Old scams for the new year
Criminals are on the phone, as usual.
Their scams are generally tried-and-true, but with a Y2K twist: We need your bank account number (or credit card number, or address, or whatever) to prevent any problems for you, the consumer, once the calendar flips.
"They're playing on this fear of what will happen on Jan. 1," said Holly Anderson of the National Fraud Information Center.
In New Mexico, a caller posed as an Internal Revenue Service agent and began asking questions related to possible Y2K problems. After securing a variety of personal information, the "IRS man" used the victims' name, address and Social Security number to open credit card accounts, ringing up large charge bills.
Phone users in Oregon and Washington were recently victimized in "slamming" schemes, where long-distance service is switched, often without the customer's consent. Callers pretending to represent legitimate long-distance companies made the switch by pretending they wanted to prevent service interruptions in the next millennium.
The Associated Press
Bond market's 'dirty thirty'
The Dow has its dogs, and now the corporate bond market has its "dirty thirty" -- companies whose debt has fallen into such disfavor that yields are far higher than like-rated borrowers.
While bankruptcy isn't an imminent threat to the dirty thirty, they have enough problems to be vulnerable to lower ratings or bad news that deters some buyers and causes bond yields to rise. Still, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter says they might be next year's hot ticket for bond investors, as history shows that such bonds often rebound the next year.
The average yield for the 30, which mature in five to 30 years and have an average rating between the top and middle of the "BBB" category, was 288 basis points over comparable Treasuries. They are:
McKesson HBOC Inc.; Mirage Resorts Inc.; Circus Circus; British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc; ShopKo Stores Inc.; Lockheed Marting Corp.; Levi Strauss & Co.; UnumProvident Corp.; Saks Inc.; Dillard's Inc.
Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.; Service Corp. International; Owens-Illinois Inc.; Harrah's Entertainment Inc.; J.C. Penney Co. Inc.; Sears, Roebuck & Co.; Flowers Industries Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc.; Tommy Hilfiger Corp.; Seagate Technology Inc.
PanAmSat Corp.; Waste Management Inc.; Federal-Mogul Corp.; Teleglobe Inc.; Safeco Corp.; Conseco Inc.; Highwoods Properties Inc.; Healthcare Property Investors Inc.; Liberty Mutual; Petroleos de Venezuela SA.
Crackdown on fax abusers
The Federal Communications Commission says it has been issuing citations to a number of companies for sending unsolicited faxes to consumers and businesses.
For example, last week the FCC proposed an $85,500 fine against Get-Aways Inc. of Camarillo, Calif., which had continued touting its vacation packages via fax despite a warning.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act and FCC rules limit or prohibit unsolicited advertisements that use automatic telephone dialing systems or fax machines. But complaints about unsolicited faxes have jumped from 300 in 1997 to 1,400 in 1999, according to the FCC.
Another conscience fund
There's a new voice in the socially responsible investing arena. Vanguard Group (800-662-7447) announced last week it will create an index mutual fund that invests in companies with desirable social and environmental policies.
Vanguard, which expects to offer its fund by next spring, has teamed with the Calvert Group, a Bethesda fund family that opened a socially conscious fund in 1982, to create the new fund.
Calvert will start with a list of the 1,000 largest U.S. companies and then review each company's record and policies on the environment, workplace issues, international operations and human rights, weapons contracting and product safety.
The Vanguard Calvert Social Index fund will seek to mimic the returns of the stocks in that index.