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Mutating 403(b) Phish 🦠🐠

February 9, 2021

Just as we are learning that the coronavirus is mutating into potentially more infectious strains, teacher inboxes are being inundated by even more phishy 403(b) emails. Last week alone more than two dozen of these dubious inquiries were forwarded to us via a special email we have set up (phishy@403bwise.org). Here’s a sampling of the increasing deceptive tactics being deployed. 

Deceptive Tactic 1: Eligibility

Teacher: The phish are popping today! I just received this one again. Even after I emailed them back saying to take me off their list... 

Each year, as an employee of XYZ School District you are eligible to schedule a phone call or teleconference meeting with a representative for answers to your specific state, federal and individual retirement benefit questions.

Me: Designed to appear as a benefit. It is not. 

Deceptive Tactic 2: Pension Affiliation

Teacher: This is new...

My name is Jane Doe, and I work with the Education Retirement Program (ERP) of Texas. ERP representatives are meeting with educators in the XYZ School District and XYZ High School through a Zoom video conference to give information regarding their current state pension plan &/or supplemental retirement options, and I would like to have the opportunity to meet with you as well.

Me: If you Google “Education Retirement Program Texas” the first link that comes up is the actual Teacher Retirement System of Texas. Sales agent is clearly tyring to give the illusion of affiliation with state pension agency.

Deceptive Tactic 3: Eligibility + Pension Affiliation

Teacher: More phish...

Each year, as an employee of XYZ School District you are eligible to schedule a phone call or teleconference meeting with a representative for answers to your specific state, federal and individual retirement benefit questions.

Me: See tactics 1 and 2.

Deceptive Tactic 4: Open Enrollment

Teacher: Just got this...

This is the time of year for open enrollment and to meet with employees to review their plan options. 

Me: There is no open enrollment period with a 403(b). You can start and make changes to the 403(b) at any time of the year (in most districts).

Deceptive Tactic 5: Oversees 403(b) Program for School District

Teacher: I've seen another big increase in these emails in the past month. Here's the latest...

My name is John Doe, and I handle the 403(b), which is similar to the 401(k) for your school district. 

Response from teacher to sales agent: Please edit the body of your message so as not to misrepresent your position and confuse our teachers? You do not 'handle the 403(b) for our school district as is expressly stated here. That is blatantly false. You sell insurance products that can be put into an employee's 403(b) plan through one vendor approved by the my School District's Third Party Administrator (TSA Consulting Group.) I really hope it is not a purposeful misrepresentation to make it seem as if you work in an official capacity for the school district. As I know you are aware, many teachers are confused by 403(b) plans and the options available to them as employees of the district. Being constantly bombarded with messages from agents with titles of  'Financial Professional' or 'Retirement Planning Specialist' while making allusions to working officially for the district (or our pension agency) is a disservice to our teachers. It feels as if you are trying to procure trust by claiming a relationship that does not exist. I hope not. If teachers would like to put your insurance products into their 403(b) plans, great. But let's not use questionable tactics to get them in the door to pitch those products. Our teachers deserve better.

Me: If school districts competitively bid their 403(b) plan like employers offering 401(k) plans do to get the best combination of services and pricing, there might be an individual who "handles" the plan. But they don't so there isn't. Note: The teacher who shared Tactic 5 did say that the sales agent actually apologized and blamed it on a corporate boilerplate (He is employed by Equitable, formerly known as AXA).

403bwise Recommendation

Alert your school district to these emails. If you chose to respond to these sales tactics, one approach would be to ask them to respond to this series of questions we have developed for our Working with a Financial Professional resource. 

  1. What is your educational background?
  2. What is your CRD (Central Registration Depository) number?
  3. What financial credentials do you hold?
  4. What is your financial planning education?
  5. How did you become a financial advisor?
  6. How long have you been offering financial services?
  7. What state and/or national oversight agencies are you registered with?
  8. How many hours of continuing education do you take each year?
  9. How many clients do you currently serve?
  10. Will I work directly with you?
  11. How do you educate your clients about the investment process and their specific portfolio?
  12. Explain how you will diversify my portfolio.
  13. What is your investment philosophy?
  14. Please detail all fees or commission involved, including all costs of mutual funds or variable annuity sub accounts.
  15. How will my plan be implemented?
  16. How often will we meet?
  17. Please include any fees related to closing an account (i.e. surrender or back-end charges.)
  18. Please provide me with a written agreement that details services that will be provided.
  19. Please provide in writing your pledge to act as fiduciary on my behalf.
  20. How are you compensated?

If you smell something, say something. Also, email it to: phishy(at)403bwise.org

Stay wise and well (and subscribe to the 403bwise YouTube Channel!).

Previous stories we have written on this topic

Related Podcast:

What's That Phishy Smell in Your Inbox? Across the country teachers are being spammed by phony financial professionals. A savvy high school teacher almost took the bait.   Listen Now »