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November 2022 DFPI Consumer Connection

Important Updates for Californians with Student Loans 

  • Federal Student Loan Debt Relief Applications Pause – The Federal Student Debt Relief program is currently blocked by orders from a federal judge and appeals court. The Department of Justice has submitted an appeal. In the meantime, the Department of Education is no longer accepting applications. So far, 26 million applications have been submitted with 16 million already processed and approved. Should the court orders be lifted, use the link provided above to submit your Federal Student Debt Relief application.

  • DFPI Student Loan Webinars - The DFPI has been partnering with consumer advocates, government organizations, and California legislative offices to host student loan webinars. Topics include the California Student Borrower Bill of Rights, how to apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Waiver and Federal Student Debt Relief, and protecting yourself from scams and fraud. You can watch videos of past student loan workshops our YouTube Channel.

  • Student Loan Debt Relief Scams - Since the federal student loan debt relief program was announced, scammers have been on the move — trying to get your money and personal information. For tips on how to protect yourself as you apply for debt relief, read the FTC’s Now That the Student Loan Debt Relief Application Is Open, Spot the Scams

  • Student Loan Payments Restart – Student loan repayments will restart after Dec. 31, 2022, for almost four million Californians. Know your rights and your options

  • Scholarship Opportunities – Celina Damian, DFPI’s Student Loan Servicing Ombudsperson, encourages students to take advantage of grant and scholarship opportunities before seeking student loans. Scholarships get awarded based on academic or athletic merit, talent, or a particular area of study and do not have to be repaid. Students should also beware of scholarship-related scams and frauds – never pay for help applying for scholarships. For more information and free webinars, visit the California Student Aid Commission’s Cash for College Program.

Upcoming Events

For more information about DFPI’s Education & Outreach events and other resources, visit DFPI Education & Outreach. Recordings of select events can also be viewed on the DFPI YouTube Channel.
 

Senior Scam Stopper Seminar - Escondido 

Nov. 21, 1 – 2 p.m. | Park Avenue Senior Center 

Hosted by Senator Brian W. Jones (SD 40), DFPI, Contractors State Licensing Board, and Department of Insurance. Learn how to avoid scams and fraud targeting seniors. RSVP: (619) 596-3136.

 

Protect Yourself from Fraud – Carmichael 

Dec 5, 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. and 6 - 7 p.m. | Mission Oaks Community Center

In-person seminar with DFPI to learn about holiday frauds and scams, cybercrimes, and tools to protect your financial and personal information. More information: (916) 972-0336.
 

Fraud Protection for Seniors – Santa Rosa

Dec 8, 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. | Finley Community Center

In-person seminar with DFPI to learn about cybercrimes and scams, online fraud prevention, and bank fraud. More information: (707) 543-3733.


Resources for International Fraud Awareness Week

International Fraud Awareness Week (Nov. 13-19) is a global effort to minimize the impact of fraud by promoting anti-fraud resources and education. As California’s financial services regulator, DFPI’s mission is to protect and educate consumers. We want to make sure Californians understand financial products before they purchase them, know their rights, and avoid becoming victim of financial fraud — especially our most vulnerable populations, such as seniors, students, military servicemembers, and new Californians. 

To learn more about the DFPI’s fraud prevention efforts, visit DFPI Consumer Education & Outreach, a one-stop shop where consumers can find information and resources, including a calendar of events, financial education tips, and publications. If you would like to partner with the DFPI, schedule a fraud prevention presentation, or request brochures, contact us at Outreach@dfpi.ca.gov.  

Never rush to make a financial decision. The DFPI can help by checking licenses and answering general questions. For assistance, contact us toll-free at (866) 275-2677 or via email at Ask.DFPI@dfpi.ca.gov.


Honoring All Who Have Served 

According to a recent AARP Report, veterans are much more likely than civilians to be targeted by fraudsters. Veterans can be viewed as easy targets by scammers due to the assumption that veterans have a sense of giving back to other fellow veterans. This has led to fake veteran charities or causes being among the highest reported scams by veteran victims.

The DFPI offers a wide range of resources dedicated to protecting our California veterans and military servicemembers on our Consumer Financial Education for Military and Veterans page. You can also find additional resources and downloadable brochures on our Information for Military Service Members page.

Other veteran and military servicemember resources include:

  • Veterans’ Crisis Line – Veterans and their family members who are feeling any kind of mental distress can call the new Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 then pressing 1, dialing (800) 273-8255 then pressing 1, by text (838255), and through the Veterans Crisis Line Chat.

  • CalVet Calendar of Events – Visit this webpage for a list of Veterans Day ceremonies happening across California. Please check back often as the calendar updates in real time as events are added in your area.
  • VA Office of Inspector General – Its mission is to serve veterans and the public by conducting independent oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It investigates a wide range of financial crimes from threats against VA personnel and property to actions associated with patient harm. For more information about trending scams and fraud related to veterans and the military, visit their Fraud Indicators Toolkit and Crime Alerts Webpage.  

  • PACT Act Scams The PACT Act is a new law that expands VA healthcare and benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. There’s been an increase in scammers using PACT Act-related phishing (email), vishing (phone), and social media scams that target veterans to access their PACT Act benefits or offer to submit claims on their behalf for a fee. Veterans should be cautious of anyone who guarantees a lucrative financial benefit or service. For tips to avoid PACT Act scams, read the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Be Vigilant of Pact Act Scams

Meet Our Targeted Outreach Team 

My name is Fernando Ponce, and I am part the DFPI’s Targeted Outreach Team. I cover the Northern California, Central Coast, and Bay Area regions, giving consumer financial education presentations about the financial services DFPI regulates and alerting the public of current and emerging financial scams. I specialize in topics related to veterans and the military servicemember community. I am an OIF 2 Vet and a VFW Lifetime member and would like to come to your post or group, if you would benefit from my expertise. I can present in English and in Spanish. If you would like to partner with the DFPI, schedule a presentation, or request brochures, contact me at Fernando.Ponce@dfpi.ca.gov.


Safer Shopping Means Happier Holidays 

The Holiday Season is here! Like millions of Americans, you are probably planning to buy many of your holiday gifts online. The internet has made shopping easy, affordable, and convenient – without even having to leave your home (or pajamas). Unfortunately, this has caught the attention of cybercriminals who are keen to exploit individuals benefitting from these conveniences. Every year many consumers get scammed, with stolen money and personal information spoiling holiday cheer. The two most prevalent holiday scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes. In a non-delivery scam, a buyer pays for goods or services they find online, but those items are never received. Conversely, a non-payment scam involves goods or services being shipped, but the seller is never paid. For more information on how to protect yourself from these common holiday and online shopping scams, read Safer Shopping Means Happier Holidays.


Should You Buy Now, Pay Later for Holiday Purchases? 

Retailers are increasingly offering payment options that allow you to stretch payments over the course of several installments, known as Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) loans. A recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Buy Now Pay Later: Market Trends and Consumer Impacts, reports that BNPL is a rapidly growing type of loan that serves as a close substitute for credit cards. BNPL is a form of interest-free credit that allows a consumer to fully purchase a product and then pay back the loan over four installments with the first installment typically being a down payment on the purchase. Most BNPL loans range from $50 to $1,000 and are subject to late fees if a borrower misses a payment. Buy Now, Pay Later rose to prominence in the past decade as an alternative form of credit for online retail purchases. The lending option has gained traction with consumers, especially Millennials and Gen-Zers, who seek the flexibility of being able to pay for goods and services over time, but who may have been leery of other credit products. 

Buy Now, Pay Later loans can be attractive due to initial payments being low. However, it is important to note that BNLP loans don’t have the same consumer protections as other forms of credit. It’s important to carefully read the terms of the loan, so you understand the possible risks. Many BNLP loans don’t charge interest, instead they charge fees, such as late payment fees, with every BNLP lender having different policies. This makes it extremely important for consumers to carefully review the terms of the BNLP loan to avoid any possible penalties. Most BNPL lenders don’t report payments to credit reporting companies, meaning your credit scores won’t be affected. However, if you don’t pay BNPL loans on time and the debt is turned over to a debt collector, your BNPL loan may be reported to a credit reporting company, hurting your credit score. As this holiday season approaches, it may be tempting to use Buy Now Pay Later loans, but it’s important to read the fine print of the loan and have a good understanding of your finances to avoid additional fees. For more information, read the CFPB’s Should You Buy Now and Pay Later? 


Tips for Safe Holiday Charitable Donations 

As the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaches, we urge everyone to do their research before donating and be aware of possible scams. Charity scams increase with the holiday season of giving. They can be found online, via text or email, on the phone, or delivered to you in the mail. Some scammers will try to rush a sentimental decision or lie and thank you for a donation you never gave — then ask for your payment information. Never give personal or financial information to someone you do not know. And never send money to a charity by wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency. For more information, including how to verify a charitable organization, read the FTC's Before Giving to a Charity. 


Password Tips for National Computer Security Day 

National Computer Security Day (Nov. 30) demands our attention because cyber security affects everything from where we bank and how we spend our money to who we elect to public office. National Computer Security Day also reminds consumers about better password practices. Passwords are vital gatekeepers to our digital identities, allowing us to access online banking, shopping, social media, and private work and life communications. Secure passwords are a must! Other than keeping your information offline (which is virtually impossible these days), unique and complex passwords will best protect your valuable information. Another tactic is changing your passwords every few months or any time you think your accounts have been compromised.  

Use these security tips to protect your online bank accounts: 

  • Change an old password to a “passphrase.” 

  • Turn on multi-factor authentication on all your important accounts. 

  • Password-protect your personal Wi-Fi. 

  • Don’t store passwords on your computer or phone, unless encrypted. 

For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Password Checklist Webpage.

 

We’re Renovating the DFPI Website!

The DFPI is working to improve our public-facing website and welcomes any feedback our readers and stakeholders can offer based on your user experience. Completing the DFPI Website Improvement Survey helps us enact impactful changes that will support our mission of protecting California consumers and enhancing their awareness of potential marketplace risks and fraud. Thank you for participating! 

DFPI Moves to Suspend SALT LLC's CFL License 

On Nov. 15, the DFPI issued a Notice to Suspend SALT LLC’s California Financing Law (CFL) license for 30 days pending its investigation into SALT’s recent announcement to limit its platform activity including pausing client withdrawals. Also, on Nov. 15, SALT Lending LLC sent a communication to customers signed by CEO Shawn Owen stating, “I am sorry to report that the collapse of FTX has impacted our business. Until we are able to determine the extent of this impact with specific details that we feel confident are factually accurate, we have paused deposits and withdrawals on the SALT platform effective immediately.” The DFPI is investigating SALT’s compliance with the laws within its jurisdiction, including the California Financing Law. This action follows the DFPI’s action against licensee BlockFi on Nov. 10 for similar concerns. The DFPI is also investigating FTX.

DFPI Moves to Suspend BlockFi’s Lending License 

On Nov. 10, the DFPI issued a Notice to Suspend BlockFi Lending LLC’s California Financing Law (CFL) lending license for 30 days pending its investigation into BlockFi’s recent announcement to limit its platform activity including pausing client withdrawals. BlockFi’s announced on Nov. 10 from its Twitter account @BlockFi that it cannot “operate business as usual” given the “lack of clarity on the status of FTX.com, FTX US, and Alameda.” The DFPI is investigating BlockFi’s compliance with the laws within its jurisdiction, including the CFL. BlockFi reports to the DFPI that it has ceased offering loans in California and asks clients not to deposit to the BlockFi Wallet or its interest accounts. In Feb. 2022, the DFPI ordered BlockFi to Desist and Refrain from offering or selling unqualified, non-exempt securities in the form of Blockfi interest accounts in California.

DFPI Announces Investigation into Crypto Asset Platform FTX 

On Nov. 10, the DFPI issued a Consumer Alert informing investors that it is investigating the apparent failure of crypto asset platform FTX. We encourage consumers to be aware that crypto assets are high-risk investments and should not expect to be reimbursed for any losses. Many crypto asset providers may not have adequately disclosed risks customers face when they deposit crypto assets onto these platforms. Crypto asset providers are not governed by the same rules and protections as banks and credit unions, which are required to have deposit insurance.

DFPI Issues Desist and Refrain Order Against Crypto Exchange GMO Global 

On Oct. 17, the DFPI issued a Desist and Refrain Order pursuant to the California Financial Protection Law, Financial Code section 90015, subdivision (d) against GMO Global, a company believed to be based out of Japan that lured customers out of their money by creating a fabricated business in which it acted as a custodian of funds and a self-directed cryptocurrency trading service through its website and mobile applications. The order found that GMO Global was a “covered person” providing a financial service or product by taking deposits, transmitting or exchanging funds and acting as a custodian of funds on behalf of a consumer. 

Career Opportunities with DFPI

The DFPI is California’s primary regulatory authority overseeing financial services, products, and professionals. Its mission includes protecting consumers from potential abusive, deceptive, and unfair practices.  

If you are passionate about wanting to make a difference in protecting consumers from financial fraud, join our team! Find out more about available positions on the DFPI Careers Webpage.

Did you know?

  • Crypto ATMS are popping up all over California in shopping malls, gas stations, convenience stores, and even payday loan shops. Consumer advocates are concerned that crypto ATMs are being placed in locations where retail consumers who don’t have a lot of information about investing in crypto assets are most likely to find them. Although there isn’t anything particularly wrong with investing in Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency, consumers should know that putting money into crypto assets is a very risky investment. Crypto ATM scams have been identified by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) as one of the top 5 scams in 2022. ATMs are scammers’ newest preferred payment method, asking their victims to send cryptocurrency bought at ATMs to an untraceable digital wallet. These transactions are often irreversible with no way to get your money back. To learn more, read 8 Red Hot Scams in 2022.

Contact Us

  • Do you have any questions or comments about the Consumer Connection newsletter? 
  • Would you like to make a request for a DFPI outreach professional to present at your event? 

The DFPI Education & Outreach team is eager to hear from you. Please contact us at Outreach@dfpi.ca.gov.  

For more information about DFPI’s Education & Outreach events and consumer protection resources, please visit the DFPI Education & Outreach Webpage

Do you like our newsletter? 

CLOTHILDE V. HEWLETT • Commissioner of Financial Protection and Innovation

The November 2022 Consumer Connection covers the month ending November 2022.

The Consumer Connection is available at no charge via e-mail.

To subscribe, go to: www.dfpi.ca.gov/subscribe

The DFPI encourages financial services consumers to submit complaints if they believe a DFPI licensee or registrant has violated state law or acted improperly, or they believe a company or person is conducting unlicensed or unregistered activity that falls within the DFPI’s jurisdiction. To file a complaint, visit our File a Complaint Webpage or contact us at Ask.DFPI@dfpi.ca.gov or toll-free at (866) 275-2677.
 

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