Read Those Statements!
Tax season is over and I now have time to reflect on the tax preparation process. Back in March, I organized my mom's deductible expense data. She's 82 and still does her own banking, online bill paying, and other routine financial tasks. I usually download her data at the end of the year and put together a report for her accountant.
This year, as I reviewed the data I downloaded, I noticed that she had paid over $600 for her newspaper subscription. When I called to ask her about it, she said, "You're kidding! I had no idea!" She promptly called the newspaper, told them she was a senior on a fixed income, and got it down to about $150. That's my mom!
This happened because no one was paying close enough attention to her bank statements.
It's not just seniors who may have a hard time focusing on these details. Younger consumers don’t get paper statements and aren't inclined to click the links the bank sends them. Most people know they should be reading their statements but are too busy or dislike this mundane task.
When you read all twelve of your statements at once, as part of your tax preparation activities, sometimes you find odd things - transactions you don't remember making, duplicate transactions, and a few transactions that are likely to be fraudulent. The problem is that the transactions you found happened many months ago and now the time limit that banks place on reporting fraud has been exceeded. You can report it, but the bank has no obligation to investigate the suspicious transactions or to refund any money to you.
To avoid this problem next year, you need to start reading your statements, every month. When the bank sends you an email that says your statement is ready to be viewed, click on it! It takes a minute or less to log in (especially if you use a password manager like LastPass or DashLane) and another two or three minutes to scan the statement looking for unusual transactions. That's not much time if it saves you tens or even hundreds of dollars.
For the busy or detail-averse customer, it might be better to subscribe to a service that will "read" them for you. One such service is EverSafe. Eversafe monitors bank and investment accounts, credit cards and credit reports. It alerts the customer to transactions that are unusual and possibly fraudulent.
According to Eversafe, "Our proprietary learning system ‘knows’ our customers. We analyze historical transactions to establish your personal financial behavior and then analyze daily transactions to identify erratic behavior." Eversafe can also help you resolve issues with fraud, identity theft, and your credit report.
A monitoring service may have identified my mom's expensive newspaper subscription if there was a sudden price hike. Even if it didn't flag the transaction, it would have provided an easy way for both of us to review her transactions and we may have caught it sooner.
Monitoring your transactions is the key to protection against fraud and identity theft, and to making sure you are getting a good deal!