Archive for April 2015

The Real Deal: Protecting Your Kids from ID Theft

The Real Deal: Protecting Your Kids from ID Theft

Updated: Sunday, April 26 2015, 11:34 PM EDT

ALBANY – Were always warning you about protecting your identity but stop and think for a second, are you doing anything to protect your kids?

In the dark depths of the World-Wide-Web, there are few things more valuable than the untouched, untarnished social security number of a minor. Its worth more than double an adult social security number on the black market. No one knows that better than Axton Hamilton, when she pulled her credit report for the first time at age 18, she was shocked, my credit report was 10 pages long and full of fraudulent credit card entries and associated collection agency entries, she says. Long ago, someone used that number to start opening accounts and now she has to dig herself out of the mess that was created. They told me three out of four of my kids have another insurance, says Neala Elsworth a working mother who recently found out someone else was using her kids social security numbers to get health benefits in another state.

The Federal Trade Commission says Child ID is growing rapidly especially now that healthcare companies are getting breached. A recent report found that one in 10 children have someone else using their social security number. If parents do discover it, its not usually until their kids get credit card applications, collection notices, letters from the IRS or worse, get denied for a student loan.
Parents should check every three to four years to see if their child has a credit report, but especially check when the child turns 16, says Kenneth Abbe, of the FTC. You can do that by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. That way, if you do find problems, youll have time to clean them up before your son or daughter may actually need a line of credit.

If youve received notice that your childs identity was compromised as part of a breach, sign them up for the free credit monitoring services and stay on top of checking their report. Make sure your childs identity isnt getting stolen, because it could happen. I never thought it would happen to me but its happened, says Hamilton.
The Real Deal: Protecting Your Kids from ID Theft

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Woman Allegedly Lived Under 74 Aliases, Targeted Hollywood

Living a double life seems like it would be challenging enough, but thats childs play compared to what one California identity theft suspect is believed to have accomplished. Cathryn Parker, 72, was arrested in March when she was stopped for a traffic violation and gave a law enforcement officer a fake name. Turns out, Parker is under investigation for stealing multiple identities and living under at least 74 aliases, according to the Associated Press.

Parker is accused of stealing seven identities, most of whom are Hollywood film production staffers. Investigators discovered that Parkers home and utilities services were registered under false names, and Parker had also opened fraudulent credit card accounts with victims information. Investigators say she is suspected of committing crimes dating back to 2010.

As of April 17, Parker was in federal custody in Northern California, where she was wanted for violating probation, the AP reported. She had been convicted of mail fraud in 2000.

While Parkers high number of identities is uncommon, her alleged crime is not. Identity theft affects millions of Americans each year. Victims of identity theft often suffer damage to their credit standings and finances, and the longer it goes undetected, the more costly and time-consuming the recovery can become.

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Preventing identity theft is a huge part of this problem — its practically impossible to do. Even consumers who take the best preventative measures, like never storing sensitive data online and rarely sharing personally identifiable information, may still have their data stolen in a cyberattack on a company that rightfully has that information (for example, the Anthem data breach).

Credit monitoring can be extremely helpful in stopping a situation like a thief opening a fraudulent credit card account in your name. You can get your credit report summary for free, updated every month on Credit.com, to watch for changes that you didnt authorize. In addition to that, the most effective form of protection is monitoring your identity from as many angles as possible, including public records and information on the Internet. Whether you do it yourself or pay for an identity theft protection service, the most important thing is to act quickly when you notice something is wrong, in order to prevent extensive damage to your credit and financial well-being.

More on Identity Theft:

  • Identity Theft: What You Need to Know
  • How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?
  • What Should I Do If Im a Victim of Identity Theft?

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Money Talk (Q&A): Retirement planning, credit freeze

Dear Liz: Is there a way to lock my credit history and access to prevent the unscrupulous from opening accounts in my name? Maybe Im rare, but I have enough existing credit cards, dont have a mortgage and essentially have no debt, and I want to keep it that way. I suspect businesses that make their living issuing credit reports will resist this ability, but I want to do all I can to make it tough for anyone to steal my identity.

Answer: You can lock up your credit reports with whats known as a credit freeze (also called a security freeze). The three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — have information about how to do this on their websites. You also can find general information about credit freezes on Consumer Reports site.

Credit freezes can prevent new account identity theft — someone opening new credit accounts in your name. Lenders typically check credit reports when they get new credit applications. If they cant access your reports thanks to a credit freeze, theyre unlikely to approve the application.

Of course, the freeze applies to you as well. If you change your mind and want to apply for a new account, youll need to temporarily thaw the freeze.

Other entities also check credit reports, so you may need to lift the freeze if you apply for a job, insurance, new utilities or cellphone service. You typically have to pay fees (which range from $2 to $15, depending on your state) to each bureau to lock up your credit and another set of fees to thaw it.

Credit freezes wont interfere with your ability to use your credit cards or prevent your current lenders from accessing your reports.

Credit freezes also wont prevent other types of identity theft, including tax refund fraud, medical identity theft and criminal identity theft (which occurs when criminals give law enforcement your information when they get arrested, rather than their own).

Still, credit freezes are a good solution if your identity has already been stolen or youre at high risk because your Social Security number has been swiped or exposed in a data breach.

Credit bureaus may suggest you put a temporary fraud alert on your reports instead, or pay for credit monitoring or identity theft protection (which actually doesnt protect you against anything but simply offers an early warning if your reports are compromised). A credit freeze is a more secure solution, but you have to weigh the potential hassle and cost against the benefit.

— Liz Pulliam Weston

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Need a helping hand? Don’t get sucked in

Its very common for people to have more than one payday loan, Lane says. Ive had whole families who have all got payday loans. They are all on Centrelink and they are all poor and they are just trapped in a debt cycle.

A report released by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) last month estimated that $400 million in payday loans were written last year, a rise of 125 per cent since 2008. Two-thirds of the files it reviewed showed that people were borrowing when they already had a loan; when they were in default for a loan or when they had loans duringthe last 90 days.

Nicola Howell, who researches consumer insolvency at the Queensland University of Technology, says the growth in payday lending is in part the result of a lack of alternatives. Banks for the most part wont lend small amounts of money, she says. Credit cards may not be available or people may have maxed out their credit cards.

She suggests government could be doing more to support no-interest loan schemes and to ensure the Centrelink advance system works for people who need it.

Payday loans are not the only product or service that can lead you deeper into financial difficulty if you are already struggling. Here are five others to be wary of and some alternatives.

RENT-TO-BUY ARRANGEMENTS Cant afford to buy a fridge or a TV outright? Companies such as Radio Rentals and Rent the Roo market rent-to-buy arrangements. They also promise peace of mind through responsible policies that assess their customers credit history and, in the case of Radio Rentals, aim to never over-commit you – its not in our interest, or yours. But the high cost of renting – interest rates can be 40 to 90 per cent — is often hidden by some of the less scrupulous providers.

Mooney says: Goods rental companies usually advertise a weekly repayment rate which may seem affordable, but what they dont tell you is that by the time the contract ends youll have paid about 300 per cent more than someone who bought the product outright.

Over three years, the customer will pay about $1800 for a $650 fridge. Contracts often include the option to buy the item for $1 after three years. However, the customer needs to contact the rent-to-buy company and pay the $1 separately, something that is easily overlooked, says Mooney.

The other reason that $1 buy option is there is purely to exploit a loophole in the National Credit Act, he says, adding that the contracts are deliberately designed to sidestep legislation governing small amount loans (loans of $2000 or less). Under that legislation, the provider has to disclose to the client upfront the value of the item and the total finance cost. Theres also a pricing cap so the financial service provider can only charge 20 per cent upfront plus 4 per cent of the original amount per month.

Sydneysider Norma Wannell has experienced the high cost of these arrangements first-hand. She worked in the community sector until 2009, when an accident forced her into early retirement and on to a disability pension. In November 2013 she signed a rent-to-buy contract on the spur of the moment to get a new vacuum cleaner. Recently she checked how much she needed to pay to buy the Dyson cleaner. The answer: $991.

My reaction was: Youre kidding, she says. Id already paid about $1500 on it. The alternative was she could continue making the $39 fortnightly payments for another 18 months and then buy it for a $1. By that time she would have paid about $3200.

I cant just give the items back because Ive paid too much now and Id be liable to pay the contract out anyway, she says.

The alternative: For Centrelink recipients there is a no-interest loan scheme (NILS) for essential items (see box). Wannell has used one in the past to buy a new fridge.

FUNERAL INSURANCEConsumer advocates warn funeral insurance is rarely good value. Gerard Brody, chief executive of the Consumer Action Law Centre, says payout figures are often low.

Its not like a savings account or an old life insurance policy that will pay out what you contribute to it, Brody says.

People may contribute $15,000 to $20,000 to a policy over the years, but their estate will only receive a payout of $5000 to $6000. Policies can also have stepped premiums, which means they get significantly higher as the policy-holder ages.

By the time youre 70 or 80 years old its actually a significant proportion of your income especially if youve gone on to the pension, says Brody. If people cant afford to keep up the premiums they lose everything theyve contributed.

The alternative: Lane says: The vast majority of people have access to some sort of funeral cost cover through their superannuation death benefits.

Another solution:Save up or prepay for a funeral.

PART IX DEBT AGREEMENTS If you have mounting or multiple debts, these agreements can seem to offer a way out. Debt agreement activity reached the highest annual figure – 10,705 – on record in a financial year in 2013-14, according to the Australian Financial Security Authority.

People often mistakenly think its some form of debt consolidation, says Lane.

Its not. Its a form of bankruptcy, she says. It blemishes your credit report quite seriously and its an act of bankruptcy so people can use it later to make you bankrupt if they want.

Brody says: Part IX debt agreements are probably suitable for someone who wants to avoid bankruptcy because they own property, probably the family home.

Our concern is that the majority of people who end up in debt agreements dont even have property to protect.

The alternative: Seek the advice of a financial counsellor. Often, says Lane, another option like making financial hardship arrangements [with creditors] is much better and has less repercussions.

CREDIT REPAIR SERVICES Its tempting to turn to a credit repair service if previous defaults are preventing you from getting a loan or credit card. However, Lane says such services come with a high price-tag – up to $1000 per default – and may not actually achieve the desired outcome.

Brody explains: If the defaults listed on their credit report are accurate then a credit repairer cant actually remove those. Or, he says, they may only be able to remove one of several default listings. [The consumers] access to finance isnt improved at all but the credit repairer says its done its job according to the contract that theyve entered into with the consumer.

The alternative: You can obtain a free copy of your credit file to check for default listings. Creditors must follow a set procedure before they can list a default. If you believe there is an error on your credit file contact the relevant Ombudsman and make a complaint.

So if it was your energy company that made an incorrect listing you could make a complaint to the Energy Ombudsman, says Brody. Those services are free of charge and very simple.

PERSONAL BUDGETING SERVICES Paying for a service to handle your finances may seem like a positive step if money is causing you angst. Not so, says Lane. If youre in financial difficulty the last thing you need to do is add another creditor to your pile.

Lane says some services tell customers to stop paying their creditors, pay them and they will do deals with their creditors. They also make mistakes such as getting people to pay statute-barred debts, those that are too old for a debt collector or creditor to pursue.

If youre in financial difficulty in any way, all debts are not created equal and you need advice on who to pay and who not to pay and who to make arrangements with and these [services] simply do not do that.

The alternative: Financial counsellors can help you make financial hardship arrangements with creditors. Free budgeting tools are available on ASICs Moneysmart website or the Consumer Action Law Centres MoneyHelp.

Small loans for essentials

Good Shepherd Microfinance helps Centrelink recipients take out NILS loans of $300 to $1200 to buy essential items such as a fridge, washing machine or television. It also has StepUp, a low-interest (5.99 per cent) loan scheme for loans of $800 to $3000.

The loans can be accessed through 660 community organisations throughout Australia, with Carers Victoria the latest organisation to act as a facilitator. NILS recipients have a year to pay off the loan in equal instalments and three years for a StepUp loan.

Good Shepherds Adam Mooney, says NILS borrowers have to meet three criteria: they must have stable housing (at least three to six months in one place); be able to afford the loan and have the intention to repay it.

As part of the assessment process the organisation offers budgeting help. It will lend to the credit impaired and help them negotiate hardship arrangements to repay outstanding debts.

ACTION PLAN

  • Find a free, independent financial counsellor (Call MoneyHelp on 1800 007 007).
  • Consider all your options including hardship arrangements
  • Use free budgeting tools and services
  • Get a free copy of your credit file
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9 Cheap Ways to Guard Your Personal Data

6. Prepaid debit card

If your debit card is used fraudulently, you could be out a lot of money. Prepaid debit cards are safer, limiting your potential losses. But beware of high usage fees, warns Stephens. (AMEXs Serve and Bluebird and Walmarts cards are known for low-cost fees.) For $10 a month, the True Link Prepaid Visa card blocks specific purchases and alerts adult children should elders go in for sweepstakes or other potential scams.

7. External storage

Computer-crippling ransomware and other malware can hijack your computer or block access to its content, so back up important files off-device. A portable, encryption-enabled USB thumb drive starts at about $5.

8. Free monitoring

Many banks and credit card companies provide free, real-time alerts of any suspicious activity. Credit Karma offers free, no-strings credit monitoring of your TransUnion credit report; Credit Sesame does the same with Experian. At TrustedID.com, you can get alerts if your Social Security and credit card numbers show up on scammers black market websites. Monthly reports on public-record and commercial-database activity are available at AllClearID.com/enroll.

9. Protection software

Recommended freebies come from Malwarebytes, Panda Free, AVG, Avast and Bitdefender. These are basic packages, but some Internet providers offer full-strength freebies to customers.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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Senior Center Resident Reportedly Lost $335K in ID Theft Scam

An Alabama woman has reportedly agreed to plead guilty to identity theft and bank fraud charges for a scheme in which she stole more than $300,000 from an elderly resident at the senior center where she was employed. Shostocka Keya Ward, 43, of Vestavia Hills, used the residents bank account and credit card without authorization for more than three years to pay for her wedding, travel and send money to someones prison account, among other things, according to a news release from the US Attorneys Office of the Northern District of Alabama.

The release says Ward has a plea agreement, but as of April 22, she had not entered a plea with the court. Wards plea agreement says she will plead guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of bank fraud, in addition to paying $335,214 in restitution.

From Aug. 2010 to Jan. 2014, Ward worked as a resident assistant and transportation coordinator at Galleria Woods senior living center. She met the 75-year-old resident, who suffers from dementia, in 2011 and began forging checks and using the victims credit card in October 2011, according to the news release. She continued this practice through Feb. 13, 2014, Wards plea agreement says, making personal purchases, private-school tuition payments, car payments and credit card payments (for purchases she made on the victims accounts). The victim reportedly had no family, rarely received visitors and left power of attorney to an out-of-town family friend who wasnt involved in managing the victims finances.

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Sadly, this scheme follows a common pattern of identity theft: An elderly or disabled person with few friends or family members has a caretaker who ends up taking advantage of the persons diminished capacity to monitor his or her finances. The thief often continues the scheme for years without getting caught.

Protecting elderly people from fraud usually falls to their family members (though sometimes, its the family doing the stealing), which makes people with little to no support system at higher risk for falling victim to these crimes. The government and seniors-rights advocacy groups provide great resources for learning how to protect yourself and your loved ones, but that information is only as good as how well its applied — for example, trusting someone with your financial matters helps only if theyre actually trustworthy and diligently monitoring your accounts and credit. Making an identity- and asset-protection plan is an important step for all consumers, not just seniors, and in addition to accessing any free resources, such as getting your free monthly credit report summary from Credit.com, you can also consider using credit monitoring and identity-theft protection products.

More on Identity Theft:

  • How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?
  • What Should I Do If Im a Victim of Identity Theft?
  • How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life

Image: iStock

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Quicken Loans selling credit-monitoring company Quizzle to Bankrate

In a first for the company, Quicken Loans is set to sell off a self-conceived and self-built company.

The company announced Wednesday that it agreed to sell Quizzle, the national credit monitoring site which began in 2008 as a project of Quicken Loans marketing team, to Bankrate (RATE).

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Quizzle also offers users with free credit scores amp; credit reports, as well as credit monitoring and identity protection.

The acquisition of Quizzle is a next step in our long-term strategy to establish an ongoing relationship with our massive audience, said Kenneth Esterow, president and chief executive officer of Bankrate.

Quizzle does a tremendous job of simplifying the complicated world of credit and helping users strengthen their financial health, Esterow continued. This focus on helping consumers makes Quizzle a strong addition to the Bankrate family.

As part of the acquisition, Bankrate will retain Quizzles technology platform, vendor relationships and over 2 million accounts, the companies said.

Our shared goal of serving our clients is what makes this acquisition a great fit for both Quizzle and Bankrate, saidToddAlbery, Quizzle CEO.

Bankrates financially-savvy and engaged audience, paired with their leading partnerships and technology, will be a great home for Quizzle, while also making Bankrate the go-to destination on the internet for personalized financial solutions, Albery added.

Quizzle will maintain its headquarters in Detroit, where the company will focus on working with other Bankrate companies to help consumers master lifes important decisions, the companies said in a release.

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12 ways to spend Social Security increase

Proquest LLC

Retirees, if you havent already heard the good news, youll be getting more from Social Security next year. Beneficiaries will receive a 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment in 2015, boosting the average monthly benefit for a retired worker to $1,328 from $1,306. That $22 extra each month will add up to $264 over a year. Its not a windfall, but the extra cash certainly will come in handy. In addition to covering everyday expenses, here are 12 ways retirees can best use their Social Security increase.

Protect your identity. Scammers and identity thieves often target seniors. One way to prevent your personal information from falling into the wrong hands is to shred statements and other documents containing vital details such as account numbers after you no longer need them. A good cross-cut shredder costs about $100. It might also pay to enroll in a credit monitoring service that can help if you do become a victim of identity theft. For $14.99 a month, TrustedID will monitor your credit reports for suspicious activity, scan black- market sites for your Social Security, credit card and bank account numbers, help you cancel and replace stolen cards, and provide insurance to cover costs you incur after identity theft.

Modify your home to help you age in place. You can add a grab bar in a bathroom for about $100 to $175, including materials and labor, according to Homewyse.com, a website that estimates home improvement costs. Or you can replace doorknobs with easy-to-use lever-style handles for about $15 to $25 each for non-locking interior levers and $25 to $50 for lockable levers, according to the National Association of Realtors HouseLogic.com.

Make a wise investment. Kiplinger recently pinpointed nine stocks with significant growth potential. Among our picks is Facebook, which is now trading at about $75 a share. So you could buy three shares with the extra $264 in Social Security benefits, and have change left over. Or consider a great mutual fund you can begin investing in for just $100.

Take a defensive driving class. You can update your driving skills and perhaps even earn an auto insurance discount by taking a refresher course from organizations such as AARP and AAA. The AARP Smart Driver eight-hour online course is $17.95 for members, $21.95 for nonmembers. AAA offers defensive-driving courses starting at $19.95 for nonmembers in most states. AAA members can usually get a $4 discount, but check with your local AAA for exact pricing and availability.

Buy discounted gift cards. You can score instant savings by using discounted gift cards to purchase things you regularly buy. Gift card resale sites buy unwanted cards and sell them at a discount to face value. For example, we recently found a $250 CVS gift card selling for $225 at CardCash.com. A good site to visit to see offers from several resellers is Gift Card Granny.

Purchase a home safe. You need a secure place to store important documents, such as a will. A fireproof safe is the answer. We saw a two-hour fireproof Hollon safe for sale on ValueSafes.com starting at $234.

Write a will. If you die without a will, state law will determine who gets what from your estate. It doesnt have to cost much to craft this important document. Downloadable forms are available from websites such as Nolo.com, which sells the Quicken WillMaker Plus for $59.99.

Buy a tablet computer. These lightweight, inexpensive alternatives to laptop computers can offer you access to the Web so you can send emails, keep up with family and friends on Facebook and even watch movies. Kiplingers pick for best tech value for a tablet is the Amazon Fire HD 6. The 8GB model sells for $99. Invest another $99 for a years worth of Amazon Prime service so you can stream movies and TV shows from Amazon.

Fill gaps in your homeowners policy. Most standard homeowners policies dont include sewage-backup coverage, but you can purchase a rider that will pay for $10,000 to $20,000 of damage for about $50 a year. You might also want to boost your liability coverage with an umbrella policy, which is an inexpensive way to protect yourself from lawsuits. Insurers generally require that you have at least $300,000 in liability coverage on your home and automobile before you can buy umbrella coverage, which picks up after youve exhausted your homeowner and auto liability limits. Youll pay about $175 to $300 a year for $1 million in umbrella coverage.

Fund a Roth IRA for your grandchild. Give your grandchild a jump- start on retirement savings by helping him or her open a Roth IRA. Children with earned income from a job – even if its from lawn mowing or baby-sitting – can contribute to a Roth. Schwab will let a parent open a custodial IRA for a minor for just $100. If you contribute just the $264 in extra Social Security benefits you get in 2015, that amount will grow to $5,735 in 40 years (assuming an 8 percent return).

Prepare for an emergency. Stock up before bad weather strikes so you can get by if the power goes out. For example, the Duracell DPP- 300EP Powerpack 300 (about $135) will let you run small appliances and jump-start your car.

Preserve old photos. Scanning photos allows you to create digital copies that you can easily archive and share with family. Good scanners start at about $200.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

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Todd Chrisley: Chrisley and Company Dispute Grows in Bankruptcy: EXCLUSIVE

LOS ANGELES (LALATE EXCLUSIVE) Who is Todd Chrisley, what does Todd Chrisley do for a living, how did Todd Chrisley make his money, and whatever happened to Todd Chrisleys bankruptcy? Tonight, Chrisley and Company is back with three hours of programming, a six episode marathon, on E! In the coming weeks more episodes of Chrisley with a new season debut on USA Network. But in days from now, Chrisleys wife Julie battles a deadline regarding a Chrisley and Company bankruptcy case.

Todd Chrisley and Chrisley and Company both filed for bankruptcy. But recently, Todd Chrisleys personal bankruptcy ended. However, the Chrisley and Company corporate bankruptcy case is still pending. Among the parties being sued is Julie. And Julies deadline to answer the complaint is next month.

Todd Chrisley’s financial troubles prompted two bankruptcy cases: one for the family business Chrisley Asset Management, LLC and one for Todd Chrisley personally. The first bankruptcy case is still pending, LALATE can report. In it, the trustee for Chrisley Asset Management, LLC, Robert Trauner, is suing Julie Chrisley, Chrisley and Company, and several other defendants in an adversary bankruptcy proceeding filed on November 12, 2014, midway through season two of Chrisley Knows Best (USA Network). Chrisley Asset Management, LLC on April 22, 2013, midway during the first season of the reality show filed for bankruptcy.

Kyle Chrisley Mug Shot Photos 2013
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How much money is at issue in this corporate bankruptcy case? LALATE can report that attached to the complaint is a one page exhibit entitled “Recoverable Transfers to, or for the benefit of, Defendant Julie Chrisley – Exhibit “B”. In it, the trustee claims that Julie Chrisley received $726,302.44 dollars in 2012 from Chrisleys Asset Management that she allegedly was not entitled to. This sum of money is in addition to the assets/funds that the other trustee is going after Julie Chrisley for.

Tonight, E! purportedly replays the episode in which Todd imparts to his children about the need for them to work. But in the same scenes, Todd gives no indication to viewers what he does for a living. His Georgia based Chrisley Asset Management company, according to Julies court documents, would formerly take Fannie Mae properties and make a commission on their refurbishing. Todd’s company would “upgrade and repair the [Fannie Mae] properties”, then “sell them”, and then Chrisley Asset Management “would be paid a commission” [by Fannie Mae].” That deal purportedly has since been cancelled by Fannie Mae. For more about Todd, click HERE.

Chrisley and Company, Todd Chrisley

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Bond refinancing saves city of Taylor $1.8 million

Recent upgrades to the city of Taylors financial outlook have resulted in the refinancing of two major bond issues, saving more than $1.8 million over the next 19 years.

Mayor Rick Sollars and Chief Financial Officer Jason Couture traveled to Chicago in early

February to make a case for improving the citys financial ratings. Their presentation discussed city leaders erasing a $5 million deficit, resolving difficult labor contracts, and putting in place better internal financial controls.

The presentation focused heavily on the increasing business activity in the community, such as Menards taking over the former Gibraltar Trade Center, and renovations and new businesses at Southland Center.

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