Warning: ‘Official’ mail scam won’t stop until you ignore it

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“OFFICIAL” MAIL: Lately, many consumers in our area have been receiving very “official” looking mail. The crooks come at us from many directions; one is the “official” call — from the IRS, the Social Security, Publishers Clearing House, etc. — another is through the mail, sometimes they even use FedEx, UPS and other non-government services.

There’s nothing more official looking than an envelope outlined in red with registration numbers, stern looking warnings and official looking seals.

The object of this ruse is to con you out of a few dollars, but moreover to set you up for future attention, by the con artists, or worse. The people who respond to this solicitation are naïve and obviously don’t understand that they’re being targeted. Once they have a “live one” you’re almost surely going to get more mail like this and perhaps even phone calls. The more personal information you give them, the further down the path of no return they take you.

Go ahead; open the mail, if you have tons of time on your hands, read the mail, especially the small print. THEN TEAR IT UP AND THROW IT AWAY!!! You’ll be happier and safer if you do.

• • •

CHEAPER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER: There are certain companies that try to attract the consumer who is always looking for the lowest (cheapest) price. Just because a company offers the lowest price in the market, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad company.

There are essentially three possible strategies of these companies: 1. The company wants to introduce consumers to their goods and/or services, in hopes of winning a new customer; 2. Once the company has you as a customer, they attempt to up-sell you and offer additional goods or more expensive services; or 3. The company is selling goods or services of such inferior quality that they make a profit even on the junk they sell.

In any case, be careful if you go bottom fishing. Make sure you read the small print and in the case of anything except disposable consumer goods — get a signed contract.

• • •

KNOCK KNOCK, WHO’S THERE: Just like your mail and your telephone, you never know who is attempting to contact you by knocking on your door. Recently, during the day, I had two clean-cut young men ring my door bell. The lead guy explained to me that they were selling a revolutionary new window cleaner. What put me on edge was I noticed that guy No. 2 was scoping out the interior of my house, looking past guy No. 1 and right past me into my hallway and living room.

Guy No. 1 was intent on engaging me in conversation while guy No. 2 was casing the house. I quickly sent them away, secured my front door (always double locked), and called local law enforcement. The two were stopped by a patrol officer, questioned, identified and sent on their way. They did not have a city salesperson license.

Lately, there have been a number of daylight break-ins in Kootenai County. It goes like this: knock, knock, ring, ring, nobody home, kick the door in, snatch and grab anything that looks valuable, run away. It’s a crime of opportunity. Best practice is to have a secure door with a peep-hole (metal is best), in metal frame, and answer the door without unlocking or opening it. If they persist on knocking after you’ve told them to go away — call 911.

• • •

UNSOLICITED REFUNDS: Here’s a nasty one. You’re contacted by a company informing you that you have either been overcharged or you’re due a refund. The caller informs you that they have no further information regarding the money due you, but in order to process it they need your credit card information. (My regular readers will see where this one is going.)

If you are daft enough to hand over your valuable information to an anonymous voice, be prepared for a wild and wooly ride of scam charges. Lesson: NEVER give your credit card information to someone who calls you — NEVER!

• • •

REVEREND GOTCHA: This is not so much a scam as it is an example of feeling with your heart and turning off your brain. If you’re like me, as I get older, my sleep patterns have gotten really messed up. I often find myself up at 1 and 2 a.m. in the morning. What do I do? Hit the bathroom and then turn on the TV.

Often, I flip through the channels. Sometimes there’s a TV preacher who catches my eye. It seems like in the middle of the night while watching TV my judgment gets a little fuzzy. Usually the object of my bad judgment arrives a few days later delivered to my doorstep. My wife opens the package and asks me what the heck was I thinking.

My late night purchases don’t cause any real harm. I have, on the other hand, had a couple of recent calls, usually from adult children of elderly parents asking for help when they’ve discovered that their mom or dad gave thousands of dollars to a late night preacher or charity. The money is usually impossible to get back.

It’s true, life today almost requires that you have a credit card. The best thing to do is to get your parent(s) a credit card with a low limit on it — say in the $200-$300 range. That way they can buy groceries, gas and stuff but can’t get hurt too badly. Also ask that they check with you before making any donations.

Always remember, credit cards have federal protection laws built in — debit cards do not! Never use a debit card for anything, it’s a direct line into your bank account with no federal protection.

• • •

WEBSITE UPDATE: My website should be up and running by the middle of the month. I hope you’ll like it.

• • •

REMEMBER: I’m in your corner — thanks to The Coeur d’Alene Press. If you would like to thank them, I’m sure a Letter to the Editor would be appreciated, even if it’s not published.

• • •

I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on as The CDA Press Consumer Guy. Call me at (208) 699-0506, or email me at BillBrooksRealEstate@gmail.com or fax me at (866) 362-9266. Please include your name and a phone number. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups.

• • •

Bill Brooks is the CDA Press Consumer Guy and the broker and owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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