Social Items

Relief may soon be on the way for consumers taken advantage of by one of the nation’s biggest banks.
A $142 million class action settlement for Wells Fargo customers who had unauthorized accounts opened in their name cleared its first big hurdle this summer when a federal judge gave preliminary approval to the settlement.
If you believe you were a victim, you’ll have to wait to receive your cut, but there are steps you can take now, like checking your credit report. Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan also recommended meeting with a banker if you have concerns.

Additional victims identified

There are millions of potential victims, and the number continues to climb.
The bank initially estimated 2.1 million accounts opened between May 2011 and mid-2015 were potentially fake. Wells Fargo now says its third-party review has identified 3.5 million potentially bogus accounts.
The expanded review looked at a broader timeline — accounts opened between January 2009 and September 2016 — in arriving at the 66 percent increase in bad accounts. That review also found 528,000 account holders who were potentially enrolled in bill pay without their consent.
Over the next two months, the bank says it and the court-appointed claims administrator will begin contacting people who claim the bank opened consumer or small-business checking, savings or credit card accounts, lines of credit and certain identity theft protection services about how to join in the settlement.

What to do if you’re a victim

If you expect to get part of the settlement fund, visit wfsettlement.com. You’ll find court documents and other helpful information.
According to the preliminary approval order, you could qualify for restitution if between May 1, 2002 and April 20, 2017 you:
  • Were enrolled in a service or product without permission.
  • Had an account opened without permission.
  • Had an application for a service submitted under your name without permission.
If you’ve already contacted the feds or the bank about your phony accounts, you can probably sit tight. You’ll be automatically eligible for a portion of the settlement. Others identified as victims by an independent consultant should receive claim forms in the mail.
Everyone else must file a claim online. If you complete a registration form, you’ll be contacted when the claim filing period begins.
Part of the multi-million settlement will go to lawyers and account holders who had their credit damaged and paid fees they shouldn’t have. The rest will be divided among all of the victims.
online bank?” data-height=”auto” data-quiz=”445159″data-on-ready=”qzzrOnReady” data-disable-modal=”true”>

Check your credit report

Even if you’re compensated for actions that hurt your credit, it’s unclear whether you’ll receive access to credit monitoring services.
If you think your credit has been damaged, don’t wait (especially if you’re planning to apply for a mortgage or car loan). Get free copies of your credit reports and check for mistakes. If you find errors, you can dispute them online with each of the reporting bureaus.
“You have to check all three credit reports from all three agencies because sometimes different credit agencies can have different information,” says Rachel Kampersal, marketing communications and programs associate at American Consumer Credit Counseling.
Also, remember to gather any paperwork that might help your case.
“I want to mention the importance of having proper documentation to support any claims during the dispute process, which will help the process go smoothly,” says Heather Battison, vice president of consumer communications at TransUnion.

What the future will hold

Before anyone gets paid, the federal judge in the case must give his final approval of the settlement. That won’t happen until Jan. 4, 2018.
In the meantime, a settlement administrator will be notifying customers and reviewing claims.
Victims can object to the settlement or seek to challenge Wells Fargo in court as individuals. But if you choose to fight the bank on your own, there’s no telling how successful you’ll be.
“You also have the issue of whether or not you’re bound by an arbitration clause,” says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “Even if you have been significantly harmed, you’re not going to be able to go to court anyway because Wells Fargo’s not going to let you.”

How to get your piece of the Wells Fargo banking scandal settlement


On October 22, 2004 President Bush signed the JOBS bill (HR 4520) into law. Section 731 of this law placed new restrictions on car donations to charity. If you are planning to donate a car, it is important to note these changes to the tax law that went into effect on January 1st, 2005 to make sure that you will receive the tax benefits that you expect from your car donation.
TITLE VIII: Revenue Provisions - (Sec. 884) Title VIII revised the rules for claiming tax deductions for charitable donations of motor vehicles, boats, and airplanes valued over $500. It limits the allowable amount of such deductions to the gross proceeds received by the donee charitable organization from the sale of the donated vehicle.
The new Provision requires the donee organization to provide donors with a written acknowledgment of the contribution within 30 days of the donation.
Title VIII imposes a penalty upon donee organizations for providing false or fraudulent acknowledgments. News on tougher car donation tax laws To help reduce overvalued auto donations (and bring more tax dollars to federal coffers), the IRS has issued a new guide for auto donations. In addition, legislation signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 22 made substantial changes to used-car charitable deductions in effect since January 1st 2005.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2005, when a taxpayer donates a vehicle for which the claimed value is $500 or more, the precise deduction he can claim will depend on how the charity plans to use the vehicle. If the auto is sold by the nonprofit, then the taxpayer will be able to deduct only the amount of gross proceeds the organization got from the sale. And the donor will have to depend on the charity to let him know the donation amount by the individual tax-filing deadline.
If, however, the charity plans to use the car for what the law deems as "significant" tax-approved charitable work, the donor would be able to claim the fair market value of the donated vehicle. The new law also provides penalties for fraudulent acknowledgments provided to taxpayers.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), primary sponsor of the measure, calls it "common-sense reforms [that] will go a long way toward ending the abuses in car donations" documented by government accountants. Charities acknowledge that there are problems with the current system, but many are skeptical about changes that put the burden of policing tax breaks on the recipient groups. The organizations also worry that the new rules will dampen these types of contributions. In a letter sent to the Treasury Secretary during consideration of the changes, representatives of two dozen charitable groups argued that, "Under such a proposal, a taxpayer's actual deduction amount would be uncertain at the time of a contribution, and potential donors would not be able to compare the relative benefits obtained by donating their vehicles, trading them in to a car dealer, or selling the vehicles themselves. ... We believe this approach would greatly discourage and reduce future vehicle donations to charities and increase the cost of administering such programs, and we would respectfully ask that the Treasury join us in opposing any such proposal."



What makes a nomad a nomad? Or a backpacker a backpacker? How do you define a budget traveler?
Am I a nomad because I move around a lot, or did I give up the rights to call myself that when I got an apartment? Am I a luxury traveler because I stay in a hotel or a budget traveler because I use points to stay in them for free?
I was faced with these questions last month when asked how it felt to no longer be a nomad. I responded by saying I didn’t feel any different nor did I think the label had any special meaning. Once a traveler, always a traveler!
There are a lot of names for people who travel the world: backpackers, nomads, vagabonds, tourists, explorers, travelers.
Labels are everywhere but seem especially prevalent among travelers seeking to differentiate their style of travel. For many travelers, these labels make them feel superior over another.
Andrew Zimmerman from Bizarre Foods once said “Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.”
This quote is symbolic of the mindset that travelers are better at exploring the world than tourists. They dig deep into the culture, drink it up, and get to know a place whereas a tourist takes pictures and claims to have “done Paris.”
But that mindset is elitist travel crap.
We are all tourists.
Out on the road, backpackers love to talk about how authentic their travels are and how inauthentic tourists are. “Look at those tourists over there,” they say. They scoff at others who travel too quickly or to places they deem not off-the-beaten-path enough. And they do so from hostels while eating hamburgers and drinking beers with other travelers, an irony often lost on them.
The only way to really get to know a place deeply is to live there. If you want to live like a local, then find an apartment, get a job, commute to work, and do the same things you did back home.
We are all merely passing through a culture, getting a small taste of it before moving on to the next place. Even if we stay weeks or months, we’re just grazing the surface. In reality, we are all really just tourists.
Or travelers.
Or nomads.
Call yourself whatever you want – it’s all the same.
Let’s take budget travel as an example. Who defines what a budget traveler is? Though some places are more expensive than others, my average daily budget for travel is $50 per day. Sometimes I spend more, most of the time I spend less. However, to some that’s not cheap enough.
“You spent $50 a day in London? Well, I spent $30!”
“Ha, I only spent $5 dumpster diving and squatting in homes.”
There is a one-upmanship on the road about who can be a cheaper traveler, especially among backpackers. Everyone is trying to race to the bottom, thinking it makes them a better traveler. But no matter how much you spend – or don’t spend — we’re all trying to do the same thing: see the world.
Don’t label anyone and don’t let anyone label you.
Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about how you travel, where you go, or the direction you take – dumpster dive, take a cruise, be a tourist, be a traveler, take tours.
We are all tourists. We are all travelers. What we are all doing is more important than what we call ourselves.
Let’s stop labeling each other.
Because it doesn’t matter.
There is a smug superiority among travelers when they use labels. The words convey the hidden message: “I’m a better traveler than you are.”
Sure, you haven’t yet hiked Kilimanjaro, sailed in the Amazon, or traveled across Central Asia — but you might one day. Or you might not. It doesn’t matter. It’s your trip — go at your own pace, do your own thing.
I don’t care where or how you travel so long as you go, see something new, and expand your horizon. Sitting at a resort isn’t my cup of tea, but if you like it, you’re no more or less a traveler than I am.
I call myself a nomad because I like the word (and how it combines with my name). But in the end, it’s a meaningless label.
The next time someone tries to define you, just tell them, “No travel labels, please. We’re all the same! Let’s just enjoy the fact that we are simply people on the road.”
No more, no less.



“Have you heard of Scott’s Cheap Flights? Should I use them?”
When friends and family far removed from the travel hacking/cheap flights space ask me about a website, I know its mainstream. While there are many good deal websites out there (The Flight Deal, Secret Flying, and Holiday Pirates are three of my favorites), Scott’s Cheap Flights seems to have broken through where others have not. Over 1 million people get his daily flight deals email. I’m a big fan of the website and their ability to often break airfare deals (I used one of their alerts to fly to South Africa). It turns out Scott is a fan of my website too so we sat down for an interview where I got him to spill the secret behind his website:
Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself. How did you get into this?
Scott: When I graduated college in 2009, I knew two things: (1) I wanted to travel the world and (2) I was never going to be wealthy. So if I wasn’t going to let #2 prevent #1, I knew I would have to figure out some creative ways to travel without spending my life savings. I began reading up on flight pricing economics, spending hours on various flight search engines, and learning various airfare patterns. Before long, I found an online community of fellow travel hackers and cheap-flight aficionados who enjoy not just travel but also the thrill of getting a great deal on flights.
Where did the idea of this website come from?
Scott’s Cheap Flights has a weird origin story. In 2013, I got the best deal of my life: nonstop from NYC to Milan for $130 round-trip. Milan hadn’t even been on my radar as a place to visit, but for $130 round-trip, there’s no way I wouldn’t go. And it turned out to be amazing! I went skiing in the Alps, caught an AC Milan match, hiked Cinque Terre, hung out on Lake Como. It was divine.
When I got back, word spread among friends and coworkers about the deal I got, and dozens of them began asking me to let them know next time I found a fare like that so they could get in on it, too. So rather than try to remember to tell George and Esther and Aviva when a great deal popped up, I decided to start a simple little email list instead so I could alert everyone at once. Scott’s Cheap Flights was born.
For the first 18 months, though, it was just a little, fun hobby I did for my friends. It wasn’t until August 2015 that it had generated enough organic growth that it made sense to think about turning it into a business.
Scott posing in front of a hilly landscape
You’ve sort of blown up in the last year or so. What do you think have been the two biggest factors into your success?
First off, thanks! We just hit one million subscribers — still hard for me to believe. The credit goes to two primary factors:
First, there’s an incredible team who runs Scott’s Cheap Flights. It’s not just me; we’re up to 25 folks on the team now. We have a team of flight searchers finding great deals around the world, and also a team of amazing customer support folks. On an average day we get well over 700 emails in our inbox, and most people get a response within a few hours, if not a few minutes. I think this is a major reason why more than 50% of people who sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights found out about it via word of mouth.
Second, the startup itself had very serendipitous timing. Right around when Scott’s Cheap Flights became a business, international flight prices began to plummet, fueled by low oil prices and a bevy of new low-cost airlines like Norwegian and WOW jumping into the transatlantic market. Whereas in 2010 it was rare to see flights from the US to Europe under $900 round-trip, in 2015 (and through to today), it’s relatively common to see those same flights around $400 round-trip, if not less. We can’t force airlines to offer cheap flights, but we’ve been there to ride the wave these past few years and help subscribers pay half of what they used to to travel abroad.
Were there any media hits or high-profile features that really changed your trajectory? I remember hearing about you a few years ago, but now it seems everyone I know, even outside of travel, has heard of your newsletter. 
There was one in particular: a Business Insider article and I were taking in the summer of 2015. It helped take Scott’s Cheap Flights from a hobby to a full-fledged business by bringing in thousands of new subscribers. We’ve had hundreds of media hits in the two years since then, but as we’ve grown, each individual one has necessarily had a diminishing impact. Perhaps a Nomadic Matt interview will give a big new boost though!
Scott doing a television interview
How does your website work? How do you find these deals? Do you have team of people searching for deals? Is it an algorithm?
One thing that surprises a lot of people is that we don’t have a bunch of computers running secret algorithms to find cheap flights. All of our fares are searched by hand. The secret sauce is hard work. Airfare changes by the hour, if not by the minute, and the best deals don’t tend to last very long, so finding out about them early is the key to booking them before they’re gone. Most people don’t want to spend all their free time searching for cheap flights; we love doing it and being subscribers’ early detection radar.
Another way to think of it is like this: Almost everybody is capable of cooking dinner at home, but that doesn’t prevent the existence of the restaurant industry. People don’t always want to put in the time and effort required to find cheap flights, so we’re happy to do it for them.
That seems super time-consuming. How do you decide what and where to search? Do you just randomly plugging in places and dates, or is there more of a method to the madness? 
There’s a bit of proprietary knowledge that goes into the process, but 95% of it is just the sheer legwork, day after day, searching various routes and seeing what pops up. There’s more of a skill aspect to the process than I would’ve guessed four years ago, whether that’s remembering certain esoteric routes that periodically go on sale, or knowing that a fare war out of one city likely indicates fare drops in other similar cities. For the most part, though, it’s just a small team of incredibly talented and dedicated flight searchers scouring through fares all day every day, disregarding 99% of them and skimming off the juiciest 1% to send to subscribers.
What are some of the biggest trends in flights you are seeing right now?
In the last year or two we’ve seen far cheaper flights than in the past to India (before: $1,000+, now: ~$600), Italy and the Netherlands (before: $900, now: ~$350), and Hawaii (before: $800, now $350 from the West Coast, $550 from further east).
Unfortunately (though perhaps not surprisingly), we’re seeing a continued drought of cheap flights to popular destinations like BrazilArgentinaAustralia, and New Zealand.
In addition, we’re seeing a continued unbundling of airfare: more low-cost carriers and “budget economy” fares offered by full-service carriers that don’t include checked bags, seat selection, or meals.
Scott in the Cinque Terre
Do you use your own deals or are you more of a points/miles-in-business-class kind of guy?
Sure do! I’m personally not a business-class type of guy. I’m still young enough to be fine in coach for as long and far as a plane can fly. Ask me again in 20 years — but in general I’m uncomfortable being doted on in the premium section of the plane. I’m a simple guy. I don’t need much.
Will we see more business-class deals? 
Don’t wanna overpromise and underdeliver. Stay tuned!
Do you plan to go global and feature more non-US deals?
Yes! We have a team of flight searchers finding cheap fares departing not just from the US but also Canada, the UK and mainland Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East (Sub-Saharan Africa coming soon!).
You get all these flight deals, but tell me some of your favorite travel experiences. What’s one of your favorite recent travel memories?
Last year my wife and I took a trip to Belarus to visit her family. One of the days we took a trip to a “park” that consisted of a big open field filled with old discarded and retired Cold War–era Soviet weapons. Think machine guns, missiles, and tanks.
Mostly people would walk around and pose for selfies in front of these massive weapons, but at one point I saw a small group of tourists from Asia hand a park operator some cash and then start to climb on top of a WWII-era tank. I thought they were just going to take photos, but a few seconds later the tank started lurching forward before hitting a cool 25 miles per hour, zipping around the park. These tourists were having the time of their effing lives, and it gave me so much joy just to watch them.
Scott sitting in front of some salt flats
Your deal website is great of course, but what about just everyday flights people need to see Grandma. What advice do you have based on your experience learning how airline pricing works? 
The single best trick to getting cheap airfare is flexibility. Being flexible not just with your dates but also your locations. For example, that NYC-Milan nonstop round-trip deal for $130 I mentioned at the top. I wasn’t living in NYC; I was living in DC. But for that fare it was well worth the short $20 bus ride up. I spent the weekend with friends in NYC and saved myself $650 off what fares would’ve been from DC to Milan.
The way most people approach getting a flight is this: (1) pick where they want to go; (2) pick their dates; and (3) see what prices are available. By prioritizing the fare lowest, they often end up with expensive tickets.
Instead, if getting a cheap flight is your priority, flip the order: (1) see what prices are available to various places are around the world; (2) decide which of the cheap destinations appeal to you; and (3) select the dates you like that have the cheap fares available.
What’s the craziest deal you ever got?
In addition to that $130 nonstop NYC-Milan deal, my wife and I recently scored $169 round-trip flights to Japan — flippin’ love mistake fares. And team members have gotten similarly good deals to Hawaii, New Zealand, etc.
Finally, what’s one non-airfare-related travel piece of advice you’d give someone?
Read more magazine articles and listen to more smart, informative podcasts. I’m a firm believer in the liberal arts approach of knowing a bit about everything (as opposed to everything about just one subject), not only as a way to be a well-rounded person but also as a social lubricant. If you can hold a conversation about anything from architecture to the stock market to Asian budget airlines, you’re far more likely to meet interesting people and develop deeper relationships.
Scott founded Scott’s Cheap Flights in a Denver coffeeshop. Scott is the flight searcher-in-chief, spending 8-12 hours a day on Google Flights as well as overseeing daily operations. If you’re looking for flight deals, it’s one of the best.