to explain why he or she should never give a credit card number by email to buy a product. These scams often promise a great product — anti-aging products, for example — but scammers need your credit card information. This type of scam also happens over the phone. Seniors get a call and are offered a new product that promises, say, youthful energy. Once scammers get your loved one interested, they ask for a credit card number to seal the deal.

Keep an eye on caregivers. Maybe your parent is still at home and has home health care a few days a week. Or maybe in a nursing facility with nurses and various medical assistants always present. Hopefully, they are dealing with professionals who are trustworthy. Just keep in mind that there are many reports of caregivers using a credit card belonging to people they’re taking care of. It’s awful that someone could stoop so low. But it happens all the time.

If you can, it’s best to visit your elderly relative frequently and shred any mail with personal information on it. If your loved one has credit card accounts, you can view account activity online with them. You can even opt out of paper statements altogether. That way, credit card account numbers won’t be within easy reach of whoever is in the room. Credit card fraud can still occur, of course, but by frequently checking your parent’s accounts online, you’ll notice if something suspicious pops up on their statement.

Even if you can’t visit often, you can still check their credit card accounts online every week from your home. But ask for permission so they don’t feel as if you’re invading their privacy.

Keep an eye on other family members. Unfortunately, family members are often the ones who rob their parents or grandparents. If you have a family member with a problem such as drug addiction or gambling debt, that’s a red flag and warrants additional caution. When people are desperate for money, they can justify taking it from anyone. They’re counting on the fact that no one will notice. You can prove them wrong by keeping on top of your relative’s credit card account activity.

Check the mail. You can learn a lot from the mail. Is your loved one getting letters from “charities” asking for a donation via her credit card? If she’s getting letters from organizations, she may have sent money to them previously. Looking at credit card accounts online is a good way to make sure she isn’t authorizing payments to fraudulent entities.

Pay attention to new friends. The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse recommends keeping track of any new “best friends.” The relationship may be innocent, but if it’s sudden and there’s an age difference, this may be a red flag that someone is planning to commit fraud.

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* http://money.msn.com/credit-cards/protect-grandma-from-credit-fraud

Stock Brokers vs. Financial Advisors

It’s Business…

“Its business,” is the excuse many professionals use when they are doing something they know is less than ethical. They aren’t doing anything illegal, they’re just maneuvering a situation to benefit the company they work for, or their own bank account, OVER the benefit of their client.

We see this frequently in the financial services industry, and it’s the reason so many individuals are leery to trust someone else to manage their money. And it’s logical to be cautious when you know that someone will make their living off of the decisions they lead you to make with your wealth.

Camouflaged under the concept of “Business is Business” many stockbrokers make recommendations to their clients that are not really in their best interests. An article found in Yahoo Finance Online* says,

“Many of those who work on Wall Street go through a process in which they gradually learn that what is perceived as “smart investing” is often unbelievably dumb. Specifically, they learn that many of the recommendations that Wall Street makes, and the transactions that Wall Street gets paid to facilitate, are not in their clients’ best interests.” The article goes on to talk about a former stockbroker named Josh Brown who left the business when he was forced to do things that weren’t really in the best interest of his clients.  He is now a Financial Advisor and says that in this position his interests and his client’s interests are more closely aligned.

Stockbrokers Vs. Financial Advisors

Most people don’t recognize that there’s even a difference between a “Stock Broker” and a “Financial Advisor,” but there is, the article says. “Stockbrokers generally work for brokerage firms and do not have to recommend trades that they think are in their clients’ best interests. Rather, they just have to recommend securities that are “suitable” (a much lower standard). Financial advisers, meanwhile, have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of their clients.”

The article concludes by saying that someone looking for “sound financial advice” would be wise to choose a Financial Advisor over a Stockbroker.

Cornerstone proud to have a group of Financial Advisors who have a DUTY to provide their clients with more than just “suitable options”. Cornerstone advisors are required by law to make sure that they offer the very best options to anyone who comes to them for advice, and this business model pays off on all accounts. Cornerstone was awarded the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Ethics in 2017, and has an A+ rating with the Bureau.

In addition to the state-specific laws and regulations they follow, Cornerstone itself has set very strict procedures that must be followed when their Advisors are meeting with clients. As mentioned in our previous article, ” FINANCIAL REVIEW: HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FINANCIAL FRAUD we take collecting information about our clients VERY seriously. Why? Because to make the best suggestions, we must have all the information!

Investor Relations

Giving Cornerstone an even stronger ability to do the best for their clients, is the huge number of Investment Relationships they have. Cornerstone works with more than 150 different A+ rated companies (You’ve surely heard of some of them, like John Hancock, ING, MetLife, Lincoln Financial and Humana) and so their agents have the ability to compare the rates of a number of companies and find the best option for you!

Even dealing with a Financial Advisor who represents a specific Insurance Company or bank can bring on a challenge, because they may recommend the best option that THEIR COMPANY has to offer, but it may not be the best option for you overall. Cornerstone itself is not an insurance company and does not have any of its own products, so when meeting with a Cornerstone representative, clients can be assured that their Advisor has no ulterior motive in suggesting a certain product or service.

Their job is to pick the product that will save you the most money, make you the most money, or best meet any of your specific needs. When seeking good financial advice, as the Yahoo article mentioned above, contacting a Financial Advisor, such as the ones you can find at Cornerstone, is the way to go!

Feel free to contact any one of our representatives for financial advice completely free of charge!  Meet our Team.

Lost Life Insurance Policies

Did you know that in the last few decades an estimated $1 BILLION dollars in life insurance benefits remain unclaimed? How is this possible? The answer is simple. Lost Life Insurance Policies. In this week’s post, we’d like to reference a recent article found on Yahoo Finance entitled “Life Insurers Pressed on Lost Policies.”*

The article begins by mentioning a woman, named Mary Lou, who was surprised to receive a check for $7,000 more than a decade after the death of her father. The check was from unclaimed life insurance policies her father had taken out previously, that his family had no knowledge of.

At the time of her father’s death, Mary Lou inquired with the insurance company with whom she knew he had policies, to see if there were any other accounts. She was told at the time that they didn’t owe her anything else. As it turns out, that $7,000 check was for three policies that she didn’t have a policy number for.

Mary Lou voices her concern for the situation as it may affect others, “Can you imagine all the millions or billions of dollars that belong to other people and they don’t know to claim it,” she says, in Yahoo’s article?

Backing up Mary Lou’s statement, state regulators estimate that over the decades life insurance companies have failed to pay well over $1 Billion in death benefits. The reason? Because it’s up to the beneficiaries to file a claim following death.  One industry official says that whatever the amount is, it’s a “very small percentage” of total claims paid. “We know the percentages represent real people and we’ve been working with policy makers on ways to ensure all policyholders get the benefits they deserve,” said the official, Bruce Ferguson of the American Council of Life Insurers.

Recognizing that new technology can help alleviate this problem, insurance companies in many states are being required to check old unclaimed policies against death databases, and to make payouts to those they owe.

Most insurance companies will probably not fight these regulations. Yahoo’s article went on to state that opposing a requirement to check the databases would be particularly difficult given that many insurance companies already check them when it’s in their interest- for example, to learn about the deaths of annuity customers because such deaths usually end the insurers duty to make payments under retirement-income contracts.

As many such modern systems are slowly being implemented into this industry, the process of handling insurance claims is no doubt going to undergo some changes. The article mentioned above referenced a number of such changes that are already taking place.

Of course we all look forward to a time when this process has been completely ironed out and everyone has a perfect way to keep track of all of the policies they and their family have. But in the mean time, the monetary figures mentioned most likely only strengthen your resolve not to be one of the many whose unclaimed benefits make up that staggering $1 Billion.

Taking advantage of free help which can keep you from becoming part of that statistic is definitely a wise course.

At Cornerstone, your advisor becomes your advisor for LIFE. They work with you to put together a portfolio with all of your information which we keep on file and make available to your beneficiaries when you pass away. This ensures that any policies you have are processed properly and your legacy is paid out to those you left it to.

Contact us today to set up an appointment where we can help you manage all of your insurance policies and investments in one place. Our services are always provided at NO COST to you!

*http://finance.yahoo.com/news/life-insurers-pressed-lost-policies-030100774.html

Financial Review: How to protect yourself from financial fraud

You’re at home on a Tuesday afternoon and you receive a phone call from a local retirement planner, offering to visit you at your home, explain the Medicare program and do a free financial review.

Of course, as an informed consumer, you are skeptical. “What are they going to try to sell me? Is this legitimate?” You may wonder. And these are valid questions. ANY time ANYONE wants to visit you at your home or wants you to divulge personal information, it’s your responsibility to do your due diligence and make sure the representative is legitimate. In a society filled with dishonesty, scams and scandals it can be hard to know who to trust! This article will discuss a few ways you can help ensure that you are dealing with who you THINK you’re dealing with and also that they give you the treatment you deserve.

Step 1- Identification

When you book an appointment with a representative over the phone, be sure to get their FULL name and the name of the Company they represent. Your first step is to make sure that they are licensed to do what they say they do. If they are representing an insurance company, or a group that works with insurance companies, they are required to have a state insurance license. You can easily go online and do a search for the Department of Insurance for the state you live in. Each website usually has something called a “Producer Search” which allows you to inquire by Insurance License Number, or by name.

When you find the name of the person you’re looking for you will want to verify that their license is current and active. If you have trouble finding them, don’t hesitate to contact them back and ask for a State Insurance License Number. If you still can’t find it, or if it’s not active, do not meet with this person! Contact their company back and ask for a manager. The company should be able to provide you with a different representative who can help you. You can also contact the state Department of Insurance for more information on that individual.

If you DO find them online, you’ll also want to search further and see which companies they’re licensed with. If you don’t immediately see a particular company listed, don’t be alarmed. Insurance Agents frequently become contracted with new companies as rates fluctuate and products change. They just want to be able to offer their clients the very best options! But sometimes these companies take time to reflect those contracts in the State’s online system.

Another issue is that sometimes an agent works with an agency of a certain name (For example: Jones Retirement Center) who has contracts with insurance companies (Like, John Hancock or Lincoln Financial) So the person on the phone might say: “This is Mike, with Jones Retirement Center.” but when you look him up online you don’t see any sort of contract listed for “Jones Retirement Center”, you only see “John Hancock and Lincoln Financial”. This is because the State sometimes only lists the contracts for actual Insurance Companies, not for the agencies they work through.

If this is the case, you’ll want to do another online search for the name of the agency they work for. So, using the example above “Jones Retirement Center in Financeville, Washington.” Most agencies have a website and you can use this site to review a little more about the company the agent represents and possibly even verify that the agent DOES in fact, work for that agency. (Many agencies list their representatives on their website.) You might also check other outside online listings such as Yellow-Pages or Google, to read reviews about this agency. If negativity seems prevalent with no response or explanation from the business, then you might want to turn elsewhere for your financial planning advice.

If the agent and agency clear all the above filters, the last thing you’d want to do, is just verify that they are who they SAID they are, when they come to your house for their appointment. Asking to see a driver’s license or insurance license will not throw an honest agent off-guard. They will be happy to share their credentials with you. Hopefully they’ll tell you that they appreciate your diligence and that they’re glad to be working with someone who has taken steps to protect themselves in this crazy world we live in.

Step 2- Fact Finding

If you went to a doctor for a check-up and he walked in the room and handed you a prescription for a heart medication, without ever talking to you, taking your blood pressure or running any other tests, you’d think he was crazy! He knows nothing about you or your situation, yet he’s trying to get you to take a drug for a heart condition! How can he even know you HAVE this condition? And even if he’s right, you might already be taking some other medication to treat it! Who knows how the two could affect each other!

It’s just as unreasonable, for a representative to come to your home and tell you that a certain product or service will best suit your needs, if they haven’t first done a financial review.

Also called a “Fact Finder” a financial review will let your agent know about everything you are and aren’t currently doing with your insurance, investments and savings. Having this information will allow them to inform you of possible problems and offer valid solutions.

It can be unsettling to divulge this type of personal information but keep in mind, you’ve already verified that this is a licensed and trained representative, working for a company that has a good reputation. It’s vital that they have a full picture of your financial situation BEFORE you purchase any new product, or they suggest any changes to your retirement plan.

You may be asked any of the following questions:

What types of investments do you currently have? What are the interest rates and total balance of those accounts? (They will want to see statements if you have them and might even call the company to confirm different details of your policies.)
What type of life insurance do you have? (This is another case where showing the agent your policy and letting them call the company for full details is definitely to your benefit.)
What are the balances of your checking and savings accounts?
What type of health insurance do you currently have?
What is the current state of your physical health?

Honestly answering all of these questions is the only way that your representative can truly evaluate your situation and offer real solutions that could change your life!

If your representative doesn’t take the time to do this type of review with you, they aren’t doing their job. To get the best service in this industry, you must demand it! Don’t settle for less. Give them your full attention, and they will give you theirs.

Together you can work toward a secure future for yourself and your family.

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