In this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Ron Lieber with The New York Times is back to talk about some of the most common scams and why younger people are more susceptible to falling for them. Plus, Motley Fool personal finance expert Robert Brokamp takes us through a few things to know regarding healthcare in retirement.
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on July 13, 2021.
Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick and I'm joined, as always, by Robert Bro-scamp, Personal Finance Expert here at The Motley Fool. Hey, Bro, how are you doing?
Robert Brokamp: Just so fine, Alison. How are you?
Southwick: [laughs] I'm just great. In this week's episode, Ron Lieber, you remember him, he's a writer for The New York Times. Well, he's back to talk about scams and why younger people in particular have a higher risk for being bilked. All that and more, on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers.
So, Bro, what's up?
Brokamp: Well, Alison, one of the most important steps in retirement planning is basically determining how much it will cost. However, this could be a challenge when the price tag of one of the biggest items in your budget could be anywhere between $150,000 and more than $1 million. At least that is how much a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2021 could spend on their lifetime retirement healthcare expenses according to HealthView Services. The range is so wide because the costs will depend on all kinds of factors such as where you live, even your income, since Medicare premiums are based on your tax return, your current health status, and of course, any future ailments that may happen to you. To add insult to the cost of injury, that estimate doesn't even include the possible price tag of long-term care. Actually, it turns out that healthcare is unique among the retirement expenses for three reasons.
First, it's likely to be the expense that will go up the most when you retire. Unless, of course, you go out and buy an RV or something like that. Vanguard estimates that on average, the cost of Medicare premiums are almost triple the amount that employees paid for health insurance coverage when they were working. People who retire before Medicare eligibility at age 65 can expect to pay more than six times what they were paying for employer-provided coverage. Secondly, most expenses actually stay flat or even decline over the course of retirement. The one big exception is healthcare. HealthView Services estimates that current retirees should expect their costs will rise 5.9% a year every year for the rest of their lives. Then third, healthcare will likely be the most unpredictable expense you'll have in retirement. The amount you spend on things like housing, food, transportation, entertainment, they'll be within somewhat narrow ranges that are at least somewhat within your control. But healthcare costs, they're going to vary up on all kinds of things like government decisions, the healthcare industrial complex, and most importantly, whatever maladies afflict you over the rest of your life.
That said, it's still important to make a well-informed estimate of how much you're going to spend on healthcare once you retire, and it starts with digging into the current research which I recently did and here's what I learned. I basically dug up any kind of study or analysis I could find and I arrived at a general consensus for what you should assume your costs will be, and it goes like this. If you're a healthy 65-year-old and you plan to retire this year, you should plan on spending $6,000 annually on healthcare, and that includes premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. That's per person, so you've got to double it if you're married. The figure will go up every year reaching to around maybe $11,000 by age 75 and then $14,000 by age 85. And again, that's for healthy retirees. The more conditions you have and the more medications you take, things like that, the higher expenses will be in some cases twice as much or more. Those are some numbers to work with when you're estimating your retirement budget. But what can you do to make sure healthcare costs don't sink your retirement? Well, of course, it starts with saving as much as you can while working.
And the truth is, future retirees will have to pay more for healthcare than past retirees. We're just going to have to get more money into our 401(k)s, IRAs, and health savings accounts for those of us who have access to them. It's also crucial to understand how Medicare works. I'm not going to get into the details of the program here, but just understand that basic Medicare doesn't cover everything. Most retirees should look into either a Medigap or a Medicare Advantage policy. You'll have many choices. The choices will depend on where you live. You need to find the policy that's best for your current health conditions and maybe any future potential health conditions. These days, fortunately, many online resources can help with the decision, as well as there are some experts whom you can hire if you think you need some professional help with choosing the right policy. Also, Medicare and healthcare planning is becoming a bigger part of a financial planner's job. If you work with a financial pro, see if she or he can help estimate what your costs will be and which policies are best for you.
Finally, be healthy. We've talked before on this show about how healthier people are wealthier and vice versa. Evidence is clear that people who move more and eat right live longer and they need less medical care, which of course saves money. But if you need more evidence, consider our recent New York Times article, which highlighted a study published in the British medical journal, Open Sport and Exercise Medicine. The study participants were more than 20,000 AARP members who filled out extensive questionnaires about their physical activity throughout their lives. The researchers then polled their medical records and found that people who began exercising before or during middle age spent $824 to $1,874 less annually on healthcare costs after retiring. The Times article also cited a Canadian study which found that people over the age of 65 who were physically inactive incurred $1,214 more on healthcare costs each year. Those are Canadian dollars, so it's a little less in U.S. dollars, but the study was from 2010. So I assume the figure is actually higher now. To wrap it all up in the words of [...], the researcher who led the recent British-American study, "It's never too late to start." That, Alison, is what's up.
Southwick: This time it's scams. Usually, Ron Lieber joins us to talk about paying for college or raising money-savvy kids, but this time, it's a little different. This time, it's scams. Ron, always a pleasure to have you. Thanks for joining us.
Ron Lieber: I am not here to scam you, I promise, but you should be careful of me anyway.
Southwick: [laughs] You are a savvy man, so if anyone knows how to pull off a scam, it would probably be you, but thankfully, you use your power for good and not evil. Everyone knows that it's the elderly who are more likely to fall for scams for a lot of reasons. They might be senile, they don't understand technology, they can be too trusting. What caught my attention about your recent New York Times article was the headline, "The Young Fall for Scams More Than Seniors Do." Wait, what? Seriously?
Lieber: I'm not going to accuse you of any isms, although you are welcome to confess to any that you wish to confess to right here in front of all of your listeners. But I will confess that I decided to do this piece, to write about it because there was a letter to the editor in The Wall Street Journal a few weeks before I did the column basically just pointing this out in response to an op-ed that had been written by somebody old who was effectively self-owning on the quasi-senility front. The Better Business Bureau wrote it and said, actually, the reverse is true, and I thought, wow. Clearly I may just, because I would've just assumed that the elderly fell for scams more often, I need to figure out what this is about and then try and shake some people in their 20s or their parents or whatever by the shoulders and explain it to them.
Southwick: Yeah. Well, I think maybe one of the reasons why we think this and why I thought this and why maybe I was just being purely ageist, but also like the really good juicy ones are like the Nigerian scammer. The Nigerian prince who needs you to wire tens of thousands of dollars, and so we maybe have such a limited view about what a scam is, actually, you know what? Young people just think they're immune to everything and they can't fail at anything, so maybe there's also that there. [laughs] But yeah. To go a little fun trip down memory lane, the whole reason I work at The Motley Fool is because of a scam. Because before The Motley Fool, I worked at the Council of Better Business Bureaus and I spent my days doing interviews warning people about scams, and my job was pretty easy because reporters love covering a good scam. There I was at NPR, ready to talk about the grandparents scam on Talk of the Nation, and who should I run into but an old neighbor friend named Diana, who worked at The Motley Fool, 10 years later here I am and only now are we talking about scams on our podcast. Anyway, back to the topic at hand, scams. Why do you think young people are actually more susceptible to scams?
Lieber: Well, I don't know that it's necessarily a false presumption of invulnerability, I just think that we probably need to have a more expansive view of scams in the first place, because a lot of people do what you did. They default to the Nigerian prince or princess thing or the kind of scam that will be turned into a movie. [laughs] Because those are the things that get written about because they're outrageous, but the fact of the matter is, those kinds of things are relatively rare. The scams that are most frequent are among the most mundane, some fake retailer attempting to swindle you out of your money by getting you to buy something that isn't as advertised or never comes in the first place, or is fake when it does arrive. Just on the mere basis of frequency, not to be ageist or make too many assumptions, but I do think it's safe to say that, people in their 20s tend to purchase more of their stuff online than people in their 70s do. You're just likely to be exposed to more stuff, and when you're exposed to more stuff, the bad stuff is more likely to trickle in.
Southwick: There's a fun rabbit hole, you can go down on the Internet of people buying clothes like prom dresses on Instagram, but they end up buying it from some company and the dress they get is just an absolute train wreck compared to the one they thought they were going to buy. That's a fun trip to take on Google. But you're right, there's all these ads that I get where I'm like, that does look like a really good outfit, but I have never heard of this retailer. I just don't know that I trust these people enough to send them money. But I guess younger people are maybe more comfortable with doing that.
Lieber: Clive Thompson wrote a terrific piece, I think it was in the media a week or two ago about how Instagram is the new SkyMall, do you remember that catalog? [laughs] Used to be at the back of the airplane seat showing all sorts of enticing, 88% enticing but 12% outrageous and suspiciously so, goodies. Like Instagram feels it's the same way now. Just to put a finer point on it, there's a couple of things going on with the retail scams, one of which seems pretty obvious, when you think about it, the other one which was not obvious to me at all. The first one is that Amazon's so big, it stands to reason that people are going to do a lot of work trying to impersonate Amazon, and that is true. It's not even so much selling crappy products, although there's plenty of that that goes on and many people will self-identify as being a scam victim if they buy something that is poorly made or fake or whatever. But there are a lot of other people who impersonate Amazon in order to get you to come to their fake website, to input personal information that can then be used to steal money or commit identity theft. Anytime you get a message from Amazon, you should be very, very wary. Amazon itself is well aware of this problem and has posted a bunch of tips to help people spare themselves from this hassle, but the thing that really surprised me, the second tip, comes from the fact that an incredible amount of online scams, according to the Better Business Bureau data, are related to online purchases involving pets.
During the pandemic, up to a third of all scams had something to do with some animal or goods for said animal. The average loss for people who fell victim to this was $660. I would suggest that it's not a leash but the thing that the leash is attached to. At a time when so many of us were desperate for something to hug other than the three people or zero people in our pods, too many of us were falling for, "We've got your rescue puppy," just to lay down your credit card.
Southwick: Yeah. The puppy scam, that one I'm familiar with the puppy scam that was back when I was in my Better Business Bureau days that was still a problem, and that's how I made one of my best reporter friends, David Coker over at the L.A. Times, we became best friends working on a story about the puppy scam. The one that I'm familiar with is essentially, you see an ad for a puppy, maybe it's on a website, maybe it's on Craigslist, maybe it's somewhere online, and they basically say, well, this was the most specific example I remember. "The puppy is yours, I just need to ship it to you. I'm going to put the puppy on a plane, you just need to go to the airport at this time and place and pick up the puppy." It's often a pretty nice dog, everyone wants a "something" doodle these days, and so they're pretty expensive. You send them the money and then you go to the airport and you wait, and you wait and the dog never shows up. I remember one woman in particular, she went back to the scammers and she said, "Where's the dog, the dog didn't show up," and they're like, "Something really bad happened to the dog, the dog got sick, we had to take it to the vet, we need you to send money for the vet bills." The woman was like, "Oh. my gosh, my dog is sick," she sent hundreds more dollars for them to pay this vet, that of course, didn't exist, and they kept going back to her over and over again saying: "Now the dog is stuck in quarantine, so you got to pay money to get the dog out of quarantine," All those things back-and-forth.
Finally, the woman is like, "I'm not paying any more money." I remember talking to the woman, who had just sent thousands and thousands of dollars to this scammer for this dog that she thought was her dog, and she says to me, "I just still feel so sorry for that dog." [laughs] I probably could have been a little bit more gentler with her, but I was like, "Ma'am, there was never a dog." Even after thousands of dollars, she still thought that there was this dog in a vet that she needed to save, and it was so heartbreaking. But that happens, you can sub any number of different things for a dog, whatever it's super in-demand, that could happen with.
Lieber: There should just be a public-service announcement campaign where somebody's buying banner ads and it just says, "There is no puppy." Your default assumption has to be that there is no puppy, and if you want to be sure there's going to be a puppy, you need to find someone that your friends have dealt with successfully before, or in the very least go to the American Kennel Club, read all of their tips on avoiding puppy scams backward and forward, and that's where you start.
Southwick: Yeah. We talked a lot about the different online retail scams, such as buying products that don't turn up, buying products that are fraudulent, wiring money to people for things that are never going to come around. There is another one right now that is preying on our times here, and that's employment scams. How do these usually work?
Lieber: Yeah. There are all sorts of fake ads out there, in particular, on large employment ads sites like Indeed, although Indeed is by no means the only one where this shows up, it happens on LinkedIn and other places. There's just only so much that these sites can control, and people will put up ads for fake jobs. Often they are the sorts of jobs that might appeal to a young person in one of two ways, maybe it's an assistant job, particularly in a creative or otherwise attractive industry where working as an assistant might be the way that one would plausibly break in, or it's some warehouse or shipping or forwarding or work-from-home type job, which is particularly attractive even as we come out of the pandemic. They'll put those kinds of jobs up and often they will even go to the lengths of interviewing you via video, sending you a formal offer, and then that's the point that they ask for your Social Security number, and try to steal your identity. Or if not that, they'll say, "OK, just one more thing before we start, there's a package of materials that we need you to pay for or uniform or something, before we get started," and that's when they take your money and disappear.
Southwick: We have a friend of ours and he lost his job, he worked in the restaurant industry, but at a corporate level. Somehow when he was looking for a job, they somehow were able to gain access to his email and from there, everything just fell apart, they got access to his phone, they locked him out of all of his email accounts, out of his phone, out of everything, and it just sounded like a nightmare. For someone who's already in a really bad situation, you can't afford to lose anything more.
Lieber: Yeah. It's truly awful that this happens in this particular circumstance, and of course it happens much more often when people are in trouble because criminals prey on the vulnerable and there were a lot of people 16 or 17 months ago in particular who were feeling extremely vulnerable. What's there to do about this? I think part of what people need to remember is that it's worthwhile to hit the pause button for a second and go out and search for this supposed employer. Are they registered with the Better Business Bureau? Are they incorporated? Is there a website? Does the website have spelling or grammar mistakes? Should you bring in a friend or a trusted relative to cast the skeptical or even cynical eye on whatever it is that you're about to step into. I think all these things are worth doing.
Southwick: Is there any reason you should have to give someone, or I guess if they told you they gave you a job then you would maybe fall for giving them yourself Social Security and all of that, that would make sense, that would be an easy next step I guess. That's rough. Let's move on to another one, and this one takes many different permutations. It can happen in any number of different ways and that's fake check scams. How does this one work?
Lieber: Let's start first of all with why the young are particularly vulnerable here. It is entirely possible that any given 24-year-old who you might stop on the street has never encountered a paper check in their entire life. Or if they have, they can count on one hand the number of times they've received one. They've never written one. Their bank account doesn't offer one. There are all of these of new-fangled, "neobanks" that never send you checks, you can't even have them send checks out on your behalf. So people in their 20s are in fact at a severe experiential disadvantage. Right now, imagine a check shows up in the mail and you've got your whiz-bang, neobank app, and you know you can just deposit the check and the money shows up in 24 hours or less and seems reasonable to you. The return address is maybe from Amazon, [laughs] you could plausibly be receiving a refund from them. Then there's something else that people need to know, which is that they are federal rules requiring money from a check to hit your account within a reasonable period of time. Maybe you're skeptical, but the money shows up in your bank account and you're like, "All right, well the bank thought it was a good checks, so I'm good to go." But no, that's not actually how it works because the banks themselves often can't figure out for sure that the check is fake until a week or two or three after it hits your account and yet they are supposed to put the money there right away.
During that in-between period, the people who sent you the check, maybe then contact you again and say, "Oh, whoops sorry, we sent you too much money." This may often happen with a "new employer" who is not really a real employer, who's maybe offering you a "signing bonus" that isn't actually real and then they say, "We overpaid you by accident and can you please send back $600 of the $2,000." You send back the $600 and then you find out a week later that the $2,000 wasn't real and then your bank is mad at you and it's essentially on you. That's a common form of the scam.
Southwick: I remember this one just took so many different forms. Maybe you were a secret shopper and they would give you a check and tell you to go secret-shop somewhere and then pay them and part of the secret shopping would be wiring money back to them and telling you about your experience with Western Union. I feel like small business owners sometimes like, let's say you're a photographer and the client is like, "I'm going to pay you with this check, I'm going to overpay you, but then can you take some of that extra money and then send it over to this other person who is my florist," for example. This one comes in so many different shapes and sizes. It's that waiting two weeks that is really going to save you a lot of grief. There's two or even three weeks. I don't know exactly how long but it's that waiting on it before you act, that's really going to help because then you'll figure out that the check didn't just bounce, it was just fraudulent to begin with.
Lieber: Yeah. A funny story from my own personal experience. It is necessary to be vigilant. It's also possible to be too cynical while simultaneously not being vigilant enough. I had a check show up about two years ago for $500. I could not figure out who these people were, who were listed as the payee. I did some Googling around, I found an address actually not far from the Motley Fool headquarters. I wondered whether the Fool was paying me for some or another past podcast to appear. You guys are going to send me a check for the appearance, are you?
Southwick: I wasn't planning on it. Don't cash it.
Lieber: All right. So I put the check aside and I just thought to myself, "All right, you're a smart guy Ron Lieber, don't embarrass yourself here by falling for a check scam." Then a year later I got a tax form from the same entity saying, "We've told the IRS that we paid you this money," even though I never cashed the check. Then I was going to have to pay taxes on this money for the check that I never cashed. I tried to cash the check and the check had expired.
Southwick: Oh no.
Lieber: I put it aside for a couple of months because I was so annoyed at myself. The end of this long story was that the money was in fact from an affiliated entity of my employer for extra bits of freelance work that I had done. It was actually essentially coming from The Times or a Times partner and I had just blown it. Basically I put 10 minutes of work in trying to figure out who these people were. If I put in the extra 10 minutes, I put in a year later, I probably would have cracked the code. I was lazy. Don't be lazy when checks come in the mail, because they might actually be real and then you might get taxed for them by your own employer.
Southwick: You were to hit a double, that's painful. Let's move onto the last one that you call out in your article and that's student loans scams. This one feels like another example of people taking advantage of a pretty common trend in this country right now.
Lieber: Here's the backdrop for this. What's going on right now is that last year the federal government hit the pause button on federal student loan payments for anybody who didn't want to pay anymore. They just hit stop on interest, they hit stop on fees. They said, "We're just going to opt everybody out of this." roughly 40 million people. "If you want to keep paying, you can, but we're going to have to opt everybody out right now because we know people are suffering and we don't have time to figure out who's truly suffering and who isn't. We're just going to offer the so-called forbearance to everybody and not charge interest in the meantime." That's been extended and extended and extended. But later this year, it is probably going to expire. At that point, a whole bunch of people will be able to afford to pay at that point, but some people may not be able to because there's still suffering for whatever reason. What is almost certainly going to happen then is some version or derivation of all of the student loans scams that we've seen in the past, where some reasonable sounding entity shows up and says, "We can get you a better interest rate, we can get you in a better loan and all you have to do is turnover your federal student loan logging information to us. Let us take care of it and just ignore any messages you get from the entity that is servicing your federal loans right now."
All sorts of people are desperate behind in default and are willing to do that if a reasonable person or a reasonable sounding company shows up and attempts to help. Then what ends up happening is that you start paying the scammer instead of paying the federal government and the government servicer or you end up having your identity stolen or any number of terrible thefts. That is another one to watch out for and you can bet that they are going to prey on the vulnerable later this year who can't afford their payments when the student loans system cranks up again.
Southwick: We've talked about a fair number of scams. There's obviously a lot more out there. What's your best advice for either identifying a scam or preventing becoming a victim?
Lieber: I'd say a couple of things. First of all, as ever, in the world of personal finance, money, and Foolishness, you have to be emotionally honest with yourself about whatever feelings you're feeling at that moment or in that period that may make you feel vulnerable. A lot of work has been done on the self-reported traits of people who fall victim to scam. What the experts find again and again is that if you are lonely or experiencing stress, you are more vulnerable to scams than the average person, whether you're young or old. Stop and really ask yourself, how am I feeling today, how am I feeling this month, how am I feeling this year? If I am both lonely and stressed out, I need to be especially careful. Just have an honest conversation with yourself about where you're at, particularly when somebody is making you some offer that seems too good to be true, or seems like it can instantly help you out of what effort jam that you are in. That's No. 1.
No. 2, slow down. Slow down. You may be in a vulnerable situation and feeling like you've got to act instantly, particularly if the phone rings and it's supposedly the Social Security Administration and you're about to be arrested. The Social Security Administration is not going to call you on the telephone, neither is the Internal Revenue Service. You're going to get official mail on official-looking stationary. Just take a deep breath. Even if somebody does call and you're convinced you're about to be arrested, stop, take a breath and call the five people you trust the most and run this by them. That's the more serious stuff where they are threatening harassment and they want money or a Social Security number. The less serious stuff involves the retail scams that we were talking about before, where you might be out a whole bunch of money, but it's not going to wreck your life for years through identity theft.
Again, in those instances, if there is something you think you really want to buy, there is no harm in waiting an hour or a day or seven days for that matter. That gives you time to catch your breath, take a look at this entity, a closer look that supposedly has the puppy that you've been wanting for 18 months and will allow you to cut to the head of the whatever-doodle line and get off the waiting list. For any number of reasons, as you cool your jets over those coming days, you may decide that you don't really want or need the thing after all. Or if you still need the thing that the entity trying to sell it to you may not be on the up and up because it's easy at the moment for all of us, including quasi-experts, to fall victims of this stuff. It doesn't make you dumb. Thieves are smart, we're all vulnerable, at least some of the time. Don't beat yourself up and don't be embarrassed to ask for a second look from a trusted friend or relative.
Southwick: I love that advice. It does take me back yet again, 10 years ago, actually it was longer than that. When I was talking about the grandparents scam and ran into Diana. What was so, I hate to say, genius about it because it's a horrible thing to be scamming grandparents. But how that one worked was, as a grandparent, you'd get a call and it would be someone saying, "Grandma, it's me." They would be like, "Oh it's that you, Tommy?" "Yeah, it's me, Tommy. Listen, I messed up really bad, grandma. I went to Canada. I got drunk, I smashed the car. I'm in jail in Canada. I need you to wire money to my lawyer." Right there, it's giving the sense of urgency. Of course, a grandmother's going to do everything she can to get her kid out of jail. Well, into your point about just stopping and talking to someone else and say, "Does this checkout?" if the grandparent would then say, "Well, let me talk to your parents. I got to call your parents." They'd say, "No grandma, don't tell mom and dad, they're going to kill me. I really just need you grandma, don't tell mom and dad." Then right there it cuts your grandmother off from then even verifying that this is even true. Whereas if they did just then call their parents, their parents would say, "No, I'm just staring at them right now," or "No, they're safely at college." Everything you just said was a perfect example of taking advantage of someone who's not dumb. They just love their kids, and their grandkids, and the urgency and the cutting them off from getting a second opinion. It really is a very genius scam, as much as I hate to call a scammer a genius. It was a pretty successful scam.
Lieber: Well, right. Now let's think about what you've been doing here in your host capacity, and what I've been doing a little bit in the guest capacity. We've been telling somewhat self-effacing stories about ourselves or people that we know. If we're trying to keep this sort of thing from happening more often, why not be more honest and vulnerable ourselves in sharing the stories of the times when we've gotten this wrong. In particular, if you're a parent and you've got a 10-year-old or a 15-year-old or a 24-year-old kid in your life, tell them these stories. It's great dinner-table fodder. If you're a teacher and you're lucky enough to have permission from your school district or your curriculum director to talk some about personal finance during classes, build a whole day or whole month around awestruck studies of some of the wildest and most lucrative scams in existence. Treat it like art history because there is an art to stealing. We should approach it with awe, and wonder, and ultimately outrage. But we should take a scientific approach and a storytelling approach to this stuff so that people know a little bit more when they run across it.
Southwick: Ron, that's so on-brand for you to bring it back to educating kids. I love it. Thank you so much for joining us. As always, it's always a great time when you come by and talk to us. Come back again. I always read your articles and I encourage all of our listeners to, of course, keep up with all of your writing over at The New York Times. Thank you so much.
Lieber: Thank you. It's a pleasure as ever and I'm always findable at nytimes.com/lieber.
Southwick: Perfect. Look at that. You got your own vanity URL. He must be good. That's the show, it's edited vulnerably by Rick Engdahl. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody!