STILLWATER, Okla. – Many of us can only dream of gaining instant wealth thanks to lucky lottery numbers or a generous inheritance from a loved one. However, the reality is that unexpected windfalls can present their own set of challenges including avoiding scams.
“Successfully managing an influx of funds requires careful planning and smart decision-making,” said Eileen St. Pierre, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension personal finance specialist.
Wealth management skills especially come into play when individuals are not used to having a lot of money or are used to living on a certain amount. Plenty of families fall into those categories, said St. Pierre, including farmers and ranchers who come into money through mineral rights tied to their lands, as well as Native American recipients of proceeds from recent and ongoing multi-billion dollar individual and tribal settlements with the federal government.
In fact, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) launched a national campaign – Protect Native Money – to address the need for financial education and consumer protection.
Regardless of how you came by your windfall, there are steps you can take to protect your finances against unsavory schemes. For instance, if you know ahead of time your bank account is going to get a significant boost, sit down with your family and decide what do with the money.
St. Pierre suggested concentrating on immediate needs first such as paying off debts or buying new clothes for the kids, then creating a list of long-term goals.
“Make a plan for how you want to spend the money, including short-term and long-term needs and wants,” she said. “This will help you remain in control of your finances, and cut down on your chances of being influenced by others.”
After establishing your short- and long-term financial goals, go a step further and set up savings and investment accounts that will assist you in reaching those goals. Be sure to use legitimate financial institutions. Remember the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) insures bank accounts up to $250,000.
Meanwhile, avoid “friends” and others who offer to invest your money for you, St. Pierre said, and be wary of individuals who you approach you out of the blue about business ventures, home remodeling opportunities, new furniture or major appliances, landscaping services or other opportunities. Report suspicious behavior to the local authorities.
“Unfortunately, identity theft and fraud frequently occur these days, so be extremely careful about sharing your bank account information or other personal information,” she said. “Monitor your credit report regularly for errors and fraudulent activity.”
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 877-ID-THEFT. Copies of your credit report are available at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you see any questionable activity, place a fraud alert on your credit report.
Finally, St. Pierre noted recipients of unexpected windfalls sometimes trip themselves up with wild spending and other irrational behavior. To combat that possibility, she said many financial advisors recommend spending a small percentage – no more than 10 percent – on something you always wanted.
“Once you get the free spending out of your system, you can focus on using the money to build a stronger future for you and your family,” she said.
Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.
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