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Color of Money Live With Michelle Singletary
Don't Be Duped by Y2K Fears

Tuesday, July 13, 1999

Michelle Singletary

In 173 days, we'll all find out whether our financial institutions fixed that pesky millennium bug.

But that leaves 173 days for scam artists to play on the fears of consumers worrying about whether their banks' computer systems will recognize the year 2000 as 1900. Already the sleazeballs are sleazing around for victims.

Federal bank regulators commissioned a poll from the Gallup Organization and found that "exaggerated fears of losing access to funds for a prolonged time period could lead depositors to withdraw substantial funds from banks during the final days of 1999."

There are too many people who might be vulnerable to Y2K scams in the remaining months of this year, according to the FDIC.

Frank Hartigan, who is in charge of ensuring that FDIC-insured banks address Year 2000 issues, joined us Tuesday at 3 p.m. to discuss what you should be doing or could do to prevent becoming somebody's prey.

For background information, read my column on these sleazeballs and check out the Washington Post's special report on Y2K.

Please note: We cannot offer specific personal financial advice or answer detailed questions about individual situations.

Transcript Follows

Michelle Singletary: Welcome to another online discussion. Today, we're are talking about the exciting issue of Y2K. What are your thoughts, fears or questions. Bring them on.

Dale W. Way, Foster City, CA: Given that many, if not most, Y2K problems result from computers trying to calculate on at least two dates, one on each side of the century boundary, aren't Y2K problems affecting systems now? Won't they still occur well into the next decade? Why this fixation on New Years Day 2000 and how many days left until then?

Frank Hartigan: Bank computer system had to deal with the century date change for years and few, if any, problems have surfaced so far.

Michelle Singletary: Thank you Frank for joining me today. First, I like to ask what the government is doing to help consumers from falling prey to con artists looking to profit from concerns about Y2K?

Frank Hartigan: The federal bank regulators have issued consumer advisories that give tips on how consumers can protect themselves. The advisories are posted on the FDIC webpage at WWW.FDIC.GOV under the heading "Year 2000."

There are the several kinds of Y2K-related scams that consumers should be aware of including:

-- A con artist posing as a bank employee calls to say that, as part of a Year 2000-related fix of the bank's computers or accounts, you must confirm (actually reveal) your credit card or bank account number. (If a crook gets this or other personal information, he or she can use it to order new credit cards or new checks and then go on a shopping spree.

-- You receive an unsolicited offer to "hold" your money until after January 1, 2000, in a place that's supposedly safer than a federally insured bank, savings institution or credit union, perhaps in a "special" bond or bond account. (The money most likely would just go into the crook's pocket.)

-- A sales person from a company you never heard of calls to suggest that you buy into an investment or business that's free of Year 2000 problems (or will "solve" Y2K problems) and, in addition, is guaranteed to net a big profit. (It's likely that the only one profiting will be the seller, while you get little or nothing in return.)

Michelle Singletary: Secondly, what should bank customers be doing to protect themselves just in case there are problems with their bank's computer?

Frank Hartigan: Keep copies of financial records. As always, keep good records of your financial transactions,especially for the last few months of 1999 and until you get several statements in 2000.

Pay attention to your finances. As always, balance your checkbook regularly. When you receive a transaction receipt from your institution, check it for accuracy and save it to compare against your statement.

Review deposit insurance coverage. The federal government's protection of insured deposits will not be affected by Y2K. If you have more than $100,000 in an insured bank, thrift or
credit union, you may want to make sure you understand the insurance rules. Check with your financial institution or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation regarding insurance at banks and savings institutions or the National Credit Union Administration for credit unions.

Michelle Singletary: I understand that 2 percent of the nation's banks are having trouble still complying with Y2K requirements. What kind of problems are they dealing with and how are the federal banking agencies dealing with these laggards?

Frank Hartigan: Actually our on-site examinations reflect that virtually all institutions are making progress although a few are slightly behind the schedule we established. We are monitoring these institutions closely and will use all the regulatory tools we have to make sure that they will be ready for the century date changes months before it occurs.

Richmond, Va.: What should I do to protect my money just in case my bank's computers fail? Should I ask for double statements or pull out extra cash just in case the system goes down for a few days? My friends are saying we better all stash some money because no one knows for sure what will happen.

Frank Hartigan: Based on over two years of close regulatory scrutiny, we are confident that it will be business as usual before and after January 1, 2000. We would advice, as always, that consumers keep financial records, check their statements and receipts against them, and balance accounts on a regular basis.

Atlanta, Ga.: What should I do if someone does call saying they're from my bank. Is there someone I should report them to?

Frank Hartigan: Contact your financial institution to report any suspicious request for confidential account information. Don't hesitate to make these calls. If you're being approached, chances are others in your community or around the country are also being targeted.

Arlington, Va.: I got a called from someone offering to insure my credit cards against the Y2K bug? Are there legitimate companies offering such insurance?

Frank Hartigan: We would encourage you to check with your financial institution to determine if the companies offering such insurance are legitimate.

Washington, DC: If I keep my bank statements on file should I worry about my money not being in my account on Y2K. Don't you think it is better that I keep my money in my bank account where it is insured by FDIC.

Frank Hartigan: Absolutely. We think it is best if you keep your money in a financial institution where it is federally insured and safe against theft or loss.

Washington, D.C.: Even if we believe the regulators who say the banks are ready for Y2K, isn't it likely that some things will fail, such as ATMs? I have problems with my bank all the time and I'm just not convinced they've got this "little" computer problem fixed.

Frank Hartigan: No one can say that there won't be glitches but we expect it to be business as usual before and after January 1, 2000.

Long Beach, CA: What exactly did the banks have to do to show they are Y2K ready? How do we consumers know that the test will be the same as the real thing?

Frank Hartigan: We have required all banks to test systems for Y2K readiness. If the systems were not Y2K ready, the banks were required to fix the systems and test them by dates established by the federal banking agencies. We have sent specially trained examiners in to each and every insured bank to make certain that systems were fixed and tested. Banks were required to perform tests that simulate operation in the year 2000 and beyond, and these tests were as realistic as possible.

High Point, N.C.: I read in Michelle's column that about two percent of the banks are still struggling with Y2K problems. Just how many banks -in real numbers- does that represent and what if they aren't ready? What then?

Frank Hartigan: As of May 31, 1999, only 21 banks and savings associations were rated unsatisfactory out of a total of 10,359. These banks are being watched closely and we are confident that they will be ready for the Year 2000 Another 151 were rated needs improvement which means that the are generally making progress but they need to focus more resources on the issue. These banks are also receiving close attention from the regulators and we expect them to be upgraded to satisfactory in the near future.

Alexandria, VA: Exactly, what paperwork should we copy to protect ourselves. If there is an error will the bank accept as prove the copies?

Frank Hartigan: Keep all account statements and receipts. As always, if there is an issue with your account, these documents will help to expedite its resolution.

Michelle Singletary: Are the con artists targeting any one group of people? For example, are seniors or minorities more vulnerable? I know the number of Y2K scams are increasing but is there a pattern to these scams?

Frank Hartigan: We do not see a pattern so far. Certainly everyone is at risk but historically older Americans have been a target of scam artist.

Michelle Singletary: Are there any procedures in place for people who do run into problems with their banks and the Y2K issue. For example, if you get fraudulent charges on your credit card you aren't liable for them after an initial $50. If somehow your account is effected by the Y2K bug can consumers expect to have the problem addressed right away. What happens if there is a glitch and you owe your mortgage that day or week?

Frank Hartigan: As always, if you become aware of a problem or issue you should immediately contact your financial institution. Its in the interest of the financial institution to address its customer's problems quickly and effectively.

Chester, PA: Did the test regulators give banks also simulate the kind of volume they normally experience on any given banking day? It's one thing to run a test but quite another when it's business as usual.

Frank Hartigan: Banks were required to perform test for various dates which simulated their routine operations including periods of peak activity such as end of month and end of quarter periods.

Michelle Singletary: Well, again we come to a closing. I want to thank Frank Hartigan of the FDIC for joining me today. Here's hoping you don't get bitten by the Y2K bug.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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