Drawback to automatic bank drafts and other vexations

Some big banks say they plan to end the long-standing practice of free checking. That's right. I've got good news and bad news to share today, but let's start with something that affects many.

Many large and midsize banks expect to eliminate free checking in coming months. We'll have to wait and see about smaller banks and credit unions.

One reason for this move is that new federal rules are making it harder for banks to make money on overdraft penalties and other fees. In the past, banks would automatically cover overdrafts and charge stiff fees.

Customers should be aware that they now have to "opt in" on overdraft coverage. If customers do nothing, their debit cards will be denied when they don't have enough money in their accounts.

What does this mean for you? All those little brochures that you keep getting from your bank, the ones with all the legal mumbo-jumbo fine print? Better read them, or else you'll learn about the new fees when you open your bank statement.

Who wrote the book?

Six Texas-based agents of Lincoln Financial Securities Corp. bought the contents of an investment book written by another company's CEO, the Texas State Securities Board reports. The agents put their names on the cover, some of them listing themselves as co-authors. Then they used the book to attract clients. Title of the book? The Dirty, Filthy Lies My Broker Taught Me and 101 Truths about Money & Investing.

The securities board ordered the fake co-authors to desist. Lincoln Financial was fined $40,000.

Seniors fraud

One in 5 Americans over age 65 has "been taken advantage of financially in terms of an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services or outright fraud," according to a national survey shared by the securities board. You can read the survey at

What can you do? The Watchdog reminds you not to sign a contract or agreement on the spot after a hard-core sales pitch. Take it home. Talk to others. Do research online.

Life settlement

company settles

Remember Retirement Value, the New Braunfels life settlement company the state shut down? You might recall that I wrote about how Fort Worth retirement planner James E. Poe wrote to his clients, "We believe that RV will prevail once the facts are placed in evidence."

Well, not so fast. This month, Bruce Collins, the company's former chief operating officer, agreed to a $319,000 settlement with the court-appointed receiver who now controls Retirement Value.

The securities board charged the company with selling unregistered securities and engaging in deceptive trade practices when it lured investors into buying insurance policies from policy owners.

High-tech discrimination

Larry Fuller of Arlington complains to The Watchdog that many retailers have begun offering discounts through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and through cellphone texts.

"Not all of us are in the high-tech world, especially we seniors," he said.

Good point, Larry. But some users of Facebook and Twitter don't read printed newspapers anymore. So they don't get access to the advertisers, coupons and special deals that appear on these pages.

And believe it or not, e-mail is dying, too.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, reports that only 11 percent of teenagers use e-mail daily. They use text messages and Facebook postings instead.

But hey, you can still e-mail me at watchdog@star-telegram. Or find me on Facebook or on Twitter at @DaveLieber. The Watchdog has his feet planted in both worlds.

Automatic debits

Many readers asked what I meant when I wrote last week about avoiding automatic debits from your checking account when paying your electricity bill.

Answer: When you give permission to a company, any company, to stick its grubby big paws into your checking account, it can get touchy when there's a billing dispute. I've heard stories about satellite TV companies extracting money against a customer's wishes when there's a billing dispute. It can take months to get the money back, if you ever do.

Since you granted a company permission, you could lose the ability to withhold payment until a conflict is resolved. That's what I meant.

Wrong company

The Watchdog recently wrote about the financial difficulties of the now-closed All Floors store in Arlington and its owner, Bob Williams.

Well, afterward, we heard from Geoff Brown of All-Pro Floors in Arlington, who says he was often asked to clean up a mess left by Williams' operation. Brown writes, "I am not here to toot my own horn, but to somehow try to distinguish my company from All Floors, since the names are so similar and we get calls questioning that all the time.

"If there is another column on this issue, could there be any chance of mentioning my concerns, as I have worked hard to have a good reputation in the community?"


DAVE LIEBER, 817-685-3830