Former hospital employee gets 4+ years for ID theft

A former employee of Crozer Chester Medical Center was sentenced Wednesday to more than four years in prison for stealing the identities of numerous patients as part of a tax fraud scheme.

Reynaldo Estrada, 50, of Brookhaven, Pa., received a 51-month sentence. He pleaded guilty on April 24 to one count each of conspiracy to commit identity theft, aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting the use of a false Social Security number.

In addition to the prison term, US District Court Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg ordered three years of supervised release, restitution in the amount of $409,779, and a $300 special assessment.

The US Attorney’s Office said between October 2010 and October 2011, Estrada, while he was working for Crozer-Chester Medical Center’s environmental services department and at Community Hospital in Chester, Pa., stole scores of treatment authorization forms containing the names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of patients.

Estrada admitted today that he gave the forms to co-conspirators who paid him for the stolen identities, knowing that the forms would be used as a part of a tax fraud scheme. The co-conspirators, Rafael Henriquez Polanco and Yanira Lopez, are charged in a separate indictment with allegedly using the identifying information provided by Estrada to prepare and file approximately 144 false and fraudulent federal individual income tax returns claiming bogus refunds in excess of $1.7 million. Both Polanco and Lopez have pleaded guilty to all charges against them, according to the US Attorneys Office.

The case was investigated by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, the US Department of State Diplomatic Security Service, the US Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations. It is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney Kevin Brenner.

Jeff Blumenthal covers banking, insurance and law.

3 Tips to Score More Financial Aid

Incoming freshmen, beware of the front-loaded financial aid package. To entice new students to enroll, some schools offer freshmen substantial merit aid — awards that are based on qualifications other than financial need — then sneakily reduce those scholarships and grants in subsequent years, leaving upperclassmen with bigger college bills.

Theres no data that explains how widespread front loading is, but its pervasive enough to make the average bottom-line cost of college for first-year freshmen nationwide about $1,400 lower than the cost for returning students, according to a 2011 report by higher education policy analyst Mark Kantrowitz. If you have already stepped into a front-loaded trap, and watched your financial aid drop, there are ways to fill in the fiscal gap. Here are three strategies to increase your aid as an upperclassman:

1. Seek specialized scholarships
One advantage upperclassmen have over incoming freshmen is experience. Many institutions have upperclassmen-only awards that are available exclusively to students in certain majors who have completed a requisite number of credits.

Go to a department head [in your major] to see if there are any special scholarships, suggests Paul Gilroy, founder and CEO of ProEducation Solutions, a private financial aid consulting firm headquartered in Sarasota, Florida. After that, hit up your schools financial aid office for information on other awards for students with your academic and extracurricular profile.

You can also find awards for college sophomores, juniors, and seniors through private scholarship providers. Professional associations, as well as organizations such as the Morris K. Udall Foundation and The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity offer awards that are only available to upperclassmen. FastWeb also has a list of upperclassmen awards on its website to get you started. And dont overlook local resources, says Rhonda Risser, director of financial aid for Scripps College in Claremont, California.

Local service groups such as the Elks, Rotary, and Kiwanis offer scholarships, [and] businesses and banks often have college scholarships, too, she says. Students should check with their parents employers, as well. Places of worship also often offer scholarships.

2. Get a job
Even if your school doesnt offer upperclassmen awards, they may provide lucrative work positions for seasoned students. As an added bonus, these campus jobs can potentially be resume builders, too.

There may be opportunities to be teaching assistants in classes — research assistants, says Kathy Ruby, senior manager of college finance for College Coach, a college admissions and financial aid advising firm. These are the kinds of jobs that enhance your resume and enhance your learning experience but also give you a financial break. It might be that you get paid for doing those things, or you might get some kind of a partial tuition waiver.

Resident advisor positions — many of which come with the perk of free housing — are also usually reserved for older enrollees, as are student management positions, which may come with either a steady paycheck or a reduction in meal or tuition expenses.

There are also summer opportunities. Schools like Indiana University and the University of Nebraska offer paid summer research gigs for undergraduate upperclassmen, as do many private, nonprofit and governmental organizations, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Upperclassmen can also score a summer stipend if theyre willing to do an internship. Boston College, Oberlin College, Tufts University and many others offer stipends for current students who complete unpaid internships throughout the summer.

3. Reduce your costs
Freshmen are often required to live on campus, but sophomores and above frequently have far greater control over their living expenses. Obtain off-campus housing, and share with other people so you can cut down on the cost of the rent, Paul Gilroy says. That could be cheaper than a dormitory.

While the average public college student pays nearly $9,500 per year to live on campus, according to the College Board — thats about $600 above the average cost of tuition — those who opt for off-campus digs, several roommates. and many nights of home-cooked meals could save a bundle. Just shop carefully. On-campus room and board prices generally include a furnished living space, utilities, meals, Internet access and, sometimes, cable television, not to mention the reduced transportation cost of being within walking distance of your classes.

Many houses and apartments located off campus separate these expenses out, making it difficult to compare apples to apples. (Hint: Online financial calculators can help.) A double drawback to renting off-campus is that apartment leases generally last for a full year, meaning that youll be responsible for paying rent even if youre not there during the summer. But sticking around your college town through the sweaty months could be a good thing, Kathy Ruby adds.

Check the summer tuition rates at your institution because some colleges charge a reduced tuition rate, she says. If youre trying to get through in three-and-a-half years, sometimes taking classes during the summer can be an economical way to do it.

This article originally appeared on schools.com.

Unity Bancorp share sale nets $6M as it focuses on business loans

Unity Bancorp Inc., parent company of Unity Bank, which has branches in Northampton County and Warren County, NJ, has completed the sale of 760,713 common shares in its 10-for-1 rights offering a transaction that will in part help with expansion plans and loans to businesses.

The shares were sold for $8.30 per share, representing gross proceeds to the company of $6.3 million, the maximum offered. The offering was significantly oversubscribed as $16 million was collected.

The excess will be returned promptly to shareholders, Unity said.

All shareholders exercising their basic subscription right will receive the shares they subscribed for.

The proceeds will enable the company to fund our expansion plans, increase working capital and pursue strategic opportunities, said James A. Hughes, president and CEO of Unity Bancorp.

As a community bank, we are focused on supporting business growth throughout our service footprint, he added. With the local economy continuing to grow, there has been increased demand from businesses of all sizes.

Unity Bank also announced it has landed on the top 10 on the loan volume report from the Small Business Administrations New Jersey District Office.

It is ninth on the list for that state, up from last years ranking of 15.

The banks total SBA loan volume was more than $14.4 million as of July 31.

Unity Bank has experienced strong SBA activity resulting in increased loans closed and growth in the portfolio, Hughes said. hellip; The loan volume data verifies that small business remains the key for economic growth.

Unity Bancorp Inc., headquartered in Clinton, NJ, has about $932 million in assets and $728 million in deposits.

Georgetown law professor says Apple may now be a regulated financial institution

The potential of Apple Pay has ignited excitement amongst iOS fans since its announcement, but is Apple opening itself up to more regulation with the business expansion? Georgetown law professor Adam Levitin, a specialist in financial regulation, suggests that the company may have just accidentally become a regulated financial institution thanks to the move. In a new post on the Credit Slips blog, Levitin lays out his legal argument that Apple Pay may be more complicated for the company than they initially anticipated.

Levitins argument centers around the Consumer Financial Protection Act under which Apple may be considered a service provider, and thus be subject to the regulations that go along with that title.

I think theres a reasonable case that Apple is a service provider by virtue of Apple Pay. A service provider must provide a material service to a covered person in connection with the offering or provision by such covered person of a consumer financial product or service. Card issuers are covered persons, and Apple is providing a material service in connection with a consumer financial product–a credit card.

Levitin explains that since Apple is operating the payment system they will be held to the same standards as a company with a consumer financial product like a credit card.

The service provider definition explicitly includes those anyone who participates in designing, operating, or maintaining the consumer financial product or service. Theres an argument that Apple participates in designing, operating, and maintaining the card payments that go through Apple Pay, especially as Apple has specific agreements with card networks about what data is transmitted, what format, etc. In other words, Apple isnt just being a common carrier transmitting data for anyone. Its involved in figuring out what to transmit.

The service provider definition also explicitly includes anyone who processes transactions relating to the consumer financial product or service. That sure sounds like Apples role in the Apple Pay environment. There is a carve-out to this particular illustrative inclusion for parties that unknowingly or incidentally transmitting or processing financial data in a manner that such data is undifferentiated from other types of data of the same form as the person transmits or processes.

Its important to note that Levitin does not anticipate the CFPB actually examining Apple in the near future thanks to the amount of oversight theyre responsible for and their limited budget. He also explains that possible technical details in how the Apple Pay service works will keep the company from facing this increased regulation.

There are few issues with his analysis. First of all Apple isnt storing any data on the devices. The deals theyve worked out with the banks have allowed them to process payments without having the full card number stored on the device. In a sense Apple is bridge a gap between bank and consumer rather than running the card themselves, even if theyre receiving a percentage of each sale.

Also, similar payment system providers like Paypal or Square arent subject to this sort of financial regulation. Other than its size, what sets Apple apart from these competitors?

Regardless of the questions it raises, Levitins article is an interesting look at the possible complications that could arise from Apples latest venture. Its hard to imagine a world where Apples lawyers wouldnt have already figured out a way around this before they announced the service, but you can never tell exactly what will happen when it comes to regulation. You can read all of Levitins piece here.

Top retirement financial concern: Health care bills

People over 50 say their top retirement financial worry is health care costs, a survey, out Friday, shows.

But only 15% of pre-retirees have tried to figure out how much money they might need for health care and long-term care in retirement, according to the survey of 3,300 people, ages 25 and older, conducted by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave, a research think-tank on aging issues.

Let me pay off $100000 in student loans fairly

Updated: September 7, 2014 9:17PM

Like many young people in Illinois today, I went to college because I wanted the financial security that comes with a college degree. I was the first person in my family to go to college and went on to earn a master’s in psychology from DePaul University. I decided to pursue psychology because I want to give back to the LGBT community, while earning a reasonable living.

Rising tuition costs and stagnant federal financial aid left me with no other option than to pay for my education by taking out both federal and private loans. The problem with private loans is that they are ineligible for income-based repayment, which is why I owe $900 a month on my loans.

Luckily, there’s a plan that could make repayment more manageable. The US Senate is set to vote Tuesday on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Bank On Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. This bill would allow both federal and private borrowers to refinance their loans for today’s 3.86 percent market rate. Earlier this summer, one of our senators from Illinois, Mark Kirk, voted against even debating the bill, despite it having bipartisan support.

I take my obligation to repay my student loan debt very seriously, but with my interest rates being as high as 10.8 percent, that just doesn’t seem possible. When I asked my private lender to work with me to set up a more flexible repayment plan, they told me there was nothing they could do and advised me to default because “it’s not a big deal, a lot of people do it.” But it is a big deal.

My story is not unique. I am like millions of student loan borrowers in America who are struggling to pay back their debt in uncertain economic times.

My $100,000 in student loan debt doesn’t affect just me, it burdens my family. My monthly student loan payment was a third higher than what my spouse and I, until we recently moved, paid in rent. When you’ve got this kind of monthly obligation to deal with, it’s hard to afford the basic costs of living, like food or the ever-rising price of gas.

For my family, having a lower interest rate would mean that I could pay off my loans sooner — bringing my debt-to-income ratio down faster — and enable us to make the dream of owning a home a possibility. We could have money for those last-minute emergencies like home repairs that stunt us all. I am not asking for loan forgiveness, I just want to be able to refinance my debt the same way my parents can refinance a mortgage or car loan.

Estimates show that the Bank On Students bill would allow up to 25 million borrowers to save on average $2,000 over the life of their loans. And a recent report looking at what the proposal could mean for Illinois found that over 61% of the state’s 1,795,000 student loan borrowers could benefit from being able to refinance.

Sen. Kirk, I hope you will think about young people like me when you vote on this bill again. It’s time to show Illinoisans that our elected officials can put politics and party loyalty aside to do what’s right for the people of this state.

Dawn Brown is from Lansing and is a counseling psychology doctoral student.

Will My Parents Have to Repay My Student Loans?

Huffington Post Reader Question

Dear Steve,

Hi, I have some student loan debt (a total of $82,000) and I was wondering if something should happen to me, would my parents need to pay it off? I have always wondered this, because well frankly stuff happens and we dont always know what might happen tomorrow. I am including a copy of the types of loans those are.

Please look at my attachment. I went to a website called National Student Loan Data System for Students to get this loan summary.

Thanks again!!!! I really admire your desire to give FREE advice!!!

You are a wonderfully great person.

Roger

Dont miss my free my weekday email newsletter with the latest tips and advice on how to beat debt and do better financially. Subscribe now. – Click Here

Dear Roger,

First off, thank you for the kind words.

If the student loans are in your name alone and your parents did not co-sign for the loans then they are your loans, not theirs. They would not repay them.

I could not help but notice that you have quite a few individual loans. It might be worth considering consolidating them into one loan. According to the US Department of Education the loan consolidation would offer you the following benefits.

Loan consolidation can greatly simplify loan repayment by centralizing your loans to one bill and can lower monthly payments by giving you up to 30 years to repay your loans. You might also have access to alternative repayment plans you would not have had before, and youll be able to switch your variable interest rate loans to a fixed interest rate.

You also should consider the impact of losing any borrower benefits offered with the original loans. Borrower benefits from your original loan, which may include interest rate discounts, principal rebates, or some loan cancellation benefits, can significantly reduce the cost of repaying your loans. You might lose those benefits if you consolidate. – Source

For more information on consolidating your loans, click here. There is no charge to consolidate.

For more information on how to deal with problem student loans, click here.

Steve
Get Out of Debt Guy – Twitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question youd like to ask, just click here and ask away.

If youd like to stay posted on all the latest get out of debt news and scam alerts, subscribe to my free newsletter.

‘Fast Money’ Recap: Rotating Into Underperforming Financial Stocks

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — The Samp;P 500 slid 0.60% on Friday and WTI crude oil fell 0.66%.

On CNBCs Fast Money TV show, Pete Najarian, co-founder of optionmonster.com and trademonster.com, said investors are rotating out of outperforming sectors and into underperforming sectors such as financials.

$200000 financial aid scam hits Bay Area college

Police at the College of Marin are investigating 23 individuals suspected of posing as students in a plot to steal $200,000 in federal financial aid, some of which has already been paid out by the college.

Two vigilant faculty members brought the suspected scam to the attention of college administrators after noticing that several students in their online classes shared the same address and phone number, werent participating in online discussions and withdrew soon after financial aid had been disbursed.

Such financial aid scams are increasingly seen at colleges across the country. They are estimated to cost taxpayers up to $1 billion a year and have federal investigators stretched to the limit figuring out how to stay ahead of the thieves.

In one recent example, three men posing as students pleaded guilty in February to stealing more than $1 million in financial aid received through City College of San Francisco, Chabot College in Hayward and Ohlone College in Fremont from 2007 and 2011.

In the scam – which targets mainly online programs – the thief enrolls in college and applies for a student loan or a federal Pell Grant, which provides up to $5,730 this academic year. Unlike loans, Pell Grants require no repayment. After the college takes its cut of the grant or loan and forwards the rest to the applicant for approved expenses – books, room and board, commuting – the thief keeps the money, quits attending class, and runs off to repeat the process at another college. The scam has been dubbed Pell running.

Fake students recruited

A ringleader often recruits fake students who allow their Social Security numbers and other personal information to be used to enroll in courses and to apply for federal aid in exchange for a cut of the cash.

The anonymity of online classes, which are exploding in popularity at community colleges, makes them an easy target.

Community colleges are also vulnerable because their fees are low, so the schools keep little of the Pell Grant money for themselves. In California, they take no fee because those who qualify for a Pell Grant – only needy students – also receive a fee waiver from the state chancellors office.

The scam usually goes undetected. But at the College of Marin in Kentfield, the two faculty members were paying attention.

Putting 2 and 2 together

Their information helped us put two and two together, said Jonathan Eldridge, a vice president at the community college who declined to identify the instructors or their courses because the investigation is ongoing and some of those under suspicion are still enrolled. Its difficult to identify these issues. And once identified, its difficult to take action.

Obviously, we want to be doing the right thing. Weve involved our campus police, and were collecting data. Then well have as much evidence as possible to give the US Department of Education.

The 23 students are eligible for a total of $200,000, Eldridge said. The college has already given them some of that aid, though Eldridge didnt know how much.

One instructor at the College of Marin discussed the situation with a friend, Mayor David Weinsoff of Fairfax, who grew alarmed at the brazenness of the alleged thieves. Theres not enough money to go around, and here you have people cheating, he said. Theyre taking our hard-earned tax dollars.

Collect aid, then drop out

Weinsoff spoke with college officials and learned that 1,290 students who collected nearly $192,000 in federal aid between 2009 and 2013 had quit the College of Marin before completing the course units required for them to keep the money. While those students may have had legitimate reasons for dropping out – and may even have returned the aid – the pool of money could represent earlier fraud.

Colleges are not responsible for paying back stolen money. But if thieves steal student-loan money and never pay it back, it can count against the college by adding to the schools student loan default rate.

In the case involving City College of San Francisco, Chabot and Ohlone, the three men – Kyle Edward Moore, Cortio Detrice Wade and Marcel Devon Bridges – created 104 separate financial aid accounts for purported students with the passwords maubert or maubert2, and used two addresses in Oakland and Hayward, according to a federal indictment filed in the US District Court in Oakland in August 2013.

By law, those eligible to receive Pell Grants or federal student loans need to have a high school diploma or equivalent, be enrolled or accepted at a college, and not be incarcerated. In addition, applicants must certify that they are the legitimate applicant and that they will use the funds only for educational purposes.

Straw students

In this case, Moore, Wade and Bridges recruited third parties to serve as straw students who signed and submitted false and fraudulent financial aid applications and had no intention of attending school or using the funds for their intended purpose.

In August, Bridges was sentenced to one year in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $73,087 in restitution. Federal officials were unable to confirm the fate of Moore, Wade or Derricka Lynn Fluker, who was indicted with them.

By the end of March, 132 fraud rings were under investigation by the US Department of Educations Office of the Inspector General, up from 16 a decade ago.

In its semiannual report to Congress, the office said it had recovered more than $20 million from more than 478 indictments. These have included thieves who use inmates identities to apply for aid.

$1 billion nationwide

But the actual number of fraud rings – and the amount of taxpayer money, estimated at $800 million to $1 billion a year – is likely to be far larger.

Its a serious number, said Howard Sorensen, assistant counsel to the inspector general. Colleges are choosing to admit students with only minimal checks on their applications – but people arent always who they say they are, and they arent showing up for classes.

His office has urged Congress to strengthen requirements for student aid, which relies on the honor system for requirements such as a high school diploma. But Congress has rejected such recommendations as requiring confirmation of diplomas and even identity before awarding financial aid.

SECU Buys Second Chance Student Loans

The $28.6 billion State Employees Credit Union raised its cap for a program that invests in defaulted student loans.

The Raleigh, NC-based credit union inaugurated the program with a $25 million cap in June 2012, according to the credit unions Chief Financial Officer Mike Lord.

SECU committed to purchase an additional $25 million worth of the currently defaulted student loans from the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authoritys Loan Rehabilitation Program, bringing its cap to $50 million.

The program gives student borrowers with defaulted federally backed student loans a second chance to repay the loans, repair their credit history and continue their education by successfully completing the program.

Under the loan programs qualifications, once the borrower makes nine consecutive voluntary monthly payments at an amount they can sustain into the future, the authority restores their loan to good standing and they may begin new repayment terms. In addition, the authority reinstates the borrowers eligibility for federal and state financial aid and removes the defaulted loan status from the participants credit record.

Lord pointed out that the federal government guarantees the loans making their risk quite low and that the credit union does not have to service the loans.

Its much like an investment in mortgages or any other type of loan, he said. We just like to do it because while the amount of money is not great in the scheme of things, its very important.

As many students struggle to repay their loans, its wonderful to have access to capital for the programs rehabilitation process that offers borrowers an opportunity to demonstrate their desire and willingness to bring their loan and credit to good standing, said Dr. Steve Brooks, executive director of the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority. We are grateful to State Employees Credit Union for their support and increased investment of $25 million, making it possible to help students looking for a fresh start regain a foothold on their educational and financial goals.

Lord added, As a not-for-profit financial cooperative, State Employees Credit Union continually seeks solutions to help members experiencing financial hardships. SECUs ongoing support of the Loan Rehabilitation Program to help North Carolina students looking to repay their debt and repair their credit reinforces that commitment. A second chance through this Program allows students to recover from difficult financial barriers, providing more opportunity to improve their overall economic future.